Are you curious about the medical benefits of cannabis? Wanting nothing to do with recreational drugs, the very thought of THC used to make me run for the hills. But with all the commotion and perplexity swirling around the medical marijuana issue (and me being a curious research nerd), I decided it was high time (pun intended) to dig into the garden of green and sift through the facts, fiction, and hype. Also check out Part I in this series, 7 Hemp Oil Benefits, and Part II, Does CBD Oil Have THC?
I was never a fan of marijuana.
Not even during my teen years, although in order to look cool, I pretended to be. And years later, I saw what it had done to some of my classmates who had never given it up.
Dude, You’re Such a Stoner!
Approaching their 30s, they were still working menial jobs, if they had jobs at all. They wandered aimlessly through life, they’re greatest ambition being to come up with enough greenbacks to buy their favorite green plant. They found it humorous that their memories were toast.
We called them potheads. They called themselves stoners.
Not that I fostered hatred toward the marijuana plant (or the stoners/potheads, for that matter). I firmly believed that it must boast at least a few good medicinal benefits. After all, even poisons such as belladonna and nightshade have medicinal uses, as do coca leaves and poppies.
Even so, when the clamor to legalize medical marijuana began and grew to a fever pitch, I was sure that the only people behind it were the ones like my friends from school. “A bunch of throwback to the 60s and 70s hippies,” I fumed.
How wrong I was.
To be sure, there were plenty of hard-core stoners pushing for “medical” legalization. Although, their minds weren’t so far gone that they failed to realize that the medical issue was a mere stepping stone. Once that was achieved, legalizing it for recreational use was sure to follow.
Praise the Lord, I Saw the Light!
But my mind was opened and forever changed by this blog post I happened across five years ago. Gripped by the stories of the two cancer patients and their relief from pain, constant nausea and vomiting, and inability to eat, I was ashamed of myself. I began to realize how stupid it was for me to be against legalizing something with such great medicinal value on the grounds that some people would abuse it.
How could I have been such an idiot? I asked myself, aiming several mental kicks to my mental behind. So what if some people abuse it? Lots of people abuse alcohol, but I thought Prohibition was the height of stupidity. What’s the difference here?
I supposed there’s a small difference in that, although the world is rife with alcoholics, most people who consume alcohol don’t do it with the express purpose of getting drunk. For lots of folks, at best they have an occasional drink because they like the taste; at worst, they might do it to loosen up and relax. And one doesn’t have to drink enough to get drunk in order to relax and chill out.
But does anyone smoke weed for the taste? [shrug] Whether they do or not no longer matters to me.
More Good than Bad
What does matter is that many medical benefits have been proven time and again, and science has only begun to scratch the surface. So, what are the benefits of medical marijuana? For starters, I’m going to home in on its best-known ingredient, THC. I already wrote posts on the medical benefits of both CBD oil and hemp oil, so if you haven’t seen those yet, be sure and take a look.
The cannabis plant contains compounds known as cannabinoids — and hundreds of other compounds, but I won’t get into those here. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of them.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is another. A pure CBD oil from the industrial hemp plant will be almost completely free of THC, having only 3% or less, and thus won’t get you high. Besides that, CBD works differently on the receptors in our endocannabinoid system.
THC on the other hand, is psychoactive, meaning that it can give you anything from a teeny bit of a “buzz” to getting you downright wasted, depending on the quantity, quality, method of ingestion, and how your body metabolizes drugs.
Speaking of quantity, a lot has changed regarding the quantity of THC in the plants. According to the Colorado testing lab, Charas Scientific, the amount of THC has tripled in the last three decades. The levels of THC were below 10% in the 80s, and 20 years ago, the THC content ran about 10-12%. Nowadays the stuff being sold in the marijuana shops can have a THC content of 18-30%, thanks to modern, innovative growing practices.
Pro-medical marijuana as I am, I do find this to be a bit worrisome. More is not necessarily better. And it has been shown that heavy, long-term use of marijuana has done some damage to the brains of some individuals, especially those who started smoking it on a regular basis in adolescence (which explains my former classmates). Which makes sense, as the adolescent brain is still developing throughout the teen years.
So, if even mild stuff from 20 or more years ago could eventually turn a teenage brain to mush, what could something with a THC content of say, 40 or 50% do, even to an adult brain? How about 80 or 90%?
Too much of a good thing could backfire.
Some Benefits of Cannabis
All that aside, the fact remains that there are medicinal benefits of not only hemp oil and CBD, but THC as well. I’ve already mentioned that it’s helpful for cancer patients undergoing chemo, by reducing or eliminating nausea and vomiting, and bringing back a person’s appetite. A few other benefits:
- Anxiety — THC has been shown to relieve symptoms of anxiety, even in those with PTSD
- Cancer pain — Some studies have shown it can relieve pain from cancer itself. One study showed opioid use took a 64% nosedive, and there were fewer medication side effects. Quality of life was improved ( no surprise there!)
- Kills cancer cells — THC has been shown to damage/kill liver cancer cells, while its sister cannabinoid, CBD, was found to kill both estrogen receptor positive and negative breast cancer cells. And with no damage to the healthy cells.
- Leukemia cells — This deserves a section all its own, as the findings were so interesting and promising. Researchers found that both CBD and THC, when used alone, kill leukemia cells. But used together, the synergistic effect made these two cannabinoids far more potent.
- Melanoma — THC injected into mice with melanoma reduced tumor growth
- Chronic and neuropathic pain
- Migraine headaches
But Wait! There’s More!
So. Much. More. Far more than we can cover here.
For all that, science has barely begun to scratch the surface of the medical benefits of cannabis and its constituents, because there has been a terrible dearth of studies done. And why is this? you may ask. Is it that science has been slow to hop on board the research bandwagon, perhaps due to fearful attitudes and beliefs such I once had?
Hardly. No, researchers are as eager to do numerous in-depth studies as a Thoroughbred is to break out of the starting gate.
We have the DEA to thank for the lack of studies. Despite agencies such as the FDA going on and on about the need for more studies, clinical trials, etc. for this or that, its bedfellow the DEA continues to put the kibosh on the studies and clinical trials that need to be done. Gosh, you’d think they don’t want science to know the truth!
A Hypocritical Stranglehold
No, the DEA insists on making marijuana a Schedule I drug. Schedule I drugs are those defined as having no medical use and a high potential for abuse. Yep. They’ve lumped poor little cannabis together with bad boys like LSD, heroin, and ecstasy. Brilliant! [does slow, sarcastic, clap… clap…]
Schedule I is the maximum-security prison used for (in the DEA’s opinion) the drugs that are the hardened criminals, the worst of the worst. Yet, an example of a few of the “safer” drugs in Schedule IV (those in the DEA’s minimum security county jail) includes Darvon, Darvocet, Valium, and Tramadol. And all of these are sometimes taken to get high, and are addictive — some are even highly addictive.
Not to pick on ‘Ole Miss, but the University of Mississippi, along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), hold a monopoly on who can legally grow cannabis for scientific study. The program is funded by NIDA.
Now, being against drug abuse is a good thing.
But remember what we said earlier about too much of a good thing? Because NIDA is foaming-at-the-mouth paranoid that someone might take one too many aspirins (just kidding, but still…), they don’t give two hoots about studying marijuana for its medical benefits. Or even one hoot.
And although scientists can study the individual components of cannabis, “Ole Miss is the only federally-approved source for whole-plant cannabis for study. But NIDA isn’t selling. And because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, even researchers in states where cannabis is legal must purchase it from NIDA.
And NIDA isn’t selling.
Unless and until the government’s stranglehold is loosened, we’ll have to rely on studies done on the individual compounds of cannabis, or those done in other countries. And of course, there’s always anecdotal “evidence”.
I find it amusing (in a decidedly unfunny way) that on the one hand, various health-related government agencies warn us against trying natural, holistic things like herbs to help alleviate symptoms arising from our health issues and symptoms, based on anecdotal evidence.
While at the same time hogtying researchers who want to use hard scientific evidence to find the truth.
“Double, Double, Toil and Trouble”
I suspect that somewhere deep underground — or merely in some high-security buildings somewhere — Uncle Sam and the FDA are cackling over cauldrons of various cannabis experiments, stirring and mumbling incantations as their drug company assistants in white lab coats and black pointy hats sing and dance around the Bunsen burners.
And when all is said and done, cannabis-containing drugs will magically appear from the cauldrons, beakers, and test tubes, to be distributed like candy to treat everything from the effects of chemo (but no cancer cures for obvious reasons) to anxiety, depression, pain, and even drug withdrawals.
While the drug companies cackle all the way to the bank.
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