Amongst the list of all controlled substances globally, marijuana ranks as number one based on frequency of illicit use, with it being estimated that as many as 6% of all high school aged children will experiment with it at some point. Globally, it is believed that over 200 million people use marijuana at least once a year, even though most of it is not for medical purposes.
However, even though marijuana use can be considered dangerous, and it is regarded as a gateway drug for stronger illicit products, it is not without utility. In particular, we are referring to medical marijuana, a trend sweeping much of the United States and other countries.
What Is Medical Marijuana?
There is evidence of marijuana’s usage to help manage health conditions dating back as far as millennia ago, though its usage back then was very crude and nonstandardized. Today, medical marijuana is still subject to various governmental and state laws as it falls in somewhat of a gray area. For instance, marijuana is better known as cannabis, the plant from which it is obtained. Cannabis contains a multitude of compounds, sometimes in excess of over 100 unique cannabinoids. Even though the most widely studied cannabinoids are THC (tetrahydrocannabidiol) and CBD (Cannabidiol), there is the likelihood that other compounds found in the cannabis plant could also influence effects, and possibly its psychoactive effects.
The presence of these many compounds make it difficult to classify marijuana, even based on strain, with most approved forms of marijuana containing a known and standardized amount of CBD to THC. CBD is said to possess properties that can attenuate the high caused by THC, and is one reason why approved THC products almost always come with CBD.
Is All Medical Marijuana The Same?
A novice person desirous of trying medical marijuana may not be aware that there are actually different strains of cannabis, which yields different proportions of THC to CBD. In general, they can be classified as one of 3 varieties:
Cannabis Sativa-this is the classic form of marijuana most people know about. It is grown outdoors where it receives ample sunlight, and also contains a higher proportion of THC. Not surprisingly, this variety is said to possess a more stimulating effect, and may be less ideal for managing insomnia and conditions associated with heightened brain chemical (neurotransmitter) levels.
Cannabis Indica-this type of cannabis is more often found at legal dispensaries, grown indoors in the cool. The plants are typically shorter with broader leaves, said to be as a result of the lack of sunshine. This strain of marijuana contains more CBD and is ideal for conditions that require calm (such as sleep).
Hybrid strains – these contain characteristics of the aforementioned to strains, being a cross of both species.
Hemp-while still a member of the cannabis family, it isn’t technically marijuana. Hemp is grown specifically to have very low natural THC levels, and is the primary source of CBD rich cannabinoids, usually made into oil.
Medical Marijuana Dosage Forms
The dosage form of a medication refers to the method by which the active constituents are delivered to the body. The dosage form does not necessarily have anything to do with relative dosage itself, even though there are differences associated with the dosage form chosen.
When it comes to medical marijuana, it is usually introduced to the body via one of these means:
Smoking Or Vaping – these involve directly introducing cannabis and its associated cannabinoids into the lungs via inhalation of the fumes. Smoking allows for rapid absorption of THC and CBD, with effects manifesting in as little as 10 minutes. The amount of active constituents absorbed can vary significantly, however, ranging from about 2 to 56%. Despite the large variability with absorption, smoking or vaping still results in possibly the highest absorption rate.
Oral Ingestion – oral ingestion is preferred by people who are desirous of experiencing the benefits that medical marijuana has to offer, but feel guilty about smoking it. Adding medical marijuana into baked goods, better known as edibles, are extremely popular and offer an inconspicuous way to consume your medical marijuana without judgment. The absorption rate for cannabis consumed this way is about 6%, which can be considerably lower than the inhalation route, but also persists much longer in the body, lasting up to five hours. It is important to note that marijuana consumed this way is subject to significant liver breakdown before it enters blood, which is why only about 6% is absorbed.
Skin, Rectally Or Sublingually – while these methods are for the most part the least popular, they can be more effective than the oral route as they all bypass liver metabolism and can result in a greater amount of THC and CBD being absorbed.
Overall, persons that need to manage chronic conditions may be best served by using the two methods that are not smoking or inhalational. This is because, in a manner similar to cigarettes, there are many compounds found in medical marijuana that are less than suitable when exposed to the human body, and which are chemically changed via combustion.
This is different from adding medical marijuana to food, as only to THC is activated in such a case. If you were prescribed medical marijuana for management of acute conditions, or on an as-needed basis, the smoking route should not pose long-term danger.
Uses Of Medical Marijuana
Even though CBD oil is very effective for management of a number of health conditions, the harsh reality is that the absence of THC hinders its potential to a degree. Medical marijuana does not have such a limitation, since it contains both of these cannabinoids. It is important to note that its use for many of the following conditions are being debated, so it is important for you to consult a physician comfortable with prescribing it for you, as well as becoming familiarized with your national and state laws in order to save yourself from trouble.
There are promising findings for the following:
Normal, healthy weight individuals using medical marijuana for purposes other than to stimulate appetite will still eat more – that is one of the effects of marijuana. However, this seemingly annoying effect is a very helpful one to people suffering from conditions such as cancer and related nausea, wasting syndrome or even HIV, who may lose a significant amount of their body weight and muscle mass.
It’s not surprising to realize that such adverse changes accelerate deterioration of health. Most people using medical marijuana to stimulate appetite use it orally or inhalationally as these methods have been found to work well to stimulate the hormones responsible for our appetite.
Promotes Neuronal Plasticity
Neuronal plasticity refers to the ability of the brain to adapt to different scenarios rapidly, by restructuring the way its neurons are arranged, in effect rewiring to handle a new task. People whose brains display low levels of neuronal plasticity are less likely to be creative, and more likely to suffer from depression.
You have probably heard that people who use marijuana are more creative, and this may very well be true. Medical marijuana when can also increase blood flow to the brain, acting as a stimulant.
The THC found in medical marijuana can help to stimulate brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes higher thinking, memory (long term) along with learning and recollection.
CBD oil has been used alone for the management of pain, though by itself it is not as powerful as when combined with THC. Medical marijuana has the advantage in this regard as THC in particular can help alleviate nerve pain, as well as raise the body’s pain threshold. This can be important in helping to manage chronic pain, or for use as a palliative agent in end-of-life care.
Medical marijuana is also sometimes used for management of pain associated with multiple sclerosis, helping to reduce muscle stiffness and improve the patient’s outlook on life after consistent use over the course of just 15 weeks.
Reduces Heart Disease Risk
One of the most, if not the most surprising benefit of medical marijuana usage is the risk reduction it can bring about to a slew of cardiovascular diseases. Given, you will likely be hard-pressed to find a physician who will prescribe medical marijuana for reasons such as prevention, nor will medical marijuana by itself magically safeguard you from these ills if your lifestyle still leaves a lot to be desired.
That aside, living a healthy lifestyle combined with medical marijuana can make a major difference in reducing your relative risk.
For one, it can help to slow the development of atherosclerotic plaques, fatty like deposits which coat the inside of blood vessel walls and effectively reduce the size of the lumen slowly over time. These deposits promote hardening of the vessels and also usually indicate an underlying high cholesterol level.
The cannabinoids found in medical marijuana can inhibit an enzymethat causes oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which is known to increase the risk of these fatty deposits forming on the inside of blood vessel walls. Combined with the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD and what you have is a decreased likelihood of platelets aggregating and forming clots, and helping to support unimpaired blood flow.
May Help Reduce Cancer Risk
There is an important distinction that needs to be made when discussing the usage of medical marijuana and cancer. That is the fact that marijuana is not a cure for cancer. While there may be anecdotal reports to the same, the fact of the matter is no solid scientific evidence exists to support this or even if they do they are not easily replicable.
In addition to this, if this truly was the case there would have been a lot more reports as people routinely try anything when diagnosed with cancer and feeling cornered. However, that aside medical marijuana may help to slow the growth of tumors, or reduce your risk of developing certain cancers.
When cellular mutations occur, often times the body’s immune system detects them and gets rid of the threat before they have a chance to turn cancerous. However, if one too many of these cells evade detection by the immune system, or if it suppressed as a result of another primary disease, cancer can ensue.
It has been found to be especially effective for helping to slow the development of breast cancer, lung cancer and brain cancer. There is also the potential that it may help with prostate cancer, but preliminary studies also show in a small number of cases it may worsen prognosis.
In some cases, it is a combination of THC and CBD that is responsible for improving cancer outcomes, while in other cases it may be attributed to THC alone.
May Help Treat Insomnia
CBD oil is frequently used in the management of insomnia although it does not have a significant impact on actual sleep phases. However, THC does have marked difference on the sleep phases you go through when getting some shut eye.
Even though CBD oil is referred to as the calming cannabinoid, and THC is better known for its psychoactive and stimulating effects, the combination of the two of them are very effective for helping to induce sleep. THC can help to alter the time spent in REM sleep, which is when you are actively dreaming. Why would you want to stop dreaming? In some people, especially those with anxiety disorders or who have experienced a life-threatening traumatic event (or currently suffer from PTSD), reduced frequency of dreaming equates to reduced nightmares.
However, medical marijuana should not be used as a long-term remedy for insomnia or to treat PTSD as suppressing REM sleep for extended periods of time could be detrimental to your overall health.
Helps Manage Epilepsy
In 2018 the United States FDA approved a CBD oil formulation for use in managing epilepsy, heralded as the first major step in far-reaching approval and acceptance of cannabis based medications. While this medication consists of only CBD (the non-psychoactive component in cannabis), rodent studieshave also indicated that THC can bring about near absolute abolition of seizures.
However, it will be much more difficult to justify the FDA approving a preparation containing THC, since similar to opioid painkillers, legal prescription abuse is likely to become a reality.
However, if you live in a state that has approved marijuana use legally, and your doctor recommends trying it for the management of seizure disorders you may be pleasantly surprised by the effects you observe.
Medical Marijuana Risks
Even though medical marijuana has offered some sort of relief for thousands of people, that is not to say that it is without its share of risks. In fact, medical marijuana possesses a higher possibility of adverse effects occurring when compared to CBD oil alone, owing to the presence of psychoactive THC.
Possible effects that may manifest include:
Increased Anxiety – when using medical marijuana it is important to consider the relative ratio of THC to CBD. Some individuals are more sensitive to the stimulating effects of THC, and will require use of strains that have higher natural CBD content. This is especially important if trying to manage an anxiety disorder, as you do not want to unwittingly worsen your condition.
Increased Cortisol Levels – cortisol, better known as the stress hormone, is essential to our survival as a species but at the same time is responsible for several untoward effects that lend themselves to deterioration of or overall health. Medical marijuana may increase the secretionof this hormone in addition to other sympathomimetics. This effect is also more pronounced in sensitive individuals and usually occurs in conjunction to worsened anxiety.
May Impair Short-Term Working Memory – chronic consumption of medical marijuana can have a suppressing effect on the ability to rapidly recall memory needed to perform simple chores. For example, heading into a room to get something and forgetting why you entered the room.
May Increase The Risk Of Schizophrenia Or Bipolar Disorder – persons with a history of schizophrenia should steer clear from medical marijuana or anything that contains THC as its psychoactive properties will induce hallucinations and related symptoms. In addition to this, episodes of maniaare likely, as is a greater likelihood of being diagnosed with manic depression (or bipolar disorder) later in life.
Addiction – addiction is a very real possibility in people who have both used cannabis before and not alike, owing to stimulation of the brain’s reward pathway. Every time this dopaminergic reward pathway is stimulated a slight feeling of euphoria is achieved. Upon repeated stimulation of this pathway, the brain starts to rely on this short-lived rush to function.
Eventually, psychological and physical addiction may ensue and pave the way for more serious addictions later in life. People that are first introduced to marijuana also display greater nicotine receptor sensitivityand are more likely to develop dependence, or are prone to experiencing harsher withdrawal symptoms should they attempt cessation from cigarette smoking.
Apathy And Loss Of Motivation – regular use of cannabis can reduce the synthesis of dopamine in the brain, in turn reducing motivation and drive. This promotes the user to need to consume/ use more in order for a short-lived burst of motivation. Loss of motivation from reduced dopamine synthesis and addiction share similar mechanisms of development.
How Do I Obtain Medical Marijuana?
Even though it is very easy to get your hands on some cannabis, if you have little to no knowledge about what you are doing, self-medicating is not the best course of action. Even though marijuana is considered extremely safe, you can still cause harm to your body if you start using random amounts in order to get THC and CBD. Obtaining medical marijuana the correct way is not too difficult, but you must exercise some amount of know-how. The necessary prerequisites include:
Identification – this usually includes your permanent residence and full name. Your driver’s license often have both of these pieces of information.
Must Have A Need For It – people that suffer from specific medical conditions are more likely to gain access to medical marijuana than someone who wants it based on an assumption of what is wrong with them. Conditions such as arthritis, nerve pain, cancer and HIV/AIDS qualify people in most areas where medical marijuana is legal.
This also goes hand-in-hand with permission from a qualified physician. You can go very wrong making random diagnoses for yourself and then thinking you can get it because you said so. If your physician is reluctant to recommend you try it, you may need to consult with doctors familiar with using medical marijuana.
Know Your Laws – in the United States, at the federal level marijuana is still classified as a schedule one drug, which is one that shows little therapeutic benefit and is generally illegal to possess. However, state laws differ with some states making possession of marijuana for medical use legal, given that you can prove you obtained it through the correct channels.
You also don’t want to be unwittingly caught up in failed drug tests done by your employer and then being labeled as a drug user.
Summary – Medical Marijuana
While medical marijuana usage makes a world of difference to some of the people that use it, it is very important for you to weigh the benefits against the cons in deciding if it is right for you. Some people tolerate it fine while others feel it is intolerable and end up discontinuing usage.
Even if it becomes legalized on a countrywide levels, marijuana will forever be classified as a drug based on the fact that it has profound effects on your brain and body. It can impair your ability to function normally, drive or even perform complex tasks.
For instance, the frequency of vehicular crashes have risen significantly in Colorado, particularly since marijuana was legalized state wise in 2012. This is directly attributed to adults not carefully analyzing the risk of using marijuana, or how it would adversely affect their mental clarity.
It is always good idea to consult a healthcare professional, in this case one with an open mind to decide if this course of action is in your best interest.
On a final note, people with a history of psychiatric illness should not use medical marijuana as there is a high likelihood that adverse effects will occur. Women of childbearing age, who are pregnant or may become pregnant are also advised to stay away.