Although marijuana is currently illegal in Oklahoma, some students at OU use the plant as a form of medicine to fight different ailments they struggle with on a daily basis. While marijuana has been legalized in the neighboring state of Colorado, a debate still rages in Oklahoma over whether or not to legalize it.
Various Oklahoma-based groups like Oklahomans for Health have been waging a campaign to have marijuana legalized in the state. Oklahomans for Health wants marijuana to be legalized for medicinal use, giving citizens another choice in how they address their medical issues. The group also filed an initiative petition April 11 to begin obtaining signatures to put the proposal on the November ballot.
Sunil Kumar Aggarwal, a physician-scientist and adviser to the Oklahomans for Health initiative, said he believes marijuana has healing properties that can help people with some medical ailments. Aggarwal is a native Oklahoman who also identifies himself as a “cannabinologist” on his website.
Aggarwal said he studies the cannabis hemp plant and works to further cannabinology of all kinds, including integrative medical cannabinology. He wants to help people in need of the plant for its healing properties, such as Oliver White, a biology junior at OU.
White said he feels marijuana helps him greatly with his sleep apnea. He said he has been suffering from sleep apnea since his childhood and that marijuana has been the most effective treatment to date.
“I felt that marijuana calmed me down better and made me relax a lot more than over-the-counter drugs,” White said. “It was more effective than melatonin or other drugs.”
White said he continues to do research on the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and that he has yet to be negatively affected by it.
The Drug Enforcement Agency has announced it’s reviewing how to classify marijuana, and a change could loosen restrictions on researchers. In 2013, CNN health reporter Sanjay Gupta found that just 6 percent of marijuana studies in the United States focus on the medical benefits of the substance, with the rest focusing on harm.
Economics senior Dave Smith said marijuana is more effective at easing his pain than prescription drugs.
“Marijuana helps to numb my pain,” Smith said. “I would really like it to be legalized here. Not for recreational purposes, but for medical purposes, yes. Just like any other drug, it has its uses.”
Aggarwal has spoken about how marijuana’s illegality in Oklahoma has impacted the way people perceive it. According to Aggarwal, marijuana has been used medicinally throughout history and has been unfairly branded with a negative stigma through politics and ignorance of the subject.
“Cannabis (or marijuana) is a traditional medicinal plant that’s been around since before recorded history, and we know that people have been using it for medicinal purposes,” Aggarwal said. “I looked into a lot of medicinal history and a lot of geographic history for where it was used and when it was used. I found out was there was a big discovery in the early ’90s where the endocannabinoid signaling system was discovered.”
Aggarwal said the discovery was a breakthrough in understanding how the natural compounds in marijuana interact with the human body.
He said the endocannabinoid signaling system plays an important role in regulating physiological functions, including mood, appetite, inflammation and pain perception.
Aggarwal said finding out the signaling system’s involvement in so many things helped validate a lot of the traditional understandings of cannabis resin as having medicinal qualities. He said he found cannabis can have a positive effect on some of these functions in helping to treat illnesses like anxiety, depression, nerve pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and a multitude of other ailments.
In the end, Aggarwal said he hopes campaigns like Oklahomans for Health achieve their goal of medicinal marijuana legalization to help citizens in need of the plant’s properties. Aggarwal said that with the correct supervision of a physician, marijuana is one of the safer options available to treat certain illnesses and symptoms.