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(Medical) Benefits of Cannabis
4 min

The (Medical) Benefits of Cannabis

4 min
Effects News

We've all heard of the medical benefits of cannabis—but how substantiated are they? We'll examine conditions like chronic pain, epilepsy and more.

Although cannabis remains illegal throughout most of the world, the recent surge in legalization has allowed for a renaissance of research on the medical benefits of cannabis, and the results are promising. There now exist over 26,000 published scientific papers exploring cannabis and cannabinoids, showing that cannabis can be an effective treatment for conditions ranging from chronic pain to insomnia.

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Even with the staggering amount of research that has already taken place, there’s much about cannabis we still don’t understand. Let’s take a look at some of the evidence for the medical benefits of cannabis, and see where the current state of research is at.

HELPS CONTROL CHRONIC PAIN

Cannabis Helps Control Chronic Pain

One of the most established uses of medical cannabis is for the treatment of chronic pain. Chronic pain is defined as pain that continues for more than six months. The level of pain can range from dull to excruciating, and takes a toll on not only the physical, but the emotional wellbeing of the sufferers.

Now for the good news: there’s ample evidence that medical cannabis is effective at helping with chronic pain. Multiple studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of cannabis for the treatment of pain, both in its acute (for example, pain from eating hot peppers) and chronic (for example, chronic nerve-based pain caused by HIV) forms. Cannabis can also help reduce tremors and muscle spasms, which are major aspects of pain management for many people.

One advantage of medical cannabis over traditional treatments for chronic pain (such as opioids) is that cannabis isn’t physically addictive. A 2016 study 1 found that in addition to reducing the pain levels of chronic sufferers, medical cannabis improved the users’ overall quality of life and drove down their opiate usage by over 40%. At a time when opiate addiction is considered an epidemic, these results are worth taking seriously.

DECREASE ANXIETY

Cannabis Decreases Anxiety

The relationship between cannabis and anxiety is complex. Cannabis has been known to induce anxiety in some cases, and users who are prone to anxiety would be wise to stay away from strains that are sativa-dominant or high in THC.

CBD, however, has been shown 2 to have anxiolytic properties. Specific terpenes have also been associated with the ability to reduce anxiety. THC can be complicated, and due to cannabis’ biphasic effects pattern, it’s likely that while it’s anxiolytic at low doses, it may be anxiogenic at high doses. Medical users looking to treat their anxiety should seek out strains with known anti-anxiety properties, starting out with low doses and working their way up.

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IMPROVE CREATIVITY

Cannabis Improves Creativity

As many artists are aware, cannabis can really get the creative juices flowing. Cannabis causes the brain to fire in different patterns than it does when sober, with some parts that are usually active subdued, and some parts that are rarely active firing excitedly. Many artists, entrepreneurs, and musicians have sung paeans to cannabis’ creativity boosting abilities; Bob Marley was quoted as saying, “Music and herb go together. It’s been a long time now I smoke herb. From the 1960s when I start singing". There are even specific strains that are celebrated for their creativity-boosting properties.

That being said, the research on this is mixed. One study 3 divided participants into three groups: one that received a high dose of cannabis, one that received a low dose, and one to act as the control. While the low dose group performed equally to the control group—with their performance being neither improved nor impaired—the high dose group experienced impaired creative abilities. More research is needed to gain a deeper understanding of whether cannabis really does improve creativity, or whether it only appears to.

HELPS WITH INSOMNIA

Cannabis Helps With Insomnia

The effects of cannabis on sleep are not well understood, mainly because sleep itself is not well understood. Weed is known to increase deep stage 3 sleep, but to decrease lighter REM sleep associated with dreaming. We don’t know enough about these processes to say whether this is good or bad, but it does seem to have negative effects for long-term, heavy users. This may be associated with the biphasic effects pattern of weed, where once again a small amount is beneficial, but larger doses can provide the opposite effect.

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That being said, there’s good evidence 4 that weed can help insomniacs experience relief. When it comes to fighting insomnia, strain choice is everything.

HELPS CONTROL EPILEPTIC SEIZURES

Cannabis Helps Control Epileptic Seizures

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects people of all ages, and causes sudden, intense bursts of energy inside of the brain. Epileptic seizures can cause loss of consciousness, convulsions, and sensory disturbances.

For a long time, there have been numerous anecdotal accounts of cannabis’ efficacy at treating epileptic seizures. Only more recently has this phenomenon been formally studied, and so far, the results are backing up the stories.

A 2010 study 5 published in the US National Library of Medicine showed that cannabis demonstrated anti-seizure properties when tested both in isolated tissue samples and live animals. Research 6 has also shown that the cannabinoid CBDV is an effective treatment for convulsions in mice and rats.

Finally, a 2013 meta-analysis 7 looking at a wide variety of studies concluded that cannabinoids and marijuana are potentially beneficial treatments for people suffering from neurological disorders like epilepsy. This is a potentially life-saving treatment for the millions of epilepsy sufferers globally.

REDUCE STRESS

Cannabis Reduces Stress

Many a pothead will light up after a long day to help unwind. But is cannabis truly effective at treating chronic stress? Research seems to support the idea that cannabis really can help manage chronic stress. This may be because cannabis can increase neurogenesis, a process closely linked with the ability to deal with stress. Once again, it seems that high doses may have the opposite effect of low doses, and that those looking to use cannabis to deal with stress should start on the lower end of the spectrum. In particular, you don’t want to blast off with a monster THC dose.

With stress relief, the entourage effect is particularly relevant, where strains high in a variety of cannabinoids and terpenes are more effective than the sum of their parts. Some strains seem especially well-suited to helping with stress.

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IMPROVES APPETITE

Cannabis Improves Appetite

A common side effect of cannabis reported by recreational users are “the munchies”, or a dramatically increased appetite. While they may just seem like a fun element of the recreational experience, they actually have serious medical applications, especially for cancer patients going through chemotherapy.

People being treated with chemo can suffer from nausea, vomiting, pain, loss of appetite, and other digestive issues. These side effects can cause additional health complications during a time when health is already fragile. Cannabis can help treat these side effects, making chemotherapy a more comfortable and less risky experience.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Cannabis

Despite the fact that cannabis remains illegal for medical purposes in the majority of countries, the research is overwhelmingly clear that cannabis does indeed hold medical benefit. In fact, though medical cannabis remains illegal in the United States on a federal level, even the US National Institutes of Health lists many medical benefits of cannabis.

As the movement for legalization gains momentum around the world, more and more research is being done on its vast benefits. And with that, more and more evidence is being generated that medical cannabis is, in fact, a safe and effective treatment for many conditions, especially when strain selection is taken into account.

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If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where medical marijuana is legal, you’re likely familiar with the abundance of cannabis strains out there.

As the evidence mounts, it’s only a matter of time before medical cannabis becomes available around the world. This is good news not only for cannabis enthusiasts, but for humanity as a whole.

Arielle

Written by: Arielle Friedman
Arielle is based out of Toronto, Canada and loves topics relating to the brain. When not writing she enjoys making art, learning about bioremediation, and trying to prevent the robot apocalypse.

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Disclaimer:
This article has been written for informational purposes only, and is based on research published by other externals sources


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