Is Medical Cannabis Safe and Effective as Medicine?

Medical Cannabis
Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis is a natural plant derivative that contains compounds called cannabinoids which affect the central nervous system. Cannabinoids is found in high concentration in the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant, which is used to prepare the medicine.

The use of medical cannabis declined during the early part of the twentieth century because of studies reporting the associated health risks as well as addictive potential. However, the discovery of cannabinoid associated pathways, receptors, and molecules has regained the interest of doctors and patients in the use of medical cannabis. On the other hand, the use of cannabis is illegal in various parts of the world. Scientific evidence has reported the association of cannabis use and increased health risks such as depression, anxiety, impaired brain function etc​1​.

Safety of Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis is safe in the form of standardised spray or edible paste. Medical cannabis is possibly unsafe when smoked. Smoking cannabis increases risk of developing lung cancer. Some reports suggest that smoking cannabis might cause air-filled cavities to form within lung tissue. These air-filled cavities can cause symptoms such as chest pressure, soreness, and difficulty breathing. Medical cannabis products containing cannabis extract can cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, and paranoid thinking. Medical cannabis might also increase appetite, increase heart rate, increase or decrease blood pressure​2​.

Effectiveness of Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis is effective for 

  • Reducing chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting: Medical cannabis has antiemetic properties. Cannabinoids such as THC reverses the effects of receptors of the brain that induce vomiting. The cannabinoid antiemetic effect of medical cannabis was significantly higher than other antiemetic medicines, such as chlorpromazine, thiethylperazine, metochlopramide, and haloperidol. Several studies have reported the role of medical cannabis in relieving chronic cancer pain.
  • Cancer-Associated Pain: The analgesic potential of cannabinoids in cancer-related pain, especially neuropathic pain, has been studied. Several clinical trials have investigated the use of cannabinoids to reduce chronic cancer pain.
  • Antitumor Agent: Medical cannabis is a potential chemotherapeutic agent. Both vitro and in vivo studies reported that cannabinoids might inhibit tumor growth through various mechanisms, including enhancing apoptosis and inhibiting cell proliferation. Cannabinoids may play a role in causing the death of cancer cells through cellular signalling pathways that induce apoptosis​3​.

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References

  1. 1.
    Hoch E, Niemann D, von K, et al. How effective and safe is medical cannabis as a treatment of mental disorders? A systematic review. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2019;269(1):87-105. doi:10.1007/s00406-019-00984-4
  2. 2.
    MARIJUANA. RxList. Published 2021. Accessed March 2022. https://www.rxlist.com/marijuana/supplements.htm
  3. 3.
    Wilkie G, Sakr B, Rizack T. Medical Marijuana Use in Oncology. JAMA Oncol. Published online May 1, 2016:670. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.0155

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