Choose Cannabis for Wellness, Not Intoxication

Choose Cannabis for Wellness, Not Intoxication

Bill
O’Reilly eyed my brother and me like a hungry lion looking over a couple of
lambs. He twisted his face into the trademark O’Reilly sneer and scolded us
with a tone of triumph: “Come on, you know what the ruse is, you know what the
scam is.”

I’d
known the comment was coming. It’s standard procedure for hostile journalists.
They all think medical cannabis is a fraud.

My own cannabis recommendation is technically for chronic pain, but I used it for many other purposes. Some were unquestionably therapeutic, like helping me sleep. Others, like shaking off nervousness or sadness, seemed borderline. But there were some that just didn’t fit my definition of medical use, like enhancing the enjoyment of a meal or a piece of music.

Like
most people, I used to be locked into an outdated illness concept of human
health that views us as either sick or healthy. If we are sick, we go to the
doctor, who writes a prescription or recommends a procedure, after which we are
supposed to recover and go back to being healthy — if we’re lucky.

But
over the last few decades, it has become evident that human health actually
operates on a spectrum of wellness. That spectrum occupies the space between
perfect health and acute sickness, and it is where most humans spend the
majority of their lives.

The
best ways to preserve and enhance wellness are safe and non-invasive. We have
learned that diet, exercise, acupuncture, chiropractic, meditation and other
holistic healing techniques are effective alternatives to pills and operations.

That’s why so many gyms and yoga studios have opened in the United States; why most grocery stores have an organic section; why insurance policies often cover chiropractic, acupuncture, and nutritional counseling — and why integrative treatment centers for cancer have experienced explosive growth.

Over the years, many patients confided in me that they appreciated the protection of the law California’s Prop 215 but didn’t really consider themselves sick or injured. Non-patients also frequently approached me with comments like, “You know, Steve, I totally support everything you are doing to help patients. I believe in medical cannabis, and I smoke weed myself — but I’m not sick; I just like to get high.”

I would
respond by asking for details. When and why do you use cannabis? What specific
benefits does it provide? How has cannabis made your life different?

A
composite of the answers I received would run something like this:

“Without
cannabis, I’d get home feeling irritated from a long day at work, a hassle with
a boss or a coworker, a hot rush-hour commute, whatever. My back might be
aching, and I wouldn’t feel like playing with my kids or talking to my wife.
I’d often have a sour stomach and not much appetite. Dinner wasn’t very
appealing and sometimes gave me heartburn or indigestion. After dozing off in
front of the TV, I’d wake up and sometimes not be able to go back to sleep. In
the morning I could be tired, and not feel like going to work or doing much of
anything.

“With
cannabis, everything is different. I’m happy to see my family and have as much
fun playing with my kids as they do. I forget about my aching back, and
reuniting with my wife is a pleasure, not a chore. Dinner smells and tastes
great, and I never have a problem with digestion. After dinner, the wife and I
put the kids to bed, and then we have some extra special intimate time
together. I curl up next to her, sleep soundly till morning, and wake up
refreshed and ready for the new day. Cannabis makes my life a lot better, but
I’m not sick and I wouldn’t die or end up in the hospital without it. I’m not a
patient; I just like cannabis.”

Over time I realized that the same description of symptoms presented to the average MD would probably result in a diagnosis of anxiety, insomnia, depression, arthritis, low libido, erectile dysfunction and acid reflux. Every night a parade of ads promoting a variety of pharmaceuticals for exactly these conditions marches out of our TV sets — and most of them have a list of side effects like something out of a Stephen King novel.

For
most people, cannabis is a better alternative. Its power to preserve and
restore homeostasis throughout the brain and body makes cannabis effective for
almost every condition advertised on TV, and its side effects are mild and
transitory. It also has a wide range of more unique benefits that are
frequently overlooked, or mistakenly characterized as “getting high.”

These
include its ability to extend patience and promote self-examination; to awaken
a sense of wonder and playfulness, and openness to spiritual experience; to
enhance the flavor of a meal, the sound of music, or the sensitivity of a
lover’s touch; to open the mind and inspire creativity; to bring poetry to
language and spontaneity to a performer; to catalyze laughter, facilitate
friendship, and bridge human differences.

When I first shared this interpretation with my father, he gave me his “don’t BS me” look. Dad was already using cannabis for pain and insomnia, so he didn’t outright challenge me — but I could tell I had strayed too far into New Age woo-woo territory for his comfort. So on our next visit, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that my father had noticed an increased desire to write his memoirs — to do something creative — after his evening dose of THC-rich tincture. After his grief had subsided enough to date again, Dad very discreetly let me know that he’d also discovered its ability to enhance sensuality and intimacy.

These
are not the attributes of an “intoxicant,” which is defined by Merriam-Webster
as a substance that can “excite or stupefy… to the point where physical and
mental control is markedly diminished.” They are the attributes of a wellness
product that enhances and facilitates some of the most meaningful parts of the
human experience.

Different
cultures have used a variety of methods and substances to achieve enhanced
states of mind, but all pursue it by one means or another. Each one has
developed its own set of cultural norms and language to assess and regulate
appropriate use, but there’s never been a drug-free society in all of history.

Since
the passage of legalization in Colorado and Washington, the term “recreational
use” has become the catchall phrase to describe all consumption of cannabis
that is not “medical.” Lacking any commonly accepted definition, “recreational
use” has in effect become a code word to describe “just getting high” — or
intoxication. This is unfortunate, because the phrase obscures more than it
illuminates, and it perpetuates misconceptions about cannabis that have kept it
illegal for decades.

I
didn’t come to this realization quickly or easily. When I first heard the term
“recreational use” it sounded like a step forward — and it was, compared to
words like “addiction” and “dependency.” It also provided a convenient contrast
to “medical use” after that phrase entered the modern lexicon in the 1990s —
but the more I used the language, the less comfortable I felt with it.

Neither
medical nor recreational fully or accurately described the way I saw most
people using cannabis. I suspected there was a third category but didn’t know
how to analyze or describe it. It’s taken a lifetime of activism and probing
questions by the likes of Bill O’Reilly to collapse the fallacy and crystallize
my thoughts into a coherent thesis.

Today,
I believe there is no such thing as the recreational use of cannabis. The concept
is equally embraced by prohibitionists and self-professed stoners, but it is
self-limiting and profoundly unhealthy. Defining cannabis consumption as
elective recreation ignores fundamental human biology and history, and devalues
the very real benefits the plant provides.

Dennis Peron, the man who opened the first cannabis dispensary in the U.S., has been derided for saying that all marijuana use is medical. I would make the same point a bit differently: the vast majority of cannabis use is for wellness purposes. The exception to the rule is misuse; any psychoactive material can and will be problematic for some percentage of the population — cannabis included.

The
downsides of cannabis pale in comparison to those of other substances, but they
still need to be taken seriously and looked at carefully. The lessons learned
with alcohol — that it shouldn’t be marketed to kids, or promoted as part of a
glamorous lifestyle — should be integrated into our new approach with cannabis.

We also
need to recognize that the chemistry and effects of the plant are qualitatively
different than those of alcoholic beverages. When accurately viewed in the
context of science and history, cannabis emerges as a medical and wellness
product with a huge range of applications. One day “recreational” cannabis will
seem as quaint as “medical” alcohol was after the end of liquor prohibition.

TELL US, how does cannabis improve your
wellbeing?

Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

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