Medical Marijuana: The Highs And Lows

Marijuana & the Brain

You’ve likely heard about the concept of medical marijuana and its accompanying politics, controversy, and potential benefits. Marijuana is a drug that contains a variety of compounds including THC, which is the part that causes the “high-effect” known of marijuana. In the brain THC, acts on receptors of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The human body has THC-like compounds that are made naturally within the cell. When the ECS is activated it can cause various biological changes in the brain that cause things like apoptosis, inhibition, anti-inflammation, and increased appetite.

THC has various medical effects that it induces through the ECS. These are a variety of things that people are looking into acquiring marijuana to help them deal with. This includes pain management, stress relief, seizure treatment, and an anti-cancer treatment. People are even wondering if medical marijuana could be the answer to the rising opioid issue. With all of these benefits, why is marijuana so slow on being legalized? Why is it not being more extensively researched? Why does society think marijuana is such a big and bad deal? Why is simply being in possession of a substance that may have health benefits a felony that has a consequence of incarceration for years?

Current Research & Legal Status

According to the FDA, “23 states have statutes recognizing “medical marijuana”, 4 states and DC have approved recreational marijuana, and 13 states have statutes recognizing cannabidiol for medical use” as of March 2016. This appears to be steps being taken towards the decriminalization of marijuana, but movement is slow. Even if it becomes legal by state to use marijuana in either a medical or recreational form, it’s still a longways from marijuana to become fully accessible to all that would benefit. Marijuana is not approved by the FDA, so that makes obtaining it difficult. In order for a doctor to be able to prescribe it they have to have a special license and since it isn’t approved insurance doesn’t cover it.

In order for the FDA to recognize marijuana, more research needs to be completed. The FDA has marijuana regulated as a schedule 1 substance because it has high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. The different schedules are listed in a figure below. Due to this regulation, any clinical trials and research into marijuana requires special registration with the DEA, in addition to the numerous hoops already in place by any FDA approved clinical trial.

Marijuana hasn’t been accepted officially in medical use because there aren’t adequate and well-controlled studies proving its efficacy. But, how can marijuana become a medical treatment if research is so difficult to complete with all the regulations. Current research is working on two compounds, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and a couple drugs are also in clinical testing, Sativex for cancer pain/spasticity and Epidiolex for childhood seizures.

Going Forward

So, before marijuana is legalized in the U.S. more research needs to be done. More research into the compounds that make up marijuana might indicate a better compound to use for medical benefits without any of the other side effects. Also, looking into what method of administration would be best for achieving the benefits as well as being easily regulated is important. Then, there is of course the need to look into any adverse effects of even the medical compounds of marijuana. So, bottom line is…more research is needed before much more can happen.

For more about marijuana and the brain: 

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