Patients who understand their bodies and treatment tend to respond better to treatments. Harvest of Tempe wants to empower patients by being a resource for studies related to cannabis as a medicine.
Medical cannabis refers to the use of cannabis and its constituent cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), as medical therapy to treat disease or alleviate symptoms. The Cannabis plant has a history of medicinal use dating back thousands of years across many cultures. Its usage in modern times is controversial, and in recent years the American Medical Association, the MMA, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and other medical organizations have issued statements opposing its usage for medicinal purposes.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, was identified in the 1960s as the cannabinoid primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis; in the 1990s, after the discovery of the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, researchers began to study and better understand how cannabinoids acted on these receptors. THC is associated – more than any other cannabinoid – with most of the pharmacologic effects of cannabis.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a major constituent of medical cannabis; it is a nonpsychotropic and how it works on brain receptors is not known. CBD represents up to 40% of extracts of Cannabis sativa. A 2007 review said CBD had shown potential to relieve convulsion, inflammation, cough, congestion and nausea, and to inhibit cancer cell growth. Preliminary studies have also shown potential over psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, depression, and psychosis. Because cannabidiol relieves the aforementioned symptoms, cannabis strains with a high amount of CBD may benefit people with multiple sclerosis or frequent anxiety attacks.
Cannabis, called má 麻 (meaning “hemp; cannabis; numbness”) or dàmá 大麻 (with “big; great”) in Chinese, was used in Taiwan for fiber starting about 10,000 years ago. The botanist Li Hui-Lin wrote that in China, “The use of Cannabis in medicine was probably a very early development. Since ancient humans used hemp seed as food, it was quite natural for them to also discover the medicinal properties of the plant.” Emperor Shen-Nung, who was also a pharmacologist, wrote a book on treatment methods in 2737 BCE that included the medical benefits of cannabis. He recommended the substance for many ailments, including constipation, gout, rheumatism, and absent-mindedness. Cannabis is one of the 50 “fundamental” herbs in traditional Chinese medicine.
Surviving texts from ancient India confirm that cannabis’ psychoactive properties were recognized, and doctors used it for treating a variety of illnesses and ailments, including insomnia, headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, and pain, including during childbirth.
The Ancient Greeks used cannabis to dress wounds and sores on their horses, and in humans, dried leaves of cannabis were used to treat nose bleeds, and cannabis seeds were used to expel tapeworms.
In the medieval Islamic world, Arabic physicians made use of the diuretic, antiemetic, antiepileptic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic properties of Cannabis sativa, and used it extensively as medication from the 8th to 18th centuries.
An Irish physician, William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, is credited with introducing the therapeutic use of cannabis to Western medicine, to help treat muscle spasms, stomach cramps or general pain.
Albert Lockhart and Manley West began studying in 1964 the health effects of traditional cannabis use in Jamaican communities. They developed, and in 1987 gained permission to market, the pharmaceutical Canasol: one of the first cannabis extracts.
In the 1970s, a synthetic version of THC was produced and approved for use in the United States as the drug Marinol.
Voters in eight US states showed their support for cannabis prescriptions or recommendations given by physicians between 1996 and 1999, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, going against policies of the federal government.
Medical cannabis has several potential beneficial effects. Cannabinoids can serve as appetite stimulants, anti-emetics, antispasmodics, and have some analgesic effects, may be helpful treating chronic non-cancerous pain, or vomiting and nausea caused by chemotherapy. The drug may also aid in treating symptoms of AIDS patients.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved smoked cannabis for any condition or disease as it deems evidence is lacking concerning safety and efficacy of cannabis for medical use. The FDA issued an 2006 advisory against smoked medical cannabis stating: “marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that “Marijuana itself is an unlikely medication candidate for several reasons: (1) it is an unpurified plant containing numerous chemicals with unknown health effects; (2) it is typically consumed by smoking further contributing to potential adverse effects; and (3) its cognitive impairing effects may limit its utility”.
The Institute of Medicine, run by the United States National Academy of Sciences, conducted a comprehensive study in 1999 assessing the potential health benefits of cannabis and its constituent cannabinoids. The study concluded that smoking cannabis is not to be recommended for the treatment of any disease condition, but that nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety can all be mitigated by cannabis. While the study expressed reservations about smoked cannabis due to the health risks associated with smoking, the study team concluded that until another mode of ingestion was perfected providing the same relief as smoked cannabis, there was no alternative. In addition, the study pointed out the inherent difficulty in marketing a non-patentable herb, as pharmaceutical companies will likely make smaller investments in product development if the result is not patentable. The Institute of Medicine stated that there is little future in smoked cannabis as a medically approved medication, while in the report also concluding that for certain patients, such as the terminally ill or those with debilitating symptoms, the long-term risks are not of great concern. Citing “the dangers of cannabis and the lack of clinical research supporting its medicinal value” the American Society of Addiction Medicine in March 2011 issued a white paper recommending a halt on use of marijuana as medication in the U.S., even in states where it had been declared legal.
A 2013 literature review found that exposure to marijuana had biologically-based physical, mental, behavioral and social health consequences and was “associated with diseases of the liver (particularly with co-existing hepatitis C), lungs, heart, and vasculature”. There is insufficient data to draw strong conclusions about the safety of medical cannabis, although short-term use is associated with minor adverse effects such as dizziness. Although supporters of medical cannabis say that it is safe, further research is required to assess the long-term safety of its use. The opinion of the Food and Drug Administration and many scientists is that some of the many different cannabionoids included in cannabis can have medical value, but not as smoked cannabis and only with controlled and careful prescription and the same testing for safety and effect as other approved drugs, a process that normally takes about 10 to 15 years from start to commercial product.
“Medical Cannabis Dispensary Pennsylvania.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., date last updated (13 July 2014). Web. Date accessed (15 July 2014). <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_cannabis>