How Cannabis Helps One Family Fight Alzheimer’s Disease
One of the reasons I’m not completely screwed up is the same reason I kinda am screwed up – fear and guilt. My Salvadoran mother did me a solid and scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. She’d threaten, if I got pregnant, she would send me to El Salvador to live with my aunt who didn’t have running water. If I didn’t make my bed, she lamented to everyone around how her daughter would be alone and barren because no decent man would marry a woman that lazy.
Now, when it came to “drogas,” things turned even more serious. If I did drugs, not only would she lock me in the house forever, but Jesus himself would be disappointed. This worked…REALLY WELL. I drank a little in high school, smoked a few cigarettes but that’s where I drew the line. In my mind, drogas were all equally bad and equally liable to ruin lives and bring shame to even our most distant relatives.
The fear and guilt weren’t all bad. They kept me out of trouble and left no question in my mind about college and grad school. However, even as an adult, I never discussed sex or drugs with my parents because deep-rooted shame and inadequacy stuck. Even my happily married sister probably felt fear telling my mom she’d be a grandmother because that meant she did…(you-know-what).
Fast forward to now. My mom has just turned 70 and she suffers from “middle-stage” Alzheimer’s Disease. This doesn’t mean she’s forgetful–she’s beyond forgetful. She’s mean, manic, confused, and can’t sit still. She openly shoplifts like she DGAF. A few months ago, she was arrested at a casino, disappearing for 10 hours afterwards. What I’m describing is a stranger taking over my conservative, traditional, loving, and overprotective mother. Her doctors appear to have given up, and in their own way, they told us, nothing can be done. They advised us to accept who she is now. Sadness and despair are taking a toll on my father, her full-time caretaker, her beloved companion of 50 years.
My sisters and I turned to Dr. Google and we found a world filled with families also battling Alzheimer’s disease. Many were dealing with this disease better than us, and they reported, it was all thanks to cannabis.
Now let me explain, aside from one disastrous Amsterdam experience, I had stayed away from drogas. I hadn’t even given thought to the cannabis movement happening in California. But at that point, we were desperate to help my mom, and that made the decision easy. So, in February 2018, I went to a dispensary and for the first time, I purchased marijuana.
This was our secret, mine with my sisters.
Medical marijuana is legal in California, where we live, but as I walked to the legal dispensary for the first time, I couldn’t shake the expectation that the cops would show up any minute. The locked door and ID checking made me even more nervous. But, once I made it to the other side, the soothing music and gentle lighting eased my fears. The budtender listened. She didn’t look at me like I was crazy. She recommended a tincture other folks in similar situations use. I tucked it in my bag and got on the bus wondering if anyone knew I was hiding a controversial substance in my purse.
Fast forward 3 months. Three times a day, Dad is giving mom her “drogas”, slowly increasing the dose each week. Mom’s calmer. Not high, just pacing and rambling less. Dad seems relieved and never asked what it was. I didn’t tell him and I worried if he found out, he would stop giving it to her.
Last week, I got up the courage to ask him if he knew what it is. He said “Si, marijuana.”
I was flabbergasted; my father had known. He just didn’t care because it’s helping mom. I joked about the cost, suggesting we might have to grow it ourselves. Dad quickly offered the backyard garden and if I got him some seeds. He hopes to grow it alongside his aloe vera plants. And he wasn’t kidding!
While we keep striving to find my mom’s perfect dose, things are getting better. Dad’s less depressed. And though mom can’t communicate, I can sense that she too feels relief. Marijuana has brought a little light and humor to our difficult situation.
But, this miracle has also brought outrage. I feel outraged that mom suffered for so many years and the doctors never even suggested this option. I feel outraged for the families that are forced to uproot their lives moving to legal states to find relief. I feel outraged that Latinas have the highest rate of dementia among American women yet I found next to zero useful information in Spanish about how cannabis can help this awful condition. I feel outraged that my parents were duped by the government who unknowingly vilified this plant, a plant that has brought peace back into our lives.
I’m not sure what I’ll do now. Maybe I’ll start a blog. Maybe I’ll open a dispensary specializing in medical marijuana for Latinos. Maybe I’ll start a podcast. Maybe one day, when mom doesn’t require so much care, then I’ll find the perfect pulpit. For now, I’ll be sharing our story and helping others discover this plant so that they can find some serenity just like mom.
About the author
Evelyn is a nonprofit professional in Los Angeles. Her father and mother, Isabel, immigrated to California from El Salvador in the late 1970s to escape the civil unrest in the Central American country. Although Isabel’s memory is quickly fading, she still enjoys seeing her grandchildren and spending time with her 3 daughters. Learn more about Evelyn on her blog, Stop It Some More.