Patients and Self-Medication with Cannabis


When I first started my research I found it difficult to convince some of my friends that medical cannabis was a bona fide research subject. It was even more difficult to talk about my research to strangers. I did not help the situation as  I always felt compelled to lower my voice and talk in hush tones when discussing my research.  I would some times get strange looks or the nudge, nudge, wink, wink, response which implied I might have a certain unhealthy interest in  recreational cannabis. It did not take long before it became obvious that I might have to change tactic.

After a while, I thought it might be a good idea to deflect connotations about recreational cannabis and talk about cannabinoids instead. After all cannabinoids were the active therapeutic ingredients in cannabis. This did not fare better as people glazed over as I spent too much time explaining the difference between  non psychoactive CBD (cannabidiol) and  psychoactive THC (tetrahydocannabinol).I even thought it might be a good idea to introduce people to the endocannabinoid system, as surely this will help to  differentiate between recreational and medicial cannabis use. Wrong. This complicated the issue as I was once accused of making up the endocannabinoid system.

I found I talked less and less about my research. Until, one day, some one asked me who the medical cannabis patient was?  How was the medical cannabis patient different from the recreational cannabis user? It dawned on me that people could conceive of the recreational user, albeit this might be the stereotype cannabis user shaped by the reefer madness narrative, however the notion of the medical cannabis patient was ambiguous.  I had an aha moment as I realised the patient was missing from the story. How could I talk about medical cannabis without drawing a vivid picture of the medical cannabis patient?

This quest helped to shape my research as I began my journey of discovery with three questions.

  • Who was the medical cannabis patient?
  • What was their story?
  • What can we learn from the patient story?

Research involves a complex network of relationships of ideas, and people and often times certain ideas seem to develop their own momentum. This seemed to be the case, as shortly after I posed the questions, I noticed my facebook friends started sharing medical cannabis patient stories from You Tube. The sheer quantity of patient stories on You Tube was daunting at first. How was I going to sort and  select the right patient stories? How should I categorise the stories? The volume and richness of this archive including  user comments made the depository an attractive research source. However, the data collection and analysis created a project outside the scope of my thesis. (one which I hope to return to at a later date) I decided to choose a few case studies and concentrate on the close reading, analysis and interpretation of the patient story. This approach fitted the research scope and methodology.