The Evolution of Medical Marijuana
The United States of America is the one country that perfectly chronicles the tumultuous history of medical marijuana. We take a peek into the evolution of medical marijuana, in a bid to highlight how we got to this point and predict what to expect subsequently. How cannabis swiftly transitioned from a period of widespread acceptance into a period of demonization, and the subsequent ban remains a puzzle. These days, the general opinion about the drug is changing, albeit gradually.
There have been numerous backs and forth between pharmaceutical industries, health experts, regulatory authorities, and the general public. Currently, a total of 33 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana for specified conditions and with adequate supervision by the professionals. It appears the pro-medical cannabis groups are winning the battles, one after the other. And it’s only a matter of time before the war comes to an end.
A Brief History of Medical Cannabis
The earliest records indicating the use of cannabis for its medicinal value dates back to 2737 BC. Chinese emperor, Emperor Shen-Nung, was reported to have employed cannabis for the treatment of about 100 medical conditions, including malaria, rheumatism, gout, and many others. Around 500 BC, the plant has grown into a widely recognized drug throughout the Asian continent. It is worth noting that the psychoactive effects of medical cannabis were not lost on people, even during this period. Cannabis was termed the ‘joy giver,’ ‘bringer of freedom,’ amidst other names in Hindu religious texts.
At the turn of the 14th Century, the legend of cannabis started spreading beyond the Asian continent, thanks to Arab traders who were regularly interacting with the natives in East Africa. Records show that cannabis was widely employed in East Africa for the treatment of ailments such as asthma, dysentery, fever, etc. From East Africa, cannabis spread inland, and the drug gradually became a common feature in European medicine. Through the Spanish, cannabis penetrated the American continent, where it was initially employed for practical purposes such as clothes or as a rope. However, its psychoactive and medicinal properties soon became known to all.
By 1900, cannabis was available over the counter in America for the treatment of a wide variety of conditions. Things took a negative turn in 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act was passed into law. The law prohibited the sales and use of cannabis in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration officially does not recognize cannabis as a drug appropriate for medical use, and there remain penalties for its illegal use.
Despite the ban, the scientific community actively researched cannabis in a bid to verify the acclaimed therapeutic benefits. A breakthrough was made in 1964 with the discovery of the molecular structure of THC. Scientists were able to link THC to the psychoactive effects of cannabis, and further research would lead to the discovery of CBD receptors. However, that only happened after cannabis was categorized as a Schedule 1 drug in 1970. The new categorization placed marijuana in the same class as ecstasy, LSD, heroin, etc. and prevented further research into the cannabis plant since it was already listed as having ‘no accepted medical use.’
The Pharmacology of Marijuana
Extensive research into the pharmacology of marijuana has shown that cannabinoid receptors are not only present in the central nervous system. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are abundant all over the human body. Alongside the CNS, they can also be found in the internal organs, glands, immune cells, connective tissues, etc. The endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in regulating human activities. Endocannabinoids are characterized as ‘eat, sleep, relax, protect, and forget.’ They are also implicated in the pathophysiology of disorders such as migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and they serve a protective function in some disease states.
Studies have also shown that the receptors in the endocannabinoid system can be activated by THC and CBD, as well as the other phytocannabinoids present in cannabis. Currently, the consensus in the medical world is that phytocannabinoids hold a lot of promise as therapeutic agents. However, the psychoactive effects of some of these compounds may limit their use in clinical situations. Although there are notable side effects on smoking for medical purposes, patients can use cannabis safely.
The Path to Legalization
There is no doubt that the use of cannabis would remain controversial in many circles. However, pro-cannabis organizations and individuals have been able to come up with incontrovertible evidence that proves the therapeutic efficacy of cannabis. It all started with the discovery of cannabinoid receptors in 1988. The receptors were rightly alighted as some of the most abundant receptors in the nervous system. Subsequently, scientists were able to prove that the cannabinoids present in marijuana had binding centers in the brain and are thus able to elicit therapeutic effects.
California made a bold move to become the first state to legalize medical marijuana in the United States. The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 permitted people with certain chronic illnesses to have access to medical marijuana. Four other states followed the footsteps of California within the same decade, including Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and Maine. By the turn of the millennium, many other states joined the train, although the possession and use of marijuana remain illegal under federal laws.
What Does the Future Hold?
Shortly, more states are expected to legalize medical marijuana in the United States. The stance of the federal laws may also change with the appearance of more compelling evidence to prove the efficacy and limited side effects of the drug. More than 64% of Americans believe that medical marijuana should be legalized under federal laws. Medical marijuana has, in fact, been tipped in many circles to be a perfect solution to the opioid crisis the country is currently facing. It appears things can only get better for medical marijuana in the foreseeable future.
Things are also looking good for medical marijuana in the stock market. A study conducted by the ArcView Market Research and BDS Analytics predicts that the legal marijuana industry would generate a global revenue of about $32 billion by 2022. Industry giants are already emerging, and there has been news that traditional heavyweights in the food and drug industry are looking to make a move into cannabis production.
Even if it appears that things can only get better, there are concerns about the unregulated use of cannabis. About ten states in the United States permit the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, and this number could also increase shortly. While extensive studies have shown that the side effects of cannabis are mild and never fatal, physicians remain wary about the indiscriminate use of the drug. More research is needed before definite conclusions can be made about the long-term side effects of the unregulated use of cannabis.
What’s Happening in the Rest of the World?
America is not the only country that’s making laws that would allow its citizens to benefit from the therapeutic effects of medical marijuana. Uruguay was the first country to legalize the sale and use of marijuana. However, Canada’s legislation in 2018 appears to be the most significant. The passage of the Cannabis Act in June 2018 made Canada the first industrialized nation in the world to allow adults the freedom to purchase marijuana. The development confirms a change in the perception of marijuana all over the world. Asides Uruguay and Canada, about 28 countries in the world have legalized the use of marijuana in one capacity or the other.
How far medical marijuana has come, perhaps, points at our evolution as a people. It is an indication that we are open to accepting new ideas and coming together to make decisions that would greatly benefit our health. And it all starts with a willingness to ask questions and embark on quests for answers. If you or anyone you know is suffering from any condition that can be treated or managed with medical marijuana, all you need to do is to obtain a medical marijuana card. The card allows you access to all kinds of medical marijuana preparations in the state of Florida. You can follow this link to schedule an appointment with a qualified medical marijuana doctor.
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