People have used marijuana, also called cannabis, for a variety of health conditions for at least 3,000 years. More recently, individual components of marijuana or similar synthetic substances have also been used for health purposes. These substances are called cannabinoids.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved marijuana (the plant) for treating any health problems. However, New York State allow its use for certain health purposes. Whether marijuana has therapeutic benefits that outweigh its health risks is uncertain.
Medical marijuana is used to treat a number of different conditions, including:
A growing body of clinical research support the use of cannabis for the relief of some types of chronic pain, including neuropathic pain, and spasticity (ie, stiffness or tightness) associated with multiple sclerosis. In a recent comprehensive review of existing data on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids, the National Academies of Science concluded that adult patients with chronic pain who were treated with cannabis/cannabinoids were more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms.
Studies also suggest some efficacy for cancer-related pain, migraines, and fibromyalgia, and other pain conditions. The key to using medical cannabis for pain is two-fold. For starters, a personalized approach is needed. Each person is different, and many adjustments may be needed to zero in on the dose that controls pain with minimal side effects. It’s also important to start on a low dose of THC and CBD.
Evidence from research indicates that conventional pharmaceutical intervention on opioid addiction through the use of buprenorphine and methadone pose the risk of harmful drug interaction and related overdose. Conventional research on cannabis affirms that the drug can be effective in opioid-induced pain relief and treatment of opioid addiction. The use of marijuana reduces cravings for heroin addicts while at the same time manages the withdrawal symptoms associated with the addiction to opiates. Recent preliminary findings suggest that marijuana could be an effective therapy in the management of opioid addiction. Current studies indicate that medical cannabis significantly leads to a 33% reduction in the use of opioids and opioid-related fatalities.
Evidence suggests that oral cannabinoids are effective against nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, and some small studies have found that smoked marijuana may also help to alleviate these symptoms.
A number of small studies of smoked marijuana found that it can be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy. A few studies have found that inhaled (smoked or vaporized) marijuana can be helpful treatment of neuropathic pain (pain caused by damaged nerves). Smoked marijuana has also helped improve food intake in HIV patients in studies. Studies have long shown that people who took marijuana extracts in clinical trials tended to need less pain medicine. More recently, scientists reported that THC and other cannabinoids such as CBD slow growth and/or cause death in certain types of cancer cells growing in lab dishes. Some animal studies also suggest certain cannabinoids may slow growth and reduce spread of some forms of cancer. There also have been some early clinical trials of cannabinoids in treating cancer in humans and more studies are planned. While the studies so far have shown that cannabinoids can be safe in treating cancer, they do not show that they help control or cure the disease.
Relying on marijuana alone as treatment while avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.