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The Pragmatist

Connie Gardiner will be 72 this year and she’s not afraid of speaking frankly about the side effects of growing old. Her diagnosis of Osteoarthritis in 2007, followed by the news that she also had Osteoporosis (or “rotten bones,” as Connie refers to it) has inspired her to take a no-nonsense approach to her life and her health. She credits cannabis as the turning point — a source of renewed hope during a very difficult time.

Quick Facts

Connie Gardiner

Former Worker

Toronto People With Aids Foundation

I’ll take you back in time a bit to when I was first diagnosed with Osteoarthritis. The pain I was experiencing was excruciating. My pain was concentrated in both of my knees, and I can’t stress this enough — it was unbearable. I tried many kinds of relief medications at my doctor’s recommendation, but nothing helped. My symptoms were getting worse every month. If I forgot something upstairs, something necessary that I couldn’t go without, my whole day would be ruined. My grandson and my daughter live with me, so they would help out when they could — but they have lives of their own and can’t be with me every moment. Back then I had a little dog, and it was so sad, I couldn’t even take her for a walk. I was near immobile.

Finally, after doing a lot of my own research about the potential benefits of cannabis for conditions like mine, I went to my GP and I said, “I can’t take this anymore. I want to try marijuana.” She referred me to a cannabinoid clinic.

Everything about the experience felt foreign and uncomfortable at first. I remember there was a young lady working at the clinic, helping me, and she was not equipped to offer me any useful advise in terms of dosage or what strains to use.

I was on my own, and I had a huge learning curve. I had almost no experience with cannabis, except when I was younger and then it was just frivolous, eating a slot of donuts and laughing my head off. So when I first started by using a vaporizer in my sixties, I thought, “I’m not sure this is for me.”

Finally, I saw a different doctor, and it was the first time I ever had a medical professional look me in the eye and say, “I really want to help you.” You know that nobody says that to old people? They just do not. The truth of it is, they usually can’t help. They can’t reverse the ageing process, can they? And often an illness or condition is too far along, and the options are limited. But this young man wanted to make my life a bit better, and work with me to figure out what would help.

I started taking CBD oils for my symptoms in 2016, and that was much better for me than products with a high THC content. I’ve found that it’s made a huge difference in my life, in my wellbeing. Suddenly, I could do everyday things I wasn’t able to do before. I could walk my dog. I could go to an outside art show with a friend, and walk around for over an hour without being in pain. It was good. I felt like a person again.

It’s not a miracle, there’s no such thing, but now I can go up the stairs without crying, without immense pain, and that’s a big change. I have my life back.

I think older people should feel better about talking about the struggles of aging, the physical changes and also in how we’re seen, how the social landscape changes. We need to be more straightforward with ourselves and with each other. Like, do you know that old people can’t sleep? Especially women. Of all my friends I only know one person who can sleep well. She was never married and she doesn’t have any kids. [Laughing] So maybe that’s the secret.

Every woman deserves a certain amount of independence, self-determination, and the freedom to make her own choices. Growing old can be tough, because it can feel thrust upon you. I always laugh when I think of how right Bette Davis was to say: “It’s not for sissies!” But you have to keep a positive outlook. There’s always something you can do to have a more joyful life.

Photography by Angela Lewis


Every woman deserves a certain amount of independence, self-determination, and the freedom to make her own choices. Not have them thrust upon you. Growing old can be tough, because it can feel thrust upon you. I always laugh when I think of how right Bette Davis was to say: ‘It’s not for sissies!’

Before her children were born, Connie worked for years as a public school teacher, and when her children were school age, she went to work at the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA).

 

“Since 1987, PWA has been helping men, women, trans men, trans women, and children live with HIV/AIDS. The work we did during the late 80s and 90s was really important. It meant a lot to me, and we helped a lot of people. I still volunteer when I can.

 

I bring this up because there’s an interesting parallel about groups who are stigmatized. In the 90s, gay men who travelled from Toronto to New York or other American cities for work, or to Mexico, couldn’t bring their AZT with them. They were often pulled aside and their expensive medicine was seized at the border. That’s not the case anymore of course, things have changed. But it was the reality for a long time.

 

I don’t travel at all now, because I’m unsure about how to travel with cannabis. What if I seize up and I’m without my medications, what will I do? Who will I go to? I haven’t been anywhere outside of Ontario in ages. I love travelling, and I miss it. I’m hopeful to see the wider, even global acceptance of cannabis as medicine, preferably while I’m still young enough to travel somewhere nice.”

 

Click here to donate to the Toronto People With Aids Foundation.

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How to talk to your doctor about medical cannabis:
1

Arrive prepared – do research into the different licensed producers and print out referral documents and authorization forms available online. Show your doctor that you are serious about this treatment option.

2

Be honest – tell them about your history. If cannabis has helped you in the past, they need to know.

3

Don’t be afraid to ask for a referral. Even if your doctor does not feel comfortable prescribing cannabis, they will send you to another doctor who can. Request a referral to a cannabinoid clinic near you. Click here for a list of Canadian cannabinoid clinics.