Ashley Colen and Paige Colen, principals of Ash+Ember cannabis dispensary in Centreville, spoke to the Community Breakfast group Tuesday, July 25. The sisters grew up on a farm outside of Rock Hall. They received the license to operate Ash+Ember in February 2018, which has grown to over 5000 registered patients, often recommended by local medical providers. They also hold a U.S. patent for the first 3-D printed delivery device for medical cannabis.
Cannabis sativa is the scientific name for the cannabis plant, distinguished from commercial hemp that has no psychoactive properties. All strains of medical cannabis produce a variety of chemical compounds – cannabinoids – including THC, responsible for the marijuana “high,” and CBD, believed to reduce anxiety, inflammation, and pain.
Ashley Colen explained that components of the plant – especially THC and CBD – regulate bodily processes differently from opiates, which mask pain but do not heal. The illegal status has stymied research in the U.S., but Ashley Colen reported that studies in Israel, England, and other countries show that CBD can be useful for epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and childhood diabetes.
“Western medicine is just catching up now,” Ashley Colen said. Researchers at John Hopkins are starting to suggest that patients try CBD. The University of Maryland Pharmacy School recently announced its Masters in Cannabis Studies program.
“While cannabis is effective for pain relief, it’s not a quick panacea, like pop this in and everything’s going to be great,” Ashley Colen remarked. She contrasted it with opiates that may produce quick relief, but are highly addictive with unwanted side effects. “You might not feel pain in your leg, but you probably also don’t laugh as hard or enjoy your sunsets…. It dulls all of your senses, so that’s not ideal.”
Cannabis studies show “it’s more like a supplement, a vitamin,” rather than a “quick fix.” The healthy body naturally produces molecules identical to THC, she explained. Cannabis therapy “fills in the holes” to replace those molecules lost in aging bodies. “It makes your body work more as it did when you were 20.”
Atlas asked about the long-term effects of regular use of cannabis. Ashley Colen responded that “It’s been used for thousands of years of medicine in numerous cultures, so the evidence is there.” Western science “is just getting into it.”
Paige Colen explained that Israeli researchers have been investigating cannabinoids for almost 40 years and have isolated over 400 different compounds in addition to the familiar THC.
“But it’s also been determined that most of these chemicals have specific effects that can be used to target different ailments. Identified by scientists in the 1990s, the human cannabinoid system has receptors on most of the major organs of the body. There are none on your brain stem, so that is why you cannot overdose on cannabis,” Paige Colen explained.
Audience member Airlee Johnson asked about varieties that Ash+Ember offered.
“If you come in and tell me how you want to feel, I will tell you what strain you want,” Ashley Colen explained, noting that Ash+Ember has developed relationships with Maryland’s top growers and stocks 60 different strains depending upon availability. Ash+Ember’s staff is trained about different strains with similar healing effects so that patients can have alternatives. Factors like sleep, exercise and diet are in play while deciding on a course of treatment. There is a pharmacist on staff, mandated by state law, and all staff members are rigorously trained.
Paige Colen discussed differences between ingesting cannabis products in food and smoking them. Smoking gets the cannabinoids into the bloodstream very quickly, but the effects last only about 3 hours. Conversely, edibles are slower to take effect, but last much longer – 4 to 6 hours, typically. Delivery depends on the patient’s condition and comfort level, she said.
Atlas said that many people are brought up believing that “life is hard,” and that anxiety and stress are “the normal state of affairs.” He worried that if he “felt good all the time about things,” he might not be “my normal participant self.”
“You’re not altered to the point where you’re numbed and you just don’t care about anything,” Paige Colen responded. “You’re just not snappy anymore.” She added that cannabis allows the user to step back and evaluate things, “which is what you should be doing at every stage.” She said she found that her own performance in all areas was enhanced by using cannabis, although she has stopped using cannabis when she became pregnant.
Chestertown Councilman David Foster asked, “What is the difference between Maryland’s medical marijuana law and recreational use?”
“When you come to us, we don’t tell you can only take CBD,” Paige Colen said. “I like to say that anyone who’s using cannabis for recreation, the joke’s on you, because you’re getting the medical benefits” such as lower anxiety, improved sleep, and pain relief.
Dr. Harry Hart, a retired optometrist, remarked that his wife had tried CBD for chronic pain, at first with some success, but didn’t result in further improvement of her condition.
Ashley Colen explained Hart’s wife was likely taking CBD derived from industrial hemp, and that studies have shown that such CBD has “a top-off point, and the body stops absorbing it.” “Medically-optimized Cannabis sativa does not have that problem because it has a higher concentration of CBD, Ashley Colen explained, adding that the main side effects are “happy, sleeping well, hungry.”
Ashley Colen also reported that they have started a non-profit program to supply cannabis to indigent hospice patients to allow them to have some quality of life without being sedated with opioids.
Foster asked what the sisters would tell their children about cannabis?
Paige Colen said she would be talking to them and telling them about it as a medicine.
Ashley Colen talks to her nine-year-old son “very openly.” Her mission is to “destigmatize this plant. It’s not dangerous.” Communicating respect for “the power of the plant” is the best approach to deter young people from misusing it, she remarked. If a child thinks, “Mommy sells medical cannabis to sick people all the time, he’s less likely to be attracted than if it’s somehow mysterious and forbidden,” she said. “Kids aren’t going into your medicine cabinet and chugging aspirin.”
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission requires patients to register and pay for a patient ID card that can be ordered online at www.mmcc.maryland.gov. Ash+Ember can assist patients who need application assistance.
Ash+Ember is open seven days a week: Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m; Friday-10 to 8; Saturday-10 to 5, and Sunday-11 to 3. Medical cannabis is not covered by most insurance plans. Ash+Ember accepts cash or checks. For more information, visit www.ashembercannabis.com.
The community breakfast group meets at 7:30 a.m. every Thursday at Holiday Inn Express in Chestertown. The talks usually last about an hour, with a question-and-answer included.
Editor’s note: Steve Meehan is a Chestertown Spy advisor, volunteer editor, and part owner of Ash + Ember.