Marijuana and CBD – medical implications

The 1960s was a time when marijuana use among men at war, college students and hippies began in earnest. Considered a hallucinogen then, it is thought of as a source for wellness in present-day society. Taught then to lead to an unintended downward spiral into a world of “hard” drugs, it now enjoys legal status in several states – and a push for legalization in many others.

I never tried pot; but it was pretty obvious it was not difficult to acquire if the desire was there, especially in California where I grew up. At the time, I remember attending a rock concert (my one and only!) at the Hollywood Bowl, an open-air theater in Los Angeles. The smell of marijuana was terribly overwhelming, an annoyance only outdone by the screaming of concert-goers that began and ended with each song.

Jump ahead 50 years, and now we have in some states legalized marijuana products for recreational and medical purposes. Early on, authorities pointed out the dangers of the drug. Others now point to studies outlining benefits in treating certain illnesses. In between, there are many anecdotal stories of how it helps aid in a cadre of ailments including headaches, depression and body pain to name a few. However, no scientific studies confirm actual benefit for these illnesses.

There are at least two active ingredients in marijuana, also known as cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC produces a behavioral psychoactive effect also known as a “high.” Many seek exposure to marijuana explicitly for a mind-altering experience.

The chemical CBD, on the contrary, does not produce a high. It has been shown in studies to be effective in treating specific types of seizures and to benefit individuals with certain psychotic disorders. Beyond this, science has not proven its effectiveness for other diseases despite one-fourth of Americans using CBD oil at least once in the past two years.

The marijuana plant has a high concentration of THC but is low in CBD. The hemp plant, a close relative of the marijuana plant, is high in CBD and low in the concentration of THC. The few documented medical treatments are attributed to Hemp-plant-derived CBD oil. Products containing marijuana do not appear to have enough of a concentration of CBD to be helpful and too much THC causing harm.

In fact, studies have shown that marijuana may promote psychoses, low birth weight and contribute to impaired driving with an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents. Additionally, marijuana has an addictive tendency – especially if used heavily. Heavy users also have an increase in suicides. There are many other chemicals in marijuana. The effects of these agents on the human body are unknown.

There are three pharmaceutically manufactured synthetic derivatives of THC, called cannabinoids. These are used in cancer patients to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. These medications also stimulate the appetite, helping curve weight loss in patients with AIDS.

There are over 850 CBD products on the market. Over-the-counter purchases of CBD and marijuana – that is, crude plant and leaf-containing products – often lack precisely determined quantities of the active substances. Confusion as to a proper “dose” of such products may prove harmful.

Every medication has its side-effects. A side-effect may appear soon after starting a medicine or occur after years of consuming the medication for no apparent reason. Even a simple everyday medicine like aspirin can have, in certain circumstances, life-threatening consequences.

Why is this important to the Catholic or anyone for that matter? We must keep in mind we are made in the image and likeness of God. We are also temples of the Holy Spirit. Our bodies must be cared for, which is why recreational and medicinal use of crude marijuana products should be avoided until actual scientific proof through medical research indicates a benefit. The benefit must also be greater than the risk in treating a well-defined illness.

Specific medications with fixed and scientifically determined doses of CBD or THC can be prescribed and used. Treatments should be limited to a narrow range of illnesses at this time. Legalization of “over-the-counter” marijuana products do not imply efficacy nor that potential side-effects are acceptable or lack risk.

Yet, it is understandable that a chronic sufferer would be willing to try “anything” in seeking relief. Desperation may overcome common sense, leading one toward unproven treatments. Improvement in troublesome symptoms may be from a strong placebo effect and not the chemical substance itself. We can sympathize with the chronic sufferer, but trying everything and anything may prove unwise.