Written by: Ryan Purvis
Edited by: Brea White
We live in a world where it’s tough to share your opinion without receiving some sort of rebuttal or backlash – whether it be in relation to politics, policing, or simple day-to-day choices and decisions.
But among the negativity, I hope to shed some light on an ongoing controversial issue: cannabis.
Growing up, I’ve always been told that cannabis was something I should steer clear of. I was always taught right from wrong – with cannabis being a substance my parents did not want me using. It was dirty, un-motivating and more importantly, illegal. Though, it wasn’t just my parents supporting that point of view – it was a large part of the society we all live in today.
I feel I have an opportunity to help spread more positive awareness about cannabis– not just the plant that has been stigmatized for centuries and constantly swept under the rug, but the plant that has displayed much fortitude and has spoken for itself. I hope to both educate and advocate for cannabis, while de-bunking some of the unwanted stigma surrounding its past. I may be just another voice for cannabis, but hopefully a new one in terms of its connection to mental health.
Now, let me be clear: by no means do I think the substance should be considered as life’s solution to all problems, but more like a possible option for each persons’ purpose.
This is a movement.
I’d like to start by giving you a little bit of insight into my life, which I feel will better explain the reasoning behind my motivation to write this article and support such an important change in our society’s future.
As a kid, I always wanted to become a professional athlete. I only ever saw sports as being part of my future. At the age of fifteen, I was drafted by the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League and it was then that I had to put all of my marbles in one basket, so to speak. I had one goal: to become a professional hockey player. Even though I never had the opportunity to lace my skates up for the Attack, I fell in love with the game. The grit, the glory, the highs and the lows – every aspect surrounding the game had me mesmerized.
During what I fondly refer to as my intermission between high school and university life, I had the opportunity to play junior hockey within both Ontario and the Maritimes. Along the way I met many new faces and created an abundance of lifelong friendships. I was certainly privileged to learn countless life lessons at such a young age, all of which have built the character I bestow today.
And when it came to support, I was never short of any. Whether it was family, friends, fans, coaches or my billet families, I always had someone to turn to when I needed guidance. I truly believe that junior hockey gave me the time to chase a dream, but more importantly create characteristics that prepared me for both post-secondary school and reality.
Unfortunately the dream of becoming a professional hockey player slowly diminished, which led to a deep self-evaluation. I was always a healthy individual growing up. I ate well, I was always physically active and I was very goal-oriented. Sure, I went out with friends and went to parties, but I had never tried or even looked at cannabis; I dodged that “high school high.”
It wasn’t until I attended Brock University when I really started to develop my mind, knowledge and understanding of real life practices. Quite honestly, university was never in my future. I guess, in some sense, I was a typical jock growing up. After junior hockey was over, it was time to pull my socks up and head to University. Don’t get me wrong, first year biology almost put me into early retirement, but I soon believed if I applied myself to the books I would be able to attain my degree in Kinesiology in hopes to lead to a successful career.
At the time, it all seemed like a fantastic idea. But once reality hit, it wasn’t all that simple.
Being a student-athlete involved juggling a lot on your plate. Every week consisted of workouts, class, volunteering, practicing, games, part-time work, studying and squeezing in a social life to keep me sane. I wanted to be the best person I could be, by getting involved within the campus and community, soaking in that full university experience. But unfortunately as time went on, the best thing in my life (hockey) slowly became a burden, rather than an outlet from school. I guess as you grow up values change, and the juggling act wasn’t easy; for me at least.
And as the years went on, it got worse.
Near the end of my degree I told myself I was done playing hockey and needed to start looking at things more long-term. I no longer had the passion to pursue a career in the game – but I was never upset about hanging up my skates, but rather found myself concerned about who I was without being a hockey player. That’s when I started to feel a sense of absence in life. The anxiety and stress mixed with life’s hurdles was unbearable at times. Who was I without hockey? I had no idea.
I started to find ways to get out of the mindset of feeling absent, when in previous years, I’d walk through the back door of the skating rink and instantly feel a sense of well-being, but that was gone. I simply went home on weekends that worked well with my schedule, or often had a face-time date with my parents and nephew to put myself in a different mental state for the time being.
But it wasn’t enough. I found myself in a horrific cycle week to week, resorting to alcohol on weekends, and beating myself up both mentally and physically. I thought I was releasing stress when drinking, meanwhile I was caught up in an ugly cycle I couldn’t get out of.
This was all before I began using cannabis – which I now credit for allowing me to finish my degree at Brock University and for keeping me mentally stable throughout. I never sought help, nor did I tell anyone what I was going through. I never saw it as a roadblock, just a barrier that I needed to find my own way around. Diagnosed or not, I was battling mental health issues alone, as many people do today. Looking back now, yes I wish I had told someone. This is why I’m writing this article- because it’s ok to ask for help once in a while. Even if you’re a stubborn, stressed and un-selfish individual like me.
It became my breath of fresh air and though the positive effects of cannabis have been shared publicly, the lack of knowledge and understanding about the plant by both the general public and seemingly some healthcare professionals makes it difficult to highlight the pros rather than the cons, right now.
I too would’ve focused on the wrong aspects, if there was a lack of evidence-based research on the plant. Even though the majority of skepticism, industry denial and black-market influence were within the general public’s vote, to me it wasn’t a drug, it wasn’t bad and it wasn’t anything like what people had described it to be.
Cannabis is no different from the glass of wine that takes the edge off during dinner, nor the cigarette you take a drag from during breaks at work. We all have our own way of managing stress – and cannabis was mine. But when it comes down to the facts, is there enough to support positive use of the plant? After months of research on my own behalf, I certainly believe so.
Studies show there is a 9 percent risk becoming dependent on the plant, though this can increase when the use of it starts at an early age, just as it would be with any other substance.
Below: dependency rates in 2015 as per the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Figure : Dependence Rates
Cannabis, being one of the fastest growing industries in the world right now, holds a lot more value than people think. After doing my due diligence to learn more about the plant, I was far more aware of both its physical and mental benefits – and Canadians should know, as they rank among the top users in the world.
Recent data through Statistics Canada shows 3.4 million Canadians ages 15 and above are currently using cannabis. I frequently asked myself what could be so wrong about cannabis? Why is it classified as a schedule 2 narcotic in Canada?
Grown straight from the soil where we cultivate every other plant, vegetable or other commodities, cannabis has a dedicated following of people who love the plant for both its recreational use and therapeutic value. The plant has been around for thousands of years, forming different propaganda upon supposed risks involved. However, these so-called risks weren’t supported with any credible scientific evidence – but what is supported by scientific evidence is the variety of medicinal properties and benefits cannabis provides.
Through continued research and testing, it has been deemed that cannabis can be used to support the treatment of: migraines, muscle spasms, chronic pain, palliative and end-of-life pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, seizures, MS, Crohn’s Disease, Gastrointestinal Disease, Parkinson’s and more. Such findings have recently led to the first U.S. FDA approved (cannabis-derived) CBD drug known as Epidiolex, which is designed to treat two rare forms of childhood epilepsy using the compound cannabidiol.
On a mental health level, it is known to be a therapeutic aid for people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression. Cannabis consumption has increased immensely in today’s society, especially in regards to how it is consumed. It is now commonly profiled into different strains including Indica, Sativa and Hybrids. Cannabinoids, specifically phytocannabinoids– the form produced in cannabis plants – are the chemicals giving the plant its medical and recreational properties, offering different effects to the brain and body.
Both main (most researched) cannabinoids found in the plant have different yet effective importance consisting of CBD – also known as cannabidiol – and THC- known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. The development and usage of the CBD compound found in cannabis catches my attention the most, as it’s the non-psychoactive, or non-intoxicating, chemical that I myself took advantage of.
Endocannabinoids, which are cannabinoids produced in human tissue, affect the transmission of nerve impulses making them neuromodulators. Within our body, we have an endocannabinoid system (ECS) consisting of a group of cannabinoid receptors within the brain and in the central and peripheral nervous systems. The ECS exists to create a state of equilibrium within the body affecting things like sleep, mood, appetite and pain. Currently being studied are two types of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, throughout our body. Both main phytocannabinoids, THC and CBD, are associated with these receptors and act similar to the cannabinoids found within our body. An endless amount of research is ahead, and this plant continues to impress scientists every day.
Upon further educating myself about the plant and its effects on my body, I was able to find the right strain of cannabis that worked best for me. To be honest, it wasn’t easy finding a balance between feeling in control and still being able to take the edge off. Studying Kinesiology gave me the understanding of the basic function, physiology and anatomy of the human body. This essentially made it a lot easier for me to learn about the effects of this complex plant.
But it wasn’t just me using the plant. I learned first-hand there are thousands if not millions of people using – and unfortunately abusing – cannabis. Myself, like many others, depend on the black market in order to gain access to cannabis and sadly tend to use the trial and error method due to lack of education and resources. In my opinion, the prohibition of cannabis in Canada is coming into effect at a pivotal time.
The lack of education and the abundance of stigmatism behind the plant have students and the general public confused about cannabis. We are nearing a time when our medical patients will feel more comfortable approaching safe access to cannabis knowing it’s legal without having any grey area, while the recreational user will finally be able to purchase consistent and regulated cannabis through a licensed producer rather than on the streets.
I am not addicted to the plant, nor do I depend on it. I manage it properly and understand the importance of not abusing it by micro-dosage when needed. For a long time I’ve kept my personal story hidden. I would mostly consume cannabis alone or most preferably within a group of friends recreationally, (which always created a great social gathering). I believe cannabis has endless positive potential. I want to advocate that cannabis should be promoted as a safer alternative to alcohol, opioids and other highly addictive, possibly deadly drugs. I am here now to help break the stigma– I want my voice to be heard. I want people to know that using cannabis is no longer wrong, but simply an option.
I want people to know that I have never felt so mentally strong and goal-oriented. Cannabis has allowed me to take a step back and evaluate problems and scenarios in a much more professional way.
Diagnosed or not, my mental health put me on the back burner for an extended period of time. I couldn’t see a future. I had no idea what I was doing some days. We all know life isn’t that easy at times, and not everything goes as planned. Not only do we know that being physically healthy is important, but we would be oblivious by now if we don’t understand the importance of strong mental health. It’s become so simple to me: cannabis improved my quality of life. I’m not sure whom to thank, but myself is certainly one, for being determined enough to find the proper solution that works best for me.
And if you think it’s crazy, then I even suggest you become more aware of what our students, professionals and the general public are up to these days; I encourage you to do the research yourself, because I don't believe cannabis is the problem, I believe ignorance is.
We are the future of this country and the future of cannabis. Through educating, advocating and recreating the cannabis culture, we can be the leaders of this massive universal change in a positive way.
I’m ready to step up and fight the stigma, are you?
Ryan Purvis was a well-rounded athlete growing up. Being drafted into the Ontario Hockey League to the Owen Sound Attack, Ryan knew he would pursue an athletic career in hockey. Despite not lacing up the skates for the attack, he played junior ‘A’ hockey throughout Ontario (OJHL) and the Maritimes (MHL) within Canada. Purvis then committed to play for the Badgers at Brock University (USPORT) where he went on to attain his degree in Kinesiology. Ryan now focuses on the balance between both physical and mental health, while also advocating for cannabis (and cannabinoids) as a healthier alternative.