Marijuana has real potential for medicinal use

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Cannabis sativa forma indica is the formal name for the plant that 1 in 8 Americans claim to smoke and 1 in 2 claim to have tried.

A lot has changed about our understanding of cannabis since it was scheduled as a drug with no medical use. Despite the fact that the federal government has yet to reschedule the drug, an overwhelming amount of research shows that it has valid medical properties.

We finally know some of the negative effects of marijuana, but they are nothing like what Reefer Madness would have us believe.

One of the studies showing the effects of continued and constant use of Marijuana was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine — the same journal that published evidence that suggested states with medical marijuana see far fewer opiate deaths. Te study showed that after a period of extended marijuana use, or smoking every day for five years, people who smoked would only be able to recall 8.5 of 15 words, compared to 9 of 15 in people who never smoked. By comparison, similar drinking habits would likely lead to irreversible brain damage. Te study was unable to show causation, and smoking 1,825 joints over five years did not affect problem-solving skills or the ability to focus at all.

Another study, conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital, shows that Marijuana may cause dependence and present symptoms of withdrawal, at least in adolescents at an outpatient substance use clinic. Of the 90 participants that indicated cannabis was the substance they used most often, 76 met the criteria for dependence. Tis means that users showed increased tolerance and had a hard time stopping use, even when cannabis caused increased symptoms in other diagnoses. Thirty six participants also reported symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, depression and difficulty sleeping — symptoms associated with withdrawal. Despite these symptoms, it did not significantly impede participants’ ability to discontinue the use of cannabis.

Science suggests that cannabis is not physically — only psychologically — addictive, which explains these results. There are also many confounding variables that were not accounted for in this study, such as the use of other illicit drugs and underlying mental health issues. One may argue that cannabis was medicating symptoms that researchers attributed to withdrawal.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) released the most thorough report on cannabis in January of this year. They made over 100 conclusions based on over 10,000 published abstracts from 1999 to 2016. If you are interested in reading the whole summary, it is available online to the public. If not, there are some key points you should know.

Marijuana has a tremendous amount of support in this review for treating chronic pain. Te review also provides evidence that marijuana is effective at reducing nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. There is significant, or even conclusive, evidence that marijuana can drastically reduce symptoms of multiple sclerosis. There is moderate evidence that marijuana can help short-term sleep problems. There is limited evidence that marijuana can treat anxiety and PTSD. There is moderate evidence to suggest that smoking marijuana is not linked to lung, head or neck cancer, but there is a marginal amount of evidence that links it to a rare form of testicular cancer.

There is a limited link to the ingestion of marijuana triggering a heart attack or brain bleed as well as a limited link to it causing pre-diabetes. However, there is also a limited link to a decrease in diabetes. There is moderate evidence that consumption of marijuana by smoking is linked to worsening respiratory system function, but this is not the case if you consume vapors. Smoking marijuana is associated with lower birth weight in babies. There is moderate evidence that it leads to marginally lower levels of attention and focus. There is limited evidence that it leads to poor academic outcomes. There is significant evidence that it can exacerbate symptoms or development of schizophrenia. There is moderate evidence it can worsen cases of depression. Under the influence of marijuana, drivers are twice as likely as a sober driver to be in an accident, this is in comparison to drunk drivers who are 13 times as likely as sober drivers to be in a car accident.

Marijuana is starting to sound a lot like a legal pharmaceutical, with a long list of benefits and another list of side effects. It begs the question: why isn’t marijuana legal for medicinal use?