Article written by
Ruth LemonVP of Operations
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Is medical marijuana a good choice for everyone? Unfortunately, it is not recommended for everyone, and some people should avoid using it. All prescription drugs come with warnings for certain people, and cannabis for medical use is no exception.
That aside, medical marijuana offers many compelling benefits. However, when these benefits do not outweigh the harm, people should avoid this treatment.
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The Benefits of Medical Marijuana
There are several health benefits of marijuana. By using cannabis recreationally, some people have noticed certain benefits, such as reduced anxiety, better sleep quality, and an improvement in their chronic pain. Some have even reported weight loss from CBD, and experts think that marijuana could potentially treat or even prevent diabetes.
However, it’s important to note that while marijuana has so much to offer, more research is required to uncover the full extent of its therapeutic potential. Because of this, the uses of medical marijuana may appear somewhat limited compared to the range of effects it possibly has.
Nabiximols (Sativex) is a medical marijuana medication and extract derived from cannabis. Nabiximols are used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) related spasticity and neuropathic pain and are available on prescription in the UK. Nabiximols may be prescribed off-label for managing cancer-related pain and the adverse side effects of chemotherapy.
Dronabinol, which is the active ingredient of Marinol, is synthetic delta-9-THC. The FDA has approved Dronabinol for cachexia caused by chemotherapy or HIV. Dronabinol can also offer relief from chemotherapy-induced vomiting, nausea, and pain.
Epidiolex is another medicine derived from medical marijuana that contains pure CBD. It is used for treating seizures caused by Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Epidiolex helps reduce the frequency of seizures.
With more research underway, other cannabis-derived drugs could be in the pipeline. Many healthcare professionals also recognize that medical marijuana has many benefits that are not currently listed and say it can also improve sleep. Therefore, medical marijuana has some “off-label” effects, which might be a welcome addition to anyone using this treatment for another reason.
Current research is still investigating whether medical cannabis could prevent certain diseases like diabetes, and some evidence also suggests that it might help obesity or reduce inflammation. However, the range of effects is still being assessed, and the list of potential uses is forever expanding.
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Who Shouldn’t Use Medical Marijuana?
No drug or treatment is safe for everybody to use, and medical marijuana is no exception. Therefore, it’s essential to assess your situation before using medical marijuana to determine whether it is safe for you.
If you are considering medical marijuana, your doctor will most likely discuss whether there are any concerns. However, you should not hesitate to ask your doctor any questions about your treatment if your situation changes.
Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women
There are several safety concerns for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Medical marijuana is not safe for pregnant women because it can lower their blood pressure and make them more prone to dizziness and fainting. Pregnancy alone is enough to lower blood pressure, and decreasing it further can have severe consequences.
However, medical marijuana is also unsafe for unborn babies and infants. Evidence shows that cannabis can disrupt brain development. As a result, cognitive functions such as learning and emotional regulation will be impacted, and this will show later in life.
Cannabis has also been linked to low birth weight and premature births. There is a range of complications that can have a lasting effect on this. These complications impact development and can make the baby more prone to infections. Overall, unborn babies exposed to cannabis are more likely to require extensive medical care after their birth and might stay in the hospital for longer.
People With Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder
Schizophrenia is a cognitive condition that alters a person’s perception of reality. This condition can also make someone feel paranoid and confused. Schizophrenia is also characterized by various cognitive impairments such as memory loss or difficulty with speech. Hence, anyone with schizophrenia should avoid medical marijuana since the side effects of this treatment could make their symptoms worse.
Bipolar disorder is a cognitive condition that impacts a person’s mood, and their mood can suddenly change from depressive lows to manic highs with little reprieve. People with bipolar disorder should also avoid medical marijuana because the side effects of this treatment can alter someone’s mood. Therefore, it could worsen bipolar symptoms.
Past studies have looked into the benefits of medical marijuana — and cannabidiol (CBD) for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This is because CBD may have antipsychotic properties, and studies have shown improved symptoms in patients with schizophrenia.
Unfortunately, while there are some benefits, they do not always outweigh the harm. Those diagnosed with schizophrenia or going through the manic phases of bipolar disorder may want to avoid using THC. As for CBD, although the results are promising, more research needs to be done.
People With Liver Impairment
People who have a compromised liver should also avoid medical marijuana because it could worsen their liver condition. However, this is not a clear-cut position and may differ from person to person and the liver impairment they’re treating.
For example, cannabis can cause further complications for people with hepatitis C. On the other hand, medical cannabis may effectively reduce nausea associated with the medications used to treat the virus. The terpene, beta-caryophyllene, may also help alleviate and treat liver injury and inflammation.
The liver is responsible for clearing certain drugs from the body, including medical marijuana. However, liver disease can affect this process and cause further damage. Therefore, people with liver disease may not always be candidates for this treatment, but this is taken case-by-case.
People With Cardiovascular Disease
Since cannabis can affect the heart, people with cardiovascular problems may wish to proceed with caution or avoid medical marijuana altogether. For example, delta-9-THC is known to increase heart rate, whereas CBD decreases heart rate. These effects could make a preexisting condition worse depending on the condition present.
One study in cancer patients also showed that cardiovascular disease (CVD) was potentially exacerbated by medical marijuana. Therefore, medical cannabis could make the cardiovascular disease worse.
However, the relationship between cannabis and heart health is complicated, with studies showing both positive and negative impacts on heart health. Medical cannabis could be helpful for those suffering from heart problems relating to metabolic syndrome (hypertension, diabetes, obesity), with current marijuana use being associated with lower odds of metabolic syndrome than non-users. However, those with irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia) may want to avoid cannabis use. Smoking cannabis could be another risk factor for CVD.
How to Determine If Medical Marijuana Is Right for You
To obtain medical marijuana, you must speak to a doctor first. The doctor will assess your situation and determine whether this drug is safe for you, just like they would for any other treatment. If your doctor thinks medical marijuana is safe for you, they will give you a medical card.
However, if your situation changes, you should see a doctor for an update. Your doctor will reassess your treatment and decide whether or not you should continue.
A doctor will not approve a patient if they do not think that person is a good candidate. Additionally, doctors cannot prescribe medical marijuana if the patient does not have a qualifying condition either.
The Bottom Line
Medical marijuana is a treatment that has many benefits. However, like all medications, cannabis is not suitable for everyone, and some people should avoid it for safety reasons. Speak with a Leafwell physician to learn more and determine if getting a medical marijuana card is right for you.
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