With apologies to sports fans, this one is not about the joys of Red Sox baseball. Nope, not Oscar the Grouch either.
It’s about cannabis, that green monster that appears variably as savior or demon, depending upon the frame through which one views it.
Remember when you were little, and after lights-out, that pile of stuffed animals or clothes in the corner magically transformed itself into an ominous monster?
When that would happen to me, I’d hold my breath for a while, willing the monster to go away. And when the anxiety got too much to bear and an adult hadn’t arrived to calm my whimpering, I’d sprint to Mom and Dad’s room. One of them would come back and flip the lights on, revealing The Monster in the Corner for what it truly was.
The overhead lights showed shadow and depth. The monster in the corner was exposed, not as a slavering, glossy 2D cartoon, but as the complex, dimensional lump of substance and plush that it always was.
As a society, we’ve kept cannabis in the dark for far too long. We’ve obsessed over its shadowy form in the corner, endowing it with all sorts of powerful attributes: It hates children and just might devour yours. It seduces adults into dalliances with much more powerful monsters like booze and cocaine and heroin.
But the lights are coming on, and the scary green monster lurking in the corner is revealed for what it really is, and always has been: a plant. One more medicinally valuable, variably intoxicating, remarkably safe plant.
A medically valuable plant: In its natural form and sometimes its pharmaceuticalized version, cannabis is therapeutically helpful. There is clear evidence that humans have used the whole plant for thousands of years for reasons sacramental, therapeutic, and yes, recreational. Yet pharmaceutical companies continue to tinker with individual compounds extracted and/or synthesized from the cannabis plant. Whole plant therapies work for many patients; synthetic varieties work for some others.
With the lights on, we can advocate for patients having access to any form of the plant which works for them, even if those forms are home-grown.
A variably intoxicating plant: Patients who are new to edible forms of canna-medicine may not understand the seriousness of ‘Start low, go slow’ slogans. Newly-legal states appear to experience an upswing in the number of consumers who get in over their heads and who seek treatment from health care providers for so-called “overdoses” which, while unpleasant, will not be lethal.
With the lights on, we can better educate new consumers, particularly around the consumption of edibles, which cause so many of these so-called ‘overdoses.’
A remarkably safe plant: Humans have used cannabis for many thousands of years without a fatal overdose. In fact, one NIDA-funded study found that a cannabis consumer would need to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of cannabis within about 15 minutes to induce a lethal response. And the idea that cannabis smoke causes cancer has been debunked as well.
This is not to say that consuming an excess of cannabis is a good idea. In fact, too much of a good thing may well result in a very unpleasant experience.
But with the lights on, we can educate new and experienced consumers on best practices, and avoid the problems experienced by the early legalization states where the ‘Christmas morning’ effect may have been in play.
Maine is preparing to join the ranks of legal adult-use cannabis states. Medical cannabis has been a success in Maine, in large part because state licensure requires that the eight regulated dispensaries provide thorough education to each new member they serve.
As we move toward a legalized landscape here in Maine, we need to be prepared to turn the lights on over the green monster in our midst.