Surprisingly cannabis has been used medically for over 5000 years and physicians in the United States were prescribing cannabis as early as 1850 for treating ailments such as nerve pain, alcoholism, opiate addiction, and seizures. Marijuana was removed from the list of prescribed medications in 1942 before it was completely banned for medicinal use by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970. There has been a clear resurgence in interest in cannabis as medicine with 29 states and the District of Columbia having passed laws to legalize medical marijuana.
Chronic pain is the most common condition listed by patients for the medical use of cannabis. Pain can be part of the spectrum of many disease processes especially arthritis and cancer. Medical marijuana is often prescribed when other medicines, and even surgery, have failed in controlling debilitating symptoms.
It is cannabis’ effectiveness in treating severe seizures in children and adults that catapulted it back into the mainstream as an effective medication. Seizures are disturbances of brain function that result in abnormal discharges of nerves. Severe or persistent seizures are a medical emergency and can result in reduced oxygen to the brain resulting in severe disability or death.
There has been a clear resurgence in interest in cannabis as medicine with 29 states and the District of Columbia having passed laws to legalize medical marijuana.
Medical cannabis is believed to have some anti-tumor effects but there is insufficient evidence to date to support this claim. Cancers of various types do cause pain and severe weight loss, and the chemotherapy agents used to treat cancer are known to cause debilitating symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, that all respond to cannabis.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the central nervous system resulting in severe spasticity and pain, along with other nervous system problems such as weakness, numbness, tingling, poor balance, painful vision loss, and double vision. There is substantial evidence that cannabis improves the spasticity, or sustained muscle contractions, associated with MS.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
AIDS is the end stage of an autoimmune disease that is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. HIV attacks the body’s immune system eventually leaving it helpless and vulnerable to opportunistic infections and cancers that rarely occur in the absence of severe immunodeficiency. It is the presence of these opportunistic diseases that signifies the advancement from HIV to AIDS. Therapeutic cannabis is effective in treating severe nausea, pain, and weight loss that can accompany this disease.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the US and is caused by increased pressure inside the eyeball that damages the optic nerve affecting vision. Cannabis has been shown to modestly decrease the pressure inside of the eyeball, especially in patients who do not respond to the usual medications.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder characterized by exposure to a life-threatening event and resulting flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and avoidance symptoms such as social withdrawal. This disorder is prevalent in military veterans, especially those who have served in combat. Awareness of PTSD and anecdotal reports of improvement with smoked marijuana has led to increased research interest in this area.
Crohn’s Disease is part of the spectrum known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD. Crohn’s Disease is characterized by fever, malaise, weight loss, severe diarrhea and abdominal pain. Cannabis has been shown to improve these debilitating symptoms.