At one point or another, most of us have found ourselves in some variation of the same conversation. Following a couple of hits, a friend has exclaimed, “Cannabis is the cure for everything, man. They’re just hiding it from us.”
No, it isn’t a cure-all, and the perennially vaguely defined “they” (usually meaning the government and corporations) aren’t so much withholding information as inhibiting its acquisition. The reality is that cannabis definitely has a number of medical benefits, and there are growing numbers of studies to back this up.
What’s been lacking is a good resource for separating the hype from the facts. So we can praise Canadian journalist Amanda Siebert for stepping into the fray and providing just that. “The Little Book of Cannabis” explores the known and indicated ways that cannabis can increase general well-being, while remaining solidly grounded in what the most up-to-date studies tell us. Siebert combines advocacy for cannabis with a journalist’s insistence on getting her facts correct, and her slim but highly educational book should be the first choice for anyone seeking a knowledgeable grasp of what is presently known about the plant’s benefits.
In brief but informative chapters, Siebert looks at a variety of conditions, from insomnia to anxiety, cancer to addiction, as well as aspects of lifestyle such as creativity and sexuality. Each chapter follows a similar format. First she provides a case sample of someone she has interviewed that deals with the topic covered. Next she looks at the historic use of cannabis to address this issue (medicinal use dates back to antiquity, and cannabis was prescribed by doctors in America and included in the U.S. Pharmacopeia as late as 1942). Then she looks into the current science, citing studies, interviewing researchers and physicians who are looking seriously into cannabis, and offering her own observations. Occasionally she reaches a bit beyond current understandings, but she never over-extends, and her thoughts always draw from what we currently know, not from any random
idea that might cross her path.
The results speak for themselves. A chapter on weight control and fitness presents a counterintuitive fact, given the reputation marijuana has for giving its users the munchies: average cannabis consumers apparently have lower body mass indexes than nonusers. This comes from a University of Miami study, and the author of it tells Siebert that she herself was surprised as she fully expected the opposite outcome.
In pain management, things are clear in some ways, hazy in others. CBD is a known anti-inflammatory agent, but does THC treat pain as well? One significant study indicates that it doesn’t actually reduce pain but, rather, alters the perception of it to a less disagreeable level than normal. Interestingly, Siebert finds, even many doctors who are willing to prescribe medical marijuana will nonetheless first try opioids on a patient before moving to cannabis. But where opioids are potentially addictive and sometimes deadly, cannabis doesn’t carry these side effects, as has been exhaustively documented. This is an area where the medical establishment lags behind even some of its own findings.
The chapter on cannabis and creativity also presents interesting findings. Plenty of musicians, artists, writers, and more swear by the plant’s ability to bring out their best. But so far, controlled research in the area hasn’t demonstrated any benefit (and it’s reported as a negative in large doses). However, one University of Washington study compared the creativity levels of cannabis consumers and those who refrain.
What was found was that people who use cannabis products are generally more creative than those who don’t. The tentative conclusion is that being open to new experiences — crucial to creativity — makes one more likely to light up. It’s not that cannabis makes people creative, it’s that creative people gravitate toward cannabis.
Siebert proves her credibility bona fides in the chapter on cancer, where she reiterates the most important advice: Don’t go down the internet wormhole looking for cures.
Dr. Facebook, as she calls him, and assorted cannabis gurus litter cyberspace with complete hokum. Cannabis will not cure cancer. If you have the disease, you need an oncologist. That said, there are ways cannabis can treat cancer and ease its symptoms, and there are studies to back this. The idea is to work with your doctor, not against him or her (and if your doctor tells you to quit using cannabis, you are free to find a different one).
And so it goes with each subject covered. Readers get hard facts and medically sound advice. What limited speculation Siebert engages in is drawn from evidence. This is responsible alternative health journalism, writing that encourages exploration but doesn’t make unreasonable promises.
It’s something of a progress report on where the science on cannabis is, combined with thoughts on where it appears to be heading.
And unlike some alternative health writers, Siebert doesn’t attack establishment medical and scientific authorities. She seeks them out and includes their observations in each section, proving that both doctors and complementary medicine practitioners can work hand-in-hand if both are looking for discovery rather than starting from a conclusion and working backward.
There are thousands of books on cannabis out there, and even more on alternative health. “The Little Book of Cannabis,” clearly written and well referenced, is one of the few that can genuinely be rated as essential.
David James is a freelance writer in Fairbanks. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.
The Little Book of Cannabis: How
Marijuana Can Improve Your Life