How to Talk to Your Family about Medical Marijuana

An article published by Rolling Stone gave us some insight on breaking the stigma about medical marijuana with your family members and made us think a little bit more about how to talk to your family about cannabis.

First, it’s important to understand that older family members like your parents (or anyone who grew up in the prohibition era) may have preconceived notions about the “gateway drug” that need to be changed. This particular editorial sheds some light on a topic that most people don’t talk about. Marijuana, medical or recreational, has been taboo for so long, that users still funny talking about it a federally illegal substance.

Do you talk to your family about your medical marijuana usage? If so, what was there reaction?

Medical Marijuana: A Beginner’s Guide

From talking to your family about medical weed to knowing which products will – and won’t – get you high

Considering the information available online about medical pot is all over the place, here’s a sort of cheat sheet for anyone trying to navigate conversations with reluctant parents, relatives and friends – regardless of access to a legal dispensary. Perhaps after listening to your grandmother ramble on in too much detail about her psoriasis, you’ll feel emboldened to take her aside and suggest a calming cannabis cream. Maybe you’ll talk to your insomniac uncle about acquiring a vape pen. It may sound difficult at first, but remember: taking a few minutes to have this conversation could vastly improve someone’s quality of life.

Start simple: acknowledge that cannabis has medical properties.A lot of people are under the impression that the “medical” part of medical marijuana is a euphemism – an excuse to legalize the drug so that hippies and stoners can get high. To a certain extent, this is politically true. Activists in the 1990s knew that AIDS and cancer patients were more sympathetic than all of the young black men being disproportionately fucked over by the war on drugs, and hoped that a California ballot initiative for medical use would ultimately open the door to full legalization. They were right, but by allowing wink-wink doctor’s recommendations for everything from anxiety to a stubbed toe, they managed to convince a whole lot of people that medical cannabis was a joke. As a result, as recently as last year we still had reporters for major newspapers out here asking stupid questions like “Is there a legitimate reason for people to get medical marijuana?”

I’ve found that it helps to recognize the political realities before pivoting to explain that the therapeutic use of pot and its constituent compounds are a very real thing. Just because California has had a de facto recreational use market going for two decades under the auspices of medical use, doesn’t mean that medical cannabis as a whole is fake. Remind people that lots of powerful medications – especially opioids – can both help with pain relief and be used recreationally. Heroin ruins lives by making people feel good, but morphine is still a useful and valuable drug.

If the people you’re talking with still aren’t convinced that medical marijuana is real, get them to watch Sanjay Gupta’s Weed, a very persuasive 2013 documentary about how CNN’s chief medical correspondent came to change his mind about the therapeutic use of cannabis.

Recognize that there are very few downsides.Even if you are giving your dad shitty brick weed from a dealer that gets shipments from a Mexican cartel, there are hardly any potential negative health consequences to trying marijuana. Here’s what we know, for sure: pot is considerably less addictive than pretty much every other drug out there, legal or illegal. It’s not going to kill you, under any circumstances. It’s not a gateway drug; one spray of a tincture is not going to lead your cancer-stricken aunt to suddenly want methamphetamine. And perhaps most relevant to the views of your skeptical relative: cannabis is 114 times less harmful than alcohol.

But be familiar with the downsidesSo, before I review some potential safety issues with cannabis, I want to make it clear that many conversations with experts over the years have led me to believe that none of these are significant enough to deter a truly sick person from seeking relief with pot. Think about the long list of side effects at the end of most commercials for prescription drugs. Even the very worst cannabis is not that bad.

That being said, here are the concerns you might want to take into account: A) Consuming too much at once can lead to a very, very uncomfortable situation. If someone is inexperienced, they shouldn’t take more than a few milligrams of THC at first. B) Edibles or capsules or tinctures on an empty stomach can lead to some discomfort. Anyone new to these forms of the plant might need a meal first. C) That gold, viscous stuff that you see in vape pens likely contains concentrated pesticides and other chemicals. If your relative is considering vaping hash oil over smoking because they believe that will be healthier, they should be aware of the trade-off.

Remember that doctors receive no education about medical marijuana.Unfortunately, most primary care physicians know almost nothing about the receptors in the body that respond to the active compounds in marijuana, or about what kinds of pot to buy for which diseases. So if your mom is waiting for the go-ahead from her doctor before she starts lighting up to deal with her glaucoma, let her know she could be waiting a while. She should feel free to ask her doctor’s opinion, but keep in mind that they are likely not up to date on the research. Even in states with legal markets, many doctors are afraid to recommend pot because it remains federally illegal.

Stop talking about “medical grade” marijuana. That’s not a thing.A friend called me last year after his mother was diagnosed with cancer, asking if he should bother getting her pot from a dealer in their (black-market) state, or if it was worth it to make a trip to Cali to get some “medical grade” cannabis.

Sadly, there is no such thing as medical grade pot. The dispensaries in medical states are carrying the exact same bud as the dealers in Brooklyn or Atlanta or Dallas. If you’re referring to the super strong pot that’s become available in recent decades, like the frosty stuff with 25 to 30 percent THC content, be aware that that came along because the black market pushed weed farmers underground and indoors, leading to innovations in lighting and grow techniques that created increasingly powerful marijuana. It had nothing to do with medical markets or doctors.

Now, it’s entirely possible you’ll find stronger pot in dispensaries than from your dealer, especially if the weed had to get smushed and smuggled to get to you, but for the most part the whole thing is a crapshoot. Cultivators and dispensaries mislabel things to push shitty cannabis on patients and customers all the time. So please, retire this phrase from your vocabulary, and know that if you’re just looking to help someone going through chemotherapy feel less nauseated, there’s no reason to make a pilgrimage to Colorado.

Not every medical cannabis option involves getting high.In the future, you’ll probably think of shopping for medical marijuana as akin to shopping for frozen yogurt. You go to the store with your friends; everyone chooses and mixes different flavors and toppings; and when you walk out, it’s hard to even recognize that you’re all eating a single product. Peanut butter froyo mixed with cheesecake froyo topped with chocolate chips is most definitely not the same thing as plain yogurt topped with kiwis and blackberries. In the same way, cannabis can be broken down into separate compounds that create different smells and perform different functions. THC, the compound that gets you high, is the most famous of the plant’s components, but several other compounds have huge medical potential and are not psychoactive. CBN, for example, seems to help people sleep. THC-V seems to suppress your appetite. CBD seems to be a powerful analgesic and anti-convulsant.

Temper your expectations, and the expectations of those around you. Don’t make huge promises. A lot of people talk about marijuana like it’s some kind of magical cure-all that is going to clear up your acne and eliminate your migraines and save your life. I mean, it might do some of those things. But it’s certainly not guaranteed. So when you’re introducing your friend or your dad or your friend’s dad to the medical uses of cannabis, don’t oversell the thing. Emphasize the fact that it works for some conditions, in some people, some of the time – just like most pharmaceuticals.

Acknowledge that mice are not people.One of the hardest things about medical marijuana is that we have oodles of anecdotal evidence and a lot of promising research in mice but not many clinical trials in humans. And a lot of the clinical trials that have been done involved extremely small populations. Therefore, it can be difficult for reasonable people to agree on the veritable and unexaggerated benefits of the plant.

My favorite extreme example is that some people think that marijuana cures cancer, and other people think that marijuana causes cancer. To be honest, after years of hearing stories and seeing evidence in mice, I’m tentatively convinced that some combination of cannabinoids might be able to shrink tumors, but I would never try to push anyone to believe that or open a conversation about medical cannabis with that point, because it just straight up sounds crazy. People who go around evangelizing pot’s ability to “cure” anything, let alone one of the biggest public health challenges of our time, are likely turning off more people than they’re bringing in. Besides, at this point, it’s sort of impossible to know anything for sure, so don’t overstate your case when talking to someone about trying pot for medical reasons. Outsized claims are not a good look.



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