The stigma of cannabis

I was reading the news the other day and came across this article entitled, Top Florida Democrat Sues Biden Administration Over Marijuana and Guns. The gist of the article is that Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner, Nikki Fried (a Democrat), plans to sue the Biden administration to try to block a federal rule that prohibits medical marijuana users from buying guns or maintaining concealed-carry permits. According to the article, the lawsuit targets a federal form that asks whether the gun buyer is an unlawful user of drugs and specifies that marijuana is illegal under federal law. A person allowed by the state to use marijuana must then check “yes,” which results in denial of the purchase of a gun. Lying by checking “no” runs the risk of a five-year prison sentence for making a false statement.

I wasn’t aware until very recently, when I started looking into getting a medical marijuana license for myself, that if you get a medical marijuana license you forfeit some of your rights to bear arms. Now I’m not really into guns, nor do I own a gun, but I did find this part of the licensing a bit puzzling. I mean you don’t lose your right to own a gun if you drink alcohol or even if you have a legitimate prescription for narcotics. But under federal law anyone who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” is forbidden from possessing firearms. And of course, cannabis, in the eyes of the federal government, is a schedule 1 substance and federally illegal.

I am always amazed at how humans are such creatures of habit. I mean theoretically we are the most evolved creatures on the planet, and the very definition of evolution is change. In my experience, however, change is really very difficult for most people. And people’s perception of cannabis is a perfect example.

I am certainly not the first to write about the stigma that exist surrounding cannabis. You may not know, but before the 1930s cannabis was legal in the US and commonly used for medicinal purposes. After the 1930s, while cigarettes and alcohol became a legal thriving, sexy industry, the federal government made it its mission not only to make cannabis illegal, but personify it as a dangerous drug with no useful purpose or benefit. The War on Drugs was successful.

I have a saying that I use in medicine a lot with my nursing students and other colleagues. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  I remember one time when I was a brand new nurse I had a patient in the hospital that wanted to go outside and smoke a cigarette. I explained to her all the reasons why smoking was unhealthy and our policy against leaving the unit to smoke, thinking she would understand and say okay. Instead, she spent most of the day arguing with me, and eventually left because she had to have her cigarette. I was so distraught that she left because she needed to be in the hospital. My supervisor, and mentor at the time, said to me, “We are not here to force people do things they do not want to do. All we can do is educate our patients and hope they will make the best decision for their health. Don’t, take it personally. You did your part. You provided the best information that you have, but you are not responsible for the patient’s decisions or actions.”

As my career has unfolded over the past ten years and, particularly during the last two years of covid, I have often thought back to that situation and her sage advice. All we can do as medical professionals is provide the best information to our patients, so they have the opportunity to make the best decision about their health. We cannot force patients to undergo treatment. We cannot force people to stop drinking, or stop using illicit drugs, or lose weight, or take prescribed medication or, if covid has taught us anything in the last two years, get a vaccine. All we can do is provide the best evidence we have to help patients make their own decision. It’s not my responsibility to make anyone do anything, but it is my responsibility to provide the most up-to-date, evidence-based facts. So, what are the facts regarding cannabis?

The THC in cannabis can get you high, that is a fact. Does it make you a villainous, evil criminal? No, it doesn’t. That doesn’t mean evil, villainous criminals do not use cannabis, but I’ll bet they drink alcohol too. Should we make drinking alcohol illegal again? How many people get shot every year by people who are drunk? I’ll bet a lot. Surely you see the hypocrisy I’m getting at.

THC is psychoactive, that is a fact. But guess what? So is caffeine, sugar, nicotine, and alcohol. The definition of psychoactive is simply a drug that alters the mind. We ingest psychoactive substances all the time including prescribed ones and think nothing of it.

Does cannabis have any legitimate medical purpose? Yes, it does. Evidence-based research shows that cannabis has legitimate medical benefit for patients with the following conditions (these are just the ones we currently know about):

  • Cancer (pain, nausea and vomiting)
  • Hepatitis C patients undergoing treatment
  • Glaucoma
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • agitation of Alzheimer’s disease
  • PTSD
  • medical conditions that produce wasting syndrome
  • severe and chronic pain
  • severe nausea
  • seizures
  • severe and persistent muscle spasms

We also know that many of the cannabinoids in cannabis, other than THC (which makes you high) like CBD and CBN can be successfully used to treat pain, anxiety, insomnia and many other medical conditions.

So, before you jump to conclusions based on stereotypes, I would encourage you to read and be informed before falling back into old habits, based on old ways of thinking. For those of you living in states where cannabis is still illegal, even medically, it may be hard to comprehend the revolution taking place regarding cannabis. But, imagine if we still treated cancer the same way we did in the 1980s. Medicine evolves based on new information, as should our way of thinking in society.

These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to treat, cure, or diagnose any disease. This website contains general information about diet, health and nutrition. The information is not advice and is not a substitute for advice from a healthcare professional. You should always get your medical advice from a healthcare professional (HCP) knowledgeable about your individual needs. A competent healthcare professional will provide a comprehensive intake meeting where you review the conditions you want to treat and assess your prescription medications to identify potential contraindications with cannabis.


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