Cannabis is an incredibly powerful plant, but there is a lot of information being passed around the community that has no scientific basis. It is the responsibility of every patient, doctor, and industry worker to know fact from fiction when it comes to cannabis.
We are slowly accumulating clinical research from across the world that supports the medical efficacy of cannabis, but for the most part, the evidence that we rely on is anecdotal, meaning it is based on personal accounts rather than clinical studies.
People working in the cannabis industry need to be responsible for providing patients with the best possible information, but that is not always easy. Cannabis is incredibly complex as a plant, and the industry that is emerging is running into issues properly explaining how this plant interacts with our bodies.
So Many Cannabis Choices (source)
Medical cannabis has been the foundation of legalization, over the last two decades, policymakers across America have been passing laws making cannabis available for medical patients. This social shift has been influenced in part by articles and interviews featuring the positive influence that cannabis can have on children with epilepsy, cancer patients, veterans with PTSD, and many other groups.
But anecdotal evidence is only the beginning of the conversation. It is important that there is scientific research to back up the personal experiences of individuals so that others can replicate the healing effects. Cannabis Reports currently lists data on 365 studies for 99 different conditions and diseases.
Despite mounting clinical research, the cannabis industry may be relying too heavily on anecdotal evidence. It is important that we do not pass around anecdotal evidence as scientific fact. Over-embellishing a reality before you can replicate the results is a sure-fire way to damage public trust in cannabis.
The reason for this article is a recent call we took on the Cannabis Reports hotline. The patient asked us to help her find a specific strain that a budtender told her was “the brain cancer strain.” Statements like these are increasingly common, but destructive nonetheless.
This does not mean that cannabis cannot help with brain cancer, but presenting anecdotal evidence as medical fact is incredibly irresponsible. This patient was extremely disheartened to learn that there was no silver-bullet strain to help them and they asked, “Why would someone working at a dispensary tell me this strain would cure my cancer if that’s not how it works?”
Misinformation is rampant in the cannabis community, but the fact that a patient learned this from a representative of the industry shows the immediate need for all of us to step back and re-examine our approach. There is good information out there, and it is the responsibility of everyone in the industry to seek it out.
We are All Different, Just Like Cannabis
There is still a lot we have to learn about how cannabis works within us. Words such as “indica” and “sativa” are passed on to consumers as scientifically accurate, but are actually based on an outdated cannabis taxonomy. Still, many manufacturers and retailers alike are confident that this is scientific fact, and are unwilling to consider new evidence.
One of the finest resources for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of cannabis must read Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany. Robert C. Clarke and Mark Merlin provide one of the best accounts of the history and science of the human-cannabis relationship. The book took Merlin and Clarke fifteen years to write, and explores our approach and understanding to cannabis genetics.
Genetic variation appears in every living thing, and is considered the foundation of evolution. There are billions of people on the face of the planet, each walking around with a different set of physical traits, like height, eye color, and blood type. These traits are known as an organism’s phenotypical properties, and are unique to that organism.
Endocannabinoid System Diagram, from The Cannabis Health Index
Just like people, each cannabis plant has a different set of physical traits and tendencies that make it a unique organism. Every person has their own endocannabinoid system that is unique, just like their immune system, their digestive patterns, and their allergies. This endocannabinoid system responds differently to each cannabis phenotype, which in itself is a unique genetic variation.
Basically, there is this huge misconception that cannabis consumption can be a consistent process, and be applied in the same way as traditional pharmaceuticals. The desire to describe cannabis in these simple terms has actually caused the industry to take this to heart as scientific fact.
Full Plant Extracts More Effective Than a Single Cannabinoid (source)
Due to a lot of miscommunication, the cannabis community firmly believes there are two types of flowering cannabis plants: indica and sativa. The Indica variety are considered to be shorter with wider leaves that leave you relaxed, while sativa is a taller plant with long branches and narrow leaves that provides cerebral stimulation.
Consumer Language is Not Always Based in Science
This classification simplifies cannabis and is widely used as consumer language. The issue is that these effects are not universally felt by everyone. Flowers are increasingly being labelled with their cannabinoid content, which is far more valuable information than terms like “indica” or “sativa.”
Identifying a plant by its observable characteristics and then claiming that there are universal effects associated with those traits is a major overstatement. Clearly, humans are programmed to categorize things into neat little boxes, but the dichotomy of indica vs. sativa is holding us back from a deeper understanding of cannabis plant science.
Only You Know How Cannabis Makes You Feel
There are an increasing number of medical practitioners beginning to enter the cannabis space, and international cannabis research is booming. Still, the cannabis industry is made up of a wide spectrum of people, all of whom have had their own personal experiences with cannabis.
Patients must be aware that there is a lot of conflicting information being spread in the world: some of it is accurate, some of it is close, and some of it is scientifically impossible. It is up to each of us to educate ourselves to know the difference between clinical data, anecdotal evidence, and what is hearsay.
Educational materials are scarce but they certainly do exist, and many are free online:
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