Marijuana as medicine has been long proposed by casual users and medical professionals alike. They are commonly touted as viable alternatives to prescription medicines because of their possible therapeutic potential that can be seen through anecdotal evidence and even concrete research.
Several studies in recent years have been conducted due to the legalization of marijuana in some countries and decriminalization and rescheduling of marijuana in some regions all over the world.
As a therapeutic substance, marijuana research is highly reliant on anecdotal evidence and novel studies. While most are positive, we still need to take these with a grain of salt.
Anecdotal evidence is only as reliable as testimonials which can sometimes be due to the placebo effect. Studies conducted must also be assessed if their sample size and methodology is reliable, and if the researchers have no conflicts of interest.
Without further ado, let’s dive right into it.
What is marijuana?
Marijuana, known scientifically by three species, Cannabis indica, Cannabis sativa, and Cannabis ruderalis. Of significant clinical importance are the indica and sativa species as they contain therapeutically significant amounts of cannabinoids – compounds known for their therapeutic and psychoactive effects.
The famous cannabinoids are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Both THC and CBD can have varying effects on the user. THC is known to induce a potent high while CBD is known to exhibit more therapeutic effects than THC, however, using them in concert can often induce “the entourage effect,” the synergistic effect of both compounds used together.
In recent years, marijuana has been legalized in some countries like Canada while others have decriminalized and rescheduled marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule IV to allow researchers to study the drug and assess its clinical implications.
How is marijuana used?
Marijuana as medicine can be used in a variety of ways such as smoking a joint, vaping, applying it topically, administering it sublingually as a tincture, and eating it as an edible.
While there may seem to be a lot of ways to use marijuana as medicine, most experts would agree that you need to choose the best way of using it based on your own needs and personal preferences.
For example, if you only need a localized feeling of pain relief, go for a topical preparation rather than smoking a joint or eating an edible as they could have systemic effects that you don’t need.
How does marijuana affect the brain?
Marijuana as medicine can indeed affect the brain. However, we need to make a distinction between short-term effects and long-term effects. Both of which can occur.
Let’s say a person smoked a joint. When this person is smoking, the cannabinoids and other compounds from the marijuana goes into your lungs, and through the small blood vessels inside your air sacs, these compounds go directly into your bloodstream to be circulated systematically. The effects could be felt immediately upon smoking.
If it so happened that you ate an edible, it would pass into your digestive system and would be broken down and absorbed in your small intestine to be sent into your bloodstream. This is how oral medicines work. The effects, however, are often less immediate and could be felt within 30 minutes to an hour.
The particular cannabinoid to be highlighted here is THC, which is known for its psychoactive effects. THC activates brain receptors that give you a sense of excitement and induces the famous “high.”
The most notable short-term effects are as follows:
altered sense of time
altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
changes in mood
delusions (when taken in high doses)
difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
impaired body movement
psychosis (risk is highest with regular use of high potency marijuana)
The long-term effects of marijuana are still in question as most research was conducted with preconceived biases due to the global drug war kick-started by the US during the administration of President Richard Nixon.
However, some recent studies have pointed out that marijuana use can affect brain development. This means that in some way, it could hamper brain growth, especially in adolescents.
A study published in the Proceedings in the National Academy of Science in 2012 showed that teenagers who used marijuana heavily have lost an average of 8 IQ points during ages 13 and 38.
How can cannabinoids be used as medicine?
While there are some negative effects of marijuana use, both THC and CBD exhibit therapeutic effects in the lab which can also be reinforced by anecdotal evidence.
THC can reduce nausea and stimulate appetite. THC may also reduce inflammation (redness and swelling), spasms, and muscle control problems. Though it can still induce a “high,” researchers are weighing the benefits over potential risks.
CBD, however, is one cannabinoid that has been established as non-intoxicating. This means that recreational users typically avoid this since it doesn’t knock you out the same way as THC.
CBD may show potential in treating chronic pain and inflammatory diseases, epileptic seizures, and even mental disorders and addictions. The FDA even approved CBD-based medication called Epidiolex® for epileptic conditions.
Many researchers are even funded by the National Institutes Health (NIH), therefore new studies and even preclinical and clinical trials are on their way.
Possible diseases that could be treated by marijuana as medicine include:
diseases that affect the immune system, including:
multiple sclerosis (MS), which causes gradual loss of muscle control
substance use disorders
Marijuana as medicine though being now researched extensively is still being haunted by negative propaganda perpetuated in the past due to global hysteria of drug addiction and dependency.
Though recent studies have indicated their potential therapeutic benefits for several patient populations having diseases such as HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and inflammatory conditions like arthritis, epileptic seizures, substance use disorders, and mental disorders like major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other psychotic and mood disorders, research is still in its infancy and a lot of studies need to be done.
When all is said and done, one must always take testimonials with a grain of salt. Always seek professional medical advice if you’re in doubt and remember to do your part and research on it before attempting to use marijuana as medicine.