“I swear officer, that’s not mine” seems to invoke the image of some punk teenager getting busted with pot or perhaps a scene from the movie Pineapple Express (pictured above). That image also usually carries a certain stigma with it. I would say this stigma is certainly warranted, but what if marijuana could be used in a healthy fashion? Could rolling up a doobie from time to time really improve your health?
This last week we explored a review article on the endocannabinoid system, Endogenous cannabinoids revisited: A biochemistry perspective. I had always heard that marijuana had medicinal uses, but I had never really known what those were or how much truth they held.
The human body produces two primary endogenous cannabinoids: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). They are modulators of a variety of physiological functions throughout a diverse array of systems in the body, including the central and autonomic nervous system, the immune system, endocrine network, and reproductive system. They are involved in anti-inflammatory actions, analgesia, and feeding behavior, as well as a number of other biological effects.
Now for the interesting part: marijuana contains a cannabinoid called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short. This is the chemical that is primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects that an individual experiences after smoking marijuana. It binds to the same receptor that AEA and 2-AG bind to and consequently produces many of the same effects, especially analgesia and altered feeding behavior, also known as “the munchies.” Extensive research has been carried out to assess the question as to whether or not marijuana holds any medicinal value, and the results suggest there are many practical uses for it. Recent evidence suggests that THC may play a helpful role in the control of cell death/survival. Among other uses, marijuana has been shown to be tremendously beneficial to those who suffer from chronic pain.
Whether or not marijuana had medicinal value is not the question. It does, and there is very little evidence against its practicality and usefulness in a variety of different areas of medicine. The question is how to go about deciding whether or not to use it for medicinal purposes. If there is an abundance of positive uses of marijuana, how can we justify not using it as medicine? Can it be regulated? Who can even regulate it?
Used in the right way, medicinal marijuana would undoubtedly prove to be useful for a variety of patients needing medication due to anything from the side effects of chemotherapy to the treatment of MS. But how do we do this?