Cannabis is a medicinal plant, an herbal remedy to relieve symptoms or treat various diseases. In some U.S. states, marijuana is legal for treating specific health problems, but not at the federal level.
Arizona is one of more than 30 US states where marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes. Aari Ruben lives in Arizona. Ruben is an advocate for marijuana legalization, drug policy reform and human rights. Ruben opened a medical marijuana dispensary, Desert Bloom Re-Leaf Center in Tucson.
“When I was first exposed to cannabis, it was a social or recreational activity. As time went on and I became more familiar with cannabis and different strains and different effects, I became aware that there were medical uses, Ruben says. I believe the primary medical uses were in regard to treatment of cancer at that time,” says Ruben. “There was a lot of anecdotal evidence that cannabis was effective in treating cancer. As time went on, I began to do my own research and discovered that cannabis had a wide array of uses. Because of prohibition, the genetics, which are diverse, had been primarily bred for THC. And there were other potential medical benefits that could be gained by using land restraints or original genetic strains of cannabis to do new breeding projects with different focus.”
Ruben says his dispensary provides people living with ailments different options for their health. He says he is proud to be able to provide alternative medicine to patients in need.
“It gives people hope,” he says.
Desert Bloom Re-Leaf Center operates in a 365 square-meter storefront where people with a medical card can purchase concentrates, topical tinctures and a variety of edibles. There is also a production site with a head grower and chemist who monitor products for quality assurance.
Prior to opening the dispensary, Ruben worked as an administrator for a pain management and mental health clinic that treated people with opioids.
“My experience was that those medicines create dependence and addictive behaviors in a large number of people. Patients get on opiates because of some type of injury or operation. They're on well controlled prescribed amounts of opiates, and through the course of treatment those doses are increased because of their developing a tolerance and needing more medication to achieve the desired analgesic effect. And you know, at some point, the doctor has a responsibility to the patient and to the system that exists and that patients tend to get cut off or not allowed to increase their dose further, and that's when problems start to arise. The medications themselves are extremely effective. We absolutely need them for surgery and for immediate emergent situations. However, they don't seem to be a good alternative for most individuals for long term use. The toxic effects seem to outweigh the benefits.”
California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, in 1996. Since then, more than half of U.S. states have done so. Ruben says support continues to increase in the United States for the legalization of cannabis.
“There's more support for the legalization of marijuana than there has ever been. The last time that we were close to this amount of the voting populace in support was in the mid-70s. And we've surpassed the amount of people that support legalization of marijuana. The support for medical uses is at an all-time high, and I believe to be in the 80 or 90 percent range in terms of adults that support people having safe legal access to medical marijuana for reasonable medical use,” says Ruben.
Although the federal government hasn’t given its approval to marijuana for medicinal use, it has signed off on three related compounds (cannabinoid, dronabinol or nabilone) as specific treatments.
Ruben says new customers may come to his shop with very little information from their physician. And prescribing the best treatment for customers can be trial and error, but he says cannabis has a high safety profile.
“We experiment and do our trial and error process with individuals with a high degree of security and confidence that nothing bad is going to happen to them, that we can navigate that safely and find what works for them, and use that information then to help others with similar circumstances. And so that to me is fascinating and one of the most interesting parts of my job, matching up the right plants with the right people, which happens organically over time.”