The evolution of medical marijuana


We’ve all heard the arguments for and against and have been witnessing the back and forths between the pharmaceutical industry, the authorities and the health experts for many, many, many years. But where are we at in the war on medical marijuana?

Well, as of January 23, 2019 it would appear the authorities are taking the benefits of medical marijuana seriously. House lawmakers made history by introducing a bill that, if passed, would mandate that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would need to conduct studies on the potentially therapeutic benefits of cannabis for military veterans suffering chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We see this legislation as an opportunity to… help our vets live better and pain-free,” wrote Andrew Scibetta, Correa’s communications director, to Marijuana Moment. The bill is premised on the idea that veterans would be better to seek relief in medical cannabis than become dependent on opioids, however to get to that stage there must be significant research carried out to ensure the safety and effectiveness of medical cannabis for veterans.

The development comes at a time where governments elsewhere around the world also deliberate over how to deal with the issue. In the Philippines this week, the House of Representatives approved a bill which seeks to legalize the use of medical marijuana in the country. The proposed ‘Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act’ does not allow marijuana to be administered as a plant or hash to be smoked but rather to be consumed by patients as medication. The new law states that patients are able to apply for a “compassionate special permit” from the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of chronic or debilitating medical conditions including arthritis, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.  Even in the United Kingdom calls have been made by MPs to legalize medical marijuana, and in South Africa a landmark court ruling in September last year made the possession, consumption and cultivation of cannabis in private legal. For the approximate 300,000 arrested in the country every year for the possession of small amounts of cannabis, this is no small victory.

There is no doubt that cannabis use remains controversial, hence the million-and-one court cases, proposed bills, debates and opinion pieces focusing on the plant and its myriad uses. There remains, despite hundreds if not thousands of medical trials, some confusion regarding how it impacts the human body and until this is clarified once and for all the subject will continue to rouse debate worldwide. Just this week, CBS rejected a Super Bowl television ad that advocated for the legalization of medical marijuana, which was sponsored by one of the world’s biggest cannabis investment companies.

That being said, recently there have been a spell of companies and products launched around the world that rely heavily on one particular compound derived from hemp – the cannabis plant’s ‘other’ and non-pyschoactive compound, Cannabidiol (CBD). Owing to its natural pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties, CBD oil is now used globally to fight a wide range of medical problems, including epilepsy, cancer, neurological symptoms and disorders, anxiety, acne, type 1 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Even Coca Cola are in talks with Aurora Cannabis regarding the potential development of cannabis-infused beverages. It released a statement in late September last year saying while it had no interest in marijuana, it is keeping a “close watch” on the use of non-psychoactive CBD as an “ingredient in functional wellness beverages.” While scientists and medical researchers have found some side effects, including tiredness, diarrhea and changes in appetite in patients taking CBD oil, its therapeutic benefits appear to outweigh these affects and no significant side effects have been found to date on the central nervous system or mood – which is perhaps what sets it apart from most cannabis compounds.

People have been using hemp and cannabis for thousands of years, history shows, with proof of the plant being used as medicine dating back at least 12,000 years thanks to an ancient Chinese notebook found containing the benefits and effects of it on human health. Western medicine embraced the plant in the 19th century and used it widely – but then, something changed.

It became a criminal act to experience the tangible benefits of the naturally-occurring plant and since, a witch hunt has pursued those involved in its trade and consumption. Fast forward 100-odd years and 33 U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana while 10 have actually legalized its use recreationally. One study recently revealed that as the therapeutic benefits of cannabis become more and more known, people are beginning to replace their medical prescriptions with the plant extract – 78 percent of participants admitted to doing so to treat a health or medical condition, in fact. These users all described cannabis as more effective at treating their conditions than pharmaceutical drugs, and forty-two percent of its users also reported that they stopped taking at least one pharmaceutical drug to replace it with cannabis.

Its users have spoken – and the verdict is good. Cannabis, especially in the form of CBD, is a powerful substance capable of delivering pain relief where other pharmaceutical products cannot. But how will society allow this one to play out? We can only watch and wait.

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