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It’s the Goo in the Night

by on January 09, 2019 5:00 AM

My left knee woke me up in the middle of the night, wanting to know if we had any Oreos and if I’d ever thought about what a weird word “knee” is.

“No and no,” I said. “Go to sleep.”

I’d never had a joint behave like it had smoked a joint, but then, what did I expect? I had rubbed CBD- and THC-infused balm on it an hour before, hoping to quiet a dull ache that has troubled my sleep since summer.

I was sober as a judge – well maybe we’ll have to retire that simile in the Kavanaugh era – but my knee was wasted. Or at least mildly buzzed.

I acquired my little jar of medicated goo in Colorado, land of legal marijuana. I had mentioned my nagging knee problem to my relatives and that I’d heard several wonder tales about the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD – cannabidiol – including on NPR!

And so, on Christmas Eve, they took me to Native Roots, a dispensary located in one of the Denver area’s countless nondescript strip malls. On offer, according to the company website: “some of the finest weed products in a laid-back atmosphere.”

It wasn’t all that laid-back on the last shopping day before Christmas. The place was packed. Maybe some of the customers were there to pick up stocking stuffers. There were also old coots like me, one hobbling in on a cane, who appeared to be looking for relief rather than a rush.

The way these joints – uh, establishments -- work is, you hand your driver’s license to a guy at a window in a glassed-in room, then you wait for him to call your name. When your turn comes, the window guy buzzes you into another room where the merch is.

But you don’t get to browse the flowers, edibles, topicals and accessories on open shelves, the way you might in the over-the-counter section of a pharmacy. Instead, you wait to be served by a “budtender” behind a counter, the way you would if you were filling a prescription. Four budtenders were on duty when we were there, which explains why the waiting area was so crowded.

I told my tale of knee trouble to a jolly ginger-bearded fellow, who asked if I was after psychoactive effects or just anti-inflammatory ones. The old hippie in me was tempted by psychoactivity, but was overruled by the middle-aged me who just wants not to have his slumber disturbed by a balky joint.

In that case, said the budtender, I wanted a topical. So he hooked me up with a 1.5-ounce jar of Synergy Relief. Cost: $30. Smell: like mentholated cough drops or Vicks VapoRub. Worth a shot, no?

Maybe. When I got home I read an op-ed piece in the New York Times headlined “Is CBD Helpful or Just Hype?” The writer, psychiatrist Richard Friedman, declared that “the explosive popularity of CBD is way ahead of any evidence to support its efficacy — or reliable reassurances that it has no serious adverse effects. Where is the healthy skepticism when we need it?”

Not here.

“Future studies may show otherwise,” Friedman concluded, “but at present CBD looks more like an expensive placebo than a panacea.”

OK, so maybe I’m a chump. I’ve long suspected as much. Still, I had paid my $30 and I had heard the testimonials so…

You know how sometimes during the night you’ve got a reason to get up – the room’s too cold or too hot or you need to pee or eat some leftover pizza – but you can’t quite summon the will to leave your bed? That’s how I was during my first week as a Synergy Relief user. The goo was in the bathroom and the bathroom felt very far away.

Finally, I had the bright idea of keeping the jar by my bed. If my knee throbbed I’d be able to reach for the goo and slather it on. So now I have done so, a time or two. And? And?

Well, I can’t say. The throbbing indeed subsides after application, but it also eventually subsides on its own. I’d try to track whether the relief comes faster with or without, but I’m always asleep by then.

An Oreo craving and a fixation on the weirdness of everyday English would be a sure sign that the goo was having some kind of effect. In truth, though, the only part of me that hankers for cream-filled sandwich cookies and marvels at the language of Shakespeare and Milton is the usual part – my ever-wandering mind.

Like the man said, THC, the psychoactive stuff in marijuana, doesn’t mess with your head when you absorb it through the skin. I kind of wish it did, a little, even though I chose otherwise. I guess I miss having my head messed with. And now that I’ve cut back on the food groups I binged on over the holidays, I miss Oreos as well.


A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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