New Medical Marijuana Plant Created
Cannabis, the plant behind the drug marijuana, has been used by humans for thousands of years and for many different purposes. For its psychoactive properties, it has been used for religious and spiritual ceremonies and for recreation. The seeds have long been used as a nutritious food and the fibers make strong textiles, called hemp. In more recent history, researchers have also discovered that some of the compounds in the cannabis plant have important medicinal properties and some states are now allowing use of the previously illegal drug in medical ways.
Medical Marijuana: Benefits and Controversy
Numerous studies have shown that smoking or otherwise consuming cannabis can treat several medical conditions. One of the most common uses for medical marijuana is in the treatment of pain. It is especially prescribed for those who are both experiencing severe and chronic pain and who are terminally ill. It has also been used to reduce pressure in the eyes for people with glaucoma, to reduce muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, to slow the formation of plaques in the brain as a result of Alzheimer’s disease, to stop the spread of breast cancer, to help those with HIV or AIDS eat without stomach upsets and by reducing pain, and to control the symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
While the medical evidence is powerful, using marijuana is still not without controversy. Often, the compounds in the cannabis plant that are determined to be helpful in certain medical conditions are the same compounds that cause psychoactive symptoms. The active compounds in cannabis are called cannabinoids. There are hundreds of them, but some of the most prevalent are called THC, cannabidiol, and cannabinol. THC is the primary compound in cannabis that is psychoactive and it also has medical benefits.
A Plant without THC
Hemp has long been used legally as a fiber and an ingredient in foods because a strain of cannabis without low levels of THC exists. This plant is often just called hemp and does not contain enough of the psychoactive compounds to produce a high in anyone who consumes it, whether through smoking or eating. The fibers and seeds from this plant are used to make durable fabrics for clothing, biodegradable plastics, insulation, lotions, a milk substitute, and oil. The seeds are often eaten as well and are very nutritious.
Although hemp has been around and has been used for many years, it has not been a viable source of medical marijuana. The useful compounds are at such low levels that the plant gives neither a high nor a treatment for any ailments. Recently, however, researchers created a plant that may represent the middle ground between hemp and marijuana.
An Israeli research company, Tikkum Olam, has developed a new cannabis plant that does not have THC, but does contain abundant cannabidiol. THC is the primary active compound in cannabis and cannabidiol is the secondary one. Both are at very low levels in the hemp strain of cannabis. The new plant smells, tastes, and looks like normal cannabis, but when smoked, the user does not get the usual high.
The new cannabis may not give a user the same high as the usual plant, but it is not inert either. Initial studies have shown that it may help treat schizophrenia as well as the standard antipsychotic drugs. As a bonus, it does not result in the same side effects: weight gain, mood swings, or movement disorders. The cannabidiol in the plant is also showing an ability to protect brain cells from damage and may have the potential to slow the progression of Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. It may also reduce the occurrence of seizures in those with epilepsy and work as an anti-anxiety or anti-depressive medication.
The plant is novel because previously, it was impossible to separate the THC, which provides a high as well as hallucinogenic effects, from the cannabidiol, which has such healing potential. Although research is still preliminary, the findings are very promising. There are possible roadblocks, of course. It can still be tough for researchers to be able to use marijuana in studies and the inability to patent any of the ingredients is also a problem. Drug companies may hesitate to spend money on research when the potential for profit is low.
THC is still a useful compound for some patients, including those who need appetite stimulation or who have severe pain, but the promise of a plant that can treat so many other conditions without the psychoactive effects is very powerful.