Beth Dost’s first exposure to cannabis was during the early 1980s while working as a nurse in the Oncology department of a major medical center in Boston. Terminal patients were using cannabis, and clinical staff looked the other way because it seemed to help reduce the patient’s symptoms, especially in regards to chemo-induced nausea and weight loss.
After that experience, and over the following two decades, she didn’t give cannabis much thought. “All my family is in law enforcement, so I never even considered using it.” She was also busy founding four health care start-ups and running two hospices.
Then in 2012 she was laid off. That was a blessing in disguise because it brought medical cannabis back into her life. An investor who had backed a failed application was involved with the Thomas C. Slater Center, a top cannabis dispensary in Rhode Island. Robert Fireman, MariMed Advisors, invited Dost to be part of his new cannabis organization as a medical specialist consultant. This widened her access to continuing education and the nascent cannabis industry.
Dost became convinced that cannabis was the right path for her when she attended the Patients Out of Time 2013 conference. Patients Out of Time focuses on rigorous scientific trials, not just anecdotal evidence, to judge the health properties of cannabis. At the 2013 conference, she listened to well-reputed researchers and learned about the Endocannabinoid System, the largest receptor system in the human body.
"It was life changing,” Dost said. “I left thinking, cannabis is amazing. We make our own cannabinoids and this plant perfectly complements it.”
Dost believes the 2017-2018 planning process for legalized adult use cannabis in Massachusetts has been much better than it was for the medical program of 2012. The creation of the Cannabis Control Commission, the Institutional Caregiver Law, and social consumption considerations are examples she gives of how legislators and advocates are improving on the past.
But Dost is still concerned about the clinical advice patients are getting. Because of its federal illegal status, use of cannabis puts any institution that bills Medicare and Medicaid into a bind. As a result, only 218 physicians in Massachusetts can recommend cannabis—a paltry number. Even then, these physicians cannot, by statute, dose the medicine. And patients do not meet with clinicians when they get their medicine.
“Bud tenders know cannabis well, but they don’t know about the diseases these patients are coming in with. We’ve disempowered our physicians, so people come to cannabis as a last resort and, by that time, they are really incapacitated.”
When asked how she envisions the future of cannabis, Dost is clear that, while access to adult use cannabis is good progress, medical cannabis should not be forgotten in the mix. She is fine with medical and adult-use co-locating but it needs to be done thoughtfully because they are very different customers.
“We have to remember that this entire movement was built on the backs of people looking for relief.”
About the author: Christine Giraud, a writer in Boston, has become fascinated with the cannabis industry, as well as the culture, politics and history around it.