Chronic Illness Medical Cannabis Personal Essay

I’m not an addict: Breaking up with the shame of being a cannabis patient

My story isn’t a unique one in the cannabis community - an everyday person comes down with a chronic illness, leading them down the path to a medical marijuana license. Almost every ‘respectable’ cannabis professional is, or knows, a medical patient who opened their minds to the validity and power in using cannabis as a tool for healing. Both mental and physical chronic conditions plague Canadians, a 2018 study based on census indicators showed that 44.2% of the population has at least one chronic illness. In the midst of an opioid epidemic, medical cannabis has become a popular alternative prescription for people with chronic illness. Once upon a time the only acceptable avenue for being a cannabis patient was to curb nausea from cancer treatment. Now patients are just as diverse as their conditions, uniting from all walks of life.

Medical Marijuana has a PR Problem

Unfortunately public knowledge hasn’t advanced as quickly as the world of medical cannabis. As many patients emerge green to their friends and family they take on the colossal task of unraveling decades of branding and misinformation about the medical uses of cannabis. It is important to note that medical and recreational cannabis are not used the same way. There are differences in tolerance, dosing, and methods of consumption, which are often overlooked by the public. Even Health Canada was considering scrapping the medical cannabis programs after legalization which is damaging to public perception on the topic. Recreational cannabis is used by individuals as a tool for entertainment, much like one would drink socially, or to relax, and is typically done for pleasure and leisure reasons. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using weed for purely recreational reasons, in fact since legalization it is becoming downright common place.

Photo by Justin Aikin on Unsplash

Medical marijuana is different, there is a common misconception that you are ‘getting high’ just for fun and many other misconceptions that patients deal with. Studies are beginning to show that some chronic illnesses could involve a deficiency in our endocannabinoid system. This breakthrough could lead to increased acceptance of medical cannabis users as it dives into a tangible cause, adding validity by treating a physical deficiency instead of alleviating a symptom. This also explains why some patients do not feel the same ‘euphoric high’ that recreational consumers experience. Medical patients are using a prescription that helps them to meet a healthy person’s baseline. You simply cannot compare medical and recreational cannabis on the same levels, how much and how often are not universal experiences. A person needing a dose of THC in the morning is not the same ballpark as fueling an addiction.

Breaking up with Shame: A Road to Healing

I am breaking up with shame, daily cannabis use does not make me an addict. I am no longer going to feel guilt over taking prescriptions. When did we become so critical of the chronically ill? The problem isn’t being a medical cannabis patient, it’s with society and our relationship to medicine. Public image paints all people who require medications as weak, deficient in physique or character. This isn’t just pushed upon medical cannabis patients, we blame people for their illnesses. How many times have we assumed an opioid user is a pill seeker, that type 2 diabetics eat poorly, that pain is all just in the mind, and mental health can be cured with positive thinking? We need to break up with these damaging misconceptions about what it means to be a sick person who requires lifelong treatment. Personally, I have wasted far too much time stressing over whether I was turning into an addict. In 2019, I am going to be grateful instead of ashamed about being a medical cannabis patient - I invite you to join me!

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