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A paradigm shift, is when an event(s) has such an impact on an individual so as to fundamentally change their way of thinking.  In teachers college, I remember learning about the concept of paradigm shifts.  Little did I know at the time, but my life was to experience a series of them for years to come.  Of all the changes in thinking that I have gone through as a result of my experiences, one of most important paradigm shifts that I have had is in respect to my feelings regarding cannabis.

I have always been a big fan of the truth.  One of my favourite lines of any movie comes from Almost Famous when Kate Hudson’s character says, “The truth just sounds different.”  For me, the truth was that most of my life I had a very poor understanding of cannabis in general.  Although I did partake in high school, that all came to a screeching halt one night when a friend shared a joint with me that was unknowingly laced.  That early impression, combined with a few heaping shovels full of “reefer madness” propaganda, put an end to my early pot smoking days.  I think it is important to share where I was coming from.  Cannabis had to overcome my own misconceptions and the only way for it to have ever have done so is to be effective for me medically.  Over time, I was struck with the suffering of others and their stories of how they face life with courage every day.  Also, that medical cannabis had helped them guide their ships through some of the rougher waters of life as well.

As a whole, the topic on cannabis is complex and multifaceted.  Cannabis culture has a variety of influences.  Hard issues, politics, stigmas and personal agendas (both positive and negative), seem to form a an overall impression of the cultural in general and smokers in particular.  For medical users, this can sometimes be a lesson in frustration as they often feel their concerns are lost in the fray and they are stigmatized.  Fortunately, many magazines have arisen that cater to medical patients and allow them to have a voice.

People use cannabis for a variety of reasons.  With respect to recreational users, it is generally used so that someone can get out of their head space for a while and relax.  Comparatively, medical users use cannabis to get back to a state where they can function by easing the side effects of an existing medical issue(s).  To put it simply, it picks me up off the floor… stops me from throwing-up… it eases my suffering in a variety of ways and allows me to spend more quality time with my family.  Trust me, IT IS MEDICINE.  Comparatively, I am on medications that may include side effects such as lymphoma and multiple sclerosis.  After 3 years of using medical cannabis, the largest side effects that I have felt with the medicine is that I smile more, have a better quality of life and often crave potato chips.

My experiences and consequent paradigm shift opened my eyes to many things.  Since being a medical user, I have met doctors, lawyers, teachers, grandparents and a host of others that use cannabis both recreationally and medically.  Many of these people medicate secretly as they are afraid of being stigmatized.  I personally know many teachers in this category.   As examples, I have one friend that uses cannabis to combat her ADD while marking at night.  Another suffers from arthritic pain so badly that sometimes she medicates at night to help her fall asleep and get enough rest for the next day.  With this being said, there is a new wave of information and acceptance sweeping the world in many respects.  The advent of the internet has caused the world to be that much smaller, connected and informed.  As understanding grows, hopefully such wonderful women will feel more comfortable easing their pain.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a young man named Storm.  I later remember him chatting with his friends, a few of whom were wearing UFC t-shirts.  Funny enough, I had trained with Royce Gracie at a conference when I was a kid.  What immediately occurred to me when seeing the t-shirts was how tough these kids were!  Listening to their stories and seeing what kind souls they were, I felt that the shirts had a certain sense of irony.  I knew they were the real fighters and champions.  The difference is that they did not choose their fight.

Seeing young men and woman in pain is heartbreaking.  A holistic child centered approach is needed when considering any aspect of education.  If cannabis can return patients from a state of struggle and pain to a state where they are able to learn and function, then as adults we have a responsibility to open our minds to the possibility that such extreme and exhaustive cases warrant medical cannabis.

As I said, cannabis as a topic is very complex.  When you separate the issues and purely examine the medical aspect, thousands of years of human medical usage across hundreds of cultures provides evidence of it’s medical worth.  The question remains as to what we are going to do with that knowledge and where it will take us.  At the end of the day, does anyone have the right tell someone with cystic fibrosis that they don’t have the right to medicate in order to clear their lungs?  How about someone who is dying of cancer and is in pain?  What if they were only 18?  I have seen it.

These are the real questions of the day.  How would you answer?  When you remove the various external aspects and influences of the cannabis culture and get down to brass tacks, such questions cut to the heart of the matter.  How would being faced with such tough questions shift your paradigm?

Lee Parker

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