Medical marijuana is now legal in more than two-thirds of the US and many countries worldwide, in contrast to recreational cannabis use, which is still frowned upon ―and for the greatest part remains illegal.
And even though studies are being conducted regularly during the last decade, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I substance. Hence, its use in clinical trials needs to be registered by the respective institution and approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and that inhibits faster progress in the research field.
What is medical marijuana?
The short answer is that medical marijuana is not materially different from what you get in the post when you buy weed online to enjoy with your buddies at the weekend. The main distinction is one of classification and purpose, which is, of course, important in states where medical weed is legal and recreational is not. Aside from that, medical weed usually has a higher CBD content, whereas the recreational variety will have higher THC. In other words, medical weed is not usually as “strong” and will be less likely to have you giggling uncontrollably or in a state of couch lock.
In general, all marijuana is derived from the Cannabis sativa or the Cannabis indica plant, and it contains more than a hundred different chemical compounds, also known as cannabinoids. When ingested or inhaled, cannabinoids attach to specific receptors of our body, relieving pain and easing discomfort, inflammation, etc. The most well-known and important cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the compound known for its intoxicating effect, whereas CBD has no psychoactive properties whatsoever.
The main distinction between recreational and medical marijuana is one of classification and purpose. Medical marijuana contains three major active compounds: THC, CBD, and CBN (cannabinol, a by-product of THC); those compounds are found in different potencies and amounts in medical marijuana products, depending on the condition they treat. Of course, medical products have a higher CBD content and very low THC ―the legal limit being 0.3% in most cases.
What is medical marijuana used for?
The main thing to understand is that medical marijuana is not a cure for any condition: it’s basically an alternative to symptom-relieving drugs, like painkillers and opioids. More than two million medical marijuana patients have been recorded in the US. The most widely known reason is the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties, which can help relieve chronic pain caused by conditions like arthritis.
Other uses include the treatment of epileptic seizures and depression. Easing chemotherapy-related nausea and appetite stimulation effects have also been confirmed. At the same time, the results from a 2014 study by the American Academy of Neurology indicate that medical marijuana may be beneficial in easing some of the symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis.
Additionally, medical marijuana has been used as a treatment for glaucoma since the 1970s, as it has been reported that its properties decrease intraocular pressure (IOP). However, in 2014, the American Academy of Ophthalmology stated that due to marijuana’s short-term relief, it is not recommended for the treatment of glaucoma.
Medical marijuana also features spasmolytic properties and helps with pain and numbness associated with various neurological conditions ―although related clinical trials are still being conducted to make a stronger case. Plus, apart from alleviating chronic pain, CBD is also known for its effectiveness in easing anxiety symptoms and insomnia.
Myths and facts about medical marijuana
Unfortunately, there are still some common misconceptions about the differences between recreational and medical use and many myths to be debunked. Let’s see some of the most persistent ones.
Myth: Medical marijuana will get you stoned
Fact: As mentioned above, most medical marijuana products contain a low THC percentage, so there is no “high.” CBD products are also available without a prescription as it’s an herbal substance that doesn’t contain any intoxicating compounds.
On the other hand, THC is a psychoactive compound, meaning it can alter perceptions and mood. When administered by an authorized professional in tiny and regulated doses, it can help with the relief of many symptoms, but those doses won’t get you “stoned.”
Myth: If you take medical marijuana, you’ll become addicted
Fact: Like any other medicine, medical marijuana can be abused. However, even though a lot of people, as well as the National Institute on Drug Abuse, claim that marijuana can be considered a “gateway drug” leading to harder narcotics use, as far as medical use is concerned, that could only be a risk for frequent, high-THC doses administered to users prone to abuse and addiction.
Myth: You have to smoke medical marijuana
Fact: There are many consumption methods for medical marijuana, and smoking or vaping are only an example ―even though it’s the most popular way due to the quick onset of effects.
Medical marijuana also comes in edibles and drinks, like gummies, tinctures, and teas ―those take longer to work. However, the best alternative for non-smokers is topical products, such as transdermal patches, lotions, and creams, gels, sprays, and oils, best for patients dealing with muscle and joint pain.
Myth: Marijuana is an unsuitable substance for your body
Fact: Actually, humans have a built-in endocannabinoid system, naturally producing some of its own cannabinoids! When the marijuana compounds enter your body, this system’s receptors act like neurotransmitters, sending messages throughout the nervous system and enhancing the beneficial effects.
As for the anxiety-related symptoms, our internal cannabinoid receptors react to THC, which increases dopamine release, a neurotransmitter that creates pleasurable feelings.
Myth: Any doctor can get you a prescription for medical marijuana
Fact: Authorized health professionals can prescribe you medical marijuana if deemed necessary. However, the administration of marijuana is controlled by your state’s authorities. You have to apply to the government to be registered as a medical cannabis patient by establishing proof of residency and qualifying conditions.
Myth: Medical marijuana is a cure for various conditions
Fact: Medical marijuana can be used to treat and alleviate various symptoms, but in no way can it be considered a cure. For example, it can ease many of the symptoms experienced by cancer patients, like pain and side effects from chemotherapy. Still, it should not be used solely as an alternative for conventional cancer treatments. In any case, a licensed health professional is to be advised before making changes to your medical therapy.
Like any other medication, you must use medical marijuana in moderation to get the most out of it. But also, marijuana is basically herbal, so if you practice safe medicating, you will have even fewer problems than the side effects caused by chemical medicine.