Like most baby boomers who grew up in California and nearly half of the U.S. population, I tried marijuana as a teenager. The few times my girlfriends and I managed to get our hands on a joint, we would light it, pass it around and then spend several harmless hours giggling and acting silly. But once we matured, like most other adults I knew, we moved on to the far more legal and acceptable form of getting high—alcohol. And although some opportunities to give pot another try presented itself in the four decades since then, public aversion to smoking, the illegality, and the stigma, made it preferable to avoid. Now, in 2016 things are changing—dramatically. Not only is California poised to make recreational pot legal this November, our aging population is discovering the numerous medicinal benefits it offers to many who want to age as well as possible. Maybe it’s time for another look.
How Fast Are Things Changing?
In 2000, according to surveys done by Gallup, only about 30% of the U.S. population favored making marijuana legal. Fast forward to October of 2015 and Gallup now reports that 58% of the population supports recreational legalization. And while younger generations have always been more open to experimenting with substances, baby boomers are quickly shifting in that direction as they age. On the medical front, The Harris Poll reports that as of May 2015, four out of five adults (81%) favor medicinal legalization, up from 74% in just four years.
What’s Driving The Change?
While no definite proof exists, it is clear that aging baby boomers who vote are a key. While they may have grown up with warnings that pot was a dangerous and illegal drug, most boomers didn’t experience it that way. However, as they raised their children throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, they often acted on the side of safety and kept it out of the house. But that was then. Now at an older and hopefully wiser age, most baby boomers admit that pot is likely no more dangerous than alcohol. And if honest, it is far less dangerous (not to mention less expensive) than many medications prescribed by doctors.
In fact, research now shows that pot is less risky than many other drugs even though it is still considered a Schedule One Controlled Substance by our government. That puts cannabis in the same category as heroin, LSD, and cocaine. But a study by the British Government in 2010 shows otherwise by documenting how alcohol is more dangerous than 20 legal and illegal substances. Employing 16 measures of “harm,” which included damage to health, potential for dependency, economic costs and detriment to society, alcohol came in at the highest score of 72. Heroin scored at 55, while crack cocaine rated a 54. Even tobacco garnered a higher rating of 26, versus Marijuana at 20.
With media attention now highlighting the problems with other drugs and food, pot seems less problematic. Another study done by Gallup in June of 2016 showed that nearly half of our population believes prescription painkillers are far more harmful than cigarettes, alcohol or marijuana.
Plus, addiction rehab facilities report that more than one-half of all admissions are due to alcohol, and alcohol mixed with secondary drugs like prescription painkillers, antidepressants, and tranquilizers. Of course, baby boomers are all too familiar with motivations for such medication. Many women over 50 know that complications from menopause, normal aches, and pains of aging, balancing dependent children and aged parents, trouble sleeping, and normal life stresses make it helpful to have alternatives, if or when needed.
Is Pot The Solution?
Like many things, the benefits of marijuana depend on upon the individual and every person’s unique needs. What is becoming increasingly apparent are the possible health advantages available through its use. Although research has been stymied here in the U.S. because of antiquated drug laws, several countries around the globe like Israel, Canada, and the Netherlands continue to fund research into the indisputable benefits of cannabis. Also, a small but courageous group of physicians here in the U.S. have fought the odds and managed to make progress on a growing list of medical uses. In fact, a survey by Webmd.com reports that 56% of all doctors in the U.S. agreed that marijuana should be legal for medical purposes nationwide.
Some of the most promising benefits of medicinal marijuana are:
- Nausea Relief—particularly in relation on chemo related to cancer or AIDS patients.
- Nerve pain—particularly related to diabetes, spinal cord injuries, AIDS, and others.
- MS (Multiple Sclerosis)—controlling spasms, stiffness and helping with sleep.
- Chronic Pain Relief—mixed results in effectiveness for different conditions.
- Cohn’s Disease and other intestinal disorders—eases the need for medication or surgery related to inflammatory bowel disease.
- Cancer treatment—shown to slow or halt the growth of certain cancer tumors. A recent study into treating breast cancer is also underway.
- Parkinson’s Disease—helps with tremors and pain.
- Alzheimer’s Disease—so far tests are inconclusive about helping to slow down or prevent, but more studies are necessary.
- Anxiety Disorders—reduces stress and anxiety in certain situations.
- PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)—Mixed results to date for reducing nightmares and worsening symptoms. More tests are necessary.
- Epileptic seizures—very useful for controlling seizures in both children and adults.
- Glaucoma—temporary decrease in intraocular pressure.
- Sleep disorders—relaxing the body and mind for a better night’s sleep.
Even with the little-documented research being done, one of the more exciting discoveries is that when isolated, a particular cannabinoid has been identified (called CBD) that does not make people “high” when administered. This non-psychotropic compound seems to counteract the cognitive impairment of cannabis and is particularly beneficial for promoting sleep, relieving convulsion, inflammation, anxiety, and nausea. As more and more states approve legalization, the research and potential of this medicinal plant will continue to unfold.
But Why Make Recreational Pot Legal?
With growing evidence that cannabis can help people as they age or deal with illness, is there any reason to continue keeping it as an illegal drug? Some people say yes. With so little research, some doctors believe that we don’t yet know enough about what it can do and what complications might arise. Dosage and potency can also be uncertain.
But the argument for legalization is growing increasingly powerful. After all, if ongoing studies show that alcohol and tobacco use is even more problematic, then why is the government standing in the way of personal choice for individuals over 21?
Of course, money might turn out to be the biggest game-changer. Most American’s, even those who are not in favor of using it themselves, recognize the enormous amount of tax revenues generated in states where it is legal. Just like with the sale of alcohol and tobacco, taxing individuals who choose to partake significantly enhances the state coffers for a variety of public needs.
Another significant financial benefit in states with legalized pot comes from the reduction in policing, prosecuting and then holding in prison millions of citizens for marijuana possession. According to a study done by the ACLU in 2013, every 37 seconds a person is arrested for possession, costing the United States $3.6 billion (yes billion!) to prosecute in one year (2010) alone.
In addition, recent research by Health Affairs determined that in states where patients had access to medical marijuana, medical costs for drug use dropped dramatically. In 2013 alone, Medicare saved $165 million in states that gave people the option of using marijuana instead of prescription meds. Estimates say that it would save Medicare $470 million if all states allowed the choice. And that doesn’t even address the advantage of getting many people off dangerous and addictive prescription medications. It also ignores the fact that a study shows that there are nearly 25% fewer deaths caused by accidental overdose when pot is available medicinally.
Of course, two of the biggest groups in opposition to legalization are privately own prisons as well as drug companies. Those two organizations realize that making pot legal will change their bottom lines and have every reason to fight legalization.
Are There Dangers?
After spending three days researching the benefits and problems of wider usage of marijuana, I found four areas of concern. As most would likely imagine, the biggest problem is with children and teenagers having greater access. Studies have shown that regular use by young people affects the healthy development of the brain, including a permanent loss of I.Q. For that reason, specific care and ongoing public education should be enacted to guard against such occurrences. But as with alcohol or cigarettes, safeguarding children should be an ongoing pursuit.
Another area of concern shows that those who may be susceptible to schizophrenia are vulnerable to marijuana use triggering the condition. Although likely a genetic link, anyone with a family history of that disorder should be cautious.
Finally, one of the most challenging things about the rapidly expanding pot industry is standardization and dosing guidelines. Although edibles eliminate the need for anyone to smoke to receive benefits, it appears that dosage and potency are variable. Because edibles take longer to metabolize in the human body, and size and weight is a factor, it is very easy to overdo treatment, especially when covered with chocolate! Unlike alcohol or even smoking, eating anything infused with cannabis is best done with patience, education and restraint especially when starting out.
What about addiction? Existing studies indicate that the addiction rate when marijuana is widely available will level out at approximately 9% for those consistently using it. While this certainly needs to be watched and treatment offered, it is lower than the addiction rate of alcohol at 15%, and cigarettes at a whopping 32%.
The SMART Approach
The point of this article is not to convince anyone that marijuana should, or shouldn’t, be a part of your life. But even if you’d agree that some things like too much alcohol, sugar, red meat and hours sitting in front of the TV are not good for you—few of us want the government telling us as adults when, or even if, we can make our own choices. Perhaps even more at issue is whether our government should be allowed to continue to block research that may prove to be enormously valuable for millions of Americans.
Keep in mind that every single thing we consume, and every action we take, carries consequences. Marijuana is no different. With that known, it is always SMART for each of us to do our own research, consider the findings, and recognize our individual unique needs before making a responsible choice. And then, like with most things, moderation is usually the SMART path to take.
A very informative post, Kathy. Great job! I especially loved the part where you outlined the large change in views. I absolutely agree that marijuana should be made legal but I believe there should be mandatory educational programs everywhere (starting with schools), to create a good understanding amongst children and ageing adults. In my opinion, everyone needs to know how to use marijuana safely.
GroWeed Club says
Hi, great post, I am glad to see the normalization of Cannabis continuing to gain ground. Thanks for your valuable reporting from the Cannabis Cultivation Community! 🙂
I love your post. I personally think that cannabis should be made legal on all sides – medicinal and recreational. In places that have made it so such as Colorado, there are rules and regulations. You can’t use in public places, dispensaries have to be so far from schools, etc. There are benefits, not only does cannabis help with certain health conditions but in those locations the tax money from the cannabis sales is going back to helping schools and other things. Thanks for sharing!
Laura Lee Carter says
As in so many topics, education is so needed in this area! Thanks for that Kathy.
THC and CBD’s are used widely in places like Israel and Europe and they have loads of research on use by the elderly, etc. When it’s illegal here, it’s very hard to complete research.
I’m a weekly user of high-grade MJ here in Colorado. I enjoy it so much more than alcohol. I find it pleasant and often times quite thought-provoking in the writing department…
My view is that we should all educate ourselves to distinguish the different types and I caution everyone about potent edibles. I had a bad experience with them, because you don’t really know what you’ve consumed until an hour later, and then you’re stuck with those effects for hours afterwards. I won’t try them again!
CBD oil is something new to me. My experience yesterday was excellent and I will be trying it again for anti-inflammatory problems as soon as I can afford some more. Talk to those who work at the dispensaries. They can often teach you lots about what you need for your particular problem.
I think of the damage done by the big drug companies and I can’t see that legalizing marijuana would be any worse. I think the medical benefits are intriguing. I haven’t had much to do with the subject of legalization pro or con, but I think that legal drug use in the US is out of control. Go see a doctor, which I have done many times with four surgeries in the past 18 months and they will juts prescribe meds. I have gotten to the point of not wanting to take any meds!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Michele! I so agree that the drug use in the U.S. is horrible. I have friend who is a teacher and she says that the recently had to take a special class about how to deal with their students addicted to oxycontin. Terrible. She said they are addicted in 7 days and after that if you attempt to just stop, you will have violent physical reactions. Terrible stuff. I think we should all be very cautious about taking drugs of any kind. And if you’re going to do it, (including drinking alcohol) know the consequences! ~Kathy
Cathy Chester says
As you already know many people in the MS community are using pot legally since it’s the only thing that helps them with chronic pain. Your piece is spot-on, well researched and filled with useful information that everyone needs to read about the benefits of marijuana. I hope you republish it somewhere else where it can be see by even more eyes. Excellent, Kathy.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Cathy! Thank you so much for your perspective on this. I know that you are a huge advocate in the MS world and write constantly to help educate and encourage others dealing with health challenges so I so value your viewpoint. People with any of the conditions I listed in the article should at least check out the research on the topic, and anyone else dealing with addictions or chronic pain might want to do it the same. And thanks for the encouragement to find other places to post it. I do hope it will be shared and twitted as much as possible. ~Kathy
Barbara Bomberger says
Hi ka thy, I still owe you a book review. I use pot regularly (edibles and topicals), and I figure without email I might be on opoids…..a much worse addiction in your opinion. I have a post coming up in the next few days about overseas research and it’s use for ptsd, as well aso my experience of pot b and travel.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Barbara! I’m assuming you are using pot mainly due to pain management. I so understand and personally would have no hesitation in that regard. Anyone who has ever been in severe pain knows why. And I really do feel it would be far worse on opioids. Not only are they proven to be far more addictive, the costs are astronomical and it is VERY difficult to break the addiction. I look forward to reading your blog post about the research you find. Please come back and leave a link here in the comments for any of my readers who are interested. ~Kathy p.s. looking forward to your honest review. 🙂
Tam Warner Minton says
I have always said that pot is better than alcohol. Ever seen a high person mad? Violent? NO. But on alcohol, absolutely yes. I think marijuana should be legal everywhere, alcohol is much more harmful.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Tam! Thanks for bringing that up. We live near where one of the biggest rock & alt outdoor music concerts in the world is held–The Coachella. They also host The Stagecoach which is focused on Country Music. People who rent houses out during those weekends warn that renting during the Stagecoach is FAR more problematic. People at the Coachella often “get high” on pot but people who attend the Stagecoach get rip-roaring drunk. Stagecoach attendees are far more likely to have huge brawls and trash your house on alcohol. I know that is a generalization but in some cases it is very, very true. While we are all accustomed to pointing out the flaws of marijuana, we have been conveniently kept from learning the complications of alcohol on our health AND lives in general. As I said in the post, always best to think about it carefully either way. ~Kathy
Thanks for the post, Kathy. When I read Susan’s reply, it led me to consider how wonderful it would be without the stranglehold of Big Pharma, if oncologists were able to be educated about, and prescribe, medical cannabis to their patients. Then they would not suggest a joint, but cannabis oil, which does effectively, and without poisoning the person who is seeking treatment, cure cancer. This treatment would not later then kill the patient in some other way as our current treatments often do.
I personally know two people who have cured themselves with cannabis oil, using Rick Simpson’s Protocol. And I can think of a dozen others who I have talked to, or are friends of friends, including a six year old girl.
As soon as longtime friends Big Pharma and Monsanto, have appropriated the seeds and genetically modified the plant for the highest possible yields/profits, it will be legal everywhere. Their triplet, the FDA, will then give medical marijuana it’s authentic, official stamp of approval and doctors will be able to prescribe it.
Then all the oncologists will know that smoking weed does not cure cancer, or it my have been discovered decades earlier. ? Cannabis oil does.
Then Vicki won’t have to tolerate those grower families and their workers driving up and down her road anymore. Monsanto is quite practiced at putting family farms out of business.
Do I sound impertinent? Alcohol and legal pills destroyed my family, killing my dad and sister, and I’ve seen a parade of young people trying to get free of legal pill addictions. I see teenagers every day who have addicted parents and who are drugged themselves by parents, while being told not to smoke weed because it will ruin their lives.
Meanwhile, the one sister I have left is in prison right now for testing dirty for cannabis while on probation. She almost died from taking all the pills the Dr. had her on, and found that smoking did help her constant pain and allowed her to get off of four of the pills she was on.
Yet, in all my life, I’ve never seen anyone’s life ruined over smoking weed, even those who smoked every day. And there are a LOT of old stoners. Not so many old alcoholics, except the ones in prison.
Just my 5 cents. Or maybe 15.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hey Jamie! Thank you for taking the time to add your 15 cents. I do think it is helpful for us all to share our perspectives on this issue. And yours is definitely relevant. Like most things, it is complicated and much of how we see it depends on our history. Having family members that have been challenged with both drugs and alcohol makes it even more difficult. Plus add in confusion about facts and research, and things get more problematic. I think we are all learning as we go and hopefully we will all have more and more knowledge as time goes by. Again, I personally believe that the medical advantages of pot will be making the biggest change in the future. ~Kathy
Interesting post Kathy. I think medical marijuana is just another tool to explore in care of constant pain. The edibles are really a welcome for many people who chose not to smoke. Recreational pot to me is the same as recreational alcohol. Abuse or addiction is the same with any mood alternating substance.Since I live in a state where it is all legal I have to say it is weird to see all the marijuana shops around town. They are much more prolific than liquor stores!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Haralee! Thank you for jumping in here to share your thoughts from a person who lives in a state where it is all legal–and what that looks like from an observer. It’s interesting that you see LOTS of shops around. In Colorado where we were this summer for a couple of weeks, we didn’t see much of it at all. I think that too must be a decision made by the state about how visible it is and where shops can be located. And I really appreciate the statement you made saying, “Recreational pot to me is the same as recreational alcohol. Abuse or addiction is the same with any mood alternating substance.” I think it is time that we all started seeing it from that perspective. Of course, from what I can tell, there is very little medicinal advantages from alcohol (as much as many of us would like to believe about wine!) than there is from pot. I am just personally excited about how more and more research will be done once more states begin approving. ~Kathy
Terri Webster Schrandt says
Oh I can’t wait to have dinner with you as we discuss the pros and cons of MaryJane 🙂 A truly fascinating article! I was married to a man who smoked to the point in his early 20s of killing any motivation (he has juvenile onset diabetes). All I did was get the incredible munchies so I don’t smoke–I can’t tolerate it. Maybe a brownie…
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Terri! Yes I think this subject has LOTS of interesting aspects to it. And like I said in the post, I think it’s a good idea for more us to have the “facts” about it rather than just the good or bad stories from our youth. Thom and I also knew a guy that smoked them like cigarettes in his youth and would agree, it didn’t seem that much different from being drunk all the time–and his memory was shot. Not someone you want to live with for sure. Sorry you found yourself married to one. It sounds like we will have plenty to talk about when we get together next month! 🙂 ~Kathy
Hmmmm… I live in the high foothills of Northern California, on a private road, with approximately 8 neighbors. My husband and I are the only ones not farming marijuana. I wouldn’t mind so much, but it seems every &$#*&@#& marijuana farmer has at least two pit bulls guarding their crop, and they invariably come onto my property and “challenge” me. Since we are in a drought, the farmers have huge 8,000 gallon trucks delivering water every day because they have sucked the wells dry (marijuana takes a LOT of water), so our dirt and gravel road is torn up and almost impassible. Harvest season is starting, so the traffic on our road is constant with the trimmers coming and going, and last week I had a trimmer who was “flying high” on some substance other than marijuana wandering about on my property! They are all growing illegally thousands of plants. And thousands of marijuana plants stink! Why don’t I turn them in? Because in my county, code enforcement is complaint driven. That means nothing is done unless someone complains! With us being the only ones NOT growing, they could figure out very easily who turned them in, and unfortunately two of the growers are Mexican cartel. Would I like to see marijuana legalized? Only if the growing is regulated by our state, much like Colorado does. They only allow indoor grows, by certain companies, and every single plant is tagged. Sometimes you need to look at the other side of the story!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Vickie! Thank you for adding your very unique perspective on this issue. I can certainly understand why you would be unhappy with what’s going on with your neighbors and why it would give you a bad taste (NPI) for the product. I’m assuming, although I don’t know for sure, that regulations similar to Colorado’s will be put in place if it becomes legalized. I would hope that would help your situation. I did hear in a rather roundabout way that some pot dealers are against legalization exactly because they are able to do things their own way AND make more money without control. That’s probably part of the problem. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out and as you say, there are always different sides of any story. ~Kathy
Beth Havey says
You comment to Jodi was interesting, Kathy. I have never tried pot and have had little contact with it, but as an RN I do think medical uses when supervised are a good use of this drug. I have a friend who is currently considering using it. I only hope that it will be regulated and as your article states a certain standard will be maintained. Great research, great post, Beth
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Beth! You are not alone. I found that only about half of all Americans will admit that they’ve even tried it, (I found a study by Pew that said 49%). Of course there might be more, they just don’t want to admit it! My mother and father certainly fell into that category. But like your friend, anyone who is in pain or is challenged by concern about addiction to prescription drugs are prime candidates. When my father got cancer, he was finally willing to try it but admitted that he would never buy it. Changing our beliefs about something is hard! Thank you for adding your perspective as an RN. ~Kathy
Mona McGinnis says
I have never understood how alcohol and its effects are tolerated in this society yet marijuana isn’t. Good post, Kathy.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Mona! I think you know the answer to that don’t you? 😉 The Alcohol lobby is very powerful and as long as public opinion makes it “fun and easy” people don’t question it. Thanks for speaking up for better awareness! ~Kathy
Susan Mary Malone says
I am always so impressed by your honesty, Kathy, and your courage in your posts. You never shy away from the controversial! And the funny thing is, even though the majority now favors legalizing marijuana, it’s tough to get anyone to stand up for that in public.
I could talk about every point in this for paragraphs! Such a great compilation of facts. So I’ll limit it to two, the silly: I’m sure you were subjected to “Reefer Madness” in school as we were! Still hoot about that.
And the sublime: I have a dear friend fighting lung cancer, and her chemo and radiation is done. She’s still smoking. I went with her to the oncologist appointment two weeks ago, where the oncologist asked (as she does every time), was she still smoking. Yes. And the oncologist asked (and you have to remember, we are in a state that hasn’t legalized medicinal marijuana, “Can I get to you alternate a tobacco cigarette with a marijuana one?”
She then went on to extol the benefits listed here. AND, that new studies have shown the huge beneficial effects of pot on lung cancer.
The times, as they say, are a changin’ . . .
Thank you for this!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Susan! Thank you! I have to admit I wasn’t certain how this post would be received but I figure if my writing doesn’t push a few boundaries now and then I’m really not growing. And that’s not SMART in my book!!! 🙂
And thank you for sharing your story about your friend. I too have one about a close family member who made the choice to use cannabis oil to fight her cancer. She did chemo too…but she is convinced that without the cannibas oil she would not be as healthy as she is now. She took a lot of push-back from her family though (mainly her kids) because they are all conditioned to believe that “traditional” medicine must always be right. But I think those of us around a while know that isn’t always true. If I get seriously ill and/or am in chronic pain I will definitely explore my options. And the more of us who speak out about the potential of cannabis, perhaps more and more will be willing to seek alternatives. Thanks again for jumping in here! ~Kathy
Jodi Urgitus says
This is an excellent look at how marijuana is becoming a hot topic in this country. I live in Colorado where cannabis has just recently been legalized for recreational use. I voted yes to legalize it even though I don’t use it now myself. I think two important points you make are that pot is shown to be no more dangerous than alcohol and secondly, people don’t want to be told by the government about choices they should make.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Jodi! Thank you for stepping in here with a comment. I really don’t expect too many because I believe that the “pot topic” is still pretty “taboo” in our culture–at least among my demographic. Hopefully, that is changing slowly but surely with so many people becoming aware of the potential health benefits. And like you brought up too, the comparison to alcohol. Plus, I agree that the perception is that when it is legal everyone is going to start reverting to characters from silly teen movies or Reefer Madness. When Thom and I visited Colorado this summer (where as you mentioned recreational pot is legal) everyone was going about business exactly like they do everywhere. In fact, I smell pot being smoked more in my neighborhood by neighbors than I did the entire time in Colorado. And at home it isn’t from sketchy young people–it’s the seniors! Definitely a sign that things are changing. ~Kathy