Cannabis’ history of medical utility is older than Jesus and more international than globalization. Records dating as far back as 2737 B.C. recall Chinese Emperor Shen Neng’s prescribing marijuana tea to ameliorate symptoms of malaria, rheumatism, gout, and poor memory.
Quick History of Medical Cannabis
18th century American journals advised patients to use hemp to treat inflammation, venereal disease, and incontinence.
The 19th century Irish physician William O’Shaughnessy is credited with the enormous rise in popularity of medical marijuana in the West. He discovered that marijuana eased the symptoms of joint pain and nausea.
Cannabis was an acceptable and common part of medical culture, and that was just as true in America as it was across the world. And then Mexicans fleeing the violence of the Mexican Revolution arrived in the United States and introduced the use of recreational marijuana.
The land of the free and the home of the brave completely panicked at the influx of immigrants and did everything it could to police them and eliminate the Mexican-associated “marijuana menace.” Xenophobia and racial bias have been the real MVP’s for the anti-weed movement since the nineteenth century.
Happily, the tide has been turning. Several states legalized the use of medical marijuana, and in October 19, 2009, Obama’s U.S. Justice department informed the nation that prosecutors would not pursue medical marijuana distributors and users despite cannabis’ status as a Schedule I drug.
This revitalized legitimacy of medical marijuana has garnered global momentum resulting in an array of clinical trials. Here are some of the most recent and interesting medical trials grouped by the conditions marijuana has the potential to treat.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive and slow moving disorder of the nervous system. It is known for producing a tremor, but it also causes stiffness and slow movement.
The symptoms of Parkinson’s are a result of neuron degradation and the subsequent decline of dopamine levels.
“Effect of Medical Cannabis on Thermal Quantitative Measurements of Pain in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease”
This Israeli study, published in October 2016, evaluated the effectiveness of cannabis to relieve motor symptoms and pain in 20 patients with Parkinson’s disease.
The results of the study suggest that cannabis can improve motor scores and alleviate pain in patients with Parkinson’s.
Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system that causes seizures, unusual sensations and behavior, and the occasional loss of consciousness.
Symptoms of epilepsy include spells of blank staring, confusion, uncontrollable movement in the arms and legs, temporary unconsciousness, and psychic states.
“Marijuana Use in Adults Admitted to a Canadian Epilepsy Monitoring Unit”
This Canadian study, published in 2016, evaluated the effects of marijuana on epileptic and nonepileptic patients suffering from seizures over a 14-month period. 292 adult patients were divided into four groups based on the type of seizure: epileptic seizures, psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES), epileptic seizures and PNES, and nonepileptic seizures.
The study found that patients who used cannabis experienced improved seizure control, a reduction of stress, improved sleep, improved memory and concentration, and decreased side effects from antiepileptic drugs.
Chronic pain, or pain lasting longer than six months is a traumatic and persistent infliction affecting approximately 100 million Americans.
Common areas of chronic pain include the head, joints, back, shoulders, pelvis, neck, or other areas of the body. One of the most debilitating aspects of chronic pain stems from the emotional damage it causes. Patients often experience isolation, depression, fatigue, anger, stress, and anxiety.
“Dronabinol Increases Pain Threshold in Patients with Functional Chest Pain; a Pilot Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial”
This American study, published in January 2016, evaluated the effect of cannabinoid receptors 1 (CB1) and 2 (CB2) on pain threshold, frequency, and intensity in patients with functional chest pain (FCP), or noncardiac chest pain.
The study’s results indicate that the use of dronabinol, a synthetic form of cannabis, resulted in a reduction in FCP pain intensity and decreased painful swallowing in the mouth and esophagus.
“Efficacy of Inhaled Cannabis on Painful Diabetic Neuropathy”
This April 2015 American study asked 16 patients with painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy to participate in a survey assessing their pain and the effect of cannabis in their pain management.
At the conclusion of the survey, most of the patients stated that using medical marijuana alleviated their pain symptoms and is an interesting alternative to opioid-based treatments.
Bipolar disorder is a mental condition that produces frequent and extreme mood swings from euphoria (mania) to depression.
While the causes of bipolar disorder remain elusive, some of the factors involved could be genetics, an imbalance in brain chemicals, and physical differences in brain anatomy.
“Joint Effects: A Pilot Investigation of the Impact of Bipolar Disorder and Marijuana Use on Cognitive Function and Mood”
This American study, published in June 2016, evaluated the effect of marijuana on mood and cognitive function in patients with bipolar disorder.
The study found that, in the 12 patients with bipolar disorder who smoked cannabis, mood symptoms decreased without compounding cognitive impairment.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially debilitating disorder of the central nervous system in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves.
The symptoms of MS include limb numbness, vision loss accompanied with eye pain, double vision, tingling, tremor, clumsiness, slurred speech, dizziness, fatigue, bowel and bladder dysfunction, and spasticity (muscle stiffness/stretch reflex).
“The Effect of Cannabinoids on the Stretch Reflex in Multiple Sclerosis Spasticity”
This July 2016 Italian study evaluated the ability of a cannabis-based oral spray to alleviate the MS symptom of spasticity, the involuntary and simultaneous stretching and relaxing of muscles resulting in stiffness. The study assessed a total of 57 MS patients, and found that the use of cannabis decreased the stretch reflex in those patients.
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that desolates memory and brain cells. The disease’s symptoms include incremental memory loss of increasing severity, dramatic personality changes, confusion, poor judgment, and difficulty concentrating.
“Safety and Efficacy of Medical Cannabis Oil for Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia: An Open-Label, Add-On, Pilot Study”
This 2016 Israeli study sought to examine the safety and ability of cannabis to alleviate behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia in ten patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
The study shows that the use of cannabis resulted in decreased delusions, agitation and aggression, irritability, and apathy in Alzheimer’s patients, and decreased distress in their caregivers.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder resulting from a traumatic experience. The symptoms of PTSD include severe anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, and incessant thoughts about the triggering event.
“The Efficacy of Nabilone, a Synthetic Cannabinoid, in the Treatment of PTSD-Associated Nightmares: A Preliminary Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo Controlled Cross-Over Design Study”
This 2015 Canadian study examined the ability of Nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid, to reduce the intensity and frequency of nightmares in 10 patients with PTSD.
The study found that Nabilone decreased nightmares in military veterans with the disorder.
The Future of Medical Cannabis
This list of clinical studies only scratches the surface. The activity in the medical community regarding the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana is vigorous and promising, and that may be more important now than ever as the country’s leadership shifts from an Obama to a Trump administration. The more evidence the medical community can produce to legitimize the legalization of marijuana, the closer the country moves to declassifying cannabis as a Schedule I drug.
But that’s another story.