Despite Uncertain Legal Status, Cannabis Has Medical Benefits

The schizophrenic federal government has left cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug on its forbidden list even though it actually applied for a medical patent for it in 2003 to explore potential medical uses for the drug. And few would or could deny some clear medical benefits of cannabis.

The obvious side effects of cannabis consumption include stimulating appetite and combating nausea (known by all as "the munchies"), its calming effect in lessening anxiety (though a percentage puff into paranoia, as anyone in a stoner circle has sometimes seen), and inducing sleep (add a few beers and a chow-down to kick in the synergistic effect). The less visible benefits of pain relief, reducing inflammation and inhibiting tumor growth are the subject of conflicting studies.

However, the basic facts are not in dispute. The human brain evolved to contain cannabinoid receptors, as it did for many substances humans ingest. People vary in their body chemistry. Some folks quaff that morning caffeine; others need nicotine. Still others can take or leave any or all of these addictive natural compounds. In the case of the 85 different cannabinoids – CBC, CBD, THC, etc. – every single one has been shown in studies to have some impact on human biology. And again, the results generally have been favorable toward cannabis.

For example, a 2004 study on mice showed a reduction in inflammation of the colon. In 2011, CBD was shown to kill cells associated with breast cancer. A 2015 study showed a 45 percent lower rate of bladder cancer in regular marijuana users.

Because cancer is basically an inflammatory cellular-level attack on various human systems, this efficacy not only makes common sense but is in line with medical expectations. Of course, for those who worry about smoking as a potential source of carcinogens itself, a variety of other delivery devices exist. Try oils, pastes, creams, salves or balms. And for those who prefer their drugs from Big Pharma, two derivatives approved by the FDA have hit the market, the most famous being Marinol from Belgian pharmaceutical giant Solvay – with corporate offices right on Richmond here in H-town. The second drug is sold as Cesamet; both are used to combat the nausea associated with traditional chemotherapy.

In a similar, more traditional vein, the American Cancer Society has a long discussion of this topic. Its organizational position is that more research is needed to determine the capacity of cannabis in combating cancer and that the federal Schedule 1 classification inhibits necessary research. But ultimately the cancer society views this topic as within the sacrosanct circle of doctor/patient privilege, recommending all such decisions should be determined by an informed discussion between caregiver and client.

The bottom line that marijuana has obvious medical uses really isn't in dispute. That it might have a silver bullet effect on one of the worst disease killers in American society (at some point almost 40 percent of Americans will receive a cancer diagnosis) is more controversial and needs more research. It's unlikely weed will exacerbate heart disease (the No. 1 cause of death in the United States), suicide or other major causes of death.

However, my inbox just this week contained a screed from the American Automobile Association about the increased car crash risk in states such as Washington and Colorado where marijuana is legal. But really: What harm in the scheme of life is a toke or two? It sure beats the toxic swill of chemotherapy and opioids offered now. Obviously any patient should consult his or her own physician, but asking if a joint for joint pain helps might yield a surprising result.


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