Medical Marijuana – What the Science Shows

Medical Marijuana – What the Science Shows

Medical marijuana is used to relieve symptoms, not to treat or cure diseases. It can alleviate certain symptoms, make you feel better, and improve your quality of life. According to Healthline, an online clearinghouse for medical information, this is the stated goal of medical marijuana research and use. How the chemical makeup of marijuana works the brain and body, it’s effectiveness, and its risks are currently being studied across the globe.

Before a medication can be approved for use, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires large-scale clinical trials in hundreds to thousands of human subjects to determine the benefits and possible risks.

There are different types of clinical trials, including treatment trials, cohort studies, and cross-sectional studies. Clinical trials often have multiple phases that allow researchers to expand their findings systematically. To date, researchers haven’t yet conducted enough clinical trials to allow for FDA approval for wide-spread medical marijuana use.

However, animal studies and lab models show that marijuana contains chemicals that have many potential health benefits. Two-thirds of states allow medical marijuana use. In these states, doctors can recommend and certify that a patient may benefit from medical marijuana. These patients can then purchase and use medical marijuana legally.

Animal Studies and Lab Models

Along with pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions, the National Institute on Drug Abuse funds many types of research, including how marijuana affects the brain and body and the potential therapeutic uses of marijuana.

A variety of animal studies have shown that marijuana can destroy certain types of cancer cells and improves the effectiveness of radiation treatment. Lab and clinical trials are currently focusing on using medical marijuana for:

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS), which causes gradual loss of muscle control
  • Inflammation
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Substance use disorders
  • Mental disorders
Based on previously done animal studies and lab models, medical marijuana may also be beneficial for:
  • Nausea
  • Sleep issues
  • Anorexia
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Migraine

Because the FDA requires medications to be safe as well as effective, researchers have also studied the side effects of medical marijuana use.

The National Cancer Institute lists these possible side effects of medical marijuana:
  • Increased heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or fainting
  • Short-term reduced memory
  • Short-term reduced attention span
  • Decreased problem-solving skills
  • Lowered blood sugar levels
  • Drowsiness
  • Adverse interaction with other medications or herbs
  • Dry eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive side effects of cannabis use include impaired:
    • Sense of time
    • Sensory perception
    • Speaking
    • Reaction time
    • Motor control
Clinical Trials

Since 1990, there have been at least 60 peer-reviewed studies of medical marijuana for medical conditions. The Encyclopedia Britannica company reviewed these studies and found that 68% reported positive benefits of medical marijuana. 23% saw no benefit for the specific medical condition of the study. Overall, the research showed that medical marijuana is effective in relieving symptoms of many diseases.

Other clinical studies have been conducted on the effects of medical marijuana for:
  • Epilepsy
  • Schizophrenia
  • Digestive Disorders
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Burns
  • Sickle Cell Disease
  • Endometriosis
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia
Although results vary, these studies have shown promising results:
  • May be highly effective in the self-management of endometriosis
  • May reduce complications of Crohn’s disease
  • May improve behavior in patients with dementia
  • May have a protective effect against diabetes in obese individuals
  • Use was associated with a lower risk of atrial fibrillation

Based on clinical studies, the FDA has approved two drugs, dronabinol and nabilone, that contain the active ingredient in medical marijuana known as THC. These medications treat nausea caused by chemotherapy and increase appetite in patients with extreme weight loss caused by AIDS.

Canada and several European countries have approved nabiximols (Sativex), a mouth spray containing THC and CBD, to treat muscle control problems caused by MS. However, this medication does not have FDA approval for use in the United States.

CBD, an extract from the hemp plant, is closely related to medical marijuana but does not contain THC. CBD use is legal in the United States. Research into its benefits is ongoing, and some scientists are studying the effects of combining medical marijuana and CBD use. The FDA has approved one CBD medication, Epidiolex, to treat seizures in rare forms of epilepsy.

Although more research is needed, medical marijuana has been shown to relieve symptoms in multiple medical conditions. The use of medical marijuana in the United States has more widespread as more and more people find it helpful.