What Is Medical Marijuana?
Medical marijuana is made from the Cannabis sativa plant. People have used Cannabis as an herbal remedy for centuries. The federal government still considers it illegal, but while the FDA, the U.S. agency that regulates medicines, hasn’t approved the plant as a treatment for any conditions, it has approved three related compounds as specific treatments (see below).
Marijuana has chemicals called cannabinoids. There are two naturally occuring chemicals most researchers focus on that promise the most health benefit. They are THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).
THC is the substance that makes you high, and is considered illigal by the FDA. Some states allow THC, found in medical marijuana, to treat specific health problems.
Forms of Medical Marijuana
THC is ingested in a variety of different ways. You can inhale vaporized spray, smoke the dried plant, take it a pill or liquid, or bake it into foods. Each different method differs in terms of how often you take them, how they may affect your symptoms, and the possible side effects you may feel.
How It Works in Your Body
The THC and other compounds found in marijuana connect with specific parts of cells in your body called receptors. Scientists now know that these cells are cannabinoid receptors and are found in your brain and in your immune system. Interestingly, the exact process of how the THC (or CBD) affects them reaims illusive.
What Does It Treat?
The laws differ between states on the conditions that you can legally treat with medical marijuana. Most state agree that you might be approved to use it if you have Alzheimer’s, ALS, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, seizures, hepatitis C, AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, posttraumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, or severe nausea. The research is most clear that it works as a painkiller, to stop vomiting during chemotherapy, to relieve some MS symptoms, and to treat a few rare forms of epilepsy.
What Are The Risks?
If you smoke marijuana, you could have breathing problems such as chronic cough and bronchitis. If you use it while pregnant, you may affect your baby’s health and development. Research has linked the use of cannabis as a cause of motor vehicle accidents and some studies show a tie between marijuana and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.
Laws in Conflict
In 1996, California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Since then, more than half the states in the U.S. have done so. (Recreational weed is also legal in some places.) But the federal government still considers it an illegal drug, which can create confusion.
Although the federal government has yet to approve marijuana for medicinal use, it has signed off on three related compounds as specific treatments. If you have nausea caused by chemotherapy, you can be prescribed a synthetic cannabinoid, either dronabinol or nabilone. Dronabinol can also help boost appetite for people with AIDS. In addition, the FDA approved cannabidiol (Epidolex) as a treatment for two rare kinds of epilepsy.
How Do You Get it?
Generally, you will need to consult with a doctor and have a condition that your state has approved for treatment with cannabis and get registered with the state where you live. Then get a photo ID card allowing you buy products at a specific store called a dispensary. Laws vary by state so check with your local authorities. Here is a handy list of states prepared by NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Do People Become Addicted?
The addiction risk for people who use the drug for medical reasons is subject to debate and needs more study. Marijuana has been in use in the US for decades, and some people who use it get high can potentially go on to have substance misuse issues. The most common problem is dependence. If you become dependent, you may feel withdrawal symptoms if you stop using. If you’re addicted, a more severe problem, you may feel unable to face the day without taking it.
Why Don’t We Know More?
As mentioned earlier, cannabis has been an herbal remedy for centuries, but comprehensive evidence for how well it works is stil lacking. Scientists prefer large studies with controls before they draw any conclusions, and much of the research to date is lacking those standards. Products also vary in strength and it’s hard to measure doses, which is another reason measuring the benefits of marijuana is complicated.
An Opioid Alternative?
This is a great question but the answer is not clear. Some studies saw a decrease in opoid prescriptions and researchers found a link to fewer overdose deaths. But another study found a link with and abuse of these narcotic drugs. It is clear medical scientists need more evidence before they can say for sure.
Medical Marijuana vs. CBD
CBD doesn’t have mind-altering effects and is now legal in all 50 states without a prescription or prior approval. Many people agree they receive the same health benefits from CBD as they did with THC. You can find more information on USDA certified organic CBD from a premier manufacturer such as Joy Organics. [AD]
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