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marijuanaMy community was recently chosen to be one of 24 sites in Ohio permitted to cultivate medical marijuana. Whether you voted yes or no on this initiative, I think it’s important to distinguish the difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana, because compounds derived from the marijuana plant can be used to help treat a variety of chronic diseases and conditions, as well as offering an alternative to opioid use for pain relief.

A new multi-institutional study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine and led by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, examined the rate of deaths caused by opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2010. Results revealed that on average, the 13 states allowing the use of medical marijuana had a 24.8 percent lower annual opioid overdose mortality rate after the laws were enacted than states without the laws, indicating that the alternative treatment may be safer for patients suffering from chronic pain related to cancer and other conditions.

Mother Nature has been providing medicine to treat our diseases and relieve our suffering for thousands of years. Despite tremendous advances in drug design, most prescribed medicines used today are still derived from natural compounds found in plants, animals, and microbes. This is particularly true for drugs that treat infections and cancers.

When was the last time you took medicine? Was it a prescription like penicillin (mold) or an over the counter medication such as aspirin (willow tree bark)?  Did you even bother to think about how or where it came from?  Medicine formulated from plants can come from many different parts of the plant including the leaves, roots, bark, fruit, seeds, and/or flowers.

In marijuana, the two primary active components in the plant providing health benefits are cannabidiol (CBD) — which seems to impact the brain without a high— and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which has pain relieving (and other) properties. Marijuana has been used in herbal remedies for centuries. Research shows that its compounds may have positive effects on many diseases; listed below are just a few:

Alzheimer’s— Marijuana may be able to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. THC slows the formation of amyloid plaques by blocking the enzyme in the brain that makes them. The plaques are what kill brain cells.

Cancer— Studies have long shown that people who take marijuana extracts in clinical trials tend to need less pain medicine. More recently, scientists reported that THC and CBD slow growth and/or cause death in certain types of cancer cells.

Inflammatory bowel diseases—Diseases of the gut, such as Crohn’s and colitis, can benefit from marijuana use.  A recent study in Israel found that marijuana significantly reduced Crohn’s disease symptoms in 10 out of 11 patients, and caused a complete remission of the disease in five of those patients. The cannabinoids from marijuana seem to help regulate gut bacteria and intestinal function.

Multiple Sclerosis—Marijuana may ease the painful symptoms of MS. Research shows that patients with painful contractions in their muscles find relief from marijuana therapy.  THC binds to receptors in the nerves and muscles to relieve pain; other studies suggest that the chemical also helps control muscle spasms.

Parkinson’s Disease— Recent research from Israel shows that marijuana improves sleep for Parkinson’s disease patients. Particularly impressive was the improved fine motor skills among patients. Like Ohio, medical marijuana is legal in Israel, and a lot of research into the medical uses of cannabis is done there.

How will this work?

A person with a confirmed diagnosis of one of 21 qualifying conditions will need to register with the state, followed by a recommendation from a qualified physician in order to purchase medical marijuana (federal law prohibits doctors from prescribing marijuana).

Ohio physicians will have to take two hours of continuing education courses and register with the state medical board in order to recommend marijuana to patients. Doctors are required to explain the benefits and risks of medical marijuana to patients before issuing a recommendation.

Patients will be allowed to buy marijuana in plant form, but will be required to eat it or inhale it with a vaporizer. Current law also allows oils, tinctures, edibles and patches.

Next month? More medicines made from plants.

Written by:  Donna Green, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County, green.308@osu.edu

Reviewed by:  Beth Stefura, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Mahoning County, stefura.2@osu.edu








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