Research has shown medical marijuana to serve both as a complementary method for symptom management and to reduce the side-effects of current medical treatments, such as nausea associated with chemotherapy, as well as an alternative method for treatment of pain, seizures, and inflammation.
Is marijuana a new medical treatment?
Marijuana has been a common medicinal treatment in Eastern medicine, with evidence dating back to its use in ancient Chinese medicine in 2700 BC. Recently, medical marijuana has started to become adopted by Western medicine to treat patients with minimal to no side effects. Research has shown medical marijuana to serve both as a complementary method for 1) symptom management and treatment of medication side-effects associated with certain chronic conditions, and 2) as an alternative method for treatment of pain, seizures, and inflammation.
Is marijuana a safe medical treatment?
Yes. For over 50 years, medical journals have published hundreds of articles on the therapeutic uses of marijuana and its safety. Unlike common pain-relieving medications (i.e. opiates), studies have shown that it is physically impossible for a human to suffer death from a cannabinoid overdose. According to the US DEA, there has never been a US recorded death from an overdose of marijuana.
However, this is not to say that marijuana usage as a medical treatment should be taken lightly. As you will read below, marijuana is made up of some powerful molecules called cannabinoids, that if not dosed correctly can be extremely disorientating and dangerous for the patient.
What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are molecules that are contained in marijuana. There are over 60 of these molecules, with the most common being tetrahydrocannabinol [THC], cannabinol [CBD], and cannabinol [CBN]. These molecules act by activating endocannabinoid receptors in the body [i.e. CB1 and CB2] to elicit anti-inflammatory and analgesic responses.
Unlike other analgesics, like opiates, marijuana has been shown to be a safe and effective therapeutic with very few side effects. In addition, medical marijuana has been shown to significantly reduce the use of more harmful opiates for patients suffering from conditions such as chronic pain.
What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol, better known by the acronym THC, is one of over 60 cannabinoids found in marijuana. THC is the active ingredient of marijuana that makes you feel high, known as the psychoactive effect, when marijuana is smoked or ingested. Depending on your medical condition and/or perceived treatment outcome, THC can have either positive and/or negative effects.
Adverse events related to the use of marijuana are primarily caused by high amounts of THC. It is important to point out that everyone metabolizes cannabinoids differently, which has led to clinicians who recommend marijuana as a treatment to use the following saying “Start Low, Go Slow.” As you will see in the Dosing Guidelines section, dose initiation should 1) begin at the micro-dosing level, 2) pair low-dose THC treatments with CBD to limit and/or avoid unwanted psychoactive response, and 3) slowly titrate up (if needed) over 2 or more weeks.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol [CBD] is a major component of marijuana and a well-studied cannabinoid molecule with anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, there has been research to suggest that CBD also has anticonvulsant, anti-oxidant, anti-emetic, anxiolytic and antipsychotic agent, and is therefore a potential medicine for the treatment of neuroinflammation, epilepsy, oxidative injury, vomiting and nausea, anxiety and schizophrenia, respectively. Research is still on-going to further validate these findings, as well as the suggestion that CBD has the potential to kill tumor cells.
In addition, CBD is a cannabinoid that does not have a psychoactive effect or cause a “high” (e.g., THC). It has actually been shown, when paired with THC containing treatments, to minimize and/or avoid psychoactive responses as well as limit the development of THC tolerance. Recommendations on CBD and 1:1 CBD/THC treatments can be found in the Dosing Guidelines section of this website.
What are terpenes?
In addition to cannabinoids, marijuana is also comprised of terpenes. Terpenes are what give marijuana, and specific marijuana strains, it’s unique smell. Recently, studies have identified over 100 different terpenes, also called aromatic oils, in different marijuana strains. When ingested, these oils effect receptors in the brain and elicit different types of responses such as “relaxation” or increases “alertness.”
While the research has yet to definitively identify what strain of marijuana and its terpene(s) is best for a specific condition, the anecdotal evidence is beginning to add up.