Medicinal cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, refers to cannabis when it is used to treat or relieve a complaint or condition, rather than for recreational or spiritual purposes. Any type of cannabis which contains an effective amount of cannabinoids can be considered medicinal cannabis if it is used for that purpose. Brands such as Eden Pharma are engaged in research and development of new cannabis strains for a range of purposes such as medical applications.
Choosing to use medicinal cannabis (also known as medical marijuana) can be a very easy decision to make. Choosing which variety can be more complicated. Many patients, and many of customers, had never grown or even tried cannabis before discovering it as a medicine.
Even for people who have, it’s not that simple. Although any type of cannabis can be medicinal or recreational, knowing what works for recreational and social purposes does not mean knowing the best variety of cannabis for different medical needs.
As the demand for medical and recreational derivatives of cannabis continues to rise, Eden Pharma United Kingdom is engaged in research and development of new cannabis strains to enhance product offerings for a range of markets.
- In the Netherlands, which has had a medicinal cannabis program since 2003, cannabis is prescribed for the following symptoms (among others):
- Muscular cramps and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury
- Nausea, reduced appetite, weight-loss and weakness caused by cancer or AIDS
- Nausea and vomiting as a result of medication, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy for cancer, hepatitis C, HIV, or AIDS
- Chronic pain, especially when related to the nervous system or caused by nerve damage
- Therapy-resistant glaucoma
- Tourette’s Syndrome
In the rest of Europe, many countries now have some form of medicinal cannabis program. These range from only permitting products containing cannabinoids (such as Sativex) to being able to obtain cannabis flowers with a prescription. In the latter case, cannabis can be prescribed for people suffering from:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
Chronic pain resistant to conventional treatment
Some countries, such as Germany, do not restrict the conditions for which medicinal cannabis can be prescribed. There are numerous other medicinal benefits to cannabis, and research into this area continues to expand.
Is indica or sativa best for medicinal use?
When choosing a medicinal cannabis strain, it is useful to have a basic understanding of the differences between indica strains and sativa strains in terms of their medical applications.
Sativa is the marijuana type that people seem to like smoking the most. This plant grows quite large, reaching up to 15 feet in some cases.
Their leaves are long, dainty, narrow, and considering their height potential, these are perfect for outdoor growing. The seeds are soft to the touch, with no spots or markings on them. Do not expect this plant to flower quickly because Sativa takes its precious time, and even shifting the light cycles could have little effect on this.
Cannabis Indica is a more solid strain in comparison to Sativa, but it does not have the height Sativa achieves. Indica strains generally grow between 3 to 6 feet tall (1 to 2 meters. It is a bushy plant with round healthy leaves, unlike Sativa. However, they both have marbled coloured, soft seeds. Being that Indica is a short plant, this one is perfect for indoor growing.
While Sativa takes some time to flower, Indica flowers much faster and can be influenced a lot easier by adjusting the light cycle to promote this phase. It is most commonly found above 30° N, in countries like Nepal, Lebanon, Morocco, and Afghanistan.
As a very simple guide, here are the most common medicinal uses for indica and sativa cannabis:
- Indica-dominant cannabis is commonly used medicinally for:
- Sedative, ‘stoned’ feeling
- Sensation centred in the body, which relaxes as muscle tension is reduced
- Muscle spasms and tremors (for example caused by multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease),
- chronic pain
- Arthritic and rheumatic stiffness and swelling
- Insomnia, anxiety and related conditions
When indica is crossed with sativa, the result is a hybrid (or ‘cross-bred’) cannabis strain. Most commercially available cannabis seed strains are hybrids. The examples above are, strictly speaking, also hybrids. However, when the make-up of the strain heavily favours one type of cannabis over the other, they are described simply as indica or sativa (or indica-dominant and sativa-dominant).
Balanced hybrids exhibit characteristics from both types of cannabis. This can be an advantage, for example when medicinal cannabis has been prescribed to relieve chronic pain, something for which both indica and sativa strains are suitable. Adding sativa genes to an indica strain can aid mental clarity and decrease sedative effects; introducing indica to sativa strains can lower the tendency of pure sativas to occasionally stimulate anxiety.
The entourage effect
The different medicinal effects of indica and sativa strains were previously thought to be determined by the levels of the two best-known cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Indica strains were believed to contain more CBD (cannabidiol) and less THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Sativa varieties were believed to have the opposite, greater amounts of THC and less CBD.
Both cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which acts as a kind of ‘caretaker’ for many of the body’s functions. The ECS includes cannabinoid receptors which are found throughout the brain and body. This is why cannabis has so many different medicinal applications.
In the last few years, new research indicates that within large sample sizes of indica and sativa strains, THC and CBD levels are roughly the same. However, the same research showed that levels of terpenes and terpenoids (the elements responsible for scent and flavour, among other things) do vary from indica to sativa strains. Terpenes are also thought to affect the type of effect that cannabis can have, from sedative to stimulating.
Together, cannabinoids and terpenes make up a whole greater than the sum of their parts. This synergy is known as the entourage effect. Research into the entourage effect is still in its early stages. A study from 2019 suggests it is likely that terpenes and terpenoids act upon the brain pathways involved with the effects of cannabis, or perhaps affect how THC is metabolised.
Is THC or CBD better for medicinal cannabis use?
Although the effects of their levels in indica and sativa strains are still in question, it is fact that these two cannabinoids have very different effects. Most important for medicinal users is often the psychedelic aspect. THC is very much a psychoactive substance, providing the mind-altering effects that cannabis is both praised and pilloried for. CBD is more effective on the body, providing relaxation. CBD also mediates the effects of THC, counteracting potential unwanted effects such as anxiety.
As the popularity of cannabis as a medicine grows, so too does the number of patients who prefer to consume their medicine with little to no psychoactive effects.
Was cannabis the first medicine?
Cannabis is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, medicines used by humankind. The oldest written reference to it is found in a Chinese medical text dating from 200 – 300 BCE. There are claims that the text, and therefore the established medicinal uses of cannabis, date back to 2800 BCE. This is based upon when the supposed author, Emperor Shen Nong, was reportedly ruling China.
Since this discovery, cannabis has been explored as a medicine by almost every civilization around the world, and its potential benefits for humankind continue to evolve.