PEAKS ISLAND — Catherine Lewis once visited schools to urge children to “just say no” to drugs.

Now she’s telling adults who need it to “just say yes” to medical marijuana.

Lewis, who is the chairwoman of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine Trade Association, brought her message about the benefits of medical marijuana to islanders on March 27.

The lecture titled “Introduction to Medical Marijuana: The ABC’s of CBD” was held at the Peaks Island Branch Library and sponsored by the Friends of the Peaks Island Library and the Peaks Island Health Center.

“People on the island wanted to hear about medical marijuana and how it could help them heal,” said Barbara Hoppin, the event moderator. Hoppin is a cancer survivor who works with a cancer support group on the island. She said the idea for the marijuana meeting came from their interest in the benefits of medical cannabis.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to learn from Catherine Lewis,” said Hoppin. “She is at the forefront of the cannabis movement in Maine and crafting new legislation that furthers the MMCM community.”

MMCM is Maine’s advocacy group for medical marijuana patients. When it originated in 2010, it was one of the first marijuana trade associations in the country, and Lewis now serves as both the chairwoman and director of education.

During the first weekend in June, MMCM will be hosting the eighth annual Home Grown Maine Trade Show & Expo at the Augusta Civic Center, New England’s largest cannabis trade show.

To Lewis’ surprise, nearly 30 people attended the island meeting, prompting Hoppin to add another row of chairs. Lewis opened the seminar by saying she was not there to proclaim that cannabis is a miracle cure, but for some people it can be.

“(Cannabis) is a tool in your toolbox,” she said. “There are many different things that it can help with, and it has been around since the beginning of time.”

Becoming a medical marijuana caregiver was never Lewis’ plan. In fact, she used to travel to schools teaching children to say no to drugs. “I was very much against cannabis,” Lewis said. “I didn’t want to use it or hear how it could help anyone.”

In 2002, Lewis’ attitude changed when she and her husband became medical cannabis patients. They suffered severe injuries from a head-on motor vehicle accident in 1990, and her husband developed syringomyelia, a fluid-filled cyst in his spinal cord. To treat his pain, doctors prescribed up to 12 medications that he took for 15 years. Complications from these pharmaceuticals forced him to find natural treatments, such as cannabis.

“Out of necessity, we started learning about what medical cannabis can do for us,” said Lewis. By using cannabis, she gradually got her husband off each medication in one year, and later when he was diagnosed with advanced stage 4 cancer, she said it helped him reach remission.

During the meeting, Lewis shared personal anecdotes and used a slide show to explain the rights and responsibilities of medical cannabis patients. She also covered the difference between cannabis caregivers and dispensaries; how CBD can stimulate a patient’s endocannabinoid system by reducing pain and inflammation; the effects and methods of using cannabis, such as making tinctures, lozenges, or using the seeds while cooking; and the difference between CBD and THC.

“My hope for these small-town meetings is it to educate people and reduce the stigma associated with medical cannabis,” said Lewis.

Seated in the third row were Dominic and Mike DeAngelo. Mike, 32, explained to his father Dominic, 75, how CBD oil could help his knee pain.

“I’ve never used (CBD oil) before,” Dominic said. “We are here to see what it’s all about and if I can benefit from it.”

In Maine, there are 17 qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use, such as arthritis, PTSD, and Alzheimer’s disease, and over 3,200 caregivers are helping over 50,000 medicinal cannabis patients.

Lewis said many people she meets through these meetings could benefit from using medical marijuana but are fearful of how it will affect them.

“I want to take that fear factor away,” she said, “and instill a desire to ask questions and find out how it can help.”

Catherine Lewis, chairwoman of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine Trade Association, talks to Peaks Islanders at an April 29 seminar about the relief from pain that medical marijuana can bring.

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