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The Medical Side to Recreational Cannabis

There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to cannabis. From what it is (hemp vs. marijuana), to what it does (improve or degrade health), to how we classify it (recreational vs. medical). Ultimately, our confusion could be attributed to the unique nature of cannabis: a plant that is believed to have both physical and mental benefit. This is also why the line between medical and recreational cannabis is so fine. Perhaps cannabis relaxes you, reducing your stress level — is this recreational or medicinal? What this should call out for you is our lack of understanding regarding mental health — what is mental relief? Recreational or medical?

An unfortunate byproduct of our befuddlement is the association we are drawing between cannabis and alcohol. It seems fair to state that the two substances have drastically different effects: both instantaneous (feeling high vs. feeling drunk) and long-term mental and health consequences. Yet, in Washington state the Liquor Control Board is the entity driving medical marijuana recommendations. If cannabis is this close of kin to alcohol, then why is our cultural perspective on the two so drastically different? Maybe, perhaps, it’s because the two are, in fact, drastically different.

Simply put, it comes down to the effects; from the immediate impact to long-term health consequences, alcohol and cannabis are different species. In actuality, the only reason the two are more closely correlated than, say, alcohol and cocaine, is the connoisseurship — which is merely a product of industry expansion by way of legalization. Although that line of thinking is understandable, it’s also silly to model regulation after an industry with a disparate product.

Let’s instead consider viewing the cannabis as a plant before a drug. Food, like cannabis, is both medical and recreational. Although food provides nutritional health, many people would argue taste — the arguably “recreational” experience of eating — is equally as important. There’s a reason people don’t normally munch on raw kale despite its impressive nutritional value.

What’s interesting are the potential mental health consequences of the “recreational” eating experience. Take two meals with identical nutritional value, but one tastes better than the other. How important is the pleasure you get from the better-tasting meal? Is that added value health-related or entirely recreational? The depth of study done on the psychology of eating, not to mention the prevalence of eating disorders, would indicate that yes, food is undoubtedly tethered to mental health.

If you aren’t already connecting the dots, consider the psychoactive effects of cannabis. How many times have you heard people admonish the typical cannabis high as purely recreational? What we are sorely forgetting and/or failing to understand is the importance of mental health. For example, cannabis is commonly consumed recreationally to relax and reduce stress — but isn’t this also medical? PTSD patients would say of course it’s medical. What if cannabis regulates your mood, which you would refer to as overall increased happiness — is this medical? What’s the difference between periodic sadness and mild depression? I assert that these are all poignant grey blurs.

Until we are able to answer these questions, we need to be patient with ourselves. Rushing through the releasing of the reigns will only increase the chance of misstepping, and any frustration we develop won’t push progress. We just simply don’t have the answers yet. Until we do, think for yourself and don’t limit your perspective to strict classifications.