The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved four medications made from synthetic or real plant marijuana extract. Such approval is indicative of the FDA’s confirmation that marijuana has medicinal benefits as evidenced by rigorous clinical trials. Those drugs include:
Epidiolex: an oral solution, made from real plant marijuana extract, approved for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gestaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
Marinol and Syndros: capsules and oral solution, made from synthetic marijuana extract, approved for the treatment of nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy.
Cesamet: capsules, made from synthetic marijuana extract, approved for the treatment of nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.
States with Medical Marijuana programs are conducting their own studies
A total of 33 states, including Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida, have approved the use of medical marijuana. Throughout the country, more than 2.8 million Americans are using medical marijuana to relieve pain and treat other symptoms of debilitating medical conditions.
States are conducting their own studies based on their patients’ experiences with medical marijuana as a treatment:
The Minnesota Department of Health published a report in the Journal of Oncology Practice showing that patients enrolled in Minnesota’s medical marijuana program showed significant improvements in symptoms related to cancer and cancer treatment including reductions of anxiety, lack of appetite, depression, disturbed sleep, fatigue, nausea, pain and vomiting. The analysis included data from 1,120 patients with cancer who enrolled in the Minnesota medical cannabis program between July 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2017.
The Minnesota Department of Health also conducted a patient survey after its program had been operating for one year and concluded that its program, “is providing many people with substantial benefits, minimal side effects and no serious adverse events.”
After a successful launch, The New Jersey Department of Health released program priorities to improve its medical marijuana program by expanding the initial list of debilitating medical conditions that qualify a patient to access medical marijuana, increasing product supply and reducing patient costs. “The Medicinal Marijuana Program has always prioritized patient needs above all else. Whether they are individuals with debilitating chronic pain, folks with end-stage cancer, or veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, patients simply cannot wait any longer for therapy that is both more affordable and easier to access,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said. “The need for this program is greater than ever.”
Research studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of Medical Marijuana
There are many studies that show that medical marijuana is effective to treat a number of debilitating medical conditions. Some of those studies have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals including the following:
a. The National Academies of Sciences reported that “there is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective (1) for the treatment of chronic pain in adults, (2) as antiemetics in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and (3) for improving patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms.” (The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research, The National Academies of Sciences, p. 128)
b. The Journal of the American Medical Association published research that the “use of marijuana for chronic pain, neuropathic pain, and spasticity due to multiple sclerosis is supported by high-quality evidence.” (Medical Marijuana for Treatment of Chronic Pain and Other Medical and Psychiatric Problems, Journal of the American Medical Association, 2015)
c. The International Journal of Neuroscience reported that “THC:CBD spray was effective and well tolerated as add-on therapy or as monotherapy in a relevant proportion of patients with resistant MS spasticity.” (Clinical Experience With THC:CBD Oromucosal Spray In Patients With Multiple Sclerosis-Related Spasticity, International Journal of Neuroscience, September 2013)
d. The Lancet published medical research that shows that adding cannabidiol to a medication regiment is “efficacious for the treatment of patients with drop seizures associated with Lennox-Gestaut syndrome and is generally well tolerated.” (Cannabidiol in Patients With Seizures Associated With Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (GWPCARE4): a Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Phase 3 Trial, The Lancet, Volume 391, Issue 10125, March 2018)
e. The European Journal of Medicine published research that “cannabis as a palliative treatment for cancer patients seems to be well tolerated, effective and a safe option to help patients cope with the malignancy related symptoms.” (Prospective Analysis Of Safety And Efficacy Of Medical Cannabis In Large Unselected Population Of Patients With Cancer, European Journal of Internal Medicine, March 2018)
Questions & Answers
There are a number of national groups, like the Epilepsy Foundation and National Multiple Sclerosis Society, that raise money to help fight diseases. Do any of them support the use of medical marijuana?
Yes. The Epilepsy Foundation’s position is: The Foundation is committed to supporting provider-directed care and to exploring and advocating for all potential treatment options, including medical cannabis and CBD. We support lifting federal barriers to research on cannabis and CBD and support access to these potential therapies, through state-regulated programs, for individuals when other treatment options have failed them. If an individual and their health care team feel that the potential benefits of medical cannabis for uncontrolled epilepsy outweigh the risks, then the individual should have safe, legal access to medical cannabis.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s position is: The Society supports the rights of people with MS to work with their health care provider to access cannabis for medical purposes in accordance with legal regulations in those states where such use has been approved. In addition, the Society supports the need for more research to better understand the benefits and potential risks of cannabis and its derivatives as a treatment for MS and its symptoms.
Has there been any research into the impact medical marijuana has had on America's opioid crisis?
Yes. A study by JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) documented that opioid overdoses are as much as 25% lower in states where medical marijuana has been made available as an alternative to opioids compared with states without medical marijuana laws. (Medical Cannabis Laws And Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality In The United States, 1999-2010, Journal of the American Medical Association, October 2014). JAMA also reported that opioid prescribing has been significantly reduced in the Medicare Part D population in states with medical marijuana programs. (Association Between US State Medical Cannabis Laws And Opioid Prescribing In The Medicare Part D Population, Journal of the American Medical Association, May 2018).
To combat the opioid epidemic, the New York State Department of Health recently began urging doctors to consider medical marijuana as an alternative to prescribing opioids for patients with severe pain. New York joins New Jersey and Pennsylvania as states that are using medical marijuana to treat opioid withdrawal. The JAMA researchers concluded that if medical marijuana legalization can continue to be linked to reductions in opioid overdose deaths, then the legalization of medical marijuana can be advocated as part of a comprehensive attack to reduce the risk of opioids.
Why is a medical marijuana program necessary if we have four FDA-approved medications from real or synthetic marijuana extract?
The FDA-approved medications do not take the place of a medical marijuana program. Of the four FDA-approved medications, three are synthetic and the fourth, although made from real marijuana extract, only uses one of the more than 100 cannabinoids found in the plant. The three synthetic medications are only approved for nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy and is available in oral solutions, which may be difficult for cancer patients who are struggling with nausea and vomiting. The fourth medication, Epidiolex, which is made from real plant marijuana extract is only approved for two rare and severe forms of epilepsy.
Mississippi’s medical marijuana program will serve 22 debilitating medical conditions, will allow qualified patients under the care of a physician to have safe and legal access to whole plant marijuana, and will provide varying delivery methods so that each patient can utilize their treatment in the way that works best for them.
What is medical marijuana and what medical marijuana products will be available in Mississippi?
Medical marijuana is state-regulated marijuana that is obtained from a licensed treatment center in Mississippi and that is provided to qualified patients. It can be offered in varying forms, some of which include beverages, topicals, patches, tinctures, sprays, juices, smoking, vaporizing, edibles, capsules, lozenges, creams, and ointments. Offering medical marijuana in multiple forms allows patients to utilize their treatment in the way that works best for them. Certain methods get into the bloodstream more quickly, therefore providing immediate relief, while other forms may take longer to enter the bloodstream but may provide longer-lasting relief. The preferred method will depend upon patients’ preferences for ingestion, and the type of pain and symptoms they wish to alleviate.
To learn more about what medical research says about medical marijuana being a safe and effective treatment option for a broad range of serious medical conditions and their symptoms, click here.