In 2017 the Canadian House of Commons passed a new bill titled Bill C-45 or The Cannabis Act, a bill that will make the sale and production of cannabis legal across Canada. Pending no further delays from Conservative bodies in government these new laws will come into effect no later than July 2018. This is a massive a victory for the liberal-minded citizens within Canada and the thousands of people suffering chronic ailments who will benefit from it. It also sets a precedent for other countries to look upon and perhaps emulate.
Calls for the decriminalization of cannabis have been going on in Canada since the early 1970’s. Back in the late 1960’s the government-funded Le Dain Commission had been set up to investigate the effects and health consequences of marijuana use. Following their investigations, it was their opinion in 1972 that the prohibition on possession and growth of cannabis should be dropped altogether.
Despite evidence and testimonials given at the time, the government, headed by Pierre Trudeau, ignored the Le Dain Commission. Ironically, it is now under his son, Justin Trudeau, that forty plus years later their evidence will finally come to fruition.
In 1999 cannabis was first provided for medical use and in 2000 a landmark decision by the Canadian government enabled people suffering from certain medical conditions to be granted permission to grow their own cannabis. That lead to the set up of the Marihuana Medication Access Regulations (MMAR) in 2001. The MMAR registered licensed individuals who wished to produce their own dried marihuana or to designate an individual to produce it for them. Anyone with a license could produce a limited amount of dried marijuana for a maximum of two people including themselves.
Since 2015 though, lawmakers have moved to include not only dried marijuana but other derivations of the marijuana plant. Cannabis oil, cannabis buds, and leaves are some of the items licensed citizens are now allowed to own privately. This enabled licensed producers to cultivate and produce their own strands of cannabis.
It also provided for different methods of ingestion besides smoking, such as within baked goods or in teas. Among medical professionals ingestion of any medication via smoke is still quite controversial and the source of much debate.
Of course no law like Bill C-45 could be without pushback. Oddly though it’s coming from both sides. Conservative opposition contest that now with the ability to grow and cultivate marijuana so easily available many people will start growing and selling their own outside of licensed jurisdiction. They also claim that this increased availability of cannabis can only be a danger for children and young people.
Liberals on the other hand object to the harsh penalties for those caught in violation of the bill. As an example, those caught selling marijuana in violation of Bill C-45 can be jailed for up to fourteen years.
So what are the actual benefits of marijuana? Naturally, time-enforced prejudice is difficult to get rid of. Especially about something stereotyped so negatively in the media as ‘pot smoking’. For many people, it is hard to think of marijuana, medical or otherwise, without thinking of shaggy haired, droopy eyed teenagers emerging from a van that positively billows with smoke.
However, despite these clichés the positive medical benefits of marijuana are undeniable.
What is Marijuana ?
The two main strains of marijuana most widely used in medicine are THC (tetrahydrocannabidiol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Unlike THC, CBD contains little to none of the THC chemical found in marijuana plants that gives you the ‘high’ feeling. CBD has already been used to treat patients suffering from anxiety, insomnia, and spasticity and for the treatment of seizures in epilepsy.
In particular, doctors treating Dravets Syndrome, a form of epilepsy that occurs in children and extremely difficult to treat, have been prescribing their patients with CBD with positive results.
Medicinal marijuana has also been used for pain control. Doctors have prescribed the use of marijuana in the treatment of conditions like multiple sclerosis, replacing the commonly used medical grade opiates. This is great news for the patients as, unlike opiates, there is an extremely low risk of overdose on marijuana and it is far less addictive. They are also able to continue with their lives after taking medication without feelings of grogginess and fog-headedness.
Besides that patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment when given marijuana experienced a reduction in nausea and vomiting. The same was found in those undergoing treatment for HIV/AIDS. Another promising area of research is the use of marijuana to treat sufferers of PTSD. Those on a course of marijuana treatment have reported a decrease in re-experiencing their trauma and an overall decline in hyper-arousal.
Stunningly, last year, scientists at the University of Bonn and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found that marijuana was able to reduce the aging effects on the brains of mice. While it might not sound like major news it could lead to significant real world benefits. It may in fact become a successful treatment for dementia. Possibly even reversing the effects altogether. The next stage for scientists is human trials and more thorough research. Of course this hasn’t been proved yet but the future looks brighter for those with a family history of dementia.
So if medicinal marijuana has such positive effects, where are the objections coming from?
Aside from the long held public stigmas, some doctors are concerned that the effects of marijuana could be harmful to patients. For a start, some doctors strongly object to the smoking aspect of cannabis. While cannabis smoke has not been linked to cases of lung cancer, like traditional cigarettes, cannabis does contain some similar elements to tobacco like ammonia and hydrogen cyanide. And while cannabis is not addictive on the level of something like heroin, long-term users who wish to quit often find it very difficult.
Of course there are other ways to take cannabis (cookies, tea, etc.) but how the body absorbs and reacts when cannibinoids are ingested in these ways isn’t as well understood. There is also the risk that someone who eats something like a pot cookie might not feel the effects right away and eat more, which could result in an overdose.
Another area of concern is in the brain. Some studies show that those under 25 years old who engage in heavy cannabis use can suffer harmful effects to their brains with regards to short-term memory, balance, judgment, and attention spans. But those people tested aged 25 or over were found to recover within a few weeks.
More disturbingly there have been reported cases of cannabis users in their late teens suffering from auditory hallucinations, psychosis, depression, and increased anxiety. At this moment in time though it is still unclear whether or not those that suffer from depression and anxiety then smoke cannabis or the cannabis causes them to experience depression and anxiety. More research needs to be done overall to ensure that people receive the right care and are treated correctly.
Up to now the problem of research has been partially down to the restrictions placed upon researchers by the government. But with Bill C-45 arriving in July there will be a greater opportunity for scientists to advance their knowledge of marijuana. Like scientists have discovered in Bonn and Jerusalem perhaps there are avenues of treatment that will become more apparent in the years to come.