We already know marijuana shows promise for memory boosting benefits and oxidative stress related to aging. But for the elderly suffering from late-stage diseases like Alzheimer’s, marijuana can still bring relief.
For 77-year-old Maine resident Dair Gillespie, taking daily cannabis tinctures orally offers her relief from advanced Alzheimer’s. Her spouse Ann Leffler helps her take the medicine and watches as it eases her suffering.
Gillespie accepted the tincture calmly, holding it for several seconds before swallowing with no sign of distaste. The tincture in the bottle smelled mild and fresh. Sometimes, the morning dose is all Gillespie needs. But often, if she’s getting restless or worked up, Leffler will give her another, smaller dose mid-afternoon. It takes about a half hour for the subtle effects to show up — a more relaxed facial expression, a loosening of her clenched hands, a readier ability to focus on a familiar face or hold a cup.
“On cannabis, she’s very, very different,” Leffler said, screwing the dropper-top back on the one-ounce bottle. The drug has drastically reduced Gillespie’s overall agitation and combativeness. It’s made it easier for her to eat and sleep, and easier for caregivers to tend to her many needs. And, far from making her sleepy or “out of it,” Leffler said, cannabis has restored a small bit of awareness and responsiveness to her dear one. “She is much less anxious, much less fearful,” Leffler said. “She’s much more ‘there’ — she’ll laugh, she’ll smile, sometimes she’ll say a word or two that can be understood.”
Since 1999, medical marijuana has been legal in Maine but was only attainable from licensed growers or with a physician certification to grow your own. Patients gained more autonomy in 2012, when eight dispensaries opened in Maine, allowing caregivers and patients to purchase cannabis more easily.
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Although Gillespie spends her last days resting, she’s still doing important work, as one of just a few people in Maine certified for medically prescribed marijuana to treat Alzheimer’s symptoms. She may not have the active, academic life she did before, but she’s still a trailblazer.