I just finished reading an article discussing medical marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Full disclosure requires letting you know that the author of the paper is decidedly against treating the disorder with marijuana. But reading what she had to say in the broader context of modern medicine reveals a significant flaw: a focus on symptom relief.
The article was authored by a Colorado addiction psychiatrist who is also a member of the International Academy on the Science Impact of Cannabis. In her experience treating patients, she believes options like narrative exposure therapy (NET) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT) are far better treatments for PTSD than medical marijuana.
The key to these evidence-based treatments is getting to the root of what is causing a patient’s anxieties, flashbacks, and fears. Dealing with root causes helps at least some patients completely overcome PTSD.
We Have Very Few Cures
As I was reading the paper, I was thinking about all the medical treatments I have experienced over my lifetime. I considered the cancer treatments my mother underwent, the pain treatments my sister is currently receiving, and a whole host of treatments and therapies my family members have engaged with.
In all this reflection, I came to a startling conclusion: we have very few cures in modern medicine. Compared to the total number of illnesses, conditions, and injuries we know of, the number of curative therapies we have is very small. Most of what we know as modern medicine focuses on alleviating symptoms.
Perhaps symptom alleviation is a matter of necessity. It could be that we really don’t know as much about the human body as previously thought. Maybe that’s why curative therapies are so fleeting. Nonetheless, are alleviating symptoms really the way to go?
Treating Chronic Pain
Pain is perhaps the most common symptom in all medicine. So many things can cause it. Pain can be the result of touching a hot stove or cutting your finger with a kitchen knife. But it can also be the result of internal tissue damage. The thing about pain is that it is relative. Even so, it is a symptom of something else. Pain is not a medical condition in and of itself.
When we treat chronic pain, we are treating a symptom. But what about the disease or condition causing it? For illustrative purposes, consider an arthritis patient living in Utah. He doesn’t want to undergo invasive surgery, and prescription pain medications aren’t helping them. So he gets his medical cannabis card and heads to a Utah dispensary like Beehive Farmacy to buy medical cannabis.
Cannabis could ultimately prove to be the best pharmacological treatment for him. But is he also implementing lifestyle changes? Changing his diet to reduce inflammation could help. Regular exercise to strengthen his joints and add muscle mass could help as well.
Throw a Drug At It
The point of this post is not to knock medical marijuana as being ineffective or inappropriate. It is simply to point out our habit of treating every medical malady by throwing a drug at it. It is typical of the Western mindset of easy fixes for hard problems.
Maintaining good health requires effort. In some cases, that effort could be construed as work. But not maintaining good health ultimately leads to a variety of health problems. If our solution is simply to keep writing prescriptions, our collective health isn’t going to improve.
Unfortunately, our focus on alleviating symptoms leads to poor practices. We seek to alleviate our symptoms and go on from there. But it is not a very good way to go.