This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice.
Over the years, alternative medicine has become a popular approach to relieving everything from back pain to depression. Aromatherapy, acupuncture, crystal therapy and many more are common replacements to the traditional doctor's office visit. Another method of alternative healing is medicinal cannabis.
Dating back to ancient Chinese medicine, there has long been a following of this “magical” herb, praised for its soothing and hallucinogenic qualities [Source: Guy, Whittle and Robson]. Though recreational use of the drug is still illegal in the U.S., the popularity of the drug for medicinal purposes is on the rise. With more states legalizing medical cannabis each year – currently 17 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation governing the drug’s use for medical purposes [source: NORML] - the substance is increasingly being used to help treat these five common ailments.
Nausea and Vomiting
There are two types of receptors in our body that allows us to take in the effects of medical cannabis - CB1 receptors that are found primarily in the brain, spinal cord, and periphery and CB2 receptors that are found on the immune tissues [source: McCarberg, Bill M.D.]. When coming into contact with cannabis, our body produces molecules (called endocannabinoids) that interact with these CB1 and CB2 receptors which produces the euphoric state that helps to dull our senses to various symptoms [source: McCarberg, Bill M.D.].
One common use of medical cannabis is to ease the symptoms of nausea. In trials conducted by National Cancer Institute, two FDA-approved cannabis-based drugs, dronabinol and nabilone, helped to reduce chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. When taken orally, the drugs "worked as well as or better than some of the weaker FDA-approved drugs to relieve nausea and vomiting" [source: National Cancer Institute].
Loss of Appetite
Another common use for medicinal cannabis is stimulating appetite. In a clinical trial conducted by the National Cancer Institute, "patients with HIV/AIDS and weight loss found that those who took dronabinol (delta-9-THC) had increased appetite and stopped losing weight compared with patients who took a placebo." Though, the trial also found that the dronabinol was less effective at increasing the appetite of patients in the advanced stages of cancer than standard treatment methods [source: National Cancer Institute].
Studies of healthy people performed by the institute indicate that the inhalation of cannabis can lead to an increased consumption of calories, especially in sweet and fatty foods. In addition, many animal studies have proven that inhaling cannabinoids increases food consumption [source: National Cancer Institute].
Muscle Tension and Spasm
Another effect of medical cannabis is the ability to relax muscle tension. In a 2004 study by the American Cancer Society, people with multiple sclerosis (MS) who used cannabis - in a liquid extract form containing THC and cannabidiol - experienced a decrease in muscle spasms and shaking [source: American Cancer Society].
In studies performed on severely disabled MS patients, an intake of THC produced a decrease in tremors and muscle stiffness [source: National Multiple Sclerosis Society]. All eight patients reported a "high" with two experiencing discomfort and slight paranoia.
There has long been a belief that cannabis provides an analgesic quality to those suffering from chronic pain. Those suffering from neuropathic pain - commonly caused by alcoholism, amputation, spine surgery, HIV or MS - often turn to medicinal cannabis as a source of relief.
In a 2010 study done by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, 21 men and women, average age 45, were tested with four different strengths of cannabis - one at 9.4% THC, one at 2.5% THC, the other 6% THC and one placebo [source: Doheny, Kathleen]. Over the course of two months, each test subject smoked a random strain (they had no knowledge of the different strengths) three times a day for five days. After the five-day period, the subjects rated their level of pain. The highest dosage of THC (9.4%) was shown to lower the pain level from 6.1 to 5.4 on average. Though a small change, the study notes that most strains sold on the street are at 10% or 15% THC levels and therefore may produce an even lower pain rating [source: Doheny, Kathleen].
In addition to the reported effects of relaxation and pain reduction, many users of medicinal cannabis also use the substance as a means to relieve anxiety and certain sleep disorders such as insomnia. According to the National Cancer Institute, studies testing the effectiveness of cannabis showed that test subjects who inhaled marijuana had "improved mood, improved sense of well-being and less anxiety." Additionally, patients who ingested a cannabis plant extract spray (administered under the tongue) reported more restful sleep [source: National Cancer Institute].
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More Great Links
- American Cancer Society. "Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Herbs, Vitamins and Minerals." http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/HerbsVitaminsandMinerals/marijuana
- Doheny, Kathleen. "Marijuana Relieves Chronic Pain, Research Shows." WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/news/20100830/marijuana-relieves-chronic-pain-research-show
- Geoffrey William Guy, Brian Anthony Whittle, Philip Robson. "The medicinal uses of cannabis and cannabinoids." Pharmaceutical Press, 2004.
- McCarberg, Bill M.D. "Marijuana and Pain Management." National Pain Foundation. http://www.nationalpainfoundation.org/articles/112/marijuana-and-pain-management
- National Cancer Institute. "Cannabis and Cannabinoids." National Institutes of Health. 2011. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/patient/Page2#Section_13
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Marijuana" http://www.nationalmssociety.org/about-multiple-sclerosis/what-we-know-about-ms/treatments/complementary--alternative-medicine/marijuana/index.aspx
- "State Laws: Medical Marijuana." NORML. http://norml.org/legal/medical-marijuana-2