What is Medical Cannabis?

Marijuana can be both a medicine and a recreational drug, but separating one from the other isn’t simple.

According to the World Health Organization, marijuana is the most popular recreational drug worldwide. However, unlike many other recreational drugs, marijuana is widely used as a medicine as well.

This fact, along with marijuana’s legal status, has led to much confusion over the differences between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.

The earliest use of marijuana was in medicine. Critics often argue that marijuana’s medical benefits are exaggerated by people who just want to use it for fun. But this is far from the truth. In fact, the earliest records of marijuana come from ancient Chinese and Indian medical texts, in which the plant was described as a medicine with many uses. Some of these uses, such as arthritis and pain management, represent the most common conditions that marijuana is prescribed for today.

It’s true that marijuana is often used to get ‘high’, which is why it is labeled a recreational drug. The high is caused by a single chemical in marijuana known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC acts on different parts of the brain to create a feeling of euphoria or pleasure. THC also stimulates appetite and sleep, and is known to enhance certain sensations such as smell, taste and temperature. The high can have medical benefit as well. For instance, euphoria may be a desirable effect for patients undergoing palliative care or for those who suffer from chronic pain.
Contrary to popular belief, not all types of marijuana are psychoactive. In other words, some types of cannabis simply won’t get you high, no matter how much of it you ingest.

These varieties of cannabis contain small amounts of THC. But they are usually rich in a different chemical called cannabidiol (CBD). Due to its inability to get users high, CBD has received a lot of attention as a medicine. For example, CBD-rich cannabis is thought to be more useful in certain situations, such as when being administered to children.

Studies show that CBD-rich cannabis may have unique medical benefits as well. Recently, CBD-rich cannabis has been studied as a treatment for schizophrenia and rare forms of epilepsy.

In the UK, GW Pharmaceuticals are at Phase 3 (prior to submission for approval) of a research project investigating the effectiveness of a drug called Epidiolex®. GW has been researching cannabinoids since 1998 and has established a world leading position in the development of plant-derived cannabinoid therapeutics. GW’s research explores the potential therapeutic application of cannabinoids. GW’s primary focus is on disorders of the central nervous system (CNS) including epilepsy. Epidiolex® is their lead cannabinoid product. Its a liquid formulation of pure plant-derived cannabidiol, or CBD, which is in development for the treatment of a number of rare childhood-onset epilepsy disorders. GW commercialized the world’s first plant-derived cannabinoid prescription drug, Sativex® (nabiximols), which is approved for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis in 29 countries outside the United States. Unfortunately Alfie is not eligible to take part in the Epidiolex trial because it does not include his condition PCDH19. Although this may be included at some time in the future, Alfie needs help now as his health is being badly affected by his clusters of uncontrollable seizures and the use of intravenous steroids to bring each weekly cluster to an end.

Baroness Molly Meacher, Chair of the All Party Committee on Drugs Reform is an advocate of permitting the use of medical marijuana in cases such as Alfie’s, where a large number of other drugs have proved ineffective.

The German parliament (Bundestag) passed a law on Thursday 26 January 2017, that officially makes marijuana legal for medicinal purposes. Patients suffering from serious illness, such as multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, serious appetite loss or nausea from chemotherapy, will now be able to receive prescriptions from their doctors for medical marijuana.

“Seriously ill people must be treated in the best ways possible,” said Health Minister Hermann Gröhe, who proposed the law.

Up until now, only certain people with serious medical conditions could be granted permission to use the drug for self-therapy, and the bar was set fairly high. Only around 1,000 people in the whole country currently have been given permission to use the drug. The new law will expand this and eventually allow cannabis products to be grown under state supervision.