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Medical Marijuana Alternatives

author image Roxanne Maas
Based in Los Angeles, Roxanne Maas holds a master's degree in genetic counseling with more than 12 years of experience communicating complex genetics and pregnancy information. She has published several abstracts in scientific journals, presented posters at national genetics meetings, and published health-related articles on
Medical Marijuana Alternatives
Woman holding marijuana and a pipe Photo Credit: Meg Roussos/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Marijuana has been used for years as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions, including pain and nausea resulting from cancer treatment and other illnesses. According to the American Lung Association, marijuana smoke contains a higher amount of carcinogens than tobacco smoke and over time its use can lead to cognitive impairment and organ damage. Finding safer alternatives to medical marijuana is vital to help treat symptoms without harming the body.

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Pain Medications

One of the primary uses of medical marijuana is for pain control. However, over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen and prescription medications such as codeine can serve as safe, effective alternatives to medical marijuana. A report published in the "British Medical Journal" that reviewed nine trials that compared marijuana with other pain medications found that marijuana was no more effective than codeine in controlling acute, chronic, or cancer pain. Some conditions may respond better to certain pain medications than others. Patients should always discuss use of pain medications with their doctor because some medications are contraindicated with certain health conditions.

Anti-Nausea Medications

Cancer patients in treatment with chemotherapy or radiation and other people suffering from nausea may reach for marijuana due to its anti-nausea properties. There are several other prescription options for nausea relief, such as Zofran, that do not carry the damaging risks of marijuana. However, because these medications can cause side effects such as anxiety and can interact with other medications, their use should be discussed with a doctor. Non-prescription remedies for nausea, which generally don't cause any side effects, are also available. Home remedies for nausea include ginger, which can be eaten in slices, made into a tea, or drunk as ginger ale, and lemon, which can be squeezed into any liquid or simply sniffed.

CB1 Activators

Marijuana users experience the drug's effects when the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, binds to sites in the brain and peripheral nervous system. These sites are called cannabinoid, or CB1, receptors. Activated CB1 receptors release neurotransmitters that produce the euphoric effects of marijuana. THC is not the only substance that can activate the CB1 receptors, however. CB1 receptors are also activated by natural substances already in our brains called endogenous cannabinoids. Synthetic compounds may also be able to activate these receptors. A study published in the "British Journal of Pharmacology" revealed that several synthetic compounds activated the CB1 receptors in frog eggs. It is not yet known whether these compounds would safely produce the same effect in humans, but the results of this and other animal studies are encouraging.

Organophosphorus Agents

The neurotransmitters from activated CB1 receptors break down over time, wearing off the drug's "high." An agent that could block the natural decomposition of these neurotransmitters could provide another alternative to medical marijuana. Organophosphorous agents may fit this bill. A study published in the journal "Nature Chemical Biology" found that organophosphorus agents can inhibit the degradation of BC1 receptor neurotransmitters. By prolonging the effect of endogenous cannabinoids in the brain, organophosphorous agents may be able to offer some of the same benefits as marijuana without the negative effects. However, organophosphorous agents have only been studied in animals to this point and it is unknown whether they could safely be used by humans.

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