(Read the first entry in the series here)

Currently, there is a large volume of research and information on the medical benefits of marijuana (cannabis, pot).

There are historical references on this topic as well. States, individuals, and the medical profession are pursuing marijuana as an option for many different illnesses. Prior to deciding how or if medical marijuana can benefit you, it can be helpful to understand more about it. There is a lot of information in the scientific\internet community to sift through. This article will help you to be better informed in deciding or discussing medical marijuana as an option.

It is important to distinguish between recreational use and medical (medicinal) use of marijuana. This article will focus exclusively on the medical applications of marijuana. Our last article in this three-part series will offer a perspective on recreational marijuana use.

Marijuana is comprised of over 400 different chemicals. THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the ingredient in marijuana that creates a majority of the high feeling, and Cannabidiol (CBD) in marijuana are the most frequently looked at chemicals in research findings. Other chemicals have been looked at as having medicinal purposes.

CBD is one of over 60 cannabinoids  found in pot. CBD has anti psychoactive components, which could counter the effects of THC (psychoactive effect). Lower CBD levels in marijuana mean individuals are feeling more of the high. THC levels have changed over the course of time. In the last thirty years average THC levels found in street pot have tripled. That complicates our understanding on long term effects of marijuana due to these changes. Also, in some strains, CBD levels have decreased (study). The THC to CBD levels found in street marijuana is a significant factor to consider in using pot for medicinal purposes.  Since both THC and CBD are found in marijuana, it is important to distinguish between them when discussing medical purposes for marijuana. Research findings could be focusing on one ingredient and not the whole plant. Science has been able to isolate chemicals and deriving the benefits of one chemical found in marijuana does not have to include the whole plant.

Studies conducted on marijuana have been done with measured amounts in controlled settings.

This can be different than the strains that we would find on the street. Fluctuating levels of key ingredients found in marijuana could impact on matching findings we get in the lab and what is on the street.

The route of ingestion (how it gets into your body) is important as well. There are many ways people can take in marijuana for medical purposes. Smoking, vaporizing, edibles, or topicals can be used as routes of administration. Some are more effective than others (study). Smoking pot may be the least effective method yet is the most popular. Dronabinol, synthetic marijuana, has been developed in capsule form. A mouth spray, Sativex, is also used to administer marijuana.

Many states have new legislation for medical uses for marijuana and recreational (list). Currently, it is listed as schedule I drug, meaning it is not seen as not an accepted for having a medical use and is a high potential for abuse. This classification, most likely will change in time. It is important to note that if it is legalized in a state for medical purposes that does not mean that research support its effectiveness. The National Institute of Drug Abuse has a publication about current research on medical marijuana. Included links for a few common maladies cannabis may be prescribed for and research findings on its effectiveness.

Science is beginning to gain a better understanding of medical purposes for marijuana. There is some promise for its medical uses for some medical conditions.  Other research indicates it may not be effective for certain medical conditions, only some ingredients (not whole plant) may be effective, or amounts of marijuana would need to be used in unrealistic amounts/frequency to gain any medical benefits.  Just like any type of medical remedy, discussion with a doctor or professional prior to deciding to use it would be helpful. This is particularly important if the person has a family or personal history of substance abuse.

Take into consideration why you are using marijuana (recreational, medical, or to cope).

Examine the research findings on what you plan to use it for. Remember, research findings may be reflective of one of the chemicals found in marijuana, not the whole plant (all 400 chemicals). Assuming the smoking street marijuana will help relieve symptoms of a medical illness can open the door to other problems (abuse). The medical field has isolated some ingredients for use in helping with symptoms of certain illnesses, making it unnecessary to smoke the whole plant and avoiding the psychoactive feelings (high).

Our next article will look at the recreational uses/abuses of marijuana. It will also include a guide for parents in discussing marijuana use with their children.