Some very interesting findings from a comprehensive review of some 10,000 studies on the medical uses of marijuana. Turns out cannabis is neither as harmful nor as helpful as many believe. An article on the subject.

The good news:

  • There’s solid evidence for the use of cannabis compounds to suppress nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy.
  • There’s evidence that cannabis can help relieve painful muscle spasms experienced by patients with MS, as well as temporarily relieve other types of severe chronic pain.
  • Last but not least, marijuana does not appear to carry the same cancer risk as tobacco.

For a plant-based medicine, that’s pretty impressive. For instance, there are some 400,000 MS patients in the US (out of 2.5 million worldwide), with 200 new cases reported daily. Muscle spasms are common, so affordable remedies are welcome. There are millions of cancer patients undergoing chemo  and cannabinoids, in oral form, can be a real asset. Of course, any substance that can serve as a substitute for opioids for longterm pain– well, that’s a good thing.

The news on the mental health front is not as promising. According to the article, cannabis is “likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, social anxiety disorders and, to a lesser extent, depression.” Also, “heavy marijuana users are more likely to report suicidal thoughts… and people with bipolar disorder who use marijuana almost daily show more symptoms.” And last but not least, the report suggests a research basis for the idea that you can become addicted– a topic of vigorous dispute in some circles.

That suggests that those who already have such illnesses, or are at risk for them, might want to avoid pot. Which could present a real challenge to the many, many psychiatric and addiction patients who are already using marijuana, and were hoping to continue.

Then comes the issue of supporting evidence for use with other disorders. In our state, for example, you can also get a cannabis card for conditions related to:

  • Peripheral neuropathy (numbness or tingling in hands and feet,  common among diabetes patients).
  • Anorexia
  • Hepatitis C
  • Crohn’s disease
  • PTSD
  • ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)
  • Glaucoma
  • Epilepsy

Problem is, the report suggests a lack of evidence for effectiveness with HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, etc. And it occurs to me that since PTSD symptoms include anxiety, depression, and suicidality, cannabis could potentially make things worse.

So why are such uses on the approved list? Because of passionate advocacy from clinicians and patients. It could be that they’re right and the science is wrong. Or it could be the other way round.

Not long ago I would have assumed that the promise of a big influx of tax revenue would convince most states to legalize cannabis, Colorado-style. The marijuana would be readily available to every adult, and the medical marijuana issue would fade away, except for minors. But after the recent election, I’m not so sure.

It might help to reach some level of scientific consensus, based in research, that states could use in planning their own medical marijuana programs.