Marijuana As A Medicine: Everything You Need To Know

Marijuana As A Medicine: Everything You Need To Know

Marijuana As A Medicine: Everything You Need To Know

If you haven’t seen medical marijuana on the ballot yet, you probably will in the near future. This is because scientists, doctors, researchers, and people all over the country are now learning that marijuana isn’t just some plant that gets you “high.”

Marijuana is a plant that has a plethora of medicinal benefits and we have only scratched the surface of what we know about marijuana. Of course, some people still see marijuana as taboo.

So, when it comes to using marijuana as a medicine, here is everything you need to know!

What is Medical Marijuana?

The term medical marijuana is coined to using the whole and unprocessed marijuana plant or its extracts such as CBD to treat symptoms of illnesses and other conditions.

The United States Food and Drug Administration known as the FDA has not recognized or approved medical marijuana as a plant. However, scientific research has led the FDA to approve two medications in pill form:

These two drugs are used to treat nausea as well as boost appetite. They are typically given to patients suffering from cancer and cancer treatments.

Medical marijuana is still marijuana. It will still give you the “high” that people talk about because it contains the cannabinoid THC.

However, when marijuana is used medicinally, it is not used to get a “high”. Instead, people are using medical marijuana as a means to help with symptoms or ailments that plague them.

The most common use of medical marijuana is pain control. Instead of prescribing narcotics, doctors are finding that the THC and CBD found in marijuana helps alleviate pain.

HOW DOES MARIJUANA WORK?

How Does Marijuana Work?

When we look at marijuana as a medicine, we have to break apart the plant into what we call cannabinoids. Specifically phytocannabinoids.

There are over 100 different types of cannabinoids found in hemp and marijuana plants. Two of the well-known cannabinoids that have medicinal properties include CBD and THC.

These cannabinoids work on a system in our bodies called the endocannabinoid system.

The Endocannabinoid System

You may have learned about different systems of the body such as the nervous system, skeletal system, and endocrine system in school. However, it is rare that you would have learned about the endocannabinoid system.

This system is only, recently, being discovered and learned about. In fact, it has only really been under research for the last 25-years.

The endocannabinoid system was discovered by Dr. L.A. Matsuda in the 1990s. Within all of our bodies, we have an endocannabinoid system. It is a complex system.

We don’t know all there is to know about the endocannabinoid system, but what we do know is that its function is to help fine-tune almost all of our vital physiological functions.

In short, it promotes homeostasis throughout our body and affects everything from our sleep and appetite to pain, memory, mood, and inflammation among other things.

Within this system that ensures are major body systems are working together properly, we have found receptors for cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are a very diverse class of chemical compounds found in our body and in cannabis plants. In fact, our body actually makes cannabinoids called endocannabinoids:

  • 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG
  • Anandamide

Cannabinoids found in cannabis plants are called phytocannabinoids. Among the 500 cannabinoids known in the body, there are more than 100 phytocannabinoids found in the marijuana plant.

Two of the most well-known phytocannabinoids are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). Other key phytocannabinoids include the following:

  • Cannabigerolic (CBG)
  • Cannabichromene (CBC)
  • Cannabinol (CBN)
  • Cannabidiol (CBL)

Cannabinoid Receptors

Cannabinoid Receptors

When our bodies are exposed to cannabinoids such as THC and CBD from marijuana plants, they bind to the receptors in our endocannabinoid system. There are two cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2

CB1 receptors: These receptors are found in our brain, the nervous system, the intestines, tissues, gonads, and other glands in the body. When these receptors are activated it works at:
  • Relieving depression
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Decreasing intestinal problems
  • Increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (vital to learning, working memory, and higher thinking).
  • Lowering anxiety
  • Reducing fear
CB2 receptors: CB2 receptors are found throughout the body in the spleen, tonsils, thymus, immune cells, monocytes, macrophages, B and T cells, and microglia. CB2 receptors control:
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Neurodegenerative disease
  • Psychiatric balance
  • Autoimmune disease

As you can see, marijuana as a medicine can literally affect your entire body promoting overall wellness and homeostasis.

States where Medical Marijuana is Legal

Related: States where CBD Oil is Legal

Unfortunately, medical marijuana has not been made legal in every state. In fact, some states still have not legalized the use of CBD which is non-psychoactive.

This is because a lot of people still feel that marijuana is a gateway drug. Therefore, it is still taboo in a lot of people’s minds.

However, with new research, many states are opting to put it on the ballot for the people to make the decision.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, legalization of medical marijuana means the following:

  • You have protection from criminal penalties for using marijuana for medical purpose.
  • You have access to marijuana through home cultivation, dispensaries, or some other system that is implemented in your state.
  • You have a variety of strains available including those with low THC.
  • You are allowed to smoke or vaporize some kind of marijuana products, plants, or extracts.

Legalized Medical Marijuana

Fortunately, there are now 33 states and D.C. that have legalized the use of marijuana medicinally. Here are the states that currently have medical marijuana legalized:

  1. Alaska
  2. Arizona
  3. Arkansas
  4. California
  5. Colorado
  6. Connecticut
  7. Delaware
  8. Florida
  9. Hawaii
  10. Illinois
  11. Louisiana
  12. Maine
  13. Maryland
  14. Massachusetts
  15. Michigan
  16. Minnesota
  17. Missouri
  18. Montana
  19. Nevada
  20. New Hampshire
  21. New Jersey
  22. New Mexico
  23. New York
  24. North Dakota
  25. Ohio
  26. Oklahoma
  27. Oregon
  28. Pennsylvania
  29. Rhode Island
  30. Utah
  31. Vermont
  32. Washington
  33. Washington D.C.
  34. West Virginia

Legalized Recreational Use of Marijuana

There are currently 10 states that have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational use. This means you can use marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation as well as recreationally.

If you are looking to smoke marijuana recreationally, here are the 10 states  and D.C. that have legalized it:

  1. Alaska
  2. California
  3. Colorado
  4. District of Columbia
  5. Maine
  6. Massachusetts
  7. Michigan
  8. Nevada
  9. Oregon
  10. Vermont
  11. Washington

Ailments That Qualify You for Medical Marijuana

Because medical marijuana is still in its infancy as to what it can treat, states that have legalized it for medicinal use do put restrictions on who qualifies for a prescription.

It is important to speak with a medical marijuana doctor in your state if you believe your condition would qualify for medical marijuana as not all states have the same laws.

Below, you will find some of the conditions or ailments that may qualify you or someone you love for medical marijuana:

  • Cancer (Typically, it must be associated with severe pain, nausea, vomiting, or cachexia)
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Seizures (includes epilepsy)
  • Multiple Sclerosis (includes persistent muscle spasms)
  • Crohn’s Disease (IBS also qualifies)
  • Terminal Illness (must have 1 year or less to live
  • Intractable Pain (Severe or constant pain that is not curable)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Autism
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Medical Marijuana and States Where it is Illegal

As more and more states legalize the use of medical marijuana, people are beginning to wonder if their medical marijuana authorization is binding in other states.

There are many states that have no tolerance of marijuana, medical or otherwise. Fortunately, some states that have legalized medical marijuana do accept out of state authorizations. These states include:

  • Arizona
  • Michigan
  • Pennsylvania
  • Nevada
  • Rhode Island
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire

Although these states do accept out of state authorizations, it can be trickier to get an out of state authorization approved in states where marijuana is completely illegal.

You cannot get medical marijuana and bring it across state borders to your state. If your state deems medical marijuana illegal then you must abide by the laws in your state. In fact, bringing marijuana across state borders can land you in a heap of trouble.

For instance, Michigan has loosened its grip and allowed recreational use of marijuana, but law enforcement in Indiana is buckling down and patrolling the border as to stop marijuana from crossing state lines.

If you are unsure if you can bring marijuana into your state, check the list of legal states above.

IS MEDICAL MARIJUANA COVERED BY INSURANCE?

Is Medical Marijuana Covered by Insurance?

The short answer to this is, no! Insurance companies are not covering medical marijuana at this time.

Because medical marijuana is in its infancy and has a lot of work ahead of it, insurance companies are still declining to cover marijuana. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. It is not an FDA approved drug. Insurance companies including federal insurance can only cover FDA approved drugs, so even if they wanted to they couldn’t.
  2. It is still a schedule 1 narcotic. According to the DEA, it has the potential to be addictive even though medical research proves that is not the case.
  3. Lack of clinical research. Because marijuana has been illegal for so long, there have not been double blinded studies on the effects of marijuana.

Until marijuana is fully researched and legalized in all states, there is slim to no chance that insurance companies will cover the drug in the near future.

However, with an overwhelming number of states placing medical marijuana on the ballots, it may be the next step, so keep your fingers crossed.

What Medical Marijuana Treats

Marijuana has been used both medicinally as well as recreationally to treat and alleviate symptoms of various ailments.

Though marijuana as a medicine is still in its infancy, research has found that marijuana can help many different ailments including:

Nerve Pain: Because marijuana works on the central nervous system, research has shown that taking marijuana 3-times per day alleviates some if not all nerve pain. Some conditions associated with nerve pain include:

  • Neuropathy
  • Charcot Marie Tooth Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • HIV
  • Cancer
  • Migraines/headaches
Pain: Because marijuana cannabinoids activate receptors in the brain, it helps alleviate pain in patients with various ailments. Some conditions associated with pain include:
Muscle Tightness and Shakiness: Research has proven that marijuana is effective in relaxing muscles alleviating symptoms of tightness and shakiness. Conditions associated with this include:
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Lugaric Disease

Glaucoma: Smoking marijuana has been found to reduce pressure in the eye. It also reduces blood flow to the optic nerve. It has not been proven to increase eyesight.


Seizures. Specifically, the combination of CBD and THC has been proven to be a miracle cure for those suffering from seizures. Here are some conditions associated with seizures:

  • Epilepsy
  • Generalized seizures
  • Focal Seizures

Inflammation. The cannabinoid CBD found in marijuana is specifically associated with alleviating inflammation as it inhibits COX1 and COX2 which causes inflammation.

What Medical Marijuana Treats

Is it Safe?

Although marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug by the DEA, there is no evidence of anyone ever overdosing on the drug. Unlike schedule 1 drugs such as Vicodin and morphine.

There are rare cases of people being allergic to the marijuana plant as a whole. If you are allergic to marijuana, you will be allergic to hemp as well. If you are concerned it is advised to get an allergy test before using marijuana

Along with the benefits of marijuana, there are some people who experience side effects. So, it is important to know them before you consider marijuana as a medication.

Marijuana Side Effects

As with any drug, there are occasional side effects that should be weighed when taking it. Here are some of the most common side effects of marijuana:

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dry or red eyes
  • Heart and blood pressure problems
  • Lung problems
  • Impaired mental functioning
  • A headache
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness
  • Panic
  • Hallucinations
  • Flashbacks
  • Depression
  • Sexual problems

Special Warnings

Along with side effects, there are special warnings and precautions that should be evaluated before deciding to take marijuana as a medication. These include the following:

  • It is unsafe during pregnancy. Marijuana passes through the placenta and can slow the growth of the fetus. It is also associated with abnormalities and childhood leukemia.
  • It may be unsafe during breastfeeding. Marijuana does pass through breast milk. It is suggested that it may cause delays in the child, but research is not clear.
  • It could be dangerous with surgery. Because marijuana slows the nervous system, it may slow the central nervous system too much when combined with anesthesia or other medications.
  • It could make seizures worse. Although it is found to help seizures, some people may have an adverse effect.

    Although marijuana has a plethora of benefits, that doesn’t mean it is best for everyone. Be sure to speak with your doctor to weigh the benefits with the side effects.

    Will Medical Marijuana Aid in the Opioid Epidemic?

    Because opioids are typically prescribed for pain control, there is a lot of evidence that suggests the legalization of marijuana could reduce the opioid epidemic.

    With more people being prescribed or self-medicating with marijuana which cannot be overdosed on, there may be less need for opioids that lead to addiction, overdose, and many times death.

    However, further research will need to be done in order to determine whether or not legalization of medical marijuana will decrease the need for opioids. Only time will tell.

    How Can I Find Out if Medical Marijuana is for Me?

    How Can I Find Out if Medical Marijuana is for Me?

    If you believe medical marijuana would help you, it is important to speak with your doctor. However, keep in mind that traditional doctors do not all have the same training on medicinal marijuana.

    You may be referred to a marijuana doctor, or you may be able to go straight to a doctor who specializes in medical marijuana depending on your preference.

    Keep in mind you will be paying for your medical marijuana out of your own pocket as it is not yet approved by the FDA. In essence, if you believe you would qualify for medical marijuana, talk to a doctor in your state.

    How do you feel about medical marijuana? Share your opinions in the comments below!

    References

    1. Health Problems, Medical Marijuana, and Treatment in Pictures. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/brain/ss/slideshow-medical-marijuana.
    2. Medical cannabis. (2018, November 09). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_cannabis.
    3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Marijuana as Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana-medicine.
    4. Lopez. (2014, March 27). Marijuana is legal for medical purposes in 32 states. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/cards/marijuana-legalization/what-is-medical-marijuana.
    5. Grinspoon, P. (2018, January 09). Medical marijuana. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/medical-marijuana-2018011513085.
    6. Habib, G., & Artul, S. (2018, August). Medical Cannabis for the Treatment of Fibromyalgia. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29461346.
    7. Medical Cannabis Qualifying Conditions - Minnesota Dept. of Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.health.state.mn.us/topics/cannabis/patients/conditions.html.
    8. 33 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC - Medical Marijuana - ProCon.org. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881.
    9. Richter, N. (2018, August 12). Does Health Insurance Cover Medical Marijuana? [ANSWERED]. Retrieved from https://www.marijuanabreak.com/health-insurance-cover-medical-marijuana.

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