Medical marijuana is now the law of the land in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Whatever your political stance on the subject, researchers who study the matter are finding that medical marijuana can benefit you in more ways than making Cheech and Chong funny.

In fact, the stringent process that marijuana has undergone to be medically legalized shows that the benefits are there. Previously seen as the most insidious drug, it wasn’t until the 1960s that Raphael Mechoulam began taking his first steps toward figuring out the chemical makeup of the plant. As we learn more about cannabis as a potential medicine, how can marijuana help those in need?

The Chemical Makeup

When Mechoulam first began researching cannabis, he discovered two primary active ingredients that make up the plant — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). When people talk about the mind-altering effects of smoking marijuana, they’re talking about THC. CBD is the other common compound found in cannabinoids that offer much of the medical uses, but without the psychoactive effects of THC.

So, does extracting CBD give you the benefits of medical marijuana without the high? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. THC and CBD, while both cannabinoid compounds, interact with our bodies differently. Both interact with receptors known as CB1 and CB2. THC binds with CB1 directly and incredibly easily. CBD doesn’t interact directly with either CB1 or CB2.

All we know for sure is that these two chemicals have a lot of potential, but without further research, the best way forward is obscured.

Instead, it interacts through a process called modulation which some claim dilutes the effectiveness of the cannabinoid. Others claim that the two can act in tandem to remove the psychoactive effects while boosting the health benefits. All we know for sure is that these two similar but differing chemicals have a lot of potential, but without further research, the best way forward is obscured.

The Health Benefits

The primary reason a doctor would prescribe a cannabinoid is pain relief, especially from nerve damage. Medicinal cannabis can also act as an appetite-enhancer, while reducing nausea. This is especially useful for patients undergoing chemotherapy or those afflicted with AIDS. Other conditions for which a doctor may prescribe medical marijuana include:

Marijuana is also commonly used to combat or slow the progression of glaucoma. Other conditions that are believed to benefit from medical cannabinoid use are:

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While the signs are promising that medical marijuana could help many people, more research is needed.

As it stands, there’s enough evidence that points to cannabis’ prodigious medical benefits that Mechoulam, the father of cannabinoid research, named it a “medicinal treasure trove which waits to be discovered.” To unlock the still-hidden potential of this controversial plant, more study is needed, and that process is a whole other daunting challenge.

Research and policy surrounding the use of medical marijuana must reckon with the fact that there are also potential risks of marijuana usage. For both opinions, there’s a startling lack of documented research.

Regardless of your position on the subject of medical marijuana, we hope this article has made one thing (in a very murky subject) clear: While the signs are promising that medical marijuana could help many people, more research is needed.

Whether the evidence ultimately unlocks Mechoulam’s treasure trove or shows the plant to be as dangerous as opponents make it appear, the public only benefits from knowing more.

Further Reading

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program
National Institute on Drug Abuse — What is medical marijuana?