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Home News Cannabis As Medicine

Cannabis As Medicine


Most of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis are available from the plant in its dried, natural form. Psychoactive cannabis ingested in the form of edible preparations, vapour or smoke delivers a number of cannabinoids into the bloodstream, as well as numerous other compounds. This fact is one of the main reasons given for the reluctance of certain sectors of the medical world to prescribe natural cannabis as medicine. Science requires certain factors to be known and constant in order to make new hypotheses and conclusions in research. Natural cannabis varies greatly - certainly between species and even between phenotypes of the same local strain - in the amounts and proportions of the various cannabinoids it produces. The same is true of the other compounds present in natural cannabis.
Additionally, no doctor will consider the inhalation of smoke an acceptable method of delivering medicine. Smoke, by its very nature is toxic and carcinogenic, no matter which burning material produces it. Furthermore, the effects and interrelations of the various compounds present in cannabis may change when burned.

For this reason there has been great interest recently in the development of cannabis 'vaporisers'. These could more accurately be referred to as THC vaporisers.

At a temperature of around 200 degrees centigrade the volatile oil that is THC may be stripped from cannabis foliage without burning the plant matter itself. This THC vapour may be inhaled like smoke and is delivered by the lungs into the bloodstream in the same way. The significant difference between vapour and smoke is that vapour contains no carbon particles and therefore no tar and none of the carcinogens associated with smoke. Also, when THC is merely heated rather than burned, it is ingested much more efficiently and fewer new compounds are produced.
The most effective vaporisers heat air to the required 200ÂșC and pass it over cannabis foliage. Vaporising cannabis or preparing foods made from it are simple solutions to the health issues presented by smoked cannabis.

The third and most important reason that most medical professionals do not prescribe cannabis in its natural form is that it is illegal in most parts of the world and may not be prescribed. Most countries take their official policy on cannabis directly from the United States where, for the last 70 years or so cannabis has been classed as a Schedule 1 drug - 'high in abuse potential with no redeeming medical value' - despite enormous amounts of scientific, medical and social evidence to the contrary.

There is also a strong case for the use of medical cannabis in its natural form.
The first argument is eloquently stated as part of the recommendations from the Vancouver Island Compassionate Society to Canada's Office of Medical Cannabis Access:
7. Whole Plant Cannabis vs Synthetic Pharmaceutical Products and Extracts. It is crucial that medicinal users of cannabis continue to have the choice to use the whole plant medicine. Our members have reported tremendously negative side effects from synthetic versions of the isolated active ingredients of cannabis. Were pharmaceutical companies able to replicate the exact ratios of all the active ingredients in cannabis, many people would still prefer to use natural healthcare products. This right to choose natural health care products must be defended as an essential health care choice.
The regulations repeatedly mention pharmaceutical products and apply the language of pharmaceutical drugs to cannabis. While it is evident that synthetic cannabis is of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry, those interests should not supercede the interests of the already existing and flourishing natural medicine industry. (dead link)

This is a relevant counter-argument to the view that natural cannabis as medicine may result in an 'uncontrolled' dose.
Cannabis has provided medical and therapeutic benefits for thousands of years without having its active principles isolated. The precise ratios of active principles in any given sample of natural cannabis may vary or represent an unknown factor, but it does not necessarily follow that this represents a danger to users of natural cannabis. Indeed, the use of natural cannabis over such a long period without any evidence of toxic side-effects strongly indicates that this is not the case.

Furthermore, isolating and synthesising cannabinoids is necessary in order to study them, but this does not mean that isolated and/or synthesised cannabinoids are the best forms of cannabis medicine to administer to patients.
There is evidence that ingesting cannabis in its natural form can impart a greater range of therapeutic benefits than isolated cannabinoids, most likely because of the unknown factor represented by the various other substances in the plant.

The next important argument for natural cannabis as medicine is the probability of pharmaceutical companies obtaining a monopoly on the supply of synthesised cannabinoids. Medicines may only be patented if they are synthesised; natural medicines may not be owned and are therefore difficult to make money from. Here, the friction between opposing interests is easy to see.
On one hand, the potential for enormous revenue in patented, synthetic cannabis medicines is undermined by the fact that anyone, in any part of the world may grow medical cannabis with minimal outlay (local laws notwithstanding).
On the other hand, the potential for enormous health benefits to the entire world through the right to grow natural medical cannabis is undermined by the corporate interest to own and generate revenue from cannabis medicines.

Linked to this point is the third important advantage of natural cannabis as medicine - the cost of supply.
Medical cannabis can be grown almost anywhere in the world with a minimum of expense or difficulty. Distinct, uniform strains of medical cannabis are available in seed form from gene-banks. Once grown and ripened over the spring and summer, cannabis needs only to be dried to obtain its medical and therapeutic benefits.

The only obstacle to the free cultivation of medical cannabis is, of course, its prohibition by law. This situation disadvantages patients as much as it benefits suppliers of synthetic cannabinoids, as this article from the Copenhagen Post underlines:

Some of the country's leading medical specialists and researchers are trying to produce a synthetic cannabis substitute that will hopefully relieve the pains and spasms of Multiple Sclerosis sufferers. Researchers on the project have now concluded that the cost of the pill will actually be far greater than just administering plain cannabis or marijuana - both of which are still illegal in this country. According to early projections, a year's supply of the new pill will cost DKK 65,000. Patients claim that, for the same amount, they could purchase 1.3kilos of cannabis, the equivalent of four grams per day and far in excess of what is required.

Note that this comparison is based on the cost of purchasing natural cannabis on the black market. Even then, synthetic cannabinoids work out at least two to four times more expensive than natural cannabis. Natural cannabis grown by patients is almost incalculably cheaper than any synthetic alternative.

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