Currently, cannabis remains illegal on a federal level in the United States, and is listed under the schedule one category of the Controlled Substances Act.
Any drug that falls into this category is deemed to have zero medical value. Despite this, medicinal cannabis is still legal in 33 states and considered by many to be a massive threat to the pharmaceutical industry.
Medicinal marijuana was first legalized in California in 1996, when it was used as a treatment for AIDS, chronic pain, cancer, migraines and other disorders. Increasingly, the plant has been legalized for medicinal purposes thanks to the endless testimonials coming out in support of the drug.
Since then, the medical marijuana industry has reached interstellar heights. Valued at USD $4.5bn in 2018, the medical marijuana industry is predicted to keep on climbing all the way past USD $7.3bn in 2020.
But before you get too excited, let's take a closer look at just what the medical cannabis industry is.
How do I get some?
Each state has different qualifying conditions for users to gain access to medical marijuana. You can find a list of each condition here.
Though admittedly, there are some conditions which will give you access to the drug in virtually any state. If you suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, Crohn's disease, autism, chronic pain, epilepsy or glaucoma, chances are you are entitled to some green gold.
Assuming you have been diagnosed with one of those conditions, you may then apply for a marijuana card, which will give you access to dispensaries which sell medical grade cannabis.
This is especially helpful for those suffering with chronic pain, of which there's an estimated 100 million in the US alone.
What's it good for?
Medical marijuana has been in use for thousands of years, and was used as medicine in the U.S. during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The list of medical benefits associated with cannabis were described in the United States Pharmacopoeia for the first time in 1850 and has grown since been said to assist with virtually every ailment under the sun.
stated that "Defining cannabis consumption as elective recreation ignores fundamental human biology and history, and devalues the very real benefits the plant provides."
"Dennis Peron, the man who opened the first cannabis dispensary in the U.S., has been derided for saying that all marijuana use is medical. I would make the same point a bit differently: the vast majority of cannabis use is for wellness purposes."
We've constructed a short list of the conditions for which medical marijuana is used, and how it can help patients.
According to a study published by Molecular Psychiatry, "plant-derived cannabinoids [psychoactive chemicals] such as marijuana may possess some benefits in individuals with PTSD by helping relieve haunting nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD."
Other studies have shown that medical marijuana can reduce the frequency with which triggers for trauma occur. Though simply lighting up a joint isn't always the answer. Sometimes it can be a combination of marijuana and external factors which assist individuals struggling with trauma.
A big contender for this category has been war veterans, whose likelihood of having PTSD is starkly higher than other groups in society.
"Medical cannabis is used in conjunction with other therapies. Peer support groups are a highly supported therapy for patients suffering an Operational Stress Injury [another term for PTSD]. Medical cannabis strains with the right CBD and THC [psychoactive chemicals in cannabis] levels are assisting veterans with chronic physical pain, as well anxiety and insomnia issues. I believe that medical cannabis will continue to work in conjunction with many other therapies."
– Shelley Franklin, the Veteran Program Coordinator for the Canadian Cannabis Clinics,
Along with cancer comes nausea, pain, inflammation and other issues which can be alleviated through the consumption of cannabis.
On top of this, cannabis has been shown to potentially stop the proliferation of cancer and even shrink tumors in some cases. Though beyond the seemingly miraculous physical effects of the drug, many users turn to it for mental well-being.
Marijuana can relax users, reduce anxiety and increase overall mood. For someone going through chemotherapy, these benefits can be crucial to maintaining the mental health of the patient.
Social media influencer Cheyann, who was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer at the age of 23, said cannabis was instrumental in her battle with chemotherapy.
"Another huge benefit of taking medical cannabis was that it helped with my appetite. After my surgeries, my stomach became very sensitive and small. I'd get full very quickly," she said.
"I'd also get so frustrated with myself: I wanted to eat full meals, but my body just couldn't handle it. I was already on a strict diet because of surgery, and with a sudden new allergy to dairy along with an ileostomy bag in place, I was losing weight very quickly."
Epilepsy, as many will know, is where medical marijuana has made the largest splash. The only cannabis-based drug to have received FDA approval to date is GW Pharma's 'Epidiolex' – which is used to treat rare forms of epilepsy.
GW Pharma's product receiving FDA approval was a huge win for medicinal cannabis, as it gave the drug the legitimacy it needed to be more widely looked at as a treatment option.
Epidiolex has been proven to assist with rare forms of epilepsy such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome, often with staggering results.
Compared to a placebo trial, patients taking Epidiolex were twice as likely to experience a 75% reduction in convulsions and seizures.
Studies have also been performed on mice which has shown drastic reductions in their amount of seizures.
As we've mentioned in previous articles, the use of cannabis to treat those with chronic pain is an eye-catching new area of research.
The reason cannabis is such an exciting solution to chronic pain is because the only other current alternative is pharmaceutical drugs, which have the capacity for overdose. In fact, there were over 29,000 opioid deaths in the US in 2017 alone.
The reason opioid use is so high in the US can be largely attributed to the surging reports of chronic pain, with patients reporting chronic pain as the most common reason Americans use the healthcare system.
The National Center for Health Statistics (2006) states that roughly 76.2 million, one in every four Americans, have suffered from pain that lasts longer than 24 hours and millions more suffer from acute pain.
Cannabis has made strides with chronic pain, with Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration stating that "Overall, we can be moderately confident that CNCP patients receiving medicinal cannabis are more likely to achieve 30% and 50% reductions in pain and to report a reduction in pain ratings than patients given a placebo."
Cannabis has shown so much promise with replacing opioids that some are now considering the benefits of the plant in curbing the opioid epidemic facing the US.
The marijuana forum Weedmaps have released their documentary entitled 'The Exit Drug' which takes a new spin on the "Gateway Drug theory" by suggesting that marijuana doesn't lead users to a path of harder drug use, but rather, can ease users off it.
The documentary includes patients and doctors speaking about how their addiction was curbed through cannabis use. And the numbers don't lie: states with medical marijuana laws had 24.8 percent fewer opioid related death than states without them.
You can find the article we wrote about it here.
Call The Doctor
Medical marijuana is becoming a disruptive force to big pharma, as an apparent fix-all to many of life's struggles.
It's saddening to consider the number of people whose lives may have been improved or even saved had cannabis been medicinally legal earlier, though we should be equally happy with the growing legalization of the plant. Thankfully, the cat is out of the bag when it comes to the benefits of cannabis, and now there's no way of putting it back in.
Almost all of the 2020 Democratic candidates are in favor of medical marijuana legalization (or in some cases, fully recreational legalization) and on the matter the current president Donald Trump has stated "The marijuana thing is such a big thing. I think medical should happen—right? Don't we agree? I think so. … I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state."
This is a huge step forward from when Obama scoffed at the suggestion of marijuana legalization.
For those unable to access medical marijuana, many are turning to the nutraceutical ranges of CBD, which are currently available over-the-counter. This movement shows that cannabis can not only help those suffering, but it may also enhance the well-being of otherwise healthy individuals.
The research is still slowly pouring out of the shadows when it comes to medical marijuana, but it seems undeniable that the drug will continue to play a massive role in healthcare for years, and decades, to come.