I recently recorded a webinar for IFM on the potential clinical uses of medical marijuana for neurological and psychiatric disorders. IFM- short for Institute of Functional Medicine- is perhaps the largest medical organization devoted to alternative medicine. Its members are united in a philosophy of medicine that appreciates systems biology, an approach to health and disease that focuses on relationships of separate parts of physiology to the whole.
There is no better example of a perfect match than the medical use of medical marijuana and Integrative medicine. Its only been slightly more than 20 years that researchers discovered an "Endocannabinoid system" or ECS that acts to balance physiological systems in all living things, including of course, humans. The ECS is similar to the better known endorphin system that regulates pain and pleasure throughout the nervous system and its no wonder that ancient medicine practitioners discovered the potential healing properties of medical marijuana as its effects impact our endogenous physiological systems.
The primary components found within medical marijuana,THC and CBD, directly influence these intrinsic biological systems but in vastly different ways. Orin Devinsky, one of the most prominent neurologists and researchers of medical marijuana pointed out the highly irrational legislative perspective that fails to take this distinction into account. THC has psychotropic effects- in the brain it provokes the release of certain brain chemicals such as dopamine that produce the marijuana high by provoking the emotional salience of sensation and experience. THC is also responsible for marijuana's abuse potential. If Sigmund Freud were alive today he would likely compare the effects of THC to the human ID- that part of our brain that seeks its own pleasure to the detriment of other tasks it needs to focus on.
Then of course, we need to understand the extraordinary effects of the other portion of the medical marijuana plant called cannabidiol or CBD. The Washington Post article is so important because it highlights this natural phytocannabinoid and its potential beneficial effects in conditions like epilepsy and anxiety. CBD acts to reduce inflammation in the brain and along with these effects, has been shown clinically to reduce epileptic seizures in a certain percentage of patients. In my own practice, CBD has been a safe alternative to prescription drugs. We are very likely to see a tsunami of research of the benefical effects of CBD sans THC for a wide variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders and its groups like IFM that play a vital role in educating physicians on the proper role of using medical marijuana in clinical medicine.