By Henrylito D. Tacio; Photo from Wikipedia
A coin has two sides. The same is true with marijuana (known in the science world as Cannabis sativa). It contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the hundreds of compounds it contains, which has major intoxicating effects. Possession of marijuana, regardless of its purpose, is illegal in most countries, including the Philippines.
A few years back, the Dangerous Drugs Board has approved “in principle,” a resolution that allowed the use of cannabidiol (CBD) “for alleviating severe forms of epilepsy.” CBD is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana. Unlike the real thing, it won’t get a person high.
Epilepsy is the name for a group of disorders of the brain characterized by a tendency to recurrent seizures or convulsions or “fits.” In the Philippines, an estimated 750,000 people have epilepsy.
According to a study published in Biological Sciences, CBD is one of the 113 identified cannabinoids in marijuana plants and accounts for up to 40% of its extract. In the United States, a cannabidiol drug called Epidiolex was approved in 2018 to treat two epilepsy disorders.
Before probing deeper, let’s take a closer look at CBD and THC. An article by Jon Johnson, which was published on Medical News Today’s website, said: “Two of the compounds in marijuana are THC and CBD. These compounds have different effects.
“Until recently, THC was the best-known compound in cannabis. It is the most active constituent, and it has a psychological effect. It creates a mind-altering ‘high’ when a person smokes it or uses it in cooking. This is because THC breaks down when a person applies heat and introduces it into the body.
“CBD, in contrast, is not psychoactive. It does not change a person’s state of mind when they use it. However, it may produce significant changes in the body, and it is showing some significant medical benefits.”
According to Johnson, all cannabinoids produce effects in the body by interacting with cannabinoid receptors, which form part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). ECS is involved in regulating various functions, including sleep, appetite, pain, and immune system response.
The human body produces two receptors: CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. “CB1 receptors are present throughout the body, particularly in the brain,” Johnson explains. “They coordinate movement, pain, emotion, mood, thinking, appetite, memories, and other functions.
On the other hand, CB2 receptors are more common in the immune system. They affect inflammation and pain. “THC attaches to CB1 receptors but CBD stimulates the receptors so that the body produces its own cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids,” Johnson writes.
Some health experts recommend using CBD against pain. “Studies have shown that CBD may help reduce chronic pain by impacting endocannabinoid activity, reducing inflammation and interacting with neurotransmitters,” healthline.com’s Jillian Kubala writes.
A study conducted in rats found that CBD injections reduced pain response to surgical incision. Another rat study found that oral CBD treatment significantly reduced sciatic nerve pain and inflammation.
Some studies conducted on human beings showed that a combination of CBD and THC “is effective in treating pain related to multiple sclerosis and arthritis. “An oral spray called Sativex, which is a combination of THC and CBD, is approved in several countries to treat pain related to multiple sclerosis,” Kubala reports, adding that one study on Sativex significantly improved pain during movement, pain at rest and sleep quality in 58 people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Kubala also reports that CBD oil could reduce anxiety and depression, which are both common during the current pandemic caused by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
“CBD oil has shown promise as a treatment for both depression and anxiety, leading many who live with these disorders to become interested in this natural approach,” she writes.
In a study conducted in Brazil, 57 men received either oral CBD or a placebo 90 minutes before undergoing a simulated public speaking test. The researchers found that a 300-mg dose of CBD was the most effective at significantly reducing anxiety during the test.
Numerous studies have also looked at the effect of CBD on Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia among the elderly responsible for 60-70% cases, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO).
“Every age has its own way of dying,” wrote Lev Grossman in an article that appeared in Time. “The 19th century had consumption, the 20th century had the heart attack, and the 21st century will be the age of Alzheimer’s disease.”
In 2014, Johnson reported that a rodent study showed that CBD might help people retain the ability to recognize familiar faces. People with Alzheimer’s can lose this ability.
“One 2019 review found that CBD might help slow the onset and progress of Alzheimer’s disease,” Johnson said. “More research is underway to understand the dosage better. Some scientists believe a treatment involving both THC and CBD may be more effective.”
Now, for the risks and side effects. “As with most therapies, CBD use may entail some risks. It may interact with supplements and other drugs,” Johnson pointed out.
Possible adverse effects include liver damage; interactions with other drugs and alcohol; changes in alertness, which can make driving dangerous; gastrointestinal problems and loss of appetite; mood changes, along with irritability and irritation; and a reduction in fertility for males.
Should the use of marijuana for medical purposes be legalized in the Philippines? This was what the author wrote in his social media account recently. There were several who shared their thoughts.
The first person to make his comment was a medical doctor. “Medical marijuana is used for ‘palliative care’ (for chronic pain, nausea for patients undergoing chemotherapy, certain seizure disorders, etc.),” he explained. “There are ‘conventional’ medicines with fewer side effects that can address these conditions. Legalizing medical marijuana is going to create more problems that it seeks to treat. We must be careful what we wish for.”
A friend, whose father had cancer, shared this sentiment: “There are regulated drugs that you can buy in pharmacies that require prescription from doctors. I just can’t remember the color codes but when I was at the pharmacy, I was interrogated. Strict verification was done before I was given that strong pain reliever for my dad. Should marijuana be legalized for medical purposes, it should follow the same regulation.”
A journalist from Cagayan de Oro City seemed to go for it. “If it’s for medication, why not?” To which another one added, “As long as it is used for medical purposes.”
Another journalist from Manila, a female, also voted for the legalization of medical marijuana. “A lot of cultures, including ours, have long used marijuana for its medicinal properties. It’s just like a cough syrup; it’s bad if you take too much. It’s time we harness marijuana’s medicinal properties.”
But some oppose it. “So, you want more drug abuse in the Philippines?” one inquired. Another contemplated: “Cigarettes are more harmful than cannabis. So legal is not always ethical.”