There are over 60 peer-reviewed research studies examining the benefits of medical marijuana. Almost 70% of these studies found benefit while 23% were inconclusive or neutral.
The human body is full of receptors for various components of cannabis, called the endocannabanoid system. Terpenes, cannabanoids like CBD, and THC (the part of cannabis that has affects your mood, memory, awareness, and sensation) interact with receptors on your cells, and trigger complex cellular signaling that results in beneficial effects on nerves, anxiety, pain, inflammation, and more. Plant medicine is not a new concept. Many medications are made from natural plant components, including penicillin, aspirin, digitoxin, and theophylline. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several THC-based medications, including, dronabinol (Marinol®) and nabilone (Cesamet®), prescribed in pill form for the treatment of nausea in patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy and to stimulate appetite in patients with wasting syndrome due to AIDS. In addition, several other marijuana-based medications have been approved or are undergoing clinical trials. Nabiximols (Sativex®), a mouth spray that is currently available in the United Kingdom, Canada, and several European countries for treating the spasticity and neuropathic pain that may accompany multiple sclerosis, combines THC with CBD.
The most common use for medical marijuana in the United States is for pain control. While marijuana isn’t strong enough for severe pain (for example, post-surgical pain or a broken bone), it is quite effective for the chronic pain that plagues millions of Americans, especially as they age. Part of its allure is that it is clearly safer than opiates (it is impossible to overdose on and far less addictive) and it can take the place of NSAIDs such as Advil or Aleve, if people can’t take them due to problems with their kidneys or ulcers or GERD.
In particular, marijuana appears to ease the pain of multiple sclerosis, and nerve pain in general. This is an area where few other options exist, and those that do, such as Neurontin, Lyrica, or opiates are highly sedating. Patients claim that marijuana allows them to resume their previous activities without feeling completely out of it and disengaged.
Along these lines, marijuana is said to be a fantastic muscle relaxant, and people swear by its ability to lessen tremors in Parkinson’s disease. I have also heard of its use quite successfully for fibromyalgia, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, and most other conditions where the final common pathway is chronic pain.
Marijuana is also used to manage nausea and weight loss and can be used to treat glaucoma. A highly promising area of research is its use for PTSD in veterans who are returning from combat zones. Many veterans and their therapists report drastic improvement and clamor for more studies, and for a loosening of governmental restrictions on its study. Medical marijuana is also reported to help patients suffering from pain and wasting syndrome associated with HIV, as well as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
The benefits of medical marijuana can be attributed to binding to the endocannabinoid receptors. This has many effects including:
modulating the immune system
emotional and cognitive modulation including learning and motivation, appetite, vascular function, and digestive function
Depending on the cannabis product, different administration methods have been suggested. Extracts and gel capsules, for example, are substances in which active cannabinoids are dissolved in a suitable liquid, primarily for oral intake. The cannabis flower is different in the way that cannabinoids are present in the plant as non-effective acids, which must first be activated by decarboxylation through heat exposure. When cannabis is taken orally, there can be difficulty finding the correct dose initially because the onset of effect can take up to 90 minutes and can last for 4-6 hours depending on your weight, metabolism and whether the you have eaten before or not. Another unpredictability linked to the oral administration of cannabinoids is that inexperienced users may not notice the effect of the initial administration right away and might, therefore, increase the dose too early, and take too much.
The most popular way to consume cannabis flowers is via inhalation; In comparison to oral intake this has a much more rapid onset of effect because the active ingredients enter the bloodstream through the alveoli in the lungs relatively quickly. The effect is usually felt within 1-5 minutes and lasts for approximately 2-3 hours. For many patients with acute ailments this type of administration, therefore, offers a clear advantage over the oral administration. It is also easier for patients to find the right dosage because of the quick onset of effect.
For most people, smoking cannabis is the simplest and most convenient method. The disadvantage of this method is the inhalation of toxins that are generated when the dried flowers are burned. Toxic combustion substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s), ammonia, and carbon monoxide (can) adversely affect the health of patients. This method is therefore not acceptable for medical use, especially when combustion-free cannabis vaporizers offer an alternative to smoking. Smoking marijuana also creates the typical pungent smell that lingers both inside and outside. SMOKING MARIJUANA IS ALSO NOT LEGAL IN THE STATE OF UTAH, EVEN WITH A MEDICAL CANNABIS CARD.
Vaping dry cannabis flower is one of the best alternatives for medical cannabis use. Cannabis vaporizers are designed to heat and thereby decarboxylate/activate the THC and vaporize the other cannabinoids in the flower in a controlled manner and to convert them into an inhalable aerosol without creating toxic byproducts.
Storz & Bickel offers two medical cannabis vaporizers, the VOLCANO MEDIC and the MIGHTY MEDIC. The vaporizers are developed and manufactured in Germany, and are approved in Europe, Canada and Israel for medical cannabis use with more medical markets to be added in the future. The VOLCANO has been used in cannabis research worldwide for more than 15 years and is the vaporizer with the most validation from the scientific community.
Dr. Walker recommends using one of these types of vapes, as they are made with medical grade materials and are designed to last for years.
In addition to vaping dry flower, many Utahns choose to vape THC cartridges. While there are no long term studies on the medicinal effects of vaping marijuana cartridges, they are much more potent. Medical marijuana concentrates test as high as 99% THC; however, most tests are between 40-60% on average. The lower temperature of vape cartridges does not destroy the terpenes and allows you to experience them in all of their glory. There are no long term studies on the medicinal effects of vaping marijuana cartridges.
TIP: maximize your experience by taking 2-3 days off of cannabis use every 2-4 weeks. This will allow your endocannabanoid receptors to reset, allowing you to remain highly sensitive to the effects of your flower. The more sensitive you are, the less you will need, ultimately saving you money as well as preserving that amazing feeling of increased sensitivity to the phytocannabanoids in your marijuana, and reducing your risk of tolerance and dependence.