You may have heard of the reputed benefits of using marijuana to help with various medical issues. You may have even tried it yourself or know someone who has. You may be interested to know how medical marijuana can help you or others around you.
Unfortunately, people who want marijuana or cannabis to be legalised for recreational purposes are often the most vocal.
Their passion may override their hunger for recognised facts. In this article, we are going to look at the medical reasons for using marijuana to treat illness with the support of studies and reputable research. Read on to discover the truth behind medical marijuana.
- What is medical marijuana?
- Medical marijuana benefits
- Use of medical marijuana
- Medical marijuana and anxiety
- Medical marijuana and arthritis
- Medical marijuana and cancer
- Medical marijuana and autism
- Medical marijuana and epilepsy
- Medical marijuana and depression
- Medical marijuana and diabetes
- Medical marijuana and eczema
- Medical marijuana and glaucoma
- Medical marijuana and fibromyalgia
- So what does all this mean?
What is medical marijuana?
As the name suggests, medical marijuana (or medical cannabis) is the use of marijuana or cannabis to treat a disease or symptom. Usually, basic cannabis extract or a form of the whole unprocessed marijuana plant is used. Due to restrictions and regulations, the testing of cannabis for many diseases is limited. However, there is a small amount of evidence to support the claims and we are going to look into it.
There are a number of side effects that have been noted when medical marijuana is used. This include:
- dry mouth
- loss of balance
It is even believed to cause schizophrenia in some young people. Other concerns include impaired cognitive ability, memory loss and risk of addiction.
Medical marijuana benefits
Use of medical marijuana
Medical marijuana is used for a variety of conditions including:
Medical marijuana and anxiety
The idea of using marijuana to treat anxiety is an interesting one as cannabis use can trigger paranoia and various forms of anxiety. The interesting thing is that depending on the strain of cannabis used, there is evidence to show that marijuana can also be very useful against anxiety.
Marijuana is full of cannabinoids (the active ingredients of cannabis). In fact, there are 85 of these natural compounds. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most well-known one, but there are plenty of others, such as CBD (cannabidiol). THC activates the amygdala area of the brain, the area responsible for fear, anxiety and paranoia. It can also make people feel euphoric and “out of it” – which is why marijuana that is high in THC is so popular. CBD, on the other hand, causes anxiety levels to drop. Studies show that CBD is effective in treating anxiety.
Medical marijuana and arthritis
Studies show that the symptoms of arthritis can be eased through the use of medical marijuana. While helping to deal with the pain and inflammation, medical marijuana can also help improve bone growth and its maintenance. This is true for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Medical marijuana and cancer
Medical marijuana can help ease nausea and vomiting that may happen after chemotherapy. There is also limited evidence to suggest that cannabis can inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells. These studies were conducted on animals while some
very early studies were conducted on humans. So far, the only evidence gathered from these clinical trials is that using cannabinoids on cancer patients is safe. There is no evidence to suggest that cancer can be controlled or cured in humans by using cannabinoids.
Medical marijuana and autism
There is a great deal of controversy around the idea of treating autism with marijuana. This is mainly because the treatment of autism tends to start in childhood and the idea of using any form of recreational drug on children is unnatural. California is the only state in America where autism is classified as a condition that may be treated with cannabis. This is only because a doctor in California is free to prescribe medical marijuana to any patient as long as they are convinced that it will provide medical benefits. Due to the illegal nature of the drug, people spend hours researching the best forms of marijuana to treat signs of autism in their children. Medical marijuana is legal (or essentially legal) in Canada, much of Europe, North Korea, and Australia.
The way that THC redirects neurons is believed to help people with autism manage cognitive processing. It is also thought that CBD can help to maintain emotional balance and focus. Rage and hostility are common in people with autism and CBD are known to soothe these emotions, as well as decreasing anxiety and balancing mood.
Doing anything to alter the brain chemistry of a growing child could result in long-term damage. It is important to fully consider any risks or implications before using what is essentially a psychoactive drug on them.
Medical marijuana and epilepsy
There has been some evidence to show that CBD could be helpful in controlling seizures. However, any evidence which shows safety and the exact level of effectiveness of cannabis use in epilepsy were not conclusive. Federal restrictions mean that there is a limit to how much research can be done. However, scientists in the US have created a drug known as Epidiolex which is derived from cannabidiols. In 2015, an open-label study (one without placebos) at the American Academy of Neurology in Washington DC was carried out on 213 epilepsy sufferers aged between 2 and 26 years old. The following data was collected from 137 people who used the drug for a minimum of 12 weeks.
- 54% decrease in seizures on average
- higher reduction of seizures in patients with Dravet Syndrome
- continual reduction of seizures throughout the time the medication was taken (up to 24 weeks in some cases)
- 14 people found that the drug had no effect on them, so they withdrew from the study
Medical marijuana and depression
A recent study found that CBD was effective against depression. Unfortunately, THC can exacerbate the symptoms of depression and even trigger psychosis in some individuals. Many vulnerable individuals will try marijuana as an anti-depressant out of desperation or simply because they have seen it work well on a friend. In reality, even if you are knowledgeable about the dramatic difference between CBD and THC, whether you have bought the right product and you get exactly what you asked for is a gamble. If someone’s mental health is unstable, adding THC to the mix can be catastrophic. This problem is the reason why so many people have been fighting to have marijuana legalised for medical reasons. In instances such as persistent depression, when CBD has been scientifically proven to be effective, prescribing a suitable dose of safe CBD would take the risk out of self-prescription.
Medical marijuana and diabetes
According to the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis (AAMC), cannabis can help people with diabetes in the following ways:
- stabilising blood sugar
- helping to lower blood pressure over time
- helping with restless leg syndrome and promoting improved sleep quality
- acting as a vasodilator (keeps blood vessels open) to improve circulation and
reducing the pain of neuropathy
These benefits are based on the results of recent studies. The American Journal of Medicine confirmed that cannabis use may help control blood sugar and also suggested that smoking pot led to a lower BMI and higher levels of “good cholesterol.”
Medical marijuana and eczema
The internet is brimming with stories about how individuals finally found relief from eczema after using a cream that included cannabis tincture. Others talk about how smoking it has helped relieve their eczema. There is little evidence to show that either is true. However, as there is a strong medical link between asthma and eczema, it is not advisable to smoke marijuana in an attempt to treat eczema. There are certainly people who have some vague idea that marijuana may have medicinal properties and have used this to validate their pot habit. Using marijuana for medical purposes should be about harnessing the potential healing powers of CBD and should never be about getting high. As marijuana also brings some side effects with it, it is not something that should be dabbled with.
Hemp oil is far superior to olive oil when it comes to treating skin conditions. It is possible that the evidence supporting the use of cannabis oil to successfully treat skin conditions has led people to assume that smoking or consuming marijuana would have the same effect. There is even evidence to suggest that hemp seed oil can make a difference to skin conditions such as dermatitis when it is consumed. As hemp seed oil is so effective, legal and has no psycho-active properties, it makes sense to treat skin conditions such as eczema with hemp seed oil or hemp oil, rather than marijuana.
When it comes to the skin, cannabis oil can provide huge benefits. However, smoking marijuana will not deliver the same results. THC is known to increase testosterone levels, which can lead to acne. Tobacco is also well-known to age the skin and reduce elastin. If marijuana is combined with tobacco, your skin could suffer as a result of you smoking it.
Medical marijuana and glaucoma
Glaucoma is a medical condition where the pressure in the eyeball increases, damaging the optic nerve and eventually resulting in permanent loss of vision. In the early stages of glaucoma, eye drops may be used as a form of treatment. If this is not effective, then laser treatment or surgery may be suggested.
In order to limit any damage, the intraocular pressure (IOP) of the eyeball needs to be reduced. Smoking marijuana has been proven to reduce the IOP in people with glaucoma and those without. This is the reason behind people’s use of medical marijuana to treat glaucoma. Unfortunately, the effects of smoking marijuana only last 3-4 hours. This means that an individual would need to be smoking regularly to successfully cope with the disease.
Smoking this much marijuana would have the following effects:
- Loss of ability to drive
- Loss of ability to operate heavy machinery
- Loss of ability to function at maximum mental capacity
- potential mood alteration
- potential lung damage
- potential disorders of the brain
There is a small study involving 9 patients using oral administration of THC to treat glaucoma without the need for smoking marijuana. Unfortunately, the side effects were so bad that all patients stopped using the drug within 9 months of starting the trial. Glaucoma is a lifelong condition that requires decades of treatment, meaning that this short spell of treatment was not acceptable.
The ideal solution would be to add THC into eye drops. This avoids the need for smoking marijuana and the horrendous side effects of oral administration. However, THC is not water soluble and it is not yet possible to get the required concentration into an eyedrop solution.
As well as lowering IOP, CBD is known to protect nerve cells, meaning that marijuana has the potential to be very effective against glaucoma once scientists have found a way to safely and effectively administer it.
Medical marijuana and fibromyalgia
Studies show that medical marijuana can be effective against the pain suffered by fibromyalgia patients. Fibromyalgia is known for being very difficult to diagnose and impossible to cure. Treatment options are limited, which is why many fibromyalgia sufferers turn to medical marijuana.
In a study by the National Pain Report, medical marijuana was recorded as being very effective in treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia according to 62% of those who took part in the study. A further 33% stated that the drug helped them a little bit. These results were substantially more positive than the results for the three known drugs used to treat fibromyalgia (Cymbalta, Lyrica, and Savella). While this study shows that fibromyalgia patients believe in the healing effects of medical marijuana, it doesn’t offer any information about its side effects or risks.
So what does all this mean?
There is no denying that marijuana has medicinal properties with THC and CBD offering different forms of relief for various symptoms. However, the lack of research is significant and when it comes to safety, long-term use and side effects, marijuana is not always the best choice. One of the main things to consider is how difficult it is to monitor marijuana use. THC and CBD levels vary widely from one strain of the plant to the next, so there is no consistency.
To successfully use marijuana to treat illness, the active ingredients would need to be isolated and purified and the dose would need to be controlled. Smoking marijuana is not something that is easy to monitor medically. Although studies are limited due to legal restrictions, there is growing evidence to support the use of medical marijuana. It is likely that in time there will be a safe way to use marijuana, but for the time being, it would be wise to opt for methods that are controlled and consistent, especially if you are dealing with terminal diseases such as cancer.