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As the CEO of a company which is spearheading new scientific research and discoveries into the medical benefits of the cannabis plant, I find it fascinating that there still seems to be so much conflicting information about medical marijuana in the public domain. With every bit of exciting news linked to the benefits of medical cannabis, there is a story that confirms we have a long way to go when it comes to getting rid of the marijuana stereotype.

Marijuana is currently classified as an illegal, “Schedule I” drug as defined by the US Controlled Substances Act. According to the Act, the US government views cannabis, along with heroin and LSD, as a drug that has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” Despite this, the last five years or so has seen an unprecedented acceptance of cannabis as a viable option for treating many life-threatening diseases.  

I am also encouraged and heartened by the FDA’s recent approval of a cannabis-based drug to treat symptoms associated with Dravet Syndrome. As with many things, the key to understanding is very often the availability of accurate information. Mainstream media and others have apparently caught on and now there is a wave of interest with regards to medical marijuana. That being said, I can’t tell you how many times I have had someone ask me, “what is medical marijuana and how can it help people”?

Patients and doctors agree that marijuana is an incredible therapeutic substance. An increasing number of physicians are now able to legally recommend medical marijuana to their patients. Also, keep in mind that many states have now legalized marijuana.

The stigma surrounding medical marijuana may have started somewhere in the 1930’s with the movie “Reefer Madness.” It scared many into believing that the use of marijuana in any form would cause violent behavior. Yet, medical marijuana was used in China as far back as 2737 BC with even the Greeks using it to treat wounded animals, and on themselves to help with inflammation and ear pain. With so many states starting to consider legalizing it for medical use, many are left wondering what it is and the benefits associated with it.

If you want to stir up emotions among doctors, scientists, researchers and policymakers try talking about medical marijuana. Questions will likely arise such as, “is it safe?”, “should it be legal?” and “has its effectiveness been proven?” In the United States, the most common use is for pain control and part of its attractiveness is that it is clearly safer than opiates.

What Is It?
Medical marijuana is the medical use of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant to relieve symptoms of or treat diseases and conditions. The plant holds over 100 different chemicals known as cannabinoids which have different effects on the body.

Cannabinoids mimic important chemistry in our bodies called endocannabinoids (cannabinoids within) that are produced by our bodies to control, regulate or participate in all of the major biological functions of our bodies.  Echinacea is the only other plant that produces cannabinoids and it only produces one.

The Ingredients
Scientists have identified 483 different chemical compounds in cannabis. For the vast majority of these, the medicinal effect is not yet known. Most research focuses on just a few of these compounds and their effect on the brain.

There are a few primary cannabinoids which provide most of the effects associated with the cannabis plant – THC, THCa, CBD, CBN, CBG, and CBC. Cannabinoids are a class of diverse chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors in cells that repress neurotransmitter release in the brain. With the exception of THC, the other aforementioned cannabinoids are non-psychoactive – providing relief without the mental haziness.

The two main ingredients in marijuana used in medical application- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD). The most significant difference between the two is the user experience. As mentioned above, THC results in the user experiencing a “high,” while CBD does not produce other effects. In medical marijuana, there is a higher percentage of CBD, meaning the user does not feel a “high.”

The Benefits
Recent studies suggest that cannabis products are effective for alleviating the types of debilitating chronic pain experienced by tens of millions of people worldwide. In addition, access to these plant-derived medicines may also reduce the amounts of opioid drugs people take. Opioid addition and death by overdose have reached epidemic levels, as a result, many in the scientific community see medical marijuana as a solution to the crisis.

Research conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reviewed over 10,000 studies and found that products containing cannabinoids are effective at reducing pain.

Medical marijuana went from being widely used to heavily restricted by the government. Being able to understand what it is will help you form your own opinion. Don’t forget that it is not for everyone. It is always important to consider current medical conditions, both mental and physical, before starting any new medication. Start by having a conversation with your doctor if you have any questions.