SCIENCE
04/20/2012 09:18 am ET Updated Apr 23, 2012

Medical Marijuana Facts: Stoned Cold Science For 4/20 (VIDEO)

Happy 420 from Talk Nerdy To Me! Today, I want to take the time to explore some facts and fictions surrounding the use of marijuana as medicine. I reached out to Dr. Igor Grant, the director of the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research to get a scientific perspective on the benefits of medical marijuana. Click the link below and/or watch the video above to learn more. And don't forget to join the discussion by leaving a comment at the bottom of the page.

IGOR GRANT: Even though evidence continues to mount that cannabis can be useful as a medicine from a social policy standpoint there seems to be not a recognition of that.

CARA SANTA MARIA: Hi everyone. Cara Santa Maria here. And that's Dr. Igor Grant, the director of the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. And in 2007, he won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Neuropsychology. I think he knows a little bit more about medical marijuana than this guy.

IG: I think the emerging evidence for medicinal uses of cannabis are strongest now for management of pain, and particularly for the management of a type of pain that is chronic and difficult to treat called neuropathic pain that we see that people with AIDS have, some people with diabetes, and certain kinds of injuries.

CSM: That's no small thing. And we know that marijuana controls nausea and vomiting and increases appetite. This helps not only HIV and AIDS patients, but also those with dramatic weight loss due to cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

IG: People feeling like they want to eat after they smoke marijuana, the munchies and so forth, actually is a very well established physiological effect.

CSM: I totally just got that esteemed professor to say "the munchies." But really, how does pot get you high, reduce your pain, or make you hungry?

IG: We have signalling molecules with fancy names, one of them is anandamide that actually work in our bodies all the time to sort of control this neural excitability, to control eating.

CSM: See, in a broad sense, Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, works like any other drug does. It's an exogenous chemical, meaning that it occurs outside of us, in nature (like in marijuana). But it mimics endogenous factors--ones that we produce within our bodies, notably in our brains. The active constituents in cannabis are called cannabinoids. THC is only one of them. Scientists have identified, isolated, or synthesized several different cannabinoids that bind to two main receptor types in the human brain. And this receptor binding and associated downstream signalling activity causes the psychotropic and therapeutic effects that come along with smoking weed. It gets you high, can ease your pain, and makes you hungry, among other effects. But what about the million dollar question: is smoking pot bad for you?

IG: For typical adults who are using marijuana modestly...there don’t seem to be very many biological or medical consequences.

CSM: Well, there you have it. So why is it still illegal? Attempting to make this issue black-and-white sounds pretty political to me, not very scientific.

IG: I think there is a social concern that is legitimate but it shouldn’t trump the medical aspects either.

CSM: Well, he has to be diplomatic but I don't. And that legitimate social concern is pretty weak in light of the countless hard drugs that live behind the counter in pharmacies across this country. If the science shows that there is a medical need for marijuana, I firmly believe that it should be made available to patients who are suffering.

IG: We need to get to a point from a medical standpoint where marijuana can be made available to selected patients under controlled conditions through pharmacies or whatever the way of dispensing would be that is very well controlled like we do for any other medicine that has a potential for abuse.

CSM: Hear, hear, doc. How does the science inform your opinions on medical marijuana? You can reach out to me on Twitter, Facebook, or leave your comments right here on The Huffington Post. Come on, talk nerdy to me!

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