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After the legalization of marijuana in several states this last presidential election, I found myself pondering a question I couldn’t have imagined existing only a few short years ago: Would I recommend marijuana as an herbal supplement in my chiropractic practice if it were legalized?
I don’t smoke, never have, and have no interest in it. But I recently found myself in a state licensed legal grow room and it hit me, this is for real, this is happening, chiropractors are going to have a decision to make soon. Marijuana, already an everyday aspect of American life, will be out in the open and legal. What will that America look like and how will this affect my practice and profession?
Chiropractic is defined as a drugless profession. But we do make nutritional and herbal recommendations on a regular basis. As the word “drug” can be defined as any substance that has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body, being a truly drugless healthcare practitioner is much harder than it would seem. If I tell someone to add cinnamon to their diet in the hopes it will increase their insulin sensitivity, am I recommending a drug to them? By that definition I am, even if the FDA classifies cinnamon as a food and I am well within the legal limits of my scope of practice.
Cinnamon isn’t particularly unique among foods in acting like a drug either. By the above definition practically everything we eat is a drug, salt and sugar included. Sugar alters energy metabolism by impacting insulin ad cortisol levels, and salt effects blood pressure and water balance. Exercise and chiropractic do as well, but they cannot be considered drugs, as they are actions and not substances.
It was Paracelsus, the father of modern Toxicology, that said “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.” All of nutrition can be viewed this way. Nutrition lies along a continuum, on one end is energy and the other is medicine. Both ends contain the potential to be deadly poison if consumed in the wrong amount.
On the far limits of energy we have sugar and fat. At the far end of medicine we can find the poisons used in chemotherapy: taxol derived from yew bark for instance. In the middle we can find medicinal foods with chemicals that help us in our everyday lives. We need more than fat and sugar to live, we need vitamins, minerals co-factors, etc. all of these are poison in excess. Think of it like this, energy to poison: lard, carrot, lettuce, milk thistle, marijuana, yew bark.
I can sense the objections building in the readers mind, they were present in mine as well: “marijuana is different, it is psychoactive; milk thistle isn’t psychoactive. It has to be different than recommending an omega 3 supplement.”
But it isn’t. The more I looked into it the more I realized that just as all substances are poison in excessive amounts, they are also psychoactive to varying degrees. Omega 3 for instance, is a likely candidate for preventing major depression in pregnant women. The side effects of blood sugar imbalance almost read like the symptoms of a marijuana high: impaired memory, slow thinking, irritability, confusion, hunger, slowed reaction time, increased heart rate, etc. Over-consumption of fat also has an effect of mood and behavior, generally increasing lethargy and dulling the mind.
Effecting physiology effects the mind. The body is mind and the mind is the body, it’s a package deal. With that in mind, everything we ingest, intentionally or otherwise becomes a psychoactive drug to some degree.
The intent of this article is not to advocate for marijuana. The intention of this article is to present a new way of viewing the world. I think by now, most of the readers of this blog-post will be beginning to explore the implications of this concept, that everything we consume is a drug. Americans love drugs. We take tons of them everyday, even by the way we traditionally think of them as either illicit substances or pharmaceuticals.
Americans have a respect for drugs. We see them as dangerous. when a drug has potent and life threatening immediate effects it is carefully controlled, regulated and distributed. Taxol from yew bark for instance, isn’t sold over the counter, it must be prescribed and carefully measured out by a highly trained expert. We are frightened of drugs like taxol. We highly respect them which, ironically, makes them quite safe.
It is the other drugs that I would argue are the most dangerous, the cheap ones, the ones you can get anywhere, the ones we don’t respect, the ones we don’t even think of as drugs, the ones that don’t have an immediate toxic effect, rather an effect that, while quite real, takes years and years to manifest itself, like soda pop and potato chips. These are the most dangerous drugs.
The greatest danger is not in the substance itself, the danger is in our lack of knowledge of and respect towards the substance. Every year people overdose and die from illicit drugs, have adverse outcomes to properly and improperly prescribed medications and we are mostly aware of those dangers. But how many people suffer through life with diabetes, heart disease and cancer as a result of not respecting the poisonous nature of the foods they eat? Remember, even the healthiest organically grown food on earth becomes poison when consumed in excess.
My hope is that. one day, humanity will form a healthy respectful relationship with all members of the chemical world. I hope it will be soon that we look at all the chemicals around us and see them as they, are assessing the potential benefits and harms paired together within each molecule, without politics or emotions getting in the way.
As for marijuana and my chiropractic practice… that is a much more complex issue, one I will explore in part two if this post.
Peter Fox DC