Finding conclusive information about medicinal cannabis is a challenge. Because of its controversy, the opinions on its use, effects and risks are plenty and vary a lot depending on the source.
But why is the information so contradictory? And how do you separate facts from fiction? Who can you trust?
Here, we will help you understand the reasons behind the arguments and provide you with a few tips on how to guide yourself through the jungle of information on medicinal cannabis, so that you can feel safe and secure about your final decision on whether or not medicinal cannabis is for you.
The main arguments for and against medicinal cannabis can be summed up to be:
Lists made from researching medicinal cannabis debates online and by the use of ProCon.org
The overall communality between all arguments is health. Both sides argue that the health of the patients is the most important aspect of this entire discussion, so how come people are so divided on the issue of medicinal cannabis?
The Root of the Dispute
For centuries now, the question of whether cannabis is a medicine, a drug or a plant has been argued extensively.
The first medicinal uses of cannabis can be traced back to 2900 BC and its use as a medicine became mainstream during the 1840s, when Western doctors were introduced to its benefits. In 1850, the extractions of hemp were even adopted into the United States Pharmacopeia, but were dropped again in 1941 following international debates in the years prior.
The first restrictions on cannabis on an international level came with the 1925 Geneva Convention, where signing nations (then called The League of Nations) agreed to limit the exports of cannabis, opiates and other substances to only medicinal and scientific purposes in importing countries. These restrictions came after a debate over the concern of the rising opium problem in Shanghai in 1909, which lead to similar concerns for cocaine in 1912 and then cannabis in 1925.
This became the start of century-long restrictions on cannabis, because the plant was then considered to be as dangerous as hard drugs, by today’s classification. This perception stuck and in 1937, the American Head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, Harry J. Anslinger, stated before Congress that “marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind” and that 50 percent of hard drug users “took the needle when the thrill of marijuana was gone.” These statements have since haunted the perception of cannabis.
As recently as 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ruled that cannabis will remain a Schedule 1 drug in the US until the scientific understanding changes. Similar legal decisions have been made in a majority of the world’s countries.
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So Why Even Consider Medicinal Cannabis?
The lack of evidence is the central argument for the DEA and other governmental agencies around the world that do not regard cannabis as a substance with medicinal value.
However, many patients use medicinal cannabis in spite of authoritative recommendations, because they regard the products as dietary supplements, rather than actual medicines.
The term medicinal cannabis is used around the world in order to distinctly separate it from recreational uses of cannabis. The two types of usage are widely different, because of their purposes: while recreational cannabis is used for its psychotropic effects, medicinal cannabis users have no desire whatsoever to feel ‘high’.
Medicinal cannabis therefore refers to its purpose for the end-user; not to its similarity to medicinal treatment.
Most producers of medicinal cannabis consider their products as dietary supplements, because such a definition makes cannabis use less stigmatizing for end-users, while also ensuring that governmental agencies do not confiscate the product from patients.
The reason why medicinal cannabis can be sold as a dietary supplement is because of its origin: medicinal cannabis comes from a low-potency cannabis plant, which is most commonly known as hemp. Hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC; the compound of the cannabis plant that can have a psychotropic effect and thereby can make you ‘high’.
Meanwhile, hemp can contain significant levels of the non-psychotropic compound CBD that can have beneficial health effects for some patients. This low-potency plant can in some cases contain no psychotropic compounds at all. Thereby, it is possible to tend to the needs of the patients by providing them with a clean product that has the potential of aiding them in relieving their symptoms, with no risk of getting ‘high’.
Hemp plants for medicinal cannabis production are therefore contrastingly different from the high-potency plants that are used in cannabis products for recreational use, both in purpose and quality.
Cannabis is a Regulatory Paradox
Even though providers and users of medicinal cannabis consider the product a dietary supplement, the majority of governments around the world regulate it as a medicine. This is because of its scheduling as a dangerous drug with no medicinal value.
The regulation of medicinal cannabis is paradoxical. It is without medicinal value, but is being regulated as a medicine because of it?
The confusion is very real and is the primary reason why cannabis remains illegal – or at the least highly restricted – in many countries. The cause lies in the lack of clinical evidence of the benefits and adverse effects of using medicinal cannabis. There exists studies and scientific research on the effects and risks of cannabis use, but the substantial evidence is limited. Because of this lack of evidence, governments cannot rule cannabis a medicine.
But why should they, when medicinal cannabis is regarded as a dietary supplement?
Because the pharmacological effects that some medicinal cannabis products can have on the body, cannabis fits the criteria for a medicine under the regulatory framework of medicines. Thereby, it is regulated as a medicine by definition, despite its contradictory scheduling.
While it cannot be proven that cannabis is simply a dietary supplement and it similarly cannot be proven that it is of therapeutic value, the legal gridlock on cannabis continues to create doubts and confusion about its legality, effects and safety.
Why the Great Divide Between For and Against Medicinal Cannabis?
In general, the two sides are rooted in politics: those that are against are usually at the conservative end of the political spectrum, while liberals are more likely to argue for medicinal cannabis. Those claiming themselves as independent tend to lean towards pro-medicinal cannabis.
This divide is due to the historical influences. As the name indicates, those that are politically conservatives value old virtues and morals, while those politically liberal tend to believe in a more free and modern interpretation of which virtues and morals should be valued by society.
Thereby, conservatives are more likely to support the views of people like Anslinger, and thereby support its illegality.
Liberals are more inclined to view cannabis as a piece of nature, rather than a dangerous substance of abuse. Therefore, they are often more supportive of the use of medicinal cannabis.
However, as with any other aspect of the debate on medicinal cannabis, no perception is ever a hundred percent viable.
So What Information Can I Trust?
The conflicting information makes the decision on whether or not to try medicinal cannabis a difficult choice to make. However, the best way to safeguard oneself from doubts is by being critical and careful.
An important aspect of medicinal cannabis is to be critical to the information: if a website – whether it is a vendor or an information site – refers to a study, click the link or search by the title to make sure the study actually exists: if you cannot find it, don’t trust the information.
Similarly, if a vendor makes claims on a product’s capabilities without clear documentation, be very critical. Trustworthy vendors will always provide test results of their products if prompted. Such tests should be verified by third party testing labs, because independent laboratory tests provide the most objective results. This will ensure that the product you purchase is of high quality.
However, choosing which vendor to request testing information from can still be challenging. Therefore, when browsing between vendors, make sure to look for insurances of safe production practices. Such practices can be official certifications, such as Good Manufacturing Process (GMP), or guarantees that the products are made through organic processes. Particularly the latter is a good precondition for purchasing a product, because an organic production is free from chemicals, pesticides or other contaminants that should not be present in medicinal cannabis, as they undermine the quality, efficacy and safety of the product.
The Choice is Yours
No matter what information is provided by outside sources, it is – and will always be – your choice, whether or not you wish to use medicinal cannabis. However, with the vast amount of conflicting information available today, it is by no means an easy choice to make.
Therefore, if you wish to use of medicinal cannabis for your – or a loved one’s – medicinal condition, you should always consult a physician before starting a new dietary supplement program. If you find studies on the specific use, be critical of its sources and always look for other studies that can confirm the conclusions.
If you and your physician deem it responsible and beneficiary for you to use medicinal cannabis, it is important to choose a reliable vendor. If the preferred cannabis product is not available at the pharmacy, be critical of the information given on the vendor website. Check if the information is blatantly copied from other sources or if the description of business practices appears to be lacking.
When you start using medicinal cannabis, then start off carefully. As with any other new product that you start using, you may experience some effects that are new; they may not be scary or very strong, but even so, it can be comforting for patients to have a loved one with them, when they take their first dose of medicinal cannabis.
The conflicting information can be confusing, but as long as you take precautions and consult your physician before starting the use of a medicinal cannabis product, you will most likely be able to find the best solution for you.