Controversial for all the wrong reasons, marijuana is nonetheless continuing its slow progression towards full legalisation throughout the country. An increasing number of states are now taking the crucial first step of legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana or marijuana derivatives (with legal frameworks and guidelines as to how this is managed differing widely from state to state). The more people who are prescribed marijuana, the more evident its incredible, life-preserving effects become.
In a curious twist of fate, marijuana – once made out to be a dangerously addictive substance – is now being used to treat opioid and methamphetamine addicts. Sometimes, it’s used as a method of pain relief (being less likely to provoke relapse than the opioid-based painkillers favored by the medical establishment). Sometimes, however, it’s used to treat the addiction more directly. Proponents of using marijuana in the fight against addiction say that it can ease the side effects of withdrawal, and provide drug users with a safe alternative to addictive substances as they go through recovery. Marijuana may not be a ‘gateway drug’ to harder substances – but it can be a ‘gateway drug’ for sobriety! Crucially, there is no lethal dose of marijuana, and the drug is now largely considered to be medically safe (except for in exceptional cases, where allergies or pre-existing mental health conditions may react badly with the drug). Given that thousands of people die or are seriously incapacitated each year by opioids (many of which will have been prescribed as painkillers by doctors), a non-dangerous alternative is clearly very desirable. The theory is similar to the medically monitored use of opioids like methadone to wean heroin addicts off their drug – the difference being that, unlike methadone, marijuana is not addictive, and does not come with a dangerous barrage of side effects.
Interestingly, marijuana – or derivatives thereof – are also proving instrumental in helping people who suffer from chronic seizures. In Tucson, Arizona, 12 year old Annalise Lujan suffers from a rare form of epilepsy – Febrile Infection-Related Epilepsy Syndrome (‘FIRES’). Suffering children can have hundreds of seizures every day, which renders them utterly unable to live anything like a normal life. In Annalise’s case, it was necessary to put her in a medically induced coma for her own safety. The condition is thought to be caused by some kind of autoimmune disorder. Whatever the cause, it’s deeply distressing, and can be very dangerous. Doctors at Phoenix Children’s Hospital sought the USFDA’s permission to use cannabidiol – a marijuana derivative – to treat Annalise. Within 48 hours of being administered canabidiol, the seizures ceased and Annalise woke up from her coma.
This is not just a one-off case. In London, UK, Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital have established that the occurrence of seizures roughly halves in epileptic children and adults who take canabidiol. Indeed, the very first National Health Service prescription for medical marijuana in the UK was issued for an 11 year old boy suffering from severe epilepsy. The boy’s mother describes the results as “incredible”. Nobody is, as yet, entirely sure why canabidiol is so effective at reducing epileptic seizures, but the fact that it does brings hope to many people with hitherto drug-resistant forms of epilepsy.
Since the introduction of medicinal marijuana, a great many people have found suffering they thought would be with them for the rest of their lives alleviated. Painful, life-impeding, debilitating conditions which simply did not respond to more traditional medications are vastly improved through the simple application of medical marijuana. As a consequence, there’s quite a demand for the stuff. The entire nation of Canada now claims to have a marijuana shortage, as doctors – enthused by the results they’re seeing – increasingly prescribe it. Here in the USA, producers and dispensers are working hard to keep up with the demand we’re seeing. Happily, unlike with commonly prescribed benzodiazepines and opioid analgesics, patients taking medicinal marijuana rarely (if ever) become neurobiologically dependent upon the drug . Because of this, many doctors believe marijuana to be a viable alternative to the painkillers we’ve been using for decades. Given that prescription painkiller addiction is a very real and present public health issue right now, this is welcome news for many.