"If I take this addictive substance, it will turn me into an addict!" This is a myth I hear all the time from friends, from family, from the TV, and from well-meaning but uninformed health professionals. Despite all they hype and propaganda, both the FDA and the National Institute of Health state that: "Studies have shown that properly managed medical use of opioid analgesic compounds (taken exactly as prescribed) is safe, can manage pain effectively, and rarely causes addiction." (A Guide to Safe Use of Pain Medications, FDA) But for some reason we're all being taught that if you take a nice, church-going housewife and give her oxycontin, she'll turn into a back-alley dealing junkie with a spike in her arm. But this simply isn't true.
A similar dangerous misconception is the idea that increased tolerance is a sign of addiction. That's malarkey too. Bacteria become drug resistant. People with seizures will become drug tolerant and need more of their medication. Many people with depression and anxiety will become tolerant to their SSRIs and have to increase dosage or switch medications or add other medications into the mix. But we don't say that those people have become addicted to their antidepressant. Epileptics aren't addicted to their anti-seizure meds. We don't say that the bacteria is addicted to antibiotics. That's just silly.
Digitalis, or as it's more commonly known---the foxglove---a flower that we grow and use and give to heart patients as a medication. We have also found use of this flower in science: "It is used as a molecular probe to detect DNA or RNA." (Wikipedia) We have been using plants and animals for our own needs since forever. Willow and birch bark are two of the original sources of aspirin. Novocaine, and all the other medications that end with -caine are a plant derivative. Alcohol happens naturally to fruit and grains in the right conditions. Even birds and monkeys get drunk. And yes, sometimes people use these things for recreation. So please, let's look at medical marijuana as exactly that: MEDICAL.
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(With apologies to the Who…) Medication can be a delicate subject with many people. In the U.S., there is the sense that too many pills can make you a “pill head,” something undesirable in a country that believes in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. So when it comes to admitting we need additional help, many people are loathe to admit it. There is also still a good deal of stigma surrounding medications, depending on the type. Pain medication (whether narcotic or not), psychiatric medication, and ADHD medication can call cause the medically uninitiated to raise an eyebrow. But those of us with chronic illness know, “They call it a drug cocktail because the number of pills you have to take can fill a shot glass.” How then can we keep ourselves safe?