Medically reviewed and written by Ashwin Malhotra, M.D. — Oct 3rd, 2021
Medical Marijuana and Cannabis have always been taboo subjects for healthcare providers. There are definitely some pros and cons to consider to Marijuana use.
There are largely cons when it comes to smoking unregulated product. Specifically, Marijuana is not the same as it was in the 60s-70s-80s-90s or even early 2000s. The strains and “weed” that is circulated/sold illegally are stronger than ever before and mixed in with some dangerous un-regulated chemicals/compounds.
What does this mean? Am I just going to get a bad high?
Probably getting a “bad high” would be the best-case scenario. But what worries me is increasing cases of leukoencephalopathy, spinal cord demyelination, and new onset psychosis, among other terrible outcomes. Leukoencephalopathy is basically a brain cell death which leaves a person paralyzed and mentally inept, being unable to do the basic functions of life. Learn more about leukoencephalopathy here.
So isn’t Medical Marijuana the same garbage stuff?
Not at all. Medical Marijuana is regulated in the sense that albeit the products being sold are very concentrated and high in CBD or THC content (depending on the brand chosen), there is consistency and purity. In other words, when one has a beer or a shot, you can track how “drunk” you are getting and adjust the intake based on desired effect; e.g., having a few drinks at a family BBQ without getting “throw up drunk” at your in-law’s home. This is called control. You stop drinking after a certain point and plan to sober up after a certain amount of time. Medical Marijuana aims to allow for this same process. Similarly, when you have a beer, you don’t expect to develop a life ending neurologic disease, Medical Marijuana is trying to provide the same safety factor.
Stated another way, if you don’t feel comfortable drinking homemade alcohol and can appreciate the consequences of drinking “moonshine,” then you’ll naturally understand consuming (smoking or eating) un-regulated Marijuana isn’t safe.
This is where Medical Marijuana solves the problem.
Most states, specifically NY-State have put into place excellent systems to allow for the community to get access to Medical Marijuana easily and efficiently. Specifics of NY-State guidelines can be reviewed here for patients and here for healthcare workers.
So How Can I Get Medical Marijuana?
Speak to a doctor who is registered with the state to certify patients for Medical Marijuana. First, you will need to be evaluated for indicate usage. There is data to support the utility and efficacy of Medical Marijuana for the following qualifying medical conditions: severe debilitating or life threatening conditions (accompanied by one of the following – cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe or persistent muscle spasms, PTSD or opioid use disorder), cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, Huntington’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain (as defined by 10 NYCRR §1004.2(a)(8)(xi)), pain that degrades health and functional capability as an alternative to opioid use or substance use disorder. If you have any of the above qualifying conditions, your physician can help determine if Medical Marijuana is right for you after reviewing your full medical history, and may then certify you. After this, your physician will have to monitor for clinical response and help adjust treatment course as indicated. A certified pharmacist can then guide you in selecting the specific type and dose of Medical Marijuana best suited for your medical needs.
What is your experience with Medical Marijuana as a Neurologist?
It works, sometimes. I have treated patients who have reported Medical Marijuana significantly helped them cope with neuropathic pain from neuropathy, dizziness/nausea from traumatic brain injury, and spasticity from multiple sclerosis. I have not seen patients with advanced cancer or ALS getting significant benefit from Medical Marijuana. And I will note that many patients have reported the benefits from Medical Marijuana use come with side effects of weight gain, brain fog, and inability to function at optimal efficiency throughout the work day.
Okay, so should I try Medical Marijuana?
Why not. If you have one of the qualifying conditions, and have tried conventional medications without much relief, why not try an alternative approach with Medical Marijuana and see what happens. Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work. For patients looking to learn more about Medical Marijuana – this is the way.