Is Medical Marijuana Just a License to Get High?
I laughed when I first heard about medical marijuana. That is because I was a counselor for a pain management group in a psychiatry department at a major medical university. The people in the group were sent to me for two reasons: to learn to help manage the pain they experienced and to treat them for addictions—if they had become addicted to pain medications.
Everyone in my treatment group had a major pain issue and was taking a prescribed medication for it—from hydrocodone to methadone. No one used marijuana for pain, but we discussed it. Marijuana was used to get high. So was cocaine. A few people in the group had tried prescription marijuana and through it was a joke because they couldn’t get stoned on it!
This is why, as a shrink, I was kind of against medical marijuana at first. I thought it was truly just and excuse just to get high. And it is for a lot of people. I mean, did you ever hear of a ‘60s hippy smoking pot to kill the pain? C’mon. Well, yes, maybe, but it was to kill the mental pain of being in a warrior society that was butchering people in Vietnam. But—
Over the years I realized that when a client had over 1200 ng/ml of marijuana showing up in their drug tests the world changed for them. They couldn’t remember what had happened in group the week before, or even what went on the previous day of their lives. But when they were off pot for a few weeks, and it got out of their fat cells, where it is stored—something changed.
They would come to a group meeting and suddenly be able to remember what had happened the week before. When this occurred, the sober clients would laugh. And the previously stoned client would always take offense until it was explained what everyone was laughing about—the fact that he or she had been in a dream world for the first dozen or so group meetings.
This led me to look up the new research on marijuana. I found that THC, which is one of the active ingredients in pot, binds to the hippocampus in the brain. When THC binds to the receptor sites on the hippocampus, it blocks the ability to remember new facts. So the more you smoke, the less you can remember, and hence the old joke—"if you remember the ‘60s, you didn’t experience them."
Now, in putting this all together, people who smoke a gram or so of marijuana bud a day cannot remember what the heck is going on in their lives. So when they say it controls their pain, they probably don’t really know what’s going on. That’s because they cannot remember new facts and they do not remember their pain incidents all that well. New research bears this out. The pain is not decreased but one's mental attitude changes, allowing a person to focus on something else.
This comes from research done at Oxford University. THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) does not block pain receptors. Rather, MRI images showed that the THC changed a person's emotional response to pain. That means the pain was the same but being stoned made the pain more tolerable.
I also found something out something ele. There are people who smoke immediately upon having pain—a muscular sclerosis incident, say—and they experience the whole thing differently afterwards. This works in cases where they are not already totally wasted from the last bong hit. The pain seems to be minimized.
Most people don’t understand what causes the difference between these two types of smokers—the chronic smoker, who doesn’t remember anything, and the occasional smoker who uses it to control pain.
The difference arises because THC stores in people’s fat cells. So the more you smoke the more is stored in the body. This stored THC releases slowly throughout the day and night. It can take up to three months for all of the stored THC to get out of the fat cells, run through the blood stream, and metabolize through the liver. That means that real stoners can be wasted for up to two months after they quit smoking pot and not have a clean UA test for up to three months.
Now, let’s think about whether medical marijuana is a big joke or whether it truly has medical properties. The answer is: It depends on who your are and how you use it. That's what the Oxford University researchers demonstrated.
But, let's say, you're in Los Angeles and have a medical marijuana card to grow weed. Some people use it to make a lot of bucks. It’s also a license to drive around town stoned all day. A medical marijuana card is occasionally used for pain—and you probably should respect that. But to say all quarter-million or so people with medical marijuana cards in the U.S. would die if they didn’t get a hit of weed is crazy. Truth is, they would be feeling withdrawals and be searching for the next bong hit. Pain would not be an issue for most of them.
Please note that I’m not taking a side on the medical marijuana card issue. The biggest part of it is the money, after all. For example, Hawaii makes $10 million a year in taxes off of pot cards, as does the city of Oakland, California. But as far as I’m concerned, we’d be better off if pot were legal.
I say that because of my experience in Holland. Street drugs are legal in there. And what I found is that most people in Holland don’t use or abuse drugs. There is a small group of heroin addicts. The number of them dropped 30% after heroin was legalized.
The U.S. is running about 20 years behind Europe in its social thinking. So I won’t argue the case for total legalization of all drugs until the year 2030. Until then, I'll argue for the legalization of marijuana. Compared to alcohol, it's kind of harmless, unless you need to remember something important!