Is Marijuana Medicine?

05/15/2019

Smoke visible on chest X-ray image

The Stance On Medicinal Marijuana

When you hear the word “Marijuana,” what comes to mind? Do you believe it is a drug with serious side effects that makes you stupid and leads to further drug use? Or, do you think it has medical benefits, is not as harmful as alcohol, and has potential to boost the economy through tax revenue? According to a 2015 Pew Research Center poll , the preceding beliefs are the primary reasons for supporting or opposing the legalization of marijuana, both for medicinal and recreational use (1).  

So, which side of the debate are you on? Actually, a more important question is, why do you support this side? Humans formulate opinions in a variety of ways: subjective experience, unconscious bias, research, observation, etc. However, research suggests our views are overwhelming influenced by our social surroundings (2). Simply put, we are more likely to conform to our family’s, friend’s, or colleague’s beliefs, to avoid conflict and ostracism. For example, if I was raised in an environment that viewed marijuana use as “bad,” it is reasonable to presume that I will share these beliefs. The same is true for the opposing ideology.

The greatest problem with this humanistic quality is research and empirical evidence is completely neglected. When we don’t account for the objective facts, we are no longer debating why marijuana should or shouldn’t be used for medicinal or recreational purposes. Instead, we are shouting our beliefs, which typically lack evidence and unbiased reasoning. With this mind, let’s take a couple of minutes and analyze the research and the proceeding findings.

Health Effects Of Marijuana Use

In March 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (3) (NASEM) was asked to form a committee to conduct an extensive review of the literature pertaining to the health effects of marijuana. The committee consisted of sixteen experts in the following disciplines: marijuana, addiction, oncology, cardiology, neurodevelopment, respiratory disease, pediatric and adolescent health, immunology, toxicology, preclinical research, epidemiology, systematic review, and public health. Their goal was to “develop a consensus report with two primary sections: (A) a section of the report will summarize what can be determined about the health effects of marijuana use and, (B) a section of the report will summarize potential therapeutic uses of marijuana.”

These experts analyzed more than 10,700 published research findings from January 1, 1999 through August 1, 2016. Their findings were then assorted into 5 categories:

  1. Conclusive Evidence– many supportive findings from studies with no credible opposing findings
  2. Substantial Evidence– several supportive findings from studies with very few or no credible opposing findings
  3. Moderate Evidence– several supportive findings from studies with very few or no credible opposing findings, but limitations (i.e. chance, bias) cannot be ruled out
  4. Limited Evidence– mixed findings with most favoring one conclusion
  5. No or Insufficient Evidence– mixed findings and no conclusion can be made because of substantial uncertainty.

The following information is the Conclusive and Substantial evidence determined by NASEM:

“There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for:

  1. Treatment of chronic pain for adults
  2. An antiemetic in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
  3. For improving patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms”

“There is substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and:

  1. Worse respiratory symptoms and more frequent chronic bronchitis episodes
  2. Increased risk of motor vehicle crashes
  3. Lower birth weight of offspring
  4. The development of Schizophrenia or other psychoses, with the highest risk among the most recent users (3)”

As you can now see, there is a small amount of conclusive or substantial evidence regarding marijuana’s therapeutic and long-term health effects. In contrast, the majority of the findings were ascertained as moderate evidence. Simply put, more research must be done determine the true medicinal properties and health effects of cannabis. Until this research is conducted, whether you are pro-marijuana or not, it is vital to use science as a guideline when formulating opinions. Click here to read the full NASEM report and get a better understanding of cannabis.

At Project Courage, we understand and realize recovery can be difficult to sort out. If you or a loved one is in need of help, feel free to call us at any point, or if you’re more comfortable, explore our website for information on our services.

By Ben Backes, LADC, LMSW

References
1. Smith, S. (2018, September 24). Why Americans Support or Oppose Legalizing Marijuana. Retrieved from http://www.people-press.org/2015/04/14/in-debate-over-legalizing-marijuana-disagreement-over-drugs-dangers/
2. Klimek, P., Lambiotte, R., & Thurner, S. (2008). Opinion formation in laggard societies. EPL (Europhysics Letters),82(2), 28008. doi:10.1209/0295-5075/82/28008
3. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Health and Medicine Division, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda. (2017). The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Journal of Medical Regulation,104(4), 32-32. doi:10.30770/2572-1852-104.4.32