As medical marijuana continues to be debated, more doctors are coming out in favor of its use. In a recent ‘Ask The Doctor’ column, Dr. Heather Auld, Fellow at the University of Arizona Department of Integrative Medicine and a practising obstetrician/gynecologist, explained why the time has come for marijuana to be placed back into the U.S. pharmacopeia.
1. Marijuana has been used as medicine for more than 3,000 years
The use of medical marijuana has been traced to ancient civilizations in China, India, and Egypt. One of the earliest pieces of evidence is a book written by Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung in 2737 BCE, which described the benefits of cannabis in treating constipation, gout, rheumatism and absent-mindedness.
Dr. Auld writes that “only in recent decades has it been removed from our pharmacies.”
2. The American Medical Association supports medical marijuana and its use in research
When marijuana prohibition was passed in 1937, the American Medical Association (AMA) was one of the only voices of opposition. Indeed, the AMA was well aware that marijuana, since entering Western medicine in the mid-1800s, was commonly prescribed for a wide range of conditions.
Though synthetic drugs grew popular during the 20th century, the AMA has continued to support research on marijuana’s medical potential, a position they maintain to this day.
3. The ‘high’ is only from one component
Cannabis contains more than 400 chemical compounds, of which more than 60 have been identified as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are the medically active ingredients in cannabis, including the one that gets you high, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
But other cannabinoids are known to offer similar medical benefits, without the high. Cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A) have been extracted from cannabis to produce non-psychoactive forms of medical marijuana. These are especially popular for paediatric patients.
4. Our body contains a natural cannabinoid system that regulates health and illness
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that scientists discovered why marijuana works so well, and for so many different illnesses. The discovery was a natural system in the human body called the endocannabinoid system, which includes chemicals that mimic the activity of cannabis, called endocannabinoids.
Much like cannabis, Dr. Auld notes that endocannabinoids act to “decrease inflammation, increase immunity, decrease pain, and increase appetite.”
5. Smoking or vaporizing marijuana is better for pain relief
Although some believe there are better methods than smoking or vaporizing, Dr. Auld argues that it could be ideal for those in pain. Oral ingestion of cannabis provides longer-lasting relief, but also takes about an hour to achieve effect. Patients in pain usually require more immediate action, which smoked or vaporized marijuana provides.
6. Marijuana may be superior to narcotic painkillers for neuropathy or nerve pain
While opioid painkillers are incredibly potent and can work wonders for certain types of pain, they are much less effective in cases of nerve pain. In studies, marijuana performs just as well as gabapentin, a leading pharmaceutical used to treat neuropathy.
Also, Dr. Auld notes that “whereas narcotics commonly increase nausea and vomiting, marijuana relieves those symptoms.”
7. When combined, marijuana can decrease the amount of narcotics needed for pain relief
Studies suggest that marijuana can reduce the need for prescription painkillers when given together. The popularity of painkillers has led to a rise in accidental overdoses in the U.S., with opioids claiming over 16,000 lives in 2010. By reducing the need for high doses, medical marijuana offers a promising solution for doctors and patients.
8. The main side effect of marijuana is euphoria or extreme feelings of well-being
One of the most common reasons for doctors to dismiss medical marijuana is the unwanted side effect of getting high. Yet those who have never experienced a marijuana high can easily forget what the high actually does. Feelings of euphoria, while unwanted for some, can provide comfort for patients with debilitating or chronic illnesses.
9. Unlike highly addictive narcotic painkillers, marijuana has the same addictive potential as caffeine
Even when compared to common recreational drugs, studies have ranked marijuana among the least addictive.
A study conducted by NIDA researchers concluded that 9% of people who ever try marijuana will become addicted to it at some point, which is similar to caffeine. On the other hand, the same study found an addictive potential of 15% for alcohol and 32% for tobacco.
10. Marijuana is being studied as a treatment for tumors and various forms of cancer
For cancer patients, relief of nausea and pain are not the only potential benefits of marijuana.
In fact, compounds in marijuana have shown anti-tumor and anti-cancer effects in numerous animal models, “particularly in brain and skin tumors,” Dr. Auld writes, “but also in lung cancer, lymphoma and colon cancer.”
Last November, a drug company called GW Pharmaceuticals began the first clinical trials of a marijuana-based treatment for battling cancer.