How Cannabis is (An Alternative) Medicine

When used for medicinal purposes, cannabis falls within a grey area. Some take cannabinoid medicines as prescribed by their doctor, others grow it themselves to achieve medical benefits. This elasticity of cannabis's use allows the plant to have a foot in two doors at once.

As we wrote last week, the legalization of cannabis doesn't simply mean we'll see a singular, homogenous cannabis industry emerge. As we're already seeing throughout the world, cannabis products are able to fit into a wide array of industries, such as the food and beverage industry, pharmaceuticals, fabrics, textiles, and more.

In fact, part of the reason that cannabis became illegal was due to this capacity to disrupt multiple industries simultaneously.

Not only could cannabis find its way into most industries, but it's also a very democratic plant – it only requires a pot, some soil, seeds and water, and anyone can grow it. Moreover, while cannabis was prohibited, it's use became more known among alternative health practitioners and home connoisseurs. Once THC has been activated by heating cannabis, users can gain all of its medicinal effects without any further processing. This allowed for people like Rick Simpson to produce his Rick Simpson Cannabis Oil, a high-THC blend that Mr. Simpson gave to neighbors in order to heal their ailments. His unscientific approach brought the ire of the established medical community upon him.

Now, as the plant becomes increasingly available for medicinal purposes, cannabis has found itself split between two camps; pharmaceutical medicines, and alternative medicines. Some seek to legitimize cannabis through rigorous testing and the appropriate validations, such as from the FDA, in order to place distance between cannabinoid medicines and the stigma which once shrouded the cannabis plant. Others, wish to reject big pharma in its entirety, and call for a more anti-establishment approach as a way to get their revenge on the industries which pushed cannabis into the shadows.

Best of Both Worlds

The truth is, there is no definitive industry that cannabis necessarily fits within. Cannabis, in many respects, is an alternative medicine. The plant is deeply intertwined with spiritual connotations and had also been rejected by the medical establishment for decades up until recently. To this day, many doctors remain unaware of the benefits of cannabis use, and many patients remain fearful about trying cannabinoid medicines for similar reasons.

Alternatively, cannabinoid medicines are showing real, concrete signs that they can be used for legitimate and replicable results. Cannabis has proven to be a powerful tool for certain types of epilepsy, for which cannabinoid medicines like 'Epidiolex' have received FDA approval, with further evidence suggesting that cannabis can also assist people suffering from chronic pain, insomnia, and many other conditions. The medicinal cannabis industry was worth USD $7.2 billion in 2018 in the United States alone, and will only continue to grow for years to come as people begin to become more aware of the benefits that cannabis can provide. Clearly, cannabis has legitimate benefits, despite being less recognized by the status quo than some of its pharmaceutical counterparts.

For this reason, some believe that it's possible to bring these two separate audiences, from their respective conventional and non-conventional medicine tents, under one roof.

Compass Clinics

Fresh off of a successful cap-raise campaign that raised over AUD $1.3M, Compass Clinics utilizes a "holistic approach to medicine," "where doctors and allied health professionals work in synergistic unity."

This includes doctors, chiropractors, nutritionists, naturopaths, and metabolic health experts, who attempt to address health issues from a wide range of perspectives and expertise. So far, Compass has set up two clinics in Australia, with plans for expansion thanks to the recent cap-raise on Birchal.

The company seeks to take a modern approach to medicine, particularly as it pertains to cannabis. Compass's founder, Dave Martyn, who said that "there's a lot of confusion around medicinal cannabis from all levels of stakeholders. This includes government, physicians and patients. Our goal was to create a process that was easy to understand and navigate for each stakeholder. We also wanted to remove the stigma around cannabis by having open discussions around its benefits, while discussing some of the falsehoods that developed during the war on drugs," said Dave.

On Compass's more holistic approach, Dave explained that "Compass Cannabis Clinics has been developed as a consequence of our changing view of health care. We are entering a period of time where the discussion is moving from "lifespan" to "healthspan". People no longer want to just live a long time, they want to be healthy for a long time. Cannabis may be a tool to help in that process but there are other services that also aid patients towards long-term health. As either stand-alone services or combined, our offerings will help to promote improved health."

A Grey Area

The effects of the War on Drugs will be long-lasting. People remain imprisoned for cannabis use, many doctors will remain sceptical surrounding the benefits of cannabis, and in many parts of the world, the plant remains illegal. It will take many years to come before cannabis is wholeheartedly welcomed with open arms by the medical community and patients alike. For this reason, cannabis will always have a home under the "alternative medicine" tent.

However, cannabis is also rapidly emerging from the shadows of illegality, and countries like New Zealand may vote to legalize the plant in less than three weeks. As countries continue to ease their legislation surrounding cannabis, and doing research on the plant becomes more feasible, we will continue to learn more about the true medical benefits of cannabis.

Even in the last month, early evidence has emerged that CBD may help with COVID-19 recovery as well as reduce cocaine addiction, cannabis use was found to kill cancer cells, and a new cannabinoid compound was found. While these studies aren't yet conclusive, it's clear we will continue to learn more about cannabis in the years to come. The more we learn about cannabis, the less cannabis will be considered "alternative medicine" in the future.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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