Seeing through the smoke


Christopher Gallagher

In the age of prescription drug side effects, what about cannabis?

Anal leakage ... it all started with anal leakage. ’Twas not my bum, thank the stars, that was dribbling, but I remember it better than yesterday (I ate a lot of edibles yesterday; my memory is a bit shaky). I was a younger man, not worried about my health, no reason to pay much attention to pharmaceutical commercials. We had recently purchased our first home and celebrated by having a Super Bowl party. It was an ad for a weight-loss product. I tuned in mentally because I was in a bit of a fat-boy phase and I wondered if the product they were spending a million-dollars-per-moment to advertise might be able to help me integrate my desire to be slim with my habit of eating pizza four to five times weekly and engaging in competitive cannoli races with friends.

Things were going along just fine. Then they got to the side effects. “May cause anal leakage.” Imagine the sound of the needle scratching straight across the record player in my mind. Did he just say, “Anal leakage?” My friend Mike, who I coached football with (and who made a wonderful Mexican dip for the game) looked at me, drew his glasses down his nose with one finger and winked. I had heard correctly and a new chapter dawned in my life: The Age of Side Effects.

Prior to that, I just took medicine whenever I thought I needed it, as much as I thought I needed, without a single thought of what it might do to my body beyond its recommended purpose. There was definitely a time in my life when the analgesic effects of over-the-counter pain relievers helped grease the wheels of my daily existence, but, knowing what I know now, I realize that the cumulative effect of eight to 12 to 16 Advils or Tylenols daily – with their potential accompanying “nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, ringing in the ears, dizziness, nervousness, sweating, weakness, and yellowing of the skin or eyes” – was not the best way to treat my liver or stomach. And those are available over the counter at any pharmacy, supermarket, or Quik-Stop gas station shop in this sprawling fiasco we call home.

The side effects that may accompany prescription drugs read like a list drawn from some absurdist, horror movie roundtable. One list of about 30 possible issues for an acne medication, Accutane, includes depressed mood, sleep problems, hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, numbness, weakness, headache, hearing loss, severe pain, fast heart rate, loss of appetite, clay-colored stools, severe diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fever, chills, purple spots under your skin, and bone pain or fracture. It seems that there may be better ways of dealing with acne than subjecting oneself to the health issues which may accompany the cosmetic relief provided by isotretinoin, a Vitamin A derivative found in Accutane, a product that cleared all the governmental regulatory hurdles thrown up by the Food and Drug Administration.

Cannabis, as recently as last summer, was denied a path to regulated dispersal by that same FDA. This is not to say that cannabis comes absolutely side effect-free. The primary side effect – euphoria – is the primary reason that most of us use it. There is a decent-length list we all know about: Dry mouth, dry/red eyes, increased appetite, lethargy, possible anxiety and paranoia. It’s proof that cannabis is a gateway to water, Visine, HoHos, and naps. There is low-grade stuff that most of us have dealt with to one degree or another since picking up our first bowl, joint, or edible. I may have missed the inclusion of memory issues on the list ... I can’t recall.

One thing you will not see listed as a side effect to cannabis use: Death, a surprisingly common reported bad reaction to drugs according to a 2014 FDA report. The reality of today’s world includes chemical compounds developed using the most cutting-edge technology and techniques currently available, that may change the lives of the sufferers of any number of ailments, but there are kickers with some of them that make them not worth the risks. Cannabis is not the only proven, safe alternative – I suggest some investigation into herbalism and traditional medicine systems for folks who need assistance – but it can be an integral part of a balanced, nontoxic regimen for health. And it will not give you a greasy seat.

Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at chrstphrgallagher@gmail.com.