The other observation I have made is that liquor stores in
our city tend to open before the library does, hence, consciously, or
unconsciously, giving an evident priority to booze over books. In fact, the
addictive trio of coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes are legal drugs that are commonplace
and used on a regular basis. Although the former can be imbued at any place,
the other two have been restrained and restricted in their use. Only recently
has marijuana joined the mix here in Canada and only after a lot of pushback
and various legal battles.
Yet despite marijuana being now legal in different places
around the world, there are still many stigmas, prejudices, and misconceptions
attached to it. Why are people still hesitant to accept the idea and embrace
the fact that marijuana is not as harmful as once believed but, on the
contrary, that it has proven health benefits, including its potential of alleviating
and managing pain? Why do many people hold onto unsubstantiated, unfounded, and
incorrect sets of beliefs on the matter? Many consume their daily coffee and
smoke cigarettes but stay away from marijuana at all costs, even though it is
comparatively less addictive and despite its demonstrated medicinal properties.
These thoughts, questions, and deliberations came to the
forefront especially during and after a deliberative public engagement
(incidentally my second one but the first virtual kind) that I had the pleasure
to partake in. As part of the process, I was asked to “think
aloud” and to state my opinion about the use of cannabis for cancer treatments
by being given different hypothetical scenarios and situations.
In fact, cannabis can be used in various ways as part of
cancer treatments: It can reduce cancer-related pain as well as nausea after
chemotherapy sessions; at the same time, it can also help with related symptoms like insomnia and
depression. For many cancer patients, the medicinal use of cannabis was correlated
with an overall improvement in their quality of life.
Yet the question that the research study wanted to shed
light upon was what factors influenced and determined the choice of accepting
and embracing cannabis as an additional complementary form of therapy towards
the management of cancer-related and -induced symptoms. Put differently, who
and what influences an individual’s decision-making when it comes to medicating
oneself with marijuana.
I myself am currently not using marijuana in any form and
manner, but I am strongly in favor of using cannabis in a medical context as
part of one’s overall treatment plan. In fact, if I were given the choice
between either prescription drugs and pharmaceutical products or cannabis, I
would choose the latter without a doubt or hesitation. Yet many still refuse
and reject this option as they remain set in their belief that cannabis is
A similar situation occurred some years ago when my mother
who was suffering from glaucoma was prescribed marijuana as an alternative and
effective form of treatment. Yet without giving it much or any thought for that
matter, she fully and vehemently rejected that option. Nonetheless, she
continues to smoke cigarettes on a daily basis, and ironically, she is perfectly
fine with her smoking habit despite strong evidence of the harm that cigarettes
cause and bring about. This kind of disconnect that exists between smoking
physically addictive and life-threatening substances versus a medically
prescribed natural herb that can treat illnesses can seem quite puzzling at
Yet the items and scenarios brought to light during the
deliberative public engagement session on cannabis and cancer treatments
highlighted some of the issues involved in the decision-making of whether one
opts for marijuana or not as well as the potential reasons behind that choice.
On one hand, there is the subjective realm of personal
belief. One assumes and thinks that it is harmful or wrong to smoke cannabis
and firmly holds onto that thought despite evidence to the contrary. This may
be tied with previous propaganda and exaggeration of potential adverse effects
of marijuana. The onslaught of negative advertising was mainly undertaken for
political and ideological reasons, and it was based on information that was generally
not supported nor backed by science. Furthermore, it was promoted and
propagated over various years by states, governments, and church and lobby
This same idea can become robust over time and be further
propagated by society itself wherein people keep sharing it, similar to the
way, we, advertently or inadvertently, retweet fake news on Social Media. The
belief becomes more ingrained and despite new laws, regulations, and scientific
evidence, it becomes hard to shake it off or to replace it or to update one’s
impressions, understanding, and knowledge on the matter.
There are also lingering concerns about what others would
think of one’s actions. Since marijuana, unlike cigarette smoking, has been
associated with delinquent activity for such a long time, one may become
increasingly worried about how others around one’s circle may perceive or respond
to the action. The social circle would include spouses and partners, family,
and friends and their acceptance and approval may be important determinants in
one’s choice of medicating or not medicating with cannabis.
Moreover, since marijuana smoke has such a distinct and
distinctive smell, one can hardly smoke it without other people’s perception or
knowledge. In fact, your neighbors would know rather immediately if you have
taken on a new hobby and have started to light up a joint. Certainly, there are pills that
one can consume, but those options are lesser-known and may be somewhat more difficult
to obtain, while many might ignore the fact that it is indeed possible.
The other fear is that one could receive immediate and
irretrievable harm. Many people state that marijuana could be a gateway drug, that one would build tolerance and then
wish to try out stronger and more potent drugs. This may be the case for those
already interested in exploring other drugs, but, in fact, cannabis is not
physically addictive, and it may or may not be psychologically addictive. But
it would be the same as believing that having a beer would turn you into an
alcoholic and become a gateway for stronger drinks and hard liquor. Although
this may be true in some cases, it is not the general rule or tendency.
For many, the opinion and advice of experts are factored in
and taken into consideration as well. Yet physicians may also struggle with
personal beliefs and convictions or they may be hesitant to fully promote a
product they are not completely sure of. Although there is significant research,
more cautious and traditionally-minded medical doctors may be more hesitant to favor
and promote cannabis, partly due to reasons of liability, such as potential
anomalies and adverse reactions as well as the fact that pharmaceutical
companies (Big Pharma) are still not as closely linked and associated with the
drug as is already the case with prescriptions.
Yet in such cases, it is most important to think and decide
for oneself. We are often driven by what media tells us, what friends and
family members expect from us, and may often choose options that are far from
ideal for our health, safety, and well-being. I believe that if marijuana can
provide benefits in and for a certain condition, one should at least give it a
shot, regardless of what others may say and think about it.
The other point to keep in mind is that not all drugs are
created equal. There is the common misconception that all drugs are equally
harmful. But, in fact, they bring about different reactions and have different
effects and side effects. Moreover, they vary in terms of being addictive and
causing physical and/or psychological addiction. While coffee and cigarettes
cause physical addiction, marijuana as a rule does not do so.
These misperceptions are often due to and tied with the
status of legality. At first glance, it may seem rather arbitrary how certain
substances are legal, and others are not. The experiment of the Prohibition
era, of rendering alcohol illegal, backfired and brought about more harm to
society itself and because of this backlash, it was quickly abandoned. We have seen
a similar trend evolving with marijuana, which was and continues to be consumed
by many people.
Yet to sway opinion and make a substance illegal, it was
necessary to focus, propagate, and exaggerate the potential ill effects of
those drugs. Most of the time, it was a political matter and decision and not
necessarily one that was based on science. In fact, it was part of a campaign of miseducation and negative education about drugs during
which false non-scientific information and perceptions about drug harm were disseminated
and were for the most part politically driven.
The infamous 1936 propaganda film Tell Your Children,
now often referred to as “reefer madness” – a supposed temporary state of complete
madness connected with the use of marijuana - highlights the moral and ideological
components involved in relation to cannabis, the same way, the use of
psychedelics related to certain political and ideological beliefs and was correlated with counterculture movements. As a result, more
conservative-minded people would come to mistrust psychedelic drugs but would
have no qualms and issues about alcohol and cigarettes.
The other interests were of economic nature. Both alcohol
and cigarettes were marketed by major companies (Big Tobacco) that brought in
profits, which, in turn, created and set up lobby groups that would put
pressure on politicians who, in their turn, would try to direct and often purposely
and purposefully mislead and misdirect public opinion. This would explain why a
more toxic cancerous cocktail of drugs in cigarettes was socially tolerated
and accepted, while marijuana remained taboo for so many years.
Notwithstanding, whenever the topic of drugs comes up,
people have strong, preconceived, and often polarized and generalized opinions.
Although a broad range of stimulants, psychoactive substances, and medication
fall under the purvey of drugs, people often instinctively link and associate
drugs with their legality and legal status.
Drugs that are perceived as or used to be illegal and
prohibited tend to elicit and foment negative reactions, while others that are
seen as commonplace and frequently used are not even considered as drugs in the
first place but may at best be called and designated as a "bad habit". But we
tend to ignore or disregard that not all drugs are equally harmful and that there
are some that can provide potential benefits to the mind and body. In fact,
there are various evidence-based health benefits of psychedelics. There is now
substantial research on the topic, and it can provide mental health benefits
that are under study and observation.
I was provided with relevant and insightful information by various
experts on the topic of legalization of psychedelics, a debate that provided
thought and discussion on both sides of the fence, those in favor and those
against the legalization of psychedelic drugs. This discussion, organized by Intelligence
Squared US, touched on various issues regarding and associated with drug
In fact, the benefits of the use of psychedelics could range
from dealing with post-traumatic stress disorders, trauma, and anxiety to
dealing with one’s stress levels to increasing one’s life satisfaction and
experience. Furthermore, psychedelics can be also used for couple therapy or
for deepening and strengthening personal relationships with loved ones, family,
or close friends. Moreover, it could be also used in non-medicinal contexts as
well, such as for personal and spiritual growth and as an impetus for stronger
bonds among personal relationships with loved ones.
Although, like anything in life, drugs can be misused, and if
used inappropriately or irresponsibly, they can have negative effects or lead
to dangerous consequences, I think with the correct information, mindset as
well as supervision and training, we ought to re-evaluate how we see and use
drugs, whether it is the now-legalized cannabis or the hopefully soon-to-be-legal case of psychedelics. Nothing is set in stone and we need to evaluate and
review our own feelings, emotions, and knowledge and update them according to
science and research instead of merely following hearsay, gossip, rumors, or
politically motivated speeches and agendas.