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Medical Marijuana – Real Talk About Real Medicine

Although not well publicized marijuana has long been valued for its medicinal properties. Eastern medicine recorded the first recorded instance of medical marijuana as early as 2737 BC. Western medical journals published many articles about marijuana’s medicinal uses in the 1800s and marijuana was part of the American pharmacopoeia until 1942.

While medical research into marijuana has been severely undermined by federal restrictions and political interference there are several important sources of modern knowledge about medical marijuana we can look to understand why medical marijuana is so important to so many patients.

A new landmark study published last week by the peer-reviewed journal Drug and Alcohol Review gave us the best look at what the patient population of a comprehensive medical marijuana program looks like. An impressive 92% of participants reported that “medical marijuana helped alleviate symptoms or treat a serious medical condition,” a far better result than most traditional drugs receive. The report also found that one-in-twenty California adults, roughly 1.4 million people, reported using medical marijuana to treat serious illnesses, and that such use spanned all ages, genders, races, and geographical regions.

The researchers concluded:

Evidence from randomized controlled trials suggests that cannabinoids can improve quality of life by improving sleep, increasing appetite and reducing chronic pain for people with chronic conditions, especially when these conditions do not respond to conventional treatments

In short when medical marijuana is made available to the public a wide variety of patients, many that have exhausted all other options, benefit tremendously.

Why Medical Marijuana Works – The Endocannabinoid System

So why does medical marijuana work? The answer is that marijuana compounds interact with your biology in a way that mirrors the natural process of human biology, through the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a sophisticated group of neuromodulators, their receptors, and signaling pathways involved in regulating a variety of physiological processes including movement, mood, memory, appetite, and pain.

Cannabinoids, compounds exclusively found in marijuana, interact with your ECS in a way that is very similar to the natural interactions going on in your own body all the time.  When a patient is suffering from certain illnesses the interaction of cannabinoids (marijuana) with the receptors in your ECS is potentially very beneficial.

Here is  ASA Senior Science Advisor Dr. Jahan Marcu describing the ECS:

In every human there are complex biological systems working to keep physiological functions in order. When these biochemical systems are functioning optimally, they maintain optimal mood, help maintain appropriate levels of immunity, proper digestion, regular sleep, brain function, etc. The housekeeping properties of these systems have an important role in modulating health and disease. One of these systems is the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The system is built out of G protein-coupled receptors called (CB1 and CB2 “receptors”) and the “endocannabinoids” that bind to them. The ECS maintains normal cerebral and physiological function.  Human clinical trials and animal studies show that stimulating this biochemical system can have both highly beneficial health effects and few negative side effects [….]  At the present time, the evidence of the ECS as an appropriate target to treat neurodegenerative and other diseases does not come solely from the limited approved studies on marijuana from the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The information comes from a wealth of new information about stimulating this biological system and the mechanisms explaining the central role of this system in health. The ECS is inherent to proper human functioning; in fact, every physiological system that has ever been studied is positively modulated by it. Recent reports suggest that cannabis, cannabis extracts, and mixtures of the plant’s active ingredients are useful for treating epilepsy (i.e., Dravet syndrome), traumatic brain injury, cancers, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), wasting, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, autism, and other diseases and symptoms.

In short the ECS is tremendously important to human health and the interaction of marijuana with the ECS explains why people have looked to marijuana for therapeutic benefits for centuries. Although there are other ways to improve your ECS  (running for instance) traditional drugs do not interact with your ECS system, explaining why the benefits of medical marijuana are often impossible to find in other treatment options.

In summary, the endocannabinoid system is a recently discovered regulatory physiological system that holds great promise for improvements in human quality of life. To date, it has not received the attention that it deserves in physician and patient education, nor in research expenditures. Should these shortcomings be rectified, it stands to reason that the public health would benefit enormously. – Dr. Ethan Russo

Side effect profile of Marijuana – Benign and largely avoidable side effects

Marijuana is an extremely safe medicine. Most notably marijuana has never been linked to death by overdose, despite being the most widely used illicit drug in the world. DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge, Francis Young, in response to a petition to reschedule cannabis under federal law concluded in 1988 that, “In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume…. Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within the supervised routine of medical care.”

However, it does have side effects. Uneasiness, hunger and thirst, red eyes, drowsiness and  sleeplessness have all been identified as common adverse reactions.  Short-term effects on cognition and psychomotor performance are also present. Many of these negative outcomes have been particularly problematic when people consume extremely high amounts of marijuana in edible products without knowing how much they have consumed.

While these side effects are not to be treated lightly, they are not worse than exist in other widely used drugs.

“Marijuana is not a completely benign substance. It is a powerful drug with a variety of effects. However, except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range of effects tolerated for other medications.” -“Marijuana and Medicine Assessing the Science Base” by the Internal Institute of Medicine.