Benefits of Medical Marijuana: How Cannabinoids can Help
It goes by many names—ganja, smoke, bud, pot.
The question over the years has remained the same:
Is marijuana a harmful substance?
The more decriminalized it is becoming throughout the United States. Now, more than ever, people are questioning this "dangerous drug." Couldther be real benefits of Medical Marijuana?
What is the Difference Between Medicinal Marijuana and Recreational Marijuana
The stigma attached to marijuana usually stems from the evidence that it may lead to addiction and that it has the potential to be abused. Skeptics about its safety also insist that using marijuana can cause cancer, or increase the risk of stroke ("Marijuana and Public Health).
The problem with that type of negative critical evaluation is that to discuss the benefits of marijuana one has to comprehend the difference between marijuana for recreational purposes and marijuana for medical uses.
As a medication, marijuana can be altered in different ways. One way is to separate a substance called cannabidiol—popularly known as CBD—from the main psychoactive ingredient, most are familiar with, which is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
By altering the concentration of either of these substances, one can manipulate the effects of the marijuana product. While THC is infamous for its psychoactive effects and euphoric sensations, CBD is non-psychoactive and induces its therapeutic effects ("Cannabis in Health and Disease").
Cannabis in either form can be used to treat a variety of ailments. The Indica strain has been found to be very effective in treating clinical conditions. Indica can treat conditions such as glaucoma, insomnia, seizures, and more ("Discriminating the Effects of Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica").
We Already Have Pharmaceuticals, Why Even Consider Marijuana?
Although over time we have developed prescription drugs to cure and treat conditions, marijuana, was once one of the top 3 most prescribed medications in the US, before its prohibition in 1937 that caused all cannabis to be taxed when purchased, decreasing its popularity.
Based on publications in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, studies have shown that cannabis, when smoked in the proper dose, improves mood, sleep, and reduces the effects of pain.
As the United States has found itself in a groundbreaking opioid epidemic, where an average of 91 Americans die daily from an opioid overdose, cannabis could change the way Americans take drugs by providing safe and effective alternatives ("Understanding the Epidemic").
Cannabis reacts with receptors in our body known as cannabinoid receptors, part of the Endocannabinoid system in the mammal body. Discovered and named as scientists researched the effects of cannabis on the body, this system proved to regulate certain human functions.
Found in various areas such as the brain, glands, and immune cells, this system is responsible for controlling parts of the nervous system which can be affected by conditions like epilepsy, spastic disorders, and conditions causing chronic pain.
When a patient is given cannabis-based medication, it reacts with the Endocannabinoid system to assist in repairing and constructing brand new cannabinoid receptors which help to maintain stabilization of body functions and fluctuations which may cause harm ("Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System").
Is Marijuana a Reasonable Alternative to Pharmaceutical Medications?
Physicians and Psychiatrists continue to delve into the cannabis conflict as more questions about its usefulness are brought into healthcare offices. A psychiatrist that works with PTSD patients, Dr. Sue Sisley, was forced to examine the idea.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition in which patients experience relentless anxiety, insomnia, and may suffer from flashbacks. Usually, it takes a process of trial and error before patients are prescribed 8-12 different medications, which Dr. Sisley acknowledged, made them feel like zombies.
Soon, however, her patients began to express that they were doing better than they had been, without taking their prescribed medications. Upon further investigation, she discovered many patients were self-medicating with marijuana because it did not have as many limiting side effects and it alleviated symptoms of their conditions.
Sisley took an interest into the topic because it would help her patients, and she desired to further examine the safety of medical marijuana. Unfortunately, she found that there was a lot of resistance and "red tape" to get FDA approval for those studies.
Most clinical studies done on the effects of marijuana focus mostly on its harmful effects. Deemed a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government, it is in the same category as admittedly dangerous and damaging substances such as heroin and LSD.
Unlike the latter, cannabis has been proven to be useful in clinical applications.Llowing the progress of certain proteins that may cause Alzheimer's to develop, improving the impact of radiation on cancer cells, and even reducing the frequency of some patient's seizures ("10 Diseases Where Medical Marijuana Could Have Impact").
Can Marijuana Help Curb the Country's Opioid Epidemic?
The world already has answers to many common and uncommon conditions, but are they safer than cannabis? A September 2016 publication in Scientific American magazine highlights that as early as 15 years ago cannabis was replacing opioids for pain.
The reason is that opioids can lead to addiction and abuse when overused. Those prescribed opiates may fall victim to the consequences because opiates are not effective for chronic pain.
Experts from the University of Utah say that opiates do not work forever. The longer a patient takes them, the higher the dose required to satisfy pain management over time. These types of drugs are most effective for short-term use and acute pain.
Cannabis-based drugs, on the other hand, have been proven to have the opposite effects of prescription painkillers. Studies have been done to provide evidence, such as those by Dr. William Norcutt, the director of a UK company that produces a cannabis-basedoromucosal spray called Sativex.
According to Dr. Norcutt's study of the spray, out of 1000 patients in clinical trials, there was zero evidence of dependency to the medication. Also, subjects displayed no withdrawal symptoms when having to stop the medication all of a sudden.
The greatest discovery was that for patients on Sativex for five years, and over, there was no increase in dosage of the medication. Patients even decreased the use of certain other painkilling alternatives, such as morphine ("Cannabis in the Clinic? The Medical Marijuana Debate").
Why Are Some States Saying (Have Said) Yes?
Across America, states are getting on board with the idea of marijuana as a medicine. In April 2016, Pennsylvania legalized for medical purposes based on studies that showed medical cannabis could improve the quality of life for sufferers of severe medical conditions ("What You Need to Know About Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania").
The medical marijuana campaign is finding supporters in high and low places. Virginia Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel openly identifies as an advocate for medical marijuana. She has introduced bills that would make medical marijuana products available to patients who have cancer, HIV/AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, and more illnesses.
The Senator told an interviewer for CBS that "it [marijuana] has no psychotropic effects and no one is dealing it on the illicit street market." Of the sick people for her bill, which failed in the House, she said, "it was heartbreaking" ("Governor McAuliffe Expected to Sign Marijuana Reforms").
Like Senator Vogel, Governor Gary Herbert of Utah was also backing a bill for medical marijuana legalization which too failed to pass. After Utah approved the use of cannabis oil in 2014, Herbert witnessed its success with those who suffered seizures.
Since then Herbert has proven to be a devoted supporter of the cause, working for the reform of marijuana regulation. He has stated that he is a believer that if medical marijuana laws are implemented correctly, the effects could be beneficial for the entire state ("Governor Herbert says he Supports Medical Marijuana."
What are Patients Saying?: First-Hand Benefits of Medical Marijuana
With states endorsing the treatment of debilitating conditions through marijuana, patients would have access to care that they might prefer but have little to no knowledge of. Currently, the 22 states that have not legalized medical cannabis limit those that could reap the benefits of an alternative treatment plan.
Before medical marijuana was legalized for Florida's ill late last year, Tarpon Springs resident Tammy Levent was met with obstacles when searching for alternative treatment after she had been diagnosed with malignant breast cancer in 2015.
When searching for her desired treatment path, doctors were resistant to help Levent because of the skepticism circling the topic. Forced to go out of her state, she met Dr. Eduardo Palanca, who assisted Tammy in accessing cannabis oils to treat her cancer.
Palanca confided in studies showing that THC has antitumor effects and that it may also prevent new cells from forming. Levent is now cancer free. She astonished doctors with tumor markers down to zero as if cancer had simply gone away ("Woman Turns to Medical Marijuana to Cure Cancer."
Have Patients Found a Miracle Drug in Marijuana?
Similar astounding effects were found when a family chose to pioneer the use of medical marijuana to assuage their young epileptic daughter's grand mal seizures. The family of Charlotte Figi is well known in the scientific and medical communities.
Before cannabis treatment, Charlotte was experiencing nearly 300 grand mal seizures a week. These seizures caused loss of consciousness and violent muscle spasms, leading to severe brain damage and many near-death experiences for the small child.
It was through this family in 2011 where many first heard of the wonders of medical marijuana. The cannabis oil that helped Charlotte, then 5 years old, originated from a strain of marijuana that is low in THC but substantially high in CBD, the therapeutic component derived from cannabis.
Named Charlotte's Web in tribute to the family, this strain and the oil procured from it miraculously limited Charlotte's seizures to two to three times per month. With just two doses per day of cannabis oil, Charlotte was granted the ability to retain some of her functioning.
In a little over a year, at six years old, Charlotte Figi had regained and strengthened the abilities to walk, feed herself, and to speak. By 2013, 40 other patients were using Charlotte's Web to alleviate symptoms of epilepsy and cancer. In 2016, Charlotte's Web was one of the top 3 medical CBD strains to be used ("Marijuana Stops Child's Severe Seizures."
What are the Doctors and the Experts Saying?"
Media reporter and neurosurgeon Doctor Sanjay Gupta has taken the idea of marijuana reform to a new level and claims that the time has come for a complete change in the way we do medical marijuana.
Gupta was part of a series of documentaries; one entitled "The Marijuana Revolution" focuses on the benefits of treatment with marijuana and the changes in perception of the drug among the healthcare industry. Gupta, once a non-supporter, captures what happens when other non-supporters are faced with fact-based evidence on medicinal marijuana.
It is of utmost importance that doctors understand and form an unbiased opinion on marijuana as a medicine. These doctors are advocates for patients in a system where the federal government considers their alternative treatment illegal for treatment purposes.
For this reason, more than 50 physicians with a similar revolution-driven motive joined to form the first national organization of doctors that are devoted to aiding in the reform of state and federal restrictions.
The Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR) are entirely radical; unlike many others in the medical field, these doctors aim for marijuana to be legalized for both recreational and medical use. This way, the possibilities for medical advances could be endless.
Professor David L. Nathan of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University and board president of DFCR supports the group's goal in saying that "the best way to improve the situation is to enact full legalization with smart regulation" ("More and more Doctors Want to Make Marijuana Legal").
How Can the Maximum Potential of Marijuana as Medicine Truly be Unlocked
Despite the negative stigma surrounding marijuana, there are infinite possibilities in how it can contribute. One thing that everyone can agree on, doctors and researchers alike, is that there are not enough studies being done in light of cannabis as a medicine.
Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director for regulatory programs at the FDA's Center for Drug and Research Evaluation, satisfies this claim saying that the FDA "needs to do all it can to support the needed scientific research with marijuana to characterize its therapeutic promise."
Throckmorton holds the FDA accountable for its roles in supporting the scientific evaluation of marijuana for its regulation in the market and product development. He emphasizes that "the promise of safety, efficacy, and reliability is not good enough."
The maximum potential of medicinal cannabis is extensively limited by restricted research. Postdoctoral research associate at the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, PiusFarinu, disagrees with marijuana's FDA scheduling altogether.
A rescheduling of the drug would open up doors within the scientific community. "When you remove all talk of abuse, which is dependent on the THC," saysFarinu, "There is no need for scheduling" ("Many States Have Legalized Medical Marijuana").
Doctors in states such as California might agree withFarinu. The California Medical Association calls for full legalization of marijuana in the belief that if strictly regulated like medicine and considered in the same way as alcohol, this would ensure the legitimate patient's safe and appropriate use.
What Could the Near Future Hold for Medical Marijuana?
As research and clinical trials prosper, future uses of medical marijuana could be widespread. Predictions see it being used for more than just terminal and debilitating illnesses.
One foresight was that a major sports league would approve its use for the medical needs of athletes. Some athletes already prefer cannabis for chronic pain and head injuries as opposed to opiates.
Other future uses, as described in Forbes publication, explore increased interest in the synthetic production of marijuana's favored component among medical researchers—CBD.
CEO Seth Yakatan of biotech company Kalytera admits that his company has been evaluating the efficacy of synthetic forms of CBD for years. Although synthetic medications are usually less effective, fear over legal issues fuels their the demand ("Six Predictions for the Marijuana Industry in 2017").
So What is the Verdict on Medicinal Marijuana?
Despite legality issues, more people realize that marijuana can aid medical treatments and influence the way that certain diseases are treated, possibly with better outcomes for patients.
Farinu believes that FDA rescheduling is closer than people realize, which may be true. In the past public demand has called for government reform. Through observation, we know that the past normally repeats itself.
If the federal government were to back the marijuana campaign, there is no telling how many more contributions could stem from its medical implementation.