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CROSSROADS: Healthy Choices

Aug 17, 2017 11:33AM ● Published by Ricardo Baca

We’ve ultimately been familiar with the concept of medical marijuana for centuries, and we’ve had medical cannabis laws on the books in this country since 1996—thank you very much, Dennis Peron and California voters. 

But it wasn’t until June of 2015 that medical marijuana truly attained its top-level bona fides from the Journal of the American Medical Association, the 134- year-old top-ranked peer-reviewed publication that is largely considered to be one of the most conscientious, vetted, and respected medical journals in the world. 

JAMA’s groundbreaking analysis from June 2015, which was based on 79 trials involving nearly 6,500 participants, found that cannabis absolutely does help with certain ailments and conditions, including severe pain, nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy, and spasticity from multiple sclerosis. 

(The analysis also found that marijuana’s efficacy toward most conditions it is prescribed for is unproven, but that’s an entirely different story given the federal government’s many barriers to serious research on cannabis.)

But that game-changing JAMA analysis represents a monolithic marker on the cannabis timeline. Suddenly one of the medical world’s most discerning voices was finally making a bold statement on the record, reaffirming something already known anecdotally by millions of medical marijuana patients across the globe: 
Marijuana is medicine.

It really changed the worldwide conversation around medical cannabis, but now I’d like to take this idea one step further. Because while I’ve successfully used cannabis to treat my physical health, I’ve also come to recognize that marijuana can also be medicine for our mental health.

Too often when discussing marijuana as a health and wellness tool we ignore that it’s also a legitimate medicine for our mental health. A number of legitimate studies have shown marijuana’s positive effects on our mental well-being, but a recent one in particular stands out.

Researchers in the Netherlands in 2016 conducted a random controlled trial (a.k.a. the gold standard of scientific research, per the Washington Post) to investigate the link between human aggression and two of the most popular substances we’re known to consume: marijuana and alcohol. 

Of course cannabis has a reputation for chilling out those who use it, but what did the scientific research say?

“The results in the present study support the hypothesis that acute alcohol intoxication increases feelings of aggression and that acute cannabis intoxication reduces feelings of aggression,” the researchers wrote in medical journal Psychopharmacology.

Forget about the alcohol making us more aggro and focus on that last part. This study found that marijuana, separate from any other substance, reduces feelings of aggression.

As WaPo reported: “This is in line with other research. A study in 2014, for instance, found that marijuana use among couples was linked to lower rates of domestic violence. In a fun study from the 1980s, researchers gave undergraduates varying doses of marijuana and then asked them to administer electric shocks to people in another room. The more stoned the undergrads were, the less interested they were in zapping other people.”

I remember posting this Washington Post story on social media last year to a chorus of duuuhs from friends and acquaintances who are longtime cannabis consumers themselves. But going back to the JAMA example, anecdotal evidence is of course meaningful — but it won’t ever be as trusted or compelling as peer-reviewed analysis or, in this case, a random controlled trial.

As I contemplated a less aggressive world with lower rates of domestic violence—heck, with lower rates of violence in general — it brought me back to a conversation I’d had with my girlfriend (and now wife) years before. I was a still-new marijuana aficionado trying to put my stoned experiences in perspective, and she was a knowledgeable, more-experienced sounding board with wise-beyond-her-years insight.

“We’ve never argued all that much,” I told her one day in the car, “but I’m thinking we argue even less now that we’re consuming marijuana more regularly than alcohol.”

She understood the point, but she challenged me to go broader with the hypothesis. How was cannabis impacting all of my relationships—with family, with friends, with colleagues, with strangers?

After a couple weeks of deep and sometimes-uncomfortable introspection, I arrived at my own personal epiphany: Cannabis absolutely bolsters my mental health, including my ability to cultivate meaningful personal relationships. 

It means better communication and fewer arguments. It means more patience and less aggression. It means more respectful conversations and fewer tirades on social media.

For me at least, marijuana has made an already spectacular life even better. And I’m looking forward to more science-based research in the future to tell us more about how our relationship with this plant can help our relationships with those who matter most.
Features, Lifestyle
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