Medical marijuana is proving effective for at least managing horrific diseases such cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. Twenty U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana use for doctors to write prescriptions. Not all states honor all conditions. This is just a sampling of the diseases permitted. There are many more. Here are 10 diseases you didn’t know are treated with marijuana.
1. ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
As baby boomers continue to age, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is set to triple in the next 50 years, the World Health Organization reports, making prevention of this unpreventable brain disorder an important priority. Cannabis is the only remedy so far that has shown any promise in early research studies in preventing the disease. In a 2006 study published in Molecular Pharmaceutics, University of Connecticut researchers reported that THC — the active ingredient in cannabis — could be “considerably better at suppressing the abnormal clumping of malformed proteins that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease than any currently approved prescription.” The scientists went so far as to say that cannabinoid-based medications “will be the new breakout medicine treatments of the near future.” Further evidence this theory is real? Ironically it is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which owns the patent for cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectives.
The U.S. federal government doesn’t exactly promote this link on the National Cancer Website stating there is real evidence that THC has an anti-tumor effect. Government websites aside, many people have reported using a daily oral dose of concentrated THC cannabis oil to cure cancers from the skin to the lung. This treatment has also been tested in dogs (although canines require much lower doses, and giving too much can have serious adverse affects). Cannabis is approved in all 20 medical marijuana states and Washington, D.C. for the treatment of cancer pain, to help increase appetite and decrease nausea following chemotherapy.
3. ASTHMA/BREATHING DISORDERS
Smoking pot can help with breathing issues? That just seems contradictory, but according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, THC’s anti-inflammatory properties actually help dilate respiratory passages. This is the opposite of what tobacco smoke does — it constricts, rather than expands, the bronchial passageways. Plus asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease and cannabis is a proven anti-inflammatory, so it does kind of make sense. Moderation is key, however. Take one or two puffs, don’t sit there and smoke all day. There is yet to be a single case of lung cancer tied to cannabis use.
4. MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS/MUSCLE SPASMS
This one is less controversial, and has been on the medical marijuana conditions list in many states since the laws were first passed. Even the National MS Society is giving it a tentative thumbs up on its website. Studies have shown that THC can help control spasticity in patients with MS, and that this works best by taking a controlled amount orally.
It’s true what they say about the munchies… marijuana stimulates the part of your brain that controls appetite, and certain strains in particular are known for making you want to eat everything in sight. As a result, for those who really need to gain weight, this can be a blessing rather than an adverse side affect. Cachexia is the loss of weight and weakness that can occur in cancer and AIDS patients as well as people with chronic diseases such as anorexia. California, which was the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana back in 1996, specifically lists anorexia as an approved condition.
In Colorado they are known as medical refugees — families that are moving there in droves from across the country to seek effective treatment for their kids’ uncontrollable seizures. Unlike cancer, seizures do not need a high THC content (that’s what gets you high) to be curtailed. Instead they respond well to one of the other cannabinoids — a chemical compound known as cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD is not psychoactive and therefore provides the perfect natural solution for children suffering from epileptic disorders. What is more difficult than stopping seizures, however, is accessing a marijuana strain that has been bred to decrease THC levels and increase CBD content. The best-known variety is Charlotte’s Webb, named after Charlotte Figi (pictured above), the first child it helped treat. Currently this type of cannabis strain is only available with regularity in Colorado.
7. PTSD AND OTHER PSYCHOLOGICAL CONDITIONS
Medical marijuana has also proven to effective in treating neuropsychological issues beyond Tourette’s Syndrome. It has been studied in the treatment of depression, anxiety and particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. New Mexico, for instance, allows doctors to prescribe it for PTSD specifically. In other states, however, psychological conditions do not qualify for prescriptions despite studies proving effectiveness.