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Mixed reactions on medical pot in recovery

by Sari Staver

Many people in recovery refer to themselves as being clean and sober, but Sharon Bertrand calls herself "green and sober" because she uses medical marijuana but refrains from recreational drugs and alcohol.

Bertrand, an Oakland ally who is a data specialist and registrar with United Cannabis, a biotechnology company, said that using medical marijuana is "compatible" with being in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction.

In a telephone interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Bertrand said that she and a close friend each celebrated their 25th anniversary in recovery but use marijuana medically.

By using her firm's cannabis-based therapies, Bertrand said that she's been able to reduce the dosage of her medications for blood pressure and diabetes as well as eliminate the statins she took to control her cholesterol.

"My doctor was blown out of the water" by the changes in the laboratory tests she attributed to the use of medical marijuana, she said.

Bertrand uses cannabis-laced capsules made by her company and occasionally takes "a hit off a joint" or eats an edible, she said.

"Bottom line is everything in moderation," she said. "Cannabis is my medication."

Others involved with the recovery community offered their own take on the question of using medical marijuana during recovery.

Billy Lemon, a gay man who is executive director of the Castro Country Club, a nonprofit that is a hub for San Francisco's LGBT clean and sober community, said the decision to use medical marijuana "is a personal one and is nobody else's business."

Twelve-step programs, which meet at the country club, "are there for support," said Lemon in an interview at his office.

"We're not doctors but we do offer support for people trying to get well," he said. "Everyone is welcome to attend" 12-step meetings at the country club.

Brandon Stanton, the manager of the country club, had a lot of exposure to the cannabis community during the five-year period when he managed the guesthouse owned by gay pot activist Dennis Peron.

In an interview at the country club, Stanton said he also used cannabis during the years he was addicted to methamphetamines, but "never felt addicted" to pot.

With approval from his physician, Stanton used medical marijuana to combat the nausea he suffered from anti-HIV drugs. But when he started a recovery program five years ago, Stanton said he decided it would be best to "stop everything," including cannabis.

"Not that I thought I'd get addicted to cannabis," said Stanton, "but for 20 years, I had never spent time without some intoxicating substance. It was time for me to experience life.

"If your physician feels medical marijuana would be beneficial, following that advice might make sense," he added. "If I was suffering chronic or debilitating pain, I wouldn't hesitate to choose cannabis over prescription pain killers."

Terry Beswick, a gay man who managed the country club for seven years before taking his current position as executive director of the GLBT Historical Society last year, said in an email to the B.A.R., "I'm not a medical expert but from my extensive, albeit anecdotal, 'research' in the field, I would advise anyone who wants to stay abstinent from drugs and alcohol to avoid marijuana, which is a mind-altering drug after all. If they have a medical condition, there are often many options for treatment and they might try things that don't get them high first. And if nothing else works, they should discuss with their doctor and their sponsor (if they are in a 12-step program). In any case, it's certainly none of my business what they do."

Gary McCoy, a gay man who has been sober for more than six years, said in an email that "harm reduction was my introduction to recovery and there are many avenues to recovery and many recovery programs and options."

"Eventually, when I realized abstinence from all drugs and alcohol was best for my own recovery, I stopped using everything, including pot. For me, it was necessary to identify the root of my drug and alcohol use, and that meant going into treatment and therapy with a completely clear head," he said.

"My view on medical marijuana in my program of recovery is that if a primary care physician that specializes in infectious diseases and HIV/AIDS care prescribes it and it is used as prescribed, then it's appropriate," McCoy added. "I know what works for me, and can only comment on my personal experience. Other people's programs of recovery are none of my business."

Calls to reach addiction specialists at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the UCSF Alliance Health Project were not returned by deadline.

Bay Area Cannasseur runs the first Thursday of the month. To send column ideas or tips, email Sari Staver at .


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