The controversy over the benefits of medical marijuana continues as 20 states have now legalized it. Colorado just became the first authority in the world to tax and regulate pot in a similar manner to what it is done with alcohol. But support for medicinal marijuana is coming from high places.
Eight months ago Dr. Sanjay Gupta apologized for misleading the public on weed, declaring he’d been wrong about medical marijuana and had not dug deeply enough into the beneficial effects of the plant. He says he has come to see that for some sick people, cannabis is the only thing that works.
Gupta is a practicing neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent. In an op-ed for written for CNN on Wednesday he stated he continues to travel and meet with hundreds of patients and scientists, since the airing of the “Weed” documentary last August.
Gupta says he is more convinced than ever that providing the best health care possible may often involve marijuana, and he is not backing down on his support for medical marijuana.
Although legalized in some states, marijuana is still illegal under federal law and is classified as a Schedule I substance, which the federal government defines dangerous and with no accepted medical use.
In the op-ed Gupta wrote that neither of those statements is factual and stated that “Even many of the most ardent critics of medical marijuana don’t agree with the Schedule I classification, knowing how it’s impeded the ability to conduct needed research on the plant.”
Although research is promising that pot could be used in creation of an FDA-approved medicine, there are some obstacles that must be overcome before this can happen. All marijuana comes from the plant Cannabis sativa, which contains more than 400 different chemicals. These chemicals differ from plant to plant. Many of these chemicals have unknown effects.
For something to be a medicine it must have well-defined and measurable ingredients that are the same each time a
person takes a dose. Also, marijuana has some harmful effects, especially when smoked, including chronic cough, and an increased risk of bronchitis and other lung infections. It can also interfere with cognitive functions such as learning and memory.
Of these 400 chemicals found in marijuana only 61, known as cannabinoids, are unique to the Cannabis plant. One of the best-known cannabinoids is THC, which was isolated and synthesized in 1964 and is clearly the most pharmacologically active.
Although controversial, medical marijuana has support in treating an increasing number of conditions. It has been found to help reduce nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy through Cannabis-based drugs dronabinol and nabilone, which are taken orally.
As anyone who has ever experienced marijuana-induced munchies knows, pot can increase appetite. It can benefit HIV/AIDS patients and others with serious weight loss issues, as dronibinol is shown to stimulate appetite. It is less effective at increasing the appetites of people in the advanced stages of cancer.
People with multiple sclerosis suffer from muscle spasms and tremors, which have shown to be decreased with the use of THC and cannabidiol as administered in a liquid extract.
Controlling pain may be one of the most common uses of medical marijuana. A Canadian Medical Association Journal study in 2010 looked at patients taking four strengths of THC. After five days the highest dosage of THC, 9.4%, had the highest level of pain relief. Pot sold on the street, which has THC levels of 10% to 15%, may work even better for relieving pain.
Marijuana may relieve anxiety and certain sleep disorders like insomnia. The National Cancer Institute says studies showed that patients reported more restful sleep after ingesting a cannabis plant extract spray.
There is anecdotal evidence of pronounced marijuana benefits for relieving epileptic seizures, but little scientific literature to back up the claims. There are some highly publicized instances of people with long-lasting and frequent seizures finding relief only through marijuana.
While the controversy continues, support for medical marijuana remains strong and studies continue that may eventually result in federal legalization and FDA approval.
By Beth A. Balen