Twenty-five states have legalized the use of marijuana to treat selected medical conditions, but the US Food and Drug Administration has yet to endorse it. The FDA
is wary because there is little research demonstrating that marijuana and its extracts are beneficial. In order for it to be approved by the
FDA, researchers would have to prove that it’s safer than existing treatments.
Despite this, many researchers believe that marijuana has the potential to treat certain conditions. Its active constituent, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is an appetite stimulant that can also reduce nausea. Another cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), has shown potential to reduce pain and swelling, which could be useful for treating muscle control problems. Yet another chemical compound, tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), found in some sativa strains, seems to improve short term memory and cognition (goodbye, dementia) without causing hunger (some even say it suppresses their appetite).
Now that we’re familiar with the major compounds, let's list the possible medical uses of marijuana that are backed by scientific research.
Manage Nausea and Vomiting During Chemotherapy
A well-known side effect of chemotherapy is nausea and vomiting. A research studyperformed in 2015 that involved chemotherapy patients showed that 47% stopped experiencing nausea and vomiting while taking cannabinoids (either THC or CBD) compared to 20% who took a placebo. In another study, cancer patients who both took THC internally and smoked pot had reduced incidences of nausea and vomiting compared to when they didn't take in any cannabis. Another study that involved 600 cancer patients found that nabilone, a synthetic form of THC, is better at managing nausea and vomiting than conventional therapy. However, more studies are needed to prove that marijuana is more effective than newly developed anti-nausea medications.
Relieve the Pain of Multiple Sclerosis
According to a 2014 review study, marijuana can lessen the burning, tingling, sensation of numbness, and muscle spasm pain in people affected with multiple sclerosis (MS). There is compelling evidence that a pill made from CBD or a combination of THC and CBD can provide relief. Unfortunately, more studies have yet to be done to whether or not inhaled forms of marijuana can provide the same effect.
Alleviate Chronic Pain in Cancer Patients
A small study of 36 cancer patients demonstrated that the pain relieving effects of 10 milligrams of THC is comparable to 60 milligrams of the opiate codeine. A separate study involved nabiximols, a drug that contains both THC and CBD, taken as a mouth spray. According to the results, low and medium doses of the spray work better than placebos in cancer patients whose pain was not relieved by opioids. Very few studies have looked into the benefits of marijuana for pain management in cancer patients. More research needs to be done.
Subdue Neuropathic Pain
A 2010 study involving 23 patients suffering from pain caused by nerve damage after trauma or surgery found that those who smoked marijuana had less pain and slept better than those who received a placebo. A 2013 study of 39 people revealed that vaporized cannabis can mitigate nerve pain in people who didn’t respond to other pain-relieving therapies.
A 2015 study of 137 people suffering from severe epilepsy examined the effects of a daily dose of cannabis extracts on seizures. The participants reported a 54% decrease in seizures over the 12-week period. However, the study did not use a control group, so some of the results may be attributable to the placebo effect.
Suppress the Appetite
Weight loss, marijuana, really? Although this is the benefit of weed that has been studied the least, many people in the industry are finding strains that have effects opposite to those usually seen with marijuana. There are strains of sativa marijuana that are reported to suppress the appetite, potentially opening the door to a weight loss marijuana.
Many reports, almost all anecdotal, are surfacing relating the beneficial effect some strains of marijuana have on memory and cognition. These strains reportedly improve short term memory, which is the complete opposite of the effect of strains high in THC. It appears that strains low in THC and high in THCV have a beneficial effect on short term memory, improving cognition and recall. This means there is a potential that marijuana could be beneficial for dementia patients.