I am surprised that the mainstream medical community is fighting for marijuana in the first place. Not because it is an illicit drug. They use cocaine and morphine on a regular basis during surgery. I am surprised because marijuana is a whole plant traditional herbal remedy. We don’t see medical doctors rushing to add other traditional healing herbs to their recommendation pad. (It is still illegal to prescribe marijuana, the cards are only a recommendation) There are many other herbs out there just as powerful and effective as marijuana for a broad range of medical uses, so what makes Mary Jane so special?
The answer to that question can be found by examining another recent alternative medicine crossover, the probiotic. Based on what you see in advertising and hear on the radio, you might think the health benefits of probiotics are a new discovery. The truth is that they were being studied for their health benefits since the late 1930’s. Alternative health care practitioners, chiropractors included, have known of their benefits and been recommending them for decades. So why is mainstream medicine finally choosing to play catch up?
The simplest answer is patent law. For a variety of reasons the number of patented probiotics has skyrocketed since 2005, the major patent holders being such players as Nestle, kraft, Danone, Proctor and Gamble. These are corporations that make certain the public is aware of their products and how they might benefit from them. As these patents have been awarded the amount of money poured into researching them and developing health claims in relation to that research has skyrocketed as well. Without doctors there is no research, so they got an invite to the party.
This has not been without controversy. There have been settlements in response to advertised health claims. Still, the amount of effort and energy being put into promoting the cultural acceptance of probiotic foods as medicinal foods has been extraordinary.With the patent comes the profit. It’s all about the profit incentive created by the ability to regulate and c0ntrol.
Whoever controls marijuana will profit massively from it. This is the driver behind the medical research of marijuana and the current attempts to develop a regulatory framework for the drug by nearly half the states in the country. This is also the reason I doubt the whole plant will ever gain acceptance into the practice of mainstream modern medicine, the actual prescription pad, not just a recommendation slip in exchange for a $200 cash exam fee. If the whole plant is legalized, the pharmaceutical industry loses out, and they want their slice of the brownie.
What is likely to happen is the separation of the plant into each of its 500 different active compounds. These compounds will be researched and formulated into medications that will become the intellectual property of whoever develops them. This will be done in the name of safety, to standardize the dose, to ensure only the active ingredients necessary to treat this or that disease will be given to any one person, to ensure quality standards are met, etc. etc. This will increase the value of each plant far beyond the illicit street value.
So what does this have to do with chiropractic and you? Barring the scenario of the plant being completely legalized for recreational use, marijuana is unlikely to ever see the inside of a chiropractic office. It relates to chiropractic and to you, because it illustrates a new attitude the medical community is adopting towards natural remedies.
The line between natural, what many would call “homeopathic” type remedies and the world of mainstream medicine is beginning to blur. Herbal remedies and “natural” health solutions will not remain the sole property of alternative medicine for very long. Medicinal plants such as marijuana as well as probiotic microorganisms are quickly on the path to being treated with a new level of respect by the mainstream medical community. Medicine has a history of limiting access to those therapies it chooses to administer. If alternative medicine becomes mainstream, you can be certain they will become its gatekeepers as well.
What is beautiful about traditional herbalism is its accessibility and price of entry. With a little knowledge and skill most herbal medicines can be grown in your backyard or harvested from a small stand of forest for the small price of the time and effort. It is a kind of medicine that places the locus of control squarely in the hands of the user. In relation to my practice at Healing Rivers Chiropractic, it is personally empowering Healthcare.
At its core that is what alternative medicine is all about, teaching individuals how health happens, so they can pursue it on their own. The alternative physician is there to facilitate the process, not to control it. We are not the gatekeepers of a mysterious world of white coats, laboratories with centrifuges and titrations. We are teachers who clear out obstacles to self-healing so you can be empowered to take control of your own life. Sometimes that means removal of physical obstacles within the body; this is a major premise of chiropractic. Sometimes it means the supply of a missing nutrient the body requires to initiate the healing process as in the case of herbalism.
This is what is at stake with the medicalization of marijuana. Marijuana is a gateway drug. It is the drug with the potential to place a gateway between the general public and the herbs that can heal them, with the medical physician as gatekeeper.
So, what is my stance on medical marijuana? My stance is that it is an herb no different from any other. They all deserve our respect. We all deserve to experience their benefits when appropriate. My concern is that our terrible relationship with wild plant medicines will foster an environment of fear that corporations will exploit in order to gain control over this personally empowering form of healthcare.
My hope is that the situation with marijuana will create a dialogue about plant chemistries that generates a healthy relationship with Mother Nature’s pharmacy, ensuring alternative medicine remains in the commons, accessible to the general public in a way that empowers everyone, not just a few guys in white coats.