Marijuana has been a topic of political debate since this country was founded over 200 years ago. Once a stable young American economy, policy changes soon shifted opinions on cannabis from opportunity to danger.  The past 10 years have seen a many victories for medical marijuana—also known as MMJ—proponents. They echo the cornucopia of potential benefits medical cannabis can offer for debilitating conditions. However, the debate still rages on and the opposition towards medical cannabis find their roots in safety, economy, religion, and societal interest.

While all this political debate is intriguing, my interest in medical marijuana comes as a physician and scientist. I wanted to know; is a safe and effective treatment for my patients? I’ve spent the last few years following up with hundreds of medical cannabis patients as well as completing many hours of medical training on the subject.  As time went on it became clear that medical marijuana has provided many of benefits for a lot of people. This is not to say that it is a cure all, or is the right treatment for everyone. However, I would like to share my experience and expertise for the sake of continued education.

The majority of my patients are interested in medical cannabis for pain relieving purposes. Chronic pain affects over 100 million Americans; more than heart disease, diabetes, and cancer combined.  As many patients and physicians know, chronic pain can be very difficult to manage and is often treated with medications that can have many unwanted side effects as well as addictive properties. In my opinion MMJ is a very legitimate option for treatment of chronic pain. The majority of my patients report a reduction of pain be it from a nerve or inflammatory origin. Furthermore, I am seeing improvement in many secondary conditions that arise from chronic pain such as insomnia, depression, anxiety, and hypertension.

So what is the catch? Surprisingly, it is a fairly small one. While medical cannabis is very safe compared to Rx medications designed to treat the same conditions, it is still a medicine. There can be some mild side affects and drug interactions.  The good news for medical cannabis patients is that most of these affects can be negated by proper dosage and strength of medication. It is important to note that even with all of these benefits, MMJ is not right for every chronic pain patient. I tell all of my qualifying patients that MMJ can work as an adjunctive treatment to help manage pain, but is best used in conjunction with other therapies both natural and traditional. In addition, there is a need for continued research into dosing/administration protocols to help patients better utilize the medicine.

In summary, medical marijuana has a long way to go before its image and uses can be fully realized. In my experience, I have found medical cannabis to be safe and effective for many patients. I encourage those suffering from chronic pain to discuss with their doctors and educate themselves on the potential benefits.

Rory Sears, NMD

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