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Have you ever wondered what the difference is between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana? Why medical marijuana is “medical”? Or if the term “medical marijuana” is just an excuse for people to get high?

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The Basics: What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana is the commonly used term for all or part of a plant in the species Cannabis sativa L. that is grown legally or illegally almost all over the world.

The plant or its extracts can be inhaled, ingested, or applied topically to provide medically therapeutic benefits such as pain relief, reduced anxiety, and prevention of epileptic seizures. When used for medical purposes it is referred to either as medical marijuana or as medical cannabis.

By mixing genetic material from different strains of the plant and from their sub-strains, growers have developed over a thousand known sub-strains (and probably many more for private use) with different characteristics.

Differences include leaf shape, color, size, and required growing conditions, but most importantly, the specific mix of 80-150 different chemical compounds called “cannabinoids” that affect how our bodies react to a given strain.

By altering the mix of cannabinoids, as well as other chemical compounds found in the plant, marijuana distributors can promote strains with different psychoactive and physical effects.

A user seeking psychoactive benefits can choose from strains that will help them feel calm, energetic, happy, relaxed, focused, sleepy, creative, euphoric or a combination of two or more.

Two cannabinoids are particularly well-researched and important in understanding medical marijuana. These are:

  • THC (short for delta-9 – tetrahydrocannabinol)

THC is the compound that can make you “high” or “stoned”. THC is also very effective at reducing nausea and increasing appetite. This is a goal for many medical marijuana users, particularly those on chemotherapy. (In recreational use an increased appetite is known as “the munchies” and is usually an unwanted side effect).

  • CBD (short for cannabidiol)

CBD doesn’t make you “high”, but it is the compound that provides most of the medical benefits of marijuana.

CBD without THC, or with trace amounts of THC, is available over the counter in many countries. Some of these products come from a different plant known as hemp, which doesn’t contain any THC, and is not considered a medical marijuana plant.

While some of these products can be effective, CBD and THC work together synergistically and enhance each other’s effects.

 

Does Medical Marijuana Get You High?

In places where recreational and medical marijuana are both legal and well-regulated, the marijuana sold for medical use can come from the same plant, be processed the same way, and be formulated exactly like marijuana sold for recreational use. In other words, marijuana for medical use and recreational use can be the same thing.

However, whether marijuana has a psychoactive effect depends on how much THC is in the selected strain. Most medical marijuana users want to be able to fully participate in daily life activities as much as possible – something that can be difficult and potentially dangerous to do when high.

Therefore, they often choose strains that are high in CBD and low in THC. People who require higher doses of THC to prevent nausea and increase appetite can benefit from the psychoactive calming effects but must avoid activities that might be dangerous to do when high, such as driving.

Recreational users typically but not always prefer strains that are high in THC.

 

For Which Symptoms Is Medical Marijuana Recommended?

Many studies have been done on marijuana for all sorts of different medical uses, with sometimes contradictory or inconclusive results. However, studies have been reasonably consistent in showing benefit when marijuana is used to:

  • Reduce chronic pain
  • Reduce nausea
  • Reduce stress
  • Relax muscles
  • Reduce epileptic seizures
  • Increase appetite
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improve sleep
  • Promote relaxation
  • Reduce intraocular eye pressure

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Because of its effectiveness in those symptoms, marijuana is recommended most often to people with

  • ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • PTSD
  • Glaucoma
  • Neuropathic (nerve) pain

Marijuana can interact with opioid receptors and is sometimes used to reduce the symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

Marijuana is not effective for most types of acute pain.

 Is Marijuana Prescribed Right After Diagnosis?

With a few exceptions, marijuana treats symptoms, not diseases. Most patients are on other medications to treat the disease process before symptoms require marijuana.

Symptoms are often treated with mainstream medications before marijuana is recommended. Reasons for this include:

  • Marijuana requires more frequent dosing than many other medications.
  • Not all physicians are comfortable with the idea of marijuana.
  • Patients usually must fill out and submit specialized paperwork before being allowed to buy marijuana.
  • In some countries, marijuana must be obtained from a marijuana dispensary rather than from a traditional pharmacy. This can be a challenge for someone with an illness.
  • In some countries, physicians need specialized authorization to prescribe marijuana.
  • Marijuana is not usually covered by medical insurance.
  • In addition, in many places, there is still a stigma to marijuana use, medical or not.

 

How Can One Plant Have So Many Different Effects?

Our bodies produce endocannabinoids, which are chemicals similar in form to cannabinoids. Endocannabinoids affect the same functions as cannabinoids such as CBD or THC, such as reducing pain, promoting sleep, or reducing inflammation.

When we ingest, apply, or inhale certain cannabinoids, they occupy the same types of “receptors” that our own endocannabinoids occupy when they are released. Other cannabinoids are thought to prevent the breakdown of our own endocannabinoid.

In other words, our bodies are already prepared to use the cannabinoids for various functions.

 

What Is the Best Way To Get Medical Marijuana Into The Body?

Marijuana can be prepared in several ways. Which method to use is usually a matter of preference. Methods include:

  • Smoking

Although inhalation produces the quickest relief of symptoms, some medical marijuana dispensaries don’t stock a smokable form. Smoke can harm sensitive lungs and dry out mucus membranes – making the buyer more vulnerable to infections.

The odor stays in clothes and hair, making smoking a poor choice for people who prefer to keep their marijuana use private.

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  • Vaporizing (vaping)

Marijuana oil is available in some areas for vape pens. Vaping is a relatively expensive method.

  • Suppositories

Rectal suppositories can be particularly useful for people who are nauseated and/or vomiting. They take effect quickly.

  • Tinctures

Tinctures are drops that can be placed under the tongue and absorbed through the mucus membranes. They can also be sprayed under the tongue or added to a beverage.

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  • Marijuana-infused cooking oil

Cooking oil is useful when administering marijuana to someone who fights the process of taking medication (rather than the medication itself), such as a person with dementia. A downside is the possibility that the person won’t finish their meal, and the caregiver will not know how much was ingested.

  • Oral tablets
  • Topical creams or lotions.

Topicals are applied directly to the area of pain and can provide quick relief. Topicals don’t have a psychoactive effect.

  • Transdermal Patch

A transdermal patch delivers the dose slowly through the skin and into the bloodstream. Patches can deliver the dose over a longer time, making frequent dosing unnecessary.

  • Edibles

Edibles are not typically recommended for medical marijuana users because the amount of THC, as well as the time until they take effect and wear off, can be quite variable.

 

Does Medical Marijuana Have Side Effects?

Marijuana can cause side effects. Some of the side effects are related to the strain of marijuana. The following side effects are more common with strains high in THC.

  • Low blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Decreased attention span
  • Hunger
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Forgetfulness
  • Dizziness
  • Decreased ability to think rationally and logically
  • Dry mouth

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However, CBD can also cause side effects such as:

  • Sleepiness
  • Liver damage
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability or agitation

Who Should Avoid Medical Marijuana?

Some groups of people should not use marijuana either medically or recreationally. These include:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women. Some studies have shown a relationship between maternal marijuana use and developmental delays in their children’s social interaction and learning.

 

  • People taking medication that has a similar profile or side effects. For example, someone taking a medication for sleep should not add a sleep-inducing dose of marijuana as that can dangerously multiply the effect.

 

  • Although medical marijuana can be prescribed for young children (most often in a pharmaceutical form for children with severe epilepsy), we don’t yet have a lot of information on the effect of marijuana on the developing brain.

 

Are There Any Other Risks?

As with most medications, there are sometimes unforeseen situations. Not all doctors are comfortable prescribing marijuana, and in some countries, doctors need a specific certification to prescribe marijuana.

Be sure that the doctor knows your medical history and the medications you take. Some studies have shown interactions with other medicines, including barbiturates, theophylline, fluoxetine, disulfiram, sedatives, and antihistamines.

When first trying medical marijuana, it can take a few tries to get the dose and/or strain right.

Use common sense, and if you are the caregiver for someone who is just starting to use medical marijuana, or is elderly or ill, be sure to stay with them until you are both satisfied that they will not be disoriented from the effects.

Alcohol and marijuana increase each other’s effects. Don’t mix them.

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Who Oversees Quality Control of Medical Marijuana?

In contrast to recreational marijuana, which is illegal in most places and therefore entirely unregulated, in most countries medical marijuana is regulated to some extent.

Some dispensaries grow their own plants, formulate, produce, package, and sell the finished product directly to the consumer. This allows them to check the quality of the product at every step. Other dispensaries buy either the finished product or the plant itself from wholesalers or growers.

In most states in the U.S. laboratory testing is required. Although the requirements for testing vary by state, elements tested for might include:

  • Potency and percentages of CBD and THC.
  • Pesticides
  • Moisture content
  • Solvents
  • Heavy metals
  • Fungicides
  • Mold -produced pathogens
  • Mildew
  • Bacteria

 

Is Medical Marijuana Legal?

Medical marijuana is legal in around 50 countries but illegal in others. It is very important to know the laws of your country or state since the penalties for possessing marijuana illegally can be severe.

A few countries which have legalized marijuana for medical use include Canada, Argentina, Germany, Italy, Colombia, Peru, the Czech Republic Uruguay, Thailand, Zimbabwe, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia.

 

So, Is Medical Marijuana Different from Recreational Marijuana?

Clearly, medical marijuana is different from recreational street corner marijuana, which often contains contaminants and is made from inferior plants. Other differences and/or similarities are the law, the science, the finished product, and the intended use.

Perhaps the more important question is: “Can medical marijuana help improve my symptoms and quality of life?”

 

How Halza Helps

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Sources:

https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=CANNA

cannabisgeneticsinstitute.com

https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/medical_marijuana/docs/mmp_revised_rulemaking.pdf

https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/marijuana/nih-research-marijuana-cannabinoids

https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/hemp/faqs.htm

Medical marijuana

https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/medical_marijuana/docs/overview.pdf

www.marijuanadoctors.com Guide to Medical Marijuana