The Pharmacologic and Clinical Effects of Medical Cannabis

Authors


  • Presented, in part, at the Colorado Medical Society continuing education meeting on July 20, 2011.

For questions or comments, contact Laura M. Borgelt, Pharm.D., FCCP, BCPS, University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Mail Stop C238, 12850 E. Montview Blvd., V20-2124 Aurora, CO 80045; e-mail: laura.borgelt@ucdenver.edu.

Abstract

Cannabis, or marijuana, has been used for medicinal purposes for many years. Several types of cannabinoid medicines are available in the United States and Canada. Dronabinol (schedule III), nabilone (schedule II), and nabiximols (not U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved) are cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals. Medical cannabis or medical marijuana, a leafy plant cultivated for the production of its leaves and flowering tops, is a schedule I drug, but patients obtain it through cannabis dispensaries and statewide programs. The effect that cannabinoid compounds have on the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) found in the brain can create varying pharmacologic responses based on formulation and patient characteristics. The cannabinoid Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol has been determined to have the primary psychoactive effects; the effects of several other key cannabinoid compounds have yet to be fully elucidated. Dronabinol and nabilone are indicated for the treatment of nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy and of anorexia associated with weight loss in patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. However, pain and muscle spasms are the most common reasons that medical cannabis is being recommended. Studies of medical cannabis show significant improvement in various types of pain and muscle spasticity. Reported adverse effects are typically not serious, with the most common being dizziness. Safety concerns regarding cannabis include the increased risk of developing schizophrenia with adolescent use, impairments in memory and cognition, accidental pediatric ingestions, and lack of safety packaging for medical cannabis formulations. This article will describe the pharmacology of cannabis, effects of various dosage formulations, therapeutics benefits and risks of cannabis for pain and muscle spasm, and safety concerns of medical cannabis use.

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