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Why ‘Medical’ and ‘Recreational’ Cannabis Terms Are Misleading

We have gotten used to talking about medical cannabis and recreational marijuana. We rely on the terms ‘medical’ and ‘recreational’ to distinguish between how and why people use cannabis products. But a recent study seems to suggest that the terms are misleading. The reasons for using cannabis do not necessarily line up with how people identify themselves as users.

Imagine a patient visiting the Zion Medicinal medical cannabis pharmacy in Cedar City, UT. That patient would probably identify him or herself as a medical cannabis user. But what about another user who purchases black market marijuana on the street? Their tendency would be to identify as a recreational user.

So what’s the problem? According to the study, even recreational users report consuming marijuana for the purposes of easing some of the symptoms they experience due to a variety of health concerns. Ironically, many of the symptoms are identical to those treated by legitimate medical cannabis – including pain, nausea, and so forth.

More About the Study

The study in question was conducted by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and published by JAMA Network Open. Its main goal was to help researchers understand “the prevalence of past 3-month cannabis use and… the reasons for use among patients.”

Researchers surveyed more than 175,700 participants, among whom some 17% reported being cannabis users. Their most important takeaway was this: “While most patients (76.1%) reported using cannabis to manage a health symptom, very few patients identified as medical cannabis users.”

In simple English, the majority of respondents who reported using cannabis regularly said they did so to manage medical symptoms. Only a minority of them identified as medical cannabis users. The rest said they were recreational users who used to help themselves feel better.

People Are Self Medicating

If you are not sure why all this matters, it boils down to the reality that people are self-medicating with marijuana. Whether they do so by obtaining a state-issued medical cannabis card or purchasing marijuana on the recreational market, they are still using the plant to improve how they feel. To me, that is alarming.

In my opinion, we Americans already rely too much on drugs to alter the way we feel. Even setting aside the marijuana question for a minute, it seems like we have a pill for everything. Have a headache? Take some acetaminophen. Difficulties with heartburn? Pop a couple of pastel-colored tablets.

The problem with our pill-happy approach to wellbeing is that drugs rarely get to the root of the problem. Symptom management is not the same thing as figuring out the root cause of said symptoms and addressing that particular issue.

Managing Wellbeing With Lifestyles Changes

It seems to me that we could manage wellbeing a lot more effectively by concentrating on lifestyle changes. For example, losing weight and maintaining a healthy diet can do wonders. So can making a point of getting enough restful sleep every night. And do not forget regular exercise.

We have all but abandoned the healthy lifestyle choices that, if implemented, would mitigate the need to take so many pills. I get the fact that medical cannabis has legitimate medicinal purposes. But are people relying on marijuana to make themselves feel better while they continue pursuing unhealthy lifestyle options?

According to the researchers, the lines between medical cannabis and recreational marijuana are blurred at the individual user level. That means the terms are misleading. Perhaps it is time we reframe our discussions with hopes of coming to a better understanding of why and how people use marijuana.

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