Original image by Dank Depot via flickr.com. This image was altered.
Long Beach is a cultural hub of Southern California, famous for its beaches, music and artists such as Sublime and Snoop Dogg. What’s the thing that connects them all? Weed.
Since California passed Proposition 215 in the mid-’90s allowing the use of medicinal marijuana, the weed industry has grown. Additionally, with an increased presence in music, the internet, social media and even television, a cannabis culture has emerged. It was praised as the fastest expanding U.S. markets in 2015, as legal cannabis grew 74 percent in 2014 to $2.7 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2013 alone.
Cannabis itself has a wide variety of uses, from helping people that suffer from loss of appetite due to HIV/AIDS, alleviating nausea, to even helping cancer patients with pain reduction after chemotherapy.
The physical benefits are well-known, but what about marijuana’s effect on the state of someone’s mental health? Could it be used as medicine for people that suffer from mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder? And to go even further, could it present a healthier alternative to prescription drugs that is causing our country’s rise in drug overdoses?
The short answer is that it can be. Just like any prescription drug, marijuana’s effects and symptoms can vary from person to person. For some people, it might be the better option for mental ailments. Mood stabilizing medications, on the other hand, can bring a wide variety of side effects including back pain, headache, and even blurred or double vision.
Patients of medical cannabis, including myself, frequently praise the drug for helping them keep their bodies healthier. For example, prescription pills can damage organs like the kidneys and liver over a long period of time, according to the Food and Drug Administration. With marijuana, our bodies actually have these things called cannabinoid receptors that, over time, have adapted to the consumption and use of marijuana and similar plants. Although ongoing controversy surrounds the effects of marijuana, little research has challenged that marijuana harms the brain or body in the long term.
It’s important to understand that not all cannabis is the same, and not all strains of cannabis can be used medically. Some strains are higher in THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a “high,” which is used more recreationally. Other strains are high in cannabidiol, better known as CBD, which give physical benefits such as relief from inflammation, pain, anxiety, psychosis, seizures, spasms and other conditions, a cannabis education project shows.
However, THC has been shown to do more than give those who ingest it a decent buzz.
“I suffer from pretty bad anxiety and I’m recovering from an eating disorder, so smoking helps me be able to eat and sleep most days,” said a local medical marijuana patient who wished to stay anonymous for fear of stigmatization for using the drug.
While for some, marijuana might give them a bad trip, research shows that marijuana can reduce anxiety.
“I have yet to find a prescription medication that does the same thing without any negative side effects,” she said.
So with all these great uses, why are so many people against the use of pot? Concerns about the use of medical cannabis range from people driving under the influence, to people abusing the drug and struggling with addiction.
These are valid concerns, but they are not unique to cannabis itself. Any drug can be abused if not used properly. But cannabis is also impossible to overdose on, unlike most prescription psychiatric pills. The Drug Enforcement Administration, for example, hasn’t recorded any deaths from overdose of marijuana, while thousands of people die from FDA-approved medications all the time, an Oregon study shows. To add insult to injury, alcohol, a perfectly legal substance, causes 88,000 deaths annually due to excessive use.
Right now the United States is facing an opioid crisis, the misuse of prescription drugs, and overdoses have been taking the lives of Americans all over the country, with an estimated 90 deaths everyday. About 80 percent of people who use heroin, which is a type of opioid, first misuse prescription opioids. As addiction is on the rise, medical cannabis could be key to the prevention of hard drugs since The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that the “majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances.”
People need to know all their options for medication, and maybe some will find that medical cannabis is right for them.