The terms “medication” and “drug” are similar yet have very different connotations. Both refer to substances that are ingested in order to cause a certain effect. A medication is traditionally thought of as a legalized substance prescribed by a physician for a medical disorder. The term “drug” typically connotes a substance that has not been legalized and is used for recreational purposes.
Yet the reality is that this dichotomization of “medication” versus “drug” has never really made much sense.
Cannabis was a “drug” a couple of years ago in Canada, and now it is legal, both for medical uses and for recreation. Psychedelics are on a path towards legalization for certain psychiatric conditions, yet despite this, LSD and psilocybin are still very much considered taboo.
Such a narrow construct of “substances”, as I shall refer to them, is both illogical and counterproductive to society. A more open-minded framework might reduce stigmatization of potentially beneficial substances and better nurture research into the possible therapeutic value of substances previously thought of as “bad” drugs.
Cannabis has been legal in Canada for over a year, but public perception of the substance has been shifting for over a decade. When I was growing up, most people’s parents would shun marijuana. Smoking weed meant that your child was veering from the path of being a “good kid” who stays in the right lane. Saying no to marijuana was a sign that your teenager was able to resist the temptation of taking drugs and had the strength to defy peer pressure.
It is perhaps because this issue of “morality” has been so intertwined with marijuana that society at large has been hesitant to accept that cannabis might offer potential health benefits. Brett Chang, co-founder of Leaf Forward, joined the podcast to discuss cannabis.
While research is still needed to further distill the medical benefits of cannabis, it is widely believed that CBD, one of the two main compounds in cannabis, is helpful for anxiety, sleeping difficulties and poor appetite, amongst other ailments. As the stigma of cannabis “the drug” begins to lessen, the benefits of cannabis “the medication” may begin to emerge.
Contrary to cannabis, the stigma around alcohol has not been as prominent in society. One reason for this is its longstanding legalization, though if one recalls Prohibition, one is reminded that even alcohol has not always been legal. Another reason may be that alcohol consumption can be titrated more easily. It is possible to have a drink or two, depending on your alcohol tolerance, without really being affected by it. In contrast, if you smoke a joint, you will get high, and there isn’t as much of an in-between zone.
Yet as Brett argued on the podcast, there are many reasons to be more concerned about the effects of alcohol than marijuana. For one, it is easier to overdose on alcohol.
Few would dispute that the dangers of acute alcohol intoxication outweigh the dangers of smoking too much cannabis. Also, whereas alcohol can rile people up and lead to domestic violence, cannabis is thought to have a more calming effect and is far less associated with aggression.
The point here is not to argue that cannabis should be a substitute for alcohol, though many will argue that point. It is not a “competition” as to which drug is better or worse; the goal is not to categorically argue for the merits of one and focus on the negatives of the other.
Perhaps if we simply acknowledge that our opinions regarding many substances are rooted in historical contexts and blind conditioning, then a greater open-mindedness might emerge and lead society to discover benefits from certain substances that had previously shunned. And ultimately, this might help a whole lot of people. A stigmatized “drug” today may become a legalized “medication” tomorrow.