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Pros and Cons of Medical Marijuana

Twenty-five states in the US have now legalized marijuana, while others are currently considering legalization. What is the appeal of marijuana? Why is it gaining so much attention? And could medical marijuana be of any potential benefit to your own health condition?

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
June 30, 2016
Episode #217

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As of June 8, 2016, the state of Ohio became the 25th state in the US to legalize marijuana. Numerous others are currently either considering legalization or allow prescribing medical marijuana for various health conditions when under the care of an authorized practitioner. 

What is the appeal of marijuana? Why is it gaining so much attention? And could it help ease your own health condition?

As you may be aware, one of my goals as the House Call Doctor is really to present non-biased, evidence-based information. Because sometimes our profit-driven economy runs with any trendy idea at the expense of the consumer, it is our duty as physicians to dish out the details and present the facts, pros, and cons. 

Sure, we don’t have research to back up everything in medicine. There’s still a lot we don’t know. But my goal today and always is to present what we currently do know. So let’s find out what current research tells us about marijuana.

What Is Marijuana?

We know that Cannabis, otherwise known as marijuana, has been used as a medical remedy for well over 3,000 years.  According to prior studies, Cannabis has been and is still the most widely consumed illicit drug in the world today.

Yet it is not a fully accepted remedy used to treat most health conditions within the medical community. Since it is not well-studied, more research is necessary before its widespread adoption within mainstream medicine. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that medical marijuana is useless either.

According to an excellent article in the Journal of Family Practice, one of the reasons for the lack of sufficient evidence-based research on cannabis is that it contains more than 60 pharmacologically active components called “cannabinoids” in inconsistent concentrations from one to another. Cannabinoid receptors have been found in the brain and in our immune system. The main cannabinoid in marijuana is one you may have heard of: THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), responsible for the “high” achieved with the drug.  In addition, marijuana is consumed in numerous forms: inhaled, smoked, vaporized, ingested in food, and even applied on the skin. For all these reasons, it is a challenge to study.

However, carrying this plant-derived substance is still considered illegal in the United States under federal law.  A growing number of states are legalizing marijuana and attracting great media attention as a result. It has now been advertised for seemingly everything under the sun—from chronic pain to Hepatitis C. Is it really effective for all that it’s claimed to be? Which conditions can be truly helped with medical marijuana?

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