If you told me 30 years ago that I’d be running a cannabis-related business, I wouldn’t have believed it.

I was the girl who had an eighth grade science fair project titled “Close Encounters of the Worst Kind,” explaining how marijuana was a gateway drug to heroin. This is what we were taught. This is what we believed. This is what it said in the reference books in the library, so it had to be true.

In high school, I learned about “pot” from my friend Jennifer. She was part of the “freaks,” the stoner kids who dressed in flared jeans, flowing scarves, with her blue eyes lined in black. My exposure in the ‘80s was to joints, pipes and bongs, but my use was extremely intermittent – at a party now and then.

I didn’t really smoke much in college and once out of college, pot didn’t fit into my life, although while I was in the music business it was prevalent, along with harder drugs. I wasn’t much of a drug taker of other drugs – I didn’t like the way they made me feel – and after a lot of drinking in my 20s, I usually consumed little alcohol as well.

Fast forward to my 50s. I spent several years in chronic pain, first with frozen shoulders, then with arthritis in my neck. The pain I was experiencing was exacerbated by lack of sleep, mostly menopause-induced insomnia. My quality of life was plummeting, and I didn’t know where to turn.

The last thing I wanted to do was take painkillers or sleeping pills, so my options for pain relief were limited to physical therapy, acupuncture, therapeutic massage and chiropractic care. I was still suffering when I began researching the cannabis industry as an opportunity for my marketing business.

As I did my research, I soon learned that everything I had been taught about cannabis was false. The War on Drugs was propaganda and the banning and criminalization of cannabis was politically motivated.

Cannabis being illegal had nothing to do with dangers. Cannabis was, in fact, safer than most pharmaceuticals when used appropriately and not even remotely on the same level as drugs such as cocaine or heroin.

Cannabis was basically non-addictive, non-lethal and did not come with harsh side effects. The opposite was true.

I’ve learned that cannabis can be used as a medicinal plant and has vast therapeutic applications. When people say very little research exists about the efficacy of cannabis as medicine, that’s not true.

There are more than 30,000 citations of cannabis use for everything from reducing inflammation, alleviating anxiety, helping with PTSD, quelling pain, and addressing side effects of chemotherapy.

Cannabis has more phytocannabinoids (plant cannabinoids) and terpenes than any other plant, including common plants and herbs we often use for health and healing including echinacea, chamomile and turmeric.

Cannabis is a plant medicine that interacts naturally with our own endocannabinoid (internal cannabinoid) system or our ECS. Our ECS is a fairly recently discovered system that exists throughout human and other mammals’ bodies and brains, modulating our other systems including respiratory, reproductive, digestive, endocrine and nervous.

My current understanding about cannabis doesn’t remove the stigma I’ve felt over the years. Many people still buy into the misinformation, especially the lies told by our own government.

Personally, I have found that cannabidiol or CBD, a cannabinoid in cannabis that is getting a lot of attention, is helpful to me for reducing both anxiety and inflammation. Reducing inflammation also helps address my pain. I still use THC on an as-needed basis for pain reduction or sleep, but I find the more I take CBD regularly as a supplement, the less I need any additional pain relief or sleep aids.

My view of cannabis today is so different from 20 or 30 years ago. I’m grateful to this powerful plant and the healing it brings to me and to so many people.

My hope is that cannabis will be fully legal in a few short years and that people in need of good medicine can receive it. Here’s to cannabis in every medicine chest and a happier, healthy life.

Aliza Sherman lives in Anchorage, Alaska and has been involved in the cannabis industry since early 2016. She is the co-founder of Ellementa, an international network for women interested in cannabis for wellness. She is the author of a new book, “The Essential Guide to Cannabis and CBD: Optimizing Your Health With Nature’s Medicine” (Ten Speed Press). http://ellementa.com/cannabisbook

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