Health Benefits Of Marijuana
A recent study published in the journal Addiction also found that use of marijuana is increasing sharply across the United States, although this rise may not be linked to the legalization of marijuana in participating states. Nevertheless, this rise in use is prompting major public health concerns.
In this article, we look at the scientific evidence weighing the medical benefits of marijuana against its associated health risks in an attempt to answer this simple question: is marijuana good or bad?
What are the medical benefits of marijuana?
The Benefits of Microdosing Weed
Because commercial cannabis production is still relatively new – many doctors haven’t figured out how to properly suggest doses for cannabis oil versus dried cannabis. To help them (and as part of the licensing process for producers), Health Canada has created the Equivalency Factor, which applies cannabis to a more familiar context of dosage of medicine.
For example, 1g of dried cannabis = 125 mg of THC and 1 ml of oil = 25 mg of THC.
So, if a doctor prescribed you a dosage of three grams of dried cannabis per day and the equivalency factor was 1:5, you would use 15 ml of cannabis oil per day (but definitely not all at once!). Each licensed producer will have a different equivalency factor and it must be publicly available.
All cannabis oil packaging must also state the percentage of THC and CBD in the oil (so you know how potent and psychotropic it is before you use it). Just like strains of dried cannabis, oils can have stronger concentrations of CBD, THC, or be more balanced, and thus create very different experiences. Not all oils are created equal – so reading the packaging is crucial for your first time.
THC 5.0mg/mL | CBD 5.0 mg/mL is a completely balanced blend of oil.
THC 30.0mg/mL | CBD <1mg/mL is a THC-rich oil.
THC <1mg/mL | CBD 20.0mg/mL is a CBD-rich oil.
Most oils on the market come with droppers that make it easy to get a standard dose every time, and that can be used to place a few drops under the tongue (sublingual) or in your food (edible).
Some producers will also create capsules and suppositories with cannabis oils. Capsules are excellent ways to control the dosage of the cannabis oil you need. Suppositories allow the effects to bypass your liver, and go straight into your bloodstream through your cell walls – but are obviously a very different experience.
Topicals don’t make it into your bloodstream, just into your cannabinoid receptors, and can be great for localized pain. Under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) in Canada, licensed producers of medical cannabis can’t currently manufacture or distribute topicals – but with the distribution of oils, it’s possible for you to make your own (with carrier oils and other bases for creams.)
Cannabis oils in Canada have to be liquid at room temperature (unlike the thick resin you might have seen elsewhere), and there are limits to the amount of THC allowed per millilitre of oil (but no potency limits for CBD since it’s not psychoactive).
Cannabis oils distributed by licensed producers in Canada are already “active,” which means that the cannabinoids within them already produce the desired effects – and thus don’t need to be heated or vaporized. Just ingested.
he American public largely supports the legalization of weed for sale online. At least 84% of the public believes the drug should be legal for medical uses, and recreational pot usage is less controversial than ever, with at least 61% of Americans in support.
Even though some medical benefits of smoking pot may be overstated by advocates of marijuana legalization, recent research has demonstrated that there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana and strong reasons to continue studying the drug’s medicinal uses.
Even the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse lists medical uses for cannabis.
There are at least two active chemicals in marijuana that researchers think have medicinal applications. Those are cannabidiol (CBD) — which seems to impact the brain without a high— and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which has pain relieving properties and is largely responsible for the high.
But scientists say that limitations on marijuana research mean we still have big questions about its medicinal properties. In addition to CBD and THC, there are another 400 or so chemical compounds, more than 60 of which are cannabinoids. Many of these could have medical uses. But without more research, we won’t know how to best make use of those compounds.
More research would also shed light on the risks of marijuana. Even if there are legitimate uses for medicinal marijuana, that doesn’t mean all use is harmless. Some research indicates that chronic, heavy users may have impaired memory, learning, and processing speed, especially if they started regularly using marijuana before age 16 or 17.
For some of the following medical benefits, there’s good evidence. For others, there’s reason to continue conducting research.
Jennifer Welsh contributed to an earlier version of this story.
The best-supported medicinal use of marijuana is as a treatment for chronic pain.
A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said there was definitive evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids (which are found in the marijuana plant) can be an effective treatment for chronic pain.
The report said that is “by far the most common” reason people request medical marijuana.
There’s also strong evidence medical cannabis can help with muscle spasms.
That same report said there’s equally strong evidence marijuana can help with muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis.
Other types of muscle spasms respond to marijuana as well. People use medical marijuana to treat diaphragm spasms that are untreatable by other, prescribed medications.
It doesn’t seem to harm lung capacity, and may even improve it.
There’s a fair amount of evidence that marijuana does no harm to the lungs, unless you also smoke tobacco. One study published in Journal of the American Medical Association found that not only does marijuana not impair lung function, it may even increase lung capacity.
Researchers looking for risk factors of heart disease tested the lung function of 5,115 young adults over the course of 20 years. Tobacco smokers lost lung function over time, but pot users actually showed an increase in lung capacity.
It’s possible that the increased lung capacity may be due to taking a deep breaths while inhaling the drug and not from a therapeutic chemical in the drug.
The smokers in that study only toked up a few times a month, but a more recent survey of people who smoked pot daily for up to 20 years found no evidence that smoking pot harmed their lungs, either.
The National Academies report said there are good studies showing marijuana users are not more likely to have cancers associated with smoking.
It may be of some use in treating glaucoma, or it may be possible to derive a drug from marijuana for this use.
One of the most common reasons that states allow medical marijuana use is to treat and prevent the eye disease glaucoma, which increases pressure in the eyeball, damaging the optic nerve and causing loss of vision.
Marijuana decreases the pressure inside the eye, according to the National Eye Institute: “Studies in the early 1970s showed that marijuana, when smoked, lowered intraocular pressure (IOP) in people with normal pressure and those with glaucoma.”
For now, the medical consensus is that marijuana only lowers IOP for a few hours, meaning there’s not good evidence for it as a long term treatment right now. Researchers hope that perhaps a marijuana-based compound could be developed that lasts longer.
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