Bill O’Reilly eyed my brother and me like a hungry lion looking over a couple of lambs. He twisted his face into the trademark O’Reilly sneer and scolded us with a tone of triumph: “Come on, you know what the ruse is, you know what the scam is.”
I’d known the comment was coming. It’s standard procedure for hostile journalists. They all think medical cannabis is a fraud.
My own cannabis recommendation is technically for chronic pain, but I used it for many other purposes. Some were unquestionably therapeutic, like helping me sleep. Others, like shaking off nervousness or sadness, seemed borderline. But there were some that just didn’t fit my definition of medical use, like enhancing the enjoyment of a meal or a piece of music.
Like most people, I used to be locked into an outdated illness concept of human health that views us as either sick or healthy. If we are sick, we go to the doctor, who writes a prescription or recommends a procedure, after which we are supposed to recover and go back to being healthy—if we’re lucky.
But over the last few decades, it has become evident that human health actually operates on a spectrum of wellness. That spectrum occupies the space between perfect health and acute sickness, and it is where most humans spend the majority of their lives.
The best ways to preserve and enhance wellness are safe and noninvasive. We have learned that diet, exercise, acupuncture, chiropractic, meditation, and other holistic healing techniques are effective alternatives to pills and operations.
That’s why so many gyms and yoga studios have opened in the United States; why most grocery stores have an organic section; why insurance policies often cover chiropractic, acupuncture, and nutritional counseling—and why integrative treatment centers for cancer have experienced explosive growth.
California law, which allows doctors to recommend cannabis for any purpose for which it is effective, had already forced me to consider O’Reilly’s comment.
Over the years, many patients confided in me that they appreciated the protection of the law but didn’t really consider themselves sick or injured. Nonpatients also frequently approached me with comments like, “You know, Steve, I totally support everything you are doing to help patients. I believe in medical cannabis, and I smoke weed myself—but I’m not sick; I just like to get high.”
I would respond by asking for details. When and why do you use cannabis? What specific benefits does it provide? How has cannabis made your life different?
A composite of the answers I received would run something like this:
“Without cannabis, I’d get home feeling irritated from a long day at work, a hassle with a boss or a coworker, a hot rush-hour commute, whatever. My back might be aching, and I wouldn’t feel like playing with my kids or talking to my wife. I’d often have a sour stomach and not much appetite. Dinner wasn’t very appealing and sometimes gave me heartburn or indigestion. After dozing off in front of the TV, I’d wake up and sometimes not be able to go back to sleep. In the morning I could be tired, and notfeel like going to work or doing much of anything.
“With cannabis, everything is different. I’m happy to see my family and have as much fun playing with my kids as they do. I forget about my aching back, and reuniting with my wife is a pleasure, not a chore. Dinner smells and tastes great, and I never have a problem with digestion. After dinner, the wife and I put the kids to bed, and then we have some extra special intimate time together. I curl up next to her, sleep soundly till morning, and wake up refreshed and ready for the new day. Cannabis makes my life a lot better, but I’m not sick and I wouldn’t die or end up in the hospital without it. I’m not a patient; I just like cannabis.”
Over time I realized that the same description of symptoms presented to an MD would probably result in a diagnosis of anxiety, insomnia, depression, arthritis, low libido, erectile dysfunction, and acid reflux. Every night a parade of TV ads promotes a variety of pharmaceuticals for exactly these conditions—and they have a list of side effects like something out of a Stephen King novel.
For most people, cannabis is a better alternative. Its power to preserve and restore homeostasis throughout the brain and body makes cannabis effective for almost every condition advertised on TV, and its side effects are mild and transitory. It also has a wide range of more unique benefits that are frequently overlooked, or mistakenly characterized as “getting high.”
These include its ability to extend patience and promote self examination; to awaken a sense of wonder and playfulness, and openness to spiritual experience; to enhance the flavor of a meal, the sound of music, or the sensitivity of a lover’s touch; to open the mind and inspire creativity; to bring poetry to language and spontaneity to a performer; to catalyze laughter, facilitate friendship, and bridge human differences.
Excerpted from The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness by Steve DeAngelo with permission from the publisher, North Atlantic Books. Steve DeAngelo has been a cannabis activist, advocate, entrepreneur, and educator for almost four decades. His vision and leadership have been featured by news teams from around the globe including the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and BBC. His creation of the landmark Harborside Health Center, the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the world, set the standard for providing safe access, responsible use, and lab-tested, high quality medicine. In 2010, DeAngelo launched the cannabis industry’s first investment and research firm, The Arc View Group, one of the top ten angel investment groups in the U.S.