The Controversy Behind Medicinal Cannabis

Joel Eisenberg

Though the cannabis plant has been used as a curative for centuries, controversy over its recreational use often overshadows its touted benefits. But are those benefits as promised in medical marijuana centers and mass market products real, or akin to a placebo?

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Author’s Note

This article is free of opinion and bias, and is based solely on science and accredited media reports. No medical advice is offered herein on the part of the author. All listed theories and facts within this article are fully-attributed to several medical experts, scientists, and media outlets, includingWikipedia.org, NPR.org, The Associated Press Stylebook, Sacramento Public Law Library, The Mayo Clinic, Cannabiz.Media, Google.com, Harvard Health, and Rehabs.com.

Introduction

Cannabis has been used for centuries both medicinally and recreationally. For a comprehensive overview of the psychoactive drug, see Wikipedia entry here.

Whether the plant has been used as an edible (as with popular brownies), a smoke (pot), or in merchandise such as candles whereby aromatherapy is claimed as a benefit, the nature of the plant itself, as with its related terminology, is confusing to some.

In September, 2019, NPR.org addressed the latter confusion in its article entitled “Pot? Weed? Marijuana? What Should We Call It?

As excerpted from the article: The Associated Press Stylebook provides these guidelines: "Use marijuana on first reference generally; pot and cannabis are also acceptable. Cannabis is the usual term outside North America. Slang terms such as weed, reefer, ganja or 420 are acceptable in limited, colloquial cases or in quotations."

I will share a personal story: A family member recently visited her doctor, complaining about hip and shoulder issues. The doctor recommended cannabis oil of his own manufacture to alleviate her symptoms. Though the recommendation was entirely legal, I questioned a potential conflict of interest on behalf of the doctor who would profit from this transaction, before realizing he is but one of many who are doing the same thing.

I expressed my concern to the doctor, who gave me permission to anonymously quote him for this article. He said: “A doctor cannot prescribe certain treatments, but we can recommend them.”

As we live in California, which has led the country in legalizing medical marijuana, I checked our ordinances on the matter so there would be no issue. According to Sacramento Public Law Library, in their online article titled “Common Questions: Medical Marijuana Laws,” there is a listed differentiation in prescriptions vs. recommendations: Doctors do not “prescribe” marijuana. Federal law specifically prohibits prescription of Schedule I drugs, including marijuana. Instead, doctors can “recommend” marijuana for appropriate conditions. Patients who are living with “cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief” are mentioned in Prop. 215.Physicians have recommended marijuana for numerous other conditions, including insomnia, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and many more.

That said, I was compelled to explore the general matter further. As extracts incorporated in cannabis candles and the like are therapeutic and will not get anyone “high,” as the psychoactive properties of the plant have largely been eliminated, what of the “miracle cures” so often associated with the plant?

Truth vs. Hype

My family member, it should be noted, purchased what had been recommended and said she felt some short-term relief.

As use of cannabis becomes further legalized on a state-by-state basis, medical professionals have taken a closer look; some, as with the above example, swear by its efficacy.

The Mayo Clinic‘s website features an entry on the matter, which states: Medical marijuana is a term for derivatives of the Cannabis sativa plant that are used to ease symptoms caused by certain medical conditions. Medical marijuana is also known as medical cannabis. Cannabis sativa contains many active compounds. The best known are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the primary ingredient in marijuana that makes people "high." U.S. federal law prohibits the use of whole plant Cannabis sativa or its derivatives for any purpose. In contrast, CBD derived from the hemp plant (less than 0.3% THC) is legal under federal law.

Most tellingly, however, the piece also lists a host of possible side effects of using the plant for medicinal use, including dizziness, increased heart rate, negative drug-to-drug interactions, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, and more.

Their conclusion is more research needs to be competed before a determination can be made as to the true efficacy of medical marijuana. Further, The Mayo Clinic notes the FDA has only approved the cannabinoids cannabidiol (Epidiolex) and dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) for limited medical use, and not cannabis as an entity onto itself.

That said, as I mentioned earlier, some doctors have taken to growing their own plants and recommending them to patients. See here for September, 2020 Cannabiz.media piece, “Which States Allow You to Grow Your Own Recreational or Medical Cannabis?” The site itself is regularly updated, so check back for ongoing news.

The bottom line is doctors who do this as well are doing nothing illegal, as long as they follow state-by-state guidelines. Further, The Mayo Clinic’s conclusions as to side effects, while generally agreed upon by major medical professionals as a targeted Google.com search will verify, are sometimes obscured by those who celebrate the medicinal benefits of the plant above anything else.

Dr. Peter Grinspoon for Harvard Health writes: Patients do, however, report many benefits of CBD, from relieving insomnia, anxiety, spasticity, and pain to treating potentially life-threatening conditions such as epilepsy. One particular form of childhood epilepsy called Dravet syndrome is almost impossible to control but responds dramatically to a CBD-dominant strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web. The videos of this are dramatic.

In 2022, the belief in the benefits of cannabis in major medical circles appear to outweigh the potential downsides.

Conclusion

More work has to be done before the question of truth vs. hype can be properly determined. Meanwhile, the controversy remains.

According to Rehabs.com (the website of American Addiction Centers), in their article titled “Cannabis Has Medical Value But Medical Marijuana is a Fraud,” the issue is further scrutinized: Contemporary pot, we are told, is a much riskier drug than the material sold thirty years ago; it has more THC, and less cannabidiol (CBD), which partially counteracts the anxiety-provoking action of THC. But we are also told that there’s inadequate scientific evidence to show that natural cannabis has medical value.

That said, there does appear to be a general agreement on the part of the medical community that cannabis has its benefits, including psychological. It is the degree of those benefits that, for now, remain in question. Regardless, especially if you suffer from a preexisting condition, you may want to speak to a doctor first before undergoing any related regimen.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

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