Maine man in recovery makes it to the Today Show

I’m thrilled to announce that Maine’s awesome medical marijuana program will be part of a Thursday morning feature on NBC’s Today Show.

The Today Show is taking a look at medical marijuana as an exit strategy for our nation’s addiction epidemic. Back in January of 2016, I became intrigued by some local caregivers who testified before the Legislature about treating addiction with medical marijuana, and I’ve blogged a bit about it since.

Today Show staff came to Winthrop, Maine, last month to meet with two of those caregivers, Catherine and Glenn Lewis, one of their patients, and military veterans who are treating their medical/mental health conditions and substance use disorder issues with medical marijuana.

Photo of the Lewises provided by Catherine and Glenn Lewis

The piece will also include footage from an inpatient facility in California where clients can access medical marijuana treatment for addiction in an established clinical setting. I’m excited to see what the process looks like in that more formal setting, and I know ultimately Maine caregivers would like to see such an operation here.

Currently caregivers who work with addicts do so mostly as community-based, outpatient supports. The Lewises and others hope the media attention will generate the interest and resources necessary to develop an inpatient program here in Maine.

I’m told the segment will be about 10 minutes long, which is quite a chunk of time to dedicate to the topic. One of the Mainers involved is someone I know quite well, and I’m so proud of him, I’d like to highlight his story. I’m not sure how much of his footage will make it to the final edit, but regardless I am sure his story is something folks with similar struggles might appreciate.

Jesse Hanson at home. Photo provided by Hanson

I’ve known Jesse for more than 12 years. I’ve even written about him before. He’s 28 years old, a sweet bundle of curly-haired energy at his best, an addict of all substances except meth at his worst.

Believe it or not, we joke about that – like, thank goodness he never tried that one … the joke being that he has abused absolutely everything else. Dark humor helps to get through dark times, and supporting Jesse has involved some dark times.

Honestly, as recently as last summer, I would’ve thought the next time I wrote about Jesse, I’d be writing about his death. After an epic fail with Suboxone treatment that included criminal trouble, Jesse had gotten into a methadone clinic, but like every other medication, methadone wasn’t enough.

Treatment for people like Jesse, who has a serious trauma history as well as mental illness, is more complicated than some may understand. Jesse’s substance use disorder isn’t about only one substance so medicated-assisted treatment for opiate addiction alone isn’t enough. As was his norm, Jesse was mixing crack, benzodiazepines, and alcohol with his methadone treatment.

At that point his death seemed inevitable — so inevitable his mom and I even talked about the conversation we’d have after it happened. I told her the first thing I’d tell her was that she had done everything she could with what she had to work with. She told me she was going to need to hear that over and over again.

I told her I’d call her once a day for the rest of my life to tell her that if she needed me to in order to support her getting through every parent’s worst nightmare. It was a yucky conversation to have, but, like I said, we were dealing with seeming inevitability at that time, after a long hard battle with Jesse’s polysubstance abuse.

Jesse’s not dead, though. Instead he’s going to be part of the Today Show feature. Amazingly, Jesse is only using medical marijuana products, one psychiatric medication, and methadone – a totally different scenario than last summer. Now he’s working toward reducing his methadone.

Ultimately his goal is to get down to just his one psych med and medical marijuana.

Jesse’s gained weight as readers can see in the picture — I haven’t seen cheeks on that face in years! He’s in a stable relationship and has developed a circle of friends who support his recovery. He asked me to come with him when the Today Show producer came to Winthrop to meet with his caregivers.

The Jesse I’ve always known was virtually incapable of talking to strangers without excessive substance abuse, yet there he was completely lucid, discussing his addictions openly on camera.

I asked Jesse if he was nervous when he did it, and he said, “Yes, but happy at the same time – happy to know I’d be getting the word out there. I was honored.” The “word” he wants out there, is the message that medical marijuana has made all the difference in saving his life.

Jesse knows he’s an extreme case as far as substance use disorders go, and he wants to let others like him know there’s hope. Jesse’s treatment involves more than “just smoking weed.” He’s on a steady regimen of medical marijuana concentrates including oils that he ingests and vaporizes.

When I asked Jesse what was it about medical marijuana that made a difference when it came to his urges, he said medical marijuana was different than any other medication he’d tried before.

He said, “I’m not having to take other medications to counter its side effects like depression or anger I can’t control, and I don’t have to wait weeks for it to build up in my bloodstream before I feel beneficial effects.” He added, “This treatment has been the only one to stick.”

Jesse considers it part of his recovery to open people’s eyes to the severity of the epidemic and to the hope of finding the right treatment and a road to recovery. I’ve long considered it a part of my recovery to help people like Jesse find a road to recovery and their purpose once there.

Yay recovery! Spread the word and if you can, tune in!

Catherine Lewis is the owner of Homegrown Healthcare Alternative Wellness, Apothecary and Learning Center in Winthrop, ME.

And for the record, I couldn’t be prouder of Jesse Hanson.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.