Our Beyond Chronic interview with Laurel Dewey, author of the new novel Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden, continues with some of Laurel’s experiences with teaching and practicing herbal medicine, and details of how medical cannabis is practiced in Colorado.
Old Hippie: I think in a lot of ways, it’s everyday people like Betty who will discover medical marijuana that will change people’s perceptions. In the novel, she didn’t actually need it herself, she used her skills as a chocolate maker to turn medical marijuana into an income stream, rather than as a patient.
But there are a lot of people like her out there; average, often older Americans, Republicans and church people, who have been learning about cannabis and learning to cure themselves with it. They’ve been finding out that the propaganda that we’ve talked about is just all false. I think in a lot of ways, the sympathetic characters that you present in the Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden novel are the kind of people who are going to change the world.
Laurel Dewey: Yeah! And again, I made sure that Betty became a caregiver. I wanted to get across that subject that not too many people are familiar with. So many people know the dispensary model, where you go to a dispensary to get medical cannabis. But very few people seem to understand the whole caregiver/patient relationship model. I used the Colorado model, because I wanted to use what I knew and had already researched.
But people seem to be unaware that there is this caregiver/patient relationship that is allowed here under state law. You’re allowed five patients, besides yourself, that you can grow for. There’s a stipulation of how many plants you’re allowed. I went into this in the book, because I think a lot of people believe that people who are doing this caregiver thing are just out there growing 100 plants, which is completely untrue.
I followed people and saw how these relationships developed in real life, so that I could realistically portray that in the book. It’s not this idea that you’re growing weed for somebody that doesn’t really need it. That’s not what I saw.
There are obviously people who are going to abuse that, but that’s not what I saw. I saw caregivers who were growing cannabis for people who couldn’t grow it themselves because they either were in a wheelchair, or they had Stage 3 or Stage 4 cancer, or they were simply too elderly. A lot of people were elderly, and that’s the other demographic that’s in this novel. I met a guy who’s 84 years old! And yes, he’s keeping it secret.
I wanted to explore this relationship, and demonstrate in the book that medical cannabis is not about a lot of people with fake back probems walking into dispensaries. There’s a wide range of conditions treatable with cannabis. And that’s why I used the characters of patients that I chose in the book. I specifically gave them certain medical issues that I had witnessed, that I had seen in my research that are realistic reasons why you would want to become a patient and get a caregiver.
I’m really happy that I am the first one to write a fictional novel about medical marijuana, because it is so important that people who do not understand this, and may be sitting on the fence, can at least understand that this is not what they keep hearing from the DARE campaigns or from propaganda that’s still being pushed out there by government officials. I think I accomplished that.
David Fiedler: Back in the 1990s, you were writing a lot about herbs and alternative medicine, and yet you never seemed to have picked up on cannabis at the time. Is cannabis just another herb that the government has made into the Devil Incarnate for some reason?
Laurel Dewey: It seems that way. I used to teach a lot of classes on herbal medicine, went out in the field, and talked about wild food, wild herbs, how to survive in the wilderness, and that kind of thing. I spent almost 12 years doing that, and people made a lot of assumptions, and one was that I smoked pot because I knew about herbs. I got offered pot a lot, and I was like, “Please! No, I’m not interested.”
But to say I was vehemently against cannabis is really quite putting it mildly. And that’s why the 180 degree turn that I’ve made is astounding. And if I can do it, then anyone can do it.
You know, I live in Colorado. You can’t drive down the street in Denver without seeing a dispensary, so I’m very familiar with it, but there are other states that don’t have legal medical marijuana, so they’re still living in the shadows. I think it’s ridiculous that people could be facing Federal time for a small amount…possession of a joint, or something. That’s just insane to me.
And by the way, I felt that way even when I was totally against cannabis. That hasn’t changed. I felt that nobody should go to prison for it. Even when I hated the plant, I still didn’t think that was right. So I was never one of those people who said, “Throw them all in prison!” I thought, “Maybe they need help.”
As far as my herbal background, now in retrospect, yes, it’s a plant. Is it just an herb? No, I don’t think it’s just an herb. I know a lot of herbs, and I’ve worked with a lot of plants, and roots, and leaves…you name it.
I do have an affinity for some plants more than others. For example, I love comfrey. I grow comfrey by the bucketful around here. I love stinging nettles, because it’s an incredible natural mineral herb and it has so many benefits. By the way, you can even make fiber out of the nettle, like you can make out of hemp…it’s a little more involved, but you can do it.
But when I was doing my herbal work through the 1990s – 2001 is when I stopped – I always considered cannabis to be dangerous. And it wasn’t that it was going to kill your brain, or kill your liver. I had been told by a very respected alternative physician and Naturopathic doctor many years ago that if you take cannabis too much, you could basically create a hypoglycemic condition in your body, and that a lot of people who use it have blood sugar issues.
I don’t know where he heard that, or whether it was from his experience…I have no clue. But I parroted that information to others. And when people would ask me about cannabis in my herbal medicine classes, I would tell them, “Pssh. No, it screws up your blood sugar, and you don’t want to do that. Next question.” I just wasn’t that informed about it.
So I say it’s an herb, but you know what? After working with it, and learning about it, and studying it now for almost 18 months, I can say now that it’s not just another herb. There are some herbs out there – and I have literally worked with hundreds of herbs – that I believe are higher up on the “food chain” of usefulness. And cannabis is certainly way up there on the usefulness chart, whether you’re talking about the industrial uses for it, or the medical uses for it.
Or the topical uses for it, even. And by the way, that’s how I first allowed myself to even get involved with it. Topically. Because I wasn’t going to take it internally. I decided, “No, no, no. I’m not going to do this.”
So I started experimenting with different salves that I bought. I wasn’t thrilled with most of them because they added a lot of “fillers” that I thought weren’t necessary and diluted the medicinal effect. But because I have a background in making salves, and ointments, and you name it…comfrey salves and plantain salves…I decided to make a cannabis salve.
And that’s the first thing I did with the plant. I made a very simple salve with just the bud, some sweet leaf shake and coconut oil.
And I was absolutely blown away. You put it on, and ten minutes later, what had been hurting wasn’t hurting as much. And then I saw it work on a burn. I saw the salve that I made work on my husband’s burn, and grow new skin almost overnight. So I thought, “OK, maybe there is something to this.”
It was really gradual for me. It wasn’t like I went, “Oh, I understand it now! I suddenly see that I was so wrong!” No, I kept saying, “OK, all right, I’ll give it that…now let’s see what else it can do.” But I didn’t say I was wrong, until later on I realized I had been really wrong.
So I’m probably one of the best people out there to promote the understanding, without the hysteria, of this plant, because I was so against it.
I would like to say this to all the people back in the 1990s to whom I said, “Don’t use it!”…I apologize. I was ignorant…but I’m not anymore.
In the next part of the interview, Laurel Dewey talks about edibles, getting high, and parents who drug their children.