During the 2014 legislative sessions, a handful of conservative states passed medical marijuana bills allowing only for cannabis high in CBD and so low in THC that it is non-psychotropic.
With the new push for legislation allowing CBD-only legislation, a conundrum for cannabis activists and medical users arises. Inherent to our society’s discussion of whether to treat CBD-only medications legally different than those with higher concentrations of THC is the assumption that CBD-only strains of cannabis somehow carry more legitimacy as true medication and/or carry less risk to the patient.
It seems that a substance is considered less “medical” if it is also enjoyable. But what undermines this distinction? Is there utility in differentiating between strains of cannabis that are “fun” versus not? And does that differentiation have anything to do with medical efficacy?
While any push that loosens restrictions and makes medical cannabis more readily available is a good thing, it might be worth taking pause before we make assertions about differences across strains that might not exist.
Suggesting a distinction between psychoactive and non-psychoactive substances, as is the assertion with high CBD versus high THC strains, reinforces this idea that substances that can alter mood and subjective experience are somehow bad and less medically advantageous than those that don’t.
The assumption is that the psychotropic strains carry more risk.
Like a true psychologist, I think that the root of this distinction arises less from a scientifically founded concern for medical efficacy and risk of harm and instead arises out of fear.
There have been some interesting theories suggested over the years to account for why people have such negative reactions to drug use; why substance use, even absent of abuse, is considered by many amoral.
The most well researched theories stem from social psychology, which suggests that people inherently fear the unknown.
Research on racism sheds light on the clear association between this fear of the unknown phenomenon and the quick jump people can make to hatred and condemnation. When we have no exposure to a group of people and, therefore, have no way to make predictions about how they might act, we begin to fear them.
Fear is an incredibly vulnerable, internalized emotion that most people don’t like to experience. We regularly try to shift our internalized emotions, like fear, shame, and sadness, into externalized emotions, like anger. This is why young children sometimes act out, become angry, and throw tantrums when they get in trouble and feel guilty. Anger is a much more tolerable emotional state to experience than fear.
Altered states of consciousness are by definition the experience of something outside of the norm. There is no way to predict what the outcome will look like; no way to predict how things will smell, taste, or feel, after taking psychotropic drugs. It is the experience of the unknown. And the unknown is scary as hell for most people.
Distinguishing CBD only cannabis from higher THC strains might make for an easier pill to swallow in legalization campaigns because CBD doesn’t alter consciousness in the same way that THC strains do.
The general population might be more apt to move for medicinal cannabis if we remove this “fear-of-the-unknown” aspect. But could we be doing damage by reinforcing the distinction? Few people take inventory regularly on the reasons why they feel the way they do politically. Those who would have rejected medical cannabis legalization efforts prior to this move for differentiation are likely unaware of the reasons why they would now accept CBD only legislation. I doubt they would realize it’s because they’re afraid.
Read the full article in Issue 11 of Cannabis Now Magazine, coming in May 2011. Click here to subscribe.