Health & Fitness

Dispelling common myths on medical marijuana

A man carries marijuana plants during a police raid Indonesia
A man carries marijuana plants during a police raid on 10 hectares of marijuana plantation in Montasik, Aceh province in Indonesia on March 14, 2019. PHOTO | AFP 

So much discussion has been witnessed regarding legalising and the use of marijuana in treating diseases and alleviating symptoms.

The current question is its medicinal value. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, US, marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the cannabis sativa plant.

The plant contains the mind-altering chemical tetra-hydro cannabinoid (THC) and other similar compounds.

Medical marijuana refers to using the whole, the unprocessed plant or its basic extracts to treat symptoms of illness and other conditions. The US Food and Drug Administration has not recognised or approved the marijuana plant as medicine because for a drug to be considered for medical use approval, it must undergo extensive clinical trials in hundreds to thousands of human subjects to determine its benefits and risks.

So far, none has been done to show that the benefits of the marijuana plant exceeds its known risks.


However, some scientific studies of the chemicals in marijuana, called cannabinoids (cannabinoid oils), has shown that they are beneficial with less risks. The plant contains more than 100 cannabinoids.

The cannabinoids have scientific structures that are chemically similar to THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes people "high" but cannabinoids are not THC and thus do not make people high.

Cannabinoids are similar to chemicals the body makes that are important in regulating pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, body movement, awareness of time, appetite, pain, and the senses — taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight.

The most compelling evidence on the positive outcomes on the use of cannabinoids is their effect on pain control, appetite stimulation and thus weight gain in patients suffering from life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and Aids.

Research shows that cannabinoids also reduce anxiety, control nausea and vomiting and relaxes tight muscles in people with multiple sclerosis.

It is evident that medical use of marijuana and/or its extracts is a reality in a substantial number of countries and is gaining traction. In Kenya debate on the legalised use of marijuana is widespread. However, any talk on medical use of marijuana and/or its extracts must first of all aim to have the law align to this requirement and it could be the high time that sober, well-structured discussions among all stakeholders are held.

The writer is consultant palliative medicine physician at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi.