Making Peace With Cannabis – TED Talk

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. This TED talk explores human beings’ dynamic relationship with the cannabis plant and what recent developments might mean for our health and well-being.


Zach Walsh, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the UBC Department of Psychology and Co-Director for the Centre for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law. Zach is a clinical psychologist and a researcher who studies drugs in human behaviour.

His research team are interested in who uses drugs and what drugs they are using, why they use them and what the consequences for their mental health are.

Speaking on what the difference is between recreational and medical cannabis use he explains:

“it raises some really important issues about just how porous the barriers can be between well-being, health and pleasure but I don’t think there’s a really easy answer”

“There are people out there who have conditions that respond very well to cannabis based medicines and they might still use cannabis a lot of the time because they like the way it makes them feel.” adding

“There are also people who might not think of themselves as medical users but they get substantial symptom relief are from using cannabis. People with back pain smoke a joint before they go to bed and find they can get through the night with a good sleep undisturbed by pain even though they’re having a bit of a flare-up. But for a lot of people it is clear cut they have serious and severe symptoms and illnesses that they treat effectively with cannabis and cannabis based medicines and they don’t like the feeling. It’s an unwelcome side effect for a lot of people it’s both they treat very legitimate symptoms using cannabis medicines. And maybe they like some of the other aspect as well but whether it’s recreational or therapeutic or both what we do know is that a lot of adults in Canada choose to use cannabis. They weigh the costs and the benefits and they make a reasonable and rational choice to use cannabis”

Zach explains “We have this complex and conflicted fearful relationship with this ancient plant” and goes into how society got to this point in such a relatively short space of time.

Zach compares our last decades of anti-cannabis mentality to the long history of Cannabis starting in Asia “that’s where our best estimates of early human use of cannabis come from, several thousand years ago in Asia and whether they use words medical whether was spiritual whether it was just for fun I don’t think we really know. It’s an ongoing debate.”

“by some estimates cannabis was the first cultivated plant, you could say that cannabis in human beings grew up together.”

“even as recently as just a little over a hundred years ago Queen Victoria was using cannabis extracts offer therapeutic purposes.”

Zach and his team published a study looking over 600 medical cannabis users from across the country. The 600 users have serious conditions like cancer, aids, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, chronic pain. What they found was that people are using cannabis for three primary reasons – to help sleep, to reduce pain and alleviate anxiety, things that so many of us seek treatment for.

“there’s new studies coming out all the time and the rate of discoveries are accelerating rapidly. What this might mean a more broad sense is that in the coming years and decades we may have access to some the very same medicines that our ancestors used
effectively for millennia.”

“it might also mean that we might be able to start to address some of our mental health concerns using our gardens or greenhouses and I think that in itself could be tremendously empowering. It could also help us to reduce the tremendous environmental cost
of producing and disposing of tons and tons of pharmaceutical product into our land and water.” finalizing with “I think it means that the drug talk we’re gonna have with our kids will be a lot more fact-based and straightforward than the drug talk that many of us got as kids”