When addressing medical marijuana, one can never get far away from pain. It's the No. 1 reason for medical marijuana recommendations.
Pain is the No. 1 reason anybody seeks medical aid. The source of that pain could be anything from sore joints to cancer to hemorrhoids, but pain is the motivator. So it should be no surprise that pain is the primary reason that people use medical marijuana.
There is no one way that people use the plant for pain. Some smoke or vape it. Others use edibles. And some use topicals that are rubbed directly onto a painful area of the body.
Topicals are the first choice of a local woman who goes by the name of Chocolate Cherri in the marijuana arena. Cherri has been around the medical marijuana scene, although she says she has little desire to get high. Cherri has published a cookbook with recipes for how to make infused butter and oil, along with recipes for the infusions. She also makes ointments and creams for topical use.
"When you rub it on, you don't have the high," Cherri says.
Cherri is a very private person and doesn't talk about the condition that she uses medical marijuana for, although she has mentioned rubbing the cream on her feet. That's not the only area she medicates.
"The thing about using it is, as I go through the day, I notice that I've straightened out a little more," she says. "My lower extremities are shot. My feet tend to go outwards. When I'm having less pain, my feet are more straight. I can tell in my movements."
She's also talked about anti-inflammatory ingredients in her recipes in addition to marijuana's cannabinoids, although she won't say what those ingredients are. A lot of people who make medical marijuana applications take a proprietary approach to their recipes. In a future legalized arena, some of these might be very valuable.
"I add in other herbs for relief," Cherri says. "I took an herbal medicine course. There are different herbs for relief. I took a course to get a better insight. The stuff I make has about 17 different ingredients — including anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving ingredients."
That would be in addition to the anti-inflammatory and pain reliving effects of the THC and CBD in marijuana. Some of those ingredients are quite expensive, so her supply can vary based on the availability of marijuana and on how much money she has for the other ingredients. She does have a version with as few as seven ingredients in it.
Cherri has shared her creams and oils with others, but she's not trying to make it into a major operation. And when her ingredients are scarce, she keeps it for her own use.
"This month I must have had five people calling asking for ointments," Cherri says. "Right now all I have is for me. You'd be surprised at the money that they offer me."
It's not so surprising when you consider this: A 5-ounce container of Kate Somerville Deep Tissue Repair cream that includes hemp seed goes for $500. Hemp seed isn't one of the major ingredients, but the cost of all those other ingredients can add up. Cherri says that some of the herbs she uses cost more than the marijuana.
Cannabis Basics, a Seattle-based company, sells a line of topicals for arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, skin soothing, and massage. In addition to cannabinoids, the products include things such as eucalyptus, lavender, arnica, and aloe. So it's not just a matter of adding marijuana to oil and rubbing it on your skin.
The original Rick Simpson Oil was developed to treat skin cancer. Simpson Oil is a concentrate of cannabinoids, mostly THC, which many people are using to treat various cancers. Even the National Institutes of Health agrees that THC and CBD have tumor-shrinking properties.
But let's get back to pain. Rubbing marijuana-infused creams and ointments directly on a painful area can help without the high. Unfortunately, topicals are not widely available. Although if you have a medical marijuana card and check out enough dispensaries, you can find them.
The bottom line here — again — is that folks are still working out how to use cannabis in different ways. Sometimes it can work well alone. Sometimes it works better in combination with other things.
"I have a medication from the pharmacy, an opioid in a cream form," Cherri says. "I used that ointment one time. Two days later, I used my own ointment. I got the same level of relief. So I blended them and it was better than either of them alone."
It takes a little education, a little experimentation and a little chutzpah to get there.
Is marijuana a partisan issue? In Michigan, marijuana activists who deal with state politicians have pretty much said no to that question. At least that has been the case in efforts to lobby the state legislature.
That makes sense. Even though marijuana legalization tips in all directions at the grassroots level, when it comes to government and politicians, the issue leans more Democrat than Republican. And since the Michigan Legislature has been solidly in Republican hands for years, the issue has to be played as bipartisan. There's no other way to approach it.
But when you look at it practically, the Republican state legislature has done nothing positive for marijuana. In the case of medical marijuana, it has done nothing to aid the application of the law and has done nothing to aid the development of the industry.
The legislature even passed a law this spring that specifically kept the petition initiative to legalize recreational use of marijuana off the November ballot by limiting how signatures are counted.
When it comes to the War on Drugs, Republicans own it — starting with President Richard Nixon.
This year's national party platforms for the presidential elections show the same thinking. The Republican platform committee voted down endorsing medical marijuana, and the question of recreational marijuana was never addressed.
On the Democratic side, candidate Bernie Sanders, who supported full legalization in his campaign, managed to push the party platform to support rescheduling marijuana — even though he lost the nomination. Rescheduling marijuana implicitly admits that it does have accepted medical uses. The Democratic platform also calls for a "reasoned pathway to future legalization." That's about as indefinite a statement as you can get, but it does include the word "legalization."
This is a hump year for marijuana activists. A handful of states will vote on legalization, and as long as one of the winners is California, it will be considered a successful season.
If the Drug Enforcement Agency reschedules marijuana from Schedule 1, the worst classification, it will be a watershed moment. The DEA said earlier this year that it would make a decision on rescheduling in the first half of the year. We've just passed that deadline, and if a decision has been made, nobody has publicly announced it. It's all fraught with politics and perceptions at the moment.
If Hillary Clinton wins the election, it at least leaves the door open for legalization. Apparently Donald Trump's vision of a great America does not include marijuana.
After three presidents in a row who were known to smoke marijuana, we're looking at two major party candidates who both say they never tried it. That's fine. Marijuana is not for everybody.
But when it comes to political party orientation, the evidence says that pot is a very partisan issue.