Over the past several years, marijuana has become increasingly available as a legal medical treatment. In the US, 23 states and the District of Columbia allow use of marijuana when recommended by a doctor, and in four states, it is legal for recreational use. Uruguay is building the world’s first state-run marijuana marketplace, and other countries are considering lifting legal restrictions.
Most recommendations by doctors and government officials that argue in favor of medical marijuana extol its ability to counter some of the negative effects of disease. For example, some patients suffer from nausea and loss of appetite; THC, one of the main cannabinoids in the drug, relieves these symptoms. CBD, the other main cannabinoid, may be clinically useful for pain relief and reducing inflammation.
But research conducted over the past several years shows that THC and CBD are worth taking seriously not just as symptom-relievers, but also as agents that can actually fight disease. The most prominent of these studies have focused on a type of brain tumor known as a glioma. One 2013 study showed that administering THC and CBD to mice reduced tumor growth, while a 2014 study published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, one of the American Association for Cancer Research’s scientific journals, found that THC and CBD administered to mice in conjunction with radiation dramatically reduced the size of tumors.
Such studies have not yet been conducted in humans, and more research is obviously needed. That may not be so easy to accomplish, because the drug’s schedule 1 status has effectively hamstrung marijuana research. Still, policymakers may have some cause to reconsider the possibilities of medicinal marijuana.