Could cannabis replace your prescribed pharmaceutical medications?

Published May 1, 2019 11:38 a.m. ET
AP Photo/Justin L. Fowler

Now that legal marijuana is so readily accessible and information about possible health and medical benefits to using cannabinoids has been confirmed, there are a lot of people out there who are wondering if cannabis, in some form or another, could replace or reduce the need for daily prescriptions that can be costly, and often come riddled with hazardous and uncomfortable side effects. Unfortunately, marijuana use as a medicine is still a taboo subject with some medical professionals, making it difficult to get trustworthy advice for pain or symptom management outside of traditional pharmaceuticals. So, instead of turning to those that we generally expect to help with health issues, many are forced to seek knowledge from outside sources that may or may not be legitimate or helpful.

To begin, we will address the question at hand. The truth is that there is no one size fits all answer. In most cases, there is no magic cure, just a more manageable option to treat symptoms of conditions that cause pain or inflammation. Some people have stellar luck in their earliest days of experimenting with cannabis and managing common problems, but how effective it might be will depend on a few things including your tolerance, the severity of symptoms, and experienced issues.

Cannabis research

Now that we have years of cannabis research to refer to, there is plenty of evidence to support the idea that cannabis can help almost anyone who is dealing with pain, irritability, nausea, inflammation, anxiety, depression, cancer, insomnia, and more. The debate is more so based on how effective it is when compared to other traditional options. Dosing marijuana can be challenging for both beginners and experienced users alike since the majority of regular pot users don’t quite fully understand the importance of measured cannabinoids. Every person’s experience with cannabis will slightly different from the next, and some weed strains are even known to cause some of the very symptoms you might try to treat with it. There is some science to figuring out specific dosing, but in the end, the ideal marijuana dosing amount will likely be found through experimentation that may take many years to perfect. Here are just a few of the medical conditions that can be treated effectively with THC and or CBD that is used either as an alternative to prescription medications or in combination with more traditional options.  

1. Cancer

Cancer can take various shapes and forms requiring different treatments depending on what type it is. Some of those will include radiation, chemotherapy, or steroids which can all wreak havoc on the body resulting in a loss of appetite, insomnia, depression, anxiety, nausea, all to reduce the patient’s pain and in some cases kill cancer. Marijuana use has proven to be beneficial for all of these listed side effects and can also provide a level and sensation of comfort throughout the ordeal. Unfortunately, aside from a few studies that used CBD on rats to shrink tumors, there is little no evidence that cannabis can cure cancer, but it can dramatically improve a patient’s quality of life.

2. Multiple Sclerosis

This disease can affect the person’s spinal cord and brain inducing high amounts of pain, frequent seizures, vision problems, balance issues, and more. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Journal, cannabis extracts can dramatically reduce those symptoms as well as spasticity in patients, with minimal side effects.

3. Spinal Cord Injury

An injury to the spine can affect a person’s motor skills and body function resulting in extreme pain and uncontrollable muscle spasms. According to the Oxford Center for Enablement, marijuana use can help to improve neurogenic symptoms that show very little improvement with traditional medications.

4. HIV/AIDS

At one time HIV/AIDS was a death sentence, and we have come a long way in our ability to treat this condition long term extending the life of patients with this terrible illness. The problem is that traditional medications used to manage AIDS/HIV can have a long list of adverse side effects including weight loss, reduction in appetite, pain, vertigo, and nausea. All of which can be steadily managed with dosing marijuana in conjunction with regular prescriptions. According to the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 97% of all patients using cannabis reported an improvement in appetite, 94% experiences less muscle pain, and 93% displayed significant decreases in their nausea and anxiety levels.

5. Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a misunderstood medical condition that has varying degrees and therefore a wide range of potentially felt symptoms by sufferers. However, the disorder is generally known for causing seizures that can range from mildly inconveniencing, to full-blown seizures that can last for several minutes while the person remains unconscious. Though marijuana use, in general, can be beneficial for managing pain from injuries experienced during seizures, it’s the inactive cannabinoid CBD that has shown to be the most helpful long term.

6. Arthritis

Did you know that there are over 100 different kinds of Arthritis and that marijuana use can be beneficial for every single one of them? Typical symptoms of patients with this diagnosis will experience symptoms like weakness, stiffness, lack of motion, and pain to varying degrees. According to a paper that was published by Oxford Academic on Rheumatology, cannabis extracts were effective in 96% of patients and reduced reported pain levels by an astonishing 50%. Dosing marijuana provides an analgesic effect that helps manage symptoms.

7. IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)

Patients with IBD quite often experience pain from inflammation in the digestive tract. Crohn's and ulcerative colitis have similar symptoms and respond just as well to cannabis products as a form of treatment. According to cannabis research published by the NCBI, patients who were administered cannabis extracts including both THC and CBD saw an improvement in symptoms like depression, social function, ability to work, and of course physical pain.

8. Palliative Care

End of life care is a difficult topic, but a necessary one as most of us will need to make some form of decisions in preparation for this time in our lives. Many palliative care treatment plans use heavy sedatives that can entirely incubate a patient leaving them unconscious and unable to experience their final moments surrounded by loved ones. This is a measure to reduce the pain that is sometimes experienced as the body begins to shut down for good, but there is a better way. Cannabis research that was published by the Current Oncology found that THC based cannabis extracts and more traditional marijuana use were able to provide relief for distressing symptoms, while keeping patients aware and fully awake, resulting in a better quality of life.

9. Insomnia

There is now plenty of cannabis research that shows both THC and CBD can have a positive effect when used as a treatment method in sleep therapy. This makes sense since marijuana use typically improves the quality of a person’s sleep.

10. Spinal Cord Disease

Spinal cord disease is a vague term that is used to reference any sort of spinal issue that is not caused by trauma or injury. According to the European Journal of Neurology cannabis-derived medicines are able to effectively and drastically reduce both the spasticity and pain experienced by patients with SPD.

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