The Benefits of Cannabis
April 26th, 2013
Categories : Blog
If you’re a marijuana smoker, you know how annoying it can be when a girl or guy starts to scold you for your smoking habit in the middle of a conversation. Or when an Above the Influence commercial showing how “deadly” weed is cuts into your favorite show. Or when every single person you meet seems to be, as a whole, completely misinformed about the effects of THC.
Of all the progress the US & North America has made in democracy, it still lacks free & open clinical experimentation of marijuana. Nations throughout the world and throughout history have used the plant for medicinal and religious purposes, and the west would do well to follow in their footsteps and allow more open exploration of the plant’s true effects and uses.
Data on marijuana and its physiological and mental effects can be found, though its scarcer than researchers would like. Several scientific journals, books, and publications go into a broad range of topics on the plant’s effects, such as physiological effects on the lungs, the brain and immune system, sexual organs and hormones, etc. as well as psychological effects like its addictive properties and its effect on emotions and personality.
Current evidence is not enough to make hard conclusions about the uses and disuses of marijuana, and that is the sole reason why more research should be encouraged. However, data generally shows a trend of relatively harmless effects, indicating a higher potential of danger in mental health and in people with predispositions, but an overall non-health-impacting drug.
Some frequently asked questions about cannabis and its potential uses are below.
Marijuana Health: Fact & Fiction
A well-known fact among smokers: no death of any person, at any time, has ever been supportively documented as being caused by overdose of marijuana or THC. In fact, the estimated lethal dose of marijuana is estimated to be at about forty thousand times the average amount smoked, and one would have to smoke tens to hundreds of pounds of marijuana in a period of minutes in order to risk death. Alcohol, a drug that is legal globally, has a LD (lethal dose) ratio of about 5 or 10 to 1. This means a drinker who got drunk off of 3 to 4 shots could potentially die after drinking 15 to 20 shots. Annually, five thousand people lose their life to over drinking. Marijuana remains one of the few “drugs” to have its death rate still at 0.
Cannabis affects the brain when its active chemical, THC, binds to receptors in the brain. No scientific studies or evidence whatsoever indicate that this chemical damages or even affects brain development (though plenty of arguments have been made against the smoke, which can be filtered or avoided by other ingestion methods). Marijuana does NOT kill brain cells like THC, contrary to common belief. Studies actually involving smoked joints, at times being prescribed at 18 per patient or subject, resulted in evidence that attests to this.
After the American Medical Association reviewed two especially well written publications of studies done by JAMA on the medical effects of cannabis, they began to publicly advocate for the decriminalization of the plant.
Taking marijuana can in fact alter your short term memory, while the marijuana is active. Things that happen to a person after heavily smoking may be hazy in memory afterwards. Permanent effects or damage to short or long term memory have not been conclusively shown in any clinical studies. However, numerous cannabis users often report experiencing memory effects over a year after quitting.
After someone smokes or takes marijuana, THC binds to receptors on the central nervous system (CNS), and the CNS in turn can affect the person’s heart rate and blood pressure temporarily. However, this is never permanent, and several clinical trials have come up with conclusive evidence showing THC having little to no long term effect on the heart. Marijuana smoke, however, especially when not filtered, can agitate preexisting conditions and put a lot of overall stress on your heart and circulatory system. Coronary atherosclerosis, hypertension, cerebrovascular disease, and even cardiomyopathy can be accelerated and complicated by the carbon monoxide and other chemicals in marijuana smoke. Though it is known that THC only temporarily increases blood pressure, the effects of marijuana smoke are not as simple and aren’t fully known.
A common myth that marijuana smoking shrinks the size of your testicles has been scientifically proven false again and again. Though alcohol has been shown to lower levels of testosterone in the blood, marijuana does not, and hasn’t been shown to alter any other sex hormones as of yet.
The Reproductive System
THC doesn’t increase the chance of mutation or chromosome breakage, though several components of marijuana smoke are carcinogenic. Myths that THC affects disrupts women’s cycles or fertility in both genders have been busted. Clinical studies as well as experiments done with in the population with regular smokers have never shown THC to affect the reproduction system of the body in any harmful or permanent ways.
The Immune System
THC and marijuana are medically defined as immunosuppressants, though they are extremely mild in that sense. Abnormally large “bursts” of THC forced into mice during clinical trials have shown a dampening effect on immune system related functions in the liver, including the deactivation of certain cells & mechanisms (e.g. macrophages) related to protection against bacterial infection. The CB2 receptor is conjectured to play the leading role in THC’s effect on the immune system.
These effects are temporary. However, scientists have looked at the possibility of THC or its metabolites remaining in the body and parts of the lungs for seven months after chronic smoking. These remaining particles have little psychoactive affect but can still slightly alter the immune system’s functioning, particularly in the lungs.
While these facts may sound scary, there is still ongoing debate on whether THC legitimately causes any harm to the immune system. In mice, THC can cause noticeable immunosuppression, but in humans, it may cause little to no harmful effects at all. On the other hand, a few clinical trials have come up with evidence saying that THC actually has the opposite effect on the immune system, stimulating it. So the facts are not clear, and the horror stories of THC wiping out immune systems are far from truth.
The Risk of Cancer
THC does not increase any likelihood of mutation or cancerous genetics. Many studies recently have been aimed at the chemical and its analogues’ potential ability to treat and even reverse cancer. However, the several carcinogens, including carbon monoxide, in the smoke that is burned off of marijuana can bring stress to the throat and lungs. In cases it can cause bronchitis, and in rarer cases lung or throat cancer. This goes for smoking anything with carbon in it, not just marijuana.
The Gateway Drug?
The idea that marijuana leads its users into harder and more dangerous drugs when they wouldn’t have tried them otherwise was first introduced in a smear campaign against the plant in the early history of the US (think Harry Anslinger). Studies in the Netherlands have given evidence against the claim, referencing the decriminalization of cannabis in the 1970s that was followed by a sharp decline in harder drug use.
The gateway claim, also known as “stepping stones,” doesn’t account for the fact that marijuana is in a different class of psychoactive drugs than substances like cocaine, heroin, and meth, and ignores many smokers who choose cannabis as an alternative to those substances, as opposed to a path leading to them.
Ironically, especially in US states like Arizona and Nevada where conservative laws strike down hard on marijuana, the legal repercussions of smoking itself are what bring marijuana into the same class of hard, dangerous drugs. A charge of sale of heroin can be only a small step above sale of cannabis.
Because marijuana literally undergoes a chemical reaction when it is burned, chemically broken down, and turned into vapor and smoke, some chemicals in its smoke are carcinogenic, and others can be physically harmful to the lungs and throat. Smokers and health groups have recently been putting their heads together in an attempt to create a smoking apparatus that allows the user to inhale pure THC in vapor form. No product has emerged yet, so the vaporizer remains the closest thing in existence as of now, but the concept is progressing fast.
Marijuana has been observed treating symptoms in several medical conditions such as MS, spasticity, and epilepsy. Many municipalities allow prescription of medical marijuana for diagnoses of these conditions and others.
In addition, marijuana is confirmed to be an excellent fighter of nausea. It has been prescribed to patients who have undergone chemotherapy to combat the nausea it causes.
THC is well-known for stimulating the appetite, and anorexic as well as AIDS patients are helped tremendously by several smokes per day of marijuana.
Marijuana’s limits are not yet known; as of now, the potential of its uses continues to grow and grow. Even today, more and more glaucoma patients are getting prescribed medical cannabis in the US, the Netherlands, and around the world, especially as more dispensaries crop up. THC lowers the blood pressure in the arteries in and around the eyes, making it a natural alternative to other glaucoma treatments. (Dosage needs to be taken seriously here; a significant drop in blood pressure in a glaucoma patient can damage the optic nerve by lack of oxygen.)
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