What is Medical Marijuana (Marijuana without the high)?
When marijuana, also known as cannabis, is used for medicinal purposes, it is called medical marijuana.
Medicinal marijuana is a form of therapeutic treatment that has evoked national attention in recent years. Controversies surrounding its legal, ethical, and societal use; safe administration, packaging, and dispensing; adverse health consequences and deaths attributed to marijuana intoxication; and therapeutic indications based on limited clinical data represent some of the complexities associated with medical marijuana treatment.
These are typically prescribed by physicians to their patients as preliminary research suggests that consumption of medical cannabis helps reduce vomiting and nausea during chemotherapy, reduces muscle spasms and chronic pain, and improves appetite in people suffering from HIV.
Furthermore, it has helped people with mental conditions to relax, with its effects starting right away and lasting for about three to four hours on average. For even more convenience, medical marijuana can be consumed in the form of a capsule, pill, mouth spray, oil, or can be baked or smoked or added to tea.
Is Medical Marijuana Approved By The FDA?
In 2018, the cannabidiol Epidiolex was approved by the FDA to help with treatments for seizures caused by two severe and rare forms of epilepsy, known as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Even more so, the FDA has given its approval for a couple of man-made cannabinoid medicines, called nabilone (Cesamet) and dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros). Both of these medicines help prevent vomiting and nausea during chemotherapy. So, it is safe to say that some marijuana medicines are approved by the FDA for consumption as advised by doctors.
What States Permit Medical Marijuana?
Even though the FDA has only approved it to treat two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, more than two-thirds of the states have actually legalized it for medical treatment, and more are considering passing bills to do the same.
Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana. Here are all the names of those states.
- The District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Among these states, Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington are the ones that permit the recreational use of marijuana as well.
The states that have restricted the use of marijuana are Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
What is Medical Marijuana Used For?
Due to limited clinical research, the full potential of using medical marijuana is still not known. However, there are plenty of uses for medical marijuana as it has helped people fight different illnesses.
There is robust evidence for the medical benefits of marijuana for vomiting and nausea associated with chemotherapy, cachexia and anorexia in HIV/AIDS. Moreover, it also helps with chronic neuropathic pain, spinal cord injury, and spasticity in multiple sclerosis.
The data available for many other indications, such as pruritus, epilepsy, and depression, is negligible. However, the lack of scientific evidence for a particular illness does not necessarily illustrate the therapeutic potential of medical marijuana.
Clinical studies with whole plant preparations or single cannabinoids have often been motivated by positive anecdotal experiences of patients using crude marijuana products. The antiemetic, appetite enhancing, analgesia, relaxing effects, and therapeutic use of medical marijuana in Tourette's syndrome were all identified in the same manner.
Let us now look at some of the reasons why medical marijuana is used in more detail.
Vomiting And Nausea
The treatment of the side effects correlated with antineoplastic therapy is the evidence for cannabinoids that has been documented the most, with roughly 40 studies (nabilone, THC, cannabis, and other THC analogues).
Most of these trials were conducted back in the 1980s. The THC needs to be dosed relatively high, so the resultant side effects may happen relatively often. In one study, THC was subordinate to high-dose metoclopramide. Also, there are no similarities between THC and the current serotonin antagonists. Some recent research has shown that THC in low doses enhances the effectiveness of other antiemetic drugs if given collectively. In folk medicine, cannabinoids are common and are often used for other causes of nausea, such as hepatitis and AIDS.
In several clinical trials of nabilone, THC and cannabis, a pleasing effect on spasticity induced by spinal cord injury or various sclerosis has been witnessed. Among other positively affected symptoms were tremors, paraesthesia, pain, and ataxia. In some research, improved bladder control was also seen. There is also some anecdotal proof of the benefit of marijuana in spasticity due to brain lesions.
Anorexia and Cachexia
An appetite improving effect of THC is seen with divided daily doses totalling 5 mg. When needed, the daily dose can be increased to 20 mg. In long-term research of 94 AIDS patients, the appetite-enhancing effect of THC persisted for months, validating the appetite enhancement perceived in a shorter 6-week study. THC multiplied the appetite by two times on the visual analogue scale, in contrast to placebo.
Patients managed to retain a stable body weight over seven months. A positive impact on body weight was also recorded in 15 patients with Alzheimer's disease who previously refused food.
There are some positive anecdotal results of therapeutic response to cannabis in dystonia, Tourette's syndrome, and tardive dyskinesia. Several patients achieve reasonable improvement. However, some even show a substantial response or even total symptom control. Also, the use of medical marijuana in Tourette's syndrome is currently being investigated in clinical studies.
In some MS patients, reduction of tremors and benefits in ataxia have been witnessed following the use of THC. Despite some positive reports, no objective conclusion has been reached on Huntington's disease or parkinsonism. However, marijuana products may prove effective in levodopa-induced dyskinesia in Parkinson's disease without worsening the primary symptoms.
In 1971, during a well-organized investigation into the effects of marijuana on healthy marijuana users, it was seen that marijuana reduced intraocular pressure. In the subsequent 12 years, several studies on healthy people and glaucoma patients with marijuana and numerous synthetic and natural cannabinoids were carried out.
Marijuana helps decrease intraocular pressure by an average of about 25 to 30% and sometimes up to 50%. Some non-psychotropic cannabinoids, and rarely, some non-cannabinoid ingredients of the hemp plant, also help decrease intraocular pressure.
Extensive clinical studies have demonstrated the analgesic properties of marijuana products. Also, a combination with opioids is likely. Among potential indications are neuropathic pain due to damage to the brachial plexus, multiple sclerosis, and HIV infection, cancer pain, pain in rheumatoid arthritis, headache, chronic bowel inflammation, menstrual pain, and neuralgias.
Dependency and Withdrawal
According to old and modern case results, marijuana is an excellent remedy to fight withdrawal from dependence on benzodiazepines, alcohol, and opiates. For this very reason, some have called it a gateway drug. In this context, reducing physical withdrawal symptoms and stress related to stopping drug abuse may play a role in its practical benefits.
Autoimmune Diseases and Inflammation
In several painful syndromes subsequent to inflammatory processes such as arthritis and ulcerative colitis, marijuana products may act as analgesics and demonstrate anti-inflammatory potential. For instance, some patients employing cannabis report a substantial decrease in their need for nonsteroidal and steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.
Moreover, there are some reports that suggest the positive effects of marijuana self-medication on allergic infirmities. However, it is still unclear whether marijuana products may have a relevant impact on autoimmune diseases' causative processes.
Experiments investigating the anti-asthmatic effects of THC or marijuana date mainly from the 1970s and are all acute studies. The effects of a marijuana cigarette (2% THC) or oral THC (15 mg), respectively, roughly match those achieved with therapeutic doses of traditional bronchodilator drugs such as salbutamol and isoprenaline.
Since inhaling marijuana products may hurt the mucous membranes, oral treatment or some other delivery system would be rather preferable. Significantly, few subjects developed bronchoconstriction after inhaling THC.
The use of marijuana in epilepsy is one of the oldest indications of marijuana, and several animal experiments have proved the antiepileptic effects of some cannabinoids. The anticonvulsant action of diazepam and phenytoin has been potentiated by THC. According to a few cases from back in the 20th century, some epileptic patients proceeded to utilize marijuana to control an otherwise uncontrollable seizure disorder. Moreover, marijuana use may seldom precipitate convulsions as well.
An enhancement of mood in reactive depression has been seen in various clinical studies with THC. Additional case reports claim the benefit of cannabinoids in other psychiatric symptoms and diseases, such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, sleep disorders, and dysthymia. However, many authors have given different viewpoints regarding psychiatric syndromes and marijuana.
Some emphasize the problems caused by the consumption of marijuana, whereas others support its therapeutic potential. Quite possibly, marijuana products may be either helpful or harmful, depending on the specific case. The attending doctor and the patient must ideally be open to a crucial examination of the issue and be honest about both the probabilities.
Miscellaneous, Mixed Syndromes
There are several positive patient records for medical conditions that can not be easily assigned to the above classifications, such as hiccups, pruritus, restless leg syndrome, ADS (attention deficit syndrome), tinnitus, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue syndrome, and others.
Several hundred likely indications of marijuana and THC have been reported by different authors. For instance, about 2.5 to 5 mg of THC was beneficial in three subjects with pruritus because of liver disease. Another case includes the treatment of a chronic hiccup that started after surgery. No medication was sufficient, but smoking a marijuana cigarette eliminated the symptoms completely.
Marijuana products often show excellent effects in illnesses with various symptoms that included within the spectrum of THC results, for instance, in painful diseases that have an inflammatory source (e.g., ulcerative colitis) or are supplemented by enhanced muscle tone (e.g., spinal cord injury, menstrual cramps), or in conditions with anorexia and nausea supplemented by pain, depression and, anxiety, respectively (e.g. AIDS, hepatitis C, cancer).
What Are The Side Effects Of Using Medical Marijuana?
To say the least, there is insufficient data to draw firm conclusions about the safety of medical marijuana.
- For some conditions, the effects of cannabis are modest; for all other conditions evaluated, there is inadequate information to assess their effects.
Typical adverse effects of medical cannabis include tiredness, dizziness, increased appetite, and cardiovascular and psychoactive effects. Other effects can include:
- Impaired short-term memory, impaired motor coordination.
- Altered judgment.
- Paranoia or psychosis in high doses. Other side effects include bloodshot eyes, depression, dizziness, hallucinations, faster heartbeat, and low blood pressure.
Marijuana can also affect coordination and judgement, which could lead to injuries and accidents. Also, if used and abused during the teenage years, marijuana can affect mental function and intelligence quotient (IQ) as the brain is still developing.
Moreover, as cannabis contains some of the same compounds as tobacco, there have been concerns about the claim that smoking it could hurt the lungs. The consequences of inhaled cannabis on the health of the lungs aren't clear. Still, there's some evidence that shows how it might raise the risk of bronchitis and other lung-related issues.
As far as the long-term effects of marijuana are concerned, the severity mainly depends on the potency of the marijuana and the age of the user, as stated by Aaron Weiner, PhD. Some experts suggest that marijuana could be a risk factor for students dropping out of school. Although there is no concrete evidence, there is speculation about it.
Also, frequent use of cannabis during youth has been linked to a lower overall Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Lastly, chronic cannabis use may increase anxiety and/or depression, making you feel worse about your life than the general population.
However, it is worth noting that the true and evident long-term effects of marijuana are still not known, but the research carries on!
Some Key Things To Know About Medical Marijuana
- You need to learn and abide by the laws about the use of medicinal marijuana in the state where you live.
- Inform your healthcare providers about any and all of the drugs you consume. If you consume marijuana, tell them how often and why you use it.
- Visit and consult your healthcare provider routinely. Your provider may need to check your blood pressure or ensure marijuana is not affecting other medications you consume.
- Instead of smoking marijuana, speak to your healthcare provider about using marijuana pills, sprays, capsules, or vaporizers.
- Do not vape or smoke marijuana if you have any respiratory diseases such as COPD or asthma.
- Do not consume marijuana if you are breastfeeding or pregnant. Marijuana stays in fat cells and can be carried slowly to your baby over a prolonged period. Also, marijuana can affect your baby's development and growth.
- Do not use heavy machinery or go on a drive when you have consumed marijuana.
- Do not use other drugs or drink alcohol or consume other medications while you are using marijuana.
When Should You Contact Your Doctor?
- You do not see your symptoms improving.
- You have a feeling that you are becoming too dependent on the consumption of marijuana.
- You have stopped consuming marijuana and feel that you are unable to handle the withdrawal symptoms.
- You have questions or concerns about your health or condition.
- You have a feeling that consuming marijuana is having adverse effects on your health and body.
How Can One Buy Medical Marijuana
To be eligible for medical marijuana, you need a written recommendation from a licensed doctor in a state where it is legal.
Note: Not every doctor is willing to recommend medical marijuana to their patients because of the sensitivity involved.