“Research has been done and there is a fair amount of medicinal research, using marijuana for cancer pain, for HIV–related anorexia, for multiple sclerosis in terms of spasms and glaucoma as well,” says Dr. J. Michael Bostwick, a professor in the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Psychiatry and Psychology in Rochester, Minn., and author of a study on the health benefits and politics of the drug.
Though those studies, according to Bostwick, show the most promise in highlighting marijuana as a treatment, he is still wary of labeling the drug “safe and effective” for pharmaceutical use.
“Well, there is a rumor that cannabis is harmless. Evidence suggests 1 in 10 people who use it, particularly when they start using it early [in life], will become addicted,” says Bostwick, who acknowledges it doesn’t share the same dangers as its fellow schedule I substances heroin and LSD, but still warns, “It is, in some people, addictive just as alcohol and opiates or any number of substances as well. It works the same part of the brain the reward system, and the notion that somehow you get off scot-free in terms of addiction is simply not true.”
Because of the legal climate, research has been limited on the substance—research that could better analyze the drug’s risk-to-benefit ratio and possibly overturn the federal government’s classification of the drug as having “no currently accepted medical use.”
For instance, are the negative side effects like lethargy, impaired cognitive functions and psychoactive properties too significant? One study says that the drug can spark or induce more psychotic episodes in people with major mental illnesses. For the record, Johnson disavows any addiction to the drug, and he says it actually improves his motivation and productivity at work.
Also, what is the best way of getting cannabis into the system? You can smoke it, eat it, vaporize it and use it as an oil, which some parents of children with cancer and epilepsy have been doing to ease symptoms and even treat their children’s conditions. There is also the FDA–approved pill Dronabinol, which is a synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the compounds in marijuana credited with helping nausea and loss of appetite but also singled out for causing the “high.” And there is also Sativex, a mouth spray made from both of marijuana’s medicinally valued compounds, THC and cannabidiol (CBD), and which is allegedly close to receiving FDA approval (it’s already approved in other countries).
University of California’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR), a national leader in the drug’s medical investigation, has already made some inroads on these answers, including in comparing the values and risks of smoked cannabis versus vaporized.
“Compared to smoking, which involves combustion of raw plant material with resulting generation of pyrroles and carbon monoxide, vaporization had the advantage of delivering the same bloodstream concentration of THC but lower concentrations of detectable carbon monoxide,” says CMCR codirector Dr. J. H. Atkinson, who says with government approval, there is interest in comparing other forms in the future.
For both Johnson, who experimented with different strains, timetables and methods of use to find out what works best for him, and Phillips, who has in addition to her occasional marijuana usage also adopted a complete homeopathic routine void of processed foods, sugar or salt to better align her health, the primary research fueling their use of the narcotic has been their own trial-and-error cases.
And many other Americans who have turned to the drug as treatment for everything from cancer, glaucoma, anxiety, depression, seizures, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and insomnia to eczema and more are expressing the same wonder at weed.
“If you feel that the medical system has failed and you just want to give it a try, then you can give it a try, but you do so experimentally [and possibly illegally],” says Bostwick.
With the current trend, maybe it might not be illegal federally for long.
*Names have been changed for anonymity of the sources
BMWK, what are your thoughts on legalized marijuana? Recreationally? Only for therapuetic use? Or neither?