The Truth Unveiled: A Novice Guide to Medical Cannabis

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Funny thing. As humankind evolved until reaching the righteous name of Homo Sapiens, we also started to experience detachment from our ancestral traditions and wisdom. The twentieth century’s advanced thinking lumped ancient rituals, herbals, fungi, folklore, and meditation like these all came from a place of superstition and ignorance. Sure, dental and surgical techniques from yesteryear lacked a bit and needed to evolve, but… making Cannabis illegal? C’mon!

Unlike some may believe, it wasn’t the claims of former hippies from the 60s that turned into honorable tax-paying citizens what triggered marijuana decriminalization movements worldwide. Ironically, cannabis use is now coming back from the hand of science and medicine, the same that supposedly banned its use as a harmful substance in the early 1900s. In this novice guide to medical Cannabis, I’ll unveil the true motives behind marijuana illegalization and tell you everything you need to know to start tapping into the benefits of medical marijuana.

The Truth Behind the Marijuana Demonization

Cannabis activists and users have long been aware that the reality of cannabis use is very different from how media and government agencies usually portray it. As a matter of fact, the use of Cannabis for recreational and medical purposes appears recorded throughout history since the earlies 2900 BC in China.

Then, with so much historical evidence pointing out the benefits of Cannabis, how come medical research found it harmful and agreed to file it as an illicit Schedule I substance? The thing is that never happened. Furthermore, the American Medical Association was initially opposed to classifying marijuana among the deadliest drugs in the world.

The demonization of marijuana has a political and economic background instead. The Mexican Revolution and the use of Mexicans in the United States as cheap labor triggered a massive migratory flow in the earlies 1900. Not surprisingly, Mexicans carried with them their language, culture, and traditions. One of these traditions consisted of smoking what they called “marihuana”, an unknown term back then for the good old Cannabis that had been present since yesteryear in American homes and dispensaries.

The Mexican presence quickly raised xenophobia and racist sentiments amongst Americans, giving Harry Anslinger the perfect context to deploy a mediatic war against marijuana. Newspapers and spokespeople quickly echoed the claims of marijuana being extremely dangerous and violence-conducive. By relating the use of marijuana with Mexican immigrants, black people, jazz musicians, and lowers classes, they guaranteed its prohibition.

But what was behind this ferocious campaign against Cannabis? The cannabis or hemp plant posed a significant threat to many industries at the time. Among its many virtues, Cannabis has been a part of Chinese pharmacopeia for 5000 years for its medicinal properties against ailments such as multiple sclerosis and intense pains. It’s also a great source of paper, a cheaper biofuel that could replace hydrocarbon fuel, and a fiber source for textile products. So, allegedly, the threatened industries formed a lobbyist group to stop the rising popularity of Cannabis.

guide to medical cannabis

The cannabis or hemp plant posed a significant threat to many industries at the time.

Fast forward, and President Nixon was advised to remove marijuana from the Schedule I classification. However, there was a mounting anti-war sentiment against the government, and the drug war turned out to be the perfect tool to undermine Nixon’s political opposition.

"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

John Ehrlichman, Nixon's Domestic Policy Chief

A Guide to Medical Cannabis

Cannabis prohibition, as the result of political ploys, significantly limited the scope of scientific research around its potential health benefits. However, California became the first state to permit legal access to botanical Cannabis for medicinal purposes in 1996, always under the supervision of a physician.

Recreational marijuana and medical marijuana are exactly the same, only used for different purposes. With decriminalization movements gaining momentum around the world, lab researches are reaching a deeper understanding of cannabis compounds and their medicinal properties.

These days you may browse the web and find thousands of anecdotal testimonies from marijuana advocators who praise the effects of Cannabis in the treatment of their specific ailment. But, then, does this mean marijuana is some sort of magical one-size-fits-all remedy? Not at all.

What illness can be treated with Cannabis, then?

Therapeutic Cannabis does not target a specific illness. For example, it’s not a cure for cancer and, additionally, a treatment for epilepsy. Instead, the chemical components in Cannabis enable the brain and body to perform corrective actions to restore health naturally. Simply put: marijuana gives you a power-up, so your brain can handle the pain, man up, and take healing actions within your body.

Medical records show that the most common symptom Cannabis is prescribed and asked for is pain management. It also works well as an anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic drug. Currently, there is enough scientific evidence that supports the use of marijuana to mitigate symptoms and even affect the course of diseases.

Currently, medical marijuana can be prescribed to treat:

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.

What are the Compounds of Cannabis?

Scientific research has identified over 400 chemical compounds in the plant Cannabis. At least 100 are cannabinoids, chemical compounds that interact with cannabinoid receptors in the human body. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are the most researched ones. THC is a psychoactive compound responsible for the marijuana “highs,” whereas CBD is not psychoactive, and it’s known actually to mitigate the intense psychoactive effects of THC.

To fully understand what these compounds are and how they work within our body, we must know there are three main sub-species of the plant Cannabis: Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis.

Cannabis Sativa originated and first spread throughout equatorial countries such as Columbia, Mexico, and Thailand. Sativa strains can grow exceedingly tall – surpassing 3 meters, and their flowering time is also extended, with some “landrace” strains taking up to 17 weeks in flower to ripen fully.

Cannabis Indica, on the other hand, originated in the cooler mountainous areas of North India and Afghanistan. Leaves are darker, plumper, and wider to optimize photosynthesis, and flowering times are much shorter in accordance with the earlier onset of winter (8 weeks). Plants tend to grow little more than 1.2m in height.

There is some argument about whether Cannabis Ruderalis is a subspecies or a different species altogether. Native to Asia and Central Europe (mainly Russia), some believe it’s a form of Indica that adapted to the harsher, colder climate. It is a distinctively small plant, usually only 30cm – 1m in height, and was for many years dismissed by cannabis enthusiasts due to its very low THC content (it does, however, produce more significant concentrations of CBD). However, Cannabis Ruderalis’s unique characteristics made it quickly gain popularity among cannabis growers. Unlike sativas and indicas, C. Ruderalis doesn’t depend on the light cycle change to flower. Simply put, Ruderalis will automatically flower once it reaches its maturity. Realizing this trait has led to the development of a new type of Cannabis in the last ten years: autoflowers or automatics, by crossbreeding ruderalis with more potent THC strains to produce a quick flowering yet high-yielder plant.

Because Sativa takes longer to flower, psychoactive elements become richer and more intense. Thus, sativa-dominant strains are more helpful in treating mental and behavioral issues like ADHD, depression, appetite problems, and some forms of cancer. In contrast, indica-dominant strains are more effective for pain relief and insomnia.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

One of the scientific breakthroughs that definitely put the medical community on the right track regarding medicinal marijuana was the discovery of the endocannabinoid system. Although experts are still trying to fully understand the endocannabinoid system, this is already considered the main homeostatic system in the human body. 

Homeostasis is a self-regulating process living organisms use to maintain a balance that ensures a healthy life and survival.

Back in the early 90s, a group of researchers led by molecular biologist Lisa Matsuda came across a receptor that THC seemed to interact with. In smaller words: our brains have a THC receptor, one of the cannabinoids unique to marijuana. Nevertheless, it was very unlike that our body came equipped with this receptor with the sole purpose of smoking a plant.

So, the research went on to find a complete neurotransmitter system that was called the endocannabinoid system. It comprises three main components:

Cannabinoid Receptors

First, researchers found a type of neuro-receptor across the central nervous system. These are called CB1. Then, to their surprise, they found a different kind of endocannabinoid receptor in the immune system, called CB2.

How do endocannabinoid receptors work?

Endocannabinoids or cannabinoids will target either receptor and bind to it. Depending on where it’s located the receptor and what kind of cannabinoid interacts with it, your body will experience different reactions. For example, CBD interacting with CB1 receptors in the spinal nerve will relieve pain, one of the reasons people use marijuana for: pain management.

Endocannabinoids

Endocannabinoids are molecules similar to cannabinoids like THC, CBD, or CBN that our own body produces. Our body produces endocannabinoids in response to a number of events, like stress, exercise, depression, and more.

So far, researchers have identified two key endocannabinoids:

Anandamide: also known as the molecule of happiness, this endocannabinoid is very similar to THC, and they both interact with brain CB1 receptors. Anandamide has antidepressant and anxiolytic effects, regulates the appetite and participates in the neurogenesis of the hippocampus, that part of the brain in charge of emotions, learning, and memory.

2-AG: an endocannabinoid with a molecular structure very similar to CBD that plays a major role in the cardiovascular and immunological systems, regulates appetite, and is very effective in suppressing seizures.

Enzymes

The endocannabinoid system also contains enzymes such as fatty acid amide hydrolase and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which are responsible for synthesizing, transporting, and metabolizing cannabinoids.

Although the research on ECS is in a very early stage, there’s enough evidence to support the fact that the ECS is linked to:

  • appetite and digestion
  • metabolism
  • chronic pain
  • inflammation and other immune system responses
  • mood
  • learning and memory
  • motor control
  • sleep
  • cardiovascular system function
  • muscle formation
  • bone remodeling and growth
  • liver function
  • reproductive system function
  • stress
  • skin and nerve function

Is CBD Effective without THC?

In short, yes. Countless anecdotal testimonies describe the virtues of CBD as an isolated compound. Therefore, there is a plethora of non-psychoactive CBD oils and products in the market containing only trace amounts of THC. Patients and physicians report these are effective treatments for seizures, anxiety, pain, dystonia, Parkinson’s disease, and Crohn’s disease.

Nonetheless, as research and studies progress, it has been proved that THC is also a medicinal cannabinoid. For example, dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC, is an effective and FDA-approved drug to treat HIV-induced anorexia and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

For cannabis users and experts, using the whole plant just like Mother Nature presented it will always be the right answer. Interestingly, emerging research points support their standpoint, starting with the entourage effect.    

What is the Entourage Effect?

Cannabis flowers have over 100 cannabinoids and 200 terpenes. Terpenes are chemical components responsible for many plants’ aromas, flavors, and even colors, including Cannabis. Basically, terpenes are what make certain strains taste and smell different from others.

The entourage effect is a term used to describe the synergetic interaction of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids present in the cannabis plant. Even if each compound has properties and benefits of its own, the entourage effect suggests the interaction of all of them inside the body is what truly unleashes the full potential of marijuana.

Let’s think of linalool, a terpene found in lavender plants that has a calming and soothing effect, or pinene, a terpene found in conifers that boost alertness and memory. Then it makes all the sense in the world that cannabis terpenes are also a positive add-on.

How to Dose Medical Marijuana?

Even if this article praises the medicinal properties of marijuana, this would be a good time to step back and quote my old friend Mark Twain: “Too much of anything is bad.”

Dosing on medical marijuana is a delicate issue that depends on many factors. In addition, each individual may have different experiences when trying marijuana for the first time. Thus, medical cannabis dosage is not set in stone.

For patients using THC, the general recommendation is to start with microdoses of 2.5mg. Microdosing is now a trendy practice because it allows people to mitigate their symptoms without experiencing the psychoactive effects produced by larger doses of THC.

On the other hand, finding the right dose for CBD is a little bit more complex. When looking for the right dose, you need to consider diverse factors such as the type of product you’re consuming, your weight, your age, the symptoms you want to treat, the severity of those symptoms, and whether it’s your first time or not. You may visit mydosage.com to calculate your ideal dosage.

The wisest thing to do is start low and go slow until you find the perfect dosage to relieve your pain, anxiety, or specific ailment.

Medical Cannabis: Addictions and Side Effects?

Now, there come the million-dollar questions. Is medical Cannabis addictive? What are the side effects?

Like all medicines, the use of Cannabis entails side effects. Unlike opioids and other drugs, lethal marijuana overdoses are unlikely. However, it does not mean it’s completely harmless, and you can take 300mg of THC a day, a more typical dose being only about 10mg.

THC abuse can cause:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Coordination issues

CBD abuse can cause:

  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea

Is medical marijuana addictive?

Even if the risk of developing cannabis addiction is relatively low, regular users can become addicted to marijuana, particularly in the case of drug abuse. Cannabis addiction can harm the dopamine system, affecting the ability to feel pleasure, eventually leading to an overdose.

As mentioned, marijuana overdoses are not lethal. However, it could potentially lead to death if an individual drives or manipulates sharp, dangerous objects under the effects of marijuana.

Most of the risks associated with addiction to Cannabis are related to the use of THC. Researchers are now focusing on CBD potential benefits to help fight addictions.

Medical Marijuana: A Path Back to Nature

The use of Cannabis and its compounds for medical purposes gains advocators with every passing day. Although positions within the scientific and medical community may differ from one side to another, there’s a consensus on the difference marijuana treatments are making for many ailments. Alternative medicine like CBD oils and other cannabis-based products are a path back to natural healing, enabling us to reconnect with nature and heal from the inside out.

Research has a long way to go before we can leverage everything cannabis offers to its fullest. Among dozens and dozens of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, most research has focused only on THC and CBD. It’s to believe the rest of the compounds within the rich composition of marijuana will likely hold one or two surprises for the future of medical Cannabis.