Medical Marijuana – a review

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Medical marijuana is a hot topic nowadays. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party is playing peekaboo with the possibility of legalizing marijuana and certainly helping grow the number of “medical” marijuana dispensaries throughout the country.

One look at social media and google and you get thousands of messages about the miracle healing capacity of Cannabis Sativa. It appears there is nothing a little pot won’t cure. Claims range from pain relief to cancer prevention. Remarkable!

My question is, are these claims true? Or are they a good dose of wishful thinking to help make the bitter pill of legalizing drugs taste better?

Let’s take a closer look.le-microscope

First, you have to realize that less than 7% of all studies done on marijuana are researching its medicinal purposes. This is probably due to the fact that most marijuana research is funded by government agencies and these tend to relate to drugs in a negative sense. Government has a vested interest in understanding the negative effects of drugs in order to treat addicts and form drug use prevention methods. Pro marijuana advocates will say that the big pharmaceutical companies and the government are both invested in the continued ban of legal marijuana and so will continue to only look in the negative direction and downplay positive research. 

Is this true?

In part, I would agree that a large amount of research done by medical schools and even universities are funded by drug companies. And these companies have much less interest in finding natural cures than they do in validating synthetic drugs as the core of health care. Furthermore, there are a growing number of areas in which our culture is becoming aware of the plethora of natural cures available that Big Pharma drugs are not able to out-perform. Natural alternatives to anxiety, depression, blood pressure issues, pain management, etc are emerging as we better understand nutrition, exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy as well as other natural remedies. And if you delve into the realm of anecdotal evidence (both in your circle of friends and online) you will run into some convincing cases in which a marijuana compound was found more effective than a pharmaceutical alternative. I have not problems with the notion of finding natural alternatives to health issues, even in the Cannabis Sativa plant.

But how confident can we be that marijuana has very strong medical benefits? And are there any side effects worth knowing about?

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poppy seeds

For thousands of years mankind has used both Cannabis Sativa and the poppy seed for its felt effects. In regards to poppy seeds, they have long been known to help induce sleep. Likewise, cannabis has been known for the intoxicating effects of its most famous cannibinoid compound: THC. For at least the past 5,000 years, humans have known how to extract opium from poppy seeds. And since 1804, we have known how to extract morphine from the poppy seed as well. To this day, morphine continues to be our most potent pain killer. And it is a completely natural extract. My point? Poppy seeds have a very specific medical use that works universally: pain killing. No one can doubt or disprove this. There is no need to hunt through conflicting anecdotal and peer reviewed accounts to see what (if any) are the medically useful aspects of poppy seeds. In contrast, even though we have been experimenting with cannabis for as long as we have been with poppy seeds, we know of only two universal effects that come from marijuana: intoxication and appetite stimulation.

Since at least the 1980’s, hospitals have been giving synthetic THC to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy because of its remarkable ability to stimulate appetite even in extreme circumstances. But the effectiveness of marijuana for the entire host of claims made online remain tenable and less than solidly proven. There are hundreds of cannabinoid compounds in marijuana, THC is only one of them (and the only real psychoactive one). Cannabidiol is another of these and it has little to no intoxicating effects, making it less controversial. Cannabidiol has been touted mainly as an anti-psychotic and anti-convulsant. Yet its effects are nowhere near universally true (in contrast to morphine) or even very repeatable. Some studies have shown some value in cannabidiol for sleep inducement as well as pain killing and muscle relaxants for Multiple Sclerosis and epileptic patients. But the strength of the evidence is not overwhelming at this point. More time is needed because studies have gone in both directions. Cannabis simply does not have a singular, universal medical value that can be proved conclusively.medijuana

As for THC, it does indeed decrease fluid pressure inside the eyes and so will relieve glaucoma symptoms. But the effects only last a short while and because THC is psychoactive, intoxication co-exists with the effects, making it unlikely to be safe or helpful for people who have to go to work with their glaucoma medication. To be under the effects of THC all day is not a recommended lifestyle. Especially when safe, non-intoxicating and long lasting drugs do exist for glaucoma sufferers. THC also dilates the small airways in the lungs, bringing relief to those with asthma, COPD and other chronic lung conditions. Again, this effect is short lived and comes with intoxication and alternative exist in both the natural and pharmaceutical realms.

All in all, the effects of marijuana on a variety of medical conditions is not cut and dry. Even when positive studies are found, they are not very strong and often you will find other studies that failed to replicate the findings. However, if an individual is finding success with a cannabinoid compound, I am not against its use. I support the right for doctors to oversee and prescribe a variety of cannabinoids (often with little to no THC) in the few cases in which better alternatives do not seem to exist. I don’t see, however, how wholesale legalization has to come hand in hand with the few cases in which genuine medical marijuana usage can be rationalized. It is also curious that it is mainly the psychoactive THC that gets most of the attention from medical marijuana activists. Could it be because it is marijuana’s main intoxicant? And that rationalizing its use would excuse chronic intoxication? Maybe. Just maybe.

Before closing this brief article, I have to speak about the negative side effects of THC and marijuana.Since the 1980’s, the percentage – by weight – of marijuana that is THC has arisen in the United States from an average 3% to approximately 12%. This has not occurred naturally but is the result of synthetically manipulating the strains. sad-woman-1347879026vylMuch the same way men have bred animals and plants over the centuries. Obviously, the main drive for increasing THC concentration is to maximize intoxication in chronic users who are now desensitized to former dosages. This phenomenon occurs with all artificial intoxicants. And the 12% figure is an average in the U.S., not worldwide. Some strains have been found to be as high as 35% THC by weight. A staggering dosage that is not in the least naturally occurring.

With the rise of THC percentages in recreational marijuana we have seen a rise in the ill effects of this drug. The most susceptible — as is always the case — are youths. Studies in both the U.S.1 and Canada2 have shown — with functional MRI’s, blood work, psychological evaluations, brain mapping and sociological research — that a developing brain exposed to marijuana use well before the age of 17 is at risk of cognitive, mood and behavioural disorders. Further, the higher the usage, the lower the youth’s chances are of attaining financial health and independence in adult life. Chronic early use is needed to truly trigger serious disorders but the risks are still ominous. Considering the growing push to render marijuana use socially acceptable combined with the sharp rise in THC concentrations it should be no wonder that health care facilities are reporting more and more issues with adolescent and young adult marijuana use.

Proponents of marijuana legalization will say that alcohol is also a drug and that it causes more carnage in our culture than marijuana. Both claims are true. However, alcohol use is much, much higher than marijuana use. Partly because it is legal and mostly because it is culturally acceptable. If marijuana use reached the same levels of use in North America the societal ills caused by this drug would not diminish, they would only grow exponentially. Unleashing another negative substance on our youth and culture is not an improvement by any means. I cannot comprehend this version of the pro-legalization argument.

bar-back-alcoholRemember that alcohol can be used in moderation. A glass or two of wine can even be beneficial in every way to your health with zero side effects. It is much harder to use marijuana without intoxication or side effects unless you strip it of its psychoactive compounds (which I do not see any medical marijuana dispensaries doing as this would most likely curb sales downward). And before singing the praises of local dispensaries, realize that a Journal of American Medical Association study, John Hopkins Medicine study as well as a Globe and Mail investigation found that the labels on pot products from such stores were grossly inaccurate. Shedding a poor light on the ability of such outlets to regulate the quality and safety of their drugs. Considering the negative side effects of THC and the shakily established “medicinal” value of Cannabis Sativa, pushing for nation-wide legalized marijuana on every street corner – a la neighbourhood liquor store — seems to be a thinly veiled attempt at plainly and simply legalizing an intoxicant for the pleasurable effects it produces. Arguments can be made as to the economic consequences of legalizing pot, yet this is a different argument than the medicinal one.

All things considered we have pain-killer drug addictions and alcoholism rates on the increase so why should we legalize yet another intoxicant on our future generations? For those who truly derive benefits from cannabinoid compounds, let hospitals monitor and administer dosages such as they do with the all natural morphine and other opioids. In my honest opinion, at this juncture, any other call to wholesale legalization is not supportable by hard clinical science. It would also dangerously fool youth into sinking into potentially life altering disorders if they follow the pied piper down the unrestrained use of a drug that is now getting a make over as “super healing compound.”

Be wise. Be prudent. Be informed.

 

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What Is The Best Type of Exercise?

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One of the most common questions a health care provider gets asked is “what is the best type of exercise?” And one look at the internet and you can see why people ask this question. There must be 1000’s of programs available online. Each professing to be the new “hit” workout program. So to the untrained eye, it must seem like being caught in a hurricane of advice.

Behind the question “what exercise should I do?” is the hope that there is a quick fix program that will allow someone to quickly get into shape. I hate to break it to all of you but, there is no such system. Anyone claiming to have discovered a short cut and wants to sell it to you has only discovered a short cut into your wallet. Be wary.

“What about P90X and other “fast acting” exercise regimens?”

I am well aware that certain programs are incredibly intense and will therefore trigger metabolic changes faster than others. Heck, if we all had to hike 60 km per day for the next 3 weeks, we’d all be a bit less chubby. The problem with the “new” type of programs like P90X or Insanity is that they are, for most people, unsustainable. You may get through the first 90 days, but can you live the program as a 365 day per year lifestyle? Most cannot. Injury or burn out will get most of you.

This does not mean you won’t ever be able to become super fit. It just means the most successful way to get there will be the gradual one. See my “easy does it” article on ideas to slowly increase your fitness levels. It is certainly not the only way to do it, but it does provide you with a blueprint. But the principle is to ease the body into fitness instead of trying to make up for lost time by going nuclear and tearing your body apart.

In regards to what type of exercise to perform, this is a more difficult question to answer. Everyone is very unique. What works for one individual may not work for another. And if you factor in our personalities (not just our bodies) you have to realize that just because your body likes an exercise, your mind might not. And if you hate something, you will probably psychologically burn out and stop doing it. Interestingly, it seems that what fits your body almost always fits your mind, so this should not be a problem for most of you.yoga-exercise-14020804086s6

Another question that needs to be answered is “what are your goals?” If you are training to improve your performance in a specific sport, you will need to ask the advice of those who regularly train athletes of your variety. If you are like most people, you simply want to look and feel better. In that case you could benefit from what I would label a “basic fitness and aesthetics” type of workout. Essentially this incorporates a variety of different types of exercises ranging from endurance cardio to heavy weight lifting. Always consult a professional trainer if you have no exercise background just to make sure you are not lifting improperly and hurting yourself.

Here is a brief example of this “basic” program:

– once per week, do a 40 to 60 minute cardio type of workout. Whether this is cycling, swimming, running or a boot camp or exercise class, the intensity should be something you can maintain for at least 40 minutes. Also, the system it most challenges should be your cardiovascular, so it should be a constant motion class, not 40 minutes in the gym pulling weights around.

– once per week do a 20 minute high intensity training program. Crossfit is one such method but you can do your own high intensity circuit using body weight exercises or weight lifting circuit. The point is, you are again in a (mostly) constant motion scenario (i.e.: no rest between exercises) for 15 – 20 minutes. So the intensity should be quite high and prevent you from going more than 20 minutes.

– once per week do a heavy lifting workout. This should last approximately 30 minutes and only cover 2 muscle groups. You’ll want to chose weights that you can safely lift (do not overdo it!) and have a professional show you good technique. You should always have a spotter with you on heavy days. Chose a weight that allows you to perform 6 to 8 reps. Do about 3 to 4 sets for each exercise before moving on. Only do 3 types of exercise for each of the two body parts you choose to train that day. Take about 60 to 90 seconds rest between each set. Your goal is not to sweat as much as possible, but to lift as heavy as you safely can for two body parts. This triggers your strength development, which is a unique affect on the body. Always rotate which body parts you place in this “heavy lifting” category so you can rest your body and develop it thoroughly.

– twice per week do a “bodybuilder’s” workout. Whichever muscles you did not work on your “heavy lifting” day, spread it out over the two “bodybuilding” days. So, let’s say you did chest and back on the heavy day, you can break up the two bodybuilding days as follows: day 1: legs and shoulders, day 2: biceps and triceps (I would do some core exercises on each of the 5 exercise days). “Bodybuilding” type workouts use weights that allow you to hit the 10 to 20 rep ranges. And you will do 3 to 4 different exercises for each of the two body parts. This means about 12 to 16 sets per muscle group.

– once per week do a “body awareness” workout. The goal of this workout is not to sweat or change your physique, but to learn to feel and use your body. Yoga is a great way to achieve this and will help you become more flexible as well. Professional trainer Ido Portal has some great body awareness routines for you to use. You want to challenge your balance and coordination with these types of workouts so you can increase your ability to master your movements and increase your range of motion.

Again, nothing is set in stone. If you are not happy with the above workout, find something that works for you. Even if it is simply playing a sport in a recreation league. The basic goal is to get and stay moving and to start at your level of fitness. With the above program, either slowly layer in the days until you have worked up to 6 days per week or lower the intensity dramatically to prevent over training.

Best of luck!