Spark the Conversation about mental health

The adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” can be traced back to the late 1800s. It was used to encourage bravery and ward off insults. However, studies have shown that hurtful words can actually cause a physical change. According to an article published in Pubmed in 2006, evidence shows that harmful words can damage the way the white matter in the brain develops. There is a correlation between this damage and undue mental health issues.

When people are judged or tormented based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or physical and/or mental appearances, that is stigma in action. Stigma is a silent killer because the wounds usually don’t manifest themselves in the physical sense. Therefore, often it remains hidden from others for fear of being judged even further.

Mental health and mental illnesses are often stigmatized. Individuals are often dismissed, gaslighted, or punished for their admissions. In 1999, the U.S. Surgeon General wrote a report stating that stigma is a public health concern that causes people with mental health issues to be discriminated against with housing and employment, and outcast from certain social settings.

Responsible cannabis users also find that the same stigmas are often applied to them. The legalization of cannabis has helped to break some of the stigmas associated with its use. Individuals that partake in cannabis come from all walks of life and typically only share this knowledge with those they trust, for fear of being seen as less than.

Let’s ask Alia Rechiert from the Spark initiative about this silent killer.

Q: Why/how did the cannabis stigma originate? 

Alia Rechiert: The cannabis stigma is thought to have become popular during the Great Depression. There was resentment toward Mexican immigrants after the Mexican Revolution and during the depression, because of lack of jobs. People blamed the Mexican people for their troubles along with their usage of cannabis. Rumors were perpetuated and the Mexican people were painted as criminals and dangerous.

This ideology continued and spread to other minority groups. In 1937, cannabis and hemp were outlawed. Up until this time, hemp was a major crop in the United States. It was used for rope, cloth, food, and more. At one time, growing hemp was required as a tax to England before the Revolutionary War! 

Q: What are the main stigmas associated with cannabis users? 

AR: Cannabis users are often seen as being lazy, unintelligent, or even dangerous. However, science has shown that cannabis has been around for thousands of years and has been used as medicine as recently as the early 1900s. An article written by Stephen Siff for Origins states that liquid cannabis, morphine, and cocaine were used in elixirs to help with stomach issues, nervousness, or sadness.

Q: How can we work toward breaking the stigma? 

AR: Much like with breaking stigmas surrounding mental health, the first step towards breaking the cannabis stigma is to just talk about it. It’s important to prevent misinformation, especially through education. Most people often associate cannabis with its historical impact within communities that were disproportionately and negatively impacted. In the past, these stigmas continued to worsen from improper regulations and restrictions that did not allow for communities to thrive but rather suffer from the illegal trade of cannabis. 

If we can start to understand as a collective that cannabis gives us the opportunity to create positive economic impact within our communities, and also gives us access to its powerful health properties, then we can start to break the stigmas that have persisted even today. Legalization is now granting us the opportunity to both study its effects in more depth and also create more employment and business opportunities for many. Even now, we can all agree that despite its consumption both recreationally and medically, people have been able to lead their lives healthily and productively, and also have the opportunity to address a myriad of health conditions and combat their addictions to life-threatening substances.

Q: In what ways can cannabis contribute positively to your mental health?

AR: Cannabis has been reported to have many beneficial effects for some individuals. Some of the reported studies have shown that cannabis can decrease pain and inflammation, and aid in sleep. These chronic medical conditions can cause undue stress and add strain to a person’s mental health. Cannabis in its many forms can help to calm an individual, relieve anxiety, help with mood disorders, and temporarily relieve other unwanted symptoms they may have. 

However, cannabis is NOT for everyone. Individuals can have a positive or negative experience. Taking notes about each product that is used is key! Start low and slow, think of it like a science experiment. If the experience is too extreme or not enough, adjust the method of use and try again. In case of negative effects, such as thoughts of suicide, self-harm, and/or psychotic behavior occur, call your doctor, 911, 988, or text 741741 for help.

Human beings are unique and complex machines. We all have flaws, struggles, and biases. However, we are all capable of expressing kindness to each other. Instead of criticizing or misplacing blame on others, let’s continue to lift each other and learn to appreciate the qualities that make us all unique individuals. And although we have the freedom to captain our own ships, at some point we all sail through the same oceans together. Just remember, you are not alone.

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