Naysayers complain that using medical marijuana is just an excuse for people to get high legally, but the young and old victims of epilepsy, seizures and genetic disorders heartily disagree. People with epilepsy report that marijuana not only helps to reduce their seizures, but it also causes the seizures to disappear altogether in some cases. The cannabinoid components in marijuana include tetrahydrocannabinol, the plant’s psychoactive elements, and cannabinol, a non-psychoactive component made into an extract or oil used for medicinal purposes only.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Marijuana plant strains and effects:
Sativa strains of the plant offer a euphoric head-high that adds to mental stimulation, creativity and relaxation.
Indica species, nicknamed "in the couch," has a sedative effect that calms the body and relieves stress. People with insomnia use this strain to help them sleep better at night.
Hybrid strains comprised of cross-pollinated or cloned plants from indica and sativa species provide effects based on the particular plant and the combined levels of THC or CBD.
CBD Oil extracts have little to no intoxicating effects and are used primarily by those who only want the medical benefits of the plant, such as treatment for epilepsy, brain injuries, cancer and more.
The Cannabis Plant
Marijuana, or cannabis, comes from a flowering family of plants, Cannabaceae, with three identified species: Cannabis indica, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis ruderalis a low-THC strain of the plant. The crushed leaves and flowers – or buds – represent the parts of the plant used for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Users either smoke or ingest the plant in foods or use hashish or oil. Each plant strain delivers different effects for the user with some strains being more potent than others. For medicinal purposes, some people only use the cannabinol or CBD extract of the plant to avoid its stony effects.
A Medicine Since 2737 B.C.
Chinese emperor Shen Nung first wrote about the benefits of marijuana in his medical journal in 2737 B.C., while recorded history indicates it showed up in Europe in about 500 A.D. Though the emperor mentioned the plant’s intoxicating qualities, he mostly focused on its medicinal uses for treatments of rheumatism, gout, malaria and absent-mindedness.
Though the Spanish reportedly brought marijuana to the New World in 1545, it became a major commercial crop – as a source of fiber – in Jamestown in 1611, later overtaking cotton as a major Southern crop in the 1890s. By the 1920s, it caught on as an alternative to alcohol during the Prohibition years in marijuana clubs known as tea pads. Law enforcement officers of the day did not consider these clubs or the plant’s users to be criminals or threats to society.
Marijuana’s Medical Benefits
Doctors often prescribe medical marijuana to treat severe pain and fibromyalgia, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, children’s seizure disorders, traumatic brain injuries, cancer, dramatic weight loss, muscle atrophy, insomnia, glaucoma, HIV-AIDS, muscle spasms, severe nausea and cachexia. Women baby boomers took to the plant to help them with the symptoms of menopause.
A Medical Miracle
Coloradan Charlotte Figi, born in 2006, began having seizures at three months old, which got worse with time. Some seizures lasted 30 minutes with some episodes lasting from two to four hours and longer, which sometimes required hospitalization. By the time she was 2 1/2 years old, doctors had discovered she had Dravet Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that leads to seizures. Her pharmaceutical medications, up to seven per day, kept her drugged and lethargic.
The doctors could no longer tell whether the drugs or the seizures were causing the most damage to the young child. As time progressed, her health worsened. After discovering a company that created a form of CBD oil, a marijuana extract with little to no THC, her parents integrated it into the young girl’s diet, reducing her seizures significantly. Now she can attend school like every other child. People who use CBD extracts do not get high, as the extract typically contains only 0.3 percent THC – the part of the plant that creates its intoxicating effects – by volume.
With some states relaxing marijuana laws, it’s become easier to study the short- and long-term effects of the plant for medicinal and recreational purposes, but there’s still much that isn’t known about using marijuana. Studies have shown benefits in treating some of the diseases mentioned, but doctors recommend that developing children and teens stay away from the THC elements of marijuana, as it can affect a child’s development.
A recent study conducted at the University of Texas, Dallas, shows that chronic users lose some orbitofrontal cortex function, but this doesn’t seem to affect them overall because other parts of the brain show increased connectivity that makes up for the loss of overall gray matter in the OFC.
The Legalization Issue
History shows that the powerful DuPont and Hearst companies wanted to make the industrial version of the plant – hemp – illegal because of its competition with their own company’s products: plastic rope and newspapers. With the help of legislators, they began a public relations campaign, hence the movie “Reefer Madness,” to link marijuana and hemp together, even though the industrial version of the plant has no psychoactive or health benefits. The result was the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which criminalized its use. The government classified marijuana under the Controlled Substances act of 1970 as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin and LSD, making its sale, use and possession a crime.
As of the November 2017 elections, 29 states and the District of Columbia legalized marijuana for medical use, while nine states plus D.C. also legalized the plant for recreational use. While U.S. legislators in the Senate and Congress are calling to make the plant legal across the nation, other officials and government representatives don’t agree. It takes an act of Congress to remove marijuana from the Schedule 1 list of drugs and make it legal to grow industrial hemp, which is still illegal in the United States.
About the Author
As a journalist and editor for several years, Laurie Brenner has covered many topics in her writings, but science is one of her first loves. Her stint as Manager of the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in California's gold country served to deepen her interest in science which she now fulfills by writing for online science websites. Brenner is also a published sci-fi author. She graduated from San Diego's Coleman College in 1972.