Medical benefits of marijuana now more widely recognized

The general use of marijuana has been fairly controversial until recently, when attitudes toward its use have shifted significantly. Over the past decade, the medical marijuana movement has dramatically changed attitudes towards its use.

In fact, medical marijuana is now legal in 24 states (including Minnesota) and Washington DC. Recreational marijuana use is now legal in four states for people over the age of 21.

Twelve percent of people say they have used marijuana in the past year. As of July 1, 2015 medical marijuana will be available by prescription in Minnesota to patients who qualify for it.

Marijuana

Many medicines are found originally in nature. Aspirin is derived from the bark of a willow tree. Penicillin is a product of a fungus. Marijuana contains hundreds and hundreds of different compounds (some called cannabinoids), many of which have effects on the body that are not completely understood.

Here are some potential uses for medical marijuana:

  • Can reduce seizures dramatically in certain epileptic children
  • Functions as a brain protective treatment for concussions and dramatic brain injury
  • Relieves pain for chronic pain sufferers
  • May improve early memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease
  • Reduces painful and chronic muscle spasms
  • Improves certain conditions for people with multiple sclerosis
  • Functions as an anti-nausea medicine
  • Improves glaucoma
  • Relieves neuropathic pain and induces appetite in people with eating difficulties or poor appetites
  • Reduces the nausea associated with chemotherapy

Over the past decade, physicians (including the surgeon general), researchers, and law enforcement officials have changed their attitudes, and many now support the generalized legalization of medical marijuana. In fact, according to according to CNN, 53 percent of all people approve the general legalization of marijuana, and close to 80 percent approve its legalization for medical purposes.

In the past, most of the research concerning cannabis involved looking at the deleterious effects, but the public now is demanding that research focus on the beneficial effects of marijuana. The safety profile of marijuana is relatively good.

Marijuana is not as addictive as opiates, and death from an overdose of marijuana is essentially unheard of. Many would argue that marijuana is safer than alcohol, a well-established and accepted social drug.

As of July 1, 2015, medical marijuana will be available to qualifying Minnesota patients. Qualifying conditions under Minnesota state law include:

  • Cancer with severe/chronic pain
  • Cancer with nausea or severe vomiting
  • Cancer with cachexia or severe wasting
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Seizures, including those characteristic of Epilepsy
  • Severe and persistence muscle spasms, including those characteristic of Multiple Sclerosis
  • Multiple Sclerosis with muscle spasms
  • Terminal illness (life expectancy of less than one year) with severe/chronic pain
  • Terminal illness (life expectancy of less than one year) with nausea or severe vomiting
  • Terminal illness (life expectancy of less than one year) with cachexia or severe wasting

In Minnesota, the delivery of medical marijuana will not be by smoking it; it will be delivered by swallowing a capsule or by inhaling vaporized marijuana extracts. The key goal and challenge will be to deliver the appropriate blend of cannabinoids for the medical condition being treated. The concentrations should be constant, verifiable and consistent.

This concentration consistency is currently lacking in marijuana treatments. Concentrations of the cannabinoids can vary greatly depending on the strain and growing conditions of the plant. In the near future, hopefully, separation chemists and delivery-device engineers will help produce consistent, repeatable treatments.

Prior to World War II, marijuana was listed as a medicine in the U.S. Pharmacopeia, but it was removed from the book in 1942. Dr. Lester Grinspoon, an associate professor of psychiatry emeritus at Harvard Medical School (now age 87) and leading marijuana author/expert (RxMarijuana.com), claims that marijuana “will [eventually] be seen as one of the safest, least toxic, most versatile drugs available.”

Although the historical use of recreational marijuana is complex and controversial, it appears that medical marijuana is here to stay. It will be interesting to find out what other medical conditions and diseases marijuana may help in the future.

The next consideration for Minnesota is the approval to use medical marijuana for uncomplicated chronic pain. When it comes to the medical use of marijuana, attitudes are changing.

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.