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Medical marijuana doctor specializes in older patients

A new medical marijuana practice in Ashland focuses on patients 50 years old and older.

Dr. Judy Emanuel opened Willow Mountain Medical three months ago in order to educate mid-lifers and seniors about medical marijuana and assist them in getting their ID card from the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

"I'm a senior myself," Emanuel said. "It's an interesting area to focus on and one that needs education."

Emanuel likens seniors using marijuana medicinally without education to a 70-year-old who leads a sedentary life running a marathon without any training.

"There are many side effects, especially if the marijuana is interacting with other medication," Emanuel said. "You can develop a tolerance and it's possible to develop an addiction, but the risks are far less than with other substances."

Emanuel worked as a social worker in Los Angeles until she was 36. She then attended medical school at Michigan State University in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

She was the assistant chief of the physical medicine department at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Chillcothe, Ohio. Emanuel worked there for eight years before setting up a private practice in Kona, Hawaii.

"I fell into a niche for a while," Emanuel says. "I saw a lot of accident and workman's compensation patients."

Through a grant from the Queen Emma Foundation, Emanuel studied kahuna la'au lapa'au, an herbal medicine practice in Hawaii, under Papa Henry Auwae.

"That environment has a very spiritual view of medicine," Emanuel says. "I learned the value of the whole plant, rather than pulling out a specific part, like in Western medicine."

The study sparked her interest in medical marijuana, she said.

Though Willow Mountain Medical focuses on patients 50 and older, Emanuel says she may see younger patients upon recommendation by local dispensaries. She currently sees about five patients a week.

Emanuel is hesitant to support legalization of marijuana for recreational use because of the potential side effects of the drug, especially for young people. She feels the major part of her job with Willow Mountain Medical is education.

"The California system can become like a mill where doctors see patients for only a few minutes before recommending marijuana," Emanuel says. "That's not the type of medicine I want to practice."

Emanuel sees patients for at least 45 minutes before making a recommendation. She gets to know the patient and learns their complete medical history.

"I want to develop a strong doctor and patient relationship," Emanuel said. "I want to make sure that they're comfortable and have had all of their questions answered. It's important to make sure that they are well educated and that all of their questions are answered."

Reach reporter Ian Hand at 541-776-4464. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IanHand_DT.