Cannabis Can Help – But At What Cost?

Marijuana is everywhere these days – it’s featured on the news and plastered on billboards. Dispensaries are popping up in shopping plazas between Walgreens and your local nail salon. And, as ever, people are smoking it, vaping it, and eating it – but this time many are doing it under the umbrella of the law.

The medical cannabis movement is rapidly gaining momentum, with ​33 states and the District of Columbia​ legalizing the use of marijuana for medical treatment. As it continues to spread, many people are wondering about the implications of medical cannabis, both good and bad, and the impacts of long-term use.

Pro: Medical Cannabis is a Safe Alternative to Other Treatments

Medical cannabis is generally regarded as a safer alternative to other treatments that are already on the market. Opioids, used to treat pain, are dangerously addictive. There are many cases in which cannabis can be used to relieve pain instead of opioids, limiting the number of people exposed to the pills.

With the country in the grips of a crippling opioid crisis, it can seem counterintuitive to prescribe another drug that has​ been associated with dependence​. However, there’s evidence to support the fact that cannabis can be successfully used to replace opioids during pain management. There’s little evidence to support any claim that medical cannabis is more addictive than opioids, and significantly more that indicates the opposite.

Con: Marijuana Use as a Gateway to Other, More Dangerous Drugs

The term “gateway drug” is frequently thrown about when marijuana is discussed, but the term is nebulous at best and misleading at worst. A gateway drug is a substance that is not inherently addictive in itself, but its use can lead to the exposure of individuals to more dangerous drugs. A big fear associated with any marijuana use is that it is ​an introduction to the world of illegal drug use​.

However, the use of cannabis as a medical treatment is lending legitimacy to the idea that it can be prescribed, acquired, and used in a safe and legal environment. With marijuana coming in off the streets and being associated with modern medicine, it’s making the substance less taboo and creating valuable conversations around the topic.

Pro: Cannabis Provides Relief to Chemo Patients Others with Diminished Appetites

Cannabis use has long been associated with hunger, but that’s gone from a stereotype into a helpful way to treat patients undergoing chemotherapy, AIDS wasting, anorexia, and other conditions associated with diminished appetite. Medical cannabis is highly regarded as ​an effective treatment for nausea and hunger loss​, and studies show that patients who found medical cannabis to be an effective treatment for chemotherapy-related symptoms showed no side effects from its long-term use, except for short-term memory loss.

Con: Medical Treatment Not Well Understood for Children

There’s serious debate over whether or not it is acceptable to prescribe cannabis for medical use for children. There are strong arguments on both sides, with many providers citing concerns over the difficulty in ​accurately dosing​ medical cannabis when treating pediatric patients. Some people, both providers and parents, have seen improvements in their patients and children when cannabis is prescribed for things such as epilepsy, chemotherapy, etc.

Some physicians and pediatricians do not believe in the efficacy of medical cannabis; therefore they do not see it as a viable treatment for children. But many other physicians are concerned about the prospect of their patients being treated with cannabis that parents procure illegally. There are ​heart-wrenching​ stories from parents trying desperately to provide their children with relief, and doing anything to get it – even if it means buying cannabis off the street.

Overall: Do Your Research

Medical cannabis is a loaded topic, and there are valid concerns on both sides of the argument. Many people, especially those who have been successfully treated with medical cannabis, feel strongly about the value of its use as a medical prescription. Take the time to do your own research and learn more about cannabis as a medical treatment before jumping into either side of the argument.