Medical Marijuana 101
What It Can Do For You
Contributor: John Falcon
Although today the use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in more than half of the U.S., the debate over its use continues. Whether in favor or against it, most people hold strong opinions about its use. Some have had a negative personal experience with marijuana (in their own life or that of a friend) or have heard unpleasant stories and, as a result, want nothing to do with the drug, for medicinal purposes or otherwise. Others have seen how medical marijuana has provided significant help to their friends or loved ones facing dire medical conditions, and strongly support efforts to make it more readily available to all. And for most of us, where we land on this issue has much to do with the personal experiences we have had.
Unfortunately, many people who reject the use of marijuana even for medical purposes do so because they lack the proper information. For these people, using marijuana to treat a medical condition can seem like a daunting task. This is unfortunate, however, because medical marijuana need not be a confusing or even a controversial topic.
With just some basic information, people can develop a clear and coherent understanding of the significant positive impact marijuana can have in treating numerous diseases and conditions. In this article, we hope to outline some of the significant health benefits of medical marijuana, and then explain recent shifts in public opinion and the changing legal environment for the use of medical marijuana.
The Science and Medical Benefits of Marijuana
The marijuana plant contains approximately 113 different chemicals known as cannabinoids (CBDs). These CBDs — unlike marijuana’s other drug component, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — are not psychoactive; they don’t produce a “high” in the user. Each CBD is believed to have a different effect on the human body.
The human body produces its own CBDs through an internal endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for our capacity to regulate pleasure, pain, memory, time awareness, body movement, appetite and the five senses: touch, smell, sight, hearing and taste. Thus, the introduction of CBDs into the human body should not be considered unhealthy – the body produces them internally as well. In addition, doctors generally agree that marijuana’s CBDs, as well as its terpenes and flavonoids, are responsible for the many health benefits obtained when a cannabinoid activates a cannabinoid receptor in your brain, liver, lungs, kidneys or immune system.
Through conventional plant breeding techniques and seed exchanges, experienced marijuana growers have been able to produce marijuana plants strictly for medicinal purposes with very high levels of CBD and low levels of THC, thus offsetting any concerns raised by the presence of THC in marijuana.
The primary medical purpose of marijuana is to reduce or eliminate pain. In this regard, marijuana has proven to be extremely helpful in alleviating pain in patients suffering from constant pain or discomfort due to a wide range of issues – from simple headaches, to pain from much more serious diseases such as cancer, to pain even from chronic conditions like glaucoma and nerve pain.
Initial research and evidence also supports the broader claim that medical marijuana can offer relief to patients suffering from:
And while these conditions may have other treatments available, the cannabinoid known as Epidiolex is the first and only FDA-approved prescription oil extract for treating severe forms of epilepsy disorders. In addition, patients with Dravet syndrome (mostly children) have responded in dramatic and positive ways to a specific marijuana strain called Charlotte’s Web, an extract oil produced from a whole hemp plant with low THC.
Shift in Public Opinion
As the evidence grows regarding the benefits of marijuana for medical purposes, so does public support for its medicinal use.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center revealed that more than 6 out of every 10 Americans (62%) – a sizable majority of the population – now support the legalization of marijuana. But how did this come about? What happened that shifted Americans toward a more liberal view regarding the legal status of marijuana?
The answer might be simpler than you think.
As expected, the media have played a significant role in shaping public opinion of marijuana over the years.
For decades, they shed a negative light on the use of recreational marijuana as something evil and twisted and unhealthy, always referring to in criminal terms. Over the past several years, however, that attitude throughout the public media became much more positive.
And as the news media began to present marijuana as a medical solution rather than a crime, public support for its legalization gradually increased. Articles from legitimate sources discussing the substantial health benefits of medical marijuana became common and, by the turn of the century, marijuana was rarely ever mentioned in the context of drug trafficking or drug abuse. Instead, people began seeing it as a legitimate form of pain relief — one that should be legalized.
Legality of Medical Marijuana in the U.S.
Today, in 2019, the use of cannabis for medical purposes is legal, at the state level, in 33 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All of these locations have approved a comprehensive, publicly-available cannabis program for registered patients. Another 14 states permit the use of a limited-THC-content marijuana, but only for specific cases or as a legal defense. States where marijuana is legal usually offer a patient registry, which provides some form of protection for possessing up to a certain quantity of medical cannabis. At the federal level, however, the FDA has only approved the use of cannabis as a treatment for two severe forms of epilepsy, though millions of people still depend on medical marijuana to battle a wide variety of ailments.
Despite this approval at both the state and, to a lesser degree, federal level, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The possession of marijuana is therefore a federal offense, and someone caught in possession of marijuana can still be arrested and prosecuted, even though they are allowed to possess it under state law.
During the Obama administration, however, the U.S. government took a more relaxed approach to prosecuting marijuana offenders, usually allowing the states to govern by their own rules. Then, in December 2014, the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment was signed into law, prohibiting the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws.
Of course, medical marijuana laws vary greatly from state to state. The most important policy debates generally center around how the medicine should be produced, distributed, and consumed, and which medical conditions merit its use.
The Future of Medical Marijuana
The road to broad national acceptance of medical marijuana as a legitimate drug is long, and many important questions remain. Nevertheless, more and more medical professionals who at one time strongly opposed the medical use of marijuana are beginning to reverse their initial stand on the issue.
Many now swear by its benefits, thus paving the way for new exciting and practical innovations to come.
Are you considering integrating medical cannabis into your daily health?
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