Villager: medical marijuana expert

By Ryan Fitzgerald & Tristan Davis – Co-Editor-in-Chief & Features Editor

This month’s election featured a ballot question that’s caused quite the stir of mixed reactions among voters in Massachusetts. The proposed law (which has now been passed) will legally allow individuals over 21 years of age to use, possess, and grow marijuana. Massachusetts was joined by California and Nevada to be the three states to legalize marijuana on November 8. Recreational marijuana is now legal in seven states and in our nation’s capital.

Medical marijuana advocate Lester Grinspoon, 89, sits in his office at Lasell Village. Photo by Ryan Fitzgerald

Oddly enough, Massachusetts is home to the man who started the conversation in America of legalizing marijuana and using it for its medicinal qualities. His name is Lester Grinspoon, he’s 89 years old, and he lives in Lasell Village.

Having lived in Los Angeles for a couple years of his life, Grinspoon was born and raised in the Newton-Wellesley area before attending Harvard Medical School. He began researching marijuana in the 1960s, shortly after arriving at Harvard, where a friend introduced him to the drug. It’s worth noting that the friend was Carl Sagan, acclaimed astrophysicist and host of the 1980 Emmy-winning PBS television series “Cosmos.”

“The first time I went to his apartment in Cambridge for a party, he and his friends were smoking marijuana and I was shocked,” said Grinspoon. “I couldn’t believe it. I told him, ‘you mustn’t do this, you’re really harming yourself.’” Sagan took a long drag and said, “Lester, you should try it, you’ll love it.”

Years later, Grinspoon’s studies have done more for medicinal marijuana than any other researcher in American history. His first book “Marijuana Reconsidered” was published in 1971, and is credited as the ignition behind its use and discusses the minimal adverse effects it has on the human body. The book triggered much discussion about the medical benefits of the drug.

When asked if the drug carries a dependency factor, Grinspoon answered confidently. “You can sit around and smoke or you can sit around and drink, but it doesn’t make you dependent on it,” said Grinspoon. “If something comes up that you’re really interested in, you can give it up very quickly.” He often traveled to Europe early in his career for work, but refrained from bringing marijuana with him, despite being a common user.

Grinspoon has written six books on marijuana, in addition to four other editing credits. In 1994, his second-most notable book “Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine” was published, further discussing the medical benefits of marijuana. “[Marijuana] has such limited toxicity and is so versatile as a medicine,” said Grinspoon. “It can be used as an analgesic, as anti-nausea. Someone sent me a list the other day that he had accumulated of over 107 signs and symptoms for which cannabis could be used as a medicine. I thought that [might be] stretching it, but the fact of the matter is it is a very versatile medicine.”

Grinspoon experimented with medical marijuana on his son Danny when he was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. “When he became sick, he had this awful nausea with the sickness, it was just awful,” said Grinspoon. “In my head I knew [marijuana] was useful, so I decided to let him use it. It changed things remarkably. It didn’t alter the course of his illness. Marijuana doesn’t cure anything, but it certainly made a difference in the quality of his life. It [relieved] his nausea, enhanced his appetite. It was very useful. That was the first time I had experience giving this drug to a patient.”

The Village resident explained marijuana is not a drug that cures illness, but can work as an aid while a patient is ill.

He even has an Australian rock band named after him. The group goes by “Grinspoon.” “The manager called me from Australia and told me they’d like to make up a T-shirt,” he said. “I told them I couldn’t do that, I never did anything commercial. I never wanted to make a penny on this. It was against my principle.”

Grinspoon currently lives with his wife in a quaint room in the Mann building of Lasell Village. He spends a lot of his time happily answering questions via phone or email that people across the globe ask him regarding the medical benefits of cannabis.

Now that Question 4 has passed, only time will tell how the drug will be used, and if Grinspoon’s books and advice will be utilized by Massachusetts during the implementation process.

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