5 Reasons to Use Marijuana
The growing interest in marijuana and its medical uses is evident by the increasing number of news stories and research projects involving this controversial plant. Putting aside the negative side of marijuana use for now, here are five medical reasons to use marijuana and some of the research behind the claims.
Marijuana may benefit a great many patients
One: First on the list are the two main types of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The latest research on this topic was published in Digestion and evaluated the use of marijuana in people with long-standing IBD.
Patients in the study smoked cannabis during the three-month treatment period. At the end of the trial, the patients reported an improvement in pain, general health, their ability to work, and depression. Patients also were able to gain weight, an important consideration for individuals with chronic IBD, who often lose weight and appetite.
This is not the first study to examine the potential role of marijuana in inflammatory bowel disease. In 2009, experts at Lancaster University explained the mechanisms by which marijuana components could benefit people who suffer with this disease.
Two: Obesity and type 2 diabetes, which typically go hand-in-hand, also have been the subject of marijuana research. Scientists in England have been exploring the use of two substances in the plant—THCV and cannabidiol—that can increase how many calories the body burns.
Although marijuana use can trigger the munchies, scientists have found that cannabidiol and THCV also can suppress the appetite for a short time as well as have increase metabolism and how the body responds to insulin. These features could make marijuana components important in fighting obesity and diabetes. Research into this possibility continues.
Three: Use of marijuana to help manage mental conditions is especially controversial, but some research points to its benefit in several conditions, including bipolar disorder. Several studies have shown that people with bipolar disorder who have used marijuana have better attention, working memory, verbal fluency, and processing speed when compared with people who did not use the drug.
One study compared use of marijuana in patients with bipolar disorder and those with schizophrenia. Marijuana use was shown to be helpful in the areas mentioned above for bipolar patients but not for schizophrenic individuals.
Four: Effective treatment of multiple sclerosis and its symptoms remains a challenge, but several reports have indicated that use of marijuana may be helpful in relieving certain symptoms of the disease. One recent randomized, double-blind study that showed marijuana to be beneficial in relieving muscle stiffness was MUSEC (MUltiple Sclerosis and Extract of Cannabis).
Experts at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom found that marijuana extract capsules containing cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) taken over a three-month period resulted in improvement in muscle stiffness, muscle spasms, and sleep quality in about one-third of patients. Twenty-eight percent also reported pain relief.
Five: Chronic pain affects approximately 1.5 billion people around the world, according to a 2011 report from Global Industry Analysts Inc. Of these, 3 to 4.5 percent experience neuropathic pain, which is caused by damage or dysfunction of the nervous system and a difficult type of pain to treat. One of the benefits often reported by people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes is pain relief.
A number of studies have shown that marijuana helps relieve chronic pain, including neuropathic pain. At McGill University, for example, investigators found that 25 mg of marijuana with 9.4 percent THC used in a single inhalation three times daily for five days significantly reduced the intensity of pain when compared with placebo in patients who had chronic neuropathic pain. Patients also experienced significant improvements in anxiety and sleep.
In a new study at Oxford University, researchers reported they had found “new information about the neural basis of cannabis-induced pain relief.” By using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to evaluate the brains of healthy volunteers before and after taking tablets containing THC, they found that marijuana (THC specifically) has an effect on how people respond emotionally to pain rather than the severity of physical pain itself.
In an earlier study, researchers at the University of Edinburgh published their findings on a spray cannabis extract. They found that the spray marijuana helped reduce cancer pain, especially in individuals who had not responded well to morphine or other drugs.
The bottom line
Dozens of studies have demonstrated the ability of marijuana to provide symptom relief and improvement in quality of life for individuals who suffer with a variety of diseases and health problems. As a potential drug treatment for these conditions, marijuana deserves consideration by healthcare providers and patients.
American Academy of Pain Medicine
Braga RJ et al. Cognitive and clinical outcomes associated with cannabis use in patients with bipolar I disorder. Psychiatry Research 2012. DOI:10.1016/j.psychres.2012.05.025
Lahat A et al. Impact of cannabis treatment on the quality of life, weight and clinical disease activity in inflammatory bowel disease patients: a pilot prospective study. Digestion 2012; 85(1): 1-8
Ringen PA et al. Opposite relationships between cannabis use and neurocognitive functioning in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Psychological Medicine 2010 Aug; 40(8): 1337-47
Zajicek JP et al. Multiple sclerosis and extract of cannabis: results of the MUSEC trial. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 2012; 83:1125-32