While the Federal Government has been dragging its feet over how to treat marijuana as a medicinal product, the states have not. To date, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of cannabis, and a number of others are considering bills or voter initiatives to do the same. The first state to legalize medical marijuana was California in 1996.
What is medical marijuana, or cannabis?
Medical marijuana simply means using the cannabis plant or chemicals obtained from the plant to treat various diseases or health conditions. Acquiring medical cannabis is different than a doctor prescribing a certain drug. For medicinal cannabis, a doctor has to “recommend” it as therapeutic treatment for a chronic or debilitating condition. Generally, these recommendations are required for a person to enter a cannabis dispensary.
As for the plant itself, cannabis contains over 80 different unique compounds called cannabinoids. Each of those compounds has a different effect on the body. Most everyone has heard of two of these compounds — cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The high that is associated with smoking or otherwise ingesting marijuana comes from THC. Cannabidiol, in contrast, does not create any psychoactive effects.
In most cases, cannabis has a higher CBD content, so users don’t feel the euphoria/high associated with recreational marijuana.
History of medical marijuana, or cannabis
- The first records of marijuana being used medicinally date back to ancient China, as far back as 2737 BC. Writings show marijuana being used to treat rheumatism, gout, constipation, and absent-mindedness, among other conditions.
- Ancient Greeks used marijuana to treat the wounds of horses on the battlefield. As for humans, they used cannabis to treat inflammation, ear pain, and other ailments.
- In the second century, the Egyptians began to use marijuana to treat cancer.
- It came to the West in 1830 when an Irish doctor by the name of William Brooke O’Shaughnessy brought marijuana back from India, where it was being used medicinally. O’Shaughnessy then used marijuana to treat epilepsy, chronic pain, muscle spasms, and rheumatism.
- Marijuana was listed from 1851 to 1941 in the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), an annually released compendium of drug information published by the United States Pharmacopeial Convention. Marijuana was an acceptable medical product during this time, but it fell out of use when synthetic medicines — pharmaceuticals — were developed.
How does a patient get cannabis?
To obtain cannabis, a person needs written recommendation from a licensed doctor in states where cannabis is legal. In some states, this recommendation then enables the person to acquire a cannabis ID card. This differs from a drug prescription for a specific brand name or generic drug. With marijuana, the doctor recommendation or ID card enables you to enter a dispensary and then decide what product or products you want to buy to treat your condition. Each state that has legalized medicinal use has its own list of qualifying conditions.