Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Self Medicating

I am always a bit taken aback when I hear herbalists using the term ``self-medication`` in disparaging ways.

After all, self-medication is a big part of what we promote. We encourage our friends, our families, our students, our clients, sometimes even people in line at the grocery store to try Elderberry elixir at the first sign of the flu, or an onion poultice for a nasty cough.  We teach kids to chew up Plantain leaves and make spit poultices for bee stings and bug bites.  And we talk about the right of people to make informed choices about what they put into their own bodies.

Sure, if someone tells us she has been taking Oregano oil internally for persistent colds we might tell her about the damage to the lining of the digestive tract that her go to cure might be causing, and the impact of that damage on her immune function, and suggest some better alternatives.   And if one of those nasty colds turns into pneumonia, we might suggest that she go to see a clinical herbalist or a naturopath or even a doctor.   But all of that is likely to come with a compassionate understanding that our friend is doing the best she can with the resources she has to meet a real need.

So why then is there so much moral judgement when we speak of people ``self-medicating`` for spiritual or emotional pain with Cannabis or alcohol or sugar or what have you?   The people doing this are doing the best they can to get through their days with the strategies that have been successful enough to keep them going in the face of that pain.   No, these strategies are not the ones we would recommend if someone asked us -- but why judge them more harshly than the strategy of taking Oregano oil internally for colds?  And, yes, these strategies tend to exacerbate the underlying problems.  But so does the strategy of giving steroids for asthma.

I would love to see us as herbalists approach people who have been trying to deal with pain and trauma through substances that make them hurt less in the short term with the same compassion we have for people who have tried every treatment they could imagine for the chronic physical health problems that are disrupting their lives.   Shame and guilt compound people`s suffering, and the using the term ``self-medication`` in disparaging ways suggests that we don`t trust everyone to make their own health decisions.  

The people who seek our help deserve to be treated with dignity and kindness and respect, no matter what the source of their pain may be, and no matter what they have done to deal with it.