23 Health benefits of Cannabis / Marijuana
Jordan Michelle vapes CBD oil at the Cannabis World Congress Conference.
29 US states, plus Washington DC, have legalised medical cannabis. The American public largely supports the legalisation cannabis. At least 84% of the public believes the drug should be legal for medical uses, and recreational pot usage is less controversial than ever... with 61% of Americans in support with this number growing everyday.
Even though some medical benefits of cannabis use can be overstated by advocates of cannabis legalisation, research has demonstrated that there are legitimate medical uses for cannabis and strong reasons to continue researching the drug’s medicinal uses. Even the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse lists medical uses for cannabis.
There are at least two active chemicals in cannabis that researchers think have medicinal applications. Those are cannabidiol (CBD) – which seems to impact the brain without a high- and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – which has pain relieving properties and is largely responsible for the psychoactive high.
But scientists say that limitations on cannabis research mean we still have big questions about its medicinal properties. In addition to CBD and THC, there are another 400 or so chemical compounds, more than 60 of which are cannabinoids. Many of these could have medical uses. But with limited access to research, we won’t know how to best make use of these compounds.
More research would also shed light on the risks of cannabis. Even if there are legitimate uses for medicinal cannabis, that doesn’t mean all use is harmless. Some research indicates that chronic, heavy users may have impaired memory, learning, and processing speed, especially if they started regularly using cannabis before age 16 or 17.
Medicinal cannabis for chronic pain
A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said there was definitive evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids (which are found in the cannabis plant) can be an effective treatment for chronic pain.
The report said that is “by far the most common” reason people request medical cannabis. It seems there is a large resurgence of mature aged individuals who have started or revisited cannabis for chronic pain. Many seniors report better sleep, reduced headaches, increased apatite, reduction in general arthritic pain, happier moods, and overall well being.
Interestingly, senior citizens are the first to dismiss the fear factors that were associated with cannabis, noting that it was a government ploy, and that moderate cannabis use introduces mostly positive results in pain management, or recreational usage where it became easier to socialise or bond with new and old friends.
Strong evidence cannabis reduces muscle spasms
That same report said there’s equally strong evidence cannabis can help with muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis.
Other types of muscle spasms respond to cannabis as well. People use medical cannabis to treat diaphragm spasms that are untreatable by other, prescribed medications.
Athletes and sports figures are using cannabis to promote healing directly after training sessions, and reporting faster recovery after grueling workouts or sports injuries.
Cannabis used in treating glaucoma
One of the most common reasons that states allow medical cannabis use is to treat and prevent the eye disease glaucoma, which increases pressure in the eyeball, damaging the optic nerve and causing loss of vision.
Cannabis decreases the pressure inside the eye, according to the National Eye Institute: “Studies in the early 1970s showed that cannabis, lowered intraocular pressure (IOP) in people with normal pressure and those with glaucoma.”
For now, the medical consensus is that cannabis only lowers IOP for a few hours, meaning there’s not good evidence for it as a long term treatment right now. Researchers hope that perhaps a cannabis-based compound could be developed that lasts longer.
Helps control epileptic seizures
Some studies have shown that cannabidiol (CBD), another major cannabis compound, seems to help people with treatment-resistant epilepsy.
A number of individuals have reported that cannabis is the only thing that helps control their or their children’s seizures.
However, there haven’t been many gold-standard, double-blind studies on the topic, so researchers say more data is needed before we know how effective cannabis is.
Decreases symptoms of a severe seizure disorder known as Dravet’s Syndrome
During the research for his documentary “Weed,” Sanjay Gupta interviewed the Figi family, who treated their 5-year-old daughter using a medical cannabis strain high in cannabidiol and low in THC.
The Figi family’s daughter, Charlotte, has Dravet Syndrome, which causes seizures and severe developmental delays.
According to the film, the drug decreased her seizures from '300 a week to just one every seven days'. Forty other children in the state were using the same strain of cannabis to treat their seizures when the film was made – and it seemed to be working.
The doctors who recommended this treatment said the cannabidiol in the plant interacts with brain cells to quiet the excessive activity in the brain that causes these seizures.
Gupta notes, however, that a Florida hospital that specialises in the disorder, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Drug Enforcement agency does not officially endorse cannabis as a treatment for Dravet or other seizure disorders, though this stance is changing as we speak.
Initial research showing cannabis may slow cancer spread in cell cultures
CBD may help prevent cancer from spreading, researchers at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco reported in 2007.
Other very preliminary studies on aggressive brain tumours in mice or cell cultures have shown that THC and CBD can slow or shrink tumours at the right dose, which is a strong reason to do more research.
One 2014 study found that cannabis can significantly slow the growth of the type of brain tumour associated with 80% of malignant brain cancer in people.
Still, these findings in cell cultures and animals don’t necessarily mean the effect will translate to people – far more investigation is needed.
Cannabis decrease anxiety in low doses
Researchers know that many cannabis users consume cannabis to relax, but also that many people say smoking too much can cause anxiety. So scientists conducted a study to find the “Goldilocks” zone: the right amount of cannabis to calm people.
According to Emma Childs, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an author of the study, “we found that THC at low doses reduced stress, while higher doses had the opposite effect.”
A few puffs was enough to help study participants relax, but a few puffs more started to amp up anxiety. However, people react differently in different situations. But it is interesting to note that most, if not all participants, relaxed well under lower doses and enjoyed the experience.
THC used to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease
The 2006 study, published in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics, found that THC (the active chemical in cannabis) slows the formation of amyloid plaques by blocking the enzyme in the brain that makes them. These plaques kill brain cells and are associated with Alzheimer’s.
A synthetic mixture of CBD and THC seems to preserve memory in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Another study suggested that a THC-based prescription drug called dronabinol was able to reduce behavioural disturbances in dementia patients.
All these studies are in very early stages, though, so more research is needed.
Cannabis eases the pain of multiple sclerosis
cannabis may ease painful symptoms of multiple sclerosis, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Jody Corey-Bloom studied 30 multiple sclerosis patients with painful contractions in their muscles. These patients didn’t respond to other treatments, but after smoking cannabis for a few days, they reported that they were in less pain.
The THC in cannabis seems to bind to receptors in the nerves and muscles to relieve pain.
Cannabis reduces side effects of hepatitis C treatment... and increases treatment effectiveness
Treatment for hepatitis C infection is harsh: negative side effects include fatigue, nausea, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and depression. Those side effects can last for months, and lead many people to stop their treatment course early.
But a 2006 study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that 86% of patients using cannabis successfully completed their Hep C therapy. Only 29% of non-smokers completed their treatment, possibly because the cannabis helps lessen the treatment’s side effects.
Cannabis also seems to improve the treatment’s effectiveness: 54% of hep C patients smoking cannabis got their viral levels low and kept them low, in comparison to only 8% of nonsmokers.
Cannabis helps with inflammatory bowel diseases
Patients with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis could benefit from cannabis use, studies suggest.
University of Nottingham researchers found in 2010 that chemicals in cannabis, including THC and cannabidiol, interact with cells in the body that play an important role in gut function and immune responses. The study was published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
The body makes THC-like compounds that increase the permeability of the intestines, allowing bacteria in. But the cannabinoids in cannabis block these compounds, making the intestinal cells bond together tighter and become less permeable.
But the National Academies report said there isn’t enough evidence to be sure whether cannabis really helps with these conditions, so more research is needed.
Relieves discomfort of arthritis
cannabis alleviates pain, reduces inflammation, and promotes sleep, which may help relieve pain and discomfort for people with rheumatoid arthritis, researchers announced in 2011.
Researchers from rheumatology units at several hospitals gave their patients Sativex, a cannabinoid-based pain-relieving medicine. After a two-week period, people on Sativex had a significant reduction in pain and improved sleep quality compared to placebo users.
Other studies have found that plant-derived cannabinoids and inhaled cannabis can decrease arthritis pain, according to the National Academies report.
Cannabis users tend to be less obese
A study published in the American Journal Of Medicine suggested that pot smokers are skinnier than the average person and have healthier metabolism and reaction to sugars, even though they do end up eating more calories.
The study analysed data from more than 4,500 adult Americans – 579 of whom were current cannabis smokers, meaning they had smoked in the last month. About 2,000 people had used cannabis in the past, while another 2,000 had never used the drug.
The researchers studied how the participants’ bodies responded to eating sugars. They measured blood-sugar levels and the hormone insulin after participants hadn’t eaten in nine hours, and after they’d eaten sugar.
Not only were pot users thinner, their bodies also had a healthier response to sugar. Of course, the study couldn’t determine whether the cannabis users were like this to begin with or if these characteristics were somehow related to their smoking.
Cannabis spurs creativity
Contrary to stoner stereotypes, cannabis usage has actually been shown to have some positive mental effects, particularly in terms of increasing creativity, at least in some contexts. Even though people’s short-term memories tend to function worse when they’re high, they actually get better at tests requiring them to come up with new ideas.
Researchers have also found that some study participants improve their “verbal fluency,” their ability to come up with different words, while using cannabis.
Part of this increased creative ability may come from the release of dopamine in the brain, which lowers inhibitions and allows people to feel more relaxed, giving the brain the ability to perceive things differently.
Cannabis soothes tremors for people with Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson's disease remains a big unknown in the research and medical fields alike. No one truly knows why the disease comes on, and the complexities of its progression, other than its a matter of time before the disease takes hold.
Studies are showing that cannabis use reduces the tremors of parkinson's disease through the endocannabinoid system. Its notable that further studies are showing that the progression of parkinson's disease may be slowed down with the use of cannabis, however this research is still in its infancy though very promising.
Research from Israel shows that using cannabis significantly reduces pain and tremors and improves sleep for Parkinson’s disease patients. Particularly impressive was the improved fine motor skills among patients.
Cannabis helps resolve PTSD
In 2014, the Colorado Department of Public Health awarded $US2 million to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (one of the biggest proponents of cannabis research) to study cannabis’s potential for people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Naturally occurring cannabinoids, similar to THC, help regulate the system that causes fear and anxiety in the body and brain.
cannabis is approved to treat PTSD in some states already – in New Mexico, PTSD is the number one reason for people to get a licence for medical cannabis.
But there are still questions about the safety of using cannabis while suffering from PTSD, which this study – which has taken a while to get off the ground – will hopefully help answer.
Animal studies suggest cannabis protects the brain after a stroke
Research from the University of Nottingham shows that cannabis may help protect the brain from damage from a stroke by reducing the size of the area affected by the stroke – at least in rats, mice, and monkeys.
This isn’t the only research that has shown neuroprotective effects of cannabis. Some research shows that the plant may help protect the brain after other types of brain trauma.
Cannabis may protect the brain from concussions and trauma
Lester Grinspoon , a professor of psychiatry at Harvard and cannabis advocate, recently wrote an open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. In it, he said the NFL should stop testing players for cannabis, and that the league should start funding research into the plant’s ability to protect the brain instead.
Goodell said he’d consider permitting athletes to use cannabis if medical research shows that it’s an effective neuroprotective agent.
At least one recent study on the topic found that patients who had used cannabis were less likely to die from traumatic brain injuries.
This is a complicated one, because it involves effects that can be both positive and negative. cannabis disturbs sleep cycles by interrupting the later stages of REM sleep. In the long run, this could be a problem for frequent users.
However, for people suffering from serious nightmares, especially those associated with PTSD, this can be helpful, perhaps in the short term. Nightmares and other dreams occur during those same stages of sleep. By interrupting REM sleep, many of those dreams may not occur. Research into using a synthetic cannabinoid – similar to THC but not the same – showed a significant decrease in the number of nightmares in patients with PTSD.
Additionally, even if frequent use can be bad for sleep, cannabis may be a better sleep aid than some other substances that people use. Some of those, including medication and alcohol,may potentially have worse effects on sleep, though more research is needed on the topic.
Cannabis reduces nausea from chemotherapy and stimulates appetite
While the benefits of Chemotherapy are being heavily debated of late, one thing is certain that cannabis reduces the pain associated with this controversial treatment, not limited to increasing apatite and reducing nausea.
There’s good evidence that cannabis is very effective for chemotherapy, according to the National Academies report. Cancer patients being treated with chemo suffer from painful nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. This can cause additional health complications.
Cannabis can help reduce these side effects, alleviating pain, decreasing nausea, and stimulating the appetite. There are also multiple FDA-approved cannabinoid drugs that use THC, the main active chemical in cannabis, for the same purpose.
Cannabis reduces of alcohol addiction
Cannabis is safer than alcohol. That’s not to say it’s risk-free, but cannabis is much less addictive than alcohol and doesn’t cause nearly as much physical damage.
Disorders like alcoholism involve disruptions in the endocannabinoid system. Because of that, some people think cannabis might help patients struggling with those disorders.
Research published in the Harm Reduction Journal found that some people use cannabis as a less harmful substitute for alcohol, prescription drugs, and other illegal drugs. Some of the most common reasons patients make that substitution are that cannabis has less negative side effects and is less likely to cause withdrawal problems.
Some people do become psychologically dependent on cannabis, and it is not a cure for substance abuse problems. But from a harm-reduction standpoint, it can help.
Still, it’s worth noting that combining cannabis and alcohol can be dangerous, and some researchers are concerned that this scenario is more likely than one in which users substitute a toke for a drink.
Medical cannabis reduces opioid dependancy
While there are a number of factors behind the current opioid epidemic, many experts agree that the use of opioid painkillers to treat chronic pain has played a major role. It’s very risky to take powerful drugs that have a high risk of causing overdose and high addiction rates. cannabis,which can also treat chronic pain, is far less risky.
Several studies have showed that states that allow medical cannabis have fewer opioid deaths. This effect seems to grow over time, with states who pass these laws seeing a “20% lower rate of opioid deaths in the laws’ first year, 24% in the third, and 33% in the sixth,” according to Stat News.
It’s hard to say that deaths went down because of medical cannabis legalization and not other reasons. But because the effect seems to get stronger the longer cannabis remains legal, researchers think cannabis is a likely cause of the decline in opioid deaths.
Article by Kevin Loria: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/health-benefits-of-medical-cannabis-2014-4