Now, let’s talk about cannabis. In this, my very first blog, I reflect on words and consider how we talk about cannabis and how we might change that depending on our audience.

Communication is a key aspect of our daily lives and being aware of our audience, when communicating, is vital. We change our register depending on who we are addressing. With friends, our register is relaxed and informal –we use slang; we banter. When communicating on a more professional level our register changes to a more formal tone and so too does our language and vocabulary choices. This is, indeed, a life skill.

The words that we use help to define us; they are our very thoughts. Words evolve and their meanings change over time. Words have connotations, some positive and some negative –some shared perceptions and some not so. A plant like cannabis can divide opinion because its definition is dependent on each individual’s experience and this can cause judgment –whichever side of the fence we may rest. From the worried parent who blames the plant for the onset of their child’s psychosis to the patient for whom this plant is nothing short of miraculous. But who is correct? Of course, both are.

It seems fair to state that language itself can create a barrier to understanding and can stop us from engaging with information and research that could change ideas and opinions. There is an ever-growing evidence base of research indicating that phytocannabinoids can improve health and wellbeing and treat a number of medical conditions effectively with less harmful side effects and less damage to the body than the well-prescribed synthetic alternatives. How we refer to cannabis and its effects in this context really does matter.

When engaging in discussion with government agencies, businesses, doctors and patients, informal words like ‘pot’ and ‘weed’; ‘high’ and ‘dope’ may trivialise the medicine and its effects –and worse still may lead to stigma and barriers. This can also be the case for patients who want to talk about their choice of treatment with family members.  It seems to be more difficult to enter into serious conversations about health and healing if we use slang words associated with cannabis so perhaps reflecting on our register, in these situations, may help. Pharmaceutical companies know all too well that if a drug is disguised with a product name, doctors and patients may be less likely to question what it actually is. The product that I receive may come with a whole host of side effects printed inside its carton, but this is what I have come to expect. How different it would be if I went to the doctor to ask for opium or heroin for my back pain or if I asked for ‘wobbly eggs’ because I just can’t sleep

Words linked to drug culture are viewed more negatively in the context of health and may even discredit the use of cannabis as a medicine for some. PlantEd Collective member Carly recognises the need to carefully consider the language used in medical consultations –advising patients to use language such as ‘consume cannabis’ rather than ‘use cannabis’ because using terms linked to medicine or food can be more helpful than using language connected with problematic drug use. Saying: ‘when I consume cannabis, my muscle spasms relax,’ could aid discussion without the feeling of stigma. 

The word ‘cannabis’ itself is preferable to ‘weed’ or ‘green’ and stepping away from the terms used in illicit markets may be helpful with medicinal association. Saying: ‘I have replaced three drugs with natural cannabis,’ may help.

Carly goes on to suggest using the term ‘medicate’ instead of ‘take’ or ‘smoke’. Practising doctors can easily relate to the concept that a patient knows when a medicine is due, but the terms ‘smoking’ or ‘taking’ have connotations in recreational activity. An example of approaching this might be: ‘I know I need to medicate when my shoulders and hips feel loose.’

Showing an understanding of how cannabinoids interact with the body is a good way to begin or continue a discussion. Knowing about and referencing the endocannabinoid system, its receptors and its role in homeostasis (bringing everything into balance) can support a patient in opening up conversations.

Finally, Carly suggests swapping the term ‘high’ for ‘medicated’ or ‘relaxed’. If we consider the terminology that a patient consuming prescription medicine might use, rarely would we hear that they are ‘high on painkillers’. A patient might say: ‘If I need to consume extra medicine to treat a symptom, I tend to feel more medicated than usual.’

These terms are not only useful in your GPs surgery or the consultant’s room, they are useful in a range of conversations with a range of people; such a small change can make a huge difference.

Since the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in the U.K on 11th November 2018, many who may not have considered cannabis as a treatment option, have recognised that cannabis-based medicines could be an integral part of their treatment. A survey of over 2,000 GPs found that 61% reported an increase in patients requesting access to medicinal cannabis (Cogora, 2019).   Of course, the red tape that currently exists around NHS medicinal cannabis prescriptions means that many requests are, disappointingly, dismissed from the beginning. Could the language we use contribute to this dismissal at some level? Could this be because it isn’t yet wrapped up in brand names? At PlantEd Collective, we do not disregard the pharamaceuticalisation of natural medicine but we do wonder if this contributes to such conversations being rooted in stigma.  At the moment, in the land of cannabis pharmaceuticals, we have Sativex or Epidolex. Both these products are cannabis derived yet both distinct in that one is medicine for multiple sclerosis, the other medicine for certain types of epilepsy. These are universally accepted. Could the reason why ‘cannabis’ is not accepted be because it still bears its ‘drug name’?

Certainly, from a business perspective, the language used around cannabis is significantly different to the language we may use on the street. PlantEd Collective member Jade is often asked whether the CBD rich hemp-based products that she retails will cause customers to feel ‘high’. Jade’s response is that they might make you feel more relaxed. There has been a shift in thinking about the credibility of cannabis as a medicine and as a health supplement as its popularilty surges. Much of this is achieved through language – how we say things and the vocabulary that we use: our understanding of register. We can empower ourselves and empower the medicine that is cannabis by adapting our register for our audience.

One of the aims of PlantEd Collective is to create dialogue around cannabis and cannabinoid therapies. Each one of us has a relationship with this wonderful plant and we would like to learn more, to share our knowledge, and to grow together. And this, my dear friends, is what we shall do!

In my next blog, I’ll be writing about how humans and cannabis plants aren’t all that different!

  • Luzita Hill
    Posted at 17:52h, 09 November Reply

    Beautifully said and great advice to move forward talking to OUR medical teams, our medics are there to help us live well, whatever our choices are for our diagnosis
    #CancerCriminal #LivingTrials

  • Michael
    Posted at 05:54h, 03 December Reply

    How will PlantEd Collective help break the information barrier between plant and people in the U.K.?

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