The effectiveness of medical marijuana (MMJ) as a pain management aid and effects to the body has been thoroughly documented by now. Its usefulness for patients undergoing chemotherapy or with persistent injuries that no longer respond to increasing doses of opiates is accepted, albeit grudgingly in some circles.
Naturally, there has been curiosity about what other maladies might benefit from the use of MMJ. Two particular conditions are of recent interest - Epilepsy and Fibromyalgia.
Grand Mal, Petit Mal
Epilepsy has been a known medical condition for centuries. However, it's only within the last few decades that there has been the technology to gain a better understanding of what epilepsy does to the body and how it can develop.
Rather than a singular condition, epilepsy is more of a compound condition, a set of circumstances which may be mechanically different from patient to patient, but that ultimately leading to the same general result.
An epileptic seizure can be disturbingly violent or oddly quiet, or somewhere in-between. The brain's
normal function is disrupted, leading to muscle convulsions, slurred speech, visual hallucinations, temporary blindness, and other conditions. Typically, the effects of seizures can be at least mitigated with a regimen of anti-seizure medications.
Unfortunately, some 30% of epileptics do not see any results from standard prescription regimens. In these circumstances, MMJ may be a treatment option to consider.
At the present time, there's already one cannabinoid-based drug, Epidiolex, which seems to work well on its own and in concert with certain other standard epilepsy drugs. However, this particular drug is not generally available in the US, requiring a "compassionate use" waiver in order to obtain it.
With regard to smoking or vaping MMJ, there is a lack of viable scientific evidence as yet. That said, all of the typical risks of smoking, such as increased inhalation of carbon monoxide, are still very much in place. With vaping, however, there is nothing being burned and the user is inhaling only vapor, making it an effective method of delivering medicine without the risks inherent in smoking.
A New Kind of Pain
While epilepsy in one form or another has been known for centuries, fibromyalgia has only been observed within the last 30 years or so. It is characterized primarily by widespread pain and fatigue in muscles and connective tissues, with secondary symptoms including joint pain, headaches, and some cognitive issues, commonly referred to as “fibro fog.” Presently, there are no known causes for fibromyalgia, though a number of theories abound.
Because of the lack of solid data regarding the causes of fibromyalgia, treatment options have been inconsistent at best. While there are prescription drugs out there, their general effectiveness has not been encouraging. If you've seen ads for drugs such as Lyrica or Cymbalta, the litany of possible adverse side effects conjures a feeling of “the cure is worse than the disease.”
Due to various federal regulations, obtaining comparable information about possible side effects of MMJ has proven difficult. The closest that anyone has come was a survey conducted by the National Pain Foundation, which found roughly a third of those surveyed had used MMJ and most of them found it to be more effective than the currently available drugs.
As with epilepsy, CBD-based treatments are the more likely option for use with fibromyalgia. Ingestion of CBD through a pill or an edible seems to provide a slower release than vaporization, which is useful for circumstances where the individual requires prolonged exposure without interference, such as when sleeping. Vaporization delivers the compound quickly, but its effects may be proportionally shorter in duration.
From a practical standpoint, a vaporizer with MMJ would likely need to be approached much like an asthma patient would use their inhaler. Not all vaporizers are created equally. Some require an oil-based substance in order to work properly, which has the virtue of being easier to vaporize. Others function as “dry herb” vaporizers, using convection or conduction to heat the material below its combustion point and release the compounds into the inhaled vapor.
The Last Resort
As mentioned earlier, the biggest impediment to obtaining comparable data for MMJ versus existing pharmaceuticals is the status of marijuana as a Schedule I drug by the federal government. Because of that classification, performing any kind of research is considerably more difficult than it would be with other drugs.
Sufficient amounts of marijuana to use as the testing material cannot be obtained easily, if at all, and creates a situation where properly synthesizing the necessary compounds becomes a practical impossibility.
At present in the US, only one synthetic cannabinoid drug exists on the market, Nabilone. And while it has shown some effectiveness with patients, it is prohibitively expensive at roughly $1000 USD per 30 capsules.
Because of the current state of the legal and regulatory environment, individuals suffering from epilepsy or fibromyalgia may have to visit a state where medical marijuana has been legalized to see if MMJ would help with their symptoms.
For those who are preparing to undertake this course of therapy, you would need top-quality vaporizers to allow for more flexibility when trying to work out the precise method of MMJ delivery that will work best for them.