No Final Conclusion Regarding Medical Marijuana

No Final Conclusion Regarding Medical Marijuana

This past June, the New York Senate passed a bill legalizing medical marijuana; as it waits for Gov. Cuomo’s signature, the state is slated to become the 23rd in the nation that legalizes cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Much research has been conducted about the drug that for decades has been maligned by law enforcement agencies as a “gateway” intoxicant largely used for recreational purposes. Even former President Bill Clinton has come out in favor of medicinal uses for the drug, echoing President Obama’s endorsement of state-by-state rulings on the issue instead of immediate national legalization. It may no longer be the Summer of Love, but proponents of medical marijuana are hoping that it’s finally the Summer of Enlightenment.

New York’s medical marijuana endorsement is set to herald in a seven-year pilot program that allows no pot smoking; instead, those approved by their physicians for specific medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, would be treated with medical-grade marijuana in edible form, as a vaporized inhalant, or as an oil-based tincture.

It’s Okay to Vape  

Last week, Gov. Cuomo told the New York Times, “There are certainly medical benefits [of medical marijuana] that can be garnered; at the same time, it’s a difficult issue because there are also risks that can be averted.” The hope is that by not legalizing the drug in its most common form that more people who are sick may actually benefit fully by its medicinal value and not be made sicker by smoking it.

For many people suffering with chronic disease, medical marijuana may be a useful solution to eliminate chronic pain, weight loss, nausea, side effects from prior medications, anxiety, and many other common conditions. Many published studies have long suggested that medical marijuana can eliminate or lessen symptoms of the following diseases: HIV/AIDS, cancer and chemotherapy, glaucoma, MS, and more. Now, a handful of new studies are indicating that marijuana may also be helpful to curb the debilitating effects of everything from autoimmune disease to diseases in the brain that can cause seizure and/or epilepsy.

Cannabis and MS  

For instance, an article published in the March 2014 medical journal Neurology recommended medical cannabis over all current synthetic drug treatments for MS, with the exception of smoking the drug. Instead, patients in the study were offered cannabis in pill form or as an oral spray. The study showed the success of the drug over other alternate therapies that are commonly utilized by up to 80 percent of MS patients. According to the article, Cannabis “eased symptoms of [muscle] spasticity and frequent urination” and may be used with other concurrent therapies as needed. The drug is also useful to combat the pain and numbness associated with the disease.

Another recent study published this month in the Journal of Biological Chemistry makes claims that cannabis could possibly be a potential treatment for those suffering from any number of other autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis, lupus and/or colitis. The findings suggest that marijuana can suppress the body’s immune system, which is always overactive in persons with autoimmune disease.

A team of University of South Carolina researchers showed that the active component in cannabis — tetrahydrocannabinol or THC — can “change critical molecules of epigenome called histones, leading to the suppression of inflammation” as well as slowing immune system response, both key factors in controlling and possibly subduing chronic autoimmune symptoms.

Marijuana and Brain Disease

More evidence of marijuana’s efficacy can be found when examining the drug’s ability to combat certain brain diseases, though those results were less definite. For instance, although cannabis has been shown to be somewhat effective in curbing seizure, it hasn’t shown much beneficial use in people with Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, or even Tourette syndrome. More studies are needed to determine whether or not it will become an alternate treatment for epilepsy.

Review author Barbara S. Koppel, MD, of New York Medical College in New York and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, expressed some concerns over potentially treating MS patients with cannabis, which has long been known to deteriorate short-term memory processing.

“It’s important to note that medical marijuana can worsen thinking and memory problems, and this is a concern since many people with MS suffer from these problems already due to the disease itself,” she said. It is also concerning that some studies show increased depression among those who use cannabis over long periods, which is also a significant risk factor for those with MS.

Still, a series of articles published in May 2014 in Epilepsia, journal of the International League Against Epilepsy, showed that marijuana was indeed effective in lessening the seizures of some patients, especially when used in combination with other drugs. In one example touted in the studies, a child’s seizure rate dropped from 50 convulsions per day to two to three nighttime convulsions per month.

While it’s clear that more research is needed to learn which diseases may be helped by the use of cannabis, the tide on public approval of the drug for medicinal purposes has already turned. Eighty-five percent of Americans are in favor of medical-grade cannabis “if a physician prescribes it” according to a poll taken in 2013 by Fox News. Likewise, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that 75 percent of physicians in 2013 would recommend medical marijuana to a patient if he or she felt compelled by medical evidence of the drug’s usefulness.