Cannabis is often used as a complementary therapy for certain medical conditions, or as an alternative treatment for traditional therapies. When consumed, the cannabis plant affects the immune system, as well as other systems in the body, and produces its therapeutic effects such as pain relief.
The use of cannabis as medicine was even known among ancient civilizations who used this plant as an anesthetic, to make drinks used to improve digestion, to treat wounds and sores, and other medical problems. Knowing all this, it’s no wonder that we still use it today.
This is exactly what today’s article will focus on, but before we get into all the medical conditions which can be treated by consuming a medically approved dose of cannabinoids, let’s first see how cannabis affects our endocannabinoid system.
Medical Marijuana and Its Cannabinoids
The marijuana plant has over 400 compounds among which you can find cannabinoids, terpenes, and other chemical entities used for medical as well as recreational purposes. The ones that have been most researched are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), both of which can be used for medical purposes.
When we say medical marijuana, we refer to the use of the cannabis plant for treating some diseases and medical conditions, which is prescribed by a licensed healthcare provider. While cannabis use may result in some side effects, the medical benefits of using weed often outweigh the potential side effects like cottonmouth or increased appetite.
Medical Marijuana and the Endocannabinoid System
Weed affects the human body through the endocannabinoid system (EC) which is made up of endocannabinoid receptors located primarily in the brain and all over the human body. It’s in charge of regulating metabolism and maintaining balance (homeostasis) while also affecting memory. After users consume cannabinoids, the EC is responsible for the physical and psychoactive effects they produce.
Medical Cannabis and the Regulation Around It
Following numerous clinical trials on the effects of CBD on users, the 2018 Farm Bill finally legalized the use of CBD on a federal level. People can now buy CBD and CBD products derived from the hemp plant that contains no more than 0.3% THC in all 50 states.
However, the same can’t be said about marijuana. The legalization of medical marijuana on a federal level hasn’t happened yet. Only certain states approve of the medical use of marijuana for a handful of medical conditions.
A few years ago, the FDA approved a cannabis-derived product that contains cannabidiol – Epidiolex, as a prescription drug used for epilepsy, specifically Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. After the approval of Epidiolex, two more cannabinoid products were approved as a treatment for nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy, Dronabinol (Marinol) and Nabilone (Cesamet).
What Conditions Does Medical Marijuana Treat?
Medical marijuana patients have been consuming this drug to treat a wide list of conditions, some of which have been confirmed by clinical studies, while others are used as a complementary treatment along with other prescription drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is also researching the safety of using marijuana as a treatment option for medical conditions.
According to research, medical marijuana can be beneficial for treating the following medical conditions:
- Alzheimer’s disease;
- Chronic pain, arthritis, and osteoarthritis;
- Crohn’s disease;
- Extreme weight loss (cachexia), anorexia, and appetite loss;
- Opioid dependency;
- Parkinson’s disease;
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
- Multiple sclerosis;
- Muscle spasms and spasticity (tight or stiff muscles). (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Washington DC, 2017)
Medical cannabis may significantly improve the quality of life for patients, especially those who have symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, patients with chronic pain diagnoses, and patients suffering from eating disorders and weight loss.
How Does Medical Cannabis Help Patients?
Cannabis acts through the endocannabinoid system and its cannabinoid receptors which affect the nervous system, as well as other vital systems in the body. The EC regulates appetite, metabolism, movement, memory, intracellular communication, and other functions, which is how cannabis improves certain medical conditions.
Cannabis and cannabinoids work together with the endocannabinoid system to:
- Reduce anxiety;
- Reduce inflammation, relax tight muscles, and relieve pain in patients suffering from chronic pain and MS;
- Reduce nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients;
- Kill cancer cells and slow down tumor growth;
- Stimulate appetite and help with gaining weight in patients with eating disorders, cancer, and AIDS).
How Can You Consume Medical Marijuana?
Same as recreational marijuana, medical marijuana patients can choose from a variety of marijuana consumption methods, and pick the one that suits them most.
Marijuana can be:
- Inhaled (smoked in a joint, blunt, spliff, vape pen, pipe, bong, bowl, or other cannabis smoking devices);
- Ingested (in the form of cannabis edibles including weed brownies, cakes, gummies, chocolate made with cannabis oil, cannabutter, or other cannabis products);
- Consumed sublingually (by putting drops of cannabis concentrates or tinctures under the tongue);
- Applied topically (cannabis ointments, lotions, balms, and oils can be applied on the skin to treat localized pain).
Medical Marijuana and Its Side Effects
While the use of marijuana may be beneficial for treating medical conditions, excessive use of marijuana can lead to some short-term side effects, including:
- Affected coordination and judgement, which is why people shouldn’t drive or operate heavy machinery after they’ve consumed marijuana;
- Bloodshot eyes;
- Increased heartbeat and blood pressure;
Chronic and excessive cannabis use may lead to other medical problems over time like:
- Triggering schizophrenia or psychosis in patients with a genetic predisposition for those conditions;
- According to some sources, cannabis is considered a gateway drug which may lead to the consumption of other highly addictive drugs and opioids in the future, however, other studies state that the gateway hypothesis is unlikely, as other factors may also affect future drug use;
- Marijuana use in young adults can affect brain development and decrease IQ levels over time.
Final Thoughts on Conditions That Medical Marijuana Treats
For patients who are suffering from a chronic illness, or those who are in constant pain, each therapy that provides some relief can be beneficial. Even though cannabis research is at its inception, scientists are doing studies now more than ever to figure out the secrets of the cannabis plant.
For those of you who are thinking about trying cannabis as an alternative treatment, you’ll need a medical marijuana ID to be able to purchase it from a licensed medical marijuana dispensary. To get your medical marijuana ID card, you need a medical practitioner who will determine whether your condition qualifies for medical marijuana in the state that you live in. All that’s left after your consultation is ordering your card and purchasing your medical weed.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Jan 12. 4, Therapeutic Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425767/