The Science Behind Medical Cannabis
How Cannabis can Improve Your Everyday Wellness
How Cannabis may Alleviate Physical Ailments
How Cannabis may Treat Mental Ailments
Ways to Consume Cannabis
As more states make adult-use marijuana legal, and the stigma lessens, researchers are paying more attention to the medical benefits of cannabis. We’ve long known that cannabis is effective for treating a myriad of ailments, but we’re just now starting to scratch the surface of backing up anecdotal claims with scientific evidence.
This miraculous plant can play a large part in improving our mental and physical health. Cannabis has shown promise in treating and improving a number of common issues and ailments, many of which can be debilitating. From something as simple as a headache to something much more serious such as tremors from Parkinson’s disease, cannabis may have a role in alleviating the symptoms of ailments across the spectrum.
Of course, traditional pharmaceutical medicines are the typical treatment of choice for many medical issues. And while they may be effective, they aren’t without their side effects.
Research is emerging that shows cannabis could be an effective supplement to conventional medications or may even be effective enough to serve as a standalone option. Research around medical cannabis is still in its early stages, so there’s a lot we don’t know.
Read on to learn more about how medical cannabis works, ailments it could affect, and different ways you can enjoy cannabis.
Before we dive into all the medical issues that medical marijuana may be effective at treating, it's helpful to first understand how cannabis works its magic in the mind and body.
Cannabis contains dozens of cannabinoids, with the two most predominant and abundant being THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). These cannabinoids act similarly to the body's naturally-occurring endocannabinoids of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The brain and immune system produce endocannabinoids, which serve as messengers of the ECS and bind to receptors throughout the brain and nervous system, the most well-known of which are CB1 and CB2 receptors.
This system is tasked with maintaining homeostasis — or balance — in the body. Imbalance or deficiency in endocannabinoids can lead to the onset of any number of issues, including pain, inflammation, anxiety, and so forth.
Introducing cannabinoids from outside sources — such as cannabis — may help to bring balance back to the body by mimicking the activity of the endocannabinoids of the ECS. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are able to do this by either directly binding or indirectly interacting with the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
While both THC and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system to bring about a number of health benefits, their activity differs slightly. More specifically, THC binds directly with endocannabinoid receptors. It is this direct binding with CB1 receptors in the brain that gets people high and makes THC a psychoactive cannabinoid.
CBD, on the other hand, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that interacts with ECS receptors, but doesn't directly bind with them. That's why you get all of the positive benefits without actually getting high. Instead of triggering the receptors, like THC does, CBD modifies the receptors' capability of binding with cannabinoids.
CB1 receptors are most abundant in the brain, while CB2 receptors are more abundant outside of the nervous system and generally found in places such as the immune system.
So, what can THC, CBD, and cannabis as a whole do to improve your overall health and wellness? What specific ailments can cannabis help alleviate? Let’s explore the specific ways cannabis can improve your well-being.
Now that we’ve explored the science behind how cannabis impacts your brain and body, let’s take it a step further into the specifics. Here are five everyday ways cannabis can improve your overall well-being.
Do you have trouble getting enough sleep at night? If so, you’re not alone. Sleep is a crucial part of overall health, but unfortunately, as many as 50 to 70 million Americans experience symptoms of poor sleep.
A lack of quality sleep can make a person vulnerable to serious medical issues, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Many pharmaceutical sleep aids are often prescribed to help those with some form of sleep disorder get a proper night's sleep. But like many traditional medications, they can come with many side effects, including addiction.
Studies indicate that cannabis may be a natural alternative for insomnia and other sleep disorders, and may promote better sleep overall. CBD, in particular, may be effective at treating poor sleep and can help reduce the incidence of vivid nightmares that occur with REM sleep behavior disorder.
Everyone thinks about the munchies when they think of cannabis, and as it turns out, the urge for a post-cannabis snack is backed by science.
For seniors who find themselves lacking appetite, cannabis could be the key to avoiding malnutrition. Studies in this area, in particular, show promise when it comes to seniors who are fighting cancer. Chemotherapy is attributed to a slew of negative side effects, and a loss of appetite is one of them.
Cannabis may help to boost a cancer patient's appetite during treatment, helping to obtain the nutrition required to strengthen the body and maintain a healthier weight. It may also help treat nausea that comes with chemotherapy.
As you grow older, are you finding it harder to maintain your skin’s healthy glow? Acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis are all various issues that affect the appearance and health of the skin. While medications like retinol and salicylic acid are often prescribed to reduce redness and inflammation, they also leave the skin feeling very dry.
Instead, CBD oil may be applied as a topical to the skin to reduce inflammation and the production of sebum to alleviate blemishes and promote healthier, more hydrated skin.
If you’re like most adults, you probably find yourself dealing with a lot of stress. Instead of reaching for a beer or a glass of wine, have you considered your favorite cannabis product?
Unlike using potentially harmful substances to relax, cannabis may be a more natural, safer alternative. Studies have shown that those who use cannabis say that its most common positive benefits are relaxation and alleviation of stress.
Would you like to be more creative, either at work or just in general? Many people who use cannabis report that it helps to promote a more creative mind.
Turns out, studies also back up these claims, suggesting that cannabis fosters psychotomimetic symptoms, which could be associated with a connection of unrelated facets that are needed for creative thinking.
Studies are showing extreme promise for the ability of cannabis to treat physical ailments ranging from headaches to chronic conditions like pain, obesity and even heart disease. Here’s a round-up of physical problems that medical marijuana may be able to treat.
A common part of aging for many people is the onset of chronic pain. Several studies on cannabis and its effect on reducing chronic pain show the plant may be effective in alleviating the discomfort.
Many people who suffer from joint pain — whether from arthritis or muscular discomfort from injury or overuse — use cannabis topicals to successfully alleviate their symptoms.
In fact, many elite athletes — both active and retired — report that the use of cannabis topicals has helped them successfully manage their pain without having to resort to NSAIDs and opioids.
Plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabis may be effective at alleviating headaches and migraines. Because of this, scientists have spent more time researching the effects of medical marijuana and how it may reduce the frequency and severity of headaches and migraines.
While clinical trials aren't currently available that demonstrate how cannabis may alleviate migraine headaches, the potential effects of cannabinoids on serotonin levels in the central nervous system suggest that cannabis may be an effective alternative to traditional pain relievers.
Tense, stiff, spasming muscles can be painful and uncomfortable, often warranting some form of medication to bring about relief. There's evidence to suggest that cannabis may play an equally effective role in relaxing muscles and alleviating the tension.
Scientists have studied the link between medical marijuana and its effect on muscle spasms and tension, both in animals and humans. Results show that muscle spasms decrease and relaxation increases after using marijuana.
While it sounds contradictory, since smoking marijuana may be negatively associated with respiratory health, there is evidence to suggest that CBD may be able to modulate the inflammatory response in asthma.
How does it work? Cannabidiol does this by reducing fibrosis and airway inflammation in asthma, particularly as it relates to the allergic response that triggers asthma.
High blood pressure is a concern for many adults, and is often associated with poor cardiovascular health and the risk of heart disease.
While many people who suffer from high blood pressure take medications, CBD may be able to reduce blood pressure as well.
Studies have shown that using CBD can lower both resting blood pressure as well as blood pressure in response to stress.
Cannabis and THC is so closely associated with the munchies, as we talked about earlier in this piece. So how can it play a role in reducing the incidence of obesity? CBD, the other major cannabinoid, comes into play here.
Studies have shown that the CB1 receptors of the endocannabinoid system, which cannabis cannabinoids interact with, have a significant impact on the regulation of metabolism. Adipocyte CB1 receptors appear to be peripheral targets for impacting the metabolism.
Further, it's been shown that CBD may have the potential to turn white fat - which is associated with obesity - into brown fat cells, which are the harder-working fat cells that burn extra calories. This may explain how CBD may be effective at diminishing fatty tissue in the body and thereby counter obesity.
Libido and Sexual Frequency
Many marijuana users may have long claimed that cannabis can enhance sexual pleasure, but there may be scientific evidence to back up such bold claims.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, there appears to be a link between the use of cannabis and how often people have sex in both women and men, as well as across all demographics.
While such potential effects look promising, further studies are needed to give this claim more substance and reliability.
Infectivity of the Herpes Virus
Herpes is an infectious disease caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It can affect skin on the face, the genitalia, and anal region and is traditionally characterized by painful blisters, ulcers, and cold sores.
There is no cure for herpes right now. For those who live with the virus, medication exists to help minimize symptoms, and decrease pain and discomfort.
The herpes virus is highly contagious and is usually passed on through kissing or sex. Because herpes is a virus, it’s unable to survive for very long outside a host. That’s why it’s spread so easily through sex — intimate contact between people is usually required for it to be passed on.
But cannabis may be able to play a role in reducing the ability of the person carrying the herpes virus to infect others, thereby reducing the odds of it being spread. Some studies have found that THC may reduce the infectivity of the herpes simplex virus.
That said, further studies are needed to link cannabis with the potential to reduce the infectivity of herpes in a host, particularly with human clinical trials.
Excessive alcohol use can have disastrous effects on the liver, including the buildup of inflammation, scarring, and fats. In fact, alcoholic liver disease is the predominant cause of chronic liver disease, which can cause abdominal pain, swelling of the extremities, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and even death.
Clearly, the effects of alcohol abuse are detrimental to one's overall health. But what happens when you throw cannabis into the mix?
Drinking alcohol combined with using marijuana at the same time should have even worse effects, right? Not necessarily.
According to one study, researchers found that regular users of both alcohol and cannabis had a significantly lower risk of alcoholic liver disease compared to participants who did not use marijuana along with their alcohol use. Further, study participants who were the heaviest marijuana users seemed to benefit the most.
Alcohol's effect on the liver stems from its increase in fibrosis in the organ, which is toxic to liver cells and causes inflammation. This inevitably leads to scarring of the liver, which can eventually lead to cirrhosis.
Thanks to cannabis' anti-inflammatory properties, such inflammation of the liver cells may be slowed. Some research also suggests that cannabinoid receptors in the liver are possible targets for innovative treatment of liver disease. By activating these receptors with the presence of cannabinoids, inflammation can be countered and liver disease can be slowed.
As a common-sense note, please be careful when using cannabis, particularly in conjunction with alcohol, because the effects of both can be magnified.
And don’t start consuming cannabis to fix your liver just yet. Additional studies are needed to further back up the findings from these recent studies.
More than 100 million adults in the US live with diabetes or prediabetes, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Diabetes can lead to a number of serious ailments, including heart attack, kidney failure, blindness, limb amputation, and death.
There's no cure for the disease, but treatments to minimize symptoms and complications typically include weight maintenance, exercise, management of sugar intake, and medications.
When medications are not effective, insulin need to be taken.
But cannabis may be able to not only help treat diabetes, it may also actually play a role in preventing it. According to research, marijuana use may help to slash the risk of developing diabetes by more than half.
How and why can cannabis do this? The answer may lie in the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Marijuana use may help to stabilize blood sugar levels, which can have a ripple effect of lowering blood pressure, preventing nerve inflammation, and improving circulation.
While cannabis may show some promise in preventing or treating diabetes, larger-scale studies are needed to definitively associate the two.
Smoking has long been linked with heart disease, but there is surprising evidence to suggest that medical cannabis may be beneficial for those suffering from chronic heart failure.
One study discovered that patients with heart failure who used cannabis were less vulnerable to atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that can become worse as the condition progresses. The study's heart failure patients who used cannabis were also less likely to die from the disease compared to those who didn't use it.
Having said all that, healthcare practitioners are not necessarily advocating the use of marijuana for those who are battling heart failure, as the science is still in its infancy in this particular realm. This study is the first of its kind in terms of linking cannabis to treating heart failure. As such, we recommend heart patients should proceed with caution.
Some research has linked the use of cannabinoids from cannabis with the slowing down the growth of cancerous tumors. A growing body of evidence has shown that cannabis may be able to modulate important cell signaling pathways that are involved in cancer cell proliferation. Further, cannabinoids can interfere with metastasis in certain tumor types in lab animals.
While the stigma of cannabis as a “gateway drug” that’s highly addictive is still alive, a growing contingent argues that cannabis may actually help those addicted to more dangerous substances. For those addicted to alcohol, narcotics, and even tobacco, cannabis may be a less dangerous alternative.
This theory is based on "harm reduction," a strategy used to treat addiction that is considered a less disciplined alternative to abstinence with the goal of reducing the overall level of drug or alcohol use among those who have trouble stopping. In turn, the negative effects of their drug or alcohol use can also be diminished.
Because studies indicate that cannabis may be effective in treating chronic pain, the plant could become a viable alternative to highly addictive opioids.
Cannabis could be a fantastic supplement to improve your mental health. Research is pointing to the possibilities that marijuana, and CBD in particular, could be effective in treating everything from depression and anxiety to Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.
Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes involuntary tics and sounds. For those who live with Tourette syndrome, cannabis may help alleviate these public symptoms.
Current research shows that cannabis can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of these tics without causing significant adverse effects. Like many other conditions, more research is needed before cannabis can be called an effective treatment, but science shows promise.
Over 300 million people suffer from some form of depression across the globe. Depression can be incredibly debilitating as it brings on a constant feeling of overwhelming sadness and loss of interest. It can negatively impact how you feel, act, and think. Any number of emotional and physical issues can inevitably arise as a result.
In fact, this mood disorder is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Thankfully, there are several treatments available to help counter the effects of depression, including psychotherapy, counseling, and pharmaceutical medication. Severe depression often requires medication, particularly among those who may be more of a danger to themselves.
But what role can cannabis play in the treatment of depression?
As we shared previously, the endocannabinoid system plays a key role in many responses in the mind and body, including emotional responses as well as cognition function.
Studies suggest that when this system is dysregulated, its neuronal signaling could lead to mental health disorders like depression. As such, medications that influence endocannabinoid signaling may be effective in treating such neuropsychiatric disorders.
Cannabis has long been used for various therapeutic purposes, including alleviating neuropsychiatric symptoms like depression.
CBD, in particular, has been shown to possess antipsychotic properties and can reduce feelings of anxiety that are closely linked with major depression.
More specifically, cannabis with a high CBD concentration has been linked to much lower levels of psychotic symptoms. That said, cannabis strains with higher THC levels and lower levels of CBD may not be suitable for those experiencing depression.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Many people who go through a traumatic experience end up suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is characterized by nightmares, flashbacks, and severe anxiety.
Human and animal studies suggest that CBD might be beneficial in dealing with disorders that stem from responses to traumatic experiences. Like anxiety, studies show PTSD may be effectively treated using certain doses and strains of cannabis.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Cannabis is more commonly being seen as a viable natural alternative for many mental health conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Cannabis is known to alleviate anxiety, which is one of the predominant symptoms of OCD and a trigger of obsessive and compulsive behavior. By alleviating the underlying anxiety, patients with OCD may see an improvement in their symptoms.
Schizophrenia is one of the most difficult mental health conditions to treat. This brain disorder is characterized by several disruptive symptoms, including delusions, hallucinations, and trouble concentrating. While there's a plethora of medication that can be prescribed to reduce the severity of these symptoms, cannabis may be a natural alternative.
Increasing research suggests that cannabis may be able to effectively treat schizophrenia and may be used as a primary therapy for the disorder. Studies also show promise that the all-natural alternative may be more effective than traditional antipsychotic medications currently used to treat this illness.
Neurogenesis is the process whereby new neurons are developed in the brain. Your brain begins this process while you’re still in utero, and it continues in certain areas of the brain throughout life.
Research suggests that cannabis may play a role in continued neurogenesis throughout adulthood, keeping your brain healthy and active. More specifically, it has been shown that continued administration of CBD to rodents in animal studies increases proliferation of neural stem cells through CB1 receptors.
Brain Damage Following Stroke & Trauma
Strokes are one of the most debilitating brain injuries that can happen to adults. When the blood supply to the brain is suddenly interrupted or when bleeding into brain tissue occurs, the effects are often deadly. It’s the second most common cause of death across the globe.
Strokes can cause severe brain injury because without oxygen as a result of impaired blood flow, brain cells begin to die after only a few minutes of the onset of a stroke.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is another form of brain injury that occurs when a sudden physical trauma damages the brain, such as in contact sports, car accidents, or falls. Its pathophysiology is somewhat similar to strokes in that they both cause severe brain damage.
Some studies suggest that cannabinoid-based treatments may be effective at delaying and possibly even stopping neurodegeneration following a stroke or brain trauma by reducing inflammation, decreasing oxidative injury, and normalizing homeostasis. Some professional athletes - particularly those involved in contact sports where concussions are more prevalent - have touted the use of cannabinoids like CBD to minimize the symptoms associated with TBI.
As such, cannabinoids may be promising in the realm of neuroprotection to treat strokes and brain trauma. However, further human studies are required to solidify cannabis' role in protecting the brain injury from such traumas.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive brain disorder that hampers memory and debilitates cognitive function. There's no cure for the disease, but THC in cannabis may be able to slow its effects and progression.
THC has been shown to interact directly with Aβ peptides, which are heavily involved in Alzheimer's. By interacting with these peptides, THC may help to inhibit their aggregation.
In addition, low doses of THC may boost the function of mitochondria, which is important because they play a vital role in neuronal cell survival or death. Research has shown that mitochondrial dysfunction is key to Alzheimer's disease, and increasing mitochondrial function may help to slow down the symptoms associated with it.
Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes uncontrollable tremors. Certain drugs can be prescribed to slow the tremors, though there is no cure for the disease.
However, emerging evidence suggests that CBD may be a promising compound to treat movement disorders such as Parkinson's.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Multiple sclerosis affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves in the eyes and occurs when the immune system attacks myelin, a fatty material that surrounds and protects nerve fibers.
There's no cure for multiple sclerosis, but there is evidence to suggest that cannabis may be able to alleviate some of the symptoms that come with the disease.
More specifically, it has been suggested that medical marijuana may be able to reduce the symptoms of central pain from the disease. Further, patients who have used cannabis to alleviate their MS-related pain seem to tolerate it quite well with few adverse effects.
When you think about consuming cannabis, your first thought probably has to do with smoking, either as a joint, in a pipe, or with a bong. We’ve come a long way since those days. Today, there are tons of ways to consume cannabis that don’t require you to inhale.
In addition to smoking marijuana, the following are some other ways to consume it.
Similar to smoking marijuana, vaping entails inhaling the substance once it's been heated. However, the biggest difference between smoking flower and vaping cannabis concentrates is that the latter does not involve burning the actual bud.
Rather, the vaporizer heats the cannabis oil just enough to release the active ingredients into a vapor which is then inhaled using a device like a pen. There is no combustion involved, therefore there's no smoke.
Vaping is popular among many cannabis enthusiasts because it lets you feel the effects quickly. The compounds of cannabis are more bioavailable when vaping because they don't have to be metabolized by the liver after being consumed. As such, they reach the bloodstream faster and therefore provide quicker effects.
Pot brownies are the classic example of cannabis edibles and have been around for a long time. But these days, there are plenty of other cannabis-infused edibles that users can enjoy, including gummies, mints, candies, cookies, and even chewing gum.
Unlike vaping or smoking cannabis, the compounds in cannabis edibles will first have to pass through the liver when consumed orally. Since the cannabinoids must first be broken down before they can enter the bloodstream, they'll take longer to take effect, usually between a half hour to an hour or more.
That said, once the effects are felt, they last much longer than they would compared to smoking or vaping. If you’re new to edibles, start slowly. A common mistake many new users make is letting the delayed effect trick them into thinking they haven’t consumed enough.
Not only can you eat your cannabis, but you can drink it, too. Cannabis-infused drinks come in a ton of varieties, including:
Like the edibles we wrote about above, the THC or CBD within these beverages will first have to be metabolized by the liver, which means it will take more time before the effects of the cannabinoids are felt. But the effects will last for a few hours afterward.
That said, some manufacturers are using nanotechnology to emulsify the cannabinoids into minuscule particles that are easier to be absorbed into the bloodstream more efficiently compared to larger-sized particles. This increases the bioavailability of the cannabinoids and allows them to take effect in the body much faster.
Cannabis-infused tinctures are alcohol-based extracts that are often used in the world of medical marijuana, though they're also popular among recreational users, especially those who are new to cannabis.
Many users love tinctures because dosing is easy and precise, allowing them to get the exact amount of CBD or THC that they want or need.
The alcohol is used to extract cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant material, after which the cannabis used must be decarboxylated to keep all ingredients active — and the psychoactive effects intact. The resulting mix is what you’ll find in the bottle at your favorite dispensary.
Tinctures are used by applying the product under the tongue using a dropper. Because the active ingredients are absorbed through the mucous membranes in the mouth, the ingredients directly enter the bloodstream, delivering quick effects. Alternatively, they can also be added to drinks and food recipes.
Creams and ointments have become quite popular among cannabis users over the recent past.
They're especially useful for targeting specific areas on the body that are experiencing pain, whether it’s because of a degenerative disease like arthritis, an injury, recovery from surgery, or inflammation.
Cannabis topicals may also be useful for promoting healthier-looking skin. Studies suggest that cannabis may be effective at reducing the symptoms of certain skin conditions thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. It may also be effective at combating acne by minimizing the production of sebum and thereby reducing the incidence of clogged pores that can lead to blemishes.
Clearly, cannabis is much more than just a recreational substance. It has such compelling promise in the world of medicine with so many healing properties that have already been shown to be effective for everyday issues, pain relief, mental health, seizures and multiple other ailments.
While further clinical human studies are needed to further solidify the health benefits of marijuana, there are already plenty of people out there who have used cannabis products to successfully alleviate their ailments.