Medical marijuana’s history dates back much further than most people realize. The plant has long been held in high regard and its use is documented in eastern medicine dating as far back as 2900 BC in China. Our own government was actually growing sixty thousand pounds a year of pharmaceutical marijuana in 1918.
That was before Reefer Madness made it federally illegal and here we are a century later in an interesting duel between states sovereign rights and the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. This essentially means that the drug has no medical use whatsoever and that couldn’t be further from the truth. So, let’s take a deeper look at the long and storied medical history of marijuana and its many uses.
Around 2900 BC the Chinese emperor Fu Xi documented the medicinal powers of marijuana. The emperor said that plant itself possesses both yin and yang properties, making it a desirable and flexible herb in the arsenal of ancient Chinese healers. The plant is again referenced just 200 years later in 2700 BC by the emperor Shen Nung who is also considered to be the father of Chinese medicine.
In “The Herbal” which is the first book of Chinese medicine ever written, the emperor discussed the use of marijuana for clothing, rope and more. While the plant itself did possess both yin and yang, after much experimentation Shen Nung discovered that the female energy in the plant was preferred. Marijuana was consumed in a tincture beverage called ‘ma.’ The drink was made with a mixture of the plant’s flower and leaves and was prescribed as a remedy for over a hundred different problems.
During Biblical Times
Next up on our timeline is the book of Exodus which occurred around 1450 BC. In 2003, Chris Bennet of High Times wrote a piece entitled “Was Jesus a Stoner?” After researching the article and discovering that in true stoner fashion High Times have failed to digitize their archives I moved on to secondary sources. The article’s central argument revolves around the translation of the word ‘cane’ in a list of ingredients used to make the anointing oil in Exodus 30:22-30. Some historians and scholars argue that the plant mentioned in Hebrew actually translates as ‘kanah-bosom,’ which is actually cannabis.
This translation issue is key. It would mean that marijuana was not only used in ancient Chinese medicine but that it migrated west in the Millennium following its appearance in the orient. It also means that both the father of Chinese medicine and the Judeo Christian religions also share in the use of the plant as medicine. There is even a depiction of Jesus in the Basilica Catedrale di Santa Maria Nouva Monreale in Sicily that implies Jesus using marijuana to heal the blind with a very clear pot leaf above the people being healed.
As we continue down the long line of historical evidence supporting the healing power of Cannabis we enter Egypt circa 1213 BC where pollen from the cannabis flower was found on the mummy of Ramesses II. However, respected Egyptologist Lise Manniche reports evidence that the Egyptian scrolls suggest cannabis use medicinally as far back as the 18th century BC. The Egyptians recorded their use of the plant in various forms including grinding it up and mixing it in honey for use a vaginal suppository and also using it as a true suppository for the relief of discomfort from hemorrhoids.
In India starting around 1000 BC the beverage Bhang was popularized. Said to come from the Hindu deity Shiva the beverage was used to treat anxiety and as such is one of the first references in medical history to mental health.
So, the real question becomes that if China used cannabis to treat hundreds of disorders, Jesus used it to heal the blind, the Egyptian Pharaohs used it medicinally, the Indians used it for mental health and all of this was before the birth of Christ, how is this plant illegal now in 2018?
Well, the short answer is that this is all anecdotal evidence. Even though there are obvious medical benefits and our government even has patents on the medical benefits of cannabis, these antiquated anecdotes are not hard data. That’s why interesting tales of before our time can only help us to a certain extent. Studies by medical professionals and government officials must be carried out on a larger scale to help support the cannabis argument. However, the regulations regarding cannabis within the US continue to hinder these studies from taking place. These studies are greatly needed to allow medical professionals to understand proper dosages and potential treatments.
Although cannabis can be bought for recreational purposes and medical purposes in certain states within the US the clinical trials are still very important to have as they will provide further details on how much, which strain, in what form of cannabis is needed to treat different illnesses. Countries including the Netherlands, Ireland, Australia and even Israel, as well as many others have legalized medical cannabis. Israel legalized in 1992 and as a result they are processing over 100 clinical trials many of which will conclude before comparable studies have even begun in America. It is hoped however, that these findings will still benefit patients in the US in the future.
At the moment, due to the lack of medical evidence, doctors cannot and will not prescribe medical cannabis to patients for the purpose of dealing with mental health issues. This is due to the lack of scientific support as well as the possible repercussions which could ensue if a prescribed dose lead to serious side effects. Doctors understand the benefits it can have towards people with autism, epilepsy and ADHD etc but the lack of evidence keeps their hands tied. Pharmaceutical companies are also holding back from doing research into medical cannabis even with the knowledge that it can help people in many different ways. A spokesperson for GW Pharmaceutical stated that they would not be conducting research into cannabinoid medicines as they where currently conducting full trials in other areas. This could be considered a safe move based on legislation or a move towards what brings profit. Drugs that they can sell or drugs that they cant sell.
We know what clinical trials are and what their purpose is, but how long do they take? This is an important question to understand as many people across the US are waiting for much needed drugs for their serious disorders and time is of the essence for them. Clinical trials in the US go through four stages according to the Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) and within these stages their are a number of participants who test each drug and it is carried out over a predetermined period of time. For example phase 2 could last 7 months or 2 years depending on the drug and further results.
The final phase however has not been given a set time, therefore we can only presume this was left out of their website in error. However due to the number of participants included within this phase (several thousand) when compared to phase 3 (300 to 3,000 participants) we can gather that it could take between 1 to 5 years. At an estimated guess from the details provided on the website we can estimate that the shortest potential clinical trial could take up to just over 3 years to complete and the longest trial could take just over 7 years to complete. Sadly this means that medical marijuana treatments will be without official scientific support for a possible 10 to 20 years depending on whether or not pharmaceutical companies start to show more interest.
This presents an opportunity for entrepreneurs to come in and solve medical issues with medical marijuana. So, let’s dig a little deeper into just how many different medical conditions have anecdotal and often times scientific but not clinical level evidence to support their claims. Everything from cluster headaches and ADD to chronic pain and cancer treatments have been shown to benefit from medical marijuana treatments. While cluster headaches are only a small issue, chronic pain, ADD and cancer affects millions upon millions of American lives every day both directly and tangentially.
Opioid Impact on Americans
According to the Indiana University an estimated 100 million Americans are living with chronic pain as reported in 2015. This is a serious issue for America as this meant that in 2015 a third of their entire population suffered from chronic pain. This can lead to pressure being put on businesses in relation to productivity and also an even bigger pressure on the health sector. Chronic pain is classified as a pain that last for more than 12 weeks. However, for those suffering with these pains their is a light at the end of the tunnel as researchers and medical professionals look to cannabis and their cannabinoids for managing pain.
At the moment the standard practice for managing pain is to use modern medicine or opioids as they are also known. Examples of these are Codeine, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone and Methadone to name a few. Although it has been the norm for many years, it has been found to have adverse effects when dealing with chronic pain management. These prescribed drugs can be addictive and lead to harder drug use of cocaine and heroine if patients can no longer afford legal medicine. As a result this has lead to an epidemic which is causing America more problems than solving them. According to CNN in 2017 opioids are killing more people now than breast cancer. It is clear that new measures need to be taken to help both Americans suffering from severe and chronic pain as well as those now addicted to opioids. A natural nonaddictive alternative is needed and cannabis could hold the answers.
The primary issue with opioids are that they kill the pain felt from different disorders and in the case of chronic pain they kill the pain felt from inflammatory disorders. This is just a quick fix for one part of the problem. Painkillers relieve the pain but they do not target the root cause of the pain. A study on medical cannabis provided evidence which stated that cannabis can provide support for homeostasis as well as the endocannabinoid system within the body. For those that do not fully understand the endocannabinoid system is a system within your body that contributes towards the overall repair of the body from infections or virus’s etc. Homeostasis relates to your body being in perfect balance so it can carry out its functions unhindered i.e. digestion, temperature regulation etc.
If cannabis has be found to help these properties within our body we can assume that it could in fact be a better natural and nonaddictive solution for chronic pain management. It helps relieve our pain, it helps our own defenses repair your body, and also contributes towards your bodies overall equilibrium. Evidence such as this combined with the anecdotal evidence seen in articles and videos on the internet provide further argument that cannabis is a much better alternative for pain management and it needs increased scientific support sooner rather than later.
One of the most recurring and incurable problems faced by the people of America yet is Attention Deficit Disorder. And some suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Almost 40% increase was noted when compared the number of patients with the disease in 2003 and 2012. Even the National Institute of Medical health has published a report that says almost 20 million Americans are suffering from the disease throughout their lives. And according to the calculations done by the team, 30 million patients exist to this day.
What do we know about ADD/ADHD symptoms? It might be clear from the difference of the name that while the former is just a focus related problem, the latter can also cause hyperactivity that causes patients to be restless. ADHD patients can’t sit through a class or quietly pass the time in one place when at work or any other environment that restricts movement. Adderall or Ritalin are some of the most commonly prescribed medicines for the treatment of these diseases which have the active ingredient amphetamine salts in them. Lots of people have heard about it, and it does ring a bell doesn’t it? Perhaps Crystal Meth might clear the image. Yes, these medications contain ingredients of meth.
This causes serious concern in the minds of the patients and/or their families who are familiar with the drug’s catastrophic consequences. Cannabis, however, can be an alternative that can be tried. Australian scientists had conducted an experiment with cannabis that proved that the attention span of rats in the lab was increased significantly under the influence of cannabis. Of course, human trials haven’t been conducted yet due to the social pressure cannabis brings, but people have seen it work themselves. An example was from King’s College, London where 30 ADHD patients felt their symptoms being alleviated by the use of CBD and THC through an oral spray.
Most of the patients suffering from the disease are facing it throughout their lives, getting them the term of chronic disease. The University of California in Los Angeles has released research that states that prolonged use of meth can and eventually does kill the brain. This can raise serious questions and make people second guess the medical treatment they’re relying on, right? Ironically meth is the same drug that the US is famous for overuse, and it is the most commonly prescribed thing regarding medical treatment. It is still a question that raises a lot of doubts and uncertainties in mind about the doctors that are still prescribing street drugs to patients with real miserable diseases.
A cancer diagnosis is one of the most traumatic things a person and their family can go through. Between the time spent waiting for news after being tested, the shock of the actual result and even the potential anxiety felt when looking for treatment. As it is widely known, cancer treatment can be very tough. In many occasions it can be as damaging to the patient as the cancer it self. A number of studies have demonstrated that medical cannabis treatments can be used effectively to help aid the side effects felt from chemo and other cancer treatments but also as a potential alternative cancer treatment all together. The main aspect stopping cannabis being used and studied further is the fact that it is an illegal drug. This stops most scientific studies being carried out especially for neurological testing where THC in cannabis needs to be tested. This is the aspect that makes cannabis illegal as it provides the high.
Sadly, this means there is not enough of a responsible understanding on the precise physiological mechanisms that can be exploited through cannabis to treat patients with cancer. There are many different studies and articles from institutes around the world that also support these findings. Further more a study carried out on mice found that cannabinoids helped to completely stop the creation of a chemical called Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF). This is interesting because this is the same chemical that is used by cancerous tumors in humans to attack the body and its vital nutrients within the blood. It could then be theorized that if cannabis can act like this in mice when treating cancer it could provide these same benefits towards humans.
This treatment would starve the tumors of any nutrients and as a result they would die off. In 2004 two Spanish doctors carried out similar research. They introduced cannabinoids into the cancerous brain tumors of two patients and found that the brain tumors acted (reduced VEGF levels) in a similar way to the study mentioned before. This was ground breaking at the time but like many discoveries around cannabis it has not seen further follow up research since. Further research would allow us to understand what types of treatment are needed to treat different ailments, what forms they should be taken i.e. drops, eaten, injected, smoked etc, and which dosages work best for each disorder.
Finally, we will talk about medical marijuana and headaches, but to be more specific, cluster headaches. Cluster headaches affect around half a million people within the United States according to the American Headache Society in 2011. Cluster headaches should not be confused with migraines as the main differences relate to the position of the pain and how long it lasts. Migraines only occur occasionally and can cause the patient to react sensitively to light and sound and receive severe pain.
Cluster headaches are nicknamed ‘suicide headaches’ and for good reason. The attacks come once or more daily and often at precise times. The patients with the condition are broken down into two categories: episodic and chronic. Episodic patients will experience these cluster headaches for months on end with a break between. The breaks can last weeks or months but the headaches always return. The chronic sufferers have no repose, they have no breaks. They simply suffer day in and day out. In a 2013 article by the Atlantic, cluster headache patients described the pain in their own words.
Charming right? Or not. So how can CBD, THC and medical marijuana be of assistance to cluster headache sufferers? The answer lies in our body’s endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoid receptors are found all over our bodies and in our nervous systems, but at varying concentrations in certain parts. One of the higher concentrations is in the hypothalamus region of the brain. So what exactly is the hypothalamus and what does it do? It’s the switchboard that sends signals from the brain to the body and converts electronic impulses from the nervous system into physical results. Often these signals trigger what is called hormone cascades, which cause physical effects in the body like the dilation of blood vessels or the regulation of appetite.
The hypothalamus also plays a role in the control of our circadian rhythms, or in layman’s terms, our biological clock. Since the pain from cluster headaches comes from a combination of the dilation of blood vessels pushing on nerves and it happens on a rigorous schedule, researchers have hypothesized that a malfunction of some kind in the hypothalamus is the source of the condition. An Italian study shows that hypothalamic stimulation can relieve pain in patients suffering from cluster headaches. And guess what medical marijuana does? It stimulates the hypothalamus! THC and CBD both plug into the abundance of endocannabinoid receptors when ingested. So, could this be a good supplement to your existing treatment plan? Of course, but as always, before altering any treatment you should consult a physician for proper medical advice.
So, we began with the history of medical marijuana and examined thousands of years of anecdotal evidence supporting its benefits. Yet, that isn’t enough. So, now we’ve looked at ways that medical marijuana can help patients suffering from America’s most common afflictions down to rare and horrendous conditions like cluster headaches. The bottom line is that there are studies from all over the world which prove the efficacy of medical marijuana to treat a wide variety of diseases, yet it remains classified as a controlled substance. It makes zero sense. Hopefully, the government can reverse its stance on the matter and legalize medical marijuana, seeing as one branch calls it useless with no medical benefits and the USDA holds patents for its medical applications.
2018 is a new chance for patients of many conditions to have relief without toxic side effects. Many compounds that are later distilled into patentable isolates originate from plants themselves and often times the whole plant medicine is more powerful. Yet, whole plants cannot be commercialized the same way an isolated compound can. I, for one, am hopeful that medical marijuana can change that paradigm while being a healthy mixture of impact and profit as a whole plant medicine with broad applications.