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Drug or medicine?

Gudrun Heise / sgb
July 8, 2014

Marijuana is illegal throughout most of the world. But the intoxicating drug has medical uses, such as relieving the severe spasms produced by multiple sclerosis.

Marijuana plan
Image: Fotolia/Opra

Many countries have legalized cannabis as a medicine. In addition to the Netherlands, medical marijuana is legal in Spain, Portugal, Finland and certain US states. In these countries, cannabis in medicinal form can be had on presentation of a prescription.

In Germany, growing cannabis for medical purposes has been legal since May 2011. Before then, special permits from the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices had to be obtained.

Cannabis-containing drugs are usually prescribed as a finished product with cannabis extract added, such as a spray. The medicine is sprayed into the oral cavity. From there it spreads rapidly in the blood.

Effective against some diseases

More and more studies are confirming the positive effect on various diseases of the active ingredients of the cannabis plant. They cannot cure these diseases, but can improve the quality of life of those affected.

This applies, for example, to people who suffer from multiple sclerosis. MS is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that manifests itself in flare-ups and that often produces spasms. These can be reduced by the administration of cannabis or its active ingredients tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The muscles relax and thereby improve general mobility.

The ingredients of the cannabis plant can also help people who suffer from Tourette's, Parkinson's disease or chronic neuropathic pain.

Scientists have also found a positive effect in cancer therapy. Patients often suffer from nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy. THC helps counteract this, as does cannabidiol.

But critics point out that cannabis products may cause intoxication. Dizziness, fatigue, nausea and increased heart rate can also occur, blood pressure may drop, and its use may lead to headaches and mental disorders.

Long-term consumption may impair concentration. According to the World Health Organization, the effects are relatively minor and reversible.

Legalization debate

Germany's government opposes attempts to legalize cannabis and cannabis products. Instead, it wants to strengthen prevention efforts against the drug. But experts believe that more severe penalties for cannabis use do not lead to a decline in consumption.

In contrast, more liberal legislation such as in Portugal or the Czech Republic has not led to an increase in cannabis use. One thousand years ago, cannabis was known not only as an intoxicating drug, but also as a medicine. Worldwide, researchers are examining the effects of cannabis and its medicinal uses against certain diseases.

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