HIGHLAND PARK – Alan Gelman has been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis for 15 years. He also has a heart condition that prevents him from taking pain medication to manage his arthritis, because of the side effects.“The easiest way to deal with my pain is marijuana. I smoke it and I do the edibles,” said Gelman. He recently had a tendon graft on his hand and wrist, and because he won’t take conventional pain medications except Tylenol, “it was marijuana or nothing.”
Fortunately, Gelman found a treatment at Elevele, a Highland Park medicinal cannabis dispensary that celebrated its one-year anniversary on April 7. It not only manages Gelman’s pain, but it has improved his quality of life.
Elevele opened March 23, 2016 at 1460 Old Skokie Road in Highland Park’s Briergate District. “Patient registration was slow at the beginning, but last month we had a 19 percent increase in patients versus a seven percent increase statewide,” said Andy Hunt, a Lake Forest resident who co-owns Elevele with his wife, Veronica Hunt.
Gelman said the staff at Elevele is knowledgeable in taking symptoms and prescribing the proper medication. “They’re prescribing different strains of marijuana for specific purposes. This really is a medical dispensary.” At 71, the 40-year Highland Park resident said he’s now able to sleep better has more energy to work out.
“Most people don’t realize that medicinal cannabis (marijuana) really works for pain and there are thousands of testimonials from patients who were on hardcore opiates who now have either completely quit them or have had a dramatic decrease in them,” said Hunt. “Pain is the number one answer when patients are asked what Elevele can help them with, as 75 percent of our patients list pain as one of their symptoms,” said Hunt.
Hunt said he was surprised by the number of patients who hadn’t used cannabis before, and also by the age range of the patients: Elevele’s average patient is in the mid to late 50s. Currently the oldest patient is 87.
Hunt explained that most patients do not continually use the same type of medicine. “Initially about 60 percent of our patients use edibles or some other non-flower delivery (smoking) method, which is higher than the state average,” he said. “The state averages about 50 percent flower sales and we average about 40 percent flower sales.”
“There are cannabis options for patients seeking a non-psychoactive pain treatment,” said Hunt.
Hunt said the newest edibles include pretzel nuggets, hard candies, chocolates and a spray for under your tongue. “Illinois is starting to catch up with the other states by offering approximately 1,100 different products,” Hunt said. The edibles are dosed now, and boxes of 10 milligram chocolates are available, though Elevele might have a new patient start with five milligrams.
“We always say start slow and go low. It really surprises first-time edible users, as it lasts longer than they might expect,” he added.
The patients work with PCR’s (patient care representatives) and Assistant Manager Paul Nowacki is both a PCR and a patient.
Nowacki works closely with patients in determining which products to use, and he adjusts their dosages accordingly. “I also try different products from our cultivators, and based on quality and effectiveness decide whether to recommend carrying them in the store,” said the Highland Park resident.
After years of playing soccer and volleyball, Nowacki became achy and his joints started to swell. In his 20s, he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. “I started using cannabis for anxiety and later used it for inflammation and pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis,” he said.
Since Elevele opened, Illinois has added two new conditions for treating with medicinal cannabis: terminal illness and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some of the other medical conditions include: Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, lupus, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. For a complete listing visit: Illinois Medical Marijuana Law. In Illinois, patients may legally purchase up to two and a half ounces of medical cannabis every two weeks.
Hunt said patients usually have to wait about 45 days for an ID card, but the process is expedited for terminal patients. The state requires that fingerprints can’t be older than 30 days, and the doctor’s recommendation has to be filed within a certain period. “Originally it was written as a recommendation, but now the doctor’s role is to certify that they have a relationship with the patient who has a qualifying medical condition.”
Hunt said at least 30 percent of Elevele’s patients are getting a discount. Seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities all get 10 percent off. “The majority of our growers will help get the medicine for patients in need at a reduced cost. It’s not covered, and it’s a big deal for people who are trying to make choices between eating and medicating.”
Hunt said he enjoys getting to know the patients and wants everyone to feel comfortable in the secure and quiet spa-like environment. “We don’t pretend that medicinal cannabis is a cure, but patients are able to eliminate some medications that cause side effects. I feel like Veronica and I are doing a lot of good at Elevele and one year out – fingers crossed – we haven’t had any problems,” he added.