Ernestine Coon reclined in her hospital bed at The Connecticut Hospice with a colorful blanket covering her legs, watching seagulls soar over the water from her second-floor room. Longtime friends chatted with Coon as the slender, silver-haired grandmother prepared to do something she’d never done in her 70 years: Try marijuana.
One year ago, Coon visited the doctor and left with a diagnosis of ovarian and uterine cancer. Now, with doctors giving her about six months to live, she has constant pain in her abdomen and back, and has signed on as patient number five in the nation’s first federally approved trial to see if medical cannabis can sufficiently reduce pain in dying patients so that they can reduce their use of opioids. The study, which was announced in December and began in May, could change how millions of dying Americans treat severe pain, and open the door to alternatives to prescription painkillers blamed for a nationwide epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths. It’s expected to run for at least a year, and the goal is to enroll 66 on-site patients who are well enough to swallow capsules filled with cannabis extract, but whose pain is so bad that they require prescription medication to manage it — patients like Coon, one of the 1.3 million US hospice patients facing certain death and hoping to make it as pain-free as possible.
“You’re talking to someone who never did drugs,” Coon said, her voice scratchy. “It wasn’t my thing.”
That has changed as her disease has progressed and her pain has worsened. Coon — an energetic woman who brags that she rarely was ill and was never hospitalized except when she gave birth — now has trouble walking, sitting up straight, or playing with her grandchildren.
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