Many or, perhaps, most people utilize the benefits of marijuana for recreational purposes perhaps because it can be fun and perhaps because many governments classified the drug as having no medical benefit. Today, we’re starting to learn that’s not true. If you’re not sure how or why medical marijuana offers serious benefits, let me share my story with you.
This post is the first in Lifehacker’s Green Week, a series where we’ll be discussing medical marijuana, its benefits, drawbacks, and everything you need to know. Keep in mind, we’re not doctors, so you should check with yours before trying it, and similarly, obey the laws and regulations in your area regarding the procurement and use of medical marijuana.
An Important Medical Disclaimer
I am not a doctor and am not providing medical advice—because I can’t! Please keep that in mind when reading. Marijuana is a powerful but safe drug. Statistically, it has a low incidence of causing any serious harm to anyone when compared with other drugs. That said, it’s still a drug and bad things can happen if you don’t know what you’re doing. You should talk to your doctor (or doctors) before making any significant changes to the way you manage your health, so do that before you jump on board with anything I’m saying here.
Marijuana affects everyone a little differently. Different strains have different effects. You may take medicine that interacts with marijuana in some way. For these reasons and a handful of others, you shouldn’t dive into a powerful drug like this without consulting a medical professional first. If I make you think Mariuana can help you medically, you still need to talk to your doctor before you dive in.
Why I Tried Medical Marijuana
I went through most of my life with an anti-drug attitude. I’ve never smoked, I still drink very rarely, and I didn’t try marijuana until my thirties. Even then, I got a prescription for medical marijuana because I thought it might help manage my pain. In a moment of wonderful luck, two years I wound up with a melange of chronic pain issues that only narcotic painkillers seemed to help. If you know about the dangers of opioids, you can understand why I wanted to avoid them. I like being in control of my own body and mind, so getting high always seemed like something I’d hate. The pain was so debilitating and frequent that I just didn’t care anymore and figured if it could help I should at least give it a try.
The first time I tried marijuana I had far too much. I took half of what the woman at the dispensary suggested for someone with no tolerance whatsoever. I was high for about 16 hours and hated it. I thought I was going to stop breathing and spent hours fighting the urge to fall asleep thinking that I might not wake up. Eventually I went under and it felt like a comfortable version of drowning. I woke up the next morning with a headache and decided marijuana was a bad idea.
Pain changed my mind yet again. When you’re on opioid painkillers, you can pretty much only take them twice a week if you want to avoid dependency. If you’re in pain every day, you want to take pills every day. It takes an enormous amount of self-control to say no, I need to suffer through this day and the next one (and sometimes even the next one after that) or this pain will get worse—even if that doesn’t seem possible. That’s the horrible thing about opioids: they decrease your pain tolerance if you use them too regularly.
My research continued into other alternatives and I always came back to marijuana. As I learned more, I found that a bite of a cannabis-laced brownie from one company doesn’t have the same effect as others. I tried another strain, still took too much, and hated it only a little less. But just as it happens in the movies, the third time was the charm. I found these little chocolate covered blueberries that provided a very small dose of a helpful strain and suddenly I slept great and felt pain-free in the morning.
Is Medical Marijuana Right for You?
That’s a tough question to answer. You can get a prescription for medical marijuana for all sorts of conditions. There are two main types of marijuana—indica and sativa—and both have the ability to help with a variety of conditions. I would argue, however, that the large list of conditions accepted might give a little too much hope to those suffering from some of them. Medical marijuana can treat issues that cause pain. Cannabis indica, more specifically, can help you sleep. If you have a low appetite or eating disorder, marijuana can help you find a desire to eat—perhaps too much. But you’ll also find conditions marijuana treats, like obesity, that don’t make a lot of sense. If marijuana tends to make you want to eat, how will it help you lose weight? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’m highly skeptical of the claim.
You’ll find other interesting conditions on the symptom list, such as anxiety, which marijuana can alleviate and exacerbate. You’ve probably heard about the paranoia as a side effect. Certain strains cause it in most people and others don’t have quite that effect. A tolerance or even just general experience with marijuana can help you avoid this paranoia, and so can strains with higher amounts of cannabidiol (CBD). Most strains will help you relax, but some can make you paranoid. Everyone reacts somewhat differently, too. I get hungry but I don’t get paranoid or silly. A friend of mine doesn’t get hungry or paranoid but does get very silly and can’t stop laughing. So can marijuana help with anxiety? It can in some people, sure, but it could make the problem worse for others.
Whether or not medical marijuana can help you depends on how you react to the drug and if you actually need it. If you need to lose weight, you’ll do better with diet and exercise than a drug almost any day. If you do need a drug or other medical attention, marijuana probably shouldn’t be on your list of options. Even if I were a doctor who could give you this kind of information, it’d take an extremely long time to sort out which conditions marijuana can help and can’t. I can tell you that marijuana generally helps relieve stress and pain. It can also help you sleep. If you have a condition with those symptoms you might find some relief with medical marijuana. Otherwise, you may have better luck with something else.
If you want to give medical marijuana a try, talk to your doctor first. While not all doctors know much about its medical uses, unfortunately, you can always ask for a referral to one who does if yours falls under that category.
But there’s still more to learn here! As Green Week continues we’ll be talking about how marijuana works, its legal status, how you can use it responsibly, and more. If you feel like marijuana could help you and your doctor agrees, there are still a lot of hurdles to clear in order to learn to use this drug for medical purposes. We’ll tackle a lot of those concerns in other posts, so stay tuned!
Photos by Mr. High Sky (Shutterstock), Jan Faukner (Shutterstock), and Atomazul (Shutterstock).
Adam Dachis is a Los Angeles-based writer and consultant. You’ll find him writing and making stuff over at Awkward Human, including his podcast the Awkward Human Survival Guide.