What Happens to Your Body When You Use Medical Marijuana?

Marijuana, or cannabis, has been used for at least 5,000 years and has an extensive history of traditional uses as an industrial material and a botanical medicine all throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and America.1

What Is Medical Marijuana?

The term “medical marijuana” refers to the use of the whole, unprocessed marijuana plant and its pure extracts to treat a disease or improve a symptom. It must be sourced from a medicinal-grade cannabis plant that has been meticulously grown without the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers.

Marijuana’s incredible healing properties come from its high cannabidiol (CBD) content and critical levels of medical terpenes and flavonoids. It also contains some tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the molecule that gives the psychoactive effect, which most recreational users are after.

Through traditional plant breeding techniques and seed exchanges, growers have started producing cannabis plants that have higher levels of CBD and lower levels of THC for medical use.

How Does Medical Marijuana Work and What Diseases Can It Help Treat?

Historically, marijuana has been used as a botanical medicine since the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, marijuana’s claim as a potential panacea is backed up by countless studies crediting its healing potential to its cannabidiol content.

Cannabinoids interact with your body by way of naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors embedded in cell membranes throughout your body.

There are cannabinoid receptors in your brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, and immune system. Both the therapeutic and psychoactive properties of marijuana occur when a cannabinoid activates a cannabinoid receptor.

There’s still ongoing research as to how far it impacts your health, but to date, it's known that cannabinoid receptors play an important role in many body processes, including metabolic regulation, cravings, pain, anxiety, bone growth, and immune function.2

Dr. Allan Frankel, a board-certified internist in California who has successfully treated patients with medical marijuana for less than a decade, has personally seen tumors virtually disappear in some patients using no other therapy except taking 40 to 60 milligrams of cannabinoids a day.

Other common ailments being treated with medical marijuana include:

  • Mood disorders
  • Degenerative neurological disorders such as dystonia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Seizures

CBD also works as an excellent painkiller and works well in treating anxiety issues. Cannabis oil, on the other hand, when applied topically has been proven to heal sunburn overnight.

How to Obtain and Use Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana can be used in one of the following methods:3,4

  • Inhalation – Allows the patient to titrate the dosage. It has an instantaneous effect as the medication is rapidly taken into the lungs and quickly absorbed through the capillaries into the bloodstream. The effects of inhaled cannabis will last approximately four hours.
  • Smoking – Can be done using a joint or the cigarette form (hand-or machine-rolled), a pipe, or bong (water pipe). While smoking medical marijuana by joint is believed to be inefficient because the medication goes with the smoke as the cigarette burns, smoking small amounts using a water pipe is more advisable because the cool smoke is less irritating to the airway.  
  • Vaporization – Like a nebulizer treatment, cannabis can be heated to a temperature that will release the medication in vapors to be inhaled by the patient.
  • Sublingual (under the tongue) or oramucosal (in the oral cavity) delivery – Made possible using oils or tinctures, it is readily delivered into the bloodstream and provides a rapid effect. Tinctures can be administered through a dropper under the tongue or sprayed in the mouth to be absorbed in the oral cavity. This is highly recommended for non-smoking patients.
  • Oral ingestion – Non-smokers can also take medical marijuana through pills or mandibles, which are edible cannabis products in the form of teas, cookies, or brownies. The primary drawback of this approach is that because cannabinoids are fat-soluble, there may be issues when it comes to absorption, depending on the patient’s metabolism. A good workaround for this problem is using cannabis butter, which fat-soluble cannabinoids blends well with.
  • Topical application – Cannabis can be applied as an ointment, lotion, or poultice for treating skin inflammations, arthritis, and muscle pain. It is unclear how cannabinoids are absorbed transdermally, although its credit should also go to the more soluble terpenoids and flavonoids that also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Keep in mind: making sure that your medicine has been sourced from a medicinal-grade cannabis plant without the threat of chemical residues, which may cause further harm.

Potential Side Effects of Medical Cannabis

Dr. Margaret Gedde, a Stanford-trained MD PhD pathologist and award-winning researcher who specializes in the therapeutic use of cannabis, says the only concern you’ll have to worry about medical marijuana is the psychoactivity of THC or its ability to make you feel “high.” Although in some cases, THC may be beneficial, too, especially for patients suffering from severe pain.

But aside from that, cannabis is generally safe to use. You can also avoid this side effect by specifically looking for high CBD and low THC marijuana formulations.

Natural health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola

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Sources and References:

Chemistry and Biodiversity, 2007 (4)

Annual Review of Pharmacology Toxicology. 2006;46:101-22

A Train Continuing Education

United Patients Group