Tara Rendall (left) and Imre Kovacs

Medicinal marijuana buds in Vernon

Vernon's Herbal-Health Centre THC Dispensary offers array of medical marijuana options.

The use of medical marijuana has reached a new high in Vernon.

Since it opened five weeks ago, The Herbal-Health Centre THC Dispensary already has a membership of more than 100 patients who use cannabis for its therapeutic and pain managing properties.

Located in a 2,500 square-foot unit in the Alpine Centre on Kalamalka Lake Road, the dispensary offers 19 strains of medical marijuana available in an array of forms – bud, oils, tinctures, creams, salves and baked goods.

In order to access treatment, patients must be referred to the members-only clinic by a doctor and have their application processed by Health Canada.

Imre Kovacs, who is one of five partners at the Herbal Heath Centre, is excited to see medical marijuana gain more mainstream acceptance, but tampers his enthusiasm with the knowledge that more education and awareness is needed, both with the public and within the medical profession.

“One of the things we’re trying to achieve here is something of a community,” said Kovacs, who formerly operated a licensed marijuana growing operation.

“Cannabis medicine in the mainstream is just in its infancy. The experience of patients and other people who have used cannabis medicinally, that come together and share those experiences, is really important for us.”

The facility boasts a modern design, with a bright, clean and professional atmosphere. Like any doctor’s office, there is a front reception area and lobby. But only members (a requirement of Health Canada) are permitted through to the dispensary and adjoining Vapour Lounge in the back.

Kovacs said it was necessary to maintain a professional (and visible) workspace in order for the dispensary to distance itself from the seedy subculture often associated with marijuana and the people who deal it illegally.

“We’re not trying to hide anything,” said Kovacs. “As far as we’re concerned, there is no stigma.

“We know that’s still out there, but that’s really changing over the last couple years, particularly because so many people in the baby boomer generation have had positive results.

“More and more health care officials are coming online with that too.”

Kovacs said the dispensary’s clientele includes people suffering from multiple sclerosis and other neurological and degenerative conditions, as well as gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s and colitis.

“A lot of it is reflective of the anti-stress and anti-anxiety benefits that cannabis can have,” he said. “It can be used for all sorts of pain management conditions, like arthritis or chronic pain from accidents or sports injuries.”

Kovacs added there is more and more research being conducted on the cannabis plant itself, which is leading to a better understanding of its medicinal properties.

“There’s more and more understanding of the different roles THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana) and CBD (cannabidiol) play in the medicinal application of cannabis,” said Kovacs.

“The THC is what we’re more familiar with. It’s the part that gets you stoned. The CBD is becoming more associated with the therapeutic qualities.”

There are two predominant types of cannabis – sativa and indica – each with its own qualities. The high produced from indica bud is a physical high that provides a deep relaxation feeling compared to sativa, which is regarded as more energetic and uplifting.

The dispensary’s product comes from licensed growers who have a surplus to what their prescription calls for. And by offering 19 different strains, some of which are a hybrid of the two varieties, Kovacs said they are able to target specific illnesses.

“The selection is vast, depending on what your ailment is. There can be a trial period where a patient has to sample a few different strains before they find what works best for them.”

The delivery methods of marijuana have come a long way since the days of Zig Zags and bongs. More users are turning to vaporizers, which offer a healthier way of inhaling the drug.

Kovacs said oral consumption of goods containing pot butter is also increasingly popular with members, as are topical applications like creams and salves. The latter two have no psychoactive properties, which is ideal for members who don’t want to get high.

In addition to purchasing marijuana from the dispensary, members also have the option of sampling and medicating in the Vapour Lounge, a well-ventilated common area that features comfortable couches and a flat-screen TV.

For members choosing to get high in the lounge, Kovacs said they should either have a designated driver, or be prepared to walk.

One of the challenges of gaining acceptance for medical marijuana is the drug’s association with the stoner culture. Kovacs said there is a distinction between patients who use it for legitimate medical purposes and recreational users, who have a tendency to be perceived as unproductive members of society.

“Certainly, you have examples of that, but those are people who are abusing it, or not using it appropriately,” said Kovacs. “If you want to be productive and alert, use the strain that’s appropriate.

“Most of the people using medical marijuana are normal, productive, working people. They’re mitigating symptoms of one kind or another, but they’re working throughout the day.”

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