What is Medical Marijuana?

It might seem like an easy question, but depending on whom you ask medical marijuana is either an incredibly powerful natural medicine or it's just an excuse to get high. What is medical marijuana and how does it differ from the regular get-you-high marijuana.

The cannabis plant has a long history of medicinal use dating back thousands of years across many cultures, however, a few U.S. political figures with ulterior motivations have created confusion about the plant's medical value.

photo: wikipedia

Marijuana is marijuana whether it's 'recreational' or 'medical'. There's no difference in the plant, just in how the laws are written. Medical marijuana can only be accessed with a prescription from a doctor in places where the law allows. Recreational marijuana simply means the laws allow anyone over the age of 21 can purchase marijuana with or without a prescription much like purchasing alcohol. New patients will want to familiarize themselves some of the medical marijuana terminology when considering medical marijuana.

I have a mom who has suffered from multiple sclerosis for over thirty-five years. In all that time, she's taken more pharmaceutical medications than either of us can remember, but medical marijuana has been the #1 best thing she's been prescribed. It helps reduce her pain from inflammation, helps her sleep better and improves her overall mood.

One of the greatest benefits we've realized with medical marijuana is there's no side effects like there were from every other pharmaceutical she was prescribed. She'll be the first to tell you medical marijuana is a real thing, and it's been life changing. She uses a pure CBD cannabis oil. When she takes it, she doesn't get high or feel any psychoactive changes.

The cannabis plant has over 480 different compounds. The most popular cannabis plant compound is the one you've probably heard of—THC. That's short for TetraHydroCannabinol also known as the compound that gets you high. But there are other compounds in the cannabis plant that don't get you high. CBD (short for Cannabidiol) is the compound that doesn't get you high, but hits above its weight class when it comes to medical properties.

THC and CBD are the the two most well known compounds, but there's dozens of others we're just now starting to isolate and understand like THCa, CBG, CBC, CBV, THCV and CBDV to name a few. Compounds are not to be confused with cannabinoids of which there are approximately 113. Cannabinoids are a subset of compounds that specifically interact with cannabinoid receptors in the human body. More research is needed, but based on unofficial data we're starting to understand which compounds work with which ailments.

This chart shows what we know to be effective so far:

Think of cannabis plants like grape vines that produce wine. Grape vines sitting in rows in a vineyard might all look the same, but there are over 8,000 different grape varietals from Chardonnay and Merlot to Sylvaner and Grenache.

Wine experts can tell the difference between varietals by the shape of the leaves on the vines and by the fruit once it grows. Aside from those differences, vines pretty much look the same.

Cannabis plants might also look the same like grape vines, but they have different levels of THC, CBD or other compounds. New strains are being developed that have high amounts of CBD and low amounts of THC to get the most medical value.

In other words, cannabis strains are like grape varietals—the plants look the same, but what's inside them sets them apart.

Who Can Get Medical Marijuana?

As of July 2016, half of all U.S. states have some sort of medical marijuana law enacted that allows patients to access cannabis with a prescription. Those laws weren't put on the books because law makers were in a good mood one day and decided to throw a bill together. Medical marijuana laws are on the books because thousands of patients fought tooth and nail on their state's capitol steps to have access.

photo: Brookings

From parents fighting for their children to military veterans who rely on cannabis to treat their PTSD, there are endless anecdotal stories proving medical marijuana is a useful medicine.

Cannabis has been on the DEA's Schedule 1 list since 1970 when the Nixon administration put it there as a direct counter measure to the Supreme Court decriminalizing the plant in 1969. Schedule 1 drugs are drugs with "no medical value".

The internet has shown us there is an endless amount of medical value, however, the medical community can't verify that because they can't research cannabis. Schedule 1 drugs cannot be studied, which has caused a proverbial catch 22.

If and when the DEA reschedules cannabis to any other status aside from schedule 1 would open up the possibility to not only research the plant's medical properties, also pave the way for the Walgreens and CVS' of the world to start selling weed.

The list of medical application for medical marijuana keeps growing. Patients can get it into their system using a number of different methods including smoking or vaping (inhaling), tinctures or capsules (oils), edibles or even transdermal patches.

The list of well known medical applications for medical marijuana keeps growing. These are just a few ailments patients use medical marijuana to treat:

  • Reducing chronic pain
  • Treating Crohn's Disease,
  • Reducing Nausea and Vomiting
  • Treating Cancer
  • Treating Depression
  • Increasing Appetite
  • Treating HIV/AIDS
  • Slowing the progress of Alzheimer's
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Reducing seizures
  • Treating Glaucoma
  • Treating PTSD

The next few years will be exciting to watch as walls of prohibition start coming down and more members of the medical community are able to fully understand the plant's medical properties further. For the thousands of people who already use medical marijuana, they are a living testament to already realizing cannabis should have never been made illegal in the first place.

Keep a natural medicine out of the hands of people who need it is morally wrong. It's time we fix that.