In reporting on the latest round of activity on S.25, a bill dealing with some details relating to the rollout of Vermont's commercial cannabis market, VT Digger quoted Clarendon Representative Arthur Peterson as saying, “I think this offers a good way for towns to protect themselves from the encroachment of the cannabis industry. And we’re not talking about corn and soybeans. As you all know, cannabis has THC in it, which is a dangerous drug.”
I think Rep. Peterson has a dangerously distorted view of THC, and so wrote him this letter in response:
Dear Rep. Peterson,
I have a lot of experience with THC-cannabis. For one thing I’m allergic to alcohol, so it’s been my recreational substance of choice. But to be honest, that’s been the least important part of my relationship to the plant. It’s also been a tremendously valuable medicine for me. It’s helped me with everyday issues like menstrual cramps, headaches, insomnia, and mood elevation.
But even more importantly, 5 years ago I ended up in the hospital with a burst appendix and sepsis. I was in the hospital for 2 weeks and then spent months in recovery.
In fact, I spent years in recovery due to an undiagnosed incisional hernia, which only got repaired this past December, and from which I’m still healing.
When I was first released from the hospital, I was on a host of opioid pain meds, for which I got no instructions whatsoever (other than how much to take and how frequently to take it). I ended up with horrific side effects and spent 2 solid weeks in withdrawal trying to get off them.
I was incredibly fortunate to be able to take the time to lie there and suffer what felt like a complete cellular revolt. It was like the worst flu you’ve ever had. Nonstop whole body pain. If I’d had kids or a job, I have no idea what I would have done - other than go back on the pain meds and hope to be able to get off them later - which I have no doubt would have been an even worse path.
Cannabis has helped me deal with all the physical and emotional pain from my surgeries, as well as all the aches and tweaks and nausea and exhaustion which comes from massive abdominal disruption. And never, once, have I felt in any danger or had any side effects the way I did with opioids.
About 18 months into my recovery, I took a job with the cannabis media and events company Heady Vermont. I thought it would be fun, but I didn’t know how educational it would be as well.
I don’t care whether or not someone is interested in partaking in cannabis. I have friends who don’t like it or don’t react well to it. That’s fine. Everyone is different and I’m not out to convince people to use it. I just don't want anyone to fear it.
I spent a lot of time reading and writing about the history of cannabis, its use as a medicine, and the tragic, truly heartbreaking political history of prohibition - none of which I knew going into the job.
What I want to share with you is what I learned about exactly why THC isn’t dangerous. And let me be clear, I don’t care whether or not someone is interested in partaking in cannabis. I have friends who don’t like it or don’t react well to it. That’s fine. Everyone is different and I’m not out to convince people to use it. I just don't want anyone to fear it.
The first thing you should know is that, technically, you can’t overdose on cannabis at all – meaning that no matter how much you consume, in any form, it’s not going to kill you the way overdosing on, say, heroin or oxycontin will.
This is because the neurological receptors for cannabinoids aren’t located in the part of the brainstem (the medulla oblongata) which controls breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. So, you can’t consume too much cannabis and have it stop your heart or your breathing.
It turns out there’s technical terminology for all this. The LD50 (LD for Lethal Dose) is the amount of a drug that would kill half (50%) of any given population. The ED50 (ED for Effective Dose) is the amount of a drug which works well for 50% of any given population.
The formula behind this is basically that the closer the ED50 and the LD50 are for any given drug, the easier it is to kill yourself with it.
Alcohol has an LD50 of 10 drinks and an ED50 of 1 drink. At 10:1, you can understand why so many people get alcohol poisoning. The ratio for heroin is a very tight 5:1. Not a lot of wiggle room.
However, the ratio for cannabis is about 40,000:1. This is why nobody dies from cannabis. Of course, some folks who have a propensity towards mental illness should not consume cannabis, but that’s a very small percentage of the population, and doesn’t make THC dangerous across the board.
And yes, it is possible to consume so much you don’t feel well and get disoriented, confused, and paranoid. It’s happened to me, and many people, and the public definitely needs to be educated about consumption. But that’s a different thing entirely from someone’s life being endangered by the amount they’ve consumed.
People die from overdosing on many different kinds of medications. But the reality is that they don’t die from cannabis.
Also, since the mid-1800s, there have been at least half a dozen government-commissioned scientific studies on whether or not cannabis is dangerous. One of the most recent was the Shafer Commission, appointed by the Nixon administration.
Every single time, each study concluded that cannabis isn’t dangerous. Every single time - including the Shafer Commission which said, cannabis did not "cause widespread danger to society." And every single time, the relevant governmental body ignored the report and declared cannabis dangerous anyway.
Now you may ask why cannabis was labeled a Schedule 1 narcotic - a "ranking reserved for drugs with the greatest potential for abuse and with no medicinal value." Well, that was an entirely political move in 1972 by President Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell, and deeply connected to systemic racism and the wielding of political power.
In fact, int he U.S., much of the opposition to legal cannabis stems from systemic racism. Historian Martin Lee, author of Smoke Signals: A Social History Of Marijuana explains that,“In segregated America newspapers were saying, "this stuff makes white women and black men have sex.”
While cannabis might make someone more inclined to have sex, and make sex more fun (a fact to which I'm happy to testify), it does not lead to anyone's corruption or degradation. And if miscegenation is something you truly fear, you've got far bigger problems on your hands than cannabis.
The truth is that THC-cannabis has very few safety issues and broad medicinal value. It’s used to treat the symptoms of everything from cancer to MS to pain to PTSD — and we’re learning more about its capacities all the time. The federal government actually holds a patent (Patent #6,630,507) on the medicinal value of cannabis.
And clearly, during the pandemic, medical cannabis was so important to the people who take it that dispensaries were considered essential businesses.
So, like I said, I don’t care if someone doesn’t want to consume cannabis. Even if I weren’t allergic to alcohol, I wouldn’t drink it because I don’t like how it tastes and I don’t like how it makes me feel.
But it makes me sad that you, or anyone else would think it’s dangerous. There are so many things in the world to truly fear, but THC isn’t one of them.
Thanks again for your time and I wish you all the best.
Brain anatomy image courtesy of scienceabc.com