Sunday, 10 May 2015

Cannabis and our health system. And me.

Cannabis is recognised as medicine in California since 1996. Since that time another twenty or so other States in America have also legalised the use of medical marijuana. Two states have gone even further and have legalised cannabis for recreational use for those over the age of 18. In New Zealand we have had several high profile cases in the court trying to get the use of medical cannabis tried but all of these seem to have resulted in severe penalties for the accused. I know of a one case where an exemption to use cannabis was given but the case was in Christchurch and being a health related issue I do not want to comment. I lived in the United States for several years in the late 1980's and in that time began to understand more about the uses of cannabis. I got into education and became a teacher and then left teaching when I discovered that over a thousand school aged children are excluded from school for cannabis use. This figure astounded me. I could not believe that excluding children from school for cannabis. It's always cannabis, never smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol which are also prohibited to people under 18 while not illegal . The harms from smoking and drinking far out weigh any cannabis use. Plus the stupidest part of expelling children from school is in doing this the youth have an extra 6 hours a day to partake in their drug of choice. Keeping children in the school system is a protective factor in their future outcome. I seriously cannot understand why we as educators understand rewarding good behaviour and yet understanding youth, being expelled from school is almost a reward, if you can prevent your parents from knowing, even better. Being bad is kudos. Keeping these pupils in a school environment and working hard to understand what lead to the cannabis use and where did it come from? Exploring this in a sensitive manner can be a turning point for a young person. The opposite is the angry man who was kicked out of school, never went back and is still smoking cannabis with the same attitude as a 15 year old, now at 40 or 50 years of age. Behaviour can become entrenched through the injustice of a situation. The medical marijuana situation or lack of one in New Zealand is what makes me consider leaving New Zealand to go back to America is very appealing. I have spent a decade conducting qualitative research from cannabis users and medical users who are very knowledgeable. I find it disappointing that we lack a Minister of Health willing to follow the lead America has over many countries with safe access to cannabis. Safe access means more than buying cannabis in a safe environment that isn't gang related or a tinny house. A safe access to cannabis may include a number of different controls or regulations surrounding the sale of cannabis. Guaranteed weight is the biggest problem in buying cannabis in New Zealand. The price of cannabis may be as high as $500.00 an ounce when there is high demand but although an ounce is a common weight when buying a supply of medical marijauana but often under weight bags are common. Smaller bags of cannabis either a hundy or a fifty has no guaranteed weight . The dollar value is set and the buyer takes it or leaves it. A tinny isn't likely to be medical grade marijuana and being wrapped in foil as they often are you can't see what you are buying but they are likely to be less than 1 gram for $20 or even $25.00. The quality is unlikely to be consistent and may be poor with leaf, seeds or stalks. In contrast to the street sale of cannabis, a medical marijuana dispensary requires several things. ID is the first. An age restriction of 21 was not unusual in America and I'd must be produced without a medical card. The marijuana for sale in a medical dispensary is on display and named and the person behind the counter is knowledgeable about the medicinal properties of the differnt strains. Some cannabis is good for uplifting a low mood or low energy and other strains can be for pain relief or even sleep. It is a wonderful smelling plant when growing and has a pungent aroma when smoked. Many health professionals get bothered about the smoking of cannabis and see it as a pathway to lung disease and heart problems as well as mental health problems with the most often touted is the link between cannabis use and schizophrenia. Just as many studies show no causal link or even correlation between the two. I have worked in mental health and on a methadone programme while training. Addiction and depression were two of the areas I felt most confused about as I had been diagnosed with depression and prescribed Prozac in 1989 while living in Maryland USA. I also saw an amazing psychiatrist who recommended me to reads a book by another doctor called the Road less travelled. Dr Scott Peck. I gained a great deal of insight into my feelings and low mood and we agreed to call my depression homesickness and I left my husband and returned to New Zealand. As soon as I stepped of the plane in New Zealand my depression disappeared. From that point on I became quite sceptical about the depression is a disease when my disease didn't step of the plane. I hated taking antidepressants and didn't get any real lasting benefit from them either. I know what happiness is and I know what makes me happy. I have always known, it's the same things at five and fifty in my case. I love being outdoors, I love summer and clear beaches. I love horses and farms and occasional trips to the horse races. I love coffee and I love cake. I love autumn leaves and bonfires. I love fire works and gardening. I love fruit picked of a tree and eaten . I also love cannabis. I didn't at 5 or even the first time I tried it. But as part of my social circle cannabis was a big element. When I couldn't access cannabis in America I developed depression perhaps and going back to New Zealand aliviated that problem addiction or depression? One thing for sure, antidepressants didn't make me happy. My depression is always a result of a stuck thought pattern. Instead of learning skills to cope with rumination I developed a run away technique. When I got stuck in a problematic situation I had only one and I moved. If it was a job, I quit, if it was a relationship , I ended it and moved. I trained as an addiction counsellor and worked on a methadone programme. It was working with these really "unwell " people that I got confused again. These people in almost every instance had developed drug habits that grew out of coping mechanisms for dealing with trauma. Others developed an addiction to pain relief after an accident. These were people who had best friends die in front of them, had grown up with violence or abuse,some had discovered dead bodies of the parents or child. Such sad and tragic things had happened that anyone would wonder , how can I live with this? Addiction was an escape, seeking drugs or money or gambling stops the thinking or flashbacks,yay- no memories. I found much of the behaviour quite understandable. Harder to understand was the shaming and way we view addiction and yet even the criteria for addiction and drug dependency varies. I felt that much of the health system is more schizoid and delusional than many sick people. I say this because of the blatant chosen ignorance about medical marijauana despite thousands of research articles and just it being such common knowledge and common practice in eastern medicine. When dealing with mental health professionals in New Zealand almost all take the view that cannabis use is bad for mental health. This flys in the face of research on Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Ptsd is the same as shell shock and the phenomenon of traumaed men returning from Vietnam was resulting in a spiked incidence of alcoholism , depression and suicides. This was not the fitting behaviour of trained soldiers. Several doctors introduced cannabis as a means of reducing the alcohol consumption and the mental health of the veterans improved. The physical health of the men improved as the cannabis did more than elevated their moods, it helped with sleep disorders and pain. In all it was a remarkable result. Here in New Zealand any use of cannabis is stigmatised. Most health professionals assume it dangerous to health and that is why it is illegal. If you use cannabis daily you are labelled a person with a Substance abuse problem. The next thing is you will promptly be prescribed drugs to help. Help what ? Using cannabis didn't make you a sick person. No one seems to grasp the fact that prescription meds are drugs with instructions to take daily or 4 hourly or as required and often supplied at 3 months at a time. Three months cannabis for a person who has pain and difficulty sleeping may use a large amount of cannabis. A three month supply of cannabis is likely to cost over a thousand dollars if at a minimal dose of a gram per day was being used.