Does “Medical” Marijuana Work?

Getting federal approval to research marijuana is a laborious and long process. While the federal government approves and funds many studies that look into the negative effects of cannabis, it has been reluctant to approve those that consider the positive effects. This has created controversy over medical research by creating a Catch-22 situation concerning medical marijuana.

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance under the federal government’s Controlled Substance Act, meaning it is too high-risk for abuse and has no accepted medical applications.

DEA representative Matt Barden said recently,

“In regards to medical marijuana, the DEA of course recognizes the pain and suffering of individuals with serious illness and their need for medication. However, the FDA has repeatedly concluded that marijuana has a high potential for addiction and has no acceptable level of medical use.”

Marijuana research advocates argue that if the federal government were to allow and fund medical marijuana research on a large scale, it would have the evidence it needs to reclassify the drug.

Veterans, medical marijuana activists and scientists welcomed the first federally approved research into pot as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Controversy erupted recently when the university conducting the research decided to cancel the project after clearing four years of bureaucratic hurdles. This created a backlash of protest by veterans and their families who were hopeful for positive results with the research since PTSD affects up to 20 percent of those who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Professor Yosef Sarne of Tel Aviv University’s Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases, based at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine is also studying medical marijuana. Results revealed that medical marijuana includes qualities that could protect the brain from long-term damage after a traumatic injury. The protective effects come from the cannabinoid THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol), the major psychoactive component in the cannabis plant. This implies that medical marijuana might one day help reduce the risk of brain damage after critical surgery. It is thought that THC decreases the levels of free radicals and chemicals that induce inflammation after injury and increases the blood supply to the brain.

Medical marijuana advocates contend that suffering people should not have to wait for scientific research to catch up to patients’ needs. Physicians and patients need to consider all the risks before deciding on any treatment especially one that is controversial. Since a growing number of states are now allowing medical marijuana use, research must be allowed to determine the real medical uses and relative safety levels of marijuana and its component elements.