When the word ‘marijuana’ is mentioned, there is a certain reaction that follows. The truth is, there is a widespread stereotype about marijuana and its use. But marijuana is a natural plant that grows like several other plants. The fact that some people are abusing it does not make it entirely bad or harmful. There is a growing knowledge about the substance, and there are several facts and benefits of medical marijuana that you should know about.
Marijuana is so easy to grow that it was simplistically tagged “weed”. It has been grown for centuries in several parts of the world, and yet is shrouded in myths and mystery. In the words of Jasmine Collier, the National Institute of Health posits that people have used cannabis (marijuana) in the last 3,000 years or more to treat their illnesses and diseases.
This post will take you into the world of medical marijuana. What it is, how it works, the legalities, the benefits and every other thing you need to know. Hopefully, by the time you’re done reading this guide, you will understand why medical marijuana can be an important health resource and remedy for many people across the world. But first, what is medical marijuana?
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Medical Marijuana?
- 2 Chemical Compounds in Cannabis
- 3 What Medical Marijuana is used for ?
- 4 Health Effects of Medical Marijuana
- 5 How Medical Marijuana Works
- 6 How to use Medical Marijuana
- 7 Legality of Medical Marijuana
- 8 Side Effects of Medical Marijuana
- 9 The Ongoing Debate Towards Legalizing Marijuana
- 10 Conclusion
What is Medical Marijuana?
Medical marijuana is the use and application of natural cannabis (marijuana) for the treatment of certain illnesses. It could be the natural leaves or the roots. According to Erica Oberg and John Cunha of MedicineNet.com, the term refers to plant-based medicine derived from the cannabis sativa or the cannabis indica species that contain three major active compounds; the THC, CBD and CBN.
It is used to either treat or suppress the symptoms of diseases or the diseases themselves, as well as certain other health conditions. Historically, it has been a major therapy in many parts of the world, especially since it was discovered. However, since abuses became prevalent and many social engagements and groups began to question its use, its application reduced drastically in the early 20th century. But there are underlying benefits that cannot be ignored and many researches have focused on them.
For decades, several health practitioners have been aware of and recommended medical marijuana for ailing patients; especially those suffering from severe pains and spasms. Health Researchers have discovered over 100 cannabinoids over the years, but have only given adequate focus to tetrahydrocannabinol (TBH) and cannabidiol (CBD). The CBN is a much less active compound, non psychoactive, but with good amount of cannabis traces needed for some health conditions.
Chemical Compounds in Cannabis
Medical Marijuana have several chemical compounds, some active and some non active. It is important to give an insight into some of these compounds for the sake of clarity. It is also important to know these compounds to better understand why and how it works the way it does. I’ll focus on some of the Active Compounds alone. They include;
This is the major psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Of the 113 cannabinoids found in cannabis, it is perhaps the most active. It is a lipid that is considered a defense agent for the plant against predatory insects and harsh weather. Its chemical name is -trans-Δ⁹- tetrahydrocannabinol and is also sometimes simply called cannabinoid isomers. It is known as a pharmaceutical, has a boiling point of 157°C and is highly soluble in glycerol, alcohol, acetone and carrier oil. Its synthetic form, Dronabinol, is approved by the FDA as a stimulant for appetite and for people receiving chemotherapy.
Up until in recent past, this constituent of cannabis was not thought of as having any pharmaceutical value, even though it was discovered in 1940. The CBD oil has become popular in recent times for many reasons. It is known in many quarters as a naturally occurring cannabinoid that has a variety of health benefits. In fact, it is sold as a solo agent most times and has been legalised in many states where marijuana is still not legalized. Reports indicate that a purified form of cannabidiol oil known as epidiolex has recently been approved by the FDA for the treatment of two types of epilepsy.
Apart from being a non-psychoactive compound, only traces of CBN are found in cannabis. Still, it has some useful health benefits. While historic and traditional products like hashish contain high amounts of cannabinol, modern processes tend to minimize its quantity. It is important to note that CBN is not generated directly from cannabigerolic acid, but is only the degraded form of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. It can be inhaled or taken orally. By law, signatories to the United Nations Drug Control Treaties are not required to control CBN.
Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA)
This is only the original form of THC and is an active compound in cannabis. It is the simple and almost natural process of conversion from THCA to THC that makes it psychoactive. The conversion takes place as the plant dries.
This is more commonly known as Sativex. It is an extract of cannabis that has been approved in some parts of the world as a botanic drug for the treatment of several health conditions especially those concerned with pains and bladder control. It contains THC and CBD as active ingredients and is now a common pharmaceutical product especially in the United Kingdom.
There are several other active ingredients in cannabis that should at least be mentioned. They include Cannabicyclol, Nabilone, 11-Hydroxy-THC, and Cannabidivarin. Most of the other over 100 compounds are non active and may not require much of our attention.
What Medical Marijuana is used for ?
This guide intends to reveal some facts and benefits of medical marijuana that you probably didn’t know about before. While there could be numerous unknown uses of medical marijuana, studies have been able to prove the significant applicability of cannabinoid in the following broad categories;
– Pain; CBD especially is a compound with anti inflammatory and neuroprotective components to protect against, and treat, pains.
– Depression; there are also antipsychotic and antidepressant properties in medical marijuana that makes it effective against depression.
– Anxiety; especially the type related to a mental condition.
– Muscle Spasticity; helps to treat the contraction and depletion of muscular cells and prevents further damage including movement disorders.
– Inflammatory Bowel Diseases; also provides great succor to bowel diseases, especially those that are inflammatory. The CBD compound is very active in this regard.
Health Effects of Medical Marijuana
It is important to state here clearly that while THC is what causes the “high” feeling; CBD has much of the health benefits in cannabis especially with its impact on the brain. Whatever the case, medical marijuana drugs across the world often contain high levels of THC and CBD as the two main components of cannabis. Studies have shown that there are at least 60 known peer-reviewed researches on the health benefits of medical marijuana. A sizeable number of that figure (about 70%) agree that cannabinoids hold certain health benefits for humanity.
The health effects of medical marijuana include, but are not limited to, the following;
- Pain Relieving: Studies around the world have shown that pain is the most common reason why people request medical marijuana. Pain relieving is one of the best know benefits of medical marijuana that you should know. This varies from pains in the joints and bones, to veins and other parts of the body.
- Treatment of Muscle Spasms: Ever heard of multiple sclerosis and all its attendant health conditions? Well, Medical marijuana has been identified as an effective drug for treating muscle spasms, a condition related to MS. Even diaphragm spasms that are almost untreatable with known prescribed medications tend to improve significantly when medical marijuana is used.
- May Improve Lung Function: Contrary to beliefs in many quarters that marijuana use affects the lung, studies have shown that this only happens if mixed with other substances like tobacco. In fact, it is becoming a growing knowledge that medical marijuana can help improve the lung function. Marijuana is a naturally occurring plant. It is grown organically in the soil and, like many other organic substances, will rarely have a negative effect on the user’s health.
- Depression, Social Anxiety and Post traumatic Stress Disorder: There are several studies that have looked into the use of marijuana to treat different symptoms of mental illnesses. There is sufficient evidence, as published in the Clinical Psychology Review, to show that medical marijuana is actually effective in the treatment of PTSD and Depression symptoms. While this is the case, users are cautioned not to use marijuana for some other social conditions like psychosis and bipolar disorder.
- Epilepsy: A breakthrough was recorded for medical advocates of marijuana in June 2018. Having found that medical marijuana contain amazing compounds for the treatment of some kinds of epilepsy, the FDA approved a certain medication containing CBD for the treatment of the Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome; two severe and rare types that have proved difficult to treat with other conventional medications. Several clinical trials were carried out before the approval was given, and it has been found that fewer children with Dravet syndrome had fewer seizures when they use CBD. Note that CBD is not psychoactive and only a purified form of the cannabinoid was used.
In a 2017 study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, 120 children aged between 2 and 18 were assigned to oral CBD treatment for Dravet syndrome for 14 weeks. The study found that seizures in these children dropped from an average of 12 per month to six per month. Three children had no seizures at all within the month under study.
How Medical Marijuana Works
The image we often have about marijuana (no thanks to Hollywood) is that of a junkie. Perhaps, a young girl who’s lost her way; a young boy who’s succumbed to peer pressure; a woman seeking succor after a bad divorce; or even a man seeking comfort from the pressures of life. However, this is not the reality. There is substantial evidence that the majority of people who use marijuana do so for one therapy or the other. While there are abuses in societies across the world, we cannot deny how much relief and benefits humans can derive from medical marijuana.
To buttress, alcohol is legal in almost every part of the world, except for a few extremely religious societies. Codeine, which has also become a major subject of controversy, is a major component in several pain relievers and drugs for common cold. These items are also extremely abused globally and only control measures; such as warnings in ads, restrictions in certain situations, and age limits have been put in place. It makes advocates of medical marijuana wonder why this is not the case with cannabis.
In fact, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration labels marijuana a Schedule 1 drug just like LSD, heroin and ecstasy. They say it is prone to abuse and has no medical value. This makes further studies of the substance extremely difficult without a special license to do so. However, there are some existing researches that have been very useful in understanding medical marijuana and the benefits it holds. Before we deviate further, it is important to clearly understand how medical marijuana works and what results users should expect.
How it Works…
For the avoidance of doubt, it is necessary to point out that the incredible healing properties of medical marijuana stem from its high cannabidiol (CBD) content, coupled with high levels of flavonoids, medical terpenes, and THC. Marijuana receptors, as Dr. Mercola puts it, play an important role in several processes in the body such as metabolic regulation, pain, anxiety, cravings, immune functionality, and bone growth. They have also shown some promise in the treatment of mood disorders, multiple sclerosis, parkinson’s disease, seizures, post traumatic stress disorder and degenerative neurological disorders.
Cannabinoids, those active chemicals present in medical marijuana are very similar to natural chemicals produced in the human body for helping appetite, movement, pain and memory. Initial researchers therefore concluded that if these chemicals were similar, they should be able to perform the same or similar functions. Research therefore suggests that medical marijuana might be able to relieve inflammation and pain, reduce anxiety; help cancer patients control nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, relax stiff muscles, especially in people with multiple sclerosis, stimulate appetite ;and even kill cancer cells by disrupting tumor growth.
One question is often asked by critics against the use of marijuana. They don’t understand why medical marijuana should be prescribed when there are other legal medications that can treat these conditions. Jacob Silverman says there is the belief that many illnesses and symptoms respond better to medical marijuana. He cites some studies that have shown that marijuana can help lower intraocular eye pressure in patients suffering glaucoma. Some types of pain like peripheral neuropathy tend to respond better to marijuana as well than they do conventional pain relievers.
Patients of cancer and AIDS are also tired of using appetite boosting medications that just don’t work. Some other drugs may have unpleasant side effects. So in states where marijuana has been legalized, these patients can get prescriptions for them to use marijuana. Due to limited studies, it is quite difficult to tell why these responses vary; but much of it is owed to the fact that there are similarities between cannabinoids and some body-aiding chemicals that the human body produces.
For instance, tetrahydrocannabinol, which is one of the most active compounds in cannabis, causes the “high” feeling and also contains very high medicinal value, has been the subject of numerous researches over the years. But the body has its own version of cannabinoids called endocannabinoids; natural chemicals that act almost the same way as cannabinoids from marijuana. These endocannabinoids are known to regulate the body and its responses to several stimuli. The receptors are mostly present in the brain; and it is these receptors that cannabinoids in marijuana bind to and produce various effects, medicinal and intoxication. That is, the therapeutic and psychoactive components of marijuana are triggered when the cannabinoid interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in the body.
Just like morphine is an approved drug extracted from opium, there have been a few developments in the field of medical marijuana where researchers are making headways with extracting the medicines in cannabis without the intoxication. Sativex, popular in the UK, is one of such drugs. There is also the legally approved Marinol in the US, which the DEA says is an “existing, legal form of medical marijuana”. It is also approved by the FDA for treating nausea in AIDS and cancer patients. But these are often mere synthetic forms which experts say are very expensive and less effective compared to natural marijuana. Besides, there are certain other issues like dosage control, psychoactive level, and side effects which many advocates of marijuana point to.
In fact, one article suggests that synthetic marijuana can have serious health complications and side effects for users. These vary from brain damage, cardiac issues, kidney problems, and stroke to hypokalemia, tachycardia, and acute psychosis. While the push for the use of “whole, unprocessed marijuana plant and its pure extract” continues, there is a need for more studies to be carried out to clearly reconcile medical marijuana and marijuana for intoxication. A balance must be created.
How to use Medical Marijuana
The use of medical marijuana is entirely based on preference. While the sight of a person smoking pot is somewhat controversial, that is the most common way that people use it. The basic principle for using medical marijuana is to “start low and go slow”. This is the best way to enjoy the full benefits of medical marijuana. That is according to cannabis experts. The reason is to allow the body adapt slowly to the experience that may follow. Caution is often advised even though the risk of overdose is low. Still, dosage varies among patients, even among those suffering the same health conditions. Factors that affect the impact of medical marijuana include; but are not limited to the amount used, environment, and mindset, methods of consumption, history of cannabis usage, nutrition, and biochemistry.
The various methods of administration include;
Whether it is rolled by hand or machine as a joint, used in a pipe or water pipe, or inhaled as vapor, inhalation is a common mode of consumption around the world. Experts say the effects of inhalation are witnessed faster than other types of consumption. It is almost immediate. This is largely because it goes into the lungs and travels through the capillaries to the bloodstream. The effects are felt within minutes, often reaching their peak between 15 and 30 minutes. While the effects may often last 4 to 12 hours, experts advise that you do not engage in activities that require sufficient cognitive abilities.
While many patients prefer to take medical marijuana orally, it is important to note that absorption and action are slower when it is taken orally. Even peak THC levels are delayed while bioavailability of both THC and CBD are reduced as a result of extensive metabolism that goes on in the digestive tract. The reason for this preference could be something as simple as not wanting to appear to be “smoking pot” ; or other reasons that may be connected with the patient’s respiratory tract. In fact, many experts suggest that patients, who take marijuana orally, would need more than three times the amount smoked to have the same effects.
Legality of Medical Marijuana
It is often a cause for concern every time one thinks about the many health benefits of marijuana and the level of legislations against its use. All across the world, only a few countries have legalized the use of medical marijuana. In the United States today, about 30 states and Washington DC have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. However, the application of this legality is subject to the guidelines of the various states. If America, which prides itself as the capital of democracy, is yet to fully accommodate cannabis for its many benefits, we can only imagine what the situation is in other countries.
Let’s get an understanding. Even though these states have legalized the use of marijuana for medicine, pot is still a schedule 1 drug under Federal law. That is, the Federal government sees no medical value in marijuana and regards it as subject to high abuse. This is the same category as substances like heroin and ecstacy; attracting higher restrictions than schedule 2 drugs like meth and cocaine. In fact, the DEA considers schedule 2 drugs to have some medical value while schedule 1 drugs do not; the reason for the latter’s higher regulatory scrutiny.
Marijuana does need to be rescheduled, but this is almost impossible to do without a large-scale clinical trial. But how can large-scale studies be done on a drug that is strictly regulated? Those trials are the only thing required to reclassify the substance, even though experts say reclassification is required before any trial of such magnitude can be carried out. This situation is what many call a catch-22. Whatever the case is, there is a knowledge, even within government circles that marijuana isn’t as dangerous as other drugs in its category; reason for the more relaxed penalty placed on the substance.
While there are conflicting interests in the medical and legal professions, there is also an obvious political underlining as far as marijuana is concerned. This is largely credited to the guiding principles and philosophies of Democrats and Republicans. The Obama administration adopted a much more relaxed approach by allowing states to do as they wish provided they met certain guidelines. The Trump administration has adopted a much tougher approach where federal law enforcement can clamp down on legalized businesses in states where pot is legal.
Implications abound for this federal stance on marijuana. Banks are skeptical about dealing with pot businesses since they consider them to be breaking federal laws. So these businesses may have to adopt a cash-only policy. They cannot also enjoy some benefits that other enterprises do, such as tax deductions, and therefore, have to endure tax rates that can rise to as high as 80%. As advocates continue to clamor for legislations to further legalize pot, the government finds itself in a tight situation; careful not to offend Americans who have long been calling for stiffer laws on marijuana use.
In other countries like Mexico, Canada, and Belize, marijuana is almost entirely legal. In Mexico for instance, recreational marijuana of up to 5grams is legal; and traders and growers have some level of legal backing as well. The Canadian government is moving to legalize recreational marijuana in full by October 2018. However, there will be some measures to see that the drug can’t be advertised, for instance. In Belize, Cannabis has been decriminalized up to 10grams. You only need permission to smoke it in someone’s home, but your home is your home. In other countries like Jamaica, where weed has been decriminalized since 2015, you can smoke on. Costa Rica has a somewhat liberal stance too on marijuana.
Till date, Jamaica is perhaps one of the freest countries as far as marijuana is concerned. There are no strict limitations about where you can smoke and how much of it you can possess. The only downside is that abuse is inevitable and not much is being done to explore marijuana for medical purposes. Otherwise, this is one country that would’ve extensively gained a lot from cannabis. Australia has been at the forefront of research for medical marijuana, and for the last two years, cannabis has been legalized for medical uses. Many regions have also decriminalized its possession even though recreational marijuana is still not legal.
All of these are even laws for recreational marijuana. Argentina blazed the trail in 2017 when it became the “First Woke Country” to make medical marijuana available for free to its citizens. And for more than a decade, no one will bother you for using marijuana recreationally. Most other countries in the Americas like Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and some European nations like Uruguay, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Russia; and many more, have very relaxed laws on marijuana. Surprisingly, even North Korea might do to.
In many of these countries, restrictions are only put on the amount you’re allowed to carry per time. In some others, smoking and possession have been decriminalized while growing is still illegal. A few of them have no laws against possession and cultivation. According to Kastalia Medrano’s post on thrillist.com, Switzerland has a law that allows you grow about four plants of cannabis if you choose to.
Side Effects of Medical Marijuana
Till date, no known death has been recorded for marijuana overdose. That is how safe it can be, but this does not mean it is completely harmless, especially if abused. Mark Kleiman, a renowned drug policy expert at Marron Institute, New York University, gives an insight; “the main risk of cannabis is losing control of your cannabis intake. That’s going to have consequences in terms of the amount of time you spend not fully functional. When that’s hours per day times years, that’s bad”.
While there is widespread belief that marijuana is generally harmless, except when excessively abused, studies, especially that conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reveal that marijuana can have a number of harmful effects. Smoking it could cause respiratory problems while some other users may experience car crashes, psychosis, schizophrenia, social disorders; and even harm to babies in the womb.
There is also the assertion by some critics that, as a getaway drug, marijuana can make people try more harmful drugs like heroin and cocaine. Whether this is true or not is still subject to multiple debates. But there is a certain correlation between the use of marijuana and other hard drugs. Furthermore, frequent use of marijuana will often lead to less functional lifestyles ; because the drug renders the user mentally incapable for sometime before it wears off.
The Ongoing Debate Towards Legalizing Marijuana
Since marijuana began to attract the attention of orthodox medicine practitioners, there has been several schools of thought regarding the substance. The jury is still out to determine where the line should be drawn in the struggle for legalization. In fact, many critics of marijuana are of the opinion that legalizing the substance will lead to more people using it and maybe indiscriminately too. On the other hand, advocates say it will only create a properly structured and regulated industry that will provide revenues to government and curtail the illicit activities of cartels.
Only time will tell what steps will be taken in the near future towards ensuring that we don’t lose out on the many benefits that medical marijuana portends for humanity while trying to preserve the world’s sanity.
The first step to having legislations that can free up some of the restrictions to; and in the case of the US reschedule, marijuana is having large-scale studies and clinical trials that will show, beyond reasonable doubt, how much medical marijuana can do in the health sector. While there is medical evidence of some sort for certain conditions like pain and inflammation, loss of appetite; and its uses for patients of multiple sclerosis; there is very little to support its claim in treating epilepsy and cancer. Again, only time and further studies will tell.