Reefer Madness unskillfully detailed the gleeful descent into crime and insanity that would occur the instant any unsuspecting youth took their first puff of marijuana. That was 79 years ago. America’s view has changed a bit.
The use of marijuana for medical purposes is now legal in 32 states as well as the District of Columbia. Recreational use is legal in two, Colorado and Washington, with dozens more thinking it over. And without fanfare, as a small provision in last December’s federal spending bill, Congress quietly allowed those 32 states to sell it to patients without fear of federal drug agent raids, because on a federal level, marijuana is still technically illegal.
This slow shift in thinking is probably based at least in part on a certain generational wisdom about the drug from Baby Boomers who have now had about five decades to experience the good and the bad of the drug.
Recreational use of marijuana, like the use of alcohol, is likely to be debated forever, but the different ingredients of cannabis have barely begun to be explored for their medical value and have already shown great promise. Here are a few examples:
Gastrointestinal: This one is probably the most obvious since “the munchies” has a long-standing association with marijuana use. Using marijuana has been very effective for cancer patients suffering nausea and loss of appetite from chemotherapy, but research is also showing success against irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease and colitis.
Neurological and cognitive disorders: Marijuana has so far been shown to be highly effective in treating the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and reducing the rate of tics in people with Tourette’s syndrome. Also, marijuana with lower levels of THC (the ingredient that gets you high) and high levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, is used to reduce seizure rates in epilepsy and other disorders. And at the same time, CBD seemed to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. There is also early research that cannabis could limit the effects of autism.
Pain: Studies have found marijuana effective in treating migraines and arthritis, and also linked to a reduction in peripheral neuropathy in HIV patients.
Pets: There is some, yet only anecdotal evidence of very low doses being effective as a pain reducer in dogs with hip dysplasia and chronic pain, much like humans. However, vets are not allowed to prescribe it, and pet owners have described their dogs as suffering from a kind of bad trip, known as static ataxia, so the overdose threat is very real.
Cancer: Perhaps the most exciting research around cannabis relates to findings that show potential for slowing the tumor growth or even killing cells of certain kinds of cancer.