Medical uses of Marijuana
Marijuana has been around as a medication for over 4500 years. It is an effective temporary treatment for glaucoma, as well being known to improve arthritis, insomnia and Tourette's syndrome, yet its use remains extremely controversial. Medical marijuana is cheaper than most pharmaceutical drugs and has some less averse side effects too.
Opponents of the use of medical marijuana say that there are other drugs which can do the job just as well. They cite the side effects and the addictive traits of the drug.
Marijuana and Glaucoma
Marijuana and other members of the hemp family have been found to benefit those suffering from glaucoma. Initial research in the 1970s reported that smoking marijuana lowered intraocular pressure, the cause of glaucoma. It was found that some derivatives of marijuana lowered the intraocular pressure when taken intravenously, by smoking or orally, but not by topical application to the eye. However, this research was conducted prior to many of the medications which are currently prescribed for glaucoma, which have much more positive and long-lasting results than marijuana in lowering intraocular pressure.
One problem with taking marijuana to treat glaucoma was that it required constant inhalation, as often as every three hours and the ensuing side effects significantly outweighed the benefits.
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana comes from the cannabis sativa plant which contains over 400 different chemical components. The most prominent group of these are called cannabinoids and the main psychoactive chemical is tetrahydrocannabinol.
How can Marijuana be Taken?
Marijuana can be taken orally, intravenously, applied topically or inhaled by smoking. The most rapid means to achieve the onset of its psychoactive and medicinal effects is by smoking it or inhaling is as a vapor.
The smoking of marijuana for medical purposes does create concerns regarding the patient's respiratory health, but there have not been any links found between smoking marijuana and lung cancer or emphysema. These problems can also be avoided if marijuana is inhaled using a vaporizer which heats the plant so that the active ingredients are contained in a fine mist, but the plant does not actually catch fire and burn. The mist contains no tars and no noxious gases aiding those with coughing and wheezing problems to take marijuana in this form.
Side Effects of Marijuana
Whilst marijuana is known to create a state of temporary euphoria and intoxication, not all the effects are beneficial. Known side effects of taking marijuana include an increased heart rate and a decrease in blood pressure. It is this lowering of blood pressure which in turn lowers intraocular pressure, albeit very temporarily. The effects generally wear off after 3-4 hours. Marijuana is known to impair short-term memory, cause a lack of appetite and impairs coordination and attention. It slows the immune system response and decreases testosterone in men who are chronic users of the drug. Other more serious side-effects may also be linked to marijuana including schizophrenia.
Marijuana is an addictive substance and approximately 9% of those who try it end up being addicted to it. The withdrawal syndrome is similar to nicotine withdrawal with increased anxiety, irritability and insomnia. Thousands of users apply annually for substance abuse treatment where marijuana is the primary drug.
The Legal Status of Marijuana
Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance in the USA. This category is for drugs which have a high risk for abuse and have no proven medical or therapeutic benefit. Although it passed ballot initiatives by five states in 1998, it is still illegal for anyone to possess marijuana unless it is obtained on prescription from a doctor.
Marijuana Substitutes in Medicine
One marijuana derivative which is currently approved for medical use is Marinol. This is a synthetic form of tetrahydrocannabinol which is marijuana's most active ingredient. Marinol was developed as an antiemetic drug to reduce nausea during chemotherapy. It is given orally as a capsule. Although Marinol was tested on glaucoma patients it was not found to be effective.
Dronabinol is a synthetic version of marijuana, available in pill form which should have resolved the debate. Unfortunately it is much less effective than marijuana as it has only one active ingredient, compared to marijuana's combination of 400 active ingredients. Dronabinol is also prescribed in pill form and it is difficult to swallow and digest for those suffering with vomiting and nausea, for which dronabinol has been prescribed to alleviate. Like all medications, it also takes time to digest and take effect whereas inhaled marijuana gets to work considerably faster.
Scientific Studies on the use of Marijuana to treat Glaucoma
Currently, despite many studies on the effect of marijuana as a treatment to lower intraocular pressure in glaucoma sufferers, it has not been found to be more effective than current pharmaceutical drugs on the market. Consequently no National Eye Institute studies are in place to continue to study its use to treat glaucoma. However, the Glaucoma Research Foundation will continue to monitor future research into the medicinal benefits and use of marijuana and its 400 chemical components.
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