We have lots of detailed information throughout this website answering people’s questions about medical marijuana, but we thought it would be best to give some answers to the most frequently asked questions by patients. We will also give a short, simple overview of some of the science and other issues surrounding these questions …
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) – What Is It?
Before we go into the other questions, it is essential to understand the science behind cannabis and its effect on the endocannabinoid system. The ECS has a relationship with the nervous system, in particular the autonomic nervous system. Everyone also has their own unique ECS.
The human body produces its own cannabinoids (“endo” meaning “internal; within”). The ECS is involved in various physiological processes, including appetite, pain sensation, mood and memory. The ECS can decrease the rapidity of information a nerve fires or decrease inflammation by opening up blood vessels, for example.
There are two main endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. These receptors (synapses) work like a baseball glove, catching and transporting information throughout the body. Although THC, THCV and CBD all have an effect on CB1 and CB2 receptors, this is by no means the only part of the nervous system these cannabinoids have an effect upon.
Cannabinoids that enter the body from outside the use of plants (e.g. from marijuana use) are called “phytocannabinoids” (“phyto” meaning “of a plant”). These phytocannabinoids are numerous in number, and can either block or promote the transmission of information, depending upon the plant’s cannabinoid profile.
This is the reason why so many different strains of cannabis have such a wide array of effects and uses. This is also one of the main reasons why marijuana has so many medical applications – it helps patients regulate their ECS to “normal” levels that make their lives better. For example, a person who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) has an over- and/or under- abundance of information released into their nervous system causing spasms, and marijuana can help control these spasms.
Is Cannabis a Drug?
A “medicine” is something you take to treat something. A “drug” is something you use to produce a desirable effect, and not necessarily for a medical ailment. Many consider marijuana a “drug” because of its psychoactive properties – euphoria, elation etc. If one uses marijuana for the purposes of getting “stoned” or “high”, they are said to be using marijuana as a drug.
Does removing the psychoactive components of marijuana (i.e. THC), make it a medicine? By definition, it is THC that is a “drug”. Therefore, if one gets rid of THC, it could be said that cannabis is medicinal. However, THC does also help other phytocannabinoids do their jobs properly (the “Entourage Effect”), on top of having medical applications of its own (e.g. as a painkiller). This makes the view that “THC = Drug, CBD = medicine” a rather arbitrary one, and is a good reason why we ought to treat marijuana as a whole – if all of the components of marijuana has medical use, we can definitely say that marijuana has definite medical value.
On a related note, this makes the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA’s) stance on marijuana as a Schedule I drug anti-scientific and completely illogical.
Is Cannabis Addictive?
First, we must define what addiction is. There are two specific types of addiction: physical and psychological. Physical addiction can overlap with psychological addiction, but not necessarily the other way round.
Physical addiction is notable by the fact that the body physically needs the drug or substance the person is ingesting. Opiates/opioids and alcohol are perfect examples of physical addiction – the addict’s body literally needs the substance in order to stave off withdrawal and potentially even death.
Psychological addiction is most notable for the symptom of “craving”. Drugs like cocaine and amphetamine are both capable of producing psychological addiction rapidly, although they are not necessarily physically addictive. However, addiction to such drugs can produce medium- to long- term physiological changes. This is both due to the lifestyle associated with amphetamine or cocaine abuse and the effects they have on the nervous system.
Marijuana is not addictive in these senses at all, although there is a condition known as “Marijuana Use Disorder”. There is some amount of dependence, but there is not a huge level of physical or psychological withdrawal. Prolonged use may stop the body from developing its own cannabinoids, but the human body does not “crave” phytocannabinoids in the same manner it would opiates or other drugs when usage stops. The body returns to its “base level” of endocannabinoid production before marijuana treatment.
Can You Overdose on Cannabis?
No, you cannot overdose on cannabis alone (unless you consume extreme amounts), although it may contribute to overdose via interactions with other medicines and drugs. For example, mixing marijuana with alcohol is generally a bad idea. Meanwhile, mixing high CBD with benzodiazepines may cause problems, as both work on CB2 receptors in the liver. You can also have a sort of “temporary overdose” (aka “whiteying/white-out” or “getting a greenie”), although this is short-lived and recovered from quite easily with food, water and/or rest.