Marijuana is a genus of the Cannabaceae flowering plants. The marijuana plant contains different chemicals known as cannabinoids, and each of these affects the body differently. The concentration of these chemicals in a marijuana plant is determined by plant genetics, the growing conditions, and processing.
The marijuana plant has not been recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as medically. However, the FDA approved two medications containing cannabinoid chemicals. This was after an extensive scientific study. People support the legalization of marijuana because it contains chemicals that could help treat several symptoms and illnesses. Benefits of using medical marijuana include relief from muscle spasm, pain, and nausea associated with anorexia and chemotherapy. Benefits are also seen in neuroplasticity, immune function, vascular health, digestive function and mood regulation.
Cannabinoids are similar to Marijuana’s main ingredient that gives people a ‘high,’ the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The marijuana plant is a host to more than 100 cannabinoids. Illegal manufacturers and scientists have produced cannabinoids in the lab. Some of these are very powerful and have caused serious health effects as a result of being misused. The body also generates its own cannabinoid chemicals. These chemicals are used to regulate memory, pleasure, body movement, thinking, concentration, pain, awareness of time, appetite and senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing).
Uses of cannabinoids as medicine
The main cannabinoids from marijuana that can be used medically are Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). THC may increase appetite and decrease nausea, inflammation, pain, and muscle control problems. It also makes people ‘high’. On the other hand, CBD does not make people ‘high’ and can be used to reduce inflammation and pain, control epileptic seizures and treat addictions and mental illnesses. Researchers are continually exploring other possible uses of Medical marijuana. For example, recent animal studies have shown that marijuana extracts could help reduce the size of some cancer cells and kill others.
Scientists are also doing trials with the marijuana plant, and marijuana extracts to treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis, diseases affecting the immune system like HIV/AIDS, pain, inflammation, seizures, mental disorders, and substance use disorders. Some women have reported using marijuana during pregnancy to relieve nausea. There is however no research that guarantees the safety of this practice, so doctors do not recommend it.
Medications that contain cannabinoids
Dronabinol and nabilone are FDA approved drugs that contain cannabinoids. They treat the nausea that results from chemotherapy and increases appetite in AIDS patients who have experienced extreme weight loss. Ongoing research might lead to the approval of more drugs that contain cannabinoids. The FDA also approved a liquid called Epidiolex® that contains CBD. It is used for the treatment of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Those are two types of severe childhood epilepsy.
Canada, the United Kingdom, and some European countries have approved nabiximols (Sativex®). This is a mouth spray that contains THC and CBD and is used to treat muscle control problems that result from multiple sclerosis. It has however not FDA approved.
Marijuana as medicine still requires to undergo various clinical tests and trials to determine its benefits and risks. There aren’t large scale trials that show the benefits of the marijuana plant would outweigh its risks were it to be used to treat patients. Although it is a possible treatment for many conditions and illness, its use and medical approval should be backed by extensive scientific research.