marijuanaPart 2 of 4 – Read Part One

I have to start out by saying that I am not a doctor, nor am I chemist or herbalist. I’m just an average person who has been exposed to lots of media reports and social conversations about marijuana (weed, pot, cannabis, or whatever you want to call it). There are people in my life who praise marijuana for its health benefits, and others who are outspoken about its evils. For some, it’s just another herbal medicine, while others calls it poison. The purpose of this blog is to illustrate the many aspects that one might explore to understand this multi-faceted issue.

Marijuana has been a hot button issue in this country for many decades. According to the PBS Frontline program, “Marijuana Timeline | Busted – America’s War On Marijuana,” cannabis products were grown and sold openly until the early 20th century. For me, debates about the efficacy, dangers, and legality of marijuana use sets my head spinning with images of the 1936 film, Reefer Madness; the 1960s film, Summer of Love; the start of NORML in the 1970s, the 1980s War on Drugs, 1990s images of cancer patients smoking pot, and the hodgepodge of state regulations on the topic today. So I decided to look into it a little more to figure out: 1) what is the active ingredient; 2) if it really helps people like myself with pain and chronic health issues; and, 3) is it legal in the us. Here are some things I’ve discovered.

Ingredients

There are lots of theories out there about how marijuana works. Since I’m not a chemist or a scientist, it got very complex for me pretty quickly. It is a plant with seeds, stems, and leaves. The chemical properties change with the maturity of the plant, and there are many ways it can be delivered. Marijuana can be smoked, eaten raw, eaten dried, cooked in something, taken as an oil emulsion, and so on.

There has been a great deal of effort put into identifying the naturally occurring chemicals in play: Cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN), cannabavarin (THCV), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), delta-8-THC, delta-9-THC (THC), cannabicyclol (CBL), cannabitriol (CBT), and cannabielsoin have been identified by scientists. Delta-9-THC (THC) is the the one most people are familiar with because it is used to measure the potency of the herb. To give you an idea of the concentration figures of THC, benign hemp comes in at less than 0.5%, marijuana leaf at 2 to 3%, and there are hybridized higher grade marijuana options at 4 to 20%.

Does it really help?

I still have no idea. I have a friend with a pain condition who swears it cuts her pain levels in half and makes her a nicer person in the bargain. Another friend found the odor of it so nauseating that it defeated the purpose of taking it to cope with the nausea problems he already had.

On the plus side: According to Marijuana and Medicine; Assessing the Science Base (1999) there is scientific data supporting the therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs (they primarily talk about THC) to manage pain, control nausea/vomiting, stimulate appetite, and reduce anxiety. Research since then has found that marijuana is effective in treating some of the symptoms of specific conditions such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis.

On the minus side: There is evidence that smoking or ingesting marijuana to get the benefits of THC will expose the body to other substances in the plant that are harmful. Newer strains today have varying levels of chemicals (as well as increased THC levels) that may introduce new symptoms. Some providers and scientists believe that the psychological effects, sedation, and euphoria, can make it impossible to discern any therapeutic benefits.

The bottom line is that there is research supporting the use of marijuana therapy for medical benefit in some people with some symptoms or specific conditions. To me that sounds like any other treatment option where a patient and her healthcare providers weigh the pros and cons and decide together whether or not to add it to the care plan.

Is it legal?

On the federal level, marijuana is illegal to grow, distribute, prescribe, or use anywhere in the country because it is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. As of January 2016, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical use of marijuana with varying limits on growing, procuring, and amounts allowed for possession. Four states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that allow marijuana possession and consumption for personal use. States that have legalized marijuana are expected to create strong enforcement infrastructures. This takes the form of a patient registry and licensing dispensaries. Medical marijuana is written up as a “recommendation” or “referral” because Federal law prohibits prescribing marijuana.

In addition, there are also some local level regulations for dispensaries that may limit the size of a dispensary or require it to register as any other business is required to do. Local regulations are often more restrictive than state regulations with regards to number of plants, hours of operations, and the number of patients that it may serve.

The bottom line is that it is legal in some states and that federal agencies will overlook it in some cases. To me it sounds like there is a growing openness in this country to let some folks in some places use marijuana therapeutically.

What now?

Thanks for exploring the pros and cons of this controversial plant with me. I feel more confident that my cloudy understanding of this complex topic is a reflection of the overwhelming amount of contradictory information available. From here, I plan to continue researching, reading, listening, and observing. Please share your views, comments and research in the discussion forums.

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