My Story: Seniors and Cannabis

My Story: Seniors and Cannabis

By Ellen Smith.

I wanted to share my personal use of cannabis along with that of others we have met that have also found success. I am now sixty-seven years old, defined as elderly under the legal government criteria and unfortunately officially Medicare age. I live with two incurable, painful conditions – one called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and the other sarcoidosis. At the age of fifty-seven, at my doctor’s advice, I underwent DNA Genelx testing, which revealed that  the only medications for pain that my body would tolerate and metabolize would be either ketamine or cannabis, both controversial. I remember laughing at the doctor back in 2007, when it was suggested I try cannabis. I remember trying cannabis in college, smoking a joint with some friends and finding myself in bed for the rest of the day. That was not my idea of fun, so this suggestion was not warmly welcomed.  I was also desperate for pain relief, losing my teaching career due to my deteriorating medical condition and confused as to what I might do next to alter the downward spiral my life had taken. I was tired of living in high pain. My inability to metabolize conventional pain medications was well documented. I was desperate for a treatment which would provide me with the capacity to manage my pain and thus allow for some quality of life. Help was needed!

Ellen Smith and friend

At that time, there were no compassion centers so medical cannabis patients either waited to grow, which takes at least a good three months or more, or patients had to reach out to the black market. We turned to the market and ended up with “who knows what” for product but converted it to the night oil, since smoking with my lungs would be fatal. I was so scared to take the cannabis oil that first night, and when I did, warned my husband that I had taken it and fully expected a reaction as I had experienced years ago back in college – “feeling out of my body.” However, instead, now living in a body of pain, my experience was quite different. Instead, I slept all night for the first time in months, if not years. What I noticed the next day was not the magic of my conditions gone, but instead a new peace and calmness. I now had new hope that I was not destined to a life of intense pain and suffering. This sense of hope allowed for an emotional acceptance of a future which while not perfect, would help me to feel useful and having meaning. Rest is huge, no matter what you are facing and it helps to give you courage and new strength in finding purpose and meaning back in the life you are given.

I never dreamed:

  1. that I would ever use cannabis
  2. certainly never dreamed I would turn into an advocate for its use.

I had no choice but to speak out once I experienced that a body in pain does not react to cannabis in the same manner as that of a pain free recreational user. I have found that cannabis does not knock your socks off with pain relief as opiates are often capable of, but noticed this new calm and peace in my body. I was so accustomed to living with pain that I found this gentle, safe relief was priceless and gave me a new lease on life. Keep in mind, however, that anyone with pain can take too much cannabis and create that sensation of feeling high if they are not careful! It is no different than taking too much of any medication, you can overdo it!

My husband and I have met many other cannabis patients in the state and eventually became caregivers for some, as we became more comfortable with growing. What continues to be so rewarding is the results of seeing others like me, afraid to try it, and then reporting back with positive results. We know of one woman in her 80’s who now uses it by taking gummy bears that she purchases at the compassion center. Another one has success with vaporizing product. And then there are others who are successful using the night oil and occasionally using day tincture for break out pain.

One of the most impressive immediate changes we observed was with a new patient we had taken on who was a paraplegic in terrible pain. He chose to utilize cannabis by smoking it for the first time, in our driveway. He rapidly changed from angry, unable to even understand and in terrible pain to becoming talkative and interacting with us, mentioning that he wasn’t noticing a change.  From that day on, this man called me daily to check in with us, until the day he passed. Cannabis was his lifesaver that provided him dignity and gentle relief.

There are so many different ways to take this medicine from smoking, vaporizing, tinctures, capsules, concentrated oil gummy bears, drinks etc, so you have to be patient  to determine what is most effective for you. Also, we all have different needs in our body so one specific type that works with one, let’s say with MS, will not necessarily be the match for another with the exact same diagnosis.  Here is an article which I wrote some time ago that might help to better explain this: Which Marijuana Strain Works Best for Pain?

New patients must also experiment and use their judgement as to the best CBD and THC levels that provide them with the best relief. Decisions must be made as to whether you need the regular cannabis plant to control your pain or if you would do better with a higher CBD plant that has some THC in it. I wrote this article I to address the difference. You might find it useful to read this and understand a bit more about the difference of a higher CBD plant vs a stronger THC product.

I do have to use ketamine for the hospitalizations and surgeries since at this time, even in legal cannabis states, hospitals are not comfortable with the use of cannabis. I presently have an article on line with National Pain Report about how a hospital should be using ketamine for pain relief: My Story: How Ketamine Can Work For Surgical Pain: this can be an option to consider if you are like me and tototally unable to use any opiates for surgical pain.

As you make the decision to consider trying cannabis, please know that I, too, was scared due to my recollections of the “high sensation” from using cannabis back in college socially. Remember, if you live in a body with medical issues and in pain, you get relief and calm to the body using this safe product, no matter what form you decide to take it, as as long as you keep your dose as an appropriate amount for you. I find a night oil we make private and easy to travel with. Oil is not attractive to steal and highly unlikely to be confiscated as the is the raw product. I can simply put the oil in a medical bottle and travel with it safely along with my medical card. Do I still have pain in my body as a cannabis user? The answer is yes, but I now live with calm and a level of discomfort that is manageable and allows me to have dignity and purpose and meaning back in life. My oil allows me to sleep most nights and I am able to live with hope, advocate and think clearer the next day. I am under no illusions my medical conditions will not continue to present me with at times daunting challenges. Compared to the pain I was living with previously, this is a huge gift that I am grateful to live in a compassionate state that allows me this choice. Nothing is going to take away what I am facing for the rest of my life, but I am able to function again in society thanks to the use of cannabis, with no side effects to this very reactive body.

Ellen Lenox Smith

Co-Director for US Pain Foundation Cannabis Advocacy

RIPAC board member

Author of:

It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain– And Have a Good Life, Anyway


My Life as a Service Dog!

In case you are wondering how to make the night oil:

  • Grind up your product in a coffee bean grinder or even a Cuisinart
  • Heat up 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil or oil of choice, being careful to get hot but not boiling
  • Measure out 10 TBS of the ground product per 1 cup of oil
  • The oil is ready when you spread a sample of the ground medicine over it and hear the properties being released into the oil! It sounds like an Alka Seltzer dropped in water! Then sprinkle all the rest of the product over the oil
  • Allow the mixture to cool
  • Strain the oil
  • Store in a container, away from the sun

NOTE: You can double, triple, etc this recipe to make a larger batch – 10 TBS ground to one cup oil OR Buy a “magical butter machine” that you put all these ingredients together in and plug it in and let it make the oil for you!

How to Use:

Remember, that ingesting the medicine, you have to allow time for it to be absorbed before you will get relief from your pain. When first taken this way, it may take up to a full hour to feel the changes. Eventually, it may take less time. So, it’s important to figure out when the relief is needed by, so you are sure to get it into your system before this time.

 Dosage to start with:

  • You need to start with a much lower dose to introduce this to your body slowly.
  • Start with 1/4 tsp, mixed with some food like a little applesauce or yogurt.
  • Take one hour before you want to be in bed for the night * the goal is to eventually sleep through the night and not wake up groggy – so each night add 1/4 tsp more until you have slept the night and not woken up in the AM groggy. If that sensation happens, don’t panic. It will wear off throughout the morning and tells you to be sure to not take dose again but instead decrease a bit. With the right dose, you sleep and do not wake up feeling groggy.
  • This is much safer for your lungs to not be smoking the medicine.
  • This is easier to store and travel with.
  • For many achieving their true dose can mean less need of medication during the day for it keeps the body calm into the next day We have found that using more than one type of night indica plant creates a great sleeping oil. And if you can get the clippings from these indica plants, they seem to make a wonderful oil.

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Authored by: Ellen Lenox Smith

Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website.

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sandy auriene sullivan

One of my favorite uses of my homemade oil/s is topical use. It can get to the burn deeper than other topical creams. Takes a little longer than lidocaine but far more effective. The oil helps everyone in my family who have suffered with one form or another of dermatitis [unknown origins in my mother; who certainly wouldn’t have been an advocate 50yrs ago either!] Foot pain after wearing work boots? Rub it on!

When straining oil I save all the paper used [flowers shaken out of it] and roll them up into a bag for fast pain wipes! Im the only one who ingests cannabis in my family. Most have been or were previously anti-cannabis until they saw how oils worked on me. And *on* literally *on* them!

You’ll not even absorb enough in the skin to mess up a UA of a non-patient, casual topical user. Just wash your hands!

My oil of choice to use is coconut oil; stored in fridge like margarine. The addition of cloves over low heat for topical use *ONLY* helps significantly too.
Such a versatile plant that if one believes in ‘sin’ – then it sure is one to deny its use!


I don’t get knock your socks off relief from opiates. Apparently, neither did you if they were ineffective for you.

Please be more mindful in your words. You may cause harm to others while advocating for your choice of treatment.

I am glad you have a treatment that works for you. I see barriers that would discourage me from trying this option (cost, lack of insurance payment, multiple food and substance allergies, lack of clear Federal standards, employer discrimination and possibly doctor discrimination- I haven’t asked because the other barriers are too limiting)

We need to advocate TOGETHER for multiple pain management options.


Thank you for all the information, you covered all the questions I’ve had. Looking forward to trying it in hopes I can cut back on the opiates all together.

Ellen Lenox Smith

Dee – Check again – my records show NJ does allow one to qualify for pain:
“The following conditions, if severe or chronic pain, severe nausea or vomiting, cachexia, or wasting syndrome results from the condition or treatment: Positive status for HIV/AIDS; cancer.”

Mabel – I use either the trim around the bud, which saves money and is still loaded with THC and CBD, or I use the BUD – flower of the plant. I do not use the pollen/powder substance the falls through the screen but it could be added. Night oil is made from Indica strains.

Becky – what State are you from? There are only a few states left that aren’t doing anything – The following states are not even allowing CBD, from the hemp, which is not cannabis – they are Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska and South Dakota.


Dee I don’t how the climate is where you live but although it’s illegal I tell all my doctors I use cannabis. If I ever get arrested (unlikely for personal use and I can prove a need for pain relief), that will help. Every doctor has approved. My pain consultant actually told me the best combination for pain (50%sativa and 50% Indika if you are interested), and one said ‘I would rather you used cannabis than all the pharmaceuticals you are on”. He has now learned it is both, not either or in my case 🙂 Your condition sounds horrible, I wish you well.


Great Story I am 65 and live in NJ. I can not get Medical Cannabis for my disease. They are talking about passing it for headaches and pain. I have a very rare auto immune disease in my moucous membranes. My mouth and gums.It can attack the skin. It is called Oral Linear IgA. I am in pain all the time and It is really painful when I eat. A friend lives in Cal. and sent me some. I gave it a try and it really helped. I felt the same way about trying it at 65 years old.


Hi Ellen, what a helpful article thank you so much. I found cannabis transformed my life, but where I live it is not legal I am stuck with street product. Please could you tell me wheter in your oil recipe you use the dried plant (Indika or sativa) hash, or pollen as what you call the “product”? I got in a medical mess recently,when I was abroad for three weeks and could not of course take cannabis with me. I went into a SEVERE WITHDRAWAL SYNDROME of high pain, insomnia, chills, sweats, nausea and headaches. It was awful fortunately I called my family doctor back home who raised my opioids by 40% (I had to laugh as only two months ago he wrote me the “you should not be taking opioids and they don’t work well anyway”letter which all doctors here are writing to cover their backs even though they know it’s not true. Opioids work extremely well for most patients.). He also put me on a high dose of benzodiazepines and I felt better within hours. However this can’t happen again two thirds of my expensive rest abroad spent being very ill. In future I would take your oil with me if I can get the recipe right. I look forward to hearing from you. And he’s, cannabis does transform your life and calm your nervous system. The issue in chronic pain is it is caused by an oversensitised CNS.


God bless you, Ellen Lennox Smith. I am not in a state with this, sadly. Yes, my adult child has EDS, LYME, CO’S, and inflammatory arthritis yet to be named.