Dear Nurse Susan,
Does medical cannabis (aka marijuana), really do all the things that I’ve been hearing about lately? It sounds more like snake oil to me. I’ve heard it helps cancer and Parkinson’s patients, it helps insomnia, it helps kids with autism, it help depression and insomnia….REALLY? I asked my doctor about it (I have an auto immune disease) and he wouldn’t give me any information on what to buy or how much to take. I went to the dispensary near me but I didn’t feel like they told me anything that I trusted. If I want to try medical marijuana, what should I do?
Thank you for your help,
Curious about Cannabis
I hear this from my clients all the time. This is the current state-of-affairs because cannabis is still illegal on the federal level, so many physicians are not willing to discuss cannabis with their patients, in an effort to protect their federal DEA number that allows them to prescribe medicine. As a result, patients are falling through the cracks. What commonly happens, is the staff at the dispensary (budtenders) don’t know what to recommend for a medical issue since they are often not trained to help medical patients. As a result, they often recommend too much THC (the psycho active compound in cannabis), and the patient has a bad experience and abandons cannabis as a therapeutic option. What a shame, because it is quite possible that cannabis may be the most effective, non-toxic medicine for their condition.
To answer your first question: There are more than 25,000 medical studies on cannabis that support most of the claims you read on the internet or in the media. Search the terms: cannabinoids, cannabis, marijuana etc. There is also a resources list on my website.
I understand your skepticism about the broad, and almost unending list of symptoms and diseases that benefit from the consumption of cannabis. Our society is so conditioned to pharmaceutical interventions that are single focused, i.e., anti-depressants for depression; anxiolytics for anxiety, opioids for pain etc., not to mention the drugs they prescribe to manage the side effects caused by the pharmaceutical drugs and any interactions between those drugs! It’s almost unheard of to be able to take one medicine (cannabis) that does all these things: kills pain, reduces depression and anxiety, plus much more. And by the way, that one drug is non-toxic with only minor side effects such as dry mouth, when used strategically and responsibly. Sounds too good to be true, huh?
The other unfortunate aspect regarding cannabis is that it is a stigmatized and controversial topic. Political leanings aside, it is still illegal on the federal level and this significantly influences public perception. While public and political support for the legalization of cannabis is growing, the sad fact for patients with real medical needs is that cannabis is still a hot potato. I and many medical professionals are committed to working towards the normalization of medical cannbis as there is a mountain of legitimate and objective research and patient results that cannabis is an effective treatment option in many instances. p.s. – 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers in 2015. 0 deaths related to cannabis overdose, ever!
One of the major turning points in the “legitimization” of medical cannabis for treatment of significant medical conditions came from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the noted CNN medical correspondent. After disparaging medical cannabis as most doctors have, in 2013 Dr.Gupta published an apology in his CNN column. He explained that once he did actual scientific research into the topic he learned that there is much scientific evidence to support increased research, managed use and legalization for medical cannabis. If you haven’t seen his three part series “Weed”, it is very informative.
If you want to explore cannabis as an option for managing your symptoms and disease processes, there is a lot of information on the internet, including an excellent introduction to how cannabis works in your body. If you prefer the one-on-one approach, find a cannabis nurse in your area by going to the American Cannabis Nurses Association website. They will educate you on the endocannabinoid system, the components of cannabis and how they work in your body, dosing (the most important aspect of a successful cannabis regimen), modes of administration, and safety. And if you’re really lucky there may be a dispensary in your area that focuses on medical patients and has someone knowledgeable and helpful behind the counter.
I hope this helps balance your skepticism a bit,
– Article where Dr. Gupta discusses his current perspective on cannabis.
– An April 2017 panel at Harvard University on “Marijuana: The Latest Scientific Findings and Legalization”