The world is slowly emerging from a dark age of prohibition and embracing the medicinal value of marijuana. The plant once associated with illegal drugs is proving itself useful in medical applications ranging from eating disorders to childhood epilepsy. In the coming years, medical marijuana will change the face of numerous treatments, and it is already championed by many as being a safer and more effective natural alternative to existing pharmaceuticals.
What is Medical Marijuana?
In the strictest sense, when we speak of medical marijuana we are talking about using the unprocessed marijuana plant or its extracts to treat various medical conditions. The most commonly used method of engaging marijuana’s properties is smoking the dried flower of the plant. However, this has been controversial, as there are critics who suggest that this method could cause respiratory damage of the sort associated with smoking in general. As a result, herbal vaporizers—which allow users to inhale activated cannabinoids without as much exposure to combusted plant matter—are becoming increasingly popular. Many products, such as cannabis oil and edibles, are available which further distill marijuana’s active chemical agents, making for cleaner and more potent medication.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved two medications which include marijuana’s medical agents: dronabinol and nabilone. These are available only to those undergoing chemotherapy, or suffering from HIV/AIDS, and are used to treat nausea and increase appetite, respectively. These drugs are also available in Canada.
Marijuana’S Medical Agents
The marijuana plant’s mind-altering properties are a result of various chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids have many functions, and some are even produced naturally in the bodies of animals—like us humans. Depending on the strain, a marijuana plant could contain over one hundred cannabinoids, of which only two are of medical interest: THC (tetrahydrocannabinoland) and CBD (cannabidiol).
THC is the cannabinoid that we are most familiar with. It is THC that increases hunger, causing the “munchies.” But the medical potential for THC is broader than that—it is thought that THC can be used to treat pain, inflammation and muscle control issues.
CBD has even more potential, with proponents claiming beneficial effects when using CBD to treat epilepsy, pain, inflammation, mental disorders and even addiction. Moreover, CBD can do all of this without causing the “high” typically associated with marijuana use.
The potential medical applications of marijuana seem to be increasing each year, as the Reefer Madness stigma is eroded and more resources are granted to research involving marijuana. For now, the applications are already quite broad, spanning:
- Appetite: Marijuana has been successfully used to increase appetite, as with HIV/AIDS patients, mentioned above. There is growing evidence suggesting that marijuana may also be an effective treatment for anorexia.
- Nausea: Also mentioned above, marijuana has been used to treat vomiting associated with chemotherapy. It may also be used to treat other conditions which cause nausea and vomiting, such as cyclic vomiting syndrome.
- Sleep: Many recreational users have experienced the “burn out” associated with marijuana consumption—the strong compulsion to sleep or rest that follows the “high.” This effect has been used to treat sleep disorders, such as insomnia.
- Pain: Marijuana has been used to treat pain, and is generally considered safer than prescription opioids.
- Swelling: Cannabinoids (sometimes in the form of topical oils) are known to be effective in treating swelling and inflammation. This effect is known most famously in terms of treating glaucoma, but has also been used in the treatment of arthritis and other conditions.
- PTSD: Military veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder have identified marijuana as an effective treatment for more severe symptoms.
- Neurological Problems: Doctors and parents are increasingly considering marijuana as a treatment for severe neurological problems such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Oral application of CBD has been found to be particularly effective in reducing spasms. Because CBD does not cause the “high” associated with THC, it may particularly effective in treating children with such disorders.
The End of Prohibition
Canada has proudly joined a growing list of other countries who have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. The latest chapter in Canada’s path to legality came on August 24, 2016 with the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). According to the Government of Canada website, the ACMPR “allow for reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes for Canadians who have been authorized to use cannabis for medical purposes by their health care practitioner.”
Under these new regulations, Canadians are able to acquire marijuana from producers licensed by Health Canada, or grow a limited amount of marijuana for their own medical needs.
The Natural Option
Marijuana is recognized as a natural alternative to existing medications used to treat a variety of illnesses and disorders. In Canada, we already enjoy the ability to legally acquire marijuana for medical purposes, and with upcoming recreational legalization, the known applications of the plant will likely increase. If you or someone you love suffer from chronic pain or lack of appetite, childhood epilepsy or glaucoma, you may want to consider speaking to your doctor about medical marijuana. There is a natural option.