You may have heard some people say that “all cannabis use is medical.” When I first heard this, my knee-jerk reaction was to disagree, but as I started thinking about it more, I realized there’s a more nuanced, philosophical answer that rings true for me.
In Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections: Why you’re depressed and how to find hope1, he talks about how we, as a Western industrialized culture, are living in ways that isolate and separate us, when really, what we need is a greater sense of interpersonal connection and connection to the natural world. (He has a great TED talk on it here if you want the short version.) It’s made me think about how so many people in our culture are depressed, anxious, or even just unhappy on a regular basis. It makes me wonder if maybe, the problem is that we’re a diseased and dysfunctional society. Hari talks about how depression and anxiety are symptoms that something is wrong – that we need those symptoms to tell us that the way we’re living isn’t working. But we don’t look at things that way in our culture.
We don’t look at the soaring cancer, chronic illness, and chronic pain rates as evidence that our food and environment are toxic. We don’t look at the sad state of mental health and consider that the way we’re living could be causing it. And while we can’t prove causation, and while there are studies linking these things, as a whole, we’re too busy working to afford the newest iPhone, BMW, and McMansion to think about it. Those of us who are labeled “highly sensitive” however, have always felt these things, even if we can’t/ couldn’t explain them. This obviously doesn’t address the fact that our medical system is also greatly out of touch with our humanity.
I am grateful to live in a world where my child can get scarlet fever, take 10 days of antibiotics, and be completely recovered (after another few weeks on probiotics, of course). That said, I would love to see a complementary healing approach on the same scale and working in conjunction with our medical system.
Imagine a hospital where, after the doctors come in and do their rounds, the healers come in and do the same. If we had these groups working side-by-side, with the cultural recognition that we are more than just our bodies, maybe we wouldn’t need so many substances to get through life. Maybe then, we wouldn’t need all the sugar, caffeine, cannabis, alcohol, antidepressants, and other mood-altering substances to help us relax and feel good.
In that respect, I don’t believe all cannabis use is medical, but I do believe all cannabis use is at least one of the following: medicinal, therapeutic, healing, and/or a sign that something is wrong in an individual’s life and/or with our society. But before someone capitalizes on these words to say this is a personal problem, let me be abundantly clear: personal problems are also societal problems. If a person has been abused or traumatized in some way that has not been healed, why do we blame the individual for that? Why don’t we view that as a symptom of a society whose values are out of whack? If people don’t know how to relax without using some exogenous substance, or must be taught/ reminded to perform “self-care,” what does that say about what we consider important?
If a child is hurt or victimized, why are we not as committed to helping them as we are systemically committed to punishing people for the pain that leads to drug misuse? If we, as a society, are only as strong as our “weakest link,” why do we punish people for whom the only way to bear being alive is to numb themselves?
We humans have created amazing amounts of technology with the goal of improving lives. The assembly line made it more efficient to build cars. Computers can perform complex calculations, saving us time and money. Preservatives keep food from spoiling, packaged foods are vacuum-sealed, and airplanes and ships deliver “fresh” food from the year-round harvests in hotter countries, so people in cold climates can have oranges year-round. We humans no longer have to spend all of our time and energy providing for our basic needs. So why do we work more than ever? Why aren’t we using this technology to free up our time and do things that truly nourish our hearts, minds, and souls?
As scientists currently understand it, the purpose of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is to bring balance to the many diverse systems of the body. It is now recognized as the system that regulates our hormones, pain regulation, immune/ gastrointestinal/ cardiovascular systems, and more2-4. Scientific theories are always changing as we learn more, but mosts scientists who work with the endocannabinoid system will mention the word homeostasis, referring to how the ECS can work to balance our body’s many functions. Maybe, just maybe, our cultural journey with cannabis is about bringing balance to our way of living.
I certainly hope so.
- Hari, J. (2018). Lost connections: Why you’re depressed and how to find hope (Kindle ed.). Bloomsbury USA.
- Konieczny, Eileen. Healing with CBD: How Cannabidiol Can Transform Your Health without the High (Kindle ed.). Ulysses Press.
- Mechoulam, R., & Parker, L. A. (2013). The Endocannabinoid System and the Brain. Annual Review of Psychology, 64(1), 21–47. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-113011-143752
- Mouhamed, Y., Vishnyakov, A., Qorri, B., Sambi, M., Frank, S. M. S., Nowierski, C., Lamba, A., Bhatti, U., & Szewczuk, M. (2018). Therapeutic potential of medicinal marijuana: an educational primer for health care professionals. Drug, Healthcare and Patient Safety, Volume 10, 45–66. https://doi.org/10.2147/dhps.s158592