Soquel, Calif. • Boulder Creek Collective founder Marc Whitehill, a former nurse, has seen a lot of people come through his doors seeking medical marijuana, enough that he thinks he has a pretty clear idea of the patient demographic at most local dispensaries.
He estimates 60 percent are 40 or older and use cannabis "to avoid taking much harsher pharmaceutical alternatives to treat nausea, sleeplessness, anxiety and aches and pains," he said. They use the medicine instead of resorting to common prescription painkillers and tranquilizers.
Another 20 percent are youngsters with no visible signs of illness.
"With them, I have to trust the physician that they made the right call," he said.
But the last category, the 20 percent who are chronically or terminally ill receive special attention at the Boulder Creek Collective. If not for these patients, medical cannabis might not have grown into a burgeoning industry.
One such patient is Gary Goldsworthy, 42, who was given a free membership at the collective in exchange for volunteer hours about two years ago. Goldsworthy was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder that triggers the immune system to attack the gastro-intestinal tract, when he was 27.
During a long period of remission, Goldsworthy had been a successful musician who toured nationally with acclaimed blues artist James Armstrong. But an additional diagnosis of skin cancer and the removal of several lymph nodes a few years ago caused a resurgence of the Crohn's and sent him downhill fast.
When he discovered marijuana as medicine, he had been housebound for more than a year, confined to his bed and the bathroom, hardly able to eat and suffering from diarrhea and intense abdominal pain, among other symptoms.
"I kept on getting advised by nurses to try [marijuana] because I don't get a natural appetite," he said, explaining that smoking has allowed him to regain some semblance of his former life, bringing him out of the house and allowing him to eat regularly and have more energy.
Against the advice of his doctors, Goldsworthy eventually decided to forgo the mainstream treatments that cost $50,000 a year in favor of marijuana, which he got for free, and which he thought did a better job addressing his symptoms.
"My symptoms are semi-manageable now," he said. "I was on disability and SSI but I've been able to be self-sufficient."
Goldsworthy now works as a part-time paid employee at the collective handling admissions. He continues to receive enough free medicine to smoke three to four times a day, around meal times.