Alternatively called medical marijuana, it refers to the use of the cannabis plant, its extract, or some of its chemicals to treat various health conditions.
While cannabis is widely used for a variety of medical purposes and there has been an outcry for its legalization in many parts of the world, it is still considered a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
So far, the FDA has only approved cannabis use for treating two rare types of epilepsy – Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. This makes marijuana still one of the most widely used illegal drugs.
The use of cannabis, for both recreational and medical purposes, can be traced back to at least 4,000 years. Researchers have found that it was being used for medicinal purposes long before the emergence of modern medical science.
There is also evidence that cannabis was popular as a medicinal drug in 19th century Europe and the United States. It was widely used for treating health issues like birth labor, migraine, insomnia, throat infection, and menstrual cramps. The trend continued until the drug was declared it illegal in the early 20th century. This happened mainly due to the difficulties in determining the correct dose of the drug for different patients, which increased the likelihood of developing dependence and drug abuse.
The use of medical marijuana resurfaced in the late 20th and early 21st century. This time, it gained much more popularity. Researchers and scientists considered it as a potential alternative drug for treating diseases that traditional medications had failed to treat.
Since then, numerous scientific research studies have been conducted all over the world to investigate the beneficial properties of cannabis. There have been experiments to figure out different pharmaceutical preparations of the drug, and many clinical studies and trials have been conducted to study the effects of marijuana on humans.
Since the research is still considered to be in the early stages and there is some evidence that the drug may cause some negative effects, it has been established that it should be used only when and as prescribed. Also, it should only be used in a form of approved cannabinoid-based medicines in order to benefit from its therapeutic properties.
While cannabis has been used for both recreational and medical purposes since ancient times, the drug did not gain legal status in any part of the world until 2013.
Why Medical Marijuana Has Been All The Rage Lately?
Following are the major reasons for the demands of the legalization of cannabis in many parts of the world:
- Inefficacy of many first-line medications
- Severe side-effects of many traditional medications
- The inability of scientists to find cures and treatments for many diseases
- Evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, regarding the effectiveness of marijuana for providing relief from many diseases.
Cannabidiol – The Magical Compound in Cannabis
The Cannabis plant contains more than a hundred different chemical compounds, called Cannabinoids. They have the ability to interact with the naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors in the human brain. The level of each cannabinoid and the combination of different cannabinoids give each strain of cannabis plant its unique properties.
Cannabidiol (CBD), the second most common cannabinoid molecule found in the cannabis plant, known to provide relief from various illnesses. CBD is also considered safe for consumption because it is non-intoxicating and does not make you feel high.
Many studies and clinical trials have been conducted to investigate the health benefits of CBD, its behavioral and psychological effects, and pharmacological interactions. But, all the studies that have so far been performed are either in-vitro studies or conducted on animals. Due to this reason, large-scale clinical application of CBD-based drugs, and cannabis, in general, has not been achieved yet.
While there are some issues in the clinical application of drug-based medicines, researchers have stated that CBD can bring a revolution in the pharmaceutical industry.
Health Issues that Cannabis Has Been Found to be Helpful
Cannabinoids based medications have been found to be helpful in the treatment and management of many health issues. Some of these are:
- Epilepsy – CBD (Cannabidiol) and CBDV (Cannabidivarin), two of the cannabinoids in the marijuana plant, are found to be effective in managing symptoms of epilepsy.
According to the researchers, cannabinoids have shown anti-convulsive properties during lab studies. Also, as mentioned earlier, FDA has also approved the use of medical cannabis for two forms of epilepsy.
- Chronic Pain – Cannabis has been used as an effective alternative treatment for different types of chronic pain, such as neuropathic pain, post-operative pain, and pain due to diseases like fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer. A survey conducted in California showed that more than 90% of the participants, suffering from chronic pain, cancer, and migraine, experienced pain relief when treated with medical cannabis.
Some other diseases medical cannabis has been found to be helpful for are:
- Gastrointestinal issues, such as Crohn’s disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Brain diseases, such as depression, Alzheimer’s, PTSD, and Multiple Sclerosis
- Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Skin diseases, like Eczema and Psoriasis
- Chronic pain and inflammation
- AIDS/ HIV (it helps to manage symptoms, such as loss of appetite, sleeplessness, neuropathic pain and mood).
Alexander Strokes, a researcher from Hawaii, has found that a compound derived from cannabis can help treat heart disease. According to him, it activates a brain receptor that encourages the heart to work harder to pump blood. He also secured a patent for this compound, in early 2018.
According to Marcel Bonn-Miller, substance abuse specialist at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania:
“The greatest amount of evidence for the therapeutic effects of cannabis relate to its ability to reduce chronic pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, and muscle spasms due to Multiple Sclerosis.”
There is much scientific and anecdotal evidence with regard to the effectiveness of marijuana in providing symptomatic relief and an alternative treatment option for various health conditions. However, there is contradictory evidence as well. The drug can have negative effects, can cause addiction, and may increase the risks for developing some diseases, not to mention the proven side effect of distance distortion.
Due to these contrasting views, cannabis is still not considered a first-line treatment by medical practitioners. Wherever the drug is being prescribed, it is currently being used as an alternative medicine to treat diseases for which there are no standard treatments available.
With the contrasting pieces of evidence on one hand and much public demand for legalization on the other, including its use as a recreational drug, legislators are having a hard time deciding its official status. Indeed, the County of Health Officials of New York (among many others) is very concerned about its use, especially as a recreational drug.
We will continue to keep you up to date about the cannabis issue. Stay tuned for our ongoing series on the medical, political and financial reactions of using marijuana both medically and recreationally in this current climate of the cannabis controversy.