Cannabis Language Has Power: Medicated or High

Randy Robinson January 8, 2019 0 comments

We use language to separate acceptable from non-acceptable use of medicine. Medicated. High. Are these different words for the same thing?

You’ll hear some people say that they are “medicated” versus “high.” The former is a new word in our lexicon.  And the binary always fascinates me, because it suggests there’s some difference between the psychoactivity associated with a medicine as opposed to psychoactivity that comes from anything else. There isn’t.

For example, how is getting high from oxycontin different from getting high off heroin? They’re both opioids. They’re both highly addictive, and they can both produce cardiac arrest out of nowhere. Yet we tend to use the word “high” for something like heroin, and “medicated” for something like oxycontin.

cannabis, opioids, legalization, marijuana, Anslinger, Mexico, USA, language, advocacy, medical cannabis

Medicated is Too Clinical and High is Too ‘Street Level’

From what I’ve gathered, “high” is the word we use when we’re referring to something used “recreationally.” We get high from snorting cocaine. We get high from smoking cannabis. Yet we also use “high” when referring to healthy activities. Things like the “runner’s high” when exercising or the “high” we experience after a knockout session of lovemaking. “I’m high on life” is a common expression for saying we’re feeling like we’re on top of the world. So “high” doesn’t always have negative connotations.

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“Medicated,” on the other hand, keeps the cannabis “high” in a more sterile, acceptable context. If we’re smoking a joint to relieve our arthritis pain, telling people we feel “high” may make them think that’s all we’re really doing, that we’re just trying to get blitzed while abusing medical terminology to sound legit.

Here’s the thing though: the intoxicating or psychoactive effects of any pharmaceutical is part of its medicinal value.

Example: you break your leg. The doctor prescribes Vicodin so you aren’t screaming in agony for the next two weeks. The Vicodin relieves the pain sensation, but it also gets you high. Or medicated. Whatever. Either way, you’re floating on cloud nine, and you’re feeling so, so very fine. And that’s a good thing.

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Medicated for Pain and Mood?

Pain – which is what most medical cannabis patients claim they take cannabis for – has some serious health effects on the mind and body. Experiencing pain causes stress, which increases inflammation throughout the entire body, not just the area where the pain is localized. Stress releases hormones like cortisol, which, when the pain is chronic, becomes a toxin. Cortisol can lead to weight gain, cardiovascular issues, hormonal imbalances, and mood swings that would make Connor McGregor look like a choir boy.

When we get high from painkillers, that’s not just some pleasant side effect. It’s an essential part of the medical regimen. Getting high counteracts the effects of stress caused by the pain.

With the “high” versus “medicated” debate, I totally get where the controversy comes from. But I think a better approach would be for all of us to change our perceptions about intoxication related to medicine.

Getting high isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it’s applied correctly. It only becomes a problem when that’s all we’re concerned with. That’s when the medicine becomes an addiction, which is a disease state in and of itself.

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Drugs? Or Meds?

I wrestle with this one myself, as I’m sure all cannabis writers do. We may switch between the terms as a matter of convenience – wholly dependent on the subject matter we’re covering – but since I deeply believe words have power, we need to assess what these mean and how they function, too.

First, “drug” versus “medicine.” Personally, I think it’s a moot point between these two. Medical doctors use the terms “drug” and “medicine” interchangeably when referring to pharmaceuticals. “Drug,” however, carries more negative connotations than “medicine.” “Drug” is often used to describe illicit substances like crack and heroin, which may have severely limited medical value but are too addictive and too deadly to consider medicines.

“Medicine,” on the other hand, rarely carries negative connotations (unless you were raised by a guardian with Munchhausen syndrome). Besides indicating healing properties, “medicine” in indigenous cultures also refers to the ephemera, to spirits, which is kind of cool, yeah?

On the “drug” issue, I’d say whether we should use the word or not depends on who’s using it how. If we hear a prohibitionist referring to cannabis as a “drug,” then we already know what they’re doing: they’re associating a plant with proven medicinal properties with less savory substances like heroin. But if advocates use the term, we’re using it the same way doctors do.

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Are We Users? Patients? Or Consumers?

“User” is a loaded term. Let’s not even beat around that bush. When referring to pharmaceutical use, no one says, “They’re a Xanax user” or “They’re using aspirin.” We’re more likely to say, “They take Xanax” or “They take aspirin.” “Use” in this sense indicates “abuse,” or, really, misuse of the drug/medicine in question.

This is another area where I’m guilty. I’ve written the term “cannabis user” before, and I may do it again in the future. Or maybe not. This entire post got me rethinking how I use these words for effect – and maybe that I shouldn’t go for effect just because it reads well.

That brings us to “patients” versus “consumers.” When Colorado and Washington “legalized” recreational cannabis in 2012, suddenly the linguistic landscape changed. Recreational pot shops, or “retail stores,” as they like to be called, refer to “cannabis consumers” or “customers” since they weren’t catering to medical cannabis patients.

I’ve run into this when interviewing cannabis business owners who make goods for the recreational market. They don’t use the word “patients” to describe their customers. They use “customers.” They don’t refer to their products as “medicines.” They call it…whatever it is.

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Do You Say “Consume” About Anything?

Many of us may use the word “consumer” or “consume” in more general parlance, though. For instance, “When they consumed a cannabis edible….” is an accurate way to say, “They ate the weed cookie.” Or if I’m referring to someone who took a sublingual CBD spray, I may write, “They consumed the spray” since that’s easier than writing, “They sprayed the spray under their tongue. Spray spray spray.”

“Consume” also transfers meanings beyond “took the thing into the body.” In economics and business language, “consume” means to transact some good for another good or service with the purpose of possessing the transacted good. “Consume” in this sense can also mean “experience,” as is the case when we “consume art” or “consume a movie.”

With the economics/business function of “consume,” we can certainly apply this word to smoking/eating/vaping cannabis. People who consume cannabis are also experiencing cannabis, and they may or may not have paid or traded something for that cannabis experience. In this sense, I’d say the word “consumer” works as an excellent catch-all term for anyone who ingests or inhales weed. (Oh, snap! There’s another controversial term for “cannabis.”)

Medicate cannabis buds

On That Note: Weed vs. Everything Else

Ah, “weed.” My favorite slang term for “cannabis.” You’ve probably seen me use that word a few times here at RxLeaf. Other publications I’ve written for banned writers from using “weed” at all. Other publications permitted “weed” so long as we didn’t go overboard. Different strokes, different folks. Some readers get up in arms about the word “weed,” claiming it’s “making us look bad.”

Meh. It’s just a word. Or is it?

Author avatar

Randy Robinson

As someone who wanted to know everything but couldn't decide on anything, Randy completed degrees in English, World History, and Molecular Biology. During their studies, they received an externship at the biotech firm Cannabis Science Inc., focusing on phytocannabinoids as anti-tumor and anti-cancer agents. Based in the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado, you can find Randy on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium @RanDieselJay

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