Viceland, the TV channel founded by Vice Media and by A&E, will air at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 5 an episode of the show “Weediquette” filmed entirely in Maine — in both Harmony, and at an undisclosed camp somewhere in rural Maine. “Weediquette,” now in its second season, details marijuana’s social, economic and scientific impact across the world.
The episode deals with the relatively new practice of using medical marijuana to treat opiate addiction. Most of the episode centers on Beau, a 33-year-old Mainer who has battled opiate addiction for 16 years. In a last-ditch effort to kick methadone, which he has been using for years, he goes to an unaccredited detox facility in the Maine woods, run by caregiver Dennis Hammac. Over the course of four days, Beau ingests large amounts of medical marijuana in edible, oil, wax and “dab” form, in order to combat his withdrawal symptoms. At the end of the episode, host Krishna Andavolu says Beau has been clean for ten weeks, while another person that went through the detox program relapsed a few weeks after completing his treatment.
The marijuana detox episode isn’t the first time “Weediquette” has filmed in Maine. A segment of the second episode of the first season was shot in Belfast, interviewing Ryan Begin, a Belfast resident and Iraq War veteran that defies Veterans Administration protocol by using medical marijuana to help him deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. That episode is linked here; the segment primarily featuring Begin starts at around the 10:30 mark (a cable provider login is required to watch).
The Bangor Daily News spoke with “Weediquette” host Krishna Andavolu about his experience in Maine, and with the unorthodox means of treating opiate addiction the new episode focuses on.
BDN: How did you end up connecting with the individuals featured in this episode?
Andavolu: We went into this story thinking about Big Pharma vs. Medical Marijuana. We were cognizant of the opiate addiction epidemic in this country, and were trying to tease out how medical marijuana fits in with that. There have been a few studies in states where medical marijuana is legal showing that opiate addiction deaths have decreased as medical marijuana usage has increased. We wanted to investigate whether there is a causal connection between pot helping people in places where there are a lot of overdoses. We asked questions among medical marijuana advocates we know, and that led us to Maine, and this network of caregivers experimenting with this new protocol in treatment. It’s a fascinating microcosm of what is a huge problem across the country, on a real person-to-person scale.
BDN: Do you know of other places in the U.S. or the world where this is used as a treatment option for opiate addiction? How long has this been happening?
Andavolu: This is a pretty unique thing. We haven’t heard of many people doing this sort of reefer rehab. What’s important to note here is that we were in this era of knowledge about marijuana is outside the realm of medical science. Things are happening on an anecdotal level, whether it’s people who think pot can kill cancer or people who think it can help people recover from addiction. People are really hurting, and they are trying anything that might work. It’ll be interesting to see what happens 10 or 15 years down the line, because we’re in this incubator period right now, and it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.
BDN: Have you heard from Beau or any of the other people that have gone through this treatment? How are they holding up?
Andavolu: Beau was patient number eight, and he’s now 11 weeks clean. He’s been able to connect with his family and his children. However, the patient before him relapsed and left the facility, and is back to his old life. Our goal wasn’t to prove whether this works, but to see the frontiers of what people are doing with weed.
BDN: There was a petition in Maine earlier this year, rejected by the LePage administration, asking to have opiate addiction listed as one of the things for which medical marijuana can be prescribed. Now that you’ve gone through this reporting, what’s your opinion on the matter? Do you think medical marijuana should be an official treatment option? Do you think it works?
Andavolu: My overall conclusion is that the medical infrastructure to deal with opiate addiction is dreadfully lacking, and people are falling through the cracks. People are in triage mode, and are trying to take care of each other and weather the storm of the opiate crisis. In this instance, the caretakers are former addicts that have been able to wean themselves off opiates with medical marijuana. They are sharing their experiences, addict to addict. There’s something really intriguing about that kind of care. I think people don’t trust the healthcare industry when it comes to pain management. There’s a documented history of overprescription and lies. People go to the doctor to get help, and end up addicted. Lives fall apart. The health care industry is at a crossroads. Opioids have been the answer, but they aren’t anymore. Whether or not the answer is medical marijuana or something else, that remains to be seen.
BDN: Your show is specifically about weed culture, around the world. Compared to all the other places you’ve traveled in the U.S. and around the globe, how would you describe Maine’s marijuana culture?
Andavolu: Every place is a little bit different. Maine’s medical marijuana laws are more of a caregiver model, because it’s a rural state and people can’t travel to a dispensary. In lieu of that, it means that people are helping people. You grow a plant, and you give to another person that you’re taking care of. It’s a much less industrialized method of health care. We don’t know if it works with a capital W. We don’t have the full science behind it. But we do know how passionate people are about it.