Senior Helps Peers Navigate Cannabis Choices

Photo Credit: Nick Agro

Many of today’s Baby Boomers have mixed memories of cannabis use.

There was certainly a fear of being busted, but also, way back then, not everyone knew what they were smoking.

Was it really Acapulco Gold or Maui Wowie or mystery weed? Who knew? As long as the good times were rolling and you avoided getting caught, no one gave it a second thought.

Now that we’re in the enlightened, at least more legal age, senior users have the opportunity to be more precise in what marijuana products may be safe and able to help with their various aches and pains, anxiety and depression. Some are also enjoying learning that it’s possible to get relief without getting high.

But expertise is still needed, but not always from budtenders young enough to be their kids or even their grandkids.

That’s the role that Nancy Southern is trying to fill. She’s started advising people on what types of products can work best for their health, especially people in her age group.

“Seniors are part of the old propaganda machine and so they may not be comfortable talking to someone who could be their child,” she said. “When they see me, their face opens up. And I know exactly what they mean: having a peer to talk to is totally different for first-time users.”

Southern, a social worker and a professional life coach, is based in Bellingham at a business called the Center for Mindful Use. Satori’s Bellingham location provides space for CMU, and Southern has been hired as Satori’s receptionist.

“Our job is to introduce customers to what forms of cannabis are available, and what ratios of CBD/THC might help them,” she said.

CBD and THC are natural compounds in cannabis: CBD is generally connected to pain relief, and THC provides the common mental/physical reactions associated with the ‘high.’

Southern has been interested helping people with mental health challenges most of her life. Her father, a World War II veteran, used alcohol and food to ease his emotional distress at being ‘shell-shocked,’ which would be called PTSD today. Her mother had bouts of depression and developed lupus.

Southern worked to teach people to use their own thoughts and feelings in a productive way. From there she moved to spiritual coaching and counseling, as well as new modalities such as Reiki and Emotional Freedom Technique, which stimulates acupuncture points using a gentle finger tapping.

After her husband’s death in 2003, she moved from Orcas Island to Bellingham to offer her life coaching to a larger population.

She also began battling an autoimmune condition, which involved researching and trying natural therapies, remedies and supplements. But nothing was effective.

By March 2017 she said the stress from this illness was affecting her coaching practice.

“I’m a sensitive enough person, that I know stress becomes chronic if not addressed,” she said.

She began learning more about cannabis after watching an online series called “The Sacred Plant,” especially the third episode, which discussed how some use marijuana to fight autoimmune diseases.

“I felt so lousy, I knew I wanted to give it (cannabis) a try,” she said.

The next day she ventured into two different cannabis shops in Bellingham and the staff recommended certain items for what she was feeling.

Within three days her depression lifted. She said this was a profound eye-opener that gave her hope again for healing her body.

She learned that the most effective product for her is a CBD-dominant whole flower extract, which can be delivered by oils and tinctures. She also has been experimenting with vape pens.

Southern felt this new knowledge and her alternative healing background could be put to use helping others, especially seniors.

Today, she works three days a week at the Satori/CMU location. Old friends from Orcas Island have come to see her, and other local seniors are hearing about her advice and visiting.

Senior customers will tell her what worked and what didn’t, so she can recommend products, dosage or modality. Everyone responds differently, so persistence with trying new ratios, products or methods is critical, she said.

Expert guidance is especially needed for seniors taking other medications. Not all providers or pharmacists advise mixing cannabis with other prescriptions.

“We’re all interested in providing valuable information,” Southern said. “There are growers we avoid because we know they are using pesticides. We sell clean product.”

This year, Southern is working on getting her medical marijuana consultant license, to increase her ability to better help with specific medical conditions.

Southern said her co-workers know far more than she does about the variety of products, but she loves learning to connect with different folks, and finding out what they need help with.