By Ted Nelson
I thought I was losing my mind. Two sleepless nights in a row had left me exhausted, depressed, and mentally discombobulated. I was having dinner at my Los Angeles apartment with my youngest son, sharing my distress.
A month earlier, I had been diagnosed with an enlarged prostate after complaining of regularly having to get up at night to pee. My doctor prescribed Flomax. Two weeks on Flomax and my nighttime runs to the bathroom increased — from two a night to four. Then my doctor told me to stay on Flomax but to add Avodart to the regimen, which quickly led to the condition I was now bellyaching about.
After patiently hearing me out, my son said:
“Dad, why don’t you try this?” He handed me a joint of marijuana. “Maybe it will help you get some sleep.”
I took his advice and inhaled two puffs at bedtime. I slept like a baby, waking up the next morning feeling refreshed and relieved. Wow! That same day I made an appointment with a medical cannabis MD to get my certification.
That was eight years ago. I’ve been “stoned” ever since. My original certification was in California, but I am now a card-carrying Michigan user. Since starting on my cannabis regimen, my new normal is to either sleep through the night or get up only once. When I reported the change of meds to my California family doc, he noted in the record that I had “sought alternative treatment.”
As I experienced relief from the symptoms of an enlarged prostate, I also developed a keen interest in finding out as much as I could about this substance I was using every day. Though I had occasionally used pot recreationally in the past, I wanted to know what the long-term effects were. What were the dangers? What was the science? I get pretty picky when it comes to my health.
Over the eight years of my medical cannabis use, my knowledge has increased dramatically. I have also kept careful track of its impact on my mind and body. The experience has been enlightening. Here is a small taste:
The history of cannabis is long and fascinating. The first documented use of the plant goes back over 29,000 years when hemp was used for rope. Its first use as an anesthetic goes back over 6,000 years. In the Hindu culture, cannabis has been considered as sacred since 1400 B.C. By the 13th century, the recreational and religious use of the plant was prevalent in the Middle East.
Particularly interesting is how cannabis came to be criminalized in this country. Early in the 1900s, several factors merged to bring about a change in perception on the plant. Marijuana users during that period were mostly Mexican and Caribbean immigrants, so-called bohemians, and African American jazz musicians.
In the 1920s, the US commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Henry J. Anslinger, with the help of front-page support from the influential Hearst newspaper empire, mounted a powerful propaganda campaign against cannabis.
In one of his more notable quotes, Anslinger stated, “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”
Thus the gap between reality and perception was expanded in the service of political manipulation and unadulterated racism. It wasn’t until the early 70s, however, that a complete federal prohibition on cannabis was enacted. This included the designation of cannabis as a Schedule I substance — an illegal drug with no medical purposes. This placed weighty impediments on medical and scientific research. The history is quite revealing:
“Listing of cannabis as a Schedule I Drug was a 1972 political action from Richard Nixon who, among other things, found the resistance to his policies and the Vietnam War, especially from people of color, women and young people, to be so galling that he thought the best way to fight back was to take away something people enjoyed. In brief, this is how marijuana became illegal.”
— From “Cannabis & Its Evolution: The Marijuana Prohibition Movement” at weedmaps.com
Nixon was not a fan of marijuana. When Congress created the Controlled Substance Act in 1970, it stated clearly that information on marijuana was inadequate and called for the creation of a presidential commission to conduct research and make recommendations. The Schedule I designation was to be temporary pending commission findings. Nixon created the commission and appointed the former Republican governor from Pennsylvania, Richard Shafer, as chairman.
To Nixon’s eventual exasperation, the commission did its job rigorously. It turned out to be the most comprehensive report ever written about the drug, stating that marijuana did not cause crime, did not lead to harder drug use, and did not create significant mental or physical health issues. Also, it favored complete marijuana decriminalization. Its conclusion was clear: “Marihuana’s relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact on society does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it.”
Nixon denounced the commission, shelved the report, and made the Schedule I designation permanent. In a 1994 interview not published until 2016 in Harper’s, Nixon aide John Ehrlichman recalled, “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Does this sound hauntingly familiar?
In 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) conducted an exhaustive review of the health risks and benefits of cannabis. They concluded that “cannabis does indeed have notable therapeutic effects.” Among them: Reduction in chronic pain symptoms, improvement in muscle spasms for those with multiple sclerosis (MS), and relief of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
The evidence is growing that an even wider range of health problems can be positively influenced by cannabis, including: inflammation reduction, brain trauma/neuroprotection, wound and bone healing, anxiety reduction, and rehabilitation and recovery. In his recent CNN special on cannabis, “Weeds 4,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported on the efficacy of marijuana in dealing with the opioid crisis. (Note: States that enacted medical cannabis laws are showing an opioid mortality rate drop of 24.8%)
But more research is needed to accurately determine the full range and effectiveness of these benefits. This is where the conundrum of the Schedule I restrictions comes into play. A review of the many “pro and con” lists of cannabis use highlight this problem. By far, the major “con” on these lists is the fact that not enough research has been done on cannabis to determine its safety.
Fortunately, research in Canada, Israel, and other countries has narrowed the knowledge gap. Also, there is renewed hope that the Schedule I restrictions in this country may soon be removed.
The second major “con” on the list, one that the NASEM report was very clear on, is the effect of the drug on adolescents: “Adolescent cannabis use is linked to psychosis (schizophrenic symptoms), substance use disorder, diminished academic performance, diminished employment and income prospects, as well as impaired social relationships.” This serious evidence, among all others, requires sober attention.
But enough history and science. Back to my personal experience. After eight years of medical marijuana use, here are my conclusions.
First, my prostate is still enlarged. But I consistently get a good night’s sleep.
Second, my long marijuana regimen seems to have had a beneficial effect on a variety of conditions that have plagued me over the years. Persistent gum and dental problems have improved to the point where my dentist complains of no longer making a profit off me. Cancerous lesions on my face, one of which had to be removed surgically, have disappeared. Occasional bouts of stomach upset are now ended with one puff. My arthritis, which seems to be everywhere in my body, has been reduced to mildly bothersome. Good control over my Type II diabetes also has been helped by marijuana.
And then there are the diminishments of aging. I am 76 years OLD. Hardly a day goes by that some part of my body doesn’t slow down, malfunction, or gripe. I am bent, beaten, and ground down. When I stumble along in public, wattles flapping, I am often mistaken for an ambulatory piece of road kill. For me, marijuana is my “I ain’t dead yet” pill. It helps me remember what it was like when I was only 75. It might not stop my aging, but it makes it more fun.
The most profound benefit of my cannabis use has been and continues to be stress reduction. Pot gives me an instantaneous relaxation response. It mellows me out, settles me down, and restores my appetite. In this crazy world, it helps keep me sane and balanced. It enhances my creativity, sensual appreciation, and sense of well-being. Hell, it even saves me money. With pot in my system I can watch the news without throwing a hammer at my expensive wide-screen TV.
One of its most peculiar effects, though, has been on my driving. While living in California, I did a daily 75-mile round-trip commute to Hollywood. As a naturally aggressive driver, I prided myself on knocking 15 minutes off a trip that usually took 45-60 minutes. My passengers, on the other hand, experienced my driving as a gateway to their own drug use. One even told me that when I got on my meds he was able to get off his.
In my own defense, with over a million miles of driving under my belt, I have never been in an accident. Nor, during the eight years of my medical marijuana use, have I had any moving violations. (And only one parking ticket.)
But what does my wife think about my marijuana use? Over the past eight years she has seen first-hand the effect cannabis has on my health and well-being. She is not a regular user herself, and she is uncomfortable with my occasional bouts of coughing when I smoke. (There are many ways to ingest cannabis — I happen to prefer smoking.) But she can speak for herself. This quote is from a newspaper story about my medical marijuana use: “I go to bed every night with a husband who is stoned — and I love it.”
So, after all is said and done, why do I use medical marijuana?
Based on my own experience over eight years, and based on the history, knowledge, and research I have accumulated on this incredible plant, I’d be a fool not to!
EVM Editor-at-Large Ted Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2018 East Village Magazine