Well, I had an interesting weekend. I was out in Denver, Colorado, with my parents, helping run the Plant Medicine Expo & Healthcare Provider Conference www.plantmedicineexpo.com. This conference was the first of its kind – bringing doctors, patients and government together for two days of seminars, debate and discussion about what we know, what we don’t know, and where we go from here. Medical marijuana is legal in 14 states (Colorado being the only state where it is written into the state constitution), so the subject wasn’t discussed under the table or in secret code…but instead out in the open at a very professional conference held at the Downtown Denver Sheraton. Needless to say, the food was great. I wish I could make more jokes about it, but seeing the people who attended, and the doctors who were present, took every ounce of humor out of the subject.
Whether you’re for or against medical marijuana, one thing we can all agree on is that the people who should know about it – doctors – don’t. There are two types of doctors out there – those who may consider ‘prescribing’ or recommending it, and those who should know what many of their patients do anyway (medically or recreationally). The goal of this conference was to provide legitimacy to this conversation. Or, as we said going into the event, to “take marijuana out of the stoner age”.
I was amazed to see how many people showed up – hundreds, coming from all over North America – with dozens of chronic diseases that could have rendered them hopeless. Cancer patients, MS, seizure patients, AIDS patients, people with chronic pain…the list goes on and on. They were all attending the conference to consider whether medical marijuana was a viable option for them, since many had exhausted the traditional treatment protocols. . They had tried and failed all prescription drug options and prescription orsurgical procedures. Cancer returned for the third time and it was inoperable. Certain side effects from a necessary medication were intolerable. We were faced with very real scenarios that impacted people in the worst ways possible. They drove from hundreds of miles away for a chance to have their questions answered, and we were humbled to witness this first hand.
I think the biggest take-away from the weekend was the fact that we are in the middle of both a silent and a noisy social issue. There is the outspoken patient, often living off the grid, who is desperately trying to control pain or seizures, or increase appetite because traditional medicine doesn’t. This noisy patient may be demonstrating outside the state capitol, maintaining a large mailing list of like-minded patients, and mobilizing to move the issue into the public discourse. The silent patient is like the woman with stage two breast cancer, the chronic pain patient, or the person living with HIV. These people are committed to traditional medicine and stay at home and watch the noisy patient on the evening news outside the capitol. This patient knows better than to talk about medical marijuana with traditional healthcare professionals, but wonders if the wasting, the pain, the seizures might be helped, and wonders whether the side effects from traditional protocols might be reduced. This patient also worries – worries about what family and friends will say about using medical marijuana, worries about an employer, or health insurance, or life insurance drug test, worries about being arrested, worries about going to a bad part of town to buy marijuana, and worries about whether it is a gateway drug. Our society is not sufficiently understanding or listening to either of these important and suffering groups of people, and until we do, we all have to accept that we are less compassionate than we could be, less willing to embrace the tough issues that promise to help us move forward as a society, and less willing accept that we have the ability to improve our quality of life through education and critical thinking. This conference was designed to show compassion to the noisy and the silent patient, take on the tough issues that will move society forward and work hard to improve quality of life through education and critical thinking.