According to the National Institute of Health in the United states, human beings have used marijuana in order to treat different ailments for more than 3000 years. Furthermore, the Food and Drug Administration of the US doesn’t consider marijuana as a drug. This explains why marijuana is yet to get any approval from the FDA. In a departure from the norm, the FDA moved to approve cannabinoil, or CBD, for treatment of two types of epilepsy. That was in June last year.
That marijuana has been used for centuries by people to treat ailments makes it a substance with medicinal value. However, the FDA is hesitant to approve it as a drug because since some of its side effects are not yet known. And this is what makes the marijuana debate so intriguing. On one side, we have a drug which has been proven for centuries to have medicinal value, yet on the other side, there’s inadequate scientific research to ascertain its effectiveness and to gauge its side effects. Yet, more states and countries are moving with speed to legalize the drug, some for medical use, others for recreational purposes, or both.
In all, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana. This is corroborated by a recent study that found out that more Americans than ever before are consuming marijuana. The study published in the journal Addiction, shows that the widespread use of marijuana was not informed by the fact that more states are legalizing it. With the increased use, there’s a rising public health concern.
In this article, we are pitting the medical benefits of marijuana against its health risks in our quest to answer this question; is marijuana good or bad?
What are the medical benefits of marijuana?
For many years, research has shown that marijuana could help treat a range of conditions as listed below.
Over 10000 studies on the benefits and adverse effects of marijuana proved that the substance could help with chronic pain. The studies, gathered by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, stated that the cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant help to alleviate chronic pain. Chronic pain is a major public health concern in the US as it leads to disability, affecting over 25 million people.
Alcoholism and drug addiction
According to a comprehensive review of the effects of marijuana as published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review, marijuana actually helps people with opioid or alcohol dependence to deal with their addiction. Contradictorily, a National Academies of Sciences Review suggests that marijuana use could actually lead to a higher risk of abuse. Also, the more you consume marijuana, the higher the probability of having marijuana addiction problems later. According to some studies, people who start using marijuana from an early age tend to have marijuana-related problems later in life.
Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety
The Clinical Psychology Review investigated whether or not marijuana could be used to treat mental illnesses. The researchers behind the review ended up establishing that consuming marijuana could relieve the symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, they caution that marijuana shouldn’t be used to treat other mental illnesses like psychosis and bipolar disorder. The review also suggests that marijuana could be used to treat symptoms of social anxiety. However, this seems to contradict the Nation Academy of Science Review that shows that marijuana consumption worsens the symptoms of social anxiety in some people.
According to various studies, oral cannabinoids alleviate the symptoms of pain during chemotherapy. Other studies even suggest that smoking cannabis could also slow down the growth of cancerous cells. However, most early studies suggest that cannabinoids could be good in alleviating the symptoms of cancer; but cannot heal or kill the cancer cells.
People with multiple sclerosis could ease the symptoms of spasticity using cannabis. However, they need to ingest it orally, and only for a short term. Studies found out that there are some positive effects of marijuana when it’s used to fight multiple sclerosis, but that the benefits seem to be rather modest.
In June 2018, the FDA approved the use of a cannabis-based drug, Epidiolex, to treat two rare and specific kinds of epilepsy. The two kinds of epilepsy had proved difficult to treat with other drugs. CBD is found in the cannabis plant and is not psychoactive. Its purified version washed to create the drug, following a string of clinical trials.
According to a 2017 study, patients with Dravet’s syndrome who used CBD experienced fewer seizures than those who used a placebo. Dravet’s syndrome is characterized by prolonged, repetitive and mostly lethal seizures. A study found out that one in every five children diagnosed with Dravet’s syndrome does not reach the age of 20. In that study, 120 children and teenagers with Dravet’s syndrome all aged between 2 and 18, were assigned to be given either a placebo or CBF for 14 weeks, alongside their usual medication.
The study found out that children who got CBD had fewer seizures than those who got a placebo. For instance, this who took CBD saw the number of seizures dropping from 12 per month to six. For those who took the placebo, the number of seizures dropped marginally from 15 per month to 14. The researchers argued that this was strong evidence to show that CBD was effective in treating the symptoms of Dravet’s syndrome. However, the study also showed that CBD had a number of side-effects, including vomiting and nausea.
The Epidiolex drug’s information leaflet shows that the drug could bring about some negative side-effects, including suicidal thoughts, liver damage, and even sedation.
What are the health risks of marijuana?
While it has a healthy dose of benefits, marijuana is also known to have negative side effects. Various studies found that it negatively impacts health. Here are some of the main risks associated with the drug.
Mental health problems
According to one study, consuming marijuana on a daily basis worsens the symptoms of bipolar disease for those who already have that condition. However, the National Academies of Sciences Review didn’t find any link between consuming marijuana and getting bipolar disease if there is no previous history.
Research also suggests that regular cannabis users are more likely to harbor suicidal thoughts than non-users. Additionally, there are specks of evidence that suggests that regular users could be at risk of getting depressed. Marijuana consumption could also lead to psychotic conditions like schizophrenia. However, a newer study suggested that marijuana consumption actually helped people with schizophrenia to perform better in memory and learning tests.
Limited studies have been carried out when it comes to assessing the link between marijuana use and cancers. However, the National Academies of Sciences found some evidence of a slow-growing seminoma subtype of testicular cancer.
While regular consumption of marijuana is linked with chronic cough, it is not yet clear whether it worsens the functions of the lung or if it increases the risk of asthma. According to a 2014 study that sought to establish whether or not smoking marijuana could lead to lung diseases, there seemed to be a likelihood that smoking cannabis could cause some lung diseases. However, there was no concluding evidence to link the two.
The authors of the journal Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine say that there’s evidence to conclude that regular consumption of cannabis is harmful. They advise users to take caution when it comes to heavy use of cannabis. They added that in low doses, marijuana was found to be harmless to the lungs, clarifying that medicinal use of cannabis greatly varies from recreational usage.
So, is marijuana good or bad for your health?
Like any other drug, marijuana has its share of both benefits and disadvantages. There has been a number of studies and reviews conducted over recent years with the aim of understanding the implications of marijuana when it comes to public health. In many cases, it was concluded that there is a need for more research to get the full picture.
Most scientists point out the need for more scientific studies in order to establish the use of marijuana and its effect when treating medical conditions. But there’s one problem: the FDA classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. As such, researchers working on it have to endure rigorous conditions.
If your state allows the use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, you’ll still need to consult your physician and have him or her advice you on whether the drug is safe to use when treating your specific medical condition.
There is some evidence that suggests that the drug is an effective pain reliever, but you should consider avoiding it if you have a history of mental health issues. The best bet is to consult a doctor before using marijuana as a medical drug.