It is still a highly contentious issue but medical marijuana is making in-roads in the United States as an accepted form of treatment for certain conditions. Many people still look upon marijuana with disdain but there may be more to this herb in medical terms than was previously thought. Ongoing research and the results of studies over the years has supported the use of medical marijuana in some instances, to the point that it is being legalized in the different American states at a much faster rate than was previously seen.
Marijuana is the common name for the plant known as cannabis which can be ingested (taken orally) or inhaled. It is known by a number of other street names including weed, grass and pot. The reason why marijuana is illegal compared to other herbs is that it contains psychoactive compounds. These chemicals give a person a “high” and there is potential for addiction. Many people see marijuana as a “soft drug” compared to other illicit substances like cocaine and heroin. But others see it as a “gateway drug” that leads to use of more addictive street drugs.
Plants are the source of most modern drugs that we know of today. The traditional uses of herbs for medicinal purposes has warranted further investigation. When the active chemicals within these plants can be verified to have some medicinal benefit, these chemicals are then produced synthetically in laboratories. The same applies to cannabis. Today cannabis-based drugs like dronabinol and nabilone contain synthetic cannabinoids and are FDA approved.
Marijuana is a 3,000 year old remedy
The use of marijuana has been traced back to some 3,000 years ago through archaeological evidence. It is a herb that is indigenous to Central and South Asia but is now widely grown throughout the world. The exact period when marijuana was used for medicinal purposes is unclear. However, herbal remedies were the primary medicinal options for most of human history. Marijuana was probably used for medicinal purposes for millennia. In the 19th century it was being used in Western medicine for ailments such as pain, spasms and convulsions.
THC and CBD are the main active ingredients
There are several hundreds of different compounds in marijuana. The active chemicals which have pharmacological action in marijuana are referred to as cannabinoids or phytocannabinoids. The two main cannabinoids to consider when looking at the medicinal use of marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). It is just two of close to 100 cannabinoids in marijuana. CBD does not cause the intoxication or euphoria (“high”) of THC but has a number of different effects on the body. THC drug tests are used to detect marijuana use.
Not all cannabis is the same
The issue of medical marijuana and the widespread media coverage about its legalization has led many people to think of cannabis in the same way as a pharmaceutical drug. But this is not the case. Unlike drugs which are standardized, there are variety of different species of most herbs. Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica are two of the main strains of the cannabis plant. The CBD:THC ratio is about 4 to 5 times higher in Cannabis indica. The active chemicals within each varies and this variation is not only restricted to strains but with different harvests of the same strain.
Medical marijuana has health benefits and risks
Extensive research studies and clinical trials have shown that marijuana and its derivatives have medical benefits. However, the debate is still ongoing as to whether these benefits warrant the legalization of the drug for medical purposes. It is also important to know that medical marijuana is not without risks. The dangers may be obvious when marijuana is smoked but even when taken orally it can cause side effects and be open to abuse.
Cannabis not an approved cancer treatment
Although it may be used to manage some of the symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments, cannabis is not a treatment for cancer. This means that cannabis should not be used to stop the growth of a cancerous tumor, destroy cancer cells or prevent it from spreading. However, cannabis may possibly assist in blocking cell growth and reducing blood flow to tumors. Nevertheless, at this point in time its use cannot be justified to replace cancer treatments that are known to be effective, like chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. For now, medical marijuana may be prescribed for cancer patients who are battling with symptoms like nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.
Majority of U.S. doctors approve legalization
A recent survey by WebMD/Medscape has revealed that the majority of American doctors believe that medical marijuana should be legalized across the USA. Currently it is legal in less than half of American states. However, the state legalization of medical marijuana within the United States has accelerated over the past 5 years. The respondents in the survey said that medical marijuana can deliver real benefits to patients with oncologists and hematologists showing the most support for its legalization.
Possession without prescription is still illegal
Although medical marijuana is being legalized by more states and being considered for legalization by others, this does not mean that you can go out and buy the drug on the street. Marijuana is still considered to be an illicit substance when sold outside the proper medical marijuana channels. Possession of the street drug and recreational use of marijuana is illegal and can lead to criminal prosecution. The same applies to growing the drug privately or consuming it without a prescription.
Medical uses of marijuna and cannabis-based drugs
Today medical marijuana is indicated for a number of different conditions. Many of the claims of the benefits of medical marijuana are backed with research but some are still anecdotal. Medical marijuana is currently being used to:
- Ease nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing cancer treatments.
- Stimulate appetite in cancer and HIV/AIDS patients to assist with weight gain.
- Reduce muscle spasm and tension and reduce tremors in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.
- Manage chronic pain in people with cancer, HIV/AIDS, after spine surgery or amputation and in multiple sclerosis.
- Possibly lower pressure within the eye that could assist in the management of glaucoma.
- Possibly assist with reducing the frequency of seizures in epileptics.
These medical uses and health benefits of marijuana should not detract from the modern pharmaceutical drugs.