The law as it pertains to the use and sale of cannabis (a.k.a. marijuana) differs from country to country, and from state to state in the USA. In some regions, groups of people may qualify for its use as a medicine. Cannabis can be used as a treatment for symptoms for a variety of medical conditions.
Due to its long-standing status as an illegal recreational drug, many people are not familiar with all the advantages and disadvantages of cannabis use. We’re here to answer your most important questions!
1.What Is Medical Cannabis?
Medical cannabis is quite simply a plant-based medicine from the plant species Cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Indica. It has three major active compounds: THC, CBD, and CBN.
2. What is Medical Cannabis Used For?
Medical cannabis works to treat the symptoms of disease. It contains chemical compounds that are thought to have positive effects on a variety of unpleasant symptoms, or the side effects of other medications.
Medical cannabis or marijuana is basically exactly the same product as recreational cannabis, but it's taken for medical purposes.
The cannabis plant contains more than 100 different chemicals called cannabinoids. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the main chemical used in medicine, while Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical that makes you “stoned”.
3. How Can Medical Cannabis Help You?
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence for the therapeutic effects of cannabis. It’s fairly well known to reduce chronic pain and anxiety. It helps to alleviate nausea due to chemotherapy and other medications. It stimulates poor appetite and counteracts weight loss in people with life-threatening illnesses. It can also relieve tight or stiff muscles from muscular and joint diseases like arthritis or muscular sclerosis.
Conditions that qualify for a medical cannabis prescription include Parkinson’s Disease, AIDs, intestinal diseases like Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease, epilepsy, cancer, and other debilitating diseases. Some conditions like anxiety and PTSD can also qualify, depending on factors like severity of symptoms or regional laws.
More than half of the USA states have legalized medical cannabis in some form, and more are considering bills to do the same. Yet while many people are using cannabis for various reasons, the FDA has only approved it for treatment of two rare and severe forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
Related: Medicinal Cannabis – Does It Really Work?
4. Why Is There So Little Research About Medical Cannabis?
Under federal law in the USA, the use and sale of cannabis is illegal. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) consider that cannabis is a Schedule I drug - the same as heroin or LSD – meaning it’s supposedly likely to be abused and lacking in medical value. Researchers need a special license to study it in any capacity.
However, the legality of its use varies from state to state. There is a lot of pressure on various bodies to agree to support research on cannabis, and make the process easier for researchers.
5. How Do You Get Medical Cannabis?
To get medical cannabis for your own treatment, you will need a written recommendation from a licensed doctor. This only applies to states where it’s legal. Not every doctor is willing to recommend medical cannabis for patients – if you really think medical cannabis can help you, you’ll have to find a recommended GP who is more likely to give you the go-ahead.
You must be diagnosed with one of the conditions that qualifies for medical cannabis. Bear in mind that each state has its own list of qualifying conditions. Your state might require you to get a medical cannabis ID card. Once you have your card, you can buy medical cannabis at a dispensary.
6. What Is A Cannabis Dispensary?
Dispensaries exist because the federal laws prohibit cannabis from being prescribed and filled at regular pharmacies. There are recreational dispensaries as well as medical dispensaries depending on which state you are in.
7. What Are The Side Effects Of Medical Cannabis?
This is an important question. While society is becoming more and more open to the positive effects of cannabis, the side effects are often glossed over or ignored. But don’t worry – you can’t overdose on cannabis in and of itself. Some researchers have estimated that a toxic dose of CBD could require ingesting a whopping 20000mg, or 0.7 ounces, of CBD!
The most commonly experienced side effects of cannabis are:
- Changes in mood
- Changes in appetite
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
These common side effects occur only in some users. An even smaller percentage of cannabis users report more serious side effects – usually linked to THC (the psychoactive component) in some cannabis products. Not all medical cannabis products contain THC.
The more serious side effects include:
- Memory problems (false memories and long-term memory loss) – this is a common short-lived side effect of marijuana containing THC, where the brain is not sure about things that happened around 20 minutes earlier.
- Schizophrenia - cannabis has the potential to initiate this mental disorder in people who are predisposed to it. Researchers haven’t found a direct link between cannabis and schizophrenia, however.
- Increased risk of depression – current studies point out the possible benefits of using cannabis to restore the endocannabinoid system in the brain, which helps to stabilize mood. However, use of cannabis amongst teens and young adults has been shown to be a risk factor for depression.
- Addiction – yes, it’s possible to become addicted to cannabis. However, it’s nowhere near as addictive as drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin. Addiction to cannabis usually occurs in people with pre-existing addiction issues or personality disorders. That said, many people battling addictions to harder substances find some relief if they use medical cannabis.
Related: Cannabis Addiction: Is It Real?
While medical cannabis has some side effects in a small number of users, its benefits usually outweigh its disadvantages for most people. As with any kind of medicine, use as directed and figure out if any side effects you experience are worth the benefits. You'll most likely be pleasantly surprised at how it can help you.