The term medical cannabis or medical marijuana refers to the use of unprocessed cannabis and its cannabinoids to treat a number of diseases or to alleviate related symptoms. Despite certain restrictions, the use of marijuana as a medicine has been tested and proven scientifically. In fact, a study of the chemical compounds in marijuana has resulted in two FDA-approved drugs, namely dronabinol and nabilone. Both contain cannabinoid chemicals in pill form. Further research and scientific studies could lead to more medications.
There is mounting evidence indicating that marijuana can be effectively used to reduce nausea during chemotherapy, to treat chronic pain and to improve appetite in HIV/AIDS patients. In essence, marijuana is proving to be beneficial among people who seek to use it for the treatment of nausea, pain and some illnesses that don’t respond to conventional medical therapy.
While many countries across the globe still consider medical marijuana as illegal, a number of governments now allow treatment with one or more low doses of synthetic cannabinoids for diseases that have already been approved. Advocates and supporters of medical marijuana continue to uphold that cannabis has well-documented and beneficial effects.
What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds related to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of marijuana. Scientists have produced cannabinoids in laboratories. The human body also produces its own cannabinoids that play a crucial role in regulating appetite, awareness of time, body movement, concentration, memory, pain, pleasure, thinking and the five senses.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another major constituent of marijuana and it is drawing interest from members of the medical community as it shows huge potential in treating certain conditions like childhood epilepsy. As such, scientists have been isolating CBD in many forms for medical purposes.
How can cannabinoids prove useful as medicine?
To date, the two main cannabinoids from marijuana that are of medical significance are THC and CBD. The former reduces nausea and increases appetite. The THC-based medications approved by the FDA are used for these purposes. THC can also reduce pain, inflammation and muscle control problems.
CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, meaning it has little to no affect on the mind or behavior. It has been shown useful in controlling epileptic seizures, decreasing pain and inflammation, and even treating addictions and mental disorders. Scientists are also performing pre-clinical and clinical trials with marijuana and its derivatives to treat a number of diseases and conditions, including the following:
- multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- mental disorders
- substance use disorders
A Brief History of Medical Marijuana
The medicinal use and benefits of marijuana have been recognized since the dawn of civilization. Its usefulness has been described by physicians, philosophers and patients from various cultures and societies. Studies reveal that marijuana contains 483 medicinal compounds, about 80 of which are cannabinoids. These compounds serve as the foundation for scientific and medical use. Among the most important cannabinoids in the marijuana plant are cannabinol, terahydrocannabinol, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, cannabidiol, cannabigerol and β-caryophyllene.
The use of the marijuana plant as a medical remedy dates back to 2737 BCE. Moreover, marijuana has been included in the list of 50 fundamental herbs in Chinese herbology, further reinforcing the premise that marijuana possesses many medicinal benefits. Even the ancient Egyptians used marijuana in suppositories to relieve the pain caused by hemorrhoids.
Texts from ancient India confirm that the psychoactive properties of marijuana were well recognized, and physicians used it to treat a wide range of ailments including headaches, insomnia and a host of gastrointestinal disorders. In ancient Greece, dried marijuana leaves were used to treat nose bleeds, while the seeds were used to rid the body of tapeworms.