Medical Marijuana – Facts, Basics and Benefits
What is Medical Marijuana?
Medical Marijuana is a term used to describe medical treatment of a patient using unprocessed marijuana plant. Despite the fact that FDA has not approved the plant as a medicine, use of medical marijuana is legalized, in some form, in many U.S. States.
Recently, the FDA has approved cannabinoid, a chemical found in marijuana, to treat certain illness and symptoms. Experts think that ongoing research on the responsible use of marijuana will lead to further approvals from FDA. In fact, the presence of seemingly useful chemicals, such as cannabinoid, has allowed lawmakers in the United States to pass bills enabling patients to access marijuana for medical reasons.
Why FDA Restricts its Usage?
Due to lack of clinical trials, FDA does not support usage of marijuana other than the chemicals extracted from the plant. To gain approval from FDA, scientists are usually required to conduct trials involving thousands of patients and human volunteers. So far, researchers are unable to conduct a large-scale trial that would prove that marijuana, in its unprocessed state, is beneficial for certain symptoms. Without the trial, use of medical marijuana is mostly restricted to medicines containing cannabinoid extract. In short, FDA thinks that the use of marijuana plant for medical purposes outweighs health risks associated with it.
In order to understand the controversy behind the use of medical marijuana, it is important to understand cannabinoid.
Cannabinoids are chemicals in a marijuana plant that makes people “high”. Scientists are aware of more than 100 such chemicals in a marijuana plant. Illegal drug manufacturers have also used these chemicals to sell pills marketed as medical marijuana. Doctors and healthcare community warn against using illegal medicines because some of these unapproved medicines can contain extremely risky cannabinoid that can lead to serious health affects in a short time.
In simple words, people get “high” after taking a dose of marijuana because these chemicals are able to create a sensation of intense pleasure, which overcomes pain without altering anything that will help the human body. In its processed form when cannabinoid are digested, they interact with different parts of the body to regulate its functions including pain, pleasure, digestions, mood, body movement, and senses.
Regarding cannabinoid, it is interesting to note that our body also produces many forms of cannabinoid that also help regulate body functions related to pain, pleasure and other sensations. However, these internal cannabinoid are regulated by nature, which makes them helpful instead of harming humans.
The medical community is against the widespread use of marijuana plant because humans have no way to regulate cannabinoid in the plant once they are inside the body. As a result of the misuse, anyone taking these without consulting a medical professional is potentially taking a huge risk. On the other hand, if chemicals from these natural plants can be used effectively, after studying them, they can complement other cannabinoid found in the human body. The result will yield positive conditioning of human body. Accordingly, scientific community and doctors want to emphasize the use of marijuana only after consulting a medical professional.
Use of Cannabinoid as a Medicine
The majority of medical research on marijuana plant is focused on two extracts, THC and CBD. THC is a chemical that makes us intoxicated. Its medical properties include reduction of pain, swelling, redness, and inflammation. Accordingly, proper intake of THC also increases human appetite and control nausea.
In contrast, CBD is a chemical that does not makes us high. In fact, if only CBD were present inside the marijuana plant, there was no reason for such a controversy. Despite the difference in chemical structure compared to THC, CBD is of great interest to medical researchers because this chemical not only controls inflammation but it also helps in treating seizures, mental illness, and addictions.
National Institute of Health continues to provide financial aid to research concerning the medical use of marijuana extracts. Medical marijuana is known to fight cancer cells. For instance, research on rodents found that purified extracts of THC and CBD can slow the growth of most serious types of brain tumors. When these extracts are used in cancer radiation therapy, the impact of radiation in killing cancer cells increases, substantially.
The use of marijuana extracts in the form of cannabinoid is not restricted to cancer, only. Diseases that affect the immune system including HIV and multiple sclerosis are known to respond to marijuana chemicals. Dispensary and clinics in the United States are playing their roles in regulating marijuana to fight substance use disorder, seizures, medical illness, and pain.
Laws Concerning Medical Marijuana
More than half of the U.S. States have legalized marijuana in one form or another. The first U.S. State to pass such laws is California, which passed a resolution, in 1996, to allow adult and medical use regulated programs in the State. Since then, almost 33 U.S. States provide authorization of marijuana including Guam, Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
More than 25 U.S. States have a comprehensive medical program. According to National Conference of State Legislators, a comprehensive medical program has the following properties:
- It does not penalize anyone for using marijuana for medical purposes.
- These States have regulated programs where a licensed dispensary can distribute medical marijuana. Similarly, home cultivation of marijuana plant to be used for medical purpose is also allowed under certain instances.
- The State allows a variety of strains for medical uses that are potentially more powerful than low THC products.
- Patients can smoke or take marijuana extracts under the guidance of a medical professional.
- The comprehensive medical program does not function as a limited program. Some States such as Nebraska and South Dakota have limited programs based on medical marijuana usage.
Due to an ongoing debate on the proper usage of medical marijuana, five U.S. States that include Alaska, Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas does not support a public marijuana access program.
Federal vs. State Marijuana Law
If a U.S. State allows a person to legally use marijuana for medical purposes, the person may still be penalized under the Federal law. According to Federal regulations, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which means that it is considered a product that has a tendency to be misused, and it does not have any medical value.
Despite the Federal regulation against the use of marijuana, it should be noticed that FDA realizes that scientists have been able to prove positive effects of marijuana extracts on patients. Considering their efforts, it has approved the use of marijuana for two kinds of seizures, Dravet Syndrome, and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Both these symptoms affect children before the age of six causing severe discomfort.
Research by the medical community has also helped soften the stance of FDA and DEA on the potential usage. In 2009, the Obama administration sent letters to FDA asking them to stop prosecuting individuals who are using marijuana in accordance with their State laws. In fact, DEA also considered classifying marijuana as a Schedule II drug like Ritalin. The consideration was brief because there was not enough evidence to convince Federal authorities.
It also means that continued research can provide conclusive proof to FDA to declassify the Schedule 1 status of marijuana. In recent times, FDA has agreed to support additional research on the issue as medical benefits of marijuana extracts are becoming clearer.
Oklahoma – A Case Study
Despite the risks associated with irresponsible use of Marijuana, its use as a medical therapy is gaining immense popularity. Recent research suggests that 90% of American voters support medical cannabis.
The growing support is evident by the recent legislation in a red-state like Oklahoma, which became one of the newest members to implement comprehensive marijuana reforms. The approval is significant reminder of changing perceptions of U.S. public because the approval came in the midst of primary general elections, which are characterized by mature adult voters. Historically, primary general elections are considered a bad time to publicize controversial issues such as marijuana laws.
The passing of the legislature is also significant because none of the major drug policy reforms group was involved in the effort to pass laws. This is in contrast to previous cycles in other U.S. states where such laws are usually passed with the support of non-profit groups. It may also be a defining moment for policy makers because the opposition poured nearly half a million dollars to stop the vote. In the days leading up to the elections, advertisements in the TV were full of advertisements against passing of the bill.
Despite the onslaught from opposition, the proposal to regulate medical marijuana and start a comprehensive support program was passed by 57% to 43%. Results of the bill indicate that the public is increasingly becoming aware of the medical uses of marijuana. It also means that negative publicity of the program may not be helpful to the opposition.
Learning from the experiences of other U.S. States, the Oklahoma medical program is implemented on the basis of patient registry enabling medical professionals to track each patient. In addition, the program also supports legal defense of individuals who may need assistance in representing them in court of law.
Access to Medical Marijuana
Access to marijuana for medical purposes is strictly regulated by each U.S. State. The first step is to approach a licensed medical doctor who can prescribe marijuana treatment. Depending on the condition, not every doctor will recommend it; however, if the medical condition makes a patient eligible for the treatment, most doctors will offer such prescription.
It should be understood that doctors will only prescribe medication if there is an underlying qualification condition. Each U.S. State has a list of qualifying condition that can be treated with medical marijuana. As suggested, if there is an underlying medical condition, there are licensed doctors who can write recommendations for their patients for marijuana intake. Some U.S. States like Oklahoma may also require patients to get a State issued ID before they can buy marijuana.
Once the patient gets the medical marijuana card, they can legally visit a dispensary which sells marijuana for medical purposes.
How Marijuana Extracts are Consumed?
Patients can consumer marijuana using different methods suitable to them. The intake includes such methods as smoking, vaporizing, eating, and application on the skin. For immediate impact, smoking and inhaling using a vaporizer are most commonly used techniques. On the other hand, most patients seem to like eating it in the form of a brownie or lollipop. As such, edible products usually take more time to take effect. Similarly, a number of patients apply it on their skin or place a few drops of liquid under their tongue.
Why Take Medical Marijuana from a Licensed Dispensary?
Marijuana is an addictive substance that can have serious adverse health impact if not used under the guidance of a trained professional. Therefore, proper dosage is necessary to ensure that patients do not become addicted to marijuana. Acquiring it from a regulated dispensary is important because these dispensaries are trained to sell only prescribe dosage of the medicine.
It is also important to take proper dosage because misuse can affect judgment and coordination in individuals. For teenagers, the risk of harmful impact increases as marijuana may interfere with IQ levels and mental functions. Side effects of marijuana include dizziness, hallucinations, depression, fast heartbeat, low blood pressure, and blood-shot eyes.
Remember, Marijuana is classified as an addictive substance. Taking the drug from an approved dispensary is a responsible act, which ensures that patients are treated according to State regulations.