Although researchers may have discovered that this potent plant was used as early as 500 B.C. by ancient communities, Cannabis as a tool in present day western medicine is somewhat new. The Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality cited that Marijuana as the most commonly used drug in the United States as determined by a 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. According to the United Nations, in 2017, Marijuana was also the most widely used drug around the world, with an estimated 188 million consumers that year.
In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical Marijuana, opening the doors for doctors, scientists, and researchers alike to begin uncovering the actual benefits of this plant. Current research varies significantly concerning the benefits and risks of Cannabis on the body. We will explore a bit of that research to bring some clarity to the trending issue.
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The benefits of Medicinal Marijuana
State laws widely vary across the country but, to date, 33 states in the U.S. have legalized medicinal Marijuana. Medicinal Marijuana is most commonly used to control chronic pain that millions of Americans live with every day. The appeal is that it's understood to be far less addictive than opiates and that it is impossible to overdose while using it. Some medical marijuana users are unable to use the regular Advil or Aleve due to problems with their kidneys, having ulcers or suffering from Gastroesophageal reflux disease. Marijuana proves to be a sufficient alternative.
Mainly Cannabis is being used to ease pain associated with multiple sclerosis and overall nerve pain. The alternatives usually used for this pain are Neurontin, Lyrica, or opiates that are highly sedating. Patients using medical Marijuana as an alternative to these drugs report that they can resume life as usual after usage and not feel disengaged entirely.
Those with Parkinson's Disease report that Marijuana lessons tremors and relaxes muscles. The results of a 2014 study found that overall sleep and pain scores improved after the use of Marijuana. The analysis of specific motor symptoms showed significant improvement after treatment of tremors. The study also states that no adverse effects were observed.
Marijuana is also used to manage PTSD in veterans. A recent 10-year study just concluded where 76 veterans were given 1.8 grams of Marijuana every day, varying in levels of potency. The data will be released in upcoming months but will be a great indicator of whether Cannabis can aid PTSD.
Identifying potential risks of medical (and recreational) Marijuana
This is a controversial topic, and often, research is contradictory. The reality is that summarizing the effects of Cannabis on health is a complex task as Cannabis is not a single chemical compound. The plant is made up of over 500 chemical substances. To date, researchers have only studied a small portion of those chemicals.
A 2017 study identified that the influence of Marijuana use on the course of Bipolar Disorder had been examined in three different reviews. These reviews found that Marijuana use is possibly associated with early onset of the disease — a well as prolonged manic episodes and an increased likelihood of suicide attempts. A study from Australia found that Cannabis use potentially decreased the possibility of long-term remission from Bipolar Disorder.
Dr. George Mamman from the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto states, "There is no indication that cannabis use (use within the last 6 months) may benefit symptoms of an anxiety or mood disorder over time (ie, up to 5 years later). Rather, there is an indication that – among individuals living specifically with PTSD, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, or a depressive disorder – using Cannabis is associated with negative symptomatic outcomes over time. Compared to those who did not use Cannabis, those who used Cannabis were more likely to experience long-term persistent symptoms and higher severity of symptoms."
The Lancet Psychiatry published a study suggesting that researchers uncovered variation in psychotic disorder correlating to frequency and potency. Co-author of the study, Marta Di Forti of King's College London tells The Guardian that "Daily use of high-potency cannabis and how this varies across Europe explains some of the striking variations we have measured in the incidence of psychotic disorder."
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The reality is, research varies greatly and cannabis is so new to the field that research is only just beginning. However, here's a starting point as you begin your research into the benefits and risks of cannabis usage on your health. One thing is for sure, as research continues, we will begin to unviel to power of this natural drug. Hopefully it's benefits far outweigh its risks!