What Do We Really Know About Cannabis from a Medical Standpoint?

A December 2021 post on the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) website declared that a record 3800+ scientific papers related to cannabis were published during the first 11 months of that year. Just over 3500 were published in 2020. But what does all the data tell us about cannabis from a medical standpoint?

NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano made it clear in the published piece that it was time to “stop assessing cannabis through the lens of ‘what we don’t know’ and instead start engaging in evidence-based discussions about marijuana and marijuana reform policies that are indicative of all that we do know.”

Few would argue with that assessment. Legal and political decisions should not be based on a lack of knowledge. That is why it’s so foolish to make widespread and long-term decisions on the coronavirus and COVID-19. Getting back to cannabis as a medicine, what do we really know about it?

It’s Still a Controlled Substance

We do know that cannabis is still considered a controlled substance under federal law. Furthermore, all drugs on the Schedule I list are believed to have a high likelihood of dependence with little to no medical value. Marijuana seems to fail both tests. At the very least, perhaps it needs to be rescheduled.

This does not mean it should be completely descheduled. It doesn’t mean that cannabis needs to be decriminalized nationwide. It does suggest that marijuana should probably never have been added to Schedule I to begin with.

Doctors Can’t Prescribe It

We know that doctors cannot prescribe medical cannabis. They can recommend it, but they do not write actual prescriptions the same way they do for antibiotics, blood pressure medication, prescription NSAIDs, etc. Likewise, medical cannabis pharmacies do not fill prescriptions in the standard way.

When a patient visits the Beehive Farmacy in Brigham City, Utah, he brings with him his state-issued medical cannabis card. His doctor may or may not have provided him with dosing and delivery method instructions. If so, those instructions will be included in the state’s electronic verification system (EVS) database.

If the doctor has not recommended dosing and delivery method, Beehive Farmacy’s medical cannabis pharmacist will make the recommendations. Either way, the patient ultimately decides for himself. No other prescription medication is dispensed that way.

Plenty of Anecdotal Evidence

We also know that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence in support of cannabis as a medicine. For example, cancer patients say that cannabis can help relieve their pain. Some say it can help relieve the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and radiation.

We know that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sufferers swear by medical cannabis to relieve anxiety, promote sleep, and reduce nightmares. PTSD sufferers are among the most vocal proponents of medical cannabis.

Millions Are Now Using It

Finally, we know that millions of people around the country are using cannabis as a medicine. There are now thirty-seven states with medical cannabis programs in place. Among them, eighteen have approved cannabis for recreational use. The remaining thirteen prohibition states will probably get on board at some point.

It is hard to disagree with the premise that the culture needs to start making cannabis decisions based on what we do know rather than what we don’t. But if that’s the case, the other side of the coin also has to be considered. Cannabis proponents need to stop promoting their favorite plant based on what they don’t know. It is time to end the speculation. Both sides need to set aside their agendas and look only at scientific data.

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