Advocates of cannabis reform often tout the positive physical and mental health implications of marijuana as their lynchpin for legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana. However, large-scale, substantive medical studies into the potential health benefits of cannabis are few and far between. However, as more states legalize the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, researchers are better able to study the effects of the drug, and they are coming to some surprising conclusions.
A recent study published by the prestigious American Medical Association suggests that medical marijuana may be associated with significant improvements in the quality of life for people suffering from chronic medical conditions. Even more impressive, the plant’s medicinal effects are largely sustained over time. What could this mean for chronic pain, insomnia, and other debilitating condition sufferers? Perhaps medicinal cannabis, not traditional pharmaceuticals, is the answer they’ve been looking for.
American Medical Association Research into Cannabis
The American Medical Association identifies its mission as promoting the art and science of medicine for the betterment of public health. Founded in 1847, the group considers itself the largest and only national association of over 190 state and specialty medical societies. Although not legally binding, the code of medical ethics established by the AMA tends to serve as the “gold standard” of hospitals, care facilities, and medical professionals.
It is significant to note that a new study published by the American Medical Association points to the positive health benefits of cannabis for individuals suffering from certain chronic health conditions. Researchers conducted a retrospective case analysis involving 3,148 Australians prescribed medicinal cannabis to treat eligible health conditions.
Researchers asked patients to rate their wellness in eight well-being indicators on a scale of 0 to 100 during different stages of their treatment. Categories included general health, bodily pain, physical limitations, physical functioning, mental health, emotional role limitations, social functioning, and vitality. The patients were given the survey once every 45 days in 15 follow-ups. Study participants who consumed medical cannabis as part of their treatment reported average improvements between 6.6 and 18.21 points on the 100-point scale.
Study researchers noticed that patients consuming cannabis improved in all eight well-being indicators, enhancing their quality of life. The study suggests there may be a favorable association between medicinal cannabis and quality of life in patients suffering from a diverse range of chronic medical conditions.
However, the medical study was a retroactive case analysis and did not involve a control group, making it more difficult to generalize the results.
Other Promising Health Studies
The latest study published in the American Medical Association helps reinforce other studies into the potential health benefits of medicinal cannabis consumption. Colorado was one of the first states in the country to legalize recreational marijuana consumption. A study out of the University of Colorado suggests that consistent cannabis use may be associated with improved cognitive function and reduced pain in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy as part of their treatment. Researchers believe cannabis improves the symptoms of “chemo brain,” significantly decreases pain, and helps ease insomnia.
A separate American Medical Association study found that cannabis legalization was associated with reducing pain-related hospital events among patients with certain cancer diagnoses over a period between 2012 and 2017. Essentially, medicinal marijuana may lead to fewer opioid prescriptions, potentially easing the demand for opioids and curbing the opioid addiction crisis in America. Other notable sources also show that marijuana legalization may reduce opioid demand, easing chronic pain while fighting the opioid overdose epidemic.
In addition to potentially curtailing the opioid addiction problem in America, states that have legalized marijuana find consistent evidence that state recreational marijuana laws may reduce tobacco use. There is some data to support the hypothesis that tobacco use has declined in several of the earliest states to adopt recreational marijuana legislation. Some estimates suggest reducing tobacco smoking can translate into nearly $10.2 billion in tobacco-related healthcare cost savings annually.
Why the Fanfare Over a New Cannabis Study?
What’s the big deal about this new American Medical Association study? It is just one piece in a growing body of medical work helping unravel the potential benefits of cannabis consumption. At the federal level, marijuana is still an illegal Schedule I controlled substance. Schedule I drugs do not have safe or accepted medical use and have a high probability of drug abuse and addiction. Cannabis is technically on the same level as heroin and crack cocaine, according to the federal government.
One of the prevailing problems with being categorized as a Schedule I substance is that the government does not recognize any medicinal benefit. Studying marijuana and its potential positive and negative medicinal effects is complicated because federal law prohibits university researchers from possessing or distributing cannabis for medical research. Only government-issued or pharmaceutical-grade cannabis could be available to study. Unfortunately, most government cannabis strains tend to be less potent and lack variety in the vital cannabinoid compounds they contain.
Researchers would often have to navigate regulatory barriers and a series of complicated processes that could involve intervention from agencies like the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as other institutional review boards and government agencies.
As more states expand medicinal and recreational cannabis reform, it is slowly becoming easier for legitimate medical associations and universities to study the impact of cannabis on mental and physical health. The ultimate win for researchers and medical professionals would be a federal reclassification or legalization of marijuana, easing restrictions on cannabis research and potentially freeing up funding for more extensive studies.
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