Welcome to Part Three of my series on marijuana and the Christian worldview. In Part One we looked at an overview of marijuana and the Christian Worldview. In Part Two, we got deeper into the issue of recreational use, as well as other uses for cannabis such as for nutrition and commercial products. And we also looked briefly at some of the legal and safety aspects.
Now in Part Three I would like to focus on cannabis for medicinal use. The research I have conducted over the past several years has convinced me this is by far the most beneficial, powerful, and much needed use of the plant.
Health & Science
As mentioned in Part Two, the leaf and bud of the cannabis plant can be consumed raw without causing any psychoactive effect, and with tremendous health benefits. It used to be a normal part of a healthy diet for many people in the past, before it was outlawed and regulated out of our culture completely. Although the stem cannot be eaten, even it can be used to make teas, butters, skin creams, etc. with their own health benefits. With so many chronic health problems and cancers specific to the industrialized western world, it’s time to start taking advantage of those natural benefits again.
The human body actually has cannabinoid receptors. God must have had a purpose in making us that way. Raw vegetable and fruit juicing has become an important and helpful way for many to improve their health in our society and even treat illness. Adding cannabis plant to this juicing has incredible potential. It is only when you dry and/or heat the plant that you activate the THC, which is the cannabinoid that can have a psychoactive effect. So in it’s raw form, it’s really quite innocent! For more information on the science and tremendous healing potential of raw cannabis juicing, watch this video from Dr. William Courtenay and his wife, whom he treated with raw cannabis juice and healed her of overwhelming illness:
That is just the benefits of using raw, fresh plants. Dried and/or heated cannabis also has a wealth of medicinal benefits. Because these uses require the decarboxylation of THC-A, they need to be treated as medicinal in the same way that we would view morphine or Percocet. They can effectively treat a variety of medical conditions, but need to be used carefully, and not abused.
Let’s talk a little more about different strains and varieties of cannabis. This could probably use its own separate post, but I’ll try to remain brief and provide some links for further investigation.
First of all, there’s hemp. The hemp plant grows well in nature (like a “weed”) around the world. Because of its low THC content, it has minimal, if any psychoactive potential. Hippies sometimes refer to it as “Ditch Weed” because they can’t really get stoned from smoking it. Hemp has a lot of potential for medical, nutritional, and industrial use, and is already being used to some degree in those capacities.
The two types of marijuana are: Sativa and Indica. Both are often psychoactive, but have different effects on the body and mind. See the side graphic for more about that, and click on the graphic for details.
Within each of these two groups are many, many cannabis strains, with a variety of often colourful names, such as Purple Cush and Martian Mean Green. Many of these are hybrids of original varieties.
Prescription Cannabis Options
It is very interesting that, while governments and pharmaceutical companies alike have, for decades, claimed that marijuana has absolutely no medicinal value, and is very dangerous to use, both have invested significant funding into research of its medical properties.
One positive result of this is a product called Sativex. The pharmaceutical spray medication approved in countries such as England and Canada (and likely to be approved soon in the US and other countries), is created from a combination of Sativa and Indica strains. Its ratio of CBD to THC is nearly equal, which means it has little to no psychoactive effect on the patient. It has been proven to help MS patients with muscle spasticity (and I can attest to that personally, as well). Studies are beginning to show that long term regular use seems to halt the progression of MS, which means it may be one day prescribed as a Disease Modifying Drug for patients with the Relapsing/Remitting form of the disease. It is also approved for use by patients who are undergoing chemotherapy. What’s more is that, while it tastes horrible, the potential side effects are minimal and rare, with the most common one being sores in the mouth caused by irritation from the carrier alcohol. Even this can be avoided by changing the location in the mouth for the spray (under the tongue, side of the cheek, etc.) with each repetition.
One negative result (so far!) is a synthetic THC drug called Marinol. When compared to real cannabis, it falls short again and again. When synthetic medications try to mimic (and patent, of course) something naturally occurring in nature, what you end up with is a wide range of side effects, and limited, if any health benefit. While such a drug is useful for making money, it is not a realistic substitute for the real thing.
As pharmaceutical companies have begun to see the financial potential of cannabis as medicine, I am sure we will see many more products on the market in the coming years.
Methods for Consuming Cannabis
Within the medical community there is much debate over the most effective way to consume cannabis. In my experience, it is actually the silent majority of medical users who want the medicinal and health benefits of marijuana without having to get high. They want to be more functional in their daily lives, not less functional. It’s just not as simple as getting some pot from a dealer and lighting up. Different strains and different methods of consumption, in addition to proper growing practices are vitally important.
Smoking the plant has been shown to be the least effective method for medical use. It does provide some benefit, particularly pain relief because it hits the system so quickly through the lungs. However, vaporizing can have a more powerful and instant effect without having to ingest the potential carcinogens that are made by burning and inhaling smoke. Vaporizing can be problematic because it requires (sometimes expensive) equipment, and depending on the strain of cannabis, has the potential to be extremely and immediately psychoactive. But, like smoking, it provides instant pain relief. For a patient who is in agony, this can feel like a lifeline.
Baking with dried bud and/or leaf has a slower effect as it must first process through the liver. Many patients find it helpful for treating chronic pain because of the slower, longer lasting effect and the ease of simply eating it in a baked good. The drawback of edibles is that if you are in significant pain, you will not get immediate relief as you would with smoking or vaporizing.
Possibly the most effective way to ingest cannabis is in condensed oil form. This involves a sometimes dangerous preparation of heating the whole plant in a solvent such as high grade alcohol, then removing the plant and cooking off the alcohol until only the oil remains. Then a very small amount of oil is usually applied under the tongue and/or on various parts of the body once or several times per day for an extended period of time. it can also be used rectally. There are thousands upon thousands of stories of people who have used this method to cure various cancers (particularly brain tumours and skin cancer), and treat a wide variety of chronic illnesses such as MS, Lupus, RA, Fibromyalgia and seizure disorders. One of the most vocal proponents of this method is Rick Simpson, who has made a name for himself by growing large crops of cannabis, making oil, and giving it away to people in need in his area.
CBD (cannabidiol) may hold the most health benefits of any of the cannabinoids that have been researched. But THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), while having a psychoactive affect, is also a vital chemical compound that cannot be ignored and should not be banned for medical use any more than morphine should be banned for medical use.
CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta filmed an article a few years ago called Weed which chronicles some medical cannabis stories. He followed up with Weed 2 more recently. If you don’t think marijuana can have any medicinal benefit, please check at least one of these documentaries out. It will be well worth your time. Prior to filming Weed, Dr. Gupta himself was against the use of medical marijuana and believed it offered no benefits to patients. That changed once he did the research, and he is now an advocate of it.
Of course, things are never as simple as they are laid out to be in a TV documentary. There is controversy surrounding the Stanley brothers and their capitalizing on the needs of patients and the free exposure they got from Gupta’s documentaries. Additionally, while Gupta’s articles suggest that the Charlotte’s Web hemp strain is the best option for fighting seizures, not everyone responds the same way, and some need higher THC content to see any benefit. Further, because the use of cannabis oil in sick children is so new, tried and true safety and usage standards are not in place, and there is potential for the child to end up high, which is not the goal. This same concern is true for adults who experiment with their own treatments. While not life threatening, getting really high on medication is potentially miserable experience that needs to be carefully considered, and avoided if at all possible. This same risk exists in hospitals as doctors and nurses need to experiment with dosages for each patient. But in those cases, medical staff are on hand to monitor the patient. With medical cannabis, the patient is currently not under medical supervision.
Changing Laws in Canada
April 1, 2014 (fittingly, April Fool’s Day!), Canada brought in the new “MMPR“, or Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations. The MMPR allows commercial grow ops to (once approved by Health Canada) grow and supply dried bud of a variety of strains for patients who are able to obtain a prescription from their doctors. MSP and extended medical plans do not cover the cost for patients (many of whom are living on extremely limited disability incomes), making the medicine unattainable by those who need it most.
This new regulation was to replace the MMAR (Medical Marijuana Access Regulations), which previously allowed patients to legally grow their own plants or set up a legally designated grower to provide their medication for them. Thanks to a court case launched by Jason Wilcox via lawyer John Conroy, the MMAR Coalition Against Repeal was successful in extending the existing licenses of patients under the MMAR. Further court dates are in the works, as there are still many restrictions that need to be sorted out. The MMAR program is in a kind of suspension, which allows current license holders to continue as before. But if they need to change growers or move to a new address, they have no options. There are other unhelpful restrictions that need to be corrected, not the least of which is allowing for new patient license applications. While it is encouraging to see the government allowing for commercial production (which suggests that it now sees there is some medical benefit to the plant), the kinds of restrictions placed on patients right now makes it extremely difficult for patients to get the treatments they need.
The changing laws in the USA are even more difficult to keep on top of because of their changes by individual state. More information can be found here if you would like to keep track. check back often because some laws seem to be changing almost daily right now.
Another challenge for the Christian regarding medical use is the behaviour of medical cannabis activists. In my experience, there is a small, but very vocal and often angry subset of patients who also identify with marijuana as a lifestyle. They generally hate government officials and police officers alike (well, except for Justin Trudeau – they tend to think he’s the second coming). They do have legitimate health problems that marijuana does help (which should not be ignored), but their fight is for more than that. They want to be able to affordably get high any time they want and as often as they want, and they aggressively mock anyone who wants to use cannabis to get better but not get high. Many of them are proud to break the law and rebelliously flaunt it whenever possible. Treating their illnesses seems to almost be a secondary issue. But like I said, these are not the majority, they’re just the most vocal, and therefore get the most media attention, which casts a terribly gloomy light on the larger majority who just want to be healthy and productive. The media loves to give them the spotlight because it creates controversy and increases viewership. Unfortunately, supporting and voting for the rights of medical cannabis patients often means supporting this subset as well. So, like I said – It’s complicated.
How Should We View This as Christians?
From a moral standpoint, medical use is a completely different thing than recreational use, and we need to remember this at all times. Consider what doctors prescribe for various illnesses that also have a psychoactive affect. We are thankful for such medications when in severe pain and in need of medical help. Yet, those prescription medications are often highly addictive and psychoactive, making it dangerous to drive or operate any kind of machinery, drastically limiting a patient’s ability to function in society when needed for an extended period of time, such as with chronic illness. Worse than that, prescription narcotics take a heavy toll on the patient’s health and can easily destroy the liver over time. Cannabis, and particularly THC have not been shown to cause problems for the liver.
When we limit ourselves to only thinking of marijuana in recreational terms, it seems like something to be outlawed. But when you compare it to prescription medications, it actually has significantly more benefits than what you can purchase at the pharmacy right now. The problem remains that some will abuse it, just as some abuse Percocet, Oxycodone, and many other prescription medications. That always needs to be regulated because fallen human nature reminds us that there will always be abusers out there. But should we demonize cough syrup (for instance) because some people abuse it? Of course not.
So, how do we as Christians respond to this issue? How should we vote? Largely this ends up being a matter of conscience. On the one hand, Christian compassion compels us to fight for the rights of the downtrodden, the suffering, the weak (the patients). But on the other, we cannot support legalization that increases the potential for substance abuse. Because of this, I don’t recommend voting in favour of full legalization of cannabis. (And trust me, as someone with chronic illness and living under a very corrupt governmental medical system I have been tempted to do just that for my own sake.) However, when it comes to medicinal use, we need to advocate for patients in need and work thoughtfully towards safe and effective legislation both to open doors for patients, and to limit the potential for abuse wherever possible. Human nature draws us to want to “pick a side” just like we pick a sports team to cheer for. But, like with most issues, it is just not that simple. We need to keep thinking deeply about and researching the issues to have a well rounded understanding and Biblical stand.
For a few more comments, please continue to: Supplemental to My Series on Marijuana.