Medical Marijuana: What It Is and Why It’s Used

The topic of medical marijuana can appear to be nothing more than a smokescreen. Some people believe there is no medicinal benefits from it. Some believe it was their miracle. Which one is correct? As we look at a couple pros and cons behind it, keep an open mind. We will be unable to discuss everything about marijuana just because of the in-depth detail is out of the scope of this article. However, one should first know what it and what studies say before being able to make an informed decision whether they agree or disagree with there being any benefits.

What is Marijuana

Marijuana comes from the dried plant leaves of the Cannabis sativa plant. A plant that contains “more than 460 known different chemicals” (Ladino, Hernández-Ronquillo, & Téllez-Zenteno 2014). The chemicals produced from the plant are called cannabinoids. Each cannabinoid has different effects on the human body. Cannabinoids are in fact, in small amounts, produced by the human body naturally. These are referred to endogenous cannabinoids. Endogenous meaning, they are produced from within the body and not from an outside source. The human body has two different cannabinoid receptors which are CB1 and CB2. The greatest concentration of these receptors is found in the hippocampus (responsible for regulating memory), cerebral cortex (cognition), cerebellum (motor coordination), basal ganglia (movement), hypothalamus (appetite), and the amygdala (emotions).

When we hear “medical marijuana”, they are taking about one of two chemicals found in the Cannabis sativa plant. These two main chemicals are used for medicine. The first one is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or more commonly called THC. The second is cannabidiol and is more commonly called by its initials, CBD. The methods of use include smoking it, eating it, inhaling it though a vaporizer, topically by use of a cream, and even liquid drops under the tongue.

Drug Scheduling

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has drug schedules which classify drugs, substances, and certain chemicals that would be used in the making of the medication or substance. Drug schedules range from a scheduled I to a scheduled V. Each schedule judges, if you will, the abuse potential and the medications use or benefits. A Schedule V drug has low abuse potential AND low risk of dependency. An example would an antitussive (cough) medication. One could expect to take the medication without the body developing a dependency on it. Yet on the opposite end we find a schedule I drugs to have no current acceptable medical use, a high potential for abuse and high potential for developing a dependency. We would find drugs like OxyContin and Fentanyl in the schedule II category. These medications, as seen in news headlines in the past, carry with it a high potential for abuse. These medications can lead to severe psychological or physical dependency over time with their use.

Schedule I medications are listed as having no current medical benefit and high abuse potential. There is clear opposition for its use. Medical marijuana comes from the marijuana plant (cannabis sativa plant) and is a chemical found in it. It comes to the medical world in a few different ways such as oils, creams, vaporized, or solids as used for cooking. While there are an increasing number of studies being done to show benefits, uses, and safety, marijuana (cannabis) remains a schedule I substance. As with any medication, there must be sufficient evidence to prove the benefits and safety.

While this is not a comprehensive list, studies suggest that the use of marijuana has improved the symptoms in the following conditions: anxiety, cancer related nausea and vomiting, chronic pain, depression, epilepsy, glaucoma, neuropathic pain, poor appetite and weight loss, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), spasticity in multiple sclerosis, and Tourette’s syndrome.

In the article Cannabis and Its Derivatives: Review of Medical Use by Lawrence Leung, a chart illustrates some uses and success rate. We find that in Tourette’s syndrome in one study showed a 50-70% remission rate while another studies, only having 1 participant, had a 100% remission rate. With Glaucoma there was a significant reduction in intraocular pressures. Neuropathic pain patients saw an improvement with their pain. In a study of 50 patients with sensory neuropathic pain, there was a 34% reduction in pain. Dr. Joan L Kramer reports in Medical Marijuana for Cancer, we see a study for HIV related lack of appetite and weight loss. We see that shows 97% reported improved appetite. There was an increased caloric intake and improvement of weight. Ladino, Hernández-Ronquillo, & Téllez-Zenteno 2014 shows the effects of marijuana on epilepsy and show a 68% improvement. This was not only with frequency, but with severity as well. We see with epilepsy, Wang, Collet, Shapiro, and Ware (2008) state “it is becoming clear that cannabinoids have considerable therapeutic potential”.

Conclusion

As with any medication, just because the medication can be used to treat a disease, condition, or illness, does not mean it will work successfully to do so in every case. If the medication did not work for your illness, injury, or condition, should we then base the efficacy on just one person and say it doesn’t work for others with the same problem? Of course not. While some argue there are people who abuse medical marijuana, there are also people who don’t. These people depend on taking it to control their condition. Many times, these people have tried all the “traditional” and even some alternative medications in hopes of seeking relief. As we all know by news headlines, opioids are becoming highly abused. However, what is needed is a better governing system. A better way to track, review, and punish those who do so. Let’s not punish those who obey the laws and strip them of the only thing that works. In addition, there is a need for more detailed studies but with what studies there currently are, one can say there is evidence that medical marijuana is not just a smokescreen. There are medicinal benefits one can get from its use.