Depending on who you ask, medical cannabis (also known as medical marijuana) is either a cure-all drug that can treat anything from cancer to chronic pain to epilepsy, or it is a risky and illegal substance that has no business being used in medicine.
On the one hand, there is evidence to show that medicinal cannabis may successfully compete with competing treatments, which would result in significant cost savings for the government.
According to studies that were conducted in 2016 and 2017 and published in the journal Health Affairs, the amount of money spent on Medicaid and Medicare Part D reduced by millions of dollars in states where medicinal cannabis was authorised. The researchers discovered that prescriptions for medications used to treat anxiety, sadness, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizure disorders, and sleep disorders decreased in states where medical cannabis legislation were in place. According to their estimates, Medicare would have been able to save more than one billion dollars in 2014 if all states had similar regulations.
These kinds of data, in addition to the findings of other studies, provide credence to the notion that cannabis does, in fact, have an impact on the health of individuals. But can it actually treat such a wide variety of illnesses? The correct response is “yes,” “no,” and “maybe.” Continue reading to learn more about what we know, what we don’t know, and why it’s such a complex issue.
Cannabis’ complicated legal status
To begin, the cannabis plant’s legal status is murky, which makes it more difficult to do research on the plant as a whole. As of February 2022, 37 states, four territories, and the District of Columbia have legalised the use of cannabis for medical purposes. In addition, the use of cannabis for recreational purposes is now legalised and controlled in 18 states, as well as two territories and the District of Columbia.
However, under the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis is categorised as a Schedule I drug, which places it in the same category as other substances such as mescaline and MDMA (ecstasy). That indicates that the United States Federal Government has determined that it is dangerous, has no legitimate medicinal applications, and has a significant potential for abuse. Products that contain either of the two primary components of cannabis, known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD), are not allowed to be sold legally as dietary supplements in the United States.
According to Keith Roach, MD, associate professor in clinical medicine in the division of general medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York Presbyterian Hospital, it is difficult to obtain funding for research into the medical benefits of cannabis because the drug is classified as a Schedule I substance.
According to Dr. Roach, “I think it should be reclassified because there’s potential for marijuana to be utilised in other conditions,” and “I think it should be reclassified because of the stigma.” It is incorrect to assert that it has no basis in medical research. Let’s look into it together.
According to Roach, the direction in which future research on medicinal marijuana will go “is entirely dependent on the federal government and what they choose to do.” At this time, it is extremely challenging for researchers to carry out any form of productive research.
Components that make up cannabis
Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds that are found in cannabis that are known to have a variety of positive impacts on one’s health. Among these cannabinoids are several that are considered to be of utmost significance. CBD, which does not have any psychoactive qualities, and THC, which creates the “high” that is associated with cannabis usage, are the two cannabinoids that are found most frequently in cannabis.
In November of 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report declaring that CBD in its pure form is safe, with limited potential for substance dependence and no evidence of harm to public health. The report also stated that there is no evidence that CBD is harmful to public health. The Drug Enforcement Administration of the United States places CBD under the category of prohibited substances known as Schedule V. This is the same category that contains cough syrups.
CBD is not without risk; it is possible for it to produce adverse drug interactions, as well as symptoms such as nausea, drowsiness, diarrhoea, and abnormalities in the liver. However, it may also have some positive effects on one’s health (read on to learn more). Additionally, THC has significant use in the medical field.
According to Roach, there is no longer any doubt about the efficacy of specific cannabinoid chemicals that can be found in cannabis. However, this is still a contentious issue due to the fact that marijuana contains a wide variety of chemical compounds. We try to single out one factor and declare, “This is what’s significant,” but it may actually be a combination of multiple factors working together. It is quite challenging to do the studying.”
The medical conditions that marijuana may (or may not) be able to treat
There is a lot that scientists do not yet know about cannabis and its numerous chemicals because the plant and all of its constituents are still being researched and likely will be for a good number of years. At this time, however, there is evidence to support the use of cannabis or cannabinoids to treat a variety of illnesses, including the following:
- There are various kinds of suffering.
- Seizure disorders
- A few of the patients will have their appetites stimulated.
- Multiple sclerosis is characterised by stiff muscles in patients.
- Symptoms of chemotherapy, include nausea and vomiting
The disorder known as Parkinson’s
Dronabinol and nabilone are two medications produced from cannabis that have indications approved by the FDA to treat a variety of illnesses, one of which being nausea and vomiting brought on by chemotherapy. In addition, a prescription cannabidiol formulation that is licenced by the FDA can be used to treat specific types of seizures that might occur in children.
The scientific community is divided on whether or not it helps with the following conditions:
- Neurodegenerative diseases
- Anxiety disorders as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
There are several intriguing lines of study being conducted on cancer, however the majority of the studies are being conducted on mice. It is yet too early to say for certain how cannabinoids should be utilised in order to provide cancer patients with the most benefit. In the same way that cannabis is composed of a wide variety of components, the term “cancer” refers to a wide range of distinct cancers. For this reason, it will be essential for researchers to determine which molecules function, which do not work, and which might potentially cause harm in certain types of cancer patients.
For example, there is some preliminary evidence suggesting that cannabis may hasten the progression of the disease in at least one form of cancer. According to the findings of other studies, cannabis may cause chemotherapy to become less effective and may make users more susceptible to virus infections. In point of fact, a number of researchers have pointed out that the capacity of cannabis to depress the immune system, as well as the potential risks to individuals who already have impaired immune systems, is frequently ignored.
When people use cannabis in an unhealthy manner, there is a risk that they could acquire cannabis use disorder, also known as CUD. This is another worrying prospect. The likelihood of getting a CUD is significantly higher in adolescents than it is in adults. About one in ten people who try cannabis eventually develop an addiction to the drug. In a study that was conducted in 2022 and published in the JAMA Network Open, the researchers found evidence that the immediate use of medical cannabis by people who were experiencing pain, insomnia, and symptoms of anxiety or depression increased the risk of CUD without helping the participants with the majority of their symptoms.
If you use cannabis or cannabinoids, you should be aware of the additional hazards associated with it, which may include the following:
- Frequently among minors
- PCP and other substances adulterated cannabis soldInteractions with other drugs, particularly those that alter your mood or cause you to feel sleepy
- Interactions with licit or illicit substances, alcohol, or tobacco
- If you are using blood thinners, your risk of bleeding is increased.
- Affects on either the rate of the heart or the blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Testicular cancer
- Influences on your memory, sense of judgement, and ability to make choices
- Extreme queasiness and throwing up (cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS)
- Smoking during pregnancy is associated with a lower birth weight.
- Lung injuries if THC is vaped
- Having trouble standing up or passing out when doing so
- Poisonings that occur accidentally, most f on the street
Be aware, though, that due to lax standards and quality control, a lot of seemingly harmless preparations of CBD oil are either mislabeled or tainted in some way, and this is something else you should keep in mind. For example, in a study to be published in 2020 by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States, researchers assessed 147 CBD or hemp products that were available for purchase on the internet. 18 of the 102 products whose labels said they included a specified level of CBD contained less than 80 percent of the advertised amount, whereas 37 of the products contained more than 120 percent of the advertised amount. The kicker is that around half of the samples also included THC, which indicates that people who use products that they believe contain CBD may, in fact, be intoxicated by THC even though they believe the items contain CBD.
The United States Department of Transportation has issued a warning to the public that the use of a CBD product would not be tolerated as an explanation for a failed drug test. According to reports, this caused the termination of one truck driver’s employment.
The discovery of heavy metals in these products has resulted, in at least one instance, in a nationwide recall scheduled for July 2020 due to the presence of lead contamination. In addition to that, certain items have been found to contain carcinogens, germs, and pesticides.