The active ingredients in marijuana are a group of chemicals called “cannabinoids.” Since we all have receptors on the nerve cells in our brain for these chemicals, it is reasonable to believe that cannabinoids might have some therapeutic benefits. A pro- vs con- debate on this recently occurred (Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 83, p 515-519, 2008). Cannabinoids can decrease nausea, may help reduce pain and can increase appetite. In fact, a prescribed medication consisting of cannabinoids (nabilone or Marinol) has long been used for these beneficial effects in terminally ill cancer patients. Although some claim that marijuana can improve muscle diseases such as multiple-sclerosis, anxiety disorders, epilepsy, etc. the scientific evidence for this is small. Although smoking is an efficient way to put drugs into your body, it is a poor way because it contains many toxins, increases the chances of addiction, and there is no quality control. In fact, a drug company in Canada is developing an inhaler that administers cannabinoids and is testing it for its ability to help multiple sclerosis. Although this delivery systems is, in all likelihood, safer than smoked marijuana, it still needs to be tested to see if it has the correct cannabinoid chemical, the right dose, etc. Also, although it makes sense that an inhaler form of administration would be better than a tablet form, we have no test of this. Hopefully, drug companies will develop purer methods to deliver cannabinoids that are effective, yet provide little intoxication and are not very addicting. Then we will be better able to conduct the type of research needed to determine the effectiveness of cannabinoids for these various medical problems.
–Dr. John R. Hughes