A Shift In The Perspective On Endocannabinoids And Marijuana

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, marijuana is the most-used illicit drug in the world.  In the United States, it is classified as a Schedule I  drug, which is defined as “a substance or chemical which has no currently accepted medical use and a high potential abuse.”  These are considered to be the most dangerous drugs, and a user is severely at risk for psychological or physical dependence.  Marijuana is joined on this list by other substances such as heroin and ecstasy.  Schedule II drugs are also relatively dangerous, but are considered to carry less potential for abuse than the schedule I drugs.  A few examples from this list include cocaine, methamphetamine, and oxycodone. (For more information, see http://www.justice.gov/dea/druginfo/ds.shtml)

If one takes a look at the current marijuana use laws across the country, or even just takes a second to listen to those arguing in the popular debate, it is easy to see that the legal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug with “no currently accepted medical use” is somewhat out of line with the twenty states that currently allow marijuana for medical use.  Though federal law still prohibits its use, the Department of Justice has announced that as long as those states which have legalized it for recreational use regulate it tightly, it will not challenge the laws in Colorado and Washington at this time.  (http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2013/August/13-opa-974.html)

The American public has historically been opposed  to the legalization of Marijuana, but a recent Gallup poll shows that for the first time, a majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing Marijuana.

I have always been on the fence regarding the legalization of marijuana, even for medical purposes.   However, after reading an article recently regarding the biochemistry of the endogenous cannabinoids (substances made in the body which bind to the same receptors that the active substances in marijuana do), my opinion has changed.  There are many different mechanisms and pathways by which the substances in the endocannabinoids may act, and these may be useful targets in the treatment of certain conditions.  For instance, endocannabinoids are involved in vasodilation, which might be important in the treatment of high blood pressure.  They can also mediate the effects of pain and inflammation.  Perhaps the most surprising actions to me were those that targeted the treatment of cancer both directly and indirectly.  The binding of anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol  (two substances found in marijuana) to the CB1 receptor in the body can induce apoptosis, or programmed cell death, which is essentially the goal in treating many types of cancer.  Indirectly, substances in marijuana can also play a role in the treatment of cancer as well.  Often, those undergoing chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer experience a loss of appetite, and substances in marijuana can help to induce someone to have an appetite.  This can also be useful in treating anorexia.

Of course, we still cannot completely ignore the more harmful effects marijuana exhibits.  There are certainly issues like the potential for addiction which caused it to be classified as a Schedule I drug in the first place.  However, after learning of all the potential medical uses for marijuana, I cannot help but think that we need to rethink its classification as a Schedule I drug with  “no currently accepted medical use.”