By Dr. Mercola
Medical marijuana, or cannabis, is legal in 20 US states, where it is used for a variety of medical conditions such as mood disorders, pain disorders, multiple sclerosis, and even cancer.
Medical marijuana is not a miracle cure for everyone… but it has been known to prompt some pretty miraculous recoveries. Unfortunately, whether or not you have access to this potentially life-changing natural remedy depends on your zip code – a fact that is raising growing protest in the US.
Despite the fact that 85 percent to 95 percent of Americans are in favor of medical cannabis, and nearly 60 percent are in favor of legalizing marijuana, many people are still unable, legally or otherwise, to get ahold of this natural treatment.
This is perhaps never more upsetting than in the case of children, especially when their parents are desperate to find a safe remedy that might give their child a chance.
Minnesota Governor Dayton Refuses to Legalize Medical Marijuana, Despite Parents' Pleas
The issue recently came to a head in Minnesota, where parents of children with epilepsy met at a news conference to share their dismay that Governor Mark Dayton refuses to legalize medical marijuana.
Parents took turns describing the seizures their children are suffering, but instead of considering legalization the governor suggested the families consider a $2-million trial on the substance that would allow children to get the "relief they need as quickly as possible."
This response reminds me of a poignant comment made by Dr. Allan Frankel, a board-certified internist in California, who has treated patients with medical cannabis for the past seven years. When the government wants to get rid of all medical use of marijuana, or refuses to legalize it, it begs the question: Why?
According to Dr. Frankel, the answer is simple. "They want it. This is a huge market," he said. Medical cannabis is clearly competition to the pharmaceutical industry, but by keeping it restricted to a pharmaceutical trial, they can maintain control and profits.
It is a remarkable shame, especially for a condition like epilepsy, for which medical marijuana has shown such promise. Even the Epilepsy Foundation has called for increased medical marijuana access and research. Their president and CEO stated:
"Some individuals, specifically families of children with uncontrolled seizures, are using what is called cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil, and anecdotally a few are seeing remarkable results. This is truly spectacular -- anytime someone finds a treatment that stops seizures, there is cause for celebration because seizure freedom for one person means hope of seizure freedom for others.
…We are advocating for the rights of patients and families to determine with their doctor if this is an appropriate therapy for them, but we recognize the unknowns and the difficulty of this decision for an individual patient.
…As fathers, we know the pain of watching our children experience uncontrolled seizures. We know how epilepsy impacts development in children for whom no available current treatment has been successful. We know about the dangers that can occur when families are forced to leave medical systems and physicians they know to move to other states.
…We know the difference between having recurring seizures and not having seizures can mean the difference between life and death… If an epilepsy patient and their doctor feel that marijuana is their best treatment option then they need to have safe, legal access to medical marijuana and they need that access now."
Cannabidiol (CBD): The Medicinal Properties of Marijuana
Marijuana was a popular botanical medicine in the 19th and 20th centuries, common in US pharmacies of the time. Yet, in 1970, the herb was declared a Schedule 1 controlled substance and labeled as a drug with a "high potential for abuse" and "no accepted medical use."
Three years later the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was formed to enforce the newly created drug schedules, and the fight against marijuana use began. Even in states where medical marijuana use is legal, such as California, the DEA has raided medical marijuana suppliers and even arrested patients, because on a federal level, possessing or distributing marijuana is still considered a criminal offense.
As is often the case, the US government has not kept up with or, more likely, intentionally turned a blind eye on the potential role of marijuana for medicinal uses, at least until it can take on full control. The federal war on marijuana is indeed a strange one, considering the legality of cigarettes and alcohol -- products that have vastly greater potential to harm public health, without any of the medicinal benefits. Not to mention that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves drugs, prescribed by doctors every day, that kill over 100,000 Americans a year.
In order to really comprehend the movement behind medical marijuana, you must first understand that this herb truly does show outstanding promise as a medicinal plant, largely due to its cannabidiol (CBD) content. Cannabinoids interact with your body by way of naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors embedded in cell membranes throughout your body. There are cannabinoid receptors in your brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, immune system, and more. Both the therapeutic and psychoactive properties of marijuana occur when a cannabinoid activates a cannabinoid receptor.
In his medical practice, Dr. Frankel treats a wide variety of patients with medical cannabis, which has become his specialty. Occasionally, patients will experience very dramatic results. For example, he has seen tumors virtually disappear in some patients using no other therapy except taking 40 to 60 milligrams of cannabinoids a day. The most common thing he sees in cancer patients, however, are tumors shrinking, or a metastasis disappearing. Sometimes tumors will shrink or vanish, only to reemerge in other areas, months later, and then shrink or vanish again... Other common ailments being treated with cannabis include:
Mood disorders Pain disorders Degenerative neurological disorders such as dystonia Multiple sclerosis Parkinson's disease Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Seizure disorders
Medical Marijuana Has Been Extensively Studied, with Positive Results
Even a quick review of the data suggests that cannabis deserves more than a passing glance as a potential treatment for various diseases. There is a wealth of research linking marijuana with pain relief and improved sleep. In one study, just three puffs of marijuana a day for five days helped those with chronic nerve pain to relieve pain and sleep better.1 Americans for Safe Access also has links to research studies suggesting that cannabis may help in the treatment or prevention of Alzheimer's disease and cancer,2 noting:
"To date, more than 15,000 modern peer-reviewed scientific articles on the chemistry and pharmacology of cannabis and cannabinoids have been published, as well as more than 2,000 articles on the body's natural endocannabinoids. In recent years, more placebo-controlled human trials have also been conducted.
A 2009 review of clinical studies conducted over a 38-year period, found that 'nearly all of the 33 published controlled clinical trials conducted in the United States have shown significant and measurable benefits in subjects receiving the treatment.' The review's authors note that cannabinoids have the capacity for analgesia through neuromodulation in ascending and descending pain pathways, neuroprotection, and anti-inflammatory mechanisms—all of which indicates that the cannabinoids found in cannabis have applications in managing chronic pain, muscle spasticity, cachexia, and other debilitating conditions.
Currently, cannabis is most often recommended as complementary or adjunct medicine. But there is a substantial consensus among experts in the relevant disciplines, including the American College of Physicians, that cannabis and cannabis-based medicines have therapeutic properties that could potentially treat a variety of serious and chronic illness."
What is amazing is that your body is actually hard-wired to respond to cannabinoids through its unique cannabinoid receptor system. Research is still ongoing on just how extensive their impact is on our health, but to date it's known that cannabinoid receptors play an important role in many body processes, including metabolic regulation, cravings, pain, anxiety, bone growth, and immune function.3
A report by Dr. Manuel Guzman in the journal Nature Reviews suggests that these active components of cannabis and their derivatives are also potential anti-cancer agents:4 "…these compounds [cannabinoids] have been shown to inhibit the growth of tumor cells in culture and animal models by modulating key cell-signaling pathways. Cannabinoids are usually well tolerated, and do not produce the generalized toxic effects of conventional chemotherapies."
The Difference Between Cannabis and Hemp
There are two very distinct groups of marijuana strains. One is cannabis; the other is hemp. There's plenty of confusion about the similarities and differences between these two plants. While they are subspecies of the same plant species, they look very different, and are extremely different in ways that really matter when it comes to medicinal use.
The fact they have in common is that they both contain cannabidiol (CBD), which has medicinal properties. The amount of CBD, however, differs greatly between the two. Dosing, therefore, is dramatically different where you to try to use hemp in lieu of cannabis, as the latter, cannabis, is up to 100-fold more potent. Another difference that appears to matter in terms of its usefulness as medicine relates to differing terpene profiles. Hemp contains very little of these valuable medicinal compounds.
Lastly, there's the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana; it's the molecule that makes you feel "stoned." (While CBD also has certain psychoactive properties, it does NOT produce a high.) By legal definition, hemp cannot have more than 0.3 percent THC in it. So to summarize:
- Hemp has less value for medicinal uses, as it only contains about four percent CBD and lacks many of the medicinal terpenes and flavonoids. It also contains less than 0.3 percent THC, which means it cannot produce a high or get you stoned. However, for many disease processes, THC is very much indicated and required. So, for many disease processes, CBD alone has much less value.
- Cannabis is potent medicine courtesy of high amounts (about 10-20 percent) of CBD, critical levels of medicinal terpenes and flavonoids, as well as THC in varying ratios for various diseases. The higher the THC, the more pronounced its psychoactive effects
During the '60s and '70s, growers were focused on increasing the THC content and, due to breeding out the all-important CBD, marijuana became known primarily as a plant that gets you high. Its original medicinal properties and uses largely fell by the wayside. Things are changing however, according to Dr. Frankel:
"Five years ago, California Physicians, and other groups around the world, didn't really know if we would find CBD-rich strains anymore, but we have. Now there's many different varieties of it. We keep bringing back new CBD rich strains every month or two.
The Healing Effects of Raw Cannabis
While the vast majority of marijuana use is through burning and inhalation, the video above features some of the top researchers on the healing effects of cannabis in its raw form. The leaves can be eaten in a salad or juiced. This is but one way to consume this medicinal plant. You can also find marijuana in oil form or consume it, as many medical marijuana patients do, by using a vaporizer. The device vaporizes marijuana without any of the combustion byproducts, allowing for a clean route of ingestion.
While individual states are still battling over whether to legalize medical marijuana, there are a number of states that have it on the ballot this November. This is one trend that's unlikely to slow down anytime soon. It's estimated that the legal marijuana market will grow to $2.34 billion in 2014, making it one of the fastest-growing industries (if not the fastest).5
Hopefully, as its use expands, more people will have access to another natural treatment to take control of their health. Keep in mind that, for now at least, even if you live in a state where medical marijuana is legal, the potency of cannabis varies greatly, as do its effects when ingested.
This is why experts like Dr. Frankel are very focused on trying to develop accurate dose-consistent medicine. The Patient Access Centers he consults with create a diverse collection of dose-consistent oral-buccal sprays. He also believes it's very important to open up and start talking about dosing—what works, what doesn't. It is his belief that some patients, in large part due to lack of education about the medicine, may be taking 10, or even 100 times, higher dosage than is really needed to treat their ailment. Unfortunately, many doctors in this still highly controversial field are afraid to recommend dosages, for fear of the repercussions.