Many patients seek medical marijuana for conditions such as easing pain, controlling nausea and vomiting, making people with HIV/AIDS feel hungry, and decreasing eye pressure associated with glaucoma. However, they are often embarrassed to bring up the topic with their doctors.
Does it really offer the health benefits people claim?
- Pain Relief
Pain relief is the most common reason people are prescribed medical marijuana. Cannabis can ease many different kinds of pain, including chronic pain from nerve damage. It can also make other pain medications — such as opioids — work better or allow you to take fewer of them.
However, studies of the effectiveness of medical marijuana for pain are generally of low quality and include a wide range of conditions. Some of the 59 reviews that compared cannabis with placebo included a mix of quantitative syntheses and study-by-study results, which makes it difficult to know how consistent the findings are.
People can ingest medical marijuana in the form of pills, oils, or nasal sprays. They can also smoke or vaporize it. It’s important to talk with your doctor before trying any of these methods. They can help you choose the best way to use medical marijuana for your symptoms. They can also recommend other treatments, such as physical therapy or exercise.
- Nausea and Vomiting
Cannabis, or marijuana, is a plant-derived drug that may be used to treat symptoms of certain diseases and conditions. Medical marijuana is available in a variety of forms, including capsules, lozenges, tinctures, edibles, topical creams, oral sprays, and vaporizers.
In general, studies have shown that medical marijuana can alleviate nausea and vomiting. However, not everyone who uses it is relieved of these side effects. Some people experience what is called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS).
CHS is a rare condition that impacts a small number of chronic, heavy cannabis users. Symptoms of CHS include severe and repeated vomiting, which leads to dehydration and weight loss. CHS can also lead to comorbidities, such as depression and anxiety.
The current medicinal cannabis product available in Australia, nabiximols/Sativex, is not registered for use in the management of CINV and there is limited evidence that other medicinal cannabis products are efficacious. In the context of this limited evidence, physicians should consider reducing doses of existing anti-nausea and/or vomiting medications when prescribing medicinal cannabis.
- Anxiety and Depression
With anxiety and depression disorders becoming less stigmatized, medical marijuana has gained a reputation as one of the most effective treatments for both conditions. The primary reason why it’s so effective is because of its stress-relieving properties. Certain medical cannabis strains are known to quickly lower elevated stress levels, allowing patients to function normally.
Furthermore, some medical cannabis compounds, particularly those that are CBD-dominant, are known for their anxiolytic properties. They can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression by promoting relaxation, reducing anxiety and tension, stimulating the appetite, and improving sleep quality.
The use of medical marijuana also offers an alternative to antidepressant medications, which can be toxic if used long-term. They may also cause unwanted side effects, like weight gain or sexual dysfunction. Moreover, some people can’t tolerate certain antidepressant drugs because they’re not effective or they cause unpleasant side effects.
- Sleep Disorders
Cannabis’ analgesic properties and anti-anxiety effects can make it a natural sleep aid. But it’s important to remember that some strains are more energizing than others and the dose matters. Too much THC — the psychoactive component of marijuana — can be depressing and lead to poor sleep. Also, people who use marijuana for sleep disorders should take care not to become reliant on it.
A retrospective chart review of patients at Hybrid Pharm community pharmacy in Canada found that 71% of those using cannabis for sleep disorders reported subjective improvement in their sleep, and 39% were able to discontinue or reduce prescription medications they had been taking for insomnia. This is a great result and suggests that cannabis can be useful in treating insomnia. However, further research is needed to look at objective measures of sleep, such as ISI (Insomnia Severity Index) scores. These would help determine whether cannabis actually improves patients’ sleep and quality of life.