Toronto: Going to Pot to Ease the Pain

July 18, 2010 – The G20 leaders met here for some serious discussions last month and the Shriners partied and prepared for their parade in the same spot last week.

After hitting a new low with the violent protests surrounding the G20 summit, Toronto may reach a new high with the Medical Marijuana and Hemp Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this weekend.

For the medical marijuana patients at the conference waiting to inhale to ease their chronic pain, the 415-square-metre vapour lounge is a place to legally medicate in a safe, controlled environment.

“For people who have horrible diseases, it’s a relief for a better quality of life,” says event organizer Marco Renda, who has a number of illnesses including Hepatitis C and is licensed to use marijuana.

“It’s not just: ‘hey, let’s get high.’ When you have to use it for medical purposes, it’s not for the euphoric effect,” says Renda, who lists benefits ranging from reducing nausea to stimulating the appetite.

This vapour lounge is the biggest to date in Canada and a testing ground of sorts to see if the medical marijuana community can make this an accepted, annual event in a high-profile venue, given the negative stigma still associated with weed use, legal or otherwise.

Renda stresses that the meeting room-turned-vapour lounge “is not the party room” for the convention. Curiosity seekers can’t just wander in, catch a buzz and then hunt for Doritos. Only those patients licensed by Health Canada and their caregivers are allowed access.

A private security firm is on patrol to ensure that absolutely no pot is sold or distributed on the premises. Patients have been told to bring their own buds and seeds with them since they have access to government supplies or are allowed to grow their own plants.

No one under 19 is allowed in (one exception is a 17-year-old licensed patient with a terminal bone disease). The no-smoking bylaw also means no one can light up here.

Although it’s not party central per se, Room 201 at street level in the centre’s north building is definitely puff central, and that was evident Thursday when about 20 patients who normally roll their own were invited to test out the Volcano vaporizer — “the Ferrari of vaporizers,” notes the cheerful Renda — and rate seven different strains of marijuana for their strength and effectiveness.

The Expo promotes the “respectable and responsible use” of marijuana. (Even the theme song for the conference is simply called “It’s Just a Plant.”) But that doesn’t mean they can’t have fun on the experimentation side. Jokes aside, it is for the purposes of medical science.

“It’s probably the first time the convention centre used a meeting room for this purpose,” joked patient Scott (who preferred not to use his last name, but is known as Chronic Dad), who suffered brain damage and other injuries after a car accident a few years ago.

He managed to replace anti-depressants last year with the use of medical marijuana, which he swears by to help him cope with frequent waves of nausea, anxiety, loss of appetite and a sleeping disorder.

“Because we’re testing various strains, I’ve had more today than I normally would have, but I still feel relaxed and in control,” says Mike Baranik, who uses it to cope with irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia.

J. J., another chronic pain victim who nearly severed his right arm in a freak accident with an apartment window, said that seven balloons full of vapour didn’t kill his pain but diverted it for the time being.

“I am a little hungry though. And I’m having a hard time doing simple math at the moment,” he said, rating on paper the different strains of marijuana in the lounge.

Vaporization is a method of ingesting medicinal and other herbs by passing heated air through the herb (in this case the marijuana bud), which creates a vapour containing the natural flavours and active ingredients and is inhaled like similar to smoke. It looks more like a mist and isn’t nearly as pungent as pot smoke. Users also say they cough a lot less.

For instance marijuana contains THC, which is what makes a person high. With a vaporizer, the dried and ground herb is gently heated so that the THC vaporizes without burning as it would in a joint. Users ingest the good parts of the plant without the tar and bad chemicals ending up in the body.

The process is way different from toking on a doobie. The bottom half of the $600 machine looks like the base of a kitchen blender. After the chamber is filled with ground marijuana and attached to the vaporizer, a plastic bag or balloon inflates with the herb’s vapours. It balloons up to about half a meter in height. Then the patient detaches it, applies the mouthpiece and inhales.

Renda equates the smell of the ventilated room to burnt popcorn as opposed to a bunch of stoners smoking up the place.

“I don’t really get high anymore. My body has built up an immunity,” he says after five years of licensed use.

“But it does take care of the pain.” By Lisa Wright. Source.

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