Cannabis also increases the risk of a relapse in people who already have schizophrenia, and it can make psychotic symptoms worse.
Another cannabinoid drug, called Nabilone, is sometimes used to relieve sickness in people having chemotherapy for cancer.
Other risks of regularly using cannabis can include:
Cannabis and mental health
Regularly smoking cannabis with tobacco also increases the risk of becoming addicted to nicotine and experiencing withdrawal symptoms from nicotine as well as cannabis if you cut down or give up.
The risk of developing a psychotic illness is higher in people who:
Using cannabis while pregnant may harm the unborn baby. Cannabis smoke contains many of the same harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke.
Regularly using tobacco also increases the risk of tobacco-related diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease.
And it found “no or insufficient evidence” for marijuana as a treatment for cancers, cancer-associated anorexia, irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy, spasticity in patients with paralysis due to spinal cord injury, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, drug addiction, and schizophrenia. This doesn’t mean that marijuana can’t treat any of these — some patients, who are prescribed pot for these ailments today, will swear that marijuana helped treat their epilepsy, for example — but that there’s just not enough evidence so far to evaluate the claims.
It also found a “limited” to “moderate” evidence of a correlation between marijuana use and use of other illicit drugs. This is the typical evidence cited for the so-called “gateway” effect: that marijuana use may lead to the use of harder drugs.
Overall, the report suggests that, as far as therapeutic benefits go, marijuana is a solid treatment for multiple symptoms associated to chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and multiple sclerosis. Everything else, from epilepsy to HIV/AIDS, needs more research before pot is more definitively shown to be effective or ineffective.
What are marijuana’s benefits?
Still, the report is the best look at marijuana yet. It is nearly 400 pages; if you want a really deep dive into the benefits and harms of marijuana, you should read it in full. But here I’ve provided a summary of what the researchers found.
The report also disproved — or at least cast a lot of doubt — on some of the claimed benefits of pot. It found “limited evidence” that marijuana is ineffective for treating symptoms associated with dementia and glaucoma, as well as depressive symptoms in individuals with chronic pain or multiple sclerosis.
The report also found “limited evidence” of links between marijuana use and several other negative outcomes, including an increased risk of testicular cancer, triggering a heart attack, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pregnancy complications. And it found “moderate” to “limited” evidence that marijuana use might worsen symptoms or risk for some mental health issues, including depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among heavier users, and anxiety disorders, particularly social anxiety disorder among regular users.
Since the mid-1990s, 28 states have legalized marijuana for medical uses. But in all that time, the benefits of pot have remained hazy. Despite some research showing that it can be good for pain and muscle stiffness, many of the claims about what pot can do for other ailments — such as epilepsy and irritable bowel syndrome — are based on anecdotal evidence and have yet to be scientifically proven.
These are just a few of the excellent questions around this subject, questions that I am going to studiously avoid so we can focus on two specific areas: why do patients find it useful, and how can they discuss it with their doctor?
Least controversial is the extract from the hemp plant known as CBD (which stands for cannabidiol) because this component of marijuana has little, if any, intoxicating properties. Marijuana itself has more than 100 active components. THC (which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol) is the chemical that causes the “high” that goes along with marijuana consumption. CBD-dominant strains have little or no THC, so patients report very little if any alteration in consciousness.
Marijuana without the high
The most common use for medical marijuana in the United States is for pain control. While marijuana isn’t strong enough for severe pain (for example, post-surgical pain or a broken bone), it is quite effective for the chronic pain that plagues millions of Americans, especially as they age. Part of its allure is that it is clearly safer than opiates (it is impossible to overdose on and far less addictive) and it can take the place of NSAIDs such as Advil or Aleve, if people can’t take them due to problems with their kidneys or ulcers or GERD.
Many patients find themselves in the situation of wanting to learn more about medical marijuana, but feel embarrassed to bring this up with their doctor. This is in part because the medical community has been, as a whole, overly dismissive of this issue. Doctors are now playing catch-up and trying to keep ahead of their patients’ knowledge on this issue. Other patients are already using medical marijuana, but don’t know how to tell their doctors about this for fear of being chided or criticized.
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.