In this two-part article we’ll be dispelling some of those concerns first time medical marijuana users, or those close to users, have. First thing’s first, don’t believe everything you hear, or you’ve seen in stoner movies – cannabis has undergone decades of misinformation and government propaganda. Much of this can be traced back to the “Reefer Madness” era of the 1930s and the Nixon administration’s “War on Drugs”.
Thankfully in the last few years, attitudes are beginning to change and the perception of marijuana is becoming more holistic, returning to its natural roots. As part of this shift, people are calling out for more information on cannabis than ever. In this first installment, we’ll be answering questions around cannabis effects on medical conditions and prescription drugs.
Will it interfere with my other medications?
Quite simply, it depends upon the medicine. The main contraindication is with some types of opioids, although there are other, more moderate interactions with some over-the-counter medications. However, some people have used cannabis in order to stop or reduce their intake of antidepressants, painkillers, amphetamine-based ADHD medications and other potentially addictive pharmaceuticals. Benzodiazepines are another drug class cannabis may interfere with. Cannabidiol (CBD) in particular seems to interact with the processing of many drugs, as it desensitizes the liver enzyme cytochrome P450 (CYP 450).
Where there is not enough information is if cannabis has negative reactions to life-saving medications, for example, anti-rejection tablets for organs and the like, although due to the effect cannabinoids have on downregulating the immune system, it is theoretically possible that cannabinoids may lessen the need for anti-rejection tablets. So far, there isn’t any evidence for such an interaction, but we can only truly determine this by lifting arbitrary legal restrictions and giving scientists the ability to research cannabis properly.
What about mental health?
Where the advantages of cannabis for physical conditions are more defined, mental health is an area that is still being investigated more deeply. However, we are already seeing the positive results of cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabis compound that has shown significant benefits for mental health.
CBD has shown demonstrable neuroprotective and neurogenic effects making it an appealing for patients looking for relief from inflammation, pain, anxiety, psychosis, seizures and other conditions without getting that ‘stoned’ feeling some patients are cautious of.
High tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) strains may not be ideal for those suffering from schizophrenia. Some strains may increase anxiety, where others may beat it. There is a lot of conflicting information surrounding cannabis and mental health issues. Those who have a history of mental health problems (especially psychosis) – whether familial or otherwise – might want to avoid cannabis. For depression and anxiety, though, cannabis may prove to be helpful where antidepressants and anxiolytic medications don’t work.
What about strokes and heart attacks?
This area is hugely conflicted and as such more research is needed to provide certain answers. Here is what we know so far, some studies have shown that cannabis may be beneficial for stroke victims by acting as a neuroprotectant, others state that cannabis can decrease hypertension and therefore the risk of a heart attack. However, for every positive study, there is another suggesting the opposite as you can see here.
What about addiction?
There is such a thing as “Cannabis Dependence Disorder” or “Cannabis Use Disorder”, where people carry on using cannabis despite the negative effect it is having on their lives. This affliction affects approximately nine per cent of cannabis users – a far greater margin of safety than many legal medications, we might add!
However, cannabis isn’t “addictive” in the same way alcohol or opiates are (i.e. physically addictive, when going cold turkey may endanger a person’s life). The ECS (endocannabinoid system) tends to start making its own cannabinoids soon after use stops, meaning there are rarely any major withdrawal symptoms. Most people who use cannabis – even heavy users – tend to find cannabis relatively simple to just stop using.
Those who are worried about their cannabis intake ought to ask themselves “why”? Is your tolerance increasing rapidly? Is cannabis not having the medical effects you are seeking anymore? Is use interfering your life in any way? Some of these issues can be solved by switching strains, whereas some others can be helped by good diet, exercise and simply keeping occupied!
If we are to treat cannabis as a medicine, we must also realise that it may have negatives as well as positives – just like any medicine can. Some people may be allergic, others may find that using cannabis affects their other medications (even if it doesn’t for others), and some people may just plain not like cannabis or find it effective. However, once again, these are questions we will not know the answer to unless we stop restricting research.