Medical Marijuana Uses
Below is just a small sample of the many uses of Medical Marijuana:
The drugs used to treat cancer are among the most powerful, and most toxic chemicals used in medicine. They kill both cancer cells and healthy cells, producing extremely unpleasant and dangerous side effects. The most common is days or weeks of vomiting, dry heaves, and nausea after each treatment. The feeling of loss of control is highly depressing, and patients find it very difficult to eat anything, leading weight loss and strength. People find it more and more difficult to sustain the will to live, and many chose to discontinue treatment, preferring death to treatment.
Cannabis can be used as an anti emetic, a drug which relieves nausea and allows patients to eat and live normally. It is safer, cheaper and often more effective than standard synthetic anti emetics. Smoking cannabis is more effective than taking it orally (or its synthetic derivatives such as Marinol) as patients find it difficult to keep anything down long enough for it to have an effect. Smoking cannabis produces an immediate effect, and patients find it easier to control the dosage. Additionally, the euphoric properties act as an anti-depressant, and the hunger and enjoyment of food properties (‘the munchies’) make weight gain easy, allow much needed nutrients into the body leading to an increase chance of recovery.
Vincigeurra et al. found that 78% of 56 patients with nausea who were resistant to standard drugs became symptom free through inhaling cannabis. Chang et al. found that smoking cannabis rather than ingesting it seemed more effective.
Doblin & Kleiman sent a questionnaire to US oncologists (cancer specialists). 44% of the respondents had recommended illegal use of cannabis and half of them would prescribe it if it were legal.
Cannabis Sativa v Marinol
I read a story years ago by a testicular cancer patient who underwent 13 cycles of chemotherapy. He discovered that smoking cannabis made his constant nausea manageable, and allowed him to eat normally. He also used Marinol, and discovered that although it stopped his nausea, it also knocked him him unconscious. He began to take half his Marinol dose and top it up with cannabis, and was able to lead a normal life between chemotherapy sessions.
Marijuana and Multiple Sclerosis
In the condition known as MS the normal functioning of the nerves in the brain and spinal cord is disrupted. Debilitating attacks, which last for weeks, come and go unpredictably, with gradual deterioration and eventual disability. Because the central nervous system controls the entire body, the effects may appear anywhere. Common symptoms include tingling, numbness, impaired vision, difficulty in speaking, painful muscle spasms, loss of co-ordination and balance, fatigue, weakness or paralysis, loss of bladder control, urinary tract infections, constipation, skin ulceration’s and severe depression.
There is no known effective treatment. The standard drugs used to treat the muscle spasms are addictive, have severe short-term side effects and damaging long-term side effects. Many MS sufferers find it difficult to work and perform basic daily functions, such as cooking, cleaning and bathing.
Cannabis has a startling and profound effect on the symptoms of MS. It stops muscle spasms, reduces tremors, restores balance, bladder control, speech and eyesight. Many wheelchair-bound patients report that they can walk unaided when they have smoked cannabis. Patients also report that they find smoked herbal cannabis better at controlling their symptoms that synthetic derivatives. According to Marijuana – The Forbidden Medicine cannabis may even stop the progression of the disease.
In 1995 Mills reviewed all the scientific evidence of MS treatment using cannabis, and discussed all the surrounding issues. He concluded that the evidence is sparse and of poor quality and that a proper clinical trial of smoked cannabis for MS was needed. Dr Roger Pertwee of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Aberdeen University wants to carry out such a study. Unfortunately he still needs proper funding and a source of legal cannabis.
In 1997 Dr Pertwee, along with Consroe et al. carried out a survey of MS patients who are using cannabis to see how cannabis helped their condition. The patients reported that cannabis helped the following conditions: spasticity, chronic pain of extremities, acute paroxysmal phenomenon, tremor, emotional dysfunction, anorexia/weight loss, fatigue states, double vision, sexual dysfunction, bowel and bladder dysfunctions, vision dimness, dysfunctions of walking and balance, and memory loss (these results are ranked in order, 97% of the patients said cannabis helped the first condition, spasticity, down to 30% reporting the last condition, memory loss.
Although there has never been a clinical trial of MS patients, that used smoked herbal cannabis, there is some direct evidence of cannabis’ effect on tremor. Both Clifford and Meinck et al. reported that cannabis reduced tremors and provided graphic evidence of this, in the form of before and after tremor recordings and handwriting samples.
During the 80’s there were three trials of oral synthetic THC in small numbers of MS patients. All were placebo-controlled, and involved various doses of THC from 2.5 to 15 mg daily. Many of the patients claimed to get a beneficial effect from THC, but the doctors, looking on objectively could find no effect in most of them – perhaps cannabis has a psychological benefit rather than a muscular one. Petro & Ellenberg found that THC improved spasticity compared with placebo, and that half their 8 patients had a “substantial” improvement. Clifford found that 7 of his 9 patients claimed a benfefit, but doctors could only confirm that 2 patients had benefited. Ungerleider et al. studied 13 patients with MS that proved untreatable with standard drugs. Although the patients said their spasticity had improved significantly, the doctors couldn’t spot an improvement. Large THC doses were poorly tolerated by the patients, with weakness, dry mouth, dizziness and psychoactive effects the common complaints – interestingly none of the patients asked to keep a supply of THC after the trial ended.
A recent letter in the Lancet from Martyn et al. reports synthetic cannabinoid, nabilone being of benefit in a single patient study. Weeks of placebo and nabilone were alternated, and muscle spasm, general well-being and sleep all improved when cannabis was given.
There is also evidence from animal experiments. EAE is an artificial disease that has been used as a laboratory model of MS in guinea pigs. Lyman et al. reported that when animals were exposed to the disease and treated with a placebo, they all developed severe EAE and 98% died. The animals that were treated with THC had no or mild symptoms and 95% survived.
The human eyeball is filled with fluid, which exerts pressure to keep the eyeball spherical. Glaucoma is a condition where the channels through which the fluid flows gradually become blocked, and the intraocular pressure gradually increases, causing increasing damage to the optic nerve, and gradual deterioration of vision. Glaucoma is the second-largest cause of blindness, and affects 1.5 % of 50-year olds and 5 % of seventy-year olds.
Standard treatments have unpleasant or dangerous side effects, and have little effect on intraocular pressures in end-stage glaucoma. Cannabis however lowers intraocular pressures dramatically, with none of the serious side effects. Patients who find that standard medicines do not help their conditions report that smoking cannabis quickly restores their vision. Many long-term glaucoma patients have successfully maintained their sight using cannabis for 20 or 25 years, and avoided the gradual painfull deterioration to blindness that is otherwise inevitable.
However older generations, who are most at risk of glaucoma do not appreciate the euphoric side effects of smoked or ingested cannabis. There is also concern about the effects on the cardio-vasculat system. There is hope that a cannabis-containing eyedrop could be developed in the future which would have no side effects but this is made difficult since cannabinoids are not water soluble.
Ironically the discovery that cannabis lowers intraocular pressure was made accidentally during a police experiment. They were trying to discover if cannabis caused pupil dilation in users, so that they could detect and arrest them more easily!
The effect of cannabis on intraocular pressure (IOP) in normal subjects has been well studied, however the effect on glaucoma patients is less well known, with only a handful of patients studied. Only one study used herbal cannabis, the rest have used cannabinoids.
Hepler & Frank (1971) found that oral or smoked cannabis reduced intraocular pressures in normal subjects for about 4 to 5 hours with “no indications of any deleterious effects … on visual function or ocular structure”. They concluded that cannabis may be more useful than conventional medications and probably works by a different mechanism.
Almost all of the studies using cannabinoids have been double-blind and placebo controlled. Two studies were of the effects of oral or smoked THC on IOP in normal subjects. Hepler et al. (1976) reported that the drop in IOP was dose-related. Jones et al. (1981) found that tolerance to the effects quickly built up, and there was a rebound in IOP to above baseline levels when treatment was stopped. Another two studies used intravenous infusions of various cannabinoids. Perez-Reyes et al. (1976) found that only the cannabinoids that had psychoactive effects produced a drop in IOP. Cooler & Gregg (1977) reported a drop in IOP but increased anxiety. The effects of cannabinoids on IOP were confirmed in numerous animal experiments, reviewed by Adler & Geller (1986).
The few studies on glaucoma patients all involve small numbers of patients. Hepler et al. (1976) found that when THC was smoked for months at a time by glaucoma patients, the effect on intraocular pressure stayed constant and there was no deterioration of vision. However only 7 of the 11 patients showed the effect. Merrit et al. (1980) carried out a double-blind and placebo controlled study on 18 patients and found a significant reduction in IOP but unwanted cardio-vascular and pyschoactive side-effects.
Applying cannabinoids directly to the eyes should remove the side-effects but is proving difficult since they are not water-soluble. Merrit et al. (1981) applied THC to only one eye in 8 patients, but found an effect on IOP in both eyes suggesting that the THC had been adsorbed into the bloodstream, rather than acting topically. However his patients reported no psychoactive side-effects.