Ending Cannabis Stigma

We have witnessed more than four decades of progress in marijuana legalization. Oregon was the first to decriminalize marijuana in 1973, California upped the ante in 1996 by legalizing medical marijuana, and Colorado legalized adult use, or “recreational use” in 2014. Since then, seven more states now allow legal marijuana for anyone over 21, while only three states in the US still completely prohibit marijuana. In survey data, 94% of Americans support marijuana for medical use. Regardless of the changing laws on marijuana consumption, cannabis users (even those who use cannabis medicinally) face negative stereotypes, harsh criticism, and even loss of personal freedoms.

Limitations and Stigmas

Judgments and biases are created out of fear and ignorance. Yet, medical marijuana patients are frequently singled-out and judged based on their method of medicating:

In Travel - Travel is very difficult for medical marijuana patients. Obviously, flying with products is never recommended, airport property is still federal property, don’t risk it. Even driving through other states can pose risks, since other state laws may prohibit the use of marijuana, thus leaving only three options:

  • Take the medication anyway, and risk getting arrested on vacation
  • Don’t take medication, and deal with disabling symptoms, ruining the vacation
  • Stay home

Some choice, huh? Opiate patients, traveling with prescribed medications have no problems dealing with the laws in any state or at the airport. Hell, they serve patrons alcohol on planes, but don’t you dare get caught with an edible or a vape pen that doesn’t even cause intoxication.

At Work - Getting a job is harder for marijuana patients. Many places include pre-employment drug screens in order to work there, and despite legalization of marijuana, testing positive can still rule you out, or get you fired. Opiate patients who test positive are given the opportunity to provide proof of medical necessity.

Fortunately for me, I’ve done my time in the “real world” and never plan to work another “real job” again, but most don’t have this freedom and end up having to make a choice between safe medication and their livelihood.

At School – Students in many different jurisdictions are struggling to take their required medication for debilitating epilepsy because the school system won’t allow their non-psychoactive, cannabis medication on school property. Parents have to take time out of their day to remove their children from school just to give them a required medication. While other students taking pharmaceutical medications are allowed to have their medicine at school.

Socially - Meeting new people is always an interesting social experiment as well. Generally, by the second or third question, people ask, “What do you do for a living?” Answering honestly almost inevitably draws raised eyebrows. I’ve learned “I’m a freelance cannabis writer,” gets a much different response than “I’m a freelance writer,” and I’ve learned to gauge my response appropriately for the situation.

Since I don’t wear tie-dye or flowers in my hair; and I don’t have piercings or gauges or visible tattoos, I don’t fit the “stoner” profile most people expect from the stereotypical image they’ve been spoon-fed over the years. The reactions people have when they learn I’m a cannabis patient generally vary from curious to skeptical.

In Fitness and Health - Very few people understand the full spectrum of benefits from the multiple forms of consumption. Most just see images in their mind of “Cheech and Chong” laid back on a couch with big ol’ blunt. Even fewer understand how cannabis could be used in conjunction with a health and nutrition program. In fact, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked, “How do you avoid the munchies?” People just assume marijuana users are overweight from the munchies, and lazy from being stoned.

Opiates and opioid medications are common place in sports and fitness, especially in injury recovery. Talk with any former football player and they will tell you opiates are handed out like candy in the locker rooms, and it’s not frowned on at all. Opioids can also cause weight gain, fatigue, euphoria, and demotivation.

Dependence or Daily Medicine?

For many years, medicines which create euphoria have been associated with addiction. Yet if we look at the traditional meaning of euphoria, which means “healthy” and was originally used to describe the relief found after a medical procedure. So why have we been taught feeling euphoria is a bad thing? Many drugs build a tolerance creating a need for more and more of the chemical to achieve the same affect, increasing the chance of fatal overdose. Cannabis medication, on the other hand, has no chance of fatal overdose and statistics show fewer people become addicted to cannabis than any other drug. In fact, a study from the University of Michigan showed of those who try marijuana, only 9% develop a dependence which is less than cigarettes, opiates, alcohol, and even caffeine.

However, let’s define “dependence”. Before I became a cannabis patient, I was taking daily anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications. In addition, my therapist prescribed stimulants (Ritalin or Adderall) to counteract the side effects. I also took thyroid medications for hypothyroidism, daily ibuprofen for headaches, and I was consuming enough caffeine to kill a horse. Including over the counter drugs, I was taking at least 10-12 pills every day and I was drinking at least 2 energy drinks a day, along with caffeinated soda, and coffee. I thought had to take these medications daily to function in the “real world”…

… was I a responsible patient, following my doctor’s recommendations, or an addict?

When I stopped taking Effexor, an anti-depressant, the withdrawal symptoms were debilitating, and it took nearly a year to completely wean myself down…

… was I a patient or an addict as I suffered through withdrawal?

Other patients are using pain relievers, anxiety medications, and other pharmaceuticals on a daily basis as prescribed by their doctors. Quitting these medications will likely cause adverse effects and even withdrawal symptoms, but do we call them addicts or do we call them patients?

If a diabetes patient uses diet and exercise to control his symptoms, and another uses Metformin to regulate his blood sugars, is one treatment superior to the other? Do we prevent the person looking for a natural solution and force them to take pharmaceuticals anyway? So why force a cannabis patient away from a treatment which works?

As a Cannabis Patient

Today, I use cannabis daily and definitely experience discomfort within a few days of stopping, but does this make me an addict, or have I simply found a safer alternative to pharmaceuticals, without side effects, which successfully treats ALL my symptoms in one? With one plant, I successfully eliminated four prescriptions and all over the counter medications. Is my solution any less life changing than someone finding the perfect combination of drugs? Relief is relief… whatever form works should be acceptable.

Although I smoked pot recreationally before moving to Colorado, understanding how cannabis benefits the body when used properly has completely changed my approach. My “euphoria” no longer comes from the feeling of being “high”, as I have developed a tolerance to the psychoactive effects. Instead, I experience the true definition of euphoria… I am healthy, happy, and I am living my true-self, and cannabis made it possible.

More by Kristina Etter