Patients do, however, report many benefits of CBD, from relieving insomnia, anxiety, spasticity, and pain to treating potentially life-threatening conditions such as epilepsy. One particular form of childhood epilepsy called Dravet syndrome is almost impossible to control but responds dramatically to a CBD-dominant strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web. The videos of this are dramatic.
Many patients find themselves in the situation of wanting to learn more about medical marijuana, but feel embarrassed to bring this up with their doctor. This is in part because the medical community has been, as a whole, overly dismissive of this issue. Doctors are now playing catch-up and trying to keep ahead of their patients’ knowledge on this issue. Other patients are already using medical marijuana, but don’t know how to tell their doctors about this for fear of being chided or criticized.
Marijuana without the high
My advice for patients is to be entirely open and honest with your physicians and to have high expectations of them. Tell them that you consider this to be part of your care and that you expect them to be educated about it, and to be able to at least point you in the direction of the information you need.
Marijuana is also used to manage nausea and weight loss and can be used to treat glaucoma. A highly promising area of research is its use for PTSD in veterans who are returning from combat zones. Many veterans and their therapists report drastic improvement and clamor for more studies, and for a loosening of governmental restrictions on its study. Medical marijuana is also reported to help patients suffering from pain and wasting syndrome associated with HIV, as well as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
There are few subjects that can stir up stronger emotions among doctors, scientists, researchers, policy makers, and the public than medical marijuana. Is it safe? Should it be legal? Decriminalized? Has its effectiveness been proven? What conditions is it useful for? Is it addictive? How do we keep it out of the hands of teenagers? Is it really the “wonder drug” that people claim it is? Is medical marijuana just a ploy to legalize marijuana in general?
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While cannabis has a long history of medical use as an analgesic (pain reliever) and antispasmodic agent, for much of the modern era there existed a general lack of awareness among scientists and physicians of its medical benefits. The discovery of the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the 1960s, as well as the discovery of a system of endogenous cannabinoid receptors and ligands in the late 1980s and early 1990s, promoted inquiry into the therapeutic potential of cannabis and its extracts and derivatives. (Endogenous substances are those produced by the body; in biology, ligands are substances that bind to receptors.) This work revealed that cannabis can provide relief from certain types of conditions, such as severe chronic pain, and led to the development of various herbal medical cannabis products.
Herbal cannabis products in medicine
A major safety concern associated with medical cannabis is the possibility of medical use encouraging or transitioning into recreational use, which is associated with side effects that range from acute to chronic. Acute effects include intoxication, impaired cognition and motor function, elevated heart rate, anxiety, and psychosis in predisposed individuals. Chronic effects include bronchitis (from smoked cannabis), psychological cannabis dependency, loss of motivation, and cognitive deficits. By and large these effects seem to disappear on abstinence.
Despite the legal issues, researchers and drug companies continued to investigate and develop herbal cannabis products. For instance, a standardized cannabis product known as CanniMed was developed for medical use in Canada under Health Canada’s Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR), which were enacted in 2001. The cannabis plants cultivated for CanniMed are grown under carefully controlled conditions, and the drug is standardized to contain approximately 12.5 percent THC. A similar approach has been taken in the Netherlands, where several herbal cannabis products are available, including Bedrocan (19 percent THC) and Bedrobinol (12 percent THC).
Medical cannabis is most frequently administered either by smoking or vaporization or in the form of edible preparations. None of these approaches has been standardized, however, and the effectiveness of edible cannabis preparations has not been evaluated in clinical trials. Smoked cannabis has been evaluated in a small number of randomized controlled trials involving patients suffering from neuropathic pain conditions. In each of the trials, patients experienced a reduction in pain intensity at THC concentrations of 3.9 percent or higher. A zero percent THC dose was used as the placebo condition; this formulation was created with cannabis from which all cannabinoid substances had been removed by alcohol extraction. Adverse events from these studies were mild to moderate and included drowsiness, dizziness, and dry mouth. No serious or severe adverse events were reported.