Four questions with psychologist and cannabis researcher Zach Walsh

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      Speakers attending this weekend's Cannabis Hemp Conference and Expo are preparing to impart some serious knowledge on everything from pain management to growing and cultivation.

      The two-day conference (May 6 and 7, 2017) will bring doctors, researchers, educators, scientists, authors, growers, activists, historians, and entrepreneurs to The Nest at UBC for a series of keynote speeches and panel discussions that are sure to challenge the numerous stigmas about cannabis and its applications.

      Zach Walsh is an associate professor of psychology at UBC's Okanagan campus and a registered clinical psychologist. He's also the director of the Therapeutic, Recreation, and Problematic Substance Use lab, a research initiative that looks the associations between cannabis use, mental health and addictions.

      Walsh's work as a researcher has covered topics related to substance use, personality, and mental health. Some of his most recent work includes the largest survey to date of Canadian medical cannabis patients.

      Ahead of his upcoming appearance in Vancouver, the Straight spoke with Walsh about some of his experiences and discoveries as a researcher. See the full interview below the video.

      In 2014, Zach Walsh gave a talk at TEDxPenticton called 'Making Peace with Cannabis'.

      What are some of the biggest misconceptions that you've heard about medical cannabis?

      "I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that it's not really a medicine, that it's just being used for recreation, and that's certainly not the case.

      "On the other end, the biggest might be that it's a cure-all that can treat everything. Unfortunately, when something gets so stigmatized and driven underground, the extremes become highlighted, and that's happened with cannabis. 

      "People either think it's nonsense, or that it's the answer to everything, and it's neither."

      What are some mental health conditions that cannabis can successfully treat that some people might be surprised by?

      "I don't know if it's surprising now that there's so much attention being paid to it, but there's a lot of hopefulness around PTSD, just because of what we see with preliminary studies. It helps with nightmares and sleep, as well as hyper-arousal and that constant feeling of being on edge.

      "It helps people relax, and it helps them fall sleep, and when that falls into place, there's room for deeper healing.

      "As well, we've seen that with some of the conditions that people use benzodiazepines for, we might see some potential there, but we really need to do more studies on anxiety and trauma-related problems.

      "I think the next couple of years are going to give us good evidence, but if you talk to people, that's what they're using it for."

      Do you consider recreational use to be therapeutic? If so, what separates medicinal use from recreational use?

      "I think one of the things that's lost so much in our modern epistemology, or our ways of knowing, is the separation of pleasure and spirituality and health. We've come a long way with that reductionist approach in medicine, but I'm not sure how good it is to draw that line.

      "I don't think it has to be justified by physical health. There's a sense of well-being that cannabis promotes for some people.

      "The benefit of exercising your liberty, of using something that's helpful and enjoyable to you, is benefit enough."

      Your TEDxPenticton talk from 2014 is called, 'Making Peace with Cannabis'. Who needs to make peace with cannabis, and what does that look like?

      "It's about ending the silly war on drugs. It's absolutely absurd, especially with regard to cannabis and plants. It's coevolved with humans, and it's been a part of our history for farther back than we can record, at least several thousands of years.

      "The idea that this is something that we need to fight against, that language, is harmful. If it is a war, then how do we make peace?

      "That should be the goal of any war—for it to come to an end."