In the last year, I went from someone prone to little stomachaches to someone who longs more than anything to go back to the days of little stomachaches. Exploding guts are cool in a sci-fi way—what's happening in there?—but they can make it pretty hard to do other things, like be functional. Short version: Four months of antibiotics (for a dental problem) had damaged my guts. I tried gulping acidophilus, I tried probiotics, I got a colonoscopy, I got an endoscopy, I experienced the magic of having my stool sampled, and in the end I got a letter from a gastroenterologist ruling out cancer, Crohn's disease, celiac disease, and saying, basically, "Beats me." Then came a bill for more than $1,000.
As a bong owner, I knew that pot helped with stomachaches, but it wasn't until I visited a naturopath that I learned different strains could help more than others. I needed a strain that calls a ceasefire in my guts while not inhibiting my ability to write, because most weed I've smoked replaces my brain with a bouncy ball, and bouncy balls have the worst ideas. She explained the difference between sativa and indica strains: Sativa's the bouncing-balls-in-your-brain stuff; indica's a nice sedative for the whole body; a hybrid is a combo. She said to get an indica strain with "low THC and high CBD," which I wrote down because I had no idea what those words mean.
State law prevents health-care providers from recommending any particular dispensary, and the guy behind the counter at the dispensary closest to home seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. He immediately recommended a weed that was really super-awesome because it had so much THC in it. I tried another dispensary, where the woman's medical knowledge consisted of nothing more than pointing out which one her roommate likes to smoke while cleaning. A "budtender" at a third dispensary simply said, "I do smoke a lot of pot but I'm not, like, a scientist." All three offered baked goods with no labeling of the cannabis inside.
What I'm saying is: For all their talk of pot as medicine—not a recreational indulgence—many dispensary operators don't know one medication from another.
Then I ended up at the Center for Palliative Care.
CPC in Georgetown curates certain strains of cannabis to help specific conditions. If you buy a candy packed with cannabis at CPC—unlike every other candy packed with cannabis I've ever bought—it will be labeled with the CPC logo, the strain of cannabis (sativa or indica), how many grams of weed are in it, and what medical conditions it's useful for. Amazing!
CPC was founded two years ago by Jeremy Kaufman and Ben Reagan. When Kaufman was a 24-year-old snowboarder, he careened into a tree and broke his neck. After that, he had to take eight OxyContin a day just to move. Sitting behind his desk, he pulled out the pills he takes now instead—little capsules filled with brown goo. "It's basically the blood of the plant," he explained. They extract the essential oils from plants in a variety of ways, and make a variety of clearly labeled things with it—caramels, gummies, etc.
For sleep, Kaufman gave me four indica pills clearly labeled for quantity (.25 grams each) and purpose ("sedative, chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia, inflammation, nausea"). He also gave me some dark-purple cannabis said to be good for digestive issues (science is still out on why) and some sativa pills for daytime/writing (still don't have the nerve to take one before work, because they make me totally giddy on the weekends). For now, I'm obsessed with those indica pills. They work. They put me to sleep.
Meanwhile, ever since getting my medical marijuana authorization, my stomach has gotten markedly better.
When I shared my experiences at other dispensaries, and Kaufman wasn't surprised. Asked to name how many medically reliable dispensaries there are in this city, he guessed roughly five. When I called one of them in Shoreline, the woman who answered the phone said their edibles are labeled sativa or indica but are not labeled for the quantity of cannabis in them. "It's too complicated to label it like that because everyone has a different recipe," she says. But it's not too complicated if you make your edibles, like CPC does. A man who answered the phone at a respected dispensary in West Seattle said he couldn't be sure of the quantity of cannabis in their edibles because they use lots of different vendors who all label things differently, and that he couldn't think of any place except CPC that makes their edibles in-house. A man who answered the phone at another place Kaufman suggested, also in West Seattle, said most but not all of their edibles are labeled by strain but they're not labeled by quantity of cannabis in them. At a co-op in the U-District, which I visited because Kaufman told me he'd heard good things about it, most of the edibles aren't even labeled sativa or indica, much less how much sativa or indica.
And by the way: Kaufman's self-taught. In other words: You don't need years of school to be an expert. You just have to take the medicine—and your patients—seriously.
Dear other dispensaries: Can you go to CPC and take notes? And be more like that? Your patients would love you.