Marijuana has been hailed as a treatment for several conditions in recent years. In states where medical marijuana is legal, it’s been used to relieve chronic pain, minimize nausea caused by chemotherapy drugs, reduce the effects of active seizure disorders, and increase the appetite of patients suffering from HIV, nerve pain, and other chronic conditions such as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.
GERD affects nearly 20 percent of the adult population in the United States, contributing to the estimates of the number of adults in the U.S. who struggle with chronic pain. As this number now pushes 50 million, it’s not surprising that patients are looking for non-narcotic methods to relieve their discomfort. Another 40 million people are treated for anxiety disorders each year, making this another condition of consideration.
However, only 36.9 percent of those suffering from anxiety receive any form of treatment.
As the country remains in the middle of the opioid epidemic, it’s critical that new measures to treat conditions that cause pain are found. Harvard Medical School reports that marijuana is quite useful for chronic pain, and it’s safer than opiates. They also contend that it’s far less addictive and almost impossible to overdose on marijuana.
While some institutions support the idea of using marijuana for pain and anxiety, many physicians don’t. Even if they do feel that there is enough evidence to prescribe the drug, physicians must be cautious because it is still a schedule 1 drug under The Controlled Substances Act. So while more states pass laws allowing the use of marijuana and its derivatives, doctors risk violating federal laws and their license to prescribe medications.
Legal Marijuana Patients
It’s estimated that there are over 3.5 million patients in the states who hold a legal marijuana identification card. This estimate comes from the states’ medical marijuana programs, some of which are still collecting data and others that don’t require mandatory registration. Two states with voluntary registration, California and Washington, are among the highest numbers of estimated medical marijuana patients with 915,845 and 80,818 respectively. Alaska comes in at a whopping 1,054 patients, and New Hampshire has 4,753.
Marijuana and Pain
According to the National Institute of Health, chronic pain is the leading cause of disability in the United States. It affects more individuals than heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined. While more research needs to be done to prove that marijuana is the answer to chronic pain, anecdotal evidence suggests that it can help.
Part of the problem around the use of cannabis for pain relief is the red tape researchers must go through to study the drug. The Drug Enforcement Administrations (DEA) issues a license for cultivation before any federal institution can have access to marijuana for research. If laws are violated by the institution, they can suffer consequences such as losing federal funding.
There are two natural compounds in marijuana — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the part of marijuana that gives you the feeling of euphoria, also called a “high.” CBD doesn’t have any psychoactive qualities, and might actually bind with the THC to lessen the effects. It’s not surprising that many of the marijuana products available for pain contain only CBD or higher CBD concentrations compared to THC. These drugs can be smoked, inhaled through a vaporizer, eaten in the form of chocolates or other marijuana edibles, or by placing a CBD ointment directly on the skin.
While CBD doesn’t give a high, it does interact with the pain receptors in the brain. One study found that Cannabis was highly effective for advanced cancer pain. Another trial reported that medical marijuana decreased the frequency of migraine headaches.
Anxiety and Weed
Marijuana reduces stress levels through the endocannabinoid system. This system regulates body function such as pain and appetite. The short-term effects of the drug might cause relaxation. The long-term results aren’t quite as encouraging, though. Long-term use of marijuana has been found to cause memory loss and cognitive impairment.
If you search for evidence that weed can treat your anxiety, you’ll find plenty of support. The interesting thing is that if you search for the opposite, you’ll find just as many studies that claim that it doesn’t help and might actually make anxiety symptoms worse. The bottom line is that more research needs to be done to understand the efficacy of marijuana use for anxiety fully.
Social Aspects of Marijuana
Should we consider the message being sent to the youth of America each time another state legalizes the drug? Over 11 million people ages 18 to 25 used marijuana in 2015, according to Duquesne University School of Nursing. Other concerning numbers include that 5.4 percent of eighth graders report using marijuana in the past month. Move up the line in school to 12th grade, and the number jumps dramatically up to 22.5 percent. This is just slightly lower than the percentage of 12th graders using alcohol in the past month, which was reported at 33.2 percent.
The American College of Pediatricians reports that the increasing legalization of marijuana delivers a message to our youth that the drug is harmless. They go on to state that using marijuana may have grave effects for younger people. Approximately 17 percent of individuals who start using weed during adolescence become addicted. Along with addiction, long-term users may suffer from adverse effects on their ability to learn and remember.
Most people can see that there might be evidence to support the use of marijuana for conditions like pain and anxiety. One problem that marijuana supporters must face are studies which seem to find any reason to support the use the weed, such as increasing athletic performance. No matter how you feel about marijuana use, we can all agree that much more research needs to be done before any definitive answers are given about the efficacy of marijuana for medical treatment.