Medical Marijuana Its Usage, Benefits, Pros & Cons

Is marijuana a legitimate option for medicinal use or are people just looking for a "back door" to legally acquire and use marijuana for recreational purposes?


WHAT CONDITIONS HAS MARIJUANA BEEN SHOWN BENEFICIAL FOR?

Marijuana has been shown to benefit patients with: HIV; multiple sclerosis; epilepsy or other seizure or spasticity disorders; some types of intractable pain; glaucoma, either acute or chronic; Crohn's disease; hepatitis C; or diseases, including anorexia, which result in nausea, vomiting, wasting, appetite loss, cramping, seizures, muscle spasms, or spasticity.


HOW DOES MARIJUANA WORK?

There are several cells in the brain and other organs that contain specific protein receptors (called cannabinoids) that recognize and respond to THC and other compounds found in the marijuana plant. These receptors, found in the brain, spinal cord and periphery, as well as in immune system tissue, function to help lessen pain and impact a wide range of physiological functions, such as metabolism, appetite, anxiety and immune function. 

Cannabis has a direct effect on pain and has been shown to significantly reduce neuropathic pain, such as that suffered by those with HIV, Multiple Sclerosis and severe injuries. It is particularly helpful for back pain that may interfere with sleep

Cannabis can reduce a person's pain level so significantly that they may not need to take pharmaceuticals at all, or, for those who do need pharmaceuticals, cannabis can reduce the toxic load that they need to take. Part of the problem with chronic pain is not only the continuous pain, but a person's fear of unrelieved pain; marijuana can relieve the anxiety too.

The anxiety-reducing benefit can significantly help those who suffer from migraines. It does not treat the migraines once they take effect, but can prevent the migraine, which is commonly brought by stress. There are tranquilizers to relieve anxiety, but these have more serious possible side effects and more potential for addiction.

Marijuana is well known for its "munchie effect", which provides a huge benefit to those undergoing chemotherapy. Cannabis relieves nausea, so it can bring back appetite.


SIDE EFFECTS/RISKS OF MARIJUANA

Some of the risks of medical use of cannabis include possible long-term effects on the brain in the areas of: memory, coordination and cognition, impairment of the ability to drive or operate heavy machinery, and physical or psychological dependence. Smoking cannabis may cause respiratory damage and possibly lung cancer.


SIDE EFFECTS/RISKS OF COMMON PAIN MEDICATIONS

NSAIDs may cause upset stomach. They can also cause increased bruising or risk of bleeding in the stomach. When taken regularly, they may cause kidney damage. NSAIDs may also make high blood pressure worse. NSAIDS can accelerate osteoarthritis progression by causing cartilage degeneration and inhibiting cartilage synthesis

Acetaminophen can cause kidney and liver damage.

Opioids can result in: sedation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, physical dependence, tolerance, and respiratory depression. Less common side effects may include delayed gastric emptying, hyperalgesia, immunologic and hormonal dysfunction, muscle rigidity, and myoclonus.


OTHER OPTIONS BESIDES SMOKING

The most common form is the bud or flower, which is dried, manicured and sold in various sizes. Medical cannabis can also be processed and extracted into many different concentrated forms, including hashish, resin of cannabis, oils and tinctures. 

Extracted cannabis compounds may be infused into food-based medicine, such as butter, cookies cakes or brownies. Tinctures mixed with alcohol (resembling common herbal tinctures) provide another delivery method.

Medical cannabis can also be vaporized, which heats the medicine below its combustion temperature so that the therapeutic components of the drug are released from the plant without the undesirable carbon compounds that come from combustion.

Edible forms will take about 45 minutes to take effect, depending on what is already in the stomach. The effects last longer when cannabis is taken by mouth.  Smoking generally takes effect in minutes and last about 60-90 minutes


HOW CAN A PATIENT GET MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN WASHINGTON STATE?

Licensed naturopathic doctors in the State of Washington under RCW 18.36A can recommend the use of Medical Marijuana for patients having qualifying medical condition as defined in RCW 69.51A.010(6)

For more information about the Medical Marijuana law in Washington State: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=69.51A&full=true

Dr. Lecovin is a chiropractor, naturopathic physician and acupuncturist. He graduated from Los Angeles College of Chiropractic in 1990, earned a Masters in Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport in 1992, and then went on to complete the naturopathic and acupuncture programs at Bastyr University in 1994. He holds additional certifications in exercise from the National Strength and Conditioning Association, National Academy of Sports Medicine and International Society of Sports Nutrition. He can be reached at Evergreen Integrative Medicine at (425) 646-4747.

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