Smokin’ a spliff. Hittin’ a J. Burnin’ a blunt. All such phrases spring to mind when one utters the words “marijuana” or “cannabis.” Cannabis capitalized the trademark calling card of a flower-powered, psychedelically smitten, anti-violence movement once considered as the enemy of the United States government and the global swell of American democracy. Drug traffickers have suffered the business end of the American judicial system’s loaded gun, the skin of their souls littered with litigated lead, the subsequent wounds salted with unforgiving years of criminal incarceration.
But despite the hateful words spat, the spiteful stones thrown and the belligerent bullets fired, one simple truth has managed to pop its head firmly above ground: by providing unprecedented health benefits for patients with chronic illnesses, medicinal cannabis has managed to succeed where pharmaceuticals have generally failed.
How It Operates and What It Eliminates
According to a 2013 CNN Health article, in the state of Colorado, suffering from at least one of eight different medical conditions offers ground for a patient to be treated with medicinal cannabis. These conditions include “cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, muscle spasms, seizures, severe pain, severe nausea and cachexia or dramatic weight loss and muscle atrophy.” And as of today, Colorado is one of 23 States in the U.S. with legalized medicinal cannabis, not including the District of Columbia.
In July of 2014, scientists at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom published research that links cannabis to shrinking cancerous tumors in patients. Dr. Peter McCormick states that THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, possesses anti-cancer properties and acts through a cell receptor family called cannabinoid receptors, two of which are believed to be responsible for the anti-tumor results. The effects are “mediated via the joint interaction of CB2 and GPR55 – two members of the cannabinoid receptor family,” which has aided in explaining “well-known but still poorly understood effects of THC at low and high doses on tumor growth.” However, Dr. McCormick is unsure which of the two previously mentioned receptors is responsible for the anti-tumor THC effects.
Despite the fact that research has yet to produce a definitive answer as to exactly what it is about cannabis that produces its anti-cancer trait, the positive results of cannabis treatment on chronically ill patients are undeniable. This begs the question . . .
Who Has Cannabis Helped?
At three months-old, Charlotte Figi had her first known seizure, which lasted about 30 minutes and landed her in the emergency room. Doctors suggested that Charlotte didn’t have epilepsy and would grow out of her condition, but she continued to have seizures (lasting between two and four hours) over the next few months. After testing positive for a gene mutation often seen in patients suffering from a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome, doctors put Charlotte on several drugs (she was on seven different medications at one point) and a strict ketogenic diet (high in fat and low in carbohydrates) in order to treat the disorder. Doctors were hopeful that the medications and the drastic lifestyle change would relieve Charlotte’s epilepsy, which was now producing 300 grand mal seizures per week and had taken away Charlotte’s ability to walk, talk and eat.
Desperate to save his child’s life, Matt Figi began searching for alternative Dravet Syndrome treatments. While researching alternative methods online, Matt discovered a video of a California boy who had successfully treated his Dravet Syndrome with cannabis and had progressed to have a significantly lower seizure activity. Virtually out of options, Matt and his wife Paige decided to treat Charlotte’s syndrome with cannabis. Notwithstanding scientists’ lack of research on the long-term effects of cannabis use in childhood, Matt and Paige finally found two doctors who were willing to approve the treatment.
Charlotte’s cannabis treatment is minimal, using a form of cannabis low in THC and high in cannabinoids (also known as CBD). The cannabis is acquired from a non-profit organization, the Realm of Caring Foundation, which was founded by The Stanley Brothers (Joel, Jesse, Jon, Jordan and Jared) as a platform to support children and adults suffering from debilitating diseases who cannot afford the often expensive cannabis treatment. Taking only a small dose of cannabis oil twice a day in her food (three to four milligrams of oil per pound of her body weight), Charlotte now only has seizures two to three times per month. Following consistent cannabis treatment, Charlotte went from being unable to walk, speak or eat to now being able to walk, ride her bike, feed herself and speak more with every passing day. In fact, the cannabis strand used to treat Charlotte Figi has been named “Charlotte’s Web” in her honor.
The Baseless Backlash
Being that several chronic and often fatal illnesses do not respond to traditional medical treatments, the gradual increase of legalized medicinal cannabis is labeled a godsend to frustrated, ailing patients. Whether the legal boundaries of medicinal cannabis stipulate purchasing no more than a 30-day supply of non-smokeable marijuana (Minnesota), 24 ounces of usable marijuana (Oregon) or 2.5 ounces of usable cannabis over a 14-day period (Illinois), ailing patients nationwide are reaping health rewards. But why has a treatment, producing such exponentially positive results, become the victim of a baseless political and cultural backlash?
Speculation runs rampant. People fear that children being treated with cannabis could be getting high, regardless of the fact that cannabis treatments for a child suffering from an illness as severe as Charlotte Figi contain very low THC levels. Others believe pharmaceutical sales could plummet should such an affordable treatment posing minimal risk be legalized, which would compel said companies (powerful companies, at that) to lobby against cannabis legalization. Ironically, researchers recently discovered a 25 percent decrease in prescription painkiller overdose deaths in states that have implemented medical marijuana laws.
In the public consciousness, cannabis is often unfairly lumped in with much more dangerous, crime-associated drugs, simply because it’s an illegal substance. But alcohol, a completely legal drug, still remains the deadliest substance in the United States and is involved in a higher rate of homicides than any other drug in the country. It makes complete sense for booze to be legal instead of cannabis, right?
Ultimately, there is no definitive answer as to why cannabis is widely demonized and minimally accepted as a medicinally beneficial treatment across the United States. Fingers point every which way, desperate to clench their grip on one entity or the other in order to assign responsibility for one of the most shameful political witch-hunts in American history. But our perception of people, places and things tend to be shaped by those in power who have their own agenda on the plate, leading such plants to be misconstrued through years of blind trepidation and baseless hearsay. Likewise, and no exception to the aforementioned tendency of human nature, cannabis is the victim of a nation’s contagious fear, bias and utter misunderstanding.