The rise of the cannabis industry in Canada has led to increased investment in research into the effectiveness of medical marijuana.
And while many of these marijuana health studies are showing promising results, there is much research that still needs to be conducted to determine its true value in treating certain ailments.
The stigma around this drug is still felt by patients and medical professionals. But if you critically look at the available literature, the evidence overwhelmingly shows that weed is a beneficial medicine.
Accurate and current medical cannabis information is important to planning a successful course of treatment.
This article will dive deep into the topic of cannabis medicine, answering questions such as what is medical marijuana? Does medical cannabis have THC? What are the pros of medical cannabis?
By the end of this article, you will have an overview of the ways in which cannabis is used as a medication.
Why Medical Marijuana?
Medical marijuana is what many patients turn to after exhausting narcotics and other pharmaceutical medications.
Scientifically, the plant has been observed to carry a number of medically active compounds whose applications are still being discovered. Anecdotally, many patients suffering from medical conditions have reported that weed has provided dramatic relief.
But before we get into the various treatment paths that are being implemented by marijuana physicians today, let’s start at the beginning.
What is medical cannabis?
Essentially, medical marijuana is cannabis that is prescribed as a treatment for a condition by a licensed medical professional.
When it comes to the question of medical marijuana vs. marijuana used for recreational purposes, the main thing that sets pharmaceutical marijuana apart is it is designated, prescribed and used to make a patient better.
This is not to say that using herb sold through recreational retailers will be inherently ineffective — many people have used recreational weed to successfully self-medicate.
However, there are certain advantages to using marijuana that is cultivated and processed with the patient in mind, such as cannabinoid content that is more precise and a reliable supply so that there are interruptions when it comes time to refill a prescription.
A group of licensed medical marijuana producers in Canada provide medicinal cannabis under strict regulatory requirements and inspection standards.
While recreational marijuana is one way to pursue a better quality of life when suffering from a condition, pot that is sold on the black market should be avoided by patients.
The dosage accuracy, purity, sterility and consistency will come at a higher standard for medical marijuana vs. street marijuana that is grown at home with a personal license, if with a license at all.
Medical Marijuana Facts
How much is medical weed?
The cost of cannabis medicines can range depending on the form (oils, softgel pills, dry flower, pre-rolls), the level of sophistication of the production process (curing process for flower, cryogenic live resin extraction, CO2 extraction), the strain (sativa, indica, hybrid) and where it is purchased.
In the U.S., the price of medical cannabis can range from $7 a gram to $20 a gram USD.
The price of medical marijuana in Canada is roughly the same, falling between $5 and $15 a gram for dry herb.
For medical cannabis oils, prices may range from $50 to $170 a bottle.
Is there THC in medical cannabis?
Yes, but not always.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the cannabinoid that gives marijuana its psychoactive effects. Some patients are intimidated by pot because they are afraid of getting high or experiencing unpleasant psychological side effects, sometimes referred to as its psychotoxic effects.
There are pharmaceutical grade concentrates on the market called CBD oils that contain a higher cannabidiol (CBD) to THC ratio. Some, like Rideau-Gold, carry no THC at all. Most medical marijuana extracts will contain some THC however, even if it is as low as 2-3%.
When it comes to dry flower, there are products available that have 3-6% THC. On the other hand, some medical marijuana products, such as CanniMed Oil 1:20, will have 100 mg/ml of THC.
5 milligrams of THC is the level where most patients begin to notice some mild psychoactive effects.
Just because it carries psychoactive effects does not mean THC should be written off. With a licensed physician’s supervision, many patients have safely and effectively implemented THC into their treatment plan.
Medical grade weed is free of contaminants and impurities because it is supplied by licensed marijuana producers in Canada who are accountable to the government and must follow strict auditing procedures.
While recreational marijuana may vary from one batch to another, medical grade cannabis seeks to have the same chemical profile every time through standardization.
There are products sold on the grey market like hashish or high-THC extracts (wax, honey oil) that are not medical grade.
These products are also not primarily produced for medicinal purposes. At this time, high-THC extracts are not sold through official channels.
What can medical marijuana help with?
Generally speaking, medicinal weed is used to help with emotional and mental well-being, pain relief and relief from symptoms related to neurological disorders and conditions such as epilepsy.
Yielding positive effects from cannabis is largely dependent on the patient profile of the user, the type of strain being used and the condition it is being used to treat.
What can medical marijuana help treat?
The medical conditions with the most research to support using marijuana as a treatment are:
- Chronic pain relief
- Multiple Sclerosis
Cannabis is also routinely prescribed to support quality of life for patients suffering from insomnia, gastrointestinal disorders, PTSD, depression, glaucoma and some neurological disorders.
Research is ongoing into the therapeutic possibilities of medical marijuana, and more studies are needed to establish the various ways cannabis can help treat medical conditions.
Now let’s explore the different conditions and diseases medicinal marijuana is used to treat as well as its other known health benefits in more detail.
Health Benefits of Medical Marijuana
More research into the therapeutic potential of medical pot is needed, but many studies have emerged suggesting a plethora of health benefits.
For example, for those suffering from anxiety, there a number of human and animal studies that have showed that THC can help support exposure-based therapies.
Extinction recall is important for overcoming trauma and is usually sought through exposure-based therapy which repeatedly exposes a person to stimuli that are related to the traumatic event that took place.
One study was conducted on a placebo-control group of 29 human subjects and showed that THC had measurably prevented recovery of fear in the group of subjects that received an oral dose of dronabinol (synthetic THC) prior to extinction learning (Rabinek et al. 2013).
Other potential health benefits observed in animal and human research on cannabis include:
- Pain relief
- Relief from spasticity
- Improving mood states
- Improving quality of sleep
- Increasing appetite
- Fighting skin blemishes
- Relief from stress
- Relief from breathing difficulties
- Alleviating symptoms of depression
It is important to note that not all of these health benefits are supported by human studies. There is certainly more clinical trials needed to properly uncover the full extent of medical marijuana’s effects.
Additionally, many of these health benefits are associated with a specific component of cannabis, such a cannabinoid (THC, CBD) or a terpene/terpenoid (linalool, alpha-pinene).
These effects should not be generalized across cannabis as a whole, since there are a wide variety of strains with different terpene profiles and CBD to THC ratios which will have different outcomes for a medical cannabis patient.
Health Benefits of Cannabinoids
There are many cannabinoids in a cannabis plant. The exact number is not known, there are at least 66. A complete list of cannabinoids would have to include:
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabichromevarin (CBCV)
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
- Cannabidivarin (CBDV)
- Cannabigerivarin (CBGV)
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
This section focuses on the four dominant cannabinoids—THC, CBD, CBC and CBG.
A myth about medical weed is that it will get you high in all cases.
In fact, most cannabinoids do not carry psychoactive effects. THC is the only known one that will produce an intoxicating effect, but this can depend on the user and the amount of milligrams of the cannabinoid is taken.
THC binds to cannabinoid receptors that are concentrated in the brain as well as in the central nervous system. Because of this, THC has the ability to create psychoactive effects.
As we have already detailed in some of the research covered in this article, the potential treatment possibilities of THC are significant.
But like any medication, side effects are possible with THC, especially when taken in large amounts through high potency-forms like wax or hashish.
CBD is a major phytocannabinoid, and one of its main benefits is that it can counteract some of THC’s unpleasant pychoactive effects.
CBD has been routinely identified as a potentially useful antipsychotic in medical literature.
In a 2011 study, information about cannabis use and subclinical psychiatric experiences was analyzed from 1877 subjects who used the same kind of cannabis. CBD was concluded to be associated with lower amounts of psychotic symptoms in the sample (Schubart et al. 2011).
There is also research establishing a basis for using CBD for pain relief, anxiety and spasticity.
CBC, or cannabichromene, also has promising medical benefits, many of which are unique from CBD and THC. Many of these observed effects are antibiotic and antifungal.
There is little human research on this cannabinoid, but animal trials suggest anti-depressive and anti-inflammatory effects.
This cannabinoid is known to be rare, primarily occurring in early stages of a plant’s flowering cycle. Producing cannabis with high CBC content usually means harvesting flowers before they have fully matured.
CBG is a cannabinoid that is not present in heavy amounts in most strains of cannabis. This cannabinoid has been found to enhance neuron protection in mice suffering from Huntington’s disease (Díaz-Alonso et al. 2016), and it also shows promise as an effective antibacterial agent.
Medical Marijuana Side Effects
Many experts consider these side effects to be minor when compared to other pharmaceutical drugs, but they are worth mentioning here.
Possible short-term side effects of THC can include:
- Dry mouth, or “cotton mouth”
- Obesity leading from strong feelings of hunger
- Increased anxiety
- Memory impairment
- Red eyes
- Lack of focus
The risk of side effects are why we recommend that any one considering treating a condition with medical marijuana seek out the advice of a healthcare practitioner who understands the endocannabinoid system and can prescribe according to your medical history and patient profile.
While THC can certainly cause increased anxiety, remember that there is also research supporting its use as a treatment for anxiety. It comes down to picking the right strain and getting the dosage schedule right, which is what a licensed medical marijuana doctor is there for.
Medical Marijuana Forms
The image many people have of taking cannabis is smoking it with a pipe or in a rolled joint.
But there are many alternative types and forms of marijuana for patients who might prefer a different administration method.
Cannabis whole flower or buds are the most traditional form of medicinal cannabis. Smoking is a common route of administration, but it can also be taken with a vaporizer or even used in cooking.
Extracts are oils that are rich in cannabinoids, and they tend to be more potent than buds. These concentrates are produced through a variety of methods and are taken orally in the form of soft gels and capsules, in food and through inhalation using a vaporizer.
They also come in the form of drops, often called tinctures, which are taken under the tongue sublingually.
Many more studies are needed to confirm the various benefits of cannabis.
But the body of research that does exist lends a lot of support to treating certain conditions such as anxiety and stress. As the medical marijuana sector grows, investment in this kind of research will only increase.
More medical marijuana studies means more clinically significant aspects of medical marijuana may be discovered.
We hope this medical marijuana information has given you a starting place to begin a dialogue with a physician or healthcare practitioner about possibly treating your medical condition with cannabis.
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Doctors who prescribe cannabis for anxiety take great care in selecting an appropriate strain. This is because using the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for anxiety can backfire and actually
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