We have talked about how marijuana or cannabis helps cancer patients deal with treatment-related side effects and how preclinical trials show that cannabinoids kill cancer cells and prevent them from spreading. Read about that here and here. But what about the other medical benefits of cannabis? Can cannabis be used in the treatment of other medical conditions?
For thousands of years, marijuana has been used as herbal remedy for various medical conditions. However, because of its high potential for abuse, marijuana, including its active components, is classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 drug. This means that, under federal laws, marijuana is an illegal substance.
The great news, though, is that medical marijuana – the term referring to marijuana plant or its components used in the treatment of medical conditions and symptoms – is now legal in half of the states in the U.S., as well as in the District of Columbia. Thanks to state laws that have recognized the health benefits of cannabis as well as the right of patients to seek alternative treatment for their condition.
What’s in medical marijuana?
The cannabis plant contains more than a hundred active chemicals or cannabinoids, each one having a different effect on our body. The main active chemicals used in medical treatment are THC or Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and CBD or cannabidiol.
It is the THC component, in particular, that produces the feeling of “high” when you smoke marijuana or eat food that contains it. Research suggests that THC reduces nausea and vomiting, stimulates appetite, promotes weight gain, as well as reduces inflammation, pain, and muscle control problems.
CBD, meanwhile, can also reduce pain and inflammation, but without making patients “high.” It can also control epileptic seizures, reduce anxiety, and possibly treat mental illness and addictions.
Researchers are still conducting more studies on the possible uses of CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids for medical purposes.
What conditions does medical marijuana treat?
The most proven therapeutic effects of medical marijuana relate to its ability to relieve pain and reduce nausea and vomiting as a result of chemotherapy, as well as lessen muscle spasms — mainly due to Multiple Sclerosis. Doctors also prescribe medical marijuana to treat weight loss, poor appetite, and cachexia caused by chronic illnesses such as HIV and AIDS.
Medical marijuana is also used to treat illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, ulcerative colitis, Parkinson’s disease, severe arthritis, fibromyalgia, seizure disorders, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, Hepatitis C, and spinal cord injury, among many others.
Moreover, some people suffering from eating disorders like anorexia, or from mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, use medical marijuana to manage their condition.
Approved conditions for medical marijuana treatment
Different states where medical marijuana is legal have different limitations and regulations with regard to possession, cultivation, sale, and method of marijuana treatment. Even the approved medical conditions vary from state to state.
Almost all of the states that legalized medical cannabis have specified cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, and Crohn’s disease in their list of approved conditions. As for the other conditions, the states vary in their approval, with most of them only indicating in general “any chronic or debilitating disease” that displays symptoms like seizures, muscle spasms, nausea, and severe pain.
There are also states that included these other very specific conditions in their approved list: Causalgia, Dystonia, Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, Fibrous Dysplasia, Hepatitis C
Hydrocephalus, Arnold-Chiari malformation, Interstitial cystitis, Lupus, Hydromyelia, Huntington’s Disease, Spinocerebellar ataxia, Myoclonus, Nail-patella syndrome, Neurofibromatosis, Tourette syndrome, Residual limb pain, Reflex sympathetic dystrophy, Syringomyelia, Traumatic brain injury, inflammatory bowel disease, and dyskinetic disorder.
How about the other medical conditions not yet approved? There is only one definite answer to this, and that is: They will follow after conclusive studies and clinical trials.