The words “marijuana” and “cannabis” aren’t usually used in the same sentence as “mentor” or “coach.” That’s usually because when most people think of marijuana and cannabis, they’re more apt to think of professions like “hippie” or “police” instead.
Even in Arizona, a state with a medical marijuana program more than a decade old and a robust (although recently approved) adult-medical use market, it’s understandable why some would still be wary of a medicine and its byproducts that are federally prohibited.
For many people, especially seniors, societal biases and quasi-legal obstacles can be barriers for trying medical marijuana, even if their primary care doctors recommend it.
That’s where people like Tucson cannabis coach Bill Meeks come in.
Overcoming an age-old stigma
Barbara Kaiser of Green Valley initially didn’t entertain the thought of using medical marijuana to help manage her pain. How could she — she had steered her children against it.
“It was difficult for me,” she says. “I'm 86 years old and I lived through the years of my children being exposed to marijuana. So the last thing I wanted anything to do with was marijuana, but after a while, when the pain got so bad and I was destined for a wheelchair, I applied for the (medical) card and received it.”
Kaiser’s worries weren’t hers alone.
Carla Erb, 70, of Tucson, had some recreational experience with marijuana in her college years, but had always viewed any use of the plant, recreational or medicinal, as incompatible with being “a professional.”
“Throughout my professional career I abstained simply because it was illegal,” she explains. “And you know, you don't want to be doing illegal things.”
Erb eventually attained her medical marijuana card after retiring and moving to Arizona in 2014, when she says she started to deal with digestive issues brought on by ibuprofen usage and knee pain.
“I thought, ‘Well, what am I supposed to do?’” she says. “So, at that point, I said, ‘You know, I got to try medical marijuana.’ Maybe there's a way it can facilitate my hiking. Maybe it keeps my knee from hurting. So that was the beginning of it. Just hoping to find a way to use it for pain.”
Looking for help in finding relief
Both women also said they initially tried to navigate finding relief for their symptoms themselves. And both reported being confused and unsatisfied with their experiences.
“First of all, I was just surprised by the difficulty,” Erb says. “And then once I finally got myself into a dispensary, I thought, ‘OK, now everything's fine, I'll just have joints to smoke and my knee won't hurt,’ but you can't really roll a joint and take it on the trail with you.”
Kaiser echoed Erb’s sentiments.
“I applied for the card and received it,” Kaiser says. “And when I got it, I didn't know what to do with it. I went to one of the local dispensaries and they were very nice, but I still didn't have a clue what to do.”
That’s when each woman reached out to cannabis coach Bill Meeks.
Meeks, a self-styled cannabis coach and a former football player and police officer who worked narcotics, said he came to cannabis five years ago after years of taking morphine for old football and service injuries and suffering from PTSD.
Much like Erb and Kaiser, Meeks said he initially was unsuccessful in treating his symptoms.
“I spent a year trying to figure it out,” Meeks says. “I wasn't using whole plant. I was just using isolate medicine and it wasn't getting done what I wanted to get done.”
Whole plant (as opposed to extract or distillate) medicine refers to edibles, topicals, extracts and other products that look to utilize a cannabis plant's entire chemical make-up, and not just the THC or CBD.
So Meeks sought out as much peer-reviewed research and good science on marijuana as medicine as he could. That led him to chef Payton Curry, one of the country’s leading marijuana edible makers.
“He kind of took me under his wing and taught me about whole plant medicine and how to make whole plant medicine,” Meeks says. “Once I figured that out, I started to change myself.”
The cannabis coach
Soon after that, Meeks had an encounter at a local dispensary with an elderly patient who seemed out of sorts.
"She comes back out with a little bag and she has that same scared to death look on her face," Meeks says. "So, I stopped her and I said, ‘Do you mind if I ask you, what are you going to do with that?’ And she said, ‘Oh, I don't know. My grandson, he puts it in a pipe for me.’”
That encounter helped Meeks realize there was an entire underserved market of individuals who, due to either ignorance of the subject or societal taboo, didn’t know where or who to turn to for advice in treating their symptoms.
“I thought, there ought to be a role for somebody to go in and help people buy their own medicine and they, you know, give them guidance and counseling on what to buy,” he says.
Now, Meeks, along with his wife Dorothy, helps medical marijuana patients throughout Southern Arizona and the country with everything from whole-plant medicine education to meeting patients at the dispensary.
He charges a one-time consulting fee of $300, which includes three home-visits where Meeks says he likes to assess what each patient is looking for from using cannabis. He also offers a monthly cooking class for five or six people at $100 a head.
Although he is not a medical doctor by training, he touts the experience he has gained in helping others and himself, as well as what he calls his voracious need to learn. Plus, there isn’t really any official certifying authority when it comes to cannabis coaching or consulting.
“There's only one way to do this,” he says. “And that's the skill in understanding the individual. They can't teach that on an online course, you know, where you can learn everything there is to know about a plant, but it's the applicability to an individual human being that is a skillful art.”
A new normal
For their part, both Kaiser and Erb say they benefitted from Meeks’ consulting.
“It's helpful to have a coach,” Erb says. “If you're a beginner or not experienced, and you don't want to do a lot of expensive experimentation on your own, it's worth the money to invest in a coach upfront.”
Kaiser, says that medical marijuana helps her manage, but does not eliminate, pain. But after years of living in a state of near constant opioid addiction, she says the time learning from Meeks was tremendously beneficial.
“I haven't had an opioid, I haven't had anything like that now for over three years,” she says.
For Meeks, those are the kind of results he operates on.
“We've had some of our greatest success stories with people like that,” he says, referring to patients like Erb and Kaiser. “So it has been the most rewarding thing that I've done professionally.”
For more information about Meeks' services contact AZMMJcoach@gmail.com.