Remember medical marijuana? I think, in light of the rollback on everything that was not standard operating procedure a generation ago that is currently taking place in Washington D.C., that it is high time for a primer on the subject.
In researching the topic and its varied intricacies from coast to coast, I came across no less than 400 ailments for which cannabis alleviates symptoms. Had I decided to simply list them, they would take up the entirety of the space of this column. Of that number, I knew by name about one third: Crohn’s disease, which took my friend Matty D. way too young; cancer, which has stolen someone from nearly everyone who will set eyes on this article; back pain, Parkinson’s Disease; another third of the maladies I could reason based on their etymology and relationship to other medical problems: collagenous colitis, psoriatic arthritis, dermatomytosis, inflammatory autoimmune-mediated arthritis, interstitial cystitis; and the final third were conditions I have never heard of: often syndromes with hyphenated names descending from the doctors and scientists who made major breakthroughs in their diagnosis and treatment: Wittbaak-Ekbom’s Syndrome, a companion to fibromyalgia; Sturge-Weber Syndrome, a neurological condition that is accompanied by a port wine stain on the face or head; Arnold-Chiari Malformation, a structural defect in the cerebellum that affects balance; Darier’s Disease, the description of which is so medically dense that all I can take away from it is that it is related to nails and mucus.
Cannabis was chosen as an appropriate treatment for each of these scores of conditions by panels of doctors in the 29 states (plus the District of Columbia) with medical marijuana programs, an ever expanding cadre that began with the inception of California’s system in 1996. The history of medicinal use of cannabis has much deeper roots in traditional herbalism and folk medicine. The earliest historical record of its use dates back over 5,000 years in China and still holds a place of fundamental import in their traditional healing system. Cannabis also figured prominently in ancient Egyptian medicine for treatment of glaucoma and inflammation, among other conditions. It arrived by way of the Silk Road, to Europe approximately 2,500 years ago.
The use of cannabis as a primary ingredient in medical preparations in the United States grew in stature during the second half of the 19th century spurred by dozens of medical papers citing its effects in relieving efficacy as a treatment. It was also included in the third edition of the United States Pharmacopoeia in 1851 and remained there until 1942, a time during which it was an ingredient in over 20 prescription medications and a wide range of patent medicines.
It was the termination of Alcohol Prohibition that led to the downfall of cannabis as a mainstream medical option, as the 21st Amendment to the Constitution freed up one Henry Aslinger to begin his Reefer Madness campaign against the herb with millennia of history as an important part of our human heritage.
Next week we will take a look at the reasons why cannabis helps such a wide array of medical conditions and some of the most important medical, social, and legislative issues on the horizon. Be well ‘til then.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected].