What is medical marijuana & what is used for?
Medical marijuana’s been the talk of the town ever since the efforts towards legalization started across the US.
Sure, recreational pot is fun and no more problematic than alcohol. If our favorite green plant also has the potential to heal, why is there even a discussion about it? We won’t get into politics, we promise—this was just a frustration we had to vent.
Weed benefits stem from its three major components, all of which have gotten more mainstream and research-based attention in recent years. It’s prime time to get our stoner community familiar with the touchy scientific and legal details.
Strap in. Today, we’re learning about medical cannabis. We’ll discuss how it works, what conditions it treats (and could treat), and how to use this natural medicine while staying safe and on the right side of the law.
What is medical marijuana?
There’s so much information and misinformation on this topic circling the web! Let’s start with the basics to avoid assumptions and keep everybody on the same page. What is medical marijuana?
As a term, medical marijuana refers to plant-based medicine derived from cannabis sativa and indica. It could mean the whole unprocessed plant or its extras. In either case, it’s used to treat health conditions or relieve their symptoms.
In the US, the FDA doesn’t recognize medical weed as medicine. Despite the lack of concession on the federal level, many states already allow its use. There are functional programs to provide pot as an alternative treatment to patients across the country.
For now, you only need to know that numerous studies on the subject were already conducted. They mostly focused on cannabinoids—the compounds found in marijuana that interact with a cell-signaling system in our bodies.
At the moment, two FDA-approved drugs contain cannabinoids in pill form. Also, CBD benefits are becoming more broadly accepted with each passing day.
More research is taking place, many of them uncovering the potential benefits of medical marijuana.
Before we jump into these particulars, let’s broadly explain what happens to your body when you smoke weed.
How does marijuana work?
Marijuana is made out of over 100 different chemical components, called cannabinoids. Three work as medical cannabinoids, and they’re our focus today:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is psychoactive and responsible for the ‘high.’
- Cannabidiol (CBD) is non-psychoactive and the reason for most benefits of marijuana.
- Cannabinol (CBN) is mildly psychoactive, sleep-inducing, and derived from degraded THC.
These compounds wouldn’t be of much use if they couldn’t interact with our bodies, right? That’s correct, but now, we have to introduce another concept.
The human body contains the endocannabinoid system (ECS). It manages various processes to maintain homeostasis (the state of optimal functioning). Those processes include pain response, memory, appetite, and movement—prime targets for cannabinoids to affect, as well.
The research so far suggests that cannabinoids trigger positive responses in ECS-controlled areas. For us, that means healing and relief.
Let’s look into the ways this interaction translates into different medicinal marijuana uses.
Medical marijuana uses
There’s a mass of anecdotal evidence out there claiming that medical marijuana helps with many physical and mental conditions. Here are some most often cited and best-corroborated ones.
Note: This list is long but far from comprehensive. Research continues to come out on everything from cannabis for diabetes to marijuana for eating disorders. As our knowledge expands, so does the list of potential medical benefits of cannabis.
Natural pain relief
Medical marijuana use isn’t enough to combat strong acute pain, such as a broken bone or post-surgery pain. It does wonders for lighter acute and chronic pain management, though.
Cannabinoids reduce pain signaling and perception. Cannabis for pain is a well-researched field. Studies show that it’s especially valuable as a replacement for addictive opiates prescribed for chronic pain.
Multiple sclerosis treatment
MS is a central nervous system condition accompanied by severe muscle spasms. As the connection between the brain and the muscles is broken, pain-causing signals occur.
Medical weed alleviates muscle pain and spasms related to multiple sclerosis. Patients also report less discomfort, tremors, and stiffness.
Everybody knows that pot smoking causes munchies. This appetite boost can be life-changing for many.
Medicinal cannabis relieves nausea and increases appetite. People with eating disorders and other nausea-inducing conditions find it easier to nourish their bodies after toking.
This one’s a THC benefit. While binding with the ECS, THC triggers a hunger response.
Epileptic seizures can be debilitating and even cause brain damage.
Epilepsy treatment is among the most-researched uses of medicinal marijuana. CBD, in particular, can reduce both the length and frequency of seizures.
Traumatic brain injury recovery
Concussions and other brain trauma can cause swelling and have lifelong effects. The anti-inflammatory properties of medical marijuana reduce that swelling, and in turn, the potential damage.
While smoking is generally harmful to the lungs, asthma treatment is another medical use of marijuana. Cannabis, especially CBD-rich strains, dilates the bronchi, helping asthmatic patients breathe easier.
People diagnosed with HIV or AIDS are immunocompromised. Medicinal marijuana helps those patients sleep well, nourish their bodies, and practice good habits that ensure continued survival.
Ideally, these patients use organic weed that minimizes the risk for their immune systems and boosts the benefits.
Studies show that medical cannabinoids help manage behavioral symptoms related to Alzheimer’s disease. THC relieves anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, aggression, and hallucinations. Plus, it can boost learning and memory retention in the long run.
There’s also a limited body of research suggesting that prolonged use of marijuana in low doses can prevent Alzheimer’s in the first place.
Menstrual cramps occur when your body sends pain-inducing signals to the brain. Cannabinoids lessen these signals, as well as their perception.
Which conditions can legally be treated with medical cannabis?
Despite the scientifically backed fact that medical marijuana treats various conditions, the law doesn’t make it a free-for-all. Regulations differ from one state to the next, but here’s a general list of qualifying conditions.
Note: This list isn’t exhaustive, and more conditions keep getting added to it as research progresses. Also, many districts leave it to the physician’s discretion to decide whether to suggest a marijuana prescription.
In the states where weed is legal, physicians can prescribe cannabis products to immunocompromised AIDS patients. This treatment makes it easier for these patients to lead normal lives.
Weed is far from tumor treatment, but most states that allow medical marijuana use grant it to cancer patients. In these cases, weed is used to manage chemotherapy symptoms, such as pain and nausea. It also relieves the symptoms of terminal cases.
The anti-inflammatory properties of medical weed make it a good remedy for this gut health issue. Physicians often suggest it for symptom management.
Epilepsy treatment was among the first medical marijuana uses legalized by the federal government.
Today, an FDA-approved plant-based medicine exists for seizure treatment. Local governments can approve other kinds of cannabis for the same purpose, too.
Medical cannabinoids reduce interocular pressure that’s a symptom of glaucoma. With time, more states continue adding it to the list of qualifying conditions.
Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS)
Marijuana benefits include pain management and muscle spasm prevention. For this reason, doctors prescribe cannabis instead of (or in combination with) other drugs to aid ALS patients.
Medical cannabis alleviates muscle spasms, making it an ally to MS patients. Currently, a cannabis-derived MS medicine exists on the market, although it’s still awaiting FDA approval.
Parkinson’s patients find assistance with the motor and non-motor symptoms of the disease in medical weed use.
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
PTSD is the only mental health disorder almost universally included in qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. There’s still some contention about it, but research shows that PTSD patients experience relief after smoking pot.
How can medical marijuana be consumed?
Smoking is the first thing to come to mind when you think about pot consumption, but it’s not the only option.
For one, many states allow alternative medicinal marijuana usage but prohibit smoking. Processed products make it easier to control THC and CBD levels.
Moreover, not all medical marijuana users love themselves a fat blunt. Some can’t smoke precisely because of their condition. Remember, not everybody has the same needs, requirements, and preferences.
Luckily, many alternative methods are available. Let’s discuss the most common ways to consume marijuana.
You can smoke medical weed flowers in a joint, bong, or pipe. Inhalation makes the effects almost instantaneous.
When it comes to dosing, pipes are the most precise. Still, as long as you know what’s in your bud, any smoking method is safe in this respect.
Weed edibles, or food prepared with a cannabis product, are the most popular alternative to pot smoking. Since medical cannabinoids have to enter the gut first, components get concentrated. By the time they reach your bloodstream, the effects are much stronger.
Read the instructions on your edible and take extra care if you’re cooking by yourself. Give cannabis the chance to act before taking another bite.
Topicals are ointments, creams, and lotions infused with cannabis. You apply them to a sore or aching spot on your body for concentrated pain relief.
The skin absorbs the cannabinoids, but no THC reaches the mind, leaving you 100% clear-headed. As a bonus, dosing isn’t an issue since nothing enters your bloodstream.
Those looking for quick relief but can’t smoke medical cannabis find vaping an excellent, less lung-damaging alternative. Vaping devices heat the flower enough to release its useful components without combustion.
Your typical vape also makes dosing quite easy, especially with labeled cartridges available at dispensaries.
Tinctures are concentrates of medical cannabis ingredients. The nature of this product makes them easiest to administer in drops, usually under the tongue. Dosing becomes a breeze with this approach and equipment, too.
Suppositories are an effective delivery method that eliminates smoking and bypasses your digestive tract. It’s excellent for people with nausea, swallowing, and lung issues. The contents travel from your anus to your bloodstream almost immediately, providing instant relief.
Medical marijuana patches deliver a dose of cannabis for your skin to absorb after a certain amount of time. The effects of this delivery method are quick and long-lasting, and the method is discreet.
How to get medical marijuana
Now that you know what marijuana treats, you might find yourself inspired to try it as a form of alternative medicine. In most states, doing so requires a form of identification that proves you eligible for such treatment.
How to get a medical marijuana card, then? The specifics differ from state to state, but here are the general requirements:
- You must live in a state where medical marijuana is legal.
- Have a confirmed diagnosis for one of the qualifying conditions, as determined by your state.
- Visit a physician and discuss this option with them.
- Upon getting the doctor’s recommendation, you need to apply for a document.
- You need to purchase from licensed state dispensaries.
Apart from purchasing pre-made products, some parts of the US allow patients to cultivate medical cannabis at home.
If that’s the case where you live, buy weed seeds of a popular therapeutic cultivar and never run out of healing buds.
CBD-rich strains such as CBD Harlequin and CBD Cream & Cheese are some of our favorites. THC powerhouses are another option. It’s best to speak to a licensed professional and get their opinion on the type of weed that suits your condition best.
Medical marijuana: Frequently asked questions
Let’s finish by answering some medical marijuana-related questions we often hear in the community.
How to get a medical marijuana card?
The details vary between states. Most make it fairly straightforward to register for medical marijuana treatment.
Register online or in-person with the health department of your county. They’ll take you through the steps between you and your new prescription. Sometimes, there’s a small fee attached to the card purchase.
How much is medical marijuana?
The cost of medical marijuana depends on several aspects. Dispensaries sell it in various forms, which affects the value. Different strains come with different price tags, too.
A joint worth of dried bud can be anywhere between $5 and $20. Costs of other products largely depend on the supplier.
How to apply for medical marijuana?
The medical marijuana application process depends on your area of residence.
You’ll need a doctor’s recommendation. Some states also require a form of medical identification (a card) before you can legally purchase medical cannabis. Check the Health Department of your state to learn about the particulars.
There you have it—all we know about medical marijuana so far. As legalization continues and more studies come out, the legality and uses of marijuana as treatment will change and evolve. What we know so far is a good indicator that it’s only upwards from here.
If you’re considering an alternative to addictive, synthetic drugs, and your state allows it, speak to your doctor about medical cannabis. If it’s yet to be legalized, become a vocal advocate—it’s a worthwhile cause.
Stay tuned to our blog for more guides on all things cannabis. We aim to make our community healthy, safe, and informed while enjoying the wonders of weed.