The human brain naturally produces and processes compounds closely related to those found in Cannabis sativa, better known as marijuana [see "The Brain's Own Marijuana," by Roger A. Nicoll and Bradley E. Alger. These compounds are called endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids. As the journal Nature Medicine put it in 2003, "the endocannabinoid system has an important role in nearly every paradigm of pain, in memory, in neurodegeneration and in inflammation." The journal goes on to note that cannabinoids' "clinical potential is enormous." That potential may include treatments for pain, nerve injury, the nausea associated with chemotherapy, the wasting related to AIDS and more.
Yet outdated regulations and attitudes thwart legitimate research with marijuana. Indeed, American biomedical researchers can more easily acquire and investigate cocaine. Marijuana is classified as a so-called Schedule 1 drug, alongside LSD and heroin. As such, it is defined as being potentially addictive and having no medical use, which under the circumstances becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.