Cannabis is a hot topic in the UK press at the moment. One day journalists are calling it a miraculous medicine that cures cancer and saves lives, the next they call it ‘skunk’, a highly dangerous drug that plagues society and causes psychosis. So what is the difference between medical cannabis and skunk?
Well, the overarching truth is that they are pretty much the same thing. Skunk is simply the name given to a particularly pungent strain of cannabis, while medical cannabis is simply any variety that is used with the intention to treat a certain health issue. To help you get your head around the confusion, let’s break it down…
What is ‘skunk’?
When journalists use the word ‘skunk’, they are referring to high-potency cannabis. This is cannabis with high levels of THC, the chemical compound in cannabis (known as a cannabinoid) which gets you ‘high’.
The term ‘skunk’, however, is a misnomer. Skunk is actually the name given to a certain strain of high-strength cannabis – no different to hundreds of other strains that have been developed around the world. It was given its name due to its pungent smell, which resembles that produced by a skunk, just as Lemon Haze, another strain with high levels of THC, was named due to its citrusy stench.
How the term ‘skunk’ came to mean all high-THC cannabis is largely down to the sensationalist and fear-mongering British press, and it sure does cause a lot of confusion. While over here in the UK, high-THC cannabis is being labelled as “super-strength skunk” that is “highly addictive” and “psychosis-causing”, in other places, most notably the U.S., it is being called medical cannabis and is prescribed by doctors for all manner of medical conditions.
What is medical cannabis?
Medical cannabis is simply cannabis that is utilised with the intention to treat a medical condition. There is not anything particularly different or unique about medical cannabis, and some would argue that all cannabis is medical due to its preventative health benefits.
Again, the name ‘medical cannabis’ can cause some confusion as it implies that it is somehow different from regular cannabis. Many patients in the U.S., in states where cannabis is legalised medicinally, use high-THC varieties – including the notorious ‘skunk’ strain – to treat a whole host of complaints, from pain and PTSD to depression and diabetes.
Having said that, some conditions require lower levels of THC and higher levels of CBD – the non-intoxicating cannabinoid brother of THC. While CBD doesn’t get you high, it has been shown through numerous scientific studies to be useful in treating a number of conditions such as anxiety, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and epilepsy.
Some studies have even shown CBD and THC to complement each other to provide a greater effect than when used on their own.
Why we should stop using the word skunk
In the words of ancient Chinese teacher and philosopher Confucius, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.”
If we are to have a rational and sensible conversation around the use cannabis, whether it be recreational or medicinal, the first logical step would be to make sure we are precise in our language and to call things by their correct name. That means words like ‘skunk’ should be dropped altogether unless we are talking about the actual skunk strain.
A rational approach
Perhaps the reasons for rising mental health problems associated with cannabis use aren’t quite so simplistic as to be put at the feet of “super-strength skunk”. Perhaps it is due to far more complicated societal problems such as increasing inequality, the disintegration of communal and familial structures, and the deterioration of health in general?
Perhaps the lawmakers of the UK would be put in better stead if they focused on scientific papers rather than over-hyped tabloid headlines. Perhaps then we could have a rational and productive conversation about reforming our outdated cannabis laws.
(As a side note, you can add to this list the word ‘marijuana’, which in reality is nothing more than a wild Mexican tobacco plant. The name was assigned to cannabis in a bid to demonise immigrants in the U.S. You can read more about that here.)