In March 2016, I published an article on this blog entitled “May the Force Be With You: The Dark Side of Pharmaceuticals and the Green Light of Cannabis.” The article focused on a Finnish study (2015) conducted on 959 convicted murderers to examine the hypothesis that pharmaceutical antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anxiolytics may have caused an increase in suicides and committed murders by the patients who take them.1
However, study results showed that the risk of committing murder with the use of antidepressants increased only slightly (little more with the use of antipsychotics). What was unexpected and surprising was a significant increase of murders under the influence of pain medications (opioid, non-opioid) and benzodiazepines.
In addition, another double-blind placebo controlled study from Ohio State University (2016) researchers discovered that the common pain killer acetaminophen (taken by a quarter of the U.S. population) didn’t just stop pain but killed empathy as well.2
Without empathy for another persons pain behavior can more easily become antisocial, sociopathic, and even psychopathic.
Based on these studies and the research I have done for the book “The Cannabis Health Index,” pain, especially chronic pain (the type that just won’t go away, or returns in different forms) tends to have a potent mind-body component to it.
While wanting to end physical pain is understandable and necessary, suppressing or repressing physical pain without actually healing the mental, emotional, or spiritual roots is merely a bandaid approach to dealing with chronic issues.
The original injury may have resulted in a deep betrayal or humiliation that cut into the depth of the psyche. Perhaps it was torn open by a sense of profound separation from the source of all life (by whatever definition you hold dear). Or maybe it occurred after seeing something, or even doing something, that took away part of your humanity, something that separated you from your core, your soul, or spirit.
These pains often lodge deep in specific spots or seem to wander about like ghosts from one area of the body to another. Other times people may be so hurt that they want to get rid of the experience of pain so much so that they are inflicting it on others in futile attempts to be free of it themselves.
Although taking pain killers to deal with chronic pain in the body may help in the moment (and we all need that band-aid sometimes), it will not work in the long-run. If the underlying issues are not dealt with, pain may return with a vengeance.
For complete healing, not just managing symptoms, changes need to happen on all levels.
The problem with pharmaceutical pain medications (opioid, non-opioid) and benzodiazepines alike is that they designed to numb our experience rather than to reveal underlying causes.
Now, let’s contrast that with the cannabis-experience. What are researchers reporting here?
One study examining the effects of Medial Marijuana Legalization (MML) on murder rates following legalization (2014) revealed a drop in homicides, rape, as well as other violent crimes in general.3
Furthermore, as early as 1970 a researcher noted that the cannabis-experience enhances empathy, connection, and insight which would contribute to reductions in violent crime.4
Based on these findings it would appear that cannabis, unlike pharmaceutical pain medications, can at once function as an ally that melts away our stress while inducing deep relaxation. It can act as a friend that holds our hand and makes otherwise intolerable emotional material acceptable, and as a therapist that opens the door to deeper healing by offering new perspectives and healthier choices.
1 Tiihonen J, Lehti M, Aaltonen M, et al. Psychotropic drugs and homicide: A prospective cohort study from Finland. World Psychiatry. 2015;14(2):245-247.
2 Jennifer Crocker and Baldwin M. Way. From Painkiller to Empathy Killer: Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) Reduces Empathy for Pain. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci (2016)
3 Robert G. Morris, Michael TenEyck, J. C. Barnes, Tomislav V. Kovandzic. The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data, 1990-2006. PLoS ONE 9(3): e92816.
4 Tart, Charles T. Marijuana Intoxication: Common Experiences. Nature, Vol 226(5247), May 1970, 701-704.