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Current scientific evidence irrefutably shows that medical marijuana benefits people with certain medical conditions, but also sheds light on some of the side effects of weed. Should medical cannabis be legalized everywhere?

Marijuana for medical use is now legal in 28 states across the US, as well as in DC — yet the Drug Enforcement Administration decided, in 2016, to keep it on the list of Schedule I drugs, that is dangerous and illegal drugs with no recognized medical benefits, along with heroin and many other hard drugs. According to the federal government, possession of marijuana for recreational purposes is still a crime. 

What is pot, really? A dangerous drug or a healing medicine? The messed-up legal status of marijuana might well confuse you, especially if you're a law-abiding citizen who doesn't want to wander off the straight and narrow for one second, yet are facing a debilitating medical condition you've heard pot can help you with. 

Medical Uses Of Marijuana: Could Cannabis Help YOU?

How real are the benefits of medical marijuana truly? Were they effectively conjured up in the foggy bedrooms of thirty-something while smoking pot, 'cause they want to smoke pot without breaking the law? Reports that the medical benefits of marijuana haven't conclusively been proven at all — which you might read on Wikipedia, for instance — might have you suspecting that. 

A  395-page report published in 2017 and written by a panel of experts that reviewed over 10,000 research abstracts refutes that idea, however. While the report, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, calls for further study of both the risks and benefits of cannabis use in a medical context and points out that those wanting to investigate how beneficial marijuana really is face very real obstacles, it is clear about one thing.

Marijuana for medical use — or its active components — does a good job at helping people with chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and multiple sclerosis-induced spasticity feel better. 

The panel further found that there is moderate evidence in favor of the idea that medical cannabis benefits people with sleep disorders, and "limited evidence" that weed could be good for people with a range of other medical conditions, as proponents have claimed. Among others, they include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and appetite-loss-related weight loss in the HIV+ population. 

Considering that marijuana's Schedule I classification makes it rather hard for scientists to study its risks and benefits, the report is welcome news. Hopefully, it's only the beginning — in order to fully understand the advantages and risks of cannabis for medical use, we need to keep studying. 

Beyond Smoking Pot: How To Use Cannabis For Medical Purposes

While medical users of marijuana can indeed choose to opt simply for smoking pot, there are many other ways to receive the benefits of weed as well. Cannabis can be eaten (think candies and brownies), evaporated, and chewed (in gum). Cannabis oil, frequently promoted for people suffering from cancer, can be taken orally, but it can also be rubbed directly onto the skin. This is said to alleviate muscle aches and inflammation, as well as relieving migraines. 

Furthermore, the medication dronabinol (Marinol®), a synthetic form of the active ingredient THC, was developed for use in chemotherapy patients and to help people with HIV/AIDS regain their appetite. These are capsules, which are taken orally. 

Side Effects Of Medical Marijuana

Anyone who is familiar with popular culture knows about at least some of the "side effects" of marijuana — the word is, of course, in inverted commas because those very side effects are the reason recreational users of marijuana choose it. Once the THC in marijuana reaches your system, you'll start to feel all kinds of things, such as:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Euphoria
  • An "expansion of the mind"
  • The "munchies", AKA an acutely increased appetite
  • A feeling of peace
On the down side, the use of marijuana — for medical purposes or otherwise — also comes with less desirable effects.

They include lowered blood pressure, an increased heart rate, dilation of the pupils, a dry mouth, and slowed reaction time. It is because marijuana use increases your heart rate that your risk of heart attack increases in the immediate period following to using it. Cannabis can also make you more prone to bleeding, and it can affect your blood sugar levels. 

On the emotional side, while medical marijuana may initially lift your mood (hence treating depression, anxiety, and PTSD are seen as being among the medical uses of marijuana), there is evidence that it causes some people to feel more depressed, anxious and paranoid, and some people even become psychotic after using weed. 

Remember the report we mentioned earlier? Well, though it found evidence that marijuana has definite medicinal properties, as already described, the expert panel also revealed that regular cannabis use is "likely to increase the risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses", and that long-term users are at a higher risk of developing social anxiety disorder and experiencing suicidal thoughts. Likewise, in people with Bipolar Disorder, frequent cannabis use can lead to worse symptoms. 

Marijuana Allergy: Is It Possible?

As more people try medical cannabis, some also find that they are, in fact, allergic to marijuana smoke. One study found that people can be allergic to marijuana just as they can be allergic to birch trees or ragweed. Current numbers suggest that marijuana allergy is on the rise, but that may not be the case at all. Rather, as medical cannabis becomes legal in more jurisdictions, this is simply a topic that is now researched more.

The symptoms of a marijuana allergy are much like those of any allergy — itchy and swollen eyes, nasal drip, a stuffy, "full" head, and sneezing. If smoking pot induces these symptoms, you are most likely dealing with a marijuana allergy and ingesting cannabis in other forms will produce the same effects. People with a marijuana allergy are, unfortunately, not candidates for marijuana smoking or other use. 

Marijuana In Pregnancy

What about using marijuana in pregnancy, then? While you may be tempted to smoke pot during pregnancy, especially if you are dealing with the severe form of morning sickness known as hyperemesis gravidarum, because marijuana does counter nausea, know that there is not enough evidence that marijuana in pregnancy is safe.

If you really want to use marijuana in pregnancy, vaporizing it or using marijuana oil is a safer bet. Always discuss the advantages and disadvantages with your doctor, and never use cannabis while you are expecting unless it is prescribed to you. Other people should also be aware that second-hand marijuana smoke can adversely affect pregnant women. 

Should Medical Marijuana Be Legalized Across The Board?

Should other jurisdictions follow the example of those that have already legalized marijuana for medical use? We at SteadyHealth aim to assist people in taking charge of their health by being informed patients. We're not a lobbying organization, or legal experts for that matter. All we can say is that for many people with chronic pain, spasticity, cancer, and other medical conditions, medical marijuana is the only thing that actually works, that makes their life just bearable

Have you ever read the package insert that comes with any medication you have ever taken, even just Tylenol? We have. Though the list of adverse effects that can come with medicinal marijuana is not, by any means, short, the same holds more than true for every other medication on Earth. 

With continued study, we'll all be able to understand the implications — good and bad — of using cannabis as a medicine much better. Hopefully, some of the potential side effects can be minimized by using marijuana as the basis for new drugs, isolating only the ingredients that offer benefits. In the meantime, if you are affected by a temporary or chronic medical condition cannabis might be able to offer you relief from, and live in a jurisdiction where marijuana for medical use is legal, talk to your doctor. 

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