Monday, May 01, 2017

You don't have to get high to use medical marijuana

As Trudeau-era Canada moves to legalize marijuana, I am reading more and more articles about how efficacious medical cannabis can be. From PTSD to Parkinson's to arthritis to depression, more and more anecdotal evidence, and, to a lesser extent, clinical studies, are raving about its beneficial effects. It seems to be the panacea (or possibly the snake oil) of the age.
It is particularly, and increasingly, popular among the over-55 set, in which the kinds of aches and pains that cannabis seems well-suited to are rife. And, while many in this demographic are wary of lighting up a toke (many are ex-smokers who do not want to reactivate an old habit), they are increasingly equanimous with the idea of ingesting cannabis oils and lozenges. Equally, many older people really do not want or need the "high" that comes with smoking marijuana, or its addictiveness - let alone the drowsiness, nausea and constipation that can also be involved - but have found that they can obtain the medical relief they need from other aspects of cannabis, or at least that cannabis can reduce the need for other more dangerous or addictive medications like opioids.
That said, dosage, treatment protocols and some knowledge of the active compounds in cannabis are essential in making it a beneficial treatment for chronic pain and other ailments, and even many doctors are not yet au courant with these, and no standard dosages yet exist.
For example, what I hadn't realized is that, unlike in the case of most manufactured drugs, the marijuana plant has hundreds of chemical compounds which can affect a wide range of bodily processes. There are, though, two main active compounds which are thought to have therapeutic benefits: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the better known of the two, and is the substance that create the marijuana high (as well as having some medicinal effects). Complications arise, in that different strains of marijuana have different levels of each of these ingredients, and that no ideal level of THC and CBD has been established for treating particular pains. For example, CBD oil can be effective for osteoarthritic pain, but comes with none of the high, the addictiveness and the lessening of control that many people associate with THC.
The use of medical marijuana is nothing new, but its application has been severely constrained, and rightly so, until the data on its benefits and dangers are better understood. But as Canada and other jurisdictions move to legalize it completely, the science will have to grow up fast. As I start to experience the very early symptoms of arthritis myself, who knows, I may even find myself resorting to it in the future.

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