Accepting Cannabis as Medicine

Whether you’re upset by legalization, thrilled about it or somewhere in the middle, I hope we can all find some common ground.

by Joe Zich, 309 Cultures
Cannabis
Recreational cannabis became legal in Illinois on January 1, 2020.

Cannabis is said to have been used since 500 BC, yet it remains divisive even in this age of abundant information. I aim not to end any debate, but to shine light on what I see as common ground—regardless of anyone’s stance on recreational legalization. 

While cannabis has a lengthy history of medicinal use, it’s only in recent years that legal studies have been carried out. And yet, the progress has been monumental. CBD, the non-psychoactive counterpart to THC contained within the cannabis plant, has entered the mainstream—and with good reason. It may seem strange to see CBD-infused versions of seemingly every food or drink on the market, but this constituent of the cannabis plant was making a powerful impact before it became the golden child of superfoods. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

A Seat At The Table
In 2006, Charlotte Figi of Colorado was born with Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. By age two, she was having up to 300 seizures per week. Her doctors and parents tried everything traditional pharmaceuticals had to offer, but nothing would alleviate her strife. Then her grandpa began looking into cannabis.

Like most plants, there are copious varieties of the cannabis plant. While strains high in THC are popular recreationally, what the Figis utilized was low in THC and high in CBD. Ten years ago, this treatment was very much a gray area. Even as parents moved to Colorado to access this medicine for their kids, they had to be quiet about it for fear of societal scorn. 

So why go through all this? Because when the Figis administered their first dose of high-CBD cannabis oil to Charlotte, she went a full week without a seizure. Whatever our opinions of cannabis may be, these uses should have a seat at the table when determining its legal fate.

Thanks to stories like Charlotte’s and relaxed restrictions on research, access is broadening, while strains tailored to specific needs are being developed—such as “Charlotte’s Web,” her namesake strain. There are plenty of such anecdotal stories, but traditional research rigors must be met to take cannabis to the next step medically. In 2018, the FDA approved a cannabis-based drug as treatment for epilepsy—a huge progression for the plant. More dominos will continue to fall in this pattern as long-held stigmas and misunderstanding give way to data-driven outcomes.

Safety And Healing
Cannabis is a non-toxic plant with hundreds of years of historic use, while pharmaceutical drugs, especially psychotropic medications, have not been put through years of testing to understand their long-term effects. No one knew what SSRIs or anxiety medications would do in the long term when they hit the market. Pharmaceutical companies simply saw enough evidence that they helped short-term issues and proceeded to push them out into society—only to discover they had serious residual effects. 

With many pharmaceutical drugs (and even legal drugs like alcohol), taking too much can easily end one’s life. With a $10 bottle of whiskey, we could seriously hurt ourselves if we wanted to. But you can’t overdose on cannabis; it’s simply not possible. That’s because there are no cannabinoid receptors on the brain stem, which regulates vital cardiac and respiratory functions. But we do have them all across the rest of our body.

Just like a nervous or lymphatic system, every human comes wired with an endocannabinoid system comprised of receptors designed to interact with the cannabis plant. Nature rarely makes mistakes. By deepening our understanding of this meticulously designed system, we can take our ability for healing with the cannabis plant to new heights.

In cases like Charlotte’s, cannabis isn’t administered as a cure. Rather, it’s used to regulate homeostasis and diminish the harsh symptoms of disease, affording the body a greater capacity to heal. Homeostasis refers to the body’s ability to balance itself through the constant changes and functions it regularly manages. When homeostasis is disrupted, every operation of the body begins to feel the strain. On the other hand, without having multiple seizures a day (some lasting up to four hours), Charlotte’s brain was able to develop without the abusive symptoms of her disease. These outcomes are among the reasons cannabis is so beneficial for cancer patients.

All of us know someone who’s been affected by cancer. Watching a loved one endure such a debilitating disease makes us want to do anything to make them feel better. Unfortunately, the disease isn’t something we can control—but some of its symptoms are.

Among the physical symptoms of chemotherapy, vomiting and severe nausea are some of the most difficult to grapple with. Now there are specific strains of cannabis that can diminish these side effects. Much as the Charlotte’s Web strain changed the lives of epileptic children and their families, Rick Simpson Oil, a concentrated cannabis product developed specifically to treat cancer, has made monumental strides toward getting cancer patients through their disease and chemotherapy so they can move on to live healthy lives. By relieving patients of nausea, vomiting and other side effects—while simultaneously reviving their appetite and decreasing pain—patients are left in a much stronger state to trudge forward in their battle.

Finding Common Ground
While Illinois has just legalized recreational cannabis, the debate will likely continue on. Stigmas will persist and education will be lacking. But when looking at cannabis as a viable medicine, the room for debate is dwindling. Its merits are well documented, and once you know someone who’s used it personally, it’s hard to see a reason for opposition. Whether you’re upset by legalization, thrilled about it or somewhere in the middle, I hope we can all find some common ground. 

When someone is sick and a treatment exists—particularly a nontoxic, natural option—the patient should have access to it. It shouldn’t be stigmatized due to cultural baggage, but looked at with a fresh lens as the research unfolds. Cannabis is sure to make a major impact on Peoria and the entire state. And yes, some will simply be having fun with it. But to many others, it means expanded access to medicine that helps them—and that’s something we should all be able to get behind. PM

Joe Zich is the founder of 309 Cultures, a line of organic fermented foods made in Peoria. Find them online at peoriama.de/shop.

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