The State of Medical Marijuana Today

Marijuana, often touted as a dangerous, gateway drug, has recently begun making headlines as a safe treatment for a surprisingly large variety of maladies. This sudden increase in mainstream popularity of what was formally an illegal, controlled substance, has sparked the interest of the general public. This article serves to inform about the performance and prospects of medical marijuana by addressing; relative safety, legality, medical benefits, diversity in treatment types, and how to move forward with legally obtaining a medical card along with the benefits a card provides. This article serves only as an educational report and does not purport to provide medical or legal advice.

Safety

With safety oftentimes being the primary concern for medical patients who otherwise would not have been users of cannabis, this issue is one that must be addressed before explaining any benefits to cannabis use. According to a study published in the United States National Library of Medicine, which classified drugs based on lethality, alcohol heroin and cocaine are classified, as “high risk”. Nicotine is in the “risk” category, and cannabis is the only “low risk” classified substance. This is because the estimated amount needed to overdose using cannabis is nearly impossible to inhale within the time constraints for it to remain lethal. This explains the fact that there has been not a single fatality due to cannabis overdose according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. This is in comparison to alcohol which tallies approximately 88,000 deaths per year in the United States according to a CDC study, and tobacco which causes a staggering 7 million deaths per year across the globe, and 480,000 deaths in the United States, also according to the CDC.

With Marijuana demonstrating huge medicinal benefits and remaining safer than alcohol and tobacco, it is not illogical to question why exactly it is federally classified as a schedule I drug. Schedule I is the designation given to a substance which has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency’s government website, and in fact marijuana is listed on that website beside heroin, LSD, and MDMA (ecstasy). For context, Marijuana is designated more dangerous than schedule II drugs, Cocaine, Fentanyl, and Meth. According to a History.com article subtitled “Fear of Mexican Immigrants Led to the Criminalization of Marijuana”, Americans perceived the plant in such a negative light because it was often associated with Mexicans, who were deemed violent and scandalous, almost certainly due to prejudice. For this reason, in 1937, the plant was made illegal, despite the disapproval of the American Medical Association. It wasn’t until in the 1970s, when white, middle-class college students began to use the drug, that penalties began to soften (source). Today, in the United States, while marijuana is illegal according to federal law, arrests on a day-to-day basis are almost always determined based on state law. In Canada, it is entirely legal aside from certain forms of edible marijuana and extracts.

Medical Value of Cannabis

With the increased use and media presence of medical marijuana, consumers and patients alike are searching for information about the plant and its benefits. It is important to keep in mind that various medications are debilitating in their side effects, and while marijuana can cause highs, cannabinol (CBD), the active chemical which reportedly treats insomnia, depression, and anxiety, etc, does not have any psychoactive effects.

According to an article published by Harvard Health Publishing from Harvard Medical School, marijuana has proven effective in treating chronic pain and does so without the severe risk for addiction and other negatives of the use of opiates to treat chronic pain. In fact, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine described treating opiate addiction as more challenging than treating leukemia.  The irony is that the opiate addiction discussed in the article was caused by the same medication prescribed to treat the chronic pain caused by leukemia.


The Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine has also described Marijuana as having the potential to relieve neurological pain caused by neuropathy as well as being described by various articles as having pain reducing effects for nerve pain as a whole (source). This is especially important because few options exist for treating various nervous diseases. Marijuana can even replace NSAID class medications such as ibuprofen when people are advised to avoid them due to kidney ailments. In addition, there are various accounts of cannabis being effective in treating Parkinson’s, chronic nausea, PTSD, and interestingly the same property that makes smoking marijuana cause red eyes (called vasodilation), seems to positively benefit glaucoma patients as it affects intraocular pressure according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Part of the reason marijuana can help treat such a diverse range of ailments is due to the variety in cannabis itself. Not only does marijuana have variations in various strains with various properties, but it can also be administered in dozens of different ways, each providing different effects. This is similar to prescription medications today, in which the same active ingredients administered in different methods provide different effects. For instance, ingesting marijuana tends to provide a longer lasting effect, vaporizing it causes a more transient effect that can be administered nearly anywhere. The options for administration, in addition to different strains of marijuana providing different properties, results in a treatment option with great variation, that has the potential to provide non-invasive, safe relief.

Legality of Medical Marijuana

The wheels of government turn very slowly, and because of this marijuana is still a schedule I drug, but if you’ve decided that medical marijuana may have benefits for you, there are many ways to proceed. The way US law is structured means that states are not required to enforce federal laws.  99% of marijuana arrests are performed under state laws rather than federal laws. (source) As a result, when a state legalizes access to marijuana, its citizens are generally safe from the threat of arrest as long as they follow state law.  Certain states have legalized recreational marijuana, meaning someone of age can use it safely without any prior permission from a doctor, but even in these states, a medical marijuana card or a doctor’s recommendation can result in reduced prices and increased access.

How to get a Medical Marijuana Card

The first step is researching the legality in your state, as many states still outlaw medicinal cannabis. Assuming your state is not one of them, it is advisable that you next go and speak with a doctor because, despite the fact that it is your decision, a doctors advice and medical knowledge can go a long way in making the right decision. Your doctor may also be able to refer you to another physician who has more expertise in that particular field. Obtaining the card varies from state to state. In some states, you will need to speak with a doctor specializing in your illness, in others your primary care physician will be able to prescribe your card. In states like California and several others, the process can be conducted online by a physician in just minutes, and you’ll have your medical card via EMail instantly after approval. A quick search online about your state’s policies and where to get approval for medical marijuana should provide you with accurate answers.

Many studies have demonstrated that marijuana is both a safe and effective medical treatment.  As cannabis becomes more widely accepted, patients need to feel comfortable asking their doctor about whether medical marijuana is appropriate for their health.

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