Every Herb In Its Season

30 Mar Every Herb In Its Season

Drugs. The slippery slope to addiction. Most of us have friends or family who have been affected by drug abuse. Whether drugs are illegal or prescribed, they can pose a threat to the health and safety of the people who use them. For those of us who are both health and morally conscious, particularly those of the LDS faith who adhere to principles of the Word of Wisdom, there is a growing concern over how to get proper and safe treatment for chronic pain and mental disorders that would require the aid of medication.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, “Prescription medicine is the second most commonly abused category of drugs, ahead of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines,” (Neary, 2009, para. 3).When legal drugs can be as addicting and problematic as illegal drugs, how do we decide which drugs are “good” and which are “bad”?

 
Joshua Lyon, a journalist and writer of, “Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict”, was interviewed on NPR about the rising issues with addiction to painkillers and opiates prescribed by doctors. He says, “There is this assumption that somewhere down the line, it came from a doctor, and therefore, it’s going to be good for you. It’s good for you, but… these are basically synthetic versions of heroin and morphine…and they’re actually much cleaner versions and much stronger versions than you may get if you’re going out and just buying a street bag of heroin,” (Neary, 2009, para. 105). In the interview, he discusses how highly addicting prescription drugs almost destroyed his own health and life. He actually finished writing the book from inside rehab—afraid his editor would find out and he’d lose the book deal. Lyon describes the horrible withdrawal symptoms he experienced from prescription drug use and how they were some of the worst days of his life.

 
If, when synthetic versions of plant based opiates are created, they are more concentrated, it makes sense that they would have a more dramatic effect in the body. In the past our cures could be found in nature, before big business synthesized and monetized our access to their benefits. Is there a safer alternative to harsh prescription drugs with their multiple side effects? Perhaps the best of both worlds would to use the natural plant, and regulate it for safety and proper use. In the Doctrine and Covenants, it says, “And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man” (D&C 89:10). The highly stigmatized, cannabis, is an annual, flowering herb. There have been studies that indicate that when used medicinally, cannabis, or marijuana, can be effective in treating nausea, seizures, psychosis disorders, inflammatory disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, tumors and cancer cells, as well as anxiety and depression disorders, (Armentano, 2016) (BJCP, 2013). New research suggests it aids people with cerebral palsy. There appear to be multiple benefits that can be derived from this taboo little plant.

 
If one struggles with an addiction to prescribed painkillers for a condition of chronic pain, they can become dependent on the drug just to feel “normal”. The subsequent effect on mood swings and mental health can be very concerning. But to many members of the LDS church, marijuana isn’t even considered an option, even if it is legal in their state, because they’re convinced that it “breaks” the Word of Wisdom. Is drug addiction more acceptable if the drugs have always been legal? Should Latter Day Saints discount a possibly safer drug because it’s illegal in most states and must therefore be “bad”?

 
The controversy surrounding marijuana, is fairly recent in terms of world history. It has been used for centuries as a medicine. There is evidence that the leaves, stems and seeds were used in ancient China and India over 4,000 years ago. It was recognized as medicinal in many cultures throughout the ages up until the last century. In America, the cultural connotations of deadbeat hippies and its long time illegal status has caused many people to reject the potential benefits of this particular herb when used appropriately.

 
A major concern about marijuana use is that the THC (the chemical, tetrahydrocannabinol) in the plant, responsible for causing the “high”, makes it dangerous and addicting. Current research shows that a second component in marijuana, cannabidiol, (CBD) when bred in the plant to be more dominant, counteracts the effects of THC. CBD is said to be non-psychoactive, following different pathways, or CB1 receptors in the brain, than THC. Gregory L. Gerdeman, as assistant professor at Eckerd College who has studied the effects of cannabis on the brain for over 15 years says, “Studies have shown that when both are present, as in most recreational marijuana, CBD even works to counteract or balance the THC-induced high” (Gerdeman, 2016, para. 3).

 
In the mid-1990s, the World Health Organization commissioned a study on the health and societal consequences of marijuana compared to alcohol, nicotine, and prescription opiates. Their conclusion defied the stigma long attached to marijuana. The study showed that the risks associated with marijuana were small to moderate in comparison to the public health problems produced by alcohol and tobacco. “On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies,” (MMP, 2016, para.5). Prior to WHO making this statement, a similar opinion had been reached after hearing two years of testimony, in September of 1988. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Judge Francis Young ruled: “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care,” (NORML, 2013, para. 2).

 
There are no reported deaths caused by marijuana overdose to date. In contrast, according to CDC figures, A total of 17,465 people died from overdosing on illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine in 2014 alone, while 25,760 people died from overdosing on prescription drugs, including painkillers and tranquilizers like Valium that same year, (Belware, 2015).
In light of this, it seems strange that marijuana is the drug that needs a defense. Those concerned with the health risks associated with smoke inhalation should note that medical marijuana can be administered in a variety of ways. It can be vaporized, put into pill form, introduced into food, in a patch, suppositories, topically in a salve and in beverages.

 
Perhaps more than questioning the safety of marijuana, people fear that it is especially addictive. But, studies show that this fear may be unfounded. According to the Institute of Medicine, fewer than 10 percent of those who try cannabis ever meet the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of “drug dependence”. In contrast, 32 percent of tobacco users, 23 percent of heroin users, 17 percent of cocaine users and 15 percent of alcohol users meet the criteria for “drug dependence” (Armentano, 2016).
Robert Volkman, a private physician who has worked with countless addicts says, “I have virtually no concern about marijuana use except for the rare individual who smokes it all of the time. A pot-head is very much like a binge drinker, and there is always a problem with bingeing, quite apart from the substance being binged on.” When asked about marijuana being a “gateway drug,” he responds, “Cigarettes and alcohol… are the true gateway drugs, as they are far more addictive in their nature than marijuana is.” He goes on to say, “I have yet to encounter a marijuana withdrawal syndrome,” (Volkman, 2016, para. 5). Without the danger of overdosing and the lack of withdrawal symptoms associated with other drugs, marijuana should be considered a viable option for patients with specific medical needs.

 
However, despite inadequate research to prove that marijuana in inherently addicting or carries any danger comparable to the level of legal drugs, the stigma against the cannabis plant persists. The severe withdrawal symptoms described by people addicted to prescription drugs are dismissed by the industry making billions of dollars on that market, which seems to accept the side-effects and known dangers of use as a necessary evil that goes along with treatment. It would appear that big pharma is on the side of profit and not necessarily a friend to the consumer who could have a gentler answer to their ailments growing in their own backyard.

 

“And whosoever among you are sick, and have not faith to be healed, but believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food, and that not by the hand of an enemy” (D&C 42:43)
If medical marijuana became legal nationally it would give prescription drug users an opportunity to try something more natural and possibly safer than the highly addicting synthesized drugs that they are already using. The regulated use of medical marijuana with a doctor overseeing the proper dosage necessary for each patient individually, the same as other prescriptions, would over time erase the stigma attached to this controversial, yet possibly beneficial herb.
Everyone reacts differently to drugs. Any and all drugs can be misused. There is no feasible way to stop some people from misusing their medications. But legalizing the use of a plant with proven medical benefits, and less side effects than what is currently allowed seems like a logical step forward. Using what God has provided for the purposes that He intended could very well serve to be a blessing to many who suffer.
“Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.” (D&C 89:11)

 

Citations:

Armentano, Paul. “Marijuana Has Been Used for Centuries and Is Relatively Safe.” The Legalization of Marijuana. Ed. Noël Merino. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2016. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from “Marijuana: A Primer.” Norml.org. Vol. 1. 2013. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.
Belware, Kim. Here’s How Many People Fatally Overdosed on Marijuana Last Year, The Huffington Post, December 28, 2015
British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. Cannabidiol for neurodegenerative disorders: important new clinical applications for this phytocannabinoid? 2013 Feb; 75(2): 323–333.
Doctrine and Covenants 89 (The Word of Wisdom)
Earleywine, Mitch, Dr . Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence, Oxford University Press (2002)
Gerdeman, Gregory L. “THE SCIENCE IS IN: POT IS MEDICINE.” Tampa Bay Times [St. Petersburg, FL] 9 Apr. 2014: 9A. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.
Marijuana Policy Project. “Research Shows That Marijuana Use Is Safer than Alcohol Use.” The Legalization of Marijuana. Ed. Noël Merino. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2016. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from “Marijuana Is Safer than Alcohol: It’s Time to Treat It That Way.”Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.

Neary, Lynn, (July 27,2009) Pill Head On prescription Drug Addiction. Talk of the Nation, NPR

NORML, (2013). 25 Years Ago: DEA’s Own Administrative Law Judge Ruled Cannabis Should Be Reclassified Under Federal Law. Retrieved from http://norml.org/news/2013/09/05/25-years-ago-dea-s-own-administrative-law-judge-ruled-cannabis-should-be-reclassified-under-federal-law

Volkman, Robert. “Marijuana Use Rarely Leads to Addiction.” Addiction. Ed. Christina Fisanick. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from “Political Insanity About Marijuana and Drug Use.” Alternatives Magazine (Fall 2004): 1-7. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.

Jo Schaffer
joschaffer@yahoo.com
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