Marijuana is a plant that when ingested has psychoactive and physical effects on the body. In recent years, many people have become aware of the medicinal benefits of marijuana such as pain relief, nausea reduction, appetite stimulation, and many others. It has been used for thousands of years by humans for its medicinal benefits, with records showing its use for numbing purposes in Asia around 2800 BC. Many states in America have legalized marijuana as a prescribable medication. Some states have laws which are more strict than others, while some do not allow marijuana at all. There are many side effects and negative characteristics which have prevented some states from legalizing marijuana such as increased risk for respiratory and cardiovascular disease, psychological effects, and its rate of dependency (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019). Marijuana could potentially change the lives of many Americans; however, there is reason to be cautious.
One of the more well-known effects of marijuana is its ability to ease pain amongst it’s users. Research studying those who suffer from neuropathic pain shows that patients may experience relief from their chronic suffering through the use of marijuana (Bosworth, 2016). The body has naturally occurring receptors which bind the components of marijuana in order to block out painful stimuli from the body, “Peripheral nerves that detect pain sensations contain abundant receptors for cannabinoids, and cannabinoids appear to block peripheral nerve pain in experimental animals”. These receptors are responsible for pain reduction without marijuana use, so this form of pain reduction is relatively natural compared to other forms of pain control. Cancer related pain is an example of a symptom that can be reduced drastically through medicinal marijuana use. Research studying the effects of marijuana cigarettes used regularly by chronic cancer pain suffers indicated that the use of medical marijuana provided “significant pain relief” compared to the subjects who used a placebo. Neuropathic pain related to diseases such as diabetes and AIDs can also be relieved through the use of medicinal marijuana. Another study was conducted with sufferers of neuropathic pain as subjects. The research found that the subjects treated with medicinal marijuana’s pain scores fell drastically while those in the control group reported increased pain scores over time. An additional study focusing specifically on AIDs patients who experience neuropathy found that marijuana was effective after extended use and especially after a single, first-time dose. The average participant in the study experienced a 72% reduction in their chronic pain. Unfortunately, marijuana is not found to be effective at acute pain, such as after surgery circumstances, unlike many other medications such as opiates. Its inability to ease acute traumatic pain raises the question of just how valuable or helpful marijuana is relative to the other pain relieving medications currently available.
An additional medicinal benefit provided by marijuana and its components is that it prevents nausea while increasing appetite. This can be extremely beneficial to those suffering from AIDs, cancer, or other diseases that may cause these symptoms. Cancer patients who had taken medicinal marijuana cigarettes were observed and studied in order to assess their level of nausea and appetite following treatment, “none of the patients experienced nausea or vomiting and more than half reported that their appetite increased”. Not only could medicinal marijuana reduce pain in AIDs and cancer patients, but it can also improve their health and quality of life by increasing appetite and reducing nausea. While marijuana does prevent nausea, there are other medications, such as marinol, available that provide the same effect but do not risk put patients at risk of addiction like marijuana (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019). Other medications would not have the same psychological side effects associated with marijuana such as disorientation. Marijuana can relieve nausea and increase appetite, but there are negative side effects unlike many other medications.
A few specific diseases or conditions are known to have their symptoms relieved through the use of medicinal marijuana. Many people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder use marijuana in order to ease their symptoms, “Data from 4 small studies suggested that cannabinoid use was associated with global improvements in PTSD symptoms” (Betthauser, Pilz & Vollmer, 2015). Marijuana use releases neurotransmitters in the brain which alters the way people think and feel while under the influence of marijuana, which can explain many of the benefits patients with PTSD may experience. Medicinal marijuana can also lower the amount of suffering experienced by those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In mice experiencing a multiple sclerosis-like disease, use of medicinal marijuana and its components was found to “reduce tremor and spasticity”. The same effect has been found in human sufferers of multiple sclerosis, “in a recent survey of more than 100 regular marijuana users with multiple sclerosis, nearly every participant reported that marijuana helped relieve spasticity and limb pain”.
While there are many medicinal benefits to marijuana, there are many detrimental side effects. Marijuana is known to cause disorientation. Patients studied who had used marijuana for pain relieving purposes were noted to appear “dreamy and immobile; their thoughts were disorganized and they described feelings of unreality” and was found to have similar side effects as codeine. The relationship between anxiety and marijuana is largely unknown. Many people use marijuana as a means to ease their anxiety, while some people experience elevated levels of anxiety after consumption. There have been studies conducted that found an increased prevalence in anxiety in marijuana users; however, it is unknown whether this correlation exists due to the fact people with anxiety seek marijuana in order to help their symptoms or if it occurs because marijuana causes anxiety. In addition to its psychological effects, marijuana can have many negative effects on one’s physical health. Usage of inhalant marijuana may “harm lung tissues and cause scarring and damage to small blood vessels.. a greater risk of bronchitis, cough, and phlegm production” (Center of Disease Control, 2018). There are also many known cardiovascular risks associated with marijuana consumption, “Marijuana use has also been associated with vascular conditions that increase the risks of myocardial infarction, stroke, and transient ischemic attacks”.
Many people see marijuana as an alternative to opiates. Opioids are powerful painkillers that can be prescribed in the form of pills such as hydrocodone. Marijuana is seen as a safer, less addictive, alternative to opiods; however, marijuana can also be addictive to the people who use it, “Recent data suggest that 30 percent of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder” (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019). Many people experience “irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, and/or various forms of physical discomfort” upon secession of marijuana consumption (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019). Therefore, marijuana is not a non-addictive alternative to opiods and may create a risk for dependency when prescribed. Marijuana has not been known to cause cases of overdose, whereas with opiods, “There has been near epidemic increases in deaths related to prescription opioids”. Amongst states that have legalized medical marijuana, studies have found lowered cases of fatal opioid overdoses, lowered prescription rate of opioids, and a lowered level of “high-risk opioid use”. While marijuana is less deadly than opioids, it is still an addictive substance. Being less dangerous than opioids does not mean marijuana is the ideal painkiller or pharmaceutical solution.
Overall, there needs to be more research put into marijuana and its benefits. It may serve as a valuable pharmaceutical resource due to its unique pain relieving, nausea reducing, and appetite stimulating abilities. However, there is cause for concern when introducing it to the public as a medication. Many people may react poorly to the psycho-active effects of the drug, and it has similar effects to worrisome drugs such as codeine that are already legalized. It also can cause adverse physical effects. Therefore, marijuana should be used in replacement of opioids for chronic pain and symptom relief, but should be prescribed or used cautiously and with its side effects in mind.
Before writing this paper, I was in full support of medical marijuana, and after writing it, I am still in support of medical marijuana. However, there were many things I did not consider before doing the research. For example, I did not think about the adverse cardiovascular effects and how this could be completely detrimental to a patient with previous medical conditions affecting their circulatory system. I had previously been under the impression that there was no increased risk of becoming addicted to marijuana, but I learned that users are highly likely to become addicted. While I learned a lot of information that opposes marijuana legalization, I learned much more about its benefits. As I started my research, I had trouble narrowing down what health benefits I would include and which ones I would have to leave out. My view on medical marijuana has been strengthened by writing this paper. Not only have I learned more of the benefits of medical marijuana, but my opinion became more validated and informed through learning the downfalls as well.