Industry employee shares how cannabis helped her kick opioids

Published 3:06 pm Thursday, January 13, 2022

DOWAGIAC — With the emergence of cannabis operations across Cass County in 2021, one such business owner is on a new year’s mission to educate the public about its products and dispel the stigma attached to the plant.

Employees from Highway Horticulture, which opened Sunset Coast Provisions in Cassopolis last June, took time to educate, answer questions and share their journey during the Cass County Council on Aging’s monthly Spill the Beans session in Dowagiac on Wednesday.

Highway Horticulture Marketing Manager Sara Crouse began with a presentation titled “An Introduction to Cannabis,” explaining the basics of what the company does and the differences between types of cannabis products. When the subject turned towards the growing side and scientific end of cannabis, lead cultivator Ben Leininger stepped in to explain things in greater detail.

Crouse’s presentation explained the difference between CBD – the non-psychoactive chemical produced by cannabis – and THC, which is the chemical that gives users the “high” feeling associated with cannabis. Among THC-heavy cannabis, there are two primary classifications of plants: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa.

“Indicas are considered more of a nighttime strain, their nickname is ‘in-da-couch’ and will help you relax,” Crouse said. “If you’re looking for more of a daytime product that you can utilize and will still allow you to get things done, you’re going to want to lean more towards a sativa.”

Crouse said each Sunset Coast employee is able to explain this to customers and tailor the product choice toward each customer’s individual needs.

“Once you get in [to the store], feel free to look around and ask any questions you have,” Crouse said. “There’s no silly questions because everybody’s different. We all have different needs. We need to use cannabis for different reasons, or we’re looking for different results for the products that we’re going to purchase.”


Dispelling the Stigma

Crouse said one of her goals with the presentation was to help eliminate the stigma that has been attached to cannabis through the years.

“When you look into the history of cannabis, it’s actually very interesting – cannabis used to be used in medicine,” she said. “And then, after ‘Reefer Madness’ and propaganda, it got a bad rap for a lot of years. People are just now getting more comfortable and its already changed dramatically. … My goal is to try to do more educational sessions in multiple communities around the area so that we can bring people in when they have questions and concerns and dispel those.”

Crouse also took the time to share her story of cannabis use.

“When people meet me, they just assume that I’ve been hugely pro-cannabis my entire life, and that is absolutely not the case,” she said. “When I was younger, I was not a recreational user. I tried it a few times. It freaked me out, and I didn’t know how to use it appropriately.”

Then, about five years ago, Crouse said she was diagnosed with severe Crohn’s Disease which resulted in a months-long hospital stay, multiple abdominal surgeries, an ileostomy bag and prescriptions for many different opioids, including Fentanyl.

“Traditional medicine saved my life … but when I was finally in my recovery, I was starting to notice that I was getting unwanted effects from the opioids,” she said. “I was starting to itch when it got time for my opioids, and I knew I was developing an addiction. It scared me, and I didn’t want to get hooked on something that I wasn’t going to be able to let go of. I’ve watched it destroy a lot of people in my life.”

Crouse said she began to reach out to friends and family for an alternative and learned more about medical cannabis.

“I was able to take cannabis and replace all my opioids and my Ativan for anxiety and sleep,” said Crouse, adding she used to take about 50 pills a day. “That’s why I do encourage people to go and ask the questions because there may be something that we can help replace, and maybe give you a better quality of life. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for?”

Cass County Council on Aging CEO Marty Heirty said part of the reason he invited Highway Horticulture to this Spill the Beans session is because he knew people would fear the worst when they heard a “pot shop” is coming to town. He said he and COA Director of Development Kelli Casey took a tour of the facility in November and were impressed with what they saw.

“What I found fascinating was the knowledge they had,” Heirty said. “Since they’ve opened and since [Bud Express] opened across the street, I’ve seen no problems.”

Sunset Coast Provisions is located at 980 E. State St. in Cassopolis.