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Medical Marijuana and the Future of Treatment Options…Plus a legal alternative

Support for marijuana legalization for medical and recreational purposes has grown exponentially in recent years both at home and abroad. Many jurisdictions have already legalized or decriminalized personal marijuana possession under certain conditions, and new legislation is widely under consideration elsewhere. With these changes on the horizon, now is a prudent time to reconsider the way medical marijuana is viewed and prescribed as a treatment option in order to maximize its safety and effectiveness for all patients.

Conditions that commonly qualify for medical marijuana treatment where it is legal include:
• Cancer
• Glaucoma
• Seizures and epilepsy
• Asthma
• Eating disorders and appetite issues (including chemotherapy-related appetite loss)
• Sleeping disorders
• Nausea
• Chronic pain and fibromyalgia
• Mental conditions including anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• Addiction to “harder” substances, including prescription opioid painkillers and alcohol

While Medical Marijuana is still in its infancy, and still illegal in most states, there is a legal alternative that most people still don’t know about and that’s CBD (Cannabidiol) derived from Hemp. CBD from Hemp offers virtually the same relief as Medical Marijuana without the THC (It doesn’t make you high), or the inconvenience of getting a Medical Marijuana card. In fact, we wrote a very popular article about this and you can view it here.

The chemical structure of the cannabis plant is complex and offers potential benefits for a wide range of conditions with minimal to no processing and adulteration of the plant required. Patients have options for administration beyond smoking the dried plant matter, including vaporization, cannabis-infused oils and butters, and pills. Lung health concerns associated with smoking are alleviated by these other methods. More research is needed into the properties of the cannabis plant and how its beneficial aspects can be enhanced while reducing negative or neutral but unwanted effects (such as increased appetite when a patient is trying to maintain or reduce their food intake).

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Although many in the medical community are interested in exploring new avenues of treatment with medical marijuana, it can be difficult for them to establish trials and provide prescriptions. Old attitudes often persist, and many doctors are not willing or able to offer medical marijuana as a treatment option out of personal beliefs, fear of legal issues for their practice, or because they are waiting for more long-term studies to be published.

Medical doctors certainly have a wealth of knowledge about the body, its ailments, and the effects of different courses of treatment, and that knowledge deserves to be taken seriously. However, one major consequence of the current climate toward medical marijuana is that it is often seen as a last-resort option or something that patients are only seeking as a way to make recreational use legal. These outdated views mean that patients are not truly given all their options before beginning treatment and are not afforded the respect of being capable of weighing those options along with their doctor’s counsel and coming to the best decision for their individual situation. This is especially true in the treatment of mental health issues.

The current leading pharmaceutical treatments for depression and related mental health issues leave much to be desired in terms of their effectiveness and safety. There is no doubt that many people are able to lead happier and healthier lives because of these treatments, and that they have indeed saved lives. However, long-term users of currently popular antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have reported major personality changes and intense mood swings, numbing of positive feelings and further loss of enjoyment, dependency and withdrawals, and even worsening of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. These effects may last for months or years after patients stop taking the medication and can even permanently alter their brain chemistry in ways they did not anticipate or desire.

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Although it is possible for marijuana users to experience some of these symptoms, research has not shown them to be as common, severe, or long term as with SSRIs. Marijuana does not create physical dependency or withdrawal (virtually any substance or activity can potentially trigger psychological addiction), and there is no risk of overdose. Disorientation and accidental injury may result from an excessive dose or use in an uncontrolled or unfamiliar setting, but unlike many pharmaceuticals in common use, there have been zero deaths caused by the physical properties of marijuana. If doctors were more open to considering or felt safer suggesting medical marijuana as an alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals (with therapy a concurrent option in either case), it may save countless patients from these side effects and death. A doctor’s Hippocratic Oath is to “first, do no harm,” but it is not necessary, effective, or entirely safe to require all other options to be exhausted before allowing patients to consider medical marijuana for treatment of relevant ailments.

With the likelihood of changes coming to marijuana legislation, an opiate epidemic sweeping many parts of North America, and prescription drugs currently leading the numbers of drug-related deaths, the medical profession and the general public can only benefit from giving more consideration to medical marijuana and conducting more research into its safe and effective use.

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