What are the therapeutic effects of cannabis?
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Research has shown that medical cannabis and CBD have therapeutic effects in many different systems in our bodies. Here is a brief overview of the areas in which cannabis has been identified to have medicinal applications. Beginning with the nervous system, cannabis has been shown to decrease three different types of pain, inflammatory, neuropathic, and cancer pain. It has been shown to decrease muscle spasticity, make pain bearable, is a neuroprotectant and useful in head trauma, stroke, and Alzheimer's disease for example. Cannabis also has anticonvulsant and anti-psychotic properties.
There are a wide range of functions that are affected by cannabis in our digestive system. It can increase appetite, decrease nausea and vomiting, decrease acid secretion in the stomach, and relax smooth muscle tissue, which then can decrease cramps and diarrhea.
Research on metabolic functioning shows that cannabinoids influence appetite and fat metabolism. There are bi-directional effects which show the ability of cannabis to increase weight and decrease weight when needed in a person. This is a good example of the homeostatic function of cannabis.
In our cardiovascular system we again see bi-directional effects of cannabis which can increase as well as decrease heart rate and blood pressure. Typical doses usually decrease blood pressure and increase heart rate. Therapeutic doses have been found to have a cardioprotective function, while high doses could be dangerous to a person.
With respect to eyes and ears, cannabis has been shown to decrease intra-occular eye pressure, which can help in the treatment of glaucoma patients. It can also protect the retina and optic nerve, and improve a person's night vision.
In our reproductive system, THC can decrease male fertility. Research on pregnant females is limited due to ethical constraints and potential reporting inaccuracies in confirming cannabis use. There was a study in Jamaica since the practice of pregnant mothers using a cannabis tonic is common during pregnancy and childbirth. The results described babies as having better stress resilience, improved sleep, and improved socialization by Age 3. Research has found that a small amount of THC is contained in the breast milk of mothers using cannabis, roughly 2% of the mother's dose. However, one must also keep in mind that a mother's breast milk normally contains endogenous cannabinoids such as anandamide and 2-AG.
With respect to the endocrine system, cannabis has been shown to help hormonal functioning, to decrease stress, and to increase erections in men. It increases the overall enjoyment of sex as well. Dose is important, small doses can stimulate, while too high of a dose can inhibit or sedate. In animal studies, researchers have found that females consistently show an increase in stimulation while males showed inconsistent results where they were sometimes stimulated and sometimes inhibited.
Cannabinoids also help with soft tissue and joints. Applications are being studied in the treatment of osteoporosis, treatment of multiple sclerosis, and symptoms of muscle spasms. Connective tissue also shows resistance to breakdown as a benefit of CBD. Cannabinoids have also been shown to speed the healing of bone fractures.
Respiratory system benefits include the opening of airways in the lungs, expectorant effects, and the drying of secretions. However, smoke from Cannabis can become an irritant in the lungs. The heat can also cause damage to lung surfaces, leading to inflammation and irritation in these areas. Despite heavy cannabis use, research shows that smokers do not have an increased risk of lung cancer. Rather they tend to have higher rates of respiratory symptoms such as coughing and increased phlegm production.
Our immune system also benefits in many ways from cannabinoids. The relationship between the cannabinoids in the immune system is very complex though. Some systems may become suppressed while others become stimulated. Overall there is an anti-inflammatory effect in our immune system which can benefit diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease. It is likely that the effectiveness is due to the Entourage effect of the terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids, rather than any isolated component. In addition, these compounds also possess antibacterial properties that are quite potent and are being researched on antibiotic-resistant infections such as MRSA.
Scientists have demonstrated in the laboratory that THC, and in some strains of cancer CBD, are capable of killing tumors and cancer cells. These effects are also noted to be very specific in targeting the cancer cells while avoiding the healthy cells. It has also been well established that cannabis can treat the symptoms of cancer as well as the side effects from the pharmacologic treatments of cancer.
Since we still do not have conclusive research on matching specific cannabinoids and strains to cancer types, the best advice for patients is to use both traditional therapies as well as medical cannabis. Patients benefit in two ways. First patients can tolerate higher levels of chemotherapy and radiation for longer periods of time while minimizing the side effects and recovery from these treatments. Second there may be therapeutic and cancer-killing benefits from the Cannabis itself. Either way the patient benefits!
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