Cannabis indica, cannabis sativa, cannabis americanus, Indian hemp and marijuana (or marihuana) all refer to the same plant. Cannabis is used throughout the world for diverse purposes and has a long history characterized by usefulness, euphoria or evil depending on one’s point of view. Medical professionals in the western world have forgotten almost all they once knew about the therapeutic properties of marijuana, or cannabis.
Analgesia, anti-convulsant action, appetite stimulation, ataraxia, antibiotic properties and low toxicity have been described throughout medical literature. For the most part the therapeutic aspects of cannabis remain to be re-explored under modern clinical conditions. In fact, from 1839 to its removal from availability to physicians in 1937 at least 12 separate therapeutic uses for cannabis were described:
Meanwhile, cannabis continues to be denied to sufferers by the government, despite efficacious preliminary results and entreaties of numerous patients to unresponsive government agencies rationalizing their intransigence by a “we can’t be too careful” stance.
Physicians and patients in increasing numbers continue to relearn through personal experience the lessons of the 19th century. Many people know that marijuana is now being used illegally for the nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy, and many other medical ailments.
Some know that it lowers intraocular pressure in glaucoma. Patients have found it useful as an anticonvulsant, as a muscle relaxant in spastic disorders, and as an appetite stimulant in the wasting syndrome of human immunodeficiency virus infection. It is also being used to relieve phantom limb pain, menstrual cramps, and other types of chronic pain, including migraines.
One of marihuana’s greatest advantages as a medicine is its remarkable safety. It has little effect on major physiological functions. There is no known case of a lethal overdose.
On the basis of animal models, the ratio of lethal to effective dose is estimated as 40,000 to 1. By comparison, the ratio is between 3 and 50 to 1 for secobarbital, and between 4 and 10 to 1 for ethanol.
Marihuana is also far less addictive and far less subject to abuse than many drugs now used as muscle relaxants, hypnotics, and analgesics. The chief legitimate concern is the effect of smoking on the lungs. Cannabis smoke carries more tars and other particulate matter than tobacco smoke. But the amount smoked is much less, especially in medical use, and once marihuana is an openly recognized medicine, solutions may be found such as vaporization, tinctures, extracts and oils.
At present, the greatest danger in medical use of marijuana is its illegality, which imposes much anxiety and expense on suffering people, forces them to bargain with illicit drug dealers, and exposes them to the threat of criminal prosecution.
Further, polls and voter referenda have repeatedly indicated that the vast majority of North-Americans think marijuana should be medically available to the public and even decriminalized or legalized for simple possession.
Most physicians seem to take little active interest in the subject of marijuana as medicine, and their silence is often cited by those who are determined that marijuana shall remain a forbidden medicine.
Meanwhile, many physicians pretend to ignore the fact that their patients with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, asthma or migraines are smoking marijuana for relief; some quietly encourage their patients yet fearing retribution from medical associations or their peers.
In a 1990 survey, 44% of oncologists said they had suggested that a patient smoke marijuana for relief of the nausea induced by chemotherapy. If marijuana were actually unsafe for use even under medical supervision, as its Schedule I status explicitly affirms, this recommendation would be unthinkable. It is time for physicians to acknowledge more openly that the present classification is scientifically, legally, and morally wrong.
Marijuana or cannabis will continue to be used effectively as medicine for a wide range of medical problems. The government and medical community need to recognize that all patients have a right to use a completely natural medicinal plant that helps their specific medical condition, and make it readily available for public medical use.
More reasonable laws and regulations controlling drug research are required to permit significant medical inquiry to begin so that we can fill the large gaps in our knowledge of cannabis.
Medicine, being an empirical art, has not hesitated in the past to utilize a substance first used for recreational purposes for the pursuit of the more noble purposes of healing, relieving pain and teaching us more of the workings of the human mind and body.
written from excerpts by:
Tod H. Mikuriya M.D
Dr. Lester Grinspoon
James B. Bakalar