Marijuana remains one of the most controversial plants on Earth. Is it a miracle cure-all for society’s ills or the gateway drug to the root of all evil? Proponents of both sides have debated just how quantifiable marijuana’s effects can be – and how it can be used either for good or ill. Now, for the first time, New England scientists have taken a definite step forward in quantifying just how marijuana affects our systems and tackles rare diseases.
Marijuana advocates have long since touted the numerous health benefits that toking can give us. As a muscle relaxant and pain reliever, numerous counties and states have legalized medical marijuana; some see this as a first step towards widespread legalization of the same drug. But can Mary Jane do more if she’s given more room to grow?
Epilepsy is a condition that affects approximately one in 26 individuals. Almost four percent of individuals in the United States will either be born with epilepsy or go on to develop the condition at some point in their life. Individuals with epilepsy are particularly sensitive to a range of stimuli, including bright lights or flashing images; exposure to these may provoke unconscious neurological responses. Most infamously and dangerously, epileptic reactions can manifest themselves in debilitating seizures.
New England company GW Pharmaceuticals recently sponsored a test on a group of epileptic children afflicted with the very rare condition known as Dravet syndrome – a genetically encoded form of epilepsy that kills almost 20 per cent of its sufferers before they turn 20. Individuals with this strain of epilepsy are sensitive to hot temperatures and fevers, meaning that significant temperature fluctuations may provoke a lethal seizure. No definite treatment yet exists, due to its rarity and the great variation of symptoms between sufferers.
During this May 2017 test of marijuana as an epilepsy treatment, patients stayed on their normal treatment, which included dosages of drugs like clobazam, stiripentol, topiramate and valproic acid. Half of them, however, also received cannabidiol – a specialized drug processed from refined cannabis. Over a 14-week treatment period, the number of convulsive seizures decreased from 12.4 to 5.9; even the placebo group reported a slight downturn. More than 43 per cent of cannabidiol patients had their overall seizures cut; at least 5 per cent reported a complete absence of any seizures while on the drug.
However, cannabidiol had its own problems as well. The effects of constant drug intake led to unpleasant side effects, including vomiting, fatigue, fever, diarrhea and drowsiness, forcing several participants to withdraw from the experiment due to the unpleasant side effects. Cannabidiol has issues of its own that will need to be resolved before this highly experimental treatment can progress. One thing is for sure, however – involving marijuana in the role of medicine is not just a token gesture.