Medical Marijuana: A Beginner’s Guide

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Medical Marijuana: A Beginner's Guide From talking to your family about medical weed to knowing which products will – and won't – get you high. Even the people who are cool with pot often don't know very much about how they might go about integrating cannabis into their own wellness routines

This week, I finally convinced my father to try a cannabis salve for his arthritis. You would think after four years of reporting on the marijuana world, I would have made headway on this long ago. After all, like over 85 percent of Americans, my dad supports the medical use of marijuana in a general way, and has been complaining about his achy joints for several years. Weed topicals don’t even get you high. But somehow it just never happened.

Then, on Sunday morning, he texted me: “I put the rub on my knees. It works!”

“Duh!” I responded. Cannabis is a powerful medicine, even if we still know very little about what conditions it works for and why. As baby boomers like my father struggle to figure out how to age gracefully, it’s very possible that legal pot could play a major role in alleviating a wide range of pains and discomforts, from chemotherapy to throwing out your back.

And yet people over 65 are the least likely to support cannabis legalization. Not every grandma gets gently handed a bong and turned into a YouTube star. Even the people who are cool with weed often don’t know very much about how they might go about integrating cannabis into their own wellness routines.

So I wanted to offer up some of the collected wisdom I’ve managed to gain during years of conversations with scientists, doctors, patients and caregivers. Just as I hoped a few weeks back that my fellow stoners might help spread the gospel about how to be a good weed citizen with their canna-curious friends, this guide aims to provide you with the tools to help introduce someone to the world of medical marijuana.

Considering the information available online about medical pot is all over the place, here’s a sort of cheat sheet for anyone trying to navigate conversations with reluctant parents, relatives and friends – regardless of access to a legal dispensary. Perhaps after listening to your grandmother ramble on in too much detail about her psoriasis, you’ll feel emboldened to take her aside and suggest a calming cannabis cream. Maybe you’ll talk to your insomniac uncle about acquiring a vape pen. It may sound difficult at first, but remember: taking a few minutes to have this conversation could vastly improve someone’s quality of life.

Start simple: acknowledge that cannabis has medical properties.

A lot of people are under the impression that the “medical” part of medical marijuana is a euphemism – an excuse to legalize the drug so that hippies and stoners can get high. To a certain extent, this is politically true. Activists in the 1990s knew that AIDS and cancer patients were more sympathetic than all of the young black men being disproportionately fucked over by the war on drugs, and hoped that a California ballot initiative for medical use would ultimately open the door to full legalization. They were right, but by allowing wink-wink doctor’s recommendations for everything from anxiety to a stubbed toe, they managed to convince a whole lot of people that medical cannabis was a joke. As a result, as recently as last year we still had reporters for major newspapers out here asking stupid questions like “Is there a legitimate reason for people to get medical marijuana?”

I’ve found that it helps to recognize the political realities before pivoting to explain that the therapeutic use of pot and its constituent compounds are a very real thing. Just because California has had a de facto recreational use market going for two decades under the auspices of medical use, doesn’t mean that medical cannabis as a whole is fake. Remind people that lots of powerful medications – especially opioids – can both help with pain relief and be used recreationally. Heroin ruins lives by making people feel good, but morphine is still a useful and valuable drug.

If the people you’re talking with still aren’t convinced that medical marijuana is real, get them to watch Sanjay Gupta’s Weed, a very persuasive 2013 documentary about how CNN’s chief medical correspondent came to change his mind about the therapeutic use of cannabis.

Recognize that there are very few downsides.

Even if you are giving your dad shitty brick weed from a dealer that gets shipments from a Mexican cartel, there are hardly any potential negative health consequences to trying marijuana. Here’s what we know, for sure: pot is considerably less addictive than pretty much every other drug out there, legal or illegal. It’s not going to kill you, under any circumstances. It’s not a gateway drug; one spray of a tincture is not going to lead your cancer-stricken aunt to suddenly want methamphetamine. And perhaps most relevant to the views of your skeptical relative: cannabis is 114 times less harmful than alcohol.

But be familiar with the downsides

So, before I review some potential safety issues with cannabis, I want to make it clear that many conversations with experts over the years have led me to believe that none of these are significant enough to deter a truly sick person from seeking relief with pot. Think about the long list of side effects at the end of most commercials for prescription drugs. Even the very worst cannabis is not that bad.

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