If ever a subject was considered controversial, it has to be the legalization, potential benefits and dangers of the use (and some would say abuse) of medical marijuana.
As marijuana legalization keeps garnering further attention, scientists, researchers, politicians, and the general public all keep asking the same questions:
- Is medical marijuana safe?
- How effective is it?
- What diseases and conditions can it treat and to what extent?
- Is it really a gateway drug?
- Should it be decriminalized?
- What are the long term side effects?
Twenty-nine US states and the District of Columbia have removed the stigma from the use of marijuana medically. It is now both medically and recreationally legal in Canada, and other countries around the world are adopting their own legislation as we speak.
That’s not to say that the above questions are being swept under the rug. Naysayers are waving their sets of data fervently, and those who are seeing some of the benefits of the plant cannot deny their own experiences.
While we may never see the full picture (like with any other drug, medicine or substance), let us explore the uses and benefits of medical marijuana, and some of the conditions it has been documented to treat.
There is evidence to suggest that the use of oral cannabinoids can reduce muscle spasms in those suffering from multiple sclerosis. However, some studies claim that the beneficial effect of cannabis can be considered modest at best.
On the other hand, researchers at the University of Rochester MS Center in New York asked real-life MS patients how medical marijuana has benefited them, and over 70% of those interviewed claimed that it has helped them manage their pain and spasticity.
The same percentage of marijuana users suffering from MS also felt that it has improved their quality of life.
Drug addiction and alcoholism
The jury is still out on the final verdict of whether or not medical marijuana can be officially beneficial for drug addiction and alcoholism, but research is being done to explore the area fully.
For instance, scientists from The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego conducted a study on CBD and its impact on addiction. The scientists experimented with rats that were addicted to cocaine and alcohol.
After injecting the rats with CBD, it was found that the rats were less likely to relapse over time, despite being tempted. Overall, they concluded that there was potential in using CBD for preventing addiction relapse.
The National Institute of Health has also looked at using the endocannabinoid system as a potential therapy for alcohol use disorder. Yet, they concluded that more studies are necessary to better understand the relationship between the endocannabinoid system and alcohol addiction.
On the other hand, a study published in the Harm Reduction Journal claims that the use of marijuana can increase the risk of drug and alcohol abuse.
In short, as we continue to learn more about the mechanisms of addiction, the ways in which we combat it will hopefully become more efficient in the near future.
In the US, more than 50 million adults live with chronic pain. Given such a high statistic, it is easy to see why the effects and benefits of medical marijuana on chronic pain have been so widely explored.
With countless scientific studies examining the subject, our pile of evidence on the impact marijuana has upon chronic pain is rather substantial. The results are noteworthy and should give you some pause.
Unsurprisingly, it has been found that cannabinoids are effective at relieving chronic pain. In fact, CBD is commonly used in treating chronic pain specifically due to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
Those suffering from conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, osteoarthritis, dystonia, Fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis can all benefit from the effects CBD has upon their nervous system. The list, of course, does not end there. Many different types of chronic pain can be treated with CBD.
As most chronic pain conditions are only manageable and not curable, medical marijuana can offer significant relief to sufferers.
The use of marijuana to battle cancer is probably one of the most interesting questions being explored today.
As there is evidence to suggest that it can help relieve nausea and vomiting, which are often an unwelcome side effect of chemotherapy, it is certainly a welcome addition to the treatment of cancer patients.
Some studies have shown that CBD can slow the growth of certain cancer cells, or even kill some types of cancer. While the treatment is considered to be safe, it still cannot defeat the disease on its own.
As medical marijuana is more widely prescribed in addition to other types of cancer treatment, scientists will have an opportunity to explore how effective it is to combat the symptoms, or the roots of the disease itself.
The FDA has approved the use of CBD-based drugs in the treatment of two types of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
Since CBD is not a psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, it is now getting more widespread attention in treating certain types of seizures.
It can be especially efficient in patients who do not respond well to other forms of treatment.
Glaucoma has gotten a somewhat bad rap. It is most often used as an excuse to get access to medical marijuana.
Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that using marijuana can reduce intraocular pressure, one of the main contributors to the disease.
While glaucoma might sound harmless in comparison to all the other diseases on this list so far, it can cause blindness if not treated, and sometimes even despite treatment, so any substance that can successfully slow down its progress is certainly worth researching further.
While tests are yet to be conducted on human subjects, marijuana has been found to help rats and mice suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
As 2.3% of the US population are considered to be living with the disease, more research into the matter is certainly warranted, and will hopefully be conducted sooner rather than later.
Again, as will all other mental health challenges, some OCD sufferers may see little improvement from this type of treatment, while others may benefit greatly.
In a study from 2006, it was shown that THC, the main psychoactive ingredient of the marijuana plant, can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. THC slows the buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain by blocking the enzyme that produces them, which is, in fact, killing brain cells.
Research is being done to further improve our knowledge on the spread of this disease, and will hopefully yield even more practical results in the near future.
Depression, anxiety, and PTSD
The effects marijuana has on mental illness is a question widely debated.
A review published in Clinical Psychology Today, which surveys all scientific literature exploring the matter, has found evidence that yes, marijuana can relieve symptoms of PTSD and depression.
However, that being said, marijuana was not found to be the appropriate choice of treatment for psychosis and bipolar disorders, as well as some other mental health conditions.
When it comes to marijuana’s effects on social anxiety, there is evidence to prove that it both helps alleviate and aggravate the symptoms. The best we can say is that marijuana might work for some, and not for others.
Since every mental health disorder is unique, there will certainly never be a one-size-fits-all solution, yet marijuana may one day be more widely used in conjunction with other types of therapy.
Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder, causes pain, diarrhea, and vomiting, among its many other symptoms. A study conducted in Israel has shown that the use of marijuana can help alleviate them, and even cure them completely.
While the study was small and requires further research into the matter, the results we’re seeing so far seem very promising.
Lupus is a very serious condition where the body attacks itself without any known cause, and is often difficult to treat.
Some of the chemicals that are found in the cannabis plant, though, can help calm the immune system, which can, in turn, ease the symptoms of Lupus.
As marijuana is also known for treating symptoms such as vomiting and chronic pain, some of the positive effects which Lupus patients experience when using marijuana might actually be due to those properties, and not some property specific to treating lupus.
A word of advice
Before you begin exploring the benefits and use of medical marijuana to help battle any condition or disease you are living with, make sure to consult your doctor.
While the results we are seeing in terms of research and scientific evidence are certainly a cause for hope, don’t forget that marijuana, like any other substance, can also have negative side effects.
Do your research thoroughly, explore wisely, and don’t expect a rapid recovery. Monitor your progress and reactions, and adjust your treatment accordingly.