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medical benefits of medical cannabis

For every person who advocates for the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, there is another who argues against it. Some of the arguments from the opposition include:

Rochelle Collins, DO, is board-certified in family medicine. She is an assistant clinical professor of family medicine at Quinnipiac University and works in private practice in Hartford, Connecticut.

Until marijuana is downgraded from a Schedule I drug, widespread clinical trials are unlikely to happen in the United States.

The Cons

However, expert reviews of current research continue to advocate that more studies are needed.   Many of the hurdles involve controlling the quality and dosing of cannabis with what is legally available to researchers. One review of research noted that the long-term effects of cannabis are still unknown.   Without more research into dosage and adverse effects, scientific evidence on the therapeutic effects of cannabis will remain in question.

In the past, clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of marijuana to treat certain conditions have been restrictive and limited. As medical marijuana becomes more prevalent throughout the world, researchers are doing more studies.  

Angela Morrow, RN, BSN, CHPN, is a certified hospice and palliative care nurse.

The legalization of marijuana for medical reasons is viewed favorably by many Americans, including members of the medical community and Congress. Some of the arguments for medical marijuana include:

This is not intended to be an inclusive list, but rather to give a brief survey of the types of conditions for which medical marijuana can provide relief. As with all remedies, claims of effectiveness should be critically evaluated and treated with caution.

Marijuana is also used to manage nausea and weight loss and can be used to treat glaucoma. A highly promising area of research is its use for PTSD in veterans who are returning from combat zones. Many veterans and their therapists report drastic improvement and clamor for more studies, and for a loosening of governmental restrictions on its study. Medical marijuana is also reported to help patients suffering from pain and wasting syndrome associated with HIV, as well as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

Least controversial is the extract from the hemp plant known as CBD (which stands for cannabidiol) because this component of marijuana has little, if any, intoxicating properties. Marijuana itself has more than 100 active components. THC (which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol) is the chemical that causes the “high” that goes along with marijuana consumption. CBD-dominant strains have little or no THC, so patients report very little if any alteration in consciousness.

Uses of medical marijuana

Along these lines, marijuana is said to be a fantastic muscle relaxant, and people swear by its ability to lessen tremors in Parkinson’s disease. I have also heard of its use quite successfully for fibromyalgia, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, and most other conditions where the final common pathway is chronic pain.

There are few subjects that can stir up stronger emotions among doctors, scientists, researchers, policy makers, and the public than medical marijuana. Is it safe? Should it be legal? Decriminalized? Has its effectiveness been proven? What conditions is it useful for? Is it addictive? How do we keep it out of the hands of teenagers? Is it really the “wonder drug” that people claim it is? Is medical marijuana just a ploy to legalize marijuana in general?

My advice for patients is to be entirely open and honest with your physicians and to have high expectations of them. Tell them that you consider this to be part of your care and that you expect them to be educated about it, and to be able to at least point you in the direction of the information you need.

Many patients find themselves in the situation of wanting to learn more about medical marijuana, but feel embarrassed to bring this up with their doctor. This is in part because the medical community has been, as a whole, overly dismissive of this issue. Doctors are now playing catch-up and trying to keep ahead of their patients’ knowledge on this issue. Other patients are already using medical marijuana, but don’t know how to tell their doctors about this for fear of being chided or criticized.

To get medical marijuana, you need a written recommendation from a licensed doctor in states where that is legal. (Not every doctor is willing to recommend medical marijuana for their patients.) You must have a condition that qualifies for medical marijuana use. Each state has its own list of qualifying conditions. Your state may also require you to get a medical marijuana ID card. Once you have that card, you can buy medical marijuana at a store called a dispensary.

Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, adjunct assistant professor, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

Limited research suggests cannabinoids might:

Which states allow medical marijuana?

Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and the District of Columbia:

The agency did, however, agree to support additional research on marijuana and make the process easier for researchers. “Research is critically needed, because we have to be able to advise patients and doctors on the safe and effective use of cannabis,” Bonn-Miller says.

Kaur, R. Current Clinical Pharmacology, April 2016.

Drug Enforcement Administration: “Drug Schedules.”