Have we made a mistake by calling marijuana “medical?” Yes, it’s used for medicinal purposes, but unlike traditional pharmaceuticals, it doesn’t fall neatly into the traditional medical model. It’s more like folk medicine or an herbal supplement.
Many of today’s medicines are derived from plants. Aspirin from white willow bark. Digoxin from foxglove. Although there are pharmaceutical options, the use and cultivation of the plant itself is not prohibited.
Doctors regularly recommend that patients take supplements like calcium, glucosamine and B-complex. We have a plethora of alternative healers recommending herbal remedies that can easily be found on shelves of grocery and health food stores across the country. In Europe, patients are routinely recommended St. John’s Wort instead of antidepressants.
So why not treat marijuana less like a pharmaceutical and more like an herbal supplement?
Perhaps this editorial by Evan Farmer in Hybrid Life will help answer that question.
Comparing Herbals and Pharmaceuticals
Some people like to say that if marijuana is medicine, it should be regulated, prepared, and treated as such. There are many that would even argue that there is really no other legitimate reason for utilizing marijuana, and using it recreationally is nearly the same as popping pills, or drinking alcohol, at best. Or worse, that it’s like taking other illicit drugs just for fun. This view of cannabis is both shortsighted and unfair, both toward the plant itself and to humankind as a whole. It is well documented that cannabis has many uses; from the textiles, paper, oil, fuel, and hemp seed foods derived from cannabis that is cultivated as hemp, to the medical, recreational, and spiritual use of various preparations derived from the psychoactive version of it that most refer to as marijuana.
All of this can make the question of legalizing marijuana, whether for medicinal or recreational purposes, or both, quite tricky. In the United States, people are used to thinking of medicine in terms of prescriptions, which are carefully concocted and dosed according to strict guidelines. Drugs produced in this manner must first be approved by the FDA and are heavily regulated due to the risk of abuse, addiction, and overdose. With marijuana, none of this applies, but its use is not approved by the FDA, nor is it even allowable by law, except in states that have medical marijuana provisions on the books. Obviously there is risk of abuse with marijuana, but the subject of marijuana addiction is debatable. However, there is absolutely no risk of overdose, as it is a relatively safe herbal medicine that can be used to treat quite a variety of ailments. Really, it is not unlike many other “unapproved” herbal supplements, except that it is much more potent and has some intoxicating effects that we don’t exactly understand.
One of the main issues that creates a problem for making marijuana legal in any sense is the amount of ignorance and misinformation that still persists. Some still use the tired old phrase that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” which is a theory that holds no real significance, other than its use as a propaganda tool over the years. Marijuana doesn’t make anyone more likely to use any other substances than does alcohol or nicotine, and its legal status alone is what is most likely responsible for causing it to be associated with other illegal drugs. Many encounter harder drugs when they encounter marijuana simply because they are all illegal. There is also the misconception that marijuana’s intoxicating quality is similar to that of alcohol. However, anyone who has experience with both substances knows that alcohol is much more inebriating and has a much greater effect on motor skills and critical thinking abilities.
Other issues involved in legalization are the questions of appropriate use and health effects of using marijuana regularly. Some may be concerned that smoking marijuana while pregnant may be detrimental to the unborn child and the health of the mother as well. There is some question as to whether smoking anything has health benefits at all. But a certain study performed in Jamaica in the nineties that was published in Pediatrics magazine may give some insight on the subject. A study of two groups of pregnant women, one comprised of regular marijuana users, and on made up of non-users, revealed that the babies born to both groups of women didn’t have any significant differences in physical abilities or neurobehavioral activity at first, and after one month, the babies exposed to marijuana in the womb actually had better outcomes than those that had no exposure.
Cannabis Patients Alliance is working hard for patients by continuing to advocate for legal, safe, affordable access to medical marijuana across Colorado and around the country. Your contribution will go a long way toward keeping our advocacy alive and ensuring patients needs are included in the discourse on public policy and education. We are changing hearts and minds, one conversation at a time. Please DONATE today so our work can continue!