Cannabis is changing the way we view illnesses and their treatments. But just how far do the benefits of medical cannabis reach, and what potential disadvantages are there to using cannabis to treat illness?

THE BENEFITS OF MEDICAL CANNABIS

The idea of cannabis as a medical substance has increased in favour dramatically, but conclusions on the plant’s full scope of medicinal efficacy have yet to be made. Below, we discuss some of the potential benefits of medical cannabis.

1. CANNABIS IS NATURAL AND VERSATILE

The first major benefit of medical cannabis is that it’s natural. The cannabis plant can grow on six of the seven continents, and anthropological evidence suggests it could be one of humankind’s oldest cultivars[1].

Cannabis is also a versatile plant, and its chemical constituents can be extracted and concentrated into various forms, making for a wide assortment of administration options. Researchers are continuing to explore which of the cannabis plant’s cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds can be used alone, or in synergy, to benefit patients.

2. CANNABIS HAS BEEN USED MEDICINALLY FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS

Just like there’s solid research to suggest cannabis is one of our oldest crops, there’s also plenty of evidence suggesting it might be one of our oldest medicines. The Pen Ts’ao, published in the 1500s and believed to be one of the oldest pharmacopeias in the world, recommends cannabis[2] for pain, constipation, malaria, and more.

3. CANNABIS, INFLAMMATION AND PAIN

Pain and inflammation are both symptoms and causes of a wide variety of conditions. Recent studies suggest that chronic inflammation in particular could be an underlying contributor to coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s. In an article titled “Inflammation: A unifying theory of disease[3]”, Harvard Medical School calls out chronic inflammation as “the common, causative factor in many diseases”.

Many of the compounds found in cannabis (including cannabinoids like THC and CBD[4], but also terpenes like myrcene, limonene, linalool, and more) have demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. Since discovering the endocannabinoid system’s key role[5] in managing inflammation, a lot of research has focused on cannabis’ potential in driving down inflammation caused by pancreatitis[6], ulcerative colitis[7], Alzheimer’s disease[8], and many other pathologies.

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4. CANNABIS AND PTSD PATIENTS

According to the Recovery Village[9], 1 in 13 adults will develop PTSD in response to experiencing a traumatic event. Many of these patients may turn to cannabis to deal with the symptoms associated with this condition.

Unfortunately, most of the evidence regarding cannabis use among PTSD patients comes from anecdotal reports rather than more sophisticated clinical trials. There is some research, however, to suggest that PTSD patients have both an abundance of cannabinoid receptors[10] and reduced endocannabinoid levels[11] in the body.

Research also shows that the endocannabinoid system is heavily involved in managing memory and learning processes[12], a well as anxiety, fear memory, and habituation[13] (a decline in response to a stimulus after repeated exposure). One study[14] found some PTSD patients who used cannabis to have a reduced risk of depressive episodes or suicidal thoughts.

5. CANNABIS AND SEIZURES

CBD first made international news in 2011, when the story of the late Charlotte Figi touched the hearts of people all around the globe. Today, there’s solid research[15] that CBD, a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis and hemp, can help reduce seizures associated with Lennox–Gastaut and Dravet syndromes.

Seizures are believed to be caused by a rapid, abnormal firing of neurons. In most cases, people with epilepsy don’t have a known cause for their condition. The endocannabinoid system is very active in the central nervous system and key parts of the brain related to epilepsy, such as the hippocampus. Studies[16] have also found CBD, THC, and THCA, as well as terpenes like linalool, to exert anti-seizure effects.

While we still don’t have a clear understanding of how the compounds in cannabis fight seizures, the research above is starting to provide us with at least some theories.

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6. CANNABIS, NAUSEA AND VOMITING

Nausea and vomiting are symptoms we’re all familiar with. They are linked to many different conditions, from something as mild as gastritis to more serious health issues like appendicitis, meningitis, and more. Many medications and medical treatments (such as chemotherapy and antiretroviral therapy) can also cause nausea and/or vomiting.

Certain compounds in cannabis, both cannabinoids and terpenes, have displayed antiemetic effects in research settings. CBD has been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting by interacting with 5-HT1A serotonin receptors[17]. However, studies have also shown that inhibiting the metabolism of anandamide[18] (an endocannabinoid and CB1 agonist) using FAAH-inhibitors (like CBD) is another possible pathway to reducing nausea.

7. CANNABIS, DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY

Cannabis has an obvious effect on the mood, and many people enjoy it recreationally because it makes them feel relaxed, happy, and even euphoric. At the same time, some individuals feel paranoid or anxious when using cannabis, making it difficult to come to concrete conclusions about how marijuana might affect people with anxiety and depression. There is research, however, to suggest a link between cannabis and these conditions.

Research shows that endocannabinoid activity affects the mood, feelings of anxiety or fear, and stress. Some researchers[19] have even gone so far as to suggest that endocannabinoid dysregulation is an underlying cause of clinical depression. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as our understanding of cannabis and depression goes, and most of the support for cannabis as an antidepressant still comes from patient reports.

THE DRAWBACKS OF MEDICAL CANNABIS

While cannabis has a lot of potential as a medicine, it also has some limitations that it pays to be aware of.

8. THERE’S STILL A LOT WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT MEDICAL CANNABIS

Unfortunately, the last 70+ years of prohibition have done us few favours when it comes to understanding cannabis. While there is a lot of promising research on its medicinal potential, a lot of this research comes from cell or animal-based lab studies rather than randomised double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials. This lack of understanding about cannabis and its mechanisms of action is arguably one of the biggest pitfalls of medical marijuana.

9. RESTRICTED ACCESS

While our attitudes towards cannabis are changing, it is still far from being readily available as a medicine. Medical cannabis is only legal in roughly 30 countries, and some countries are a lot less liberal when it comes to prescribing it than others. In the US, for example, medical marijuana laws vary greatly from one state to another, as do the lists of conditions that qualify for treatment with medical weed.

Not only that, but some medical cannabis programmes only prescribe CBD, whereas others prescribe a mix of CBD, THC, and other non-toxic compounds. Moreover, of the approved cannabis treatments that currently exist, many are derived from synthetic cannabinoids as opposed to phytocannabinoids from cannabis.

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10. THC ISN’T FOR EVERYONE

While many people think of it simply as the compound in weed that “gets you high”, there’s a lot more to THC than its psychoactive effect. Unfortunately, the fact that THC produces that iconic high is a limitation in itself. Some people simply don’t enjoy the effects of THC, while others find it makes them paranoid or anxious.

Similarly, some conditions that have been historically treated/managed with THC, like glaucoma, require regular daily doses that would leave patients stoned for the majority of the day, which simply might not be viable for people with certain commitments. For this reason, and many others, CBD has emerged as the chief cannabinoid with medicinal potential. Its non-intoxicating nature and widespread availability make it a more viable candidate for study and prescription.

THE POTENTIAL, AND LIMITATIONS, OF MEDICAL CANNABIS

As we saw in this post, there are lots of reasons to get excited about the medicinal promise of cannabis and its constituents. Unfortunately, there are still some setbacks to unlocking this ancient plant’s medicinal value. As our knowledge grows, we will hopefully find new ways to use and manipulate cannabis to benefit the body and mind.

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Royal Queen Seeds does not condone, advocate or promote licit or illicit drug use. Royal Queen Seeds Cannot be held responsible for material from references on our pages or on pages to which we provide links, which condone, advocate or promote licit or illicit drug use or illegal activities. Please consult your Doctor/Health care Practitioner before using any products/methods listed, referenced or linked to on this website.

External Resources:
  1. The 10,000-year World History of Hemp and Cannabis https://www.advancedholistichealth.org
  2. History of cannabis as a medicine: a review https://www.scielo.br
  3. Understanding acute and chronic inflammation - Harvard Health https://www.health.harvard.edu
  4. Cannabinoids as Novel Anti-Inflammatory Drugs - PubMed https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  5. The endocannabinoid system: an emerging key player in inflammation - Search Results - PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  6. Anti-inflammatory Role of Cannabidiol and O-1602 in Cerulein-Induced Acute Pancreatitis in Mice - PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  7. Cannabidiol Reduces Intestinal Inflammation Through the Control of Neuroimmune Axis - PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  8. Cannabidiol Reduces Aβ-induced Neuroinflammation and Promotes Hippocampal Neurogenesis Through PPARγ Involvement - PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  9. PTSD Facts and Statistics | The Recovery Village https://www.therecoveryvillage.com
  10. Elevated brain cannabinoid CB 1 receptor availability in post-traumatic stress disorder: a positron emission tomography study | Molecular Psychiatry https://www.nature.com
  11. Reductions in circulating endocannabinoid levels in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder following exposure to the world trade center attacks - ScienceDirect https://www.sciencedirect.com
  12. Endocannabinoid System: the Direct and Indirect Involvement in the Memory and Learning Processes—a Short Review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  13. The endocannabinoid system in anxiety, fear memory and habituation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  14. SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research https://journals.sagepub.com
  15. Cannabidiol: A New Hope for Patients With Dravet or Lennox-Gastaut Syndromes - PubMed https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  16. Cannabis Therapeutics and the Future of Neurology https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  17. Cannabidiol, a Non-Psychotropic Component of Cannabis, Attenuates Vomiting and Nausea-Like Behaviour via Indirect Agonism of 5-HT(1A) Somatodendritic Autoreceptors in the Dorsal Raphe Nucleus - PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  18. Cannabidiol enhances anandamide signaling and alleviates psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  19. Role of Endocannabinoid Signaling in Anxiety and Depression https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
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