Jane Nitsch celebrated her 67th birthday on a Saturday in late November. The retired federal employee from Catonsville kicked off the festivities not with cake and ice cream, but with a free workshop dubbed “Boomers and Buds” at Trilogy Wellness of Maryland, a medical cannabis dispensary in Ellicott City.
The session, open to certified medical marijuana patients as well as the general public, ran for about an hour and reviewed why seniors might benefit from using cannabis. Attendees learned different ways to take the medicine — smoking it, vaping it and adding it to food and drinks — as well as some of the chemistry involved as the substance travels through the body.
“It’s just important to educate myself on cannabis if I’m going to be using it,” said Nitsch, who uses the plant to help ease the symptoms associated with her glaucoma. “I’m trying to figure out what’s best for me, and for me, that’s a learning process.”
Trilogy Wellness, one of about 90 Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission-approved dispensaries, operates under the assumption that patrons — even those who have experimented with marijuana in the past — benefit from instruction and hands-on guidance as they become patients. Twice a week, the dispensary holds introductory-level “classes,” plus an advanced lecture about once a week on topics such as “Edibles 101.” This gives patients the opportunity to ask questions, weigh their options and build a network with peers.
General manager Megan Hughes said myths and misinformation surrounding cannabis — perhaps due to decades’ worth of stigmatization as a drug for the lazy and the lack of scientific research due to its classification by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a drug with no accepted medical use — plague the industry and might deter people who could benefit from it. Plus, much about the substance’s long-term effects in the body and safety when mixed with other chemicals and medications remains unknown, and certain products — such as infused edibles and cosmetics — are not federally approved, adding to some of the confusion.
But Trilogy Wellness’ outreach helps convey cannabis’s value as a medical alternative for patients of all ages and medical backgrounds, Hughes said.
The dispensary isn’t the only one in the area that offers workshops and cannabis-themed events; in fact, many host social events, cannabis cooking classes or free question-and-answer sessions for patients. But Hughes said her team prides itself on the number of classes and the volume of services they provide. And as cannabis-related regulations continue to evolve and it becomes more mainstream, she said her dispensary can serve as a one-stop shop for information gathering, product shopping and community building.
Nitsch said the workshop she attended helped her make distinctions between different strains of cannabis and understand how each affects the body and mind. She also learned more about terpenes, the oils in the cannabis plant that may dictate the effect of each strain.
“That’s fascinating,” she said, adding that she looks forward to taking additional classes. “There’s so much more to learn.”
Trilogy Wellness staffers also help workshop attendees register to become patients at no cost, taking application photos, setting up email addresses for those who don’t already have them, and filling out paperwork.
Since the state approved the dispensing of medical marijuana in 2017, more than 84,000 Marylanders have become certified patients, according to online statistics provided by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. More than 6,000 patients reside in Howard County. The cannabis business has surpassed expectations, generating over $23 million last year in dispensary sales alone.
Hughes said Trilogy Wellness has served about 6,000 patients — ranging in age from 9 to 92 — since opening in March 2018 and seeks to provide a safe space for people to find resources and information.
“Most patients need guidance and education because even if they have experience with cannabis, a lot of times when you’re trying to use it medically, it’s going to be a different regimen,” she said, adding that her staff undergoes specialized training before they can interact with patients and that all their offerings are tested by third parties. “The products are much different than maybe what you would find on the street.”
Some Trilogy Wellness patients, many of them in their 50s or older, have not used any cannabis products before, Hughes said, and others want assurances that the drug could help them. The classes answer many of their questions, she said, and because they’re free and open to all, the dispensary can form connections with would-be patients who perhaps want to ease in slowly.
David Fulton, a retired chef and U.S. Air Force veteran, attended his first introductory-level workshop at Trilogy Wellness on a Tuesday in November. Fulton, 66, who has looked to CBD (cannabidiol) for help allaying his diabetes and neuropathy, said he wants to register to become a certified cannabis patient to see if non-traditional medication works better for him than his current treatment plan.
He said CBD, a cannabis-derived compound that does not cause the euphoric “high” associated with marijuana, has helped him sleep better than the other alternatives he’s tested.
“I’ve tried the stuff that’s prescribed for neuropathy and it’s not doing the job, so let’s go another route, you know?” Fulton said.
Hughes said patients such as Fulton reinforce the dispensary’s belief that it should offer more than just material goods.
“We try to offer something for everyone,” she said. “Our three pillars are health, wellness and community. We can’t say that and not be a part of the community.”
To that end, Trilogy Wellness also seeks to play a philanthropic role in Howard County, organizing monthly donation drives for a different organization each month. The dispensary has collected and donated canned food, costumes, diapers and school supplies.
The dispensary’s focus on charitable giving helps highlight some of the industry’s faults, such as the disproportionate number of poor and minority people criminalized for marijuana use, Hughes said.
Nitsch said she looks forward to cannabis’s future as a federally respected medical alternative, but for now, appreciates the role Trilogy Wellness plays in the scientific community’s absence.
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“This stuff works,” she said. “With the opioid problem, it’s like, why don’t we come up with something else?”