From Chiropractic to Medical Pot, Change Comes Hard in Medicine

Western medicine is a curious beast. It claims to be better than any of the alternatives, and yet it falls down in so many areas. At the top of the list is Western medicine’s unwillingness to change. As we have seen over the years in everything from chiropractic to medical pot, change comes hard in Western medicine.

I admit to not being a proponent of fully legalized marijuana. I am no more in favor of recreational marijuana use than I am alcohol consumption. That is just the conservative side of me. But I am fully on board with the idea of medical marijuana. Our healthcare system is now just starting to catch up thanks to decades of effort among medical marijuana proponents.

The Clinical Evidence Issue

So what is it with medical marijuana and Western medicine’s reluctance? I think it is more about clinical evidence than anything else. Let us explore that idea by going back to the 1970s. Back then, chiropractors were considered quacks. Chiropractic wasn’t recognized as a legitimate form of medicine by most in the U.S. healthcare system.

As a 12-year-old delivering newspapers in 1977, one of the stops on my afternoon route was a chiropractic office. Even at that age I was fascinated by the idea of chiropractic as an alternative form of medicine. I had several good discussions with a doctor who frequently lamented the fact that his chosen profession was looked down upon by most of his colleagues.

What was the issue? A lack of clinical evidence proving chiropractic’s efficacy. Most doctors did not want to accept anecdotal evidence. Moreover, they were concerned about chiropractic’s links to Eastern medicine. If you know anything about our healthcare system, you know how much suspicion there is about eastern practices.

Fortunately, Western medicine eventually caught up with chiropractic. Today it is a recognized form of medicine fully supported by the healthcare industry and insurance companies. Is medical marijuana heading in the same direction?

A Lot Like Regenerative Medicine

As I see it, medical marijuana is a lot like regenerative medicine. Both are still viewed skeptically by large swaths of the American healthcare system. Slowly but surely though, they are gaining acceptance among clinicians and researchers alike.

Both are also considered alternative therapies. For example, medical marijuana is an alternative therapy for treating chronic pain. You might have a Utah patient who purchases medical cannabis from Salt Lake City’s Beehive Farmacy. She uses medical cannabis as an alternative to prescription narcotics. According to Beehive, this sort of thing is pretty common.

On the other side of town, another patient visits his doctor to talk about platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections as a potential treatment for arthritis pain. PRP therapy is an alternative to prescription narcotics and joint replacement surgery.

Both patients have been given the opportunity to try traditional therapies. Both have ultimately opted for an alternative therapy instead. In my view, they should have that choice. But Western medicine doesn’t always agree. Sometimes it needs to be forced into recognizing alternative therapies and a patient’s right to choose them.

The Nature of the Beast

Being resistant to change is just the nature of the beast in Western medicine. Strangely, such resistance is not limited to therapies, drugs, and medical devices alone.

Even the transition from paper to digital health records has been a struggle. Something other industries mastered years ago still hasn’t been fully implemented in our healthcare system. The resistance to change is largely responsible.

Change comes hard in Western medicine. I know of no reasonable explanation. But I do know that’s the way it is.