Pot, weed, grass, dope…20 years ago, the mere mention of marijuana conjured images of stoned hippies. But today the significant health benefits of marijuana are causing a world-wide re-evaluation of the role it can play in many conditions from pain management to alleviating anxiety. How much do you actually know about marijuana?
What is Cannabis?
Marijuana is the common name used for cannabis, a naturally occurring plant that contains the cannabinoid drug. There are numerous cannabinoids in the Cannabis sativa plant, but the two main ones used for medicinal purposes are Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). It’s THC that is responsible for the ‘high’ people feel when they inhale or consume marijuana.
What are the benefits of marijuana?
Marijuana has been used for its health benefits for thousands of years. The Chinese emperor Shen Nung was recorded as discovering the healing properties of marijuana in 2700 BC, while the Ancient Egyptians prescribed it for glaucoma, inflammation, and the cooling of the uterus. It was continually used for its medicinal properties until the early to mid-1900s when the use of marijuana was legislated and essentially outlawed.
It’s regulation in modern society has hindered research, but rapid legalization happening around the world is changing that, with many legitimate health benefits emerging.
Check out these 8 health benefits of medicinal marijuana everyone should be aware of…
Chronic pain management
Managing chronic pain is no fun for anyone. Both doctors and patients alike are searching for alternatives to addictive opioids and over-the-counter pain killers that cause other long-term issues. So, it’s no surprise that relief from chronic pain is the most common use of medicinal marijuana.
It is thought that the pain relief from marijuana is experienced through binding to cannabinoid receptors found in both your brain (CB1) and your immune cells (CB2). These receptors are also known to regulate sleep, mood, appetite, memory, and fertility but scientists are still trying to fully understand exact mechanisms.
In a book published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the authors conclude there is substantial scientific evidence that cannabis (marijuana) is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults. They cite a large systematic review assessing 28 studies of cannabis use for chronic pain, finding a 30% reduction in pain compared to placebo.
If sleep seems like a mystical thing that only other people seem to experience, then you’ll be excited to learn that marijuana has also been studied for its sleep enhancing effects.
Many of the studies researching medicinal cannabis for other conditions (chronic pain and Multiple Sclerosis) also evaluated sleep. In 19 placebo-controlled studies, cannabinoids were associated with a greater average improvement in sleep quality and sleep disturbance.
The inflammatory response is your body’s protective mechanism, but prolonged inflammation can start to cause issues like back pain, arthritis, headaches, bowel disorders and even Alzheimer’s. The good news is one of the benefits of marijuana is its natural anti-inflammatory properties.
Animal studies have shown that cannabis can affect inflammatory response through multiple pathways, suggesting a synergistic effect of activation, suppression, and regulation of immune cells.
While more research is needed, Scientists suggest that because the high number of cannabinoid receptors found in the gut are associated with inflammation in inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) , cannabis could offer therapeutic relief.
We all know someone who has been impacted by cancer, so there is always an interest in new ways to fight it.
Cannabinoid receptors have been found in higher numbers in tumour cells compared to healthy cells, leading scientists to believe that cannabis could help with fighting cancer.
While there have been extremely positive anti-tumour effects shown in animal studies research into the use of cannabis for treatment of cancer in humans is still needed.
Anxiety is a healthy response to stress and can keep us alert in dangerous situations.
But when the anxiety is out of proportion to the situation or impairs your ability to function normally then it’s an anxiety disorder.
One small trial (24 patients) looking at the use of cannabis for those with social anxiety disorder showed significant reduction in anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort when having to face a public speaking task compared to placebo. Other studies on chronic pain that also reported on anxiety noted greater short-term affects on anxiety than placebo.
While these findings are promising for anxiety sufferers, it comes with concern that there is also observational evidence to suggest that daily cannabis use is associated with increased anxiety symptoms and heavy use associated with social phobia disorder.
Helping neurological disorders
Epilepsy is a long-term brain disorder that results in seizures. It can effect anyone at any age and can be difficult to manage with traditional medications.
Research has found that CBD is an effective treatment for patients with particular types of epilepsy known as Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes. However, because CBD is often used in conjunction with other anti-epileptic drugs scientists believe further research is required to see it if it has its own anti-seizure properties or just improves other drugs.
A novel approach to depression
Endocannabinoids naturally occurring in the body that bind to the cannabinoid receptors play a role in regulating mood. Using animal models, some researchers observed that chronic stress reduced the production of endocannabinoids, leading to depression like behaviour. They suggested that the use of cannabis to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression.
While there is a long way to go before knowing whether this could be effective in humans, there is promising results in the use of cannabis in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Help manage weight
Even if you know very little about marijuana, it’s likely you’ve associated it with getting the ‘munchies’, so then, how could it possibly aid in weight loss? It’s thought that the THC component that increases appetite and alters mood is counteracted with the CBD part of cannabis.
There have been meta-analysis studies that link cannabis use to lower body mass index and obesity rates, despite an increased calorie intake. While this sounds like an exciting alternative to dieting, it’s important to note that the reason for this link is unknown.
Lower body weight associated with cannabis use could actually be more as a result of cannabis acting in other ways, such as reducing chronic pain therefore allowing more mobility, lowering stress and improving sleep – all conducive to healthier weight.
Risks and side effects of marijuana
The use of any drug, whether it be an herbal or synthetic version carries risks and potential side effects. Marijuana is no different!
You may experience mild hallucinations or altered perception of reality, blood shot eyes, dry mouth and increased appetite. Marijuana may also have both depressant-like effects where you feel calm and relaxed but have issues with coordination and concentration. Or stimulating effects where you feel hyperactive, increased heart rate and rapid breathing.
Marijuana affects everyone differently. You can even have a different experience on separate occasions or across your lifetime. That is why it’s important to understand the difference between recreational use and medicinal use of marijuana.
When recreational marijuana is used as medicine, you can’t be certain of how strong it is or the mix of chemicals in it, meaning one dose is never the same as another making it difficult to ‘manage’ use effectively.
The bottom line
It’s easy to see why marijuana is becoming a popular alternative to treating pain relief, sleep disorders, anxiety, inflammatory diseases, and neurological disorders that are hard to manage with traditional medications. The many health benefits of medicinal marijuana are slowly becoming more understood as research moves forward with the demand for natural health solutions. However, always consult your health professional before considering marijuana for medicinal purposes.
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