My relationship with herbal medicine began with a weathered green book. At least, it looked weathered on the outside. Inside, large, glossy pages displayed portraits of hundreds of plants situated beside concise descriptions of their growing habits and use. My mother kept the book on a wicker table in our sun room. It felt like a hallowed place.
My mother has spent her adult life dreaming of horticulture and landscape design while working full-time as a hospital nurse. In practice, most of her health habits reflect what she has learned from contemporary mainstream medicine. However, in theory, her world is enriched by a deep appreciation for wild-growing weeds and the mysterious medicine of the rain forests.
Occasionally, the two worlds meet. For example, when I came down with a common childhood cold, my mother's first line of treatment was serving me raw garlic. Then there's the time she decided to grow potted basil. She read about the benefits of eating the fresh leaves but became alarmed because she thought they made her feel high.
My personal experiences with herbal medicine began in college. As part of my basic reporting class, I interviewed a certified aromatherapist. She introduced me to essential oils with the recommendation that lavender is a gentle cure-all and that tea tree oil cleans wounds, eliminates mold and heals acne. She also gave me some advice: While it's possible to make meaningful generalizations about what each plant can do, every individual responds differently. Start small and use caution. Also, remember “how” matters as much as “what.” Mix essential oils with carrier oils for safety.
I recently donned my NORML shirt and headed to Rome, Georgia's health food store Purple Mountain to stock up on my favorite essential oils and to replenish my personal apothecary—heavy in St. John's Wort, cranberry extract, lysine and my favorite allergy-prevention blends. I look forward to a day when I will walk in and see cannabis sharing shelf space with Calendula in the bulk herb section. I feel it would be at home in space like this where people purchase plants and products available, simply, to make them feel better – fixed notions of both healing and hedonism aside.
In his recent about-face on the medical benefits of marijuana, the neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta stated:
They didn't have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn't have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works.
While Gupta's support made major headway in establishing social support for medical marijuana, specific legislation varies widely across the 23 states which have implemented it thus far. One recurrent issue is that only certain cannabinoids (chemical compounds found within cannabis) are considered legal, despite studies which demonstrate it's all the cannabinoids working together in harmony which produce the plant's strongest therapeutic effects. Another challenge central to medical marijuana's legalization are the limits placed on qualifying conditions.
Getting back to my mother and her book, I'm glad I inherited her fascination minus her fear—or, rather, minus her tendency to avoid the things which scare her. My advocacy for marijuana reform can, at times, feel like a scary endeavor in and of itself. However, when I consider the values I want to pass to my children, speaking out to right what I view as a social wrong is the healthiest choice I can make.
Meanwhile, I have a special journal meant to be a keepsake for my daughter to share with her siblings one day. Within it, I record my personal experiences with herbal remedies, alongside images and research from various sources. One of the latest additions will be a copy of a chart showing how various cannabinoids combine to treat a spectrum of illnesses. You can take a look at it here.
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