How Medical Cannabis Works

Many patients in the United States today are considering or already using medical cannabis to help control the symptoms of various diseases. They are finding relief from physical and mental illnesses that do not always respond well to traditional treatments. Medical cannabis also offers the benefits of fewer side effects and often lower cost than many prescription medications. What is medical cannabis?

What Is Medical Cannabis?

Medical cannabis contains over 100 cannabinoids or chemicals the body uses to regulate functions for physical and mental wellbeing. Cannabinoids in the human body are related to THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana that produces the feeling of being high. The body’s endocannabinoid system uses these chemicals to regulate memory, thinking, pleasure, movement, appetite, and pain.

In some states, doctors can recommend and certify patients to use medical cannabis. Patients are given a certification card or permit that allows them to purchase and use marijuana for medical reasons legally. Certain states also allow the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, without certification or medical reasons. For patients using medical cannabis, the goal is to relieve symptoms, not to get high.

In states that allow medical cannabis use, a doctor must recommend a patient for certification. Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants are not allowed to make a recommendation. Each state has a list of approved medical conditions for medical cannabis use. Patients must have one or more of these conditions to obtain a certification.

Unlike medical cannabis, CBD oil from hemp plants does not contain any THC. It does have an effect on the endocannabinoid system that may have health benefits. The 2018 Farm Act made CBD legal in all 50 states. CBD is sometimes combined with medical cannabis for additional symptom relief.

Uses for medical cannabis

Each state has a different list of medical conditions for allowing medical cannabis use. Some of the most common are:

  • Cancer
  • AIDS
  • Seizures
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Glaucoma
  • Digestive Diseases (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis)
  • Severe Pain
  • Diseases that cause severe nausea or body wasting)
  • Terminal Illnesses

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two medication containing THC, dronabinol and nabilone. They are used for treating nausea caused by chemotherapy and for increasing appetite in patients with extreme weight loss caused by AIDS. The FDA has also approved Epidiolex, a CBD medication that does not contain THC, for certain seizure disorders.

Risks and Side Effects of medical cannabis

The National Cancer Institute states that medical cannabis can have the following side effects:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or fainting
  • Short-term reduced memory
  • Short-term reduced attention span
  • Decreased problem-solving skills
  • Lowered blood sugar levels
  • Drowsiness
  • Adverse interaction with other medications or herbs
  • Dry eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Anxiety

Medical cannabis can also cause impaired:

  • sense of time
  • sensory perception
  • speaking
  • reaction time
  • motor control

The National Institute for Drug Abuse states that 30% of marijuana users, in general, may have an addiction problem. For people who become addicted to marijuana, withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Mood difficulties
  • Decreased appetite
  • Physical discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness

Some medical cannabis users smoke the compound, causing chronic bronchitis and airway inflammation. Scientists have not yet determined if smoking medical cannabis can lead to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) like cigarette smoking.

How to Get and Use medical cannabis

Once a patient has obtained a medical cannabis certification card in a participating state, they can purchase medical cannabis at retail marijuana dispensaries. For privacy reasons, only one customer is allowed to shop at a time. Staff at medical dispensaries are required to have training, attend seminars, and have certifications to sell medical cannabis.

In states where both medical and recreational marijuana is legal, medical cannabis users often pay fewer taxes or surcharges than recreation users. Quality controls for medical cannabis are stricter than those for recreational marijuana as well. medical cannabis is usually grown indoors under tighter controls and with fewer pesticides than recreational marijuana.

Medical cannabis is most often smoked but can also be found in edible products like cookies and candies, and as an oil that can be added to water or other drinks or placed under the tongue. It is also sold in the form of pills, patches, and topical ointments.

Medical cannabis isn’t legal everywhere in the United States, but in places where it is, it is offered to patients for help with a variety of medical conditions. If your state allows medical cannabis use, you will first need to see a doctor for a recommendation and a certification card. Then you will be allowed to purchase medical cannabis from a dispensary store.


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