(Note: This article is dedicated to LAD, who has selflessly helped me many times, in far more important ways than she can imagine; and to Norman Smith, a patient now facing death because a bunch of ignorant bureaucrats don’t know the difference between patients and potheads.)
I use marijuana several times a day. Every day.
But I am a patient who happens to need cannabis as a medicine – not a pothead.
While I have nothing against anyone who enjoys the recreational use of marijuana (as even I do from time to time), many members of the general public seem to look down on anyone who uses cannabis as a “pothead” or “stoner”. Considering that these epithets are intended to conjure up a mental image of a burned-out unemployed loser living in a basement, that’s like calling anyone who enjoys a beer or glass of wine (as even I do from time to time) a “drunk” or “wino”.
The vast majority of recreational marijuana smokers don’t fall into the classic stereotyped “stoner burnout” category, just as the typical social drinker doesn’t belong in the “burnout alcoholic” or “drunkard” category either. Marijuana smokers are not always identifiable by race, color, creed, weird hair, or funky T-shirts! They aren’t generally interested in getting “stoned out of their gourds”, more like just feeling pleasantly high for the evening…much like most people who drink alcohol.
But patients are in another category altogether. While it’s not generally known by the general public, Medical Marijuana patients generally don’t even get high from their cannabis intake. My personal dose, for example, is two puffs from a vaporizer, which at a rough guess is about equivalent to a shot glass of beer.
The very word “pot” is used today as a pithy, almost humorous putdown: ”What, are you smoking pot now?” News articles about medical marijuana often use the demeaning term “pot shops” to refer to dispensaries. All this makes light of the very real problems that Medical Marijuana patients face on a daily basis.
Safety In Numbers
Apart from Medical Marijuana patients not getting high, they generally don’t want to get high. We just want to feel better, and getting high can interfere with the business of daily living. Patients value the ability to stand up, walk properly, drive, and think straight just like everyone else, and getting high ends up being an unwanted side effect when the goal is to have a normal life.
The “Reefer Madness” propaganda put out by the government’s War On (Some) Drugs for the past 40 years has been lying to the American public by telling them things like “if you smoke marijuana you’ll be so stoned you won’t be able to function normally”.
There’s actually a wide range of physical and mental responses to cannabis. It works just like alcohol or almost anything else: there’s a little bit, a little more, just enough, a little bit more, a little too much, way too much, and it goes on from there.
But unlike alcohol and virtually every prescription and even non-prescription drug on the market, too much cannabis can’t kill you. At least, it never has done that to anyone in all of recorded history, and cannabis history goes back pretty far.
If you do happen to ingest too much cannabis, the likely end result is that you’ll just fall asleep for 8 to 10 hours and then wake up without any hangover or ill effects from the night before. Maybe that’s what the alcoholic beverage industry, which contributes heavily against every marijuana legalization campaign, doesn’t want you to find out.
Smart patients learn to take the right amount of their cannabis medicine, which is the amount that works effectively on their medical condition. Doctors and patients have a phrase for this: they call it self-titrating, which means the patient simply stops taking more medicine when they feel the effect they want.
It’s very easy to do this with marijuana, because you can smoke it a puff at a time until everything’s just right. Once you learn the feeling this gives you, you can learn to make capsules or edibles that give you the same effect, if you want, without having to smoke anything.
Recreational users do the same thing, except they use more and stop when they’re as high as they want to get. It’s really no different than saying, “No thanks, I’ve had enough” when someone offers you another beer.
Medical Marijuana dosages depend on many factors, including the condition being treated, the severity of the condition, the type of cannabis being used, method of ingestion, and the patient’s individual tolerance to cannabis.
With high, regular doses of cannabis, the body starts developing a tolerance or resistance to the medicine, so that more will be needed to produce the same effect. This is quite common among recreational users, but apart from individual variations between patients, it is strictly dose-dependent: it only tends to happen if you need a lot of medicine to alleviate your symptoms.
For instance, I personally take my small doses several times a day, yet my sensitivity to cannabis is exactly what it was when I became a Medical Marijuana patient 18 months ago. But whether a patient develops a tolerance or not, Medical Marijuana patients do not develop a physical “need” for cannabis, past their simple need for it to help their medical condition and symptoms. They’re no more “addicted” than people with diabetes who need their insulin every day, or people who need blood pressure medication, or asthma drugs, or anything else.
The Truly Dangerous Drugs
This is in direct contrast to many prescription drugs, which often produce a tolerance along with a much more serious consequence: physical addiction. Addiction to prescription drugs is a serious problem in the United States. The National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates there are 1.9 million people addicted to prescription opioids, which is just about twice as large as the number of heroin addicts.
But there are much bigger numbers to look at here. The CDC states that there are 12 million people who abuse prescription drugs to get high, a number many times greater than the approximately 2 million Medical Marijuana patients in the United States. And the economic cost is $72 billion to health insurers alone (not counting missed work, lost productivity of companies, human cost, pain and suffering, etc.).
The CDC will also tell you that for almost 10 years now, more people have died from overdose of legal presciption opioid drugs than from heroin and cocaine combined (over 20,000 people a year). But they won’t tell you that five times that number – a staggering 100,000 people a year – are dying from the adverse side effects of simply taking their FDA-approved, legal, prescription medications as directed by their doctors.
Patient, Heal Thyself
Medical Marijuana patients are no different from anyone else seeking medical help for a health problem; we just happen to be taking different medicine. We are not “drug seekers”…we are symptom relief seekers.
And we’re not revolutionaries, anarchists, or wackos, either. Most of the patients I’ve met are totally normal, average Americans in their 40s or older. Not only would you never suspect they’d be marijuana users, they never even thought they’d be marijuana users! The vast majority never even touched the stuff before they got sick.
If there was another medicine available that was as safe, effective, and inexpensive as cannabis, we’d be taking it. Seriously, who would want to go through all the trouble, expense, legal and social difficulties involved in Medical Marijuana if there was something equivalent available?
But for many people, there isn’t anything else available. Just as a single example, virtually all pain pills have some dairy byproduct (such as lactose) in them. So people with severe milk-related allergies cannot take standard opiates or pain medication…but they can often safely use Medical Marijuana.
When someone ingests Medical Marijuana, they’re doing it for healing purposes. It turns out that there are dozens of medical conditions that are already known to be helped by cannabis, and more uses are being found for it as researchers discover new properties of the plant. It’s also possible that many of the chemical compounds found in marijuana, called cannabinoids, are important for our general physical and mental health, similar to the way vitamins are.
In general, patients don’t get the familiar “high” that recreational users expect from marijuana. This is partly due to the lower doses used, but it’s also because the cannabinoids are used up quickly by the body in dealing with the particular condition being treated. So if you’re using cannabis for severe anxiety, for example, your usual dose may be ineffective in particularly anxiety-producing situations. It’s not uncommon for patients to take two or three times their usual dose at such times, and still not get high. This also explains why patients with life-threatening illnesses like cancer can use a super-strong substance like Simpson Oil without problems: it takes a lot to fight cancer!
Over the past 40 years or so, marijuana growers have been breeding their plants mainly for the highest THC content. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the substance that gets you high, and that’s been the only important criterion for recreational users. But Medical Marijuana patients want other things from their plants.
Cannabis Without The High
THC, the cannabinoid that gets people high, isn’t always desired in Medical Marijuana. There’s a great amount of interest now in CBD (cannabidiol), another compound found in marijuana. CBD works to stop pain, and is known to be an anti-psychotic. High-CBD strains of marijuana are regularly used by MMJ patients for pain relief, and they can work their magic without getting you high at all.
According to Project CBD, cannabidiol can help with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, alcoholism, PTSD, epilepsy, antibiotic-resistant infections and neurological disorders, as well as possibly help generate new brain cells and fight cancer.
So why is this wonder drug not available at every corner drugstore? Because, believe it or not, it’s still just as illegal as THC or any other substance found in the marijuana plant! Meanwhile, high-CBD strains of cannabis are available to legal Medical Marijuana patients, but they’re hard for dispensaries to keep in stock. If we were really looking to get high, we wouldn’t even care about CBD.