why the jury is still out on medical marijuana

Marijuana appears to have real medicinal value, but to determine what it can really do, we have to go beyond anecdotes from medical pot users and do far more rigorous studies.

cannabis bud

According to your stoner roommate in college, marijuana is a miracle drug that can open your mind and cure any ailment, including cancer, which is why The Man is keeping it illegal. According to numerous drug agencies across the world, marijuana is a dangerous gateway drug that will leave you a zombie and has absolutely no medicinal value whatsoever, a view that’s endorsed by some hardline doctors who insist that it’s nothing more than a placebo at best. But numerous studies starting to ramp up as access to samples is improving and funding is starting to trickle in may be slowly but surely vindicating your stoner roommate. Well, up to a point.

For example, with Canada’s nationwide legalization of pot for medical, and now, recreational use, researchers identified the exact dosage of cannabidiol, a marijuana extract, that could be an effective treatment for chronic pain with no psychoactive side effects. So far, this research is on animals, but seems very likely to translate to humans and would mean far fewer deaths from opioid overdoses and addictions in the future. Other studies hint at marijuana and its extracts helping with PTSD, soothing side effects of chemotherapy, and controlling epileptic seizures, among many other disorders which require sedatives and pain management.

But that doesn’t seem enough for skeptics, who say that the studies are too small and many don’t show much benefit from medicinal cannabis and its extracts. In their view, there are far too many qualifiers and the research is immature. Furthermore, they argue, because there are 30 countries with medical marijuana, the frequent refrain that drug agencies restricting access to high quality strains from which we can derive useful conclusions doesn’t fly. Researchers in those countries should’ve been able to run bigger studies, have an easier time accessing the strains they need, and delivering good science.

So that brings us to the question of where we are when it comes to medical cannabis. Is it useful or just a placebo that also creates a backdoor to legal drug use? So far, the answer is that we’re not quite sure. Research into what medical marijuana can do is still in its infancy, in scientific terms. Its legalization in one form or another started in the late aughts and funding to do the kind of stringent, double-blind peer reviewed research into the medical uses of pot is just starting to trickle in. To look at a line of investigation that’s just starting to get on its feet and declare that a few efforts that haven’t delivered miracle cures and treatments in just a few years mean there’s absolutely nothing useful about marijuana seems absurd to put it mildly.

It probably won’t cure anything, but it seems like it can become a safe alternative to opioids and anti-anxiety drugs, and provide symptom relief for certain chronic conditions and disorders. That said, its medicinal value will have to be carefully studied, dispensed in an exact dosage under professional supervision, and separated from its recreational uses. Drug wars have been fought for decades at great human and economic cost during which pot has been demonized far beyond what its potency warrants and governments did not want to admit defeat, so it makes sense why weed under the guise of medicine was a necessary step. But now that we’ve adjusted to the idea of pot being legal in some way, we have to properly investigate and standardize its medical properties while letting just people enjoy their weed.

# health // medical marijuana / medical research / medicine


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