Black Health Matters: How Cannabis Can Treat PTSD, Anxiety, and Insomnia In The African-American Community
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Black Americans disproportionately suffer from systematic disparities in the quality of physical and mental healthcare. Expecting better from our health care professionals and educating ourselves about our own health issues are important steps in the right direction
Cannabis can help.
For as long as the topic has been examined, studies have shown that the long-entrenched racial bias in our nation’s policing and justice system is also reflected in the medical industry’s treatment of Black Americans. This hits the African-American (especially rural and inner-city) communities with a double-edged sword: We receive less access or quality of care as a result of systemic socioeconomic inequalities, and we are systematically underdiagnosed or undertreated relative to white Americans for serious issues, such as chronic pain.
In my work as a scientist in cannabinoid-based drug development and medical research, I examine how cannabinoid-based medications can be safe and effective adjuvants or alternatives to the pharmaceuticals that are currently marketed and prescribed. My studies along with others, fueled by unprecedented cooperative efforts among science, academia, and governments around the world, are heralding the real value of this natural medicine. And there has been no better time than now for the Black community to embrace cannabis as a safe and efficacious medicine, within the States that have legalized its use for medicinal purposes.
There is still a stigma among Black Americans about cannabis, which often stems from the police using it as a tool to arrest and imprison millions of Black men over generations. Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite equal use in both groups.
As Lakisha Lenkins, the first elected president of the California Cannabis Industry Association told NBC several years ago. "There’s more of a negative stigma surrounding this industry—the [cannabis] culture and religion [in the black community] plays a heavy factor.” This stigma has been reflected in the dearth of black executives and entrepreneurs in the industry.
The good news is that recent data shows that among the two-thirds of Americans who support cannabis legalization, that support is equally distributed among whites, Blacks, and Hispanics.
This is one consensus that may actually afford us some immediate benefit now, only halfway through a year of historic trauma and disruption. A recent poll by the American Psychiatric Association found that an overwhelming number of Americans (62 percent) across racial lines were experiencing some kind of coronavirus-related anxiety, and nearly 20 percent reported sleep issues.
That poll was taken before the nation and the world became gripped in a cultural revolution stemming from the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It’s no wonder that the FDA recently announced that antidepressant drug Zoloft and its generic counterparts were currently experiencing shortages as a result of the COVID pandemic. And anxiety disorders are already shown to be “understudied, underdiagnosed, and undertreated” in African-Americans.
Cannabis as medicine
There is an increasing body of evidence on the safety and efficacy of cannabis as a potent natural medicine for certain conditions—especially for anxiety, isolation, and chronic pain. Importantly, unlike many of the benzodiazepines, sedatives, and opioids most often prescribed for these conditions, cannabis and hemp are reported to show little to no contraindications with other medications.
Chronic sleep disorders like insomnia are not only major risk factors for patients suffering from chronic pain, neurological disorders (Parkinson's, dementia), mental disorders (anxiety, depression, anorexia) and cardiovascular disease, but it can also cause or worsen a wide array of symptoms and health issues on its own.
Throughout the centuries-long history of cannabis being used for medicinal purposes, cannabis and hemp have been known to be safe and effective for the treatment of pain. Some recent studies have also shown that cannabis treatment has allowed some chronic pain patients, including those with cancer, to decrease or eliminate the use of opioids for pain management.
There are also studies that support the use of hemp and cannabis (particularly with higher doses of CBD) for the management of anxiety. In addition, there is a significant body of reported evidence to support the use of cannabis and hemp/CBD as natural sleep aids. I am proud to be involved in the world’s first clinical validation, under the auspices of a world-class regulatory structure, of clinical trials with results that showed that the particular patent-protected cannabinoid-based medicine used in the trial was safe and effective. This new drug is scheduled to be launched into the marketplace in Q3, 2020.
At the onset of the COVID-19 related shutdowns, cannabis was rightfully deemed “essential” in most of the states with medical marijuana programs, allowing patients the same right to this medicine as any other. There are also many options available through safe and verified hemp-based, CBD-rich products, which became legal nationwide through the 2018 Farm Bill.
As the Black Lives Matter protests continue in the battle to ensure equality for the black, indigenous and peoples of color across all spectrums of American lif—-including our medical treatment—the Black community has the opportunity to lead. We can confront our own cultural aversion to cannabis medicine as legitimate and effective while receiving from our health providers access and information that address our health needs.