Health Benefits of Medicinal Marijuana: Myth or Reality

For a very long time, cannabis had a bad reputation. It was seen as a drug, a symbol of a rebellious attitude and a source of change in social behavior. The mentality is changing in our times, and people are more open-minded and willing to find new and positive uses of cannabis. With continuous access to information individuals who once had a strong negative opinion about this plant, society begins to understand the fact that it is more than a recreational drug and those who use it are not junkies. Even legislation forums start to admit that there is more about this plant than a simple way of relaxing and getting high. As a result, countries like Thailand, Netherlands or Bolivia tolerate the consumption of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes. Other countries like Russia, Italy, Spain, Austria, Denmark, Portugal, Belgium, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela begin to take small but consistent steps in order to decriminalize its use.

The use of cannabis for medical purposes is not something recently people thought about. This plant was used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. It’s just that only several decades ago scientists made a surprising discovery regarding our bodies and its way of processing certain chemicals called cannabinoids.[1] It was discovered that all living creature are genetically equipped with an endocannabinoid system which process cannabinoids produced by the body or ingested from sources outside the bodies in order to maintain important functions in the body within optimum parameters. At this moment attention of the scientific community turned towards cannabis and its compounds. It was in the late 30’s when scientists reached the conclusion that there was no direct association between the consumption of cannabis and death so they started to include it more often in the formula of various traditional medications.

Many scientists were intrigued by this new discovery and were interested in finding out more about how it works and understand how it interacts with the cannabis. In order to do that, the first step is to learn more about this complex plant. It was discovered that more than 400 different live inside cannabis and more than 85 of them are various cannabinoids. Out of these two are very important and found abundantly: CBD and THC.

CBD or cannabidiol is extracted from the industrial hemp plant, more precisely from its seeds and stalks and it contains small traces of THC which makes it legal for use in many countries around the world, including the USA.

THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol is the cannabinoid responsible for the hallucinogenic effect of cannabis. In recent lab studies[2], it was noticed that it can reduce inflammation and the size of various types of tumors by destroying the cancerous cells and while keeping the healthy ones safe. Many people confuse hemp with marijuana, but the main difference between them is the THC level. Marijuana has plenty of it while hemp has almost none.

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It is believed that the medical properties of marijuana are generated by the high concentration of natural THC found in this plant. THC is a cannabinoid with a similar structure to the endocannabinoids naturally produced by the body. When for various reasons the body doesn’t produce enough endocannabinoids to sustain the balance for all the functions it must perform, external help can come in the form of THC which attaches itself to the CB receptors in the body and substitutes them.

Marijuana started to be accepted for its medical properties by many doctors who see their patients in pain and no other classic treatment brought relieve. Medical marijuana is being recommended for a wide variety of health problems, but before using it one must learn about its effects on the body in order to make sure you buy a product which will improve your health condition and not endanger it.

What is medical marijuana?

Cannabis is the oldest medical plant which people have used for centuries. It is believed it originated from Central Asia. There are three main types of products obtained from cannabis: marijuana (from the flowers), hashish (from the resin) and oil (from both). The oil is the most concentrated form of the three, which makes it the most efficient. The popularity of cannabis oil is not necessarily positive even if many countries try to find a way to legalize the consumption of cannabis under certain circumstances. Because its use is illegal in most parts of the world, marijuana got some code names over the decades. Weed, grass, pot, herb or Mary Jane are just some of the names people used for this greenish mixture of dried shredded leaves and flowers of cannabis.

There are multiple ways of smoking this plant. Most people roll it up in cigarettes leaves called joint, others transform it in cigars named blunts and some use pipes with or without water. When used for medical purpose marijuana is used to brew tea or mixed into foods like cookies, brownies, and candies. For those who need to take a stronger form of marijuana, the options are concentrated resins containing high amounts of waxy budder, hard amber like shatter, honey like hash oil and sinsemilla, which is the female plant.

The main chemical in marijuana which alters the mental capacity and generates the high feeling that most people who use it for fun seek is THC. But when it comes to the medical use it is required to be unprocessed in order to improve the symptoms of certain medical conditions. The Food and Drug Association doesn’t recognize or approve the use of marijuana as a medicine yet and requires further study on the impact cannabinoids have on the body. Still, results of scientific studies convinced the association to accept two pills which use cannabinoid.[3]) The door was opened, and more studies could lead to the official acceptance of other medications based on marijuana and cannabinoids. FDA has a rigorous policy when it comes to approving the new drug for public use. There must be studies conducted on thousands of persons and scientists must present a comprehensive list of possible benefits and side effects of that drug. So far there weren’t many large-scale studies regarding cannabis and cannabinoids so that conclusions could be reached beyond any doubt.

The extract from this plant is obtained through a process which uses solvents like alcohol or isopropyl alcohol to separate the resins from the flower of the plant.[4] It is estimated that one ounce of cannabis flower can produce between 3 and 5 grams of oil.  The substance obtained in the end has a thick and sticky consistency, and it is also popular with the names of marijuana oil or hash oil, and it contains high levels of THC, a cannabinoid with psychoactive effect. The countries where cannabis is not illegal, offer manufacturers access to high-quality and organic plants cultivated in specialized farms. It is better to avoid buying cannabis oil from the street vendors, especially for medical use. Even if the FDA didn’t approve cannabis oil as a treatment, there are FDA approved laboratories which process this oil.

Cannabis oil is available in various forms and concentrations so one can find the right type of therapy for its medical conditions. Whether you choose to ingest it as a pill, add it into your favorite drinks or foods, apply topically or vaporize it into the lungs, there is a way for everyone interested in including cannabis oil into the daily routine.

THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, and it is the substance which causes the unique high feeling people get after smoking cannabis. But THC does more than just take your mind off the problems. It was scientifically proved that cannabis oil has a positive effect on many medical conditions which cause various types of pain. On the list of health problems which could be improved by medical marijuana are Diabetes, glaucoma, epilepsy, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia, gout, alcohol abuse, asthma, fibromyalgia, stroke, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, opioid dependence or inflammatory bowel disease, insomnia and even certain forms of tumors and cancers.

Regardless of how many medications you tried and failed it is important to get a doctor’s approval before using marijuana as a treatment for your condition.

Benefits of Medical Marijuana

For centuries marijuana was part of medicine and despite all restrictions and preconceptions of the modern-day scientists manage to bring more and more proof with each study that this plant can be an ally for general health. With each closed study, scientific community gets more convinced of the medical properties of marijuana and one step closer to obtaining official approvement for large-scale use as an alternative treatment. Some of the medical conditions marijuana seems to improve are:

  • Glaucoma – This is a classic excuse employed by those caught with marijuana in their possession, but Glaucoma is a condition which affects the eye due to increased pressure on the optic nerve. When smoked, marijuana can reduce the problem by influencing the dilatation of the vessels and reduce the intraocular pressure.[5]
  • Multiple sclerosis – Studies confirmed that marijuana could reduce even the most severe muscle contractions. Many people diagnosed with this condition reported a significant reduction of the pain and also the calming effect appeared shortly after the marijuana was smoked.[6]
  • Arthritis – Sativex is a medication which contains cannabinoids extracted from cannabis and when used on patients diagnosed with rheumatologic problems it showed significant reduction of pain and inflammation.[7]
  • Chronic muscle spasms – some disease can cause excruciating muscle spasms, and it was noticed that marijuana could calm them within seconds.[8]
  • Tumors and cancer – there are many scientific studies which concluded that cannabis can slow down the evolution of tumors by destroying the affected cells. This is explained by the fact that THC and CBD work together to block the ID-1 gene, which causes cancer from spreading.[9]
  • Coping with chemotherapy – one of the most common situations where medical marijuana is recommended is in the case of patients who must put up with the painful effect of chemotherapy. It was noticed that smoking marijuana in this situation could reduce nausea and pain and increase the appetite. The substances inhaled can improve the treatment’s efficiency and fight directly with the ill cells. FDA even approved some medicine obtained with synthetic versions of cannabis, but nothing works better than the real deal.[10]
  • Anxiety – if taken in moderate doses, the recreational properties of marijuana kick in shortly after it is smoked and reduce the anxiety symptoms. The plant was tested for both clinical phobias, and general anxiety and results were positive. More doesn’t always mean better so marijuana in high doses can have the opposite effect and increase anxiety up to the point of paranoia.[11]
  • Insomnia – this is a common problem of our era due to the stress we deal on a daily basis. People who regularly deal with nightmares and insomnia experience a deeper sleep by smoking marijuana that’s able to relax their mind and body.[12]
  • PTSD – It is not uncommon for people who have PTSD, especially war veterans, to find in marijuana an alternative to classic treatment and experience lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety because they get a better rest during the night.[13]
  • Stroke – medical studies conducted on people who suffered a stroke showed that marijuana reduced the area in the brain damaged by helping the injury heal faster. It was noticed that the chemicals from this plant restore the cognitive functions by enhancing the rate of growing new cells.[14]
  • Traumatic brain injury – statistics presented by researchers show that people who smoke marijuana once a week have 80% fewer chances to die because of a traumatic brain injury compared to those who completely avoid this plant. Due to its neuroprotective properties marijuana can reduce the severity of repeated concussions.[15]
  • Alzheimer’s disease – medical studies not only noticed that THC from marijuana can inhibit the evolution of this disease at its source, but it can also reverse some of the damage. Alzheimer appears when certain enzymes from plaques in the brain which block the signals sent by the cells and kills them. THC is believed to be able to dissolve those plaques.[16]
  • Parkinson’s disease – the results of some studies are very conclusive when it comes to marijuana’s ability to control tremors and pain caused by this disease and improve the motor skills.[17]
  • Crohn’s disease – cannabinoids in marijuana can help regulate the function of the guts and reduce nausea and inflammation of the bowels caused by this health problem. Unlike classic treatments, this plant doesn’t cause diarrhea or constipation, but it helps the body return to the ideal state. It is believed that marijuana can cure Crohn’s disease, not only improve its symptoms.[18]
  • Epileptic seizures – because the THC from marijuana reaches the cells in the brain which control excitability and relaxation it is believed that smoking this plant can significantly reduce seizures.[19]
  • Dravet’s syndrome – this is a condition which affects mostly children, and in addition to epileptic seizures, it also generates delays in the development. There were reported success stories in treating this condition with medical marijuana. Because cannabinoids reach the brain, they can calm the overactive neurons and reduce the number of daily seizures.[20]
  • Lupus – this is an auto-immune disorder which can be improved by marijuana which not only reduces the severity of the pain, nausea, and inflammation, but it also helps the immune system normalize.[21]
  • Lung function – tobacco destroys lungs, while marijuana improves their condition because THC opens up the lungs by dilating the bronchial passage. As a result, people who suffer from asthma might feel better than with the classic inhalers. Even heavy tobacco smokers can experience better lung function since marijuana helps the cells regenerate faster.[22]
  • IBS – is a condition which affects the bowels causing ulcerative colitis. Marijuana can help restore the balance by regulating the permeability of the intestine lining.[23]
  • Hepatitis C – classic medication for this health condition can cause severe side effects, and in some cases, patients stop taking them. That is why an alternative treatment which can reduce nausea, fatigue, depression, and lack of appetite is welcomed. Studies showed that the majority of people who smoked marijuana could take the medication without the need for a break. Also, the effectiveness of the medication was increased by the substances in marijuana.[24]

These are just a part of the medical conditions for which scientists could provide evidence that medical marijuana can bring real and significant improvement. There are other ongoing studies which try to find links between the active compounds of this plant and different medical conditions

How to Obtain and Use Medical Marijuana

There are several states in the USA where consumption of marijuana is legal, like New York, Colorado, California or Vermont and here law permits people who need to use marijuana for medical purposes to join certain groups of patients which are allowed to grow and share this plant. After the age of 18, a patient can obtain a special card recommendation letter from their doctor which permits to use marijuana without being accused of consumption. Once this card is obtained, that patient can join any of the groups.

Medical marijuana can be administrated only to patients who use one of the next methods of treatment:

  • Smoking – one can smoke marijuana in a joint or using a pipe with or without water. Some scientists argue that smoking marijuana in a joint make the treatment less effective due to the fact that the medical compounds of the plant go up in the smoke. Using the water pipe is more recommended because the smoke is not hot and it doesn’t burn the airways.
  • Inhalation – this method allows the user to measure the intaken dose. Its effects are felt almost instantly as the vapors enter the lungs and are absorbed into the bloodstream. The effects of cannabis last around four hours if inhaled.
  • Vaporization – marijuana can be heated into a special device called nebulizer. The temperature is not too high so the vapors can be inhaled without causing damage to the lungs.
  • Oral ingestion – if one doesn’t smoke can still use marijuana, only in the form of pills. Marijuana can also be included in the mix for certain foods like cookies, brownies or teas. The downside of this method is the fact that cannabinoids are fat-soluble substances and in some cases, they might not be well absorbed by the metabolism of the patient. A good option, in this case, might be cannabis butter which blends well with the cannabinoids.
  • Sublingual or oral mucosal – this means that marijuana must be placed under the tongue or in the mouth. Oils and tinctures are the best options for those who prefer his method. The marijuana has instant effect as it enters the bloodstream within seconds. Tinctures usually come equipped with a special dropper so it is easier to administrate under the tongue, while sprays can be puffed directly into the mouth. This is one of the best options for non-smokers.
  • Topical application – marijuana is available in the form of creams, lotions, and ointments as well and they are beneficial for reducing pain caused by arthritis, muscle spasms, and inflammations. Cannabinoids are absorbed through the skin and taken to the CB receptors in the body. They are a good option for those who want to use only local treatment.

It is important to make sure the marijuana you take is produced from plants cultivated for medical purpose only and is not contaminated with harsh chemicals which might end up causing more harm. Most of the plants cultivated in special farms are organic and GMO-free. Don’t buy marijuana from untrusted sources as it might contain include other substances and eventually be of no good use.

Side Effects of Medical Marijuana

Most scientists and doctors consider that the main danger for consuming marijuana even for medical purposes are its psychoactive effect caused by THC, which is a little ironic considering that THC is also beneficial for those patients who suffer from a various type of pain. Otherwise, the synthetic version of marijuana can cause substantial side effects. Scientists wore marijuana users that it is impossible to overdose on the real plant, but it doesn’t take much to overdose on the synthetic version, and many people have no idea how dangerous this can be. In cases of overdose with synthetic marijuana were reported serious side effects like stroke, seizure, brain damage, increased heart rate, cardiac problems, kidney failure and acute psychosis.

It is highly recommended to make sure you use the organic and GMO-free marijuana and nothing else, regardless the promises of amazing side effects. If something seems too good to be true, most likely it isn’t true!

Even if marijuana is an organic and GMO-free plant, there is still the possibility for some users to experience certain mild and no life-threatening side effects. Some of the unpleasant experiences reported by users are:

  • Lightheadedness – This is a temporary feeling which feeling usually appears when the blood pressure drops significantly all of the sudden, and it can be canceled with a large cup of coffee.
  • Low blood pressure – Those who follow a treatment for controlling blood pressure disorders shouldn’t take marijuana in any form before getting the doctor’s approval. In some cases, the blood pressure dropped noticeably within a few minutes of ingesting significant amounts of marijuana, which can affect the health in the end.
  • Drowsiness – When consumed in high doses marijuana can make the user feel drowsy, and it is better not to plan to drive or operate any machinery if you just took a large dose of this product. If the feeling doesn’t go away after reducing the dose you must talk to a doctor.
  • Dry mouth – In certain cases, users reported the need to drink a lot of water due to an unpleasant sensation of dry mouth or “cotton mouth”. This happened because the glands which produce saliva are inhibited by high amounts of THC or CBD
  • Inhibits the liver’s function to process drugs – If you are taking any medication it might become less effective. Some medical studies noticed that cannabinoids found in marijuana could have a negative influence on the liver functions and stop it from breaking down different drugs. This is not a dangerous side effect and it can be compared to eating a grapefruit, which also inhibits the enzymes from the liver.
  • Intensify the tremors – This is a bit confusing because some studies suggest that people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease could use cannabis oil as a possible treatment while indicating that in high doses this substance might intensify the tremor episodes.

It is important to underline that these side effects were usually reported in cases of high-dose consumption. With the list above of possible side effects, marijuana remains one of the safest alternative treatments for a wide range of medical conditions. And the most important part is that there was no death directly linked to the consumption of this plant. Even if the side effects are not endangering for health nor life, if you experience any of the above symptoms you must reduce the dosage and talk to the doctor if they don’t go away.

Conclusions

The times when marijuana was seen only as a drug used by those who want to feel high are long gone. Nowadays many doctors and scientists agree that this plant can be a bliss for people who live their lives in constant pain. The benefits of medical marijuana represent a relatively recent discovery for the scientific community so there are still many studies ongoing in order to discover its full therapeutic potential and possible side effects. So far the list of unpleasant experiences is quite short and no death was caused by the consumption of this plant. Even if marijuana has been part of the traditional medicine for centuries, it gained a negative image during our times, and it needed a medical breakthrough for people to start looking again at it as a potential source for better health.

Marijuana is the subject of many studies regarding its medical properties which prove the positive effects on users like reducing pain, improving sleep, reducing anxiety and depression and even treat cancer. All these researchers are still in the early days that is why The Food and Drug Association doesn’t approve it yet as an official treatment, but there was some success with medication created with synthetic marijuana. In spite of this “detail,” many doctors use it as a last option when anything else failed for their patients. Marijuana contains high amounts of THC and CBD, which are part of the cannabinoids family. Unlike CBD, THC is the active ingredient which caused that special high feeling people get when smoking cannabis.

 

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It was demonstrated that marijuana could bring benefits for the health, but there is also the chance for mild and side effects. Also, the natural plant is the way to go because the synthetic version is easy to overdose and it can cause severe side effects. It is your personal decision whether to use marijuana for medical purpose or not but the recommendation is to consult a medical practitioner before using it so you’ll be safe both legally and from a health perspective.[25]

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Author: Jessica

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