In 2016, Florida voters legalized medical marijuana with the passage of the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as Amendment 2. At the time of publication, 33 states have passed similar laws allowing patients in need to access cannabis treatment.
As countless studies have reaffirmed its benefits, medical marijuana has become available for an increasing number of conditions. But what is the main condition that drives medical cannabis use? And what are the main reasons that patients use medical marijuana in general?
What Condition Is Medical Marijuana Used for Most?
A recent study published by Health Affairs found that approximately two-thirds of medical marijuana patients define chronic pain as their main reason for treatment.
Medical marijuana is becoming the go-to treatment for many patients who suffer from chronic pain because, first and foremost: It provides relief. Thousands of patients share a similar experience of being prescribed opioids and other aggressive painkillers that either didn’t provide relief, included unwanted side effects or both.
Brandian Smith, a patient who participated in the Health Affairs study, was able to stop opioid use after she discovered the benefits of medical marijuana. Smith describes how much more effective cannabis is for her:
Cannabis is the first thing I’ve found that actually makes the pain go away and [doesn’t] leave me so high that I can’t enjoy my day.
It can be difficult to find an effective treatment for chronic pain that enables you to live your life comfortably and participate in your usual activities. Many patients are prescribed several different drugs, sometimes at the same time, in an effort to find relief. Patients like Smith and many others have finally been able to achieve relief from chronic pain and other conditions using only medical marijuana.
In fact, it is estimated that as of May 2018, over 3 million people in the country are registered medical marijuana patients. This large representation is likely due to the fact that cannabis can provide relief when many other drugs fall short (and for quite an impressive range of conditions!).
But what makes marijuana so effective where other treatments fail?
How Medical Marijuana Works
The endocannabinoid system is a biological system of naturally produced chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, and cannabinoid receptors located throughout the body. These receptors are found mostly in the immune system, nervous system and the brain. The endocannabinoid system is often stimulated by two primary cannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG. When these molecules interact with receptors, they can alter the release of neurotransmitters.
A healthily stimulated endocannabinoid system helps regulate body functions like metabolism, appetite, sleep, mood and pain. However, many diseases can cause an imbalance in the endocannabinoid system. As a result, people suffering from these diseases will experience a loss of appetite, fatigue, weight fluctuations, pain and more.
Fortunately, medical marijuana includes phytocannabinoids (such as THC and CBD) which closely resemble the natural endocannabinoid molecules that the body produces. When phytocannabinoids enter the body, they bind with cannabinoid receptors to replace the naturally occurring molecules that are low in number. This produces relief from many of the effects that are caused by imbalances in the endocannabinoid system.
With medical marijuana, patients are able to relieve pain, restore their appetite, enhance their sleep patterns and improve their overall quality of life.
Cannabis clearly has useful applications, but why are patients choosing medical marijuana when other treatments already exist?
Why Do People Use Medical Marijuana?
Medical marijuana is revolutionizing the treatment of numerous conditions in Florida and across the country. This is because cannabis can produce benefits that are otherwise unattainable without the side-effects often associated with other treatment methods.
Aside from chronic pain, Florida patients are primarily using medical marijuana for the following conditions:
ALS (Lou Gehrig’s)
Cannabis has many properties that make it an ideal treatment for ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Its antioxidative, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties suggest that marijuana may work better than current FDA-approved medications and could slow down the progression of the disease. Cannabis is also effective at treating many ALS symptoms, including excessive salivation, muscle spasms, pain, seizures and involuntary movements.
For more details, see: ALS & Medical Marijuana.
Research has confirmed that marijuana may actually kill cancer cells and inhibit the growth of tumors, which are remarkable results that few other drugs or treatments can offer. Additionally, medical marijuana can help treat many cancer symptoms and side-effects of disease treatment. Examples include anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and pain.
For more details, see: Cancer & Medical Marijuana.
The first study researching the use of marijuana for Crohn’s disease, published in 2011, found that the use of cannabis helps stop the progression of the disease and may even reverse it. Marijuana was also shown to reduce the need for other Crohn’s disease drugs and treatments. Additionally, medical marijuana treatment offers therapeutic benefits for many symptoms of Crohn’s, including fatigue, trouble sleeping and loss of appetite.
For more details, see: Crohn’s Disease & Medical Marijuana.
CBD, one of the most well known cannabinoids, has been found to significantly decrease the rate of drop seizures when included with traditional seizure medication. As a result, the FDA approved the first drug that is derived from marijuana, called Epidiolex. Epidiolex is administered via an oral spray and has gained widespread popularity since its introduction.
For more details, see: Epilepsy & Medical Marijuana.
Marijuana has been proven to be an effective alternative to traditional glaucoma medications, many of which cause undesired side-effects such as palpitations, tachycardia and altered mental states. The use of medical marijuana has been shown to lower intraocular pressure (IOP) by approximately 25%.
For more details, see: Glaucoma & Medical Marijuana.
Marijuana helps relieve a number of symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS, including anxiety, depression, nausea and loss of appetite. This can assist patients with continuing other prescribed treatments, such as antiretroviral therapy (ART). Additional research suggests that marijuana may even suppress HIV-replication.
For more details, see: HIV/AIDS & Medical Marijuana.
For multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, marijuana can help relieve pain and inflammation while reducing the frequency and severity of muscle spasms, as discovered by a 2012 study. As a result, patients can enjoy better sleep, more freedom of movement and a calming of the frequent urge to urinate.
For more details, see: Multiple Sclerosis & Medical Marijuana.
A 2015 Parkinson’s disease study showed that cannabis was the most effective treatment for sleep and mood improvement amongst all complementary and alternative medications. A separate study reported that marijuana also improves Parkinson’s motor symptoms including tremors, rigidity and bradykinesia.
For more details, see: Parkinson’s & Medical Marijuana.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients often suffer from anxiety, aggression, sleep disorders and mood swings. Medical marijuana can help soothe all of these symptoms, and may also reduce learned fear, which is a condition that triggers the fight or flight response at inappropriate times.
For more details, see: PTSD & Medical Marijuana.