• Emma

Pot, Essential oils and Guinea pigs? A wandering response to a question about Alternative medicine

“What are your opinions on "alternative" forms of medication to assist with therapy (aroma therapy, essential oils, LSD/ecstasy, marijuana etc.)?”

First, a Disclaimer: I’m not a Doctor, a pharmaceutical representative, a Young Living Representative, or a supplement researcher. My primary focus is to help people find the resources (both external and inside themselves) to help them live lives that are purposeful, joyful, and connected with others.

For me to answer this question I have to acknowledge my worldview: I think that often in our culture people say their life goal is “To Be Happy” but when they say that they are really saying “I want to feel good most of the time, if I’m not feeling good, something must be wrong and I need to make that go away.” In my opinion a really good life involves lots of different emotions. Loving people means you’re going to hurt for them sometimes. Having purpose in your life means you’re going to struggle for something, fight for something, work for something. A good life doesn’t always feel good.

Now I’m not saying that people should just accept being miserable and deal with it, instead I’m saying look out for avoidance of emotions that leads to more suffering.

Now there are different worldviews out there and I’m ok with the fact that many people won’t agree with me. That being said, the opinion that follows is based on my life perspective. Two main ideas:

  1. When it comes to medications/supplements I tend to be in favor of anything that helps people develop the skills and resources to face and resolve problems. I’m not generally in favor of things that promote long-term avoidance.

Avoidance promoting drugs can include FDA approved medications like Benzodiazepines (ie Xanex) which temporarily relieve the symptoms of Anxiety, but don’t treat the underlying problem. These can be helpful in the short term but harmful in the long term.

As far as Weed goes… I’ve worked with a lot of people who don’t think that Pot use is a problem for them, and some who use it and think it’s harmful. But the biggest problems I see with people who consistently use Marijuana has to do with how it affects their relationships. The people around them are often affected. Check out this Humans of New York story:

Basically we are supposed to have feelings of worry or sadness when there are resolvable problems in our lives, so making those feelings go away doesn’t usually make our lives better in the long run. Usually when I hear of someone who “Self-medicates” it usually means “avoids” and I believe avoidance makes us sick. As far as Marijuana goes, I don’t recommend it, but I don’t spend much time fighting it either, I focus on helping people make their lives good.

So when a client asks me about a drug, pharmaceutical or otherwise, I ask them about what they want to get out of it. Will it help them feel better? Will it help them live better? The second question matters more to me, but as always it is their life and their choice.

2. Do we know that it’s safe? I only recommend things that have been rigorously tested for safety.

I work with quite a few people who decline to use pharmaceuticals but are trying out some supplement that claims to help with mental health. And of course each person can choose what they want to do with their body and test out what works for them, I just don’t love the idea of each person being a guinea pig for their own clinical trial.

I have a big beef with the argument that “natural supplements” are safe and medication is not. Natural does not equal safe and any medication that has been approved by the FDA has undergone years and years of study for safety (I know, it’s no guarantee but it’s better than no testing). Arsenic, Lead, Snake Venom, are all examples of 100% natural substances that will harm or kill you. Same thing goes with the idea of “Chemicals” when I hear people say “I clean with vinegar and baking soda instead of harmful chemicals” I have to bite my tongue because every, every, every, every, substance is a “chemical”.

Here’s an example of a homeopathic cure that may be harmful, Teething Tablets. A lot of parents (myself included) got caught up into thinking that if it's natural, it's probably better for our kids than Tylenol or something. Well, it turns out that the tablets aren't regulated and many kids have probably been hurt or killed by them. While the connection isn’t proven, the reality is that there isn’t good research to know whether they are safe or not.

I would like to see things like Marijuana undergo more research, I think it holds some promise for medicinal use, but we lack good evidence on the benefits and harms. We don’t even have a universal way to identify the various species of the plant that each supposedly perform different roles (If you listen to the people selling it at pot shops where it’s legal they will tell you that some strains help calm you down and others give you more energy, some help with appetite and others decrease appetite, etc.)

I don’t know enough about LSD/ecstasy other than the bad stuff. I can’t really say that I’d like to see more research there, but I’m honestly uninformed about any benefits. I’ve worked with a lot of kids who have been messed up by that stuff.

Aroma therapy-I have no problem with it, I’ve used it with a client or two…

Essential Oils- I think can be helpful and are usually harmless except for when the people selling them make extraordinary claims and promises (I’ve heard everything from cures cancer to cures depression to cures Multiple Sclerosis-and if this were backed by solid evidence, I would believe it) . If people say "I use them because I like them" I think that's great. If people try to back up their claims with pseudo science, I am a little less enthusiastic.

As far as other alternative forms of medicine go-if they aren't harmful, why not try them. But if you don't know how they will affect you- proceed with caution.

Soon I’m going to write another post about some supplements/vitamins that have been shown by research to benefit mental health. These include Vitamin B (especially B12), Magnesium, Omega 3 (Fish Oil), Sunlight/UV light, etc.

Regardless, you really should ask a Doctor before you add supplements or vitamins to your diet-even something as simple as too much Calcium can affect your mental health.

Anyway, there's my two bits...hope it's helpful!

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