Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Medical Marijuana

Before we begin, I would like you to picture this. A plant is grown in a greenhouse. Its flower is harvested when it reaches maturity. It is then processed in a lab. It is given to the patient who is then able to lead a more normal life as a result. I'm not talking about medical marijuana, or MMJ. I'm talking about Digitalis, or as it's more commonly known---the foxglove---a flower that we grow and use and give to heart patients as a medication. We have also found use of this flower in science: "It is used as a molecular probe to detect DNA or RNA." (Wikipedia) We have been using plants and animals for our own needs since forever. Willow and birch bark are two of the original sources of aspirin. Novocaine, and all the other medications that end with -caine are a plant derivative. Alcohol happens naturally to fruit and grains in the right conditions. Even birds and monkeys get drunk. And yes, sometimes people use these things for recreation. So please, let's look at medical marijuana as exactly that: MEDICAL.

First, let's explore the science behind it. There is, in the body, a system, which they now call the endocannabinoid system, which works using biochemicals that are the same produced by the marijuana plant. Our bodies produce marijuana-type chemicals as part of their normal function. Marijuana is just an external source for these regularly used, natural human biochemicals.
The endocannabinoid system is a relatively recently discovered neuromodulatory lipid signaling system that is comprised of the cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, the endogenous arachidonic acid-based endocannabinoids, such as anandamide and 2-AG (2-arachachidonoylglycerol), as well as their biosynthetic and degrading enzymes. These components can be found in various locations throughout the body, such as in the central nervous system (CNS), the gastrointestinal tract, the liver, the pancreas, adipose tissues, immune cells, and skeletal muscles. Although performing a variety of different localized tasks, the system’s general role seems to revolve around maintaining homeostasis through regulating energy storage, nutrient transport, and feeding behavior. Furthermore, as their name implies, endocannabinoids are described as having cannabimimetic effects, in that they roughly mimic the pharmacological effects of cannabis. (P. Siebler, Masters student in Physiology at CU Boulder, "Sleep Physiology", 2011)
Let's put that in English... It's a recently discovered part of the nervous system that is comprised of the cannabinoid (meaning they respond to cannabis-based molecules) receptors, named CB1 and CB2, the the molecules (like vitamins A, E, D, and K) that the body makes itself, such as the molecule anandamide (pronounced AN-an-DE-mide) and 2-AG, as well as the enzymes that the body makes and uses to break these larger molecules apart. These compounds can be found all throughout the human body, such as the central nervous system (the nerves that control how we sense and feel), the gut, the liver, the pancreas, a "loose connective tissue" (the stuff that holds everything together) called adipose, immune cells, and skeletal muscles (how we move). Although the system performs a variety of different tasks at the small, local level, the system's general roll seems to revolve around helping the body maintain a normal state through regulating energy storage, the movement of nutrients through the body, and hunger. Also, as the name implies, endocannadinoids, these naturally occurring hormones that the body makes itself, cause roughly the same effects as experienced when a person takes medical marijuana.

While not a panacea, or all-cure, it's easy to see why medical marijuana is so helpful to so many people. It's one of those very basic biological molecules that the body needs, like a vitamin. This is why scientists now believe that there can be a endocannabanoid deficiency, called CERD, that can be treated with the use of medical marijuana. MMJ works on the central nervous system, so right there it will potentially help with any pain problem or central nervous system dysfunction, like epilepsy. In fact, medical marijuana has been found useful for children with epilepsy: THC effected reduced spasticity, improved dystonia, increased initiative (with low dose), increased interest in the surroundings, and anticonvulsive action. Or, in English, medical marijuana (in concentrated THC oil form) reduced muscle spasms, improved a medical condition known as dystonia (a neurological movement disorder, in which sustained muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures), increased spontaneous personal activity (with low dose), increased interest in the surroundings, and stopped convulsions (a medical condition where body muscles contract and relax rapidly and repeatedly, resulting in an uncontrolled shaking of the body).

In fact, in Israel, they are still recruiting for their clinical trial for the use of MMJ on PTSD. Their clinical trial is in Phase IV: If the drug successfully passes through Phases I, II, and III, it will usually be approved by the national regulatory authority for use in the general population. (Wikipedia) Israel has given governmental support to the use of THC for the treatment of PTSD, and other conditions.
Israel is one of the first countries to have permitted the use of medical marijuana. Tel Aviv’s cannabis clinics have been open for some time on an experimental basis, with government support.

They offer treatment for cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV, colitis and other ailments. Recently too, Israel’s first-ever hospital to offer cannabis as a treatment, Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, started its pilot program. There patients obtain the necessary government permit, according to a strict protocol that the hospital developed, and then are provided with cannabis.
(Medical cannabis in Israel: Revolution or evolution?)
But let's hear from an actual patient:
I lived in Colorado where it was legal and had a doctor that believed in its aid for fibromyalgia and migraines. I went through all of the legal channels of the state and used it for a while until we moved to Texas. I can say that it did really help me with the pain of migraines and the tension that comes along with them. MMJ is available in many strains which are directed for different illnesses, such as one that makes you hungry. My son uses this strain often for his Crohn's disease. He is able to keep some weight on this way. Another can give you energy to aid in helping us get off of that couch and clean the house.

As for the methods of using, there are many. I found that the Marinol (dronabinol) pills that are available by prescription did not work for me at all. The dispensaries can make up a capsule using the keef and it works good for someone who needs to relax and sleep. It takes awhile to work since you have to digest it. I used brownies at times, which is a very pleasant way to ingest the drug. I hate the smell and the taste it brings when you smoke it, but it is really the most efficient way for me to use it. I found that a water pipe (bong) was the least insulting for me. When my migraines are at their worst and I can't open my eyes or get out of bed, I could take 2 puffs and I could be up and around within the hour, or sleeping for a few hours if that was my choice.

I believe MMJ is a great choice for some people and should be made available to chronically ill patients, no matter state they live in. I am not oblivious to the problems that can come with marijuana, but I believe this is better for our bodies than some of the prescription medications that we are given. You cannot overdose on this plant. It has proven to be a Godsend for my son and brother-in-law who suffer with Crohn's disease. I wish it was legal in Texas; if so I would use it again. I struggled with using it at first because I am a Christian, but when illness takes over your life, some of our ideals can be questioned and maybe changed. Our eyes are opened to new ways of thinking and our ability for compassion and empathy grows.

Thanks for listening.

Finally, does it have side-effects? Sure. All drugs do. But are these side-effects actually dangerous? One study on driving statistics shows that stoned drivers are safer drivers:
Now, pro-legalization backers have yet another point in their favor: According to a new study from the University of Colorado-Denver, the 16 states that have legalized medical marijuana have seen an average 9 percent drop in traffic deaths since their medical marijuana laws took effect. The study analyzed data from 1990 through 2009.

“We went into our research expecting the opposite effect,” says study co-author Daniel Rees, a professor of economics at the University of Colorado-Denver. “We thought medical marijuana legalization would increase traffic fatalities. We were stunned by the results.”

When it comes to traffic safety, can marijuana really save lives?

By contrast, motorists who’ve puffed pot
“drive slower, are less likely to take risks, and are more likely to recognize when they’re impaired and decide not to drive,” he says.

Additionally, both Spiritual Leaders and Law Enforcement are beginning to speak up in favor of legalization of marijuana.

If you have the courage to share, what are your thoughts?

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