“There is a big difference between that and recreational marijuana. And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law that we need to abide by in terms of the medical — when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.” Sean Spicer, February 23, 2017 White House Press Briefing

If there is one thing the current administration seems to be doing an excellent job at, it is spouting misinformation. From non-existent terrorist attacks such as Bowling Green and the latest Swedish “incident,” alternative facts seem to be the new norm. The White House’s portrayal of the marijuana industry is not immune to this repeated failure to vet the facts before issuing a statement either. In a recent press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer essentially boiled down recreational marijuana use to a mere stepping stone to opioid addiction.  Even after recent progress in removing inaccurate information from the DEA website, it appears that the fight against propaganda has a long way to go.

Same, Same but Different

When you hear the terms medical and recreational, do you envision wildly different plants being used for distinctly different purposes?

Would it surprise you to know that there is no fundamental difference in the plants used for medicinal purposes and those used for recreational purposes?

Granted, medical marijuana is often grown organically and tested for consistency and potency, but the plant itself is still simply marijuana. It should be noted that different cannabinoid profiles are often used for different medical conditions, but those same cannabinoid profiles are also used recreationally.

There are a variety of cannabinoids present in marijuana and the individual potency of each cannabinoid varies by strain. The two biggest players are:

THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)

This is the cannabinoid responsible for the trademark “high” experience when using marijuana. However, it does so much more. It’s ability to induce hunger and reduce nausea, make this cannabinoid a powerful Medical Cannabismedicine for patients undergoing chemotherapy. It’s ability to reduce ocular pressure makes it perfect for those
struggling with glaucoma. THC is responsible for the increased spasticity and bladder control that patients living with Multiple Sclerosis find invaluable. THC also reduces pain from nerve damage and stimulates new growth of nerve tissue. THC can help eliminate insomnia and even control certain cancers.

CBD (Cannabidiol)

This cannabinoid works as a complement to THC. While THC can cause fatigue, CBD makes one feel more alert. CBD also counteracts THC’s ability to cause paranoia or anxiety by promoting feelings of peace and contentment. CBD is also a powerful contender in it’s own right. CBD is known to relieve convulsions and psychotic episodes as well as reducing anxiety and inflammation. CBD also stimulates bone growth, stops bacterial growth, reduces blood sugar levels, lowers blood pressure, and helps control epileptic seizures.

Just like THC, CBD can also control certain cancers

Unfortunately, there has been a recent relegation of useful medical purpose to those strains with low THC or to CBD as a standalone product. This is a reckless generalization that completely overlooks the benefits of THC, the powerhouse partnership of CBD and THC, and the host of other cannabinoids that comprise the full profile of marijuana.  So while selecting a strain whose cannabinoid profile best suits the symptoms being addressed is definitely a big part of medical marijuana, inferring that certain strains are medical while others are recreational is a sweeping generalization that simply isn’t true.

It All Comes Down to the Dollar

Now this doesn’t mean that there aren’t some man made differences between weed dubbed as medical versus that labeled as recreational. These differences are primarily related to the percentage of tax paid on the product and the legal amount one is permitted to buy.  For example, in Colorado, when purchasing recreational marijuana versus medical, you will be subject to an extra 10% retail marijuana tax and an excess tax of ounce of medical cannabis15% which is built into the price of the product. Colorado also limits recreational purchases to no more than 1 ounce and in Oregon recreational purchases are limited to the flower itself. In Oregon, medical marijuana is also exempt from sales tax, whereas recreational bud can cost up to an additional 25% in tax.

Of course, one cannot have the debate of medical versus recreational without examining exactly what is recreational.

From the earliest texts referencing marijuana, the plant has been described as medicinal

It’s been used to for everything from relaxation and maintaining mental health to pain management and cancer. It’s reputation as a healing herb weren’t eradicated by government legislation either. People have been using marijuana to self-medicate for years! So, where do you draw the line of recreational? If marijuana promotes balanced mental health and stress management, shouldn’t it fall more in the realm of a supplement, like ginkgo biloba or ginseng rather than a recreational substance, like alcohol or tobacco? After all, legal recreational substances like alcohol and tobacco have caused a multitude of deaths and maladies, whereas marijuana has not- proving it safer than some supplements!

Medical Marijuana vs. Opioids

Which brings me to Spicer’s absurd comparison of recreational cannabis to the opioid addiction crisis sweeping the United States. The facts not only fail to support this assertion, but prove it to be completely wrong. John Hopkins published a report in August of 2014 that found

“the annual number of deaths from prescription drug overdose is 25% lower than in states where medical marijuana remains illegal.”

Furthermore, in January of this year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a review of 10,000 medical marijuana studies since 1999 indicating that there is substantial evidence supporting the use of marijuana for chronic pain. Chronic pain and pain management coupled with liberally dispensed prescriptions of opioids like Oxycontin are the root of the current opioid crisis in the US and we have glaring evidence that marijuana is a safer, non-addictive alternative!

Not only is marijuana a safer alternative, but it can actually be used to fight opioid addiction itself! A study in rats published in 2009 in the Journal of Neuroscience as well as a smaller study of humans in August 2015 in the journal Neurotherapeutics found that marijuana decreased heroin cravings! Even more interesting is a study published in 2013 in Addiction Biology that shows that marijuana could block the reward-facilitating effect of morphine in rats, but not cocaine. Obviously, Spicer didn’t do very much research before issuing his press statement. Somebody should really recommend him Girl Scout Cookies- it might loosen him up a little.

Now, more than ever, it’s important that we stay informed and not take anything at face value. Buying into unproven, stereotypes such as the “big difference” between medical and recreational marijuana or the “encouragement of our opioid crisis” only perpetuates propaganda and dangerous generalizations that undermine progress in the marijuana industry.  Staying informed and spreading accurate information to combat these “alternative facts” is the only way to ensure progress continues.

Amber Faust

About the author: Amber Faust is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in natural lifestyle pieces and sociopolitical commentary. Amber is a lifelong activist for social justice and environmental issues. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, painting, drumming, meditation, and yoga.