Facts about cannabis for medical use explain research findings, health benefits, controversy, dosage, risks, FDA approval, and how to get it. So, what exactly is medical cannabis and what does it do?
Medical cannabis (also called medical marijuana) is derived from the cannabis sativa plant. The key ingredients are chemicals called cannabinoids. But medical researchers focus on the health benefits of two in particular. The delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
The primary purpose of medical cannabis is severe chronic pain relief, improved function, and overall quality of life.
Latest Research Findings On Medical Cannabis
According to the 2023 chronic pain management guidelines, Alan Bell, MD, notes that
Cannabinoid-based medicines (CBM) may help clinicians offer an effective, less addictive, alternative to opioids in patients with chronic non-cancer pain and comorbid conditions.
We don’t recommend using CBM first line for anything pretty much because there are other alternatives that may be more effective and also offer fewer side effects. But I would strongly argue that I would use cannabis-based medicine over opioids every time. Why would you use a high potency-high toxicity agent when there’s a low potency-low toxicity alternative?Alan Bell, MD, University of Tororonto, Ontario, Canada, The Guidelines, March 27, 2023, Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research
Effectiveness of Medical Cannabis
Facts about cannabis for medical use also reveal that medical cannabis can work as a painkiller, and stop vomiting during chemotherapy. Likewise, relieve some multiple sclerosis symptoms, and treat a few rare forms of epilepsy.
However, presently, there are four conditions where studies show the effectiveness of medical cannabis in providing relief:
- Arthritis Pain Studies show that medical cannabis is effective in relieving pain caused by arthritis as well as cancer, nerve damage, migraine, and musculoskeletal diseases.
- Poor Sleep There is evidence of effectiveness for disturbed sleep associated with sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and MS.
- Anxiety The clinical evidence is limited, but medical cannabis can have a positive effect on conditions such as social anxiety and PTSD. New studies are currently underway.
- Nausea and Vomiting Talk to your doctor about FDA-approved cannabinoid-based prescription drugs that help with side effects from chemotherapy.
Controversy Over Medical Cannabis Products
Though several pharmaceutical drugs are based on cannabis, the use of cannabis in medicine is still controversial. There are two reasons. First, lack of standardization of products to ensure safety and consistency in dosage. Second is the disagreement over legalization. For example, while cultivation, possession, and consumption are illegal in some countries, some countries legalize the use of herbal medical cannabis specifically.
Medical cannabis may be riskier and perhaps contraindicated if you have a personal or family history of psychosis, unstable cardiac disease, and lung disease. Therefore, if you use medical cannabis, you are advised by physicians not to use tobacco, either alone or mixed with cannabis. In addition, you should not drive while initiating, changing doses, or when impaired by the drug. Research has linked cannabis use and car accidents.
You could also have breathing problems, such as chronic cough and bronchitis if you smoke cannabis. Furthermore, using it while pregnant may affect your baby’s health and development. Studies also show a link between cannabis and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.
There is also the possibility of medical use transitioning into recreational use. Other side effects include bloodshot eyes, depression, dizziness, hallucination, fast heartbeat, and low blood pressure.
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How Should You Take Medical Cannabis?
How you take it is up to you. Medical cannabis is available in more delivery methods than ever before. There are gummy bears, dried flowers, pills, lotions, drops, and a variety of edibles. And even special transdermal patches that can deliver cannabinoids (including THC and CBD) directly into the bloodstream. But most are frequently administered either by smoking or vaporization or in the form of edible preparations.
However, each method works differently in your body, though you feel the effects very quickly if you smoke or vaporize cannabis. On the other hand, if you eat it, it takes significantly longer. For example, it can take 1 to 2 hours to experience the effects of edible products.
FDA-Approved Medical Cannabis
Besides the approval of Epidolex as a treatment for two rare kinds of epilepsy, the FDA has also approved three synthetic cannabis-related drug products: Marinol, Syndros, and Cesamet. If you have nausea caused by chemotherapy, you might take Syndros, while Marinol can treat loss of appetite that causes weight loss in people with AIDS.
How And Where Do You Get It?
One of the crucial facts about cannabis for medical use is the how and where to get it. Depending on where you live, the rules about how and where vary. Generally, you will need to consult with a doctor and have a disorder that your state has approved for treatment with cannabis. In some areas, you buy products at a dispensary.