Marijuana, or cannabis, has been used for at least 5,000 years and has an extensive history of traditional uses as an industrial material and a botanical medicine all throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and America.
Read on to learn more about medical marijuana’s healing benefits and how it has gotten its bad rap.
What is Medical Marijuana?
The term ‘medical marijuana’ refers to the use of the whole, unprocessed marijuana plant and its pure extracts to treat a disease or improve a symptom.2 It must be sourced from a medicinal-grade cannabis plant that has been meticulously grown without the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers.
Marijuana’s incredible healing properties come from its high cannabidiol (CBD) content and critical levels of medical terpenes and flavonoids. It also contains some tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the molecule that gives the psychoactive effects that most recreational users are after. Through traditional plant breeding techniques and seed exchanges, growers have started producing cannabis plants that have higher levels of CBD and lower levels of THC for medical use.
Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved medical marijuana,3 more and more physicians are starting to reverse their stand on the issue and swear by its effectiveness and health benefits.
Marijuana’s healing properties come from its high cannabidiol (CBD) content.
In a 2015 CBS interview, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy acknowledged that marijuana may be useful for certain medical conditions, saying:
We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, marijuana can be helpful.4
Likewise, CNN’s chief medical correspondent and neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta also made a highly publicized reversal on his marijuana stance after the production of his two-part series ‘Weed.’ In a commentary published on CNN’s website, he said:5
There is now promising research into the use of marijuana that could impact tens of thousands of children and adults, including treatment for cancer, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s, to name just a few. With regard to pain alone, marijuana could greatly reduce the demand for narcotics and simultaneously decrease the number of accidental painkiller overdoses, which are the greatest cause of preventable death in this country.
How Does Medical Marijuana Work and What Diseases Can it Be Used For?
Historically, marijuana has been used as a botanical medicine since the 19th and 20th centuries.6Today, marijuana’s claim as a potential panacea is backed up by countless studies crediting its healing potential to its cannabidiol content.
There is actually an endocannabinoid system in the human body. This ancient biological system, which also exists in other mammals, was first described in the journal Science in 1992,7 and is said to be responsible for releasing human cannabinoids that interact with cannabinoid receptors found in virtually all your tissues, embedded in your cell membranes.
Marijuana has been used as a botanical medicine since the 19th and 20th centuries.
Cannabinoid receptors can be found in your brain, lungs, liver, kidneys and immune system. Both the therapeutic and psychoactive properties of marijuana occur when a cannabinoid activates a cannabinoid receptor.8
There’s still ongoing research as to how far they impact your health, but to date, it’s known that cannabinoid receptors play an important role in many body processes, including metabolic regulation, cravings, pain, anxiety, bone growth and immune function.9 Overall, it’s said that cannabinoids bring balance to your tissues and biological systems.
Dr. Allan Frankel, a board-certified internist in California who has successfully treated patients with medical marijuana for more than a decade, has personally seen tumors virtually disappear in some patients using no other therapy except taking 40 to 60 milligrams of cannabinoids a day. Other common ailments that may benefit from medical marijuana use include:
- Degenerative neurological disorders such as dystonia11
- Arthritis, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis10
- Multiple sclerosis12
- Parkinson’s disease13
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)14
- Epilepsy and seizures15
CBD also works as an excellent painkiller and works well in treating anxiety issues.16 Cannabis oil, on the other hand, when applied topically may help heal sunburn overnight.
Cannabinoids bring balance to your tissues and biological systems.
How to Obtain and Use Medical Marijuana
At present, medical cannabis is now legal in 30 U.S. states. Most of these areas permit its use under certain medical circumstances only, and some allow CBD oils or pills only. In eight states, it’s legal to be used recreationally.17,18
In states where medical marijuana is legal like California, Colorado, Vermont and New York, you can join a collective, or a legal entity consisting of a group of patients that can grow and share cannabis medicines with each other. By signing up as a member, you gain the right to grow and share your medicine.
Frankel notes that a patient of 18 can secure a medical cannabis card recommendation letter if their attending physician or doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) advises or agrees to it. With your medical cannabis card, you now have the liberty to choose the collective you want to belong to. Medical marijuana can be administered to patients using one of the following methods:19,20
- Inhalation—Allows the patient to titrate the dosage. It has an instantaneous effect as the medication is rapidly taken into the lungs and quickly absorbed through the capillaries into the bloodstream. The effects of inhaled cannabis will last approximately four hours.
- Smoking—Can be done using a joint or the cigarette form (hand-or machine-rolled), a pipe, or bong (water pipe). Smoking medical marijuana by joint is believed to be inefficient, though, as the medication goes with the smoke as the cigarette burns. Smoking small amounts using a water pipe is more advisable because the cool smoke is less irritating to the airway. This method is not recommended to anyone with lung damage.
- Vaporization—Like a nebulizer treatment, cannabis can be heated to a temperature that will release the medication in vapors to be inhaled by the patient.
- Sublingual (under the tongue) or oramucosal (in the oral cavity) delivery—Made possible using oils or tinctures, it is readily delivered into the bloodstream and provides a rapid effect. Tinctures can be administered through a dropper under the tongue or sprayed in the mouth to be absorbed in the oral cavity. This is highly recommended for non-smoking patients.
- Oral ingestion—Non-smokers can also take medical marijuana through pills or mandibles, which are edible cannabis products in the form of teas, cookies or brownies.
The primary drawback of this approach is that because cannabinoids are fat-soluble, there may be issues when it comes to absorption, depending on the patient’s metabolism. A good workaround for this problem is using cannabis butter, which fat-soluble cannabinoids blend well with.
- Topical application—Cannabis can be applied as an ointment, lotion or poultice for treating skin inflammations, arthritis and muscle pain. It is unclear how cannabinoids are absorbed transdermally, although its credit should also go to the more soluble terpenoids and flavonoids that also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Medical cannabis is now legal in 30 U.S. states.