What is Medical Marijuana? A New Patient Primer

March 22, 2018

What is Medical Marijuana? A New Patient Primer

Even if you don’t partake yourself, chances are you’ve come across pot at some point in your life. With recreational legalization looming across the nation, access to over-the-counter marijuana may be in our near future. But why is marijuana becoming more mainstream now? And why do so many doctors claim that medical cannabis benefits their patients in ways that other medications don't?

The answer lies in a few special chemicals that lend cannabis its relaxing and psychedelic effects.

Structure of Medical Cannabis

Before we go into what gives cannabis its potency, it’s important to understand the plant’s unique structure.

When you smoke cannabis, you aren’t usually smoking the leaf itself. Actually, that famous green maple leaf you see everywhere as a stand-in for the word “pot”.

In fact, you are smoking the female cannabis plant’s flower, which contains much of what makes cannabis magical. Cannabis has a distinctive appearance, with buds growing in clusters that often take on complex formations. Then, there's the flower.

The flower of the marijuana plant has a coating of tiny crystalline hairs called trichomes. These are the real engine of cannabis potency, and the source of many of the plant's medical benefits. Typically, you can tell the strength of marijuana by the amount of trichomes in the bud. That's why good marijuana tends to take on a “frosty” appearance--more trichomes.

You can collect and condense these hairs to produce “kief” or “hash”. And due to their high trichome count, smoking these hairs can result in even greater effects.

How Medical Cannabis Benefits You: THC and CBD

Trichomes are filled with a wide variety of chemicals called cannabinoids which interact with the brain, the most prominent of which are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

THC is responsible for most of marijuana’s mind-bending and couch-locking effects, producing the vibrant high you experience when your bud and its trichomes are superheated. This is what laboratories test for when attempting to determine potency. If a strain tests at higher than about 18% THC, chances are it is pretty strong. Likewise, a low percentage of THC is going to indicate a strain more suited to newbies than experienced consumers. When purchasing cannabis, always take care to notice if your provider has tested the strain for THC content.

CBD, on the other, is the reason for many of the medical cannabis benefits that make cannabis such a great tool for treating a variety of ailments. In the world of medical marijuana benefits, we still have a lot to learn about CBD. Even so, studies have shown that CBD can diminish seizures, aches, pains, and migraines. Scientists are now even studying whether it might help to fight off certain forms of cancer.

For a more specific example, concentrated CBD was recently found to be a miracle cure for sufferers of Dravet Syndrome, a rare variety of epilepsy that can induce dozens of seizures a day in those it affects. Though CBD didn’t completely eliminate their seizures, it did cut down on their frequency. Researchers are still working to develop new forms of CBD that are specific to different illnesses.

While US legislators haven't yet passed federal legalization, awareness of the plant and its positive effects is growing rapidly. It is only a matter of time before marijuana acceptance makes its way into the mainstream and medical cannabis benefits everyone (including our furry friends).

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