The First Phase of Legal Marijuana

Medical MarijuanaThe start of legalizing medical marijuana in Minnesota began last Monday. The initial step for patients is to be certified that one has a condition approved for treatment by this medication. Pain is not a condition approved for marijuana in Minnesota. Once certified as having an appropriate condition, the process in Minnesota applying for the medication can begin, and then obtaining the approved medication can occur. One can assume, the medical marijuana oils obtained in Minnesota, will be far different from recreational use marijuana.

In June, 2015, the lead National Geographic article is titled “Weed, The New Science of Marijuana”. It is an excellent review of the knowledge and science of cannabis. The use of marijuana dates back to at least to 3000 B.C.E., but did not become demonized until 1970 when it became a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it had no valid medical purpose. The truth about marijuana is much more complex. The study of marijuana really began only in the early 1960’s compared to the early 1800’s when opium and cocaine became known. Those drugs, which were once taboo, led us to the discovery of morphine and coco leaves. Will marijuana follow a similar path?

The Science Behind Marijuana

In 1963, a young organic chemist by the name of Raphael Mechoulam began experimenting with the compounds in marijuana. After isolating a number of compounds, Mechoulam tested the compounds on monkeys. Only one compound produced a significant effect. As Mechoulam wrote, “normally the rhesus monkey is quite an aggressive individual,” but when injected with this compound, the monkeys became quite calm.

Flash forward a few years, and Mechoulam’s research is helping 20,000 patients get treatment in his home country of Israel for a variety of conditions, including Crohn’s Disease, glaucoma, Tourette’s Syndrome and asthma. Mechoulman says he doesn’t believe the substance should be legalized for recreational use, but he hopes the stigma of studying the compounds for medical research fades now that more people seeing the medical benefits it possesses.

“We have just scratched the surface,” he says, “and I greatly regret that I don’t have another lifetime to devote to this field, for we may well discover that cannabinoids are involved in some way in all human diseases.”

In fact, researchers are using marijuana to combat cancers as we speak. Research in Spain found that some rats with brain tumors were cured of their condition after being injected with THC. The results are quite encouraging, but as biochemist Manuel Guzmán noted, “the problem is, mice are not humans. We do not know if this can be extrapolated to humans at all.”

Think about that for a second. We may have found another potential ally in the war on cancer, but there’s still so much hate for the drug that it’s impeding medical progress. We need to study these compounds in order to provide the best care possible for our patients.

Related source: National Geographic

What Pain Professionals Are Saying About Marijuana

Marijuana is a controversial topic in society. Some people want it legalized while others demonize the compound. The reality in the medical field is somewhat in the middle. The first thing that needs to be understood is that in most circumstances, medical experts are primarily interested in all the compounds in marijuana except for THC. That means most medical professionals are interested in what cannabinoids or cannabidiols (CBD) compounds are present and what medical purpose they serve. The major compound that is present in almost all available marijuana is THC, which also happens to be the compound responsible for the high one receives from marijuana.

For pain professionals, there is good understanding of the action and effects of THC. Most strains available in states that have legal marijuana, including strains that are “medicinal” in use have high amounts of THC, 10% or greater in amount, and virtually no other cannabidiols, or less than 2%. In the years of the hippie generation, the 1960’s and 1970’s, THC to CBD ratio was 1:1, and averaged 1-2%, while the really good stuff was just around 5%. Now available in legalized states, most available strains are minimum of 10% with up to 30% THC.

Medical Marijuana

Medically, the best comparison of legal marijuana at this time, is to alcohol. The risk of dependence to THC is about 9%, including when using once a week (in reality this is a very strong way to become dependent), compared to alcohol which is 15%. Regular use, once a week, is known to increase depression, suicide, impulsivity, schizophrenia and psychosis, especially if use is started under the age of 20. It also leads to an 8-point loss of IQ in the young. Further, smoking does cause problems with the lungs. Recommending regular marijuana is no different for medical professionals to recommending drinking alcohol. The risks and associated problems are clearly out numbering benefits.

Need To Understand More

What we know about cannabidiols is just the beginning. In marijuana, we know there are over 100 different types. Our experience so far has found that they have some properties that may be helpful in about 30% of patients with neuropathic pain associated with MS and HIV. In low back pain, we’ve learned:

  • It has helped in anxiety but not with pain.
  • More people respond to acetaminophen then marijuana.

The future of cannabidiols is interesting for pain. It is unlikely that many professionals would be enthused to prescribe a substance that has the risk profile of THC. Once we can find the particular cannabidiols that have medical uses, it is likely that we will try to study them fully and make them commercially available for specific conditions. Cannabidiols may be helpful in the future, but we still don’t know enough right now to safely prescribe marijuana for a wide range of conditions.

Study: Medical Marijuana Leads to Fewer Overdose Deaths

Medical Marijuana MNA new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that states that have legalized medical marijuana report significantly fewer overdose deaths than states that haven’t legalized medical cannabis.

The Study

For their study, researchers analyzed mortality data and medical marijuana adoption across the US between 1999 and 2010. Only 13 states adopted medical marijuana by the end of data collection, but the results were fascinating.

“We found that there was about a 25% lower rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths on average after implementation of a medical marijuana law,” said lead author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber.

Looking solely at 2010, Bachhuber said states with medical marijuana laws experienced about 1,700 fewer deaths than what would have been expected based on numbers prior to medical marijuana legislation. Bachhuber said medical marijuana can be a viable option for individuals suffering from certain chronic pain conditions.

“It can be challenging for people to control chronic pain, so I think the more potions we have, the better,” he said. “But I think it’s important, of course, to weigh the risks and benefits of medical marijuana.”

As I mentioned in previous blog posts, the issue I have with marijuana is that it contains so many compounds that haven’t been sufficiently studied. I’m all for conducting more research on medical marijuana, but I don’t think the results of this study mean every state should immediately legalize medical marijuana.

It’s certainly an eye-opening study and raises many good points, but one of the main objectives of any good pain doctor is to control for as many variables as possible. That’s much harder to do with marijuana. You don’t know how the compounds in that specific plant are going to react with that specific person.

The American Academy of Pain Medicine echoed similar sentiments when discussing the recent findings.

“AAPM believes that we need to do research on cannabinoids to determine its safety and efficacy,” said Dr. Lynn Webster, former AAPM president. “The problem with medical marijuana is that we never know using marijuana what chemicals are being ingested. That makes it really unpredictable, but the use of cannabinoids may well have a place in the treatment of pain and other diseases. The AAPM believes that the DEA should reschedule cannabinoids from Schedule I to Schedule II so that it will make it easier for research to be conducted.”

There will almost certainly be more research on medical marijuana in the near future, but until more is known, it can’t be viewed as a perfect solution.

Related source:

Medical Marijuana in Minnesota 

Medical MarijuanaThe debate for legalizing marijuana is continuing in Minnesota. Bills are progressing through the legislature, but nothing as of yet has been decided. There are some very vocal groups supporting medical marijuana in Minnesota, with one of the most passionate groups being parents with children who are prone to seizures. The medical and law enforcement communities are less excited about the legalizing of medical marijuana.

It’s interesting to note that the Senate and House bills are not legalizing the smoking of marijuana. Instead, they’ve proposed the legalization of state-dispensed marijuana in pill or liquid form for vaporizing. There will be fees paid by the user and pharmacy, and it appears that it will be restricted to only certain medical conditions.

Qualifying Conditions

The Senate has created a list of conditions that would make a person eligible for medical marijuana. Some of the conditions include:

  • HIV
  • Glaucoma
  • ALS, MS, and Crohn’s Disease
  • PTSD
  • Seizures
  • Some forms of Chronic Pain

The Senate and the House do not agree on some eligible conditions, as the House is not supporting medical marijuana for PTSD or chronic pain.

The legal community is not thrilled with legalizing marijuana due to concerns about control and abuse. There are so many prescription medications that are currently being abused, and the law enforcement community does not want to add to the existing problems. Tight restrictions on use may control the availability and abuse potential, but these problems are unknown. In states where less restrictive medical marijuana laws are present, abuse is a large problem.

The medical community is not thrilled with marijuana at this time more on a scientific basis. There are at least 84 cannaboids associated with different forms of marijuana. All these compounds have different actions in the body and they have not been studied in depth. The compounds that are helpful in various conditions have not been isolated. In general, it is bad medicine to give people drugs without knowing all of the potential side effects. Medically, we have no idea if these compounds may cause cancer or other horrible problems later in life.

Marijuana may have some very good attributes for treatment in some conditions, but at this time we are only guessing what may be helpful or dangerous. The best solution would be to get serious in testing and scientifically studying the various ingredients in marijuana. Legalizing does not really help in our understanding of the plant. Research is needed to determine the real nature of the cannaboids in the plant. A national effort to appropriately study marijuana would be beneficial.