What is Cannabis?
Marijuana, weed, pot, herb. We all heard if it, but what is it? Cannabis is a natural plant that is grown throughout many tropical and humid parts of the world. Its use as a mind-altering drug has been documented by scientists in prehistoric societies throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia. In North America, Cannabis was cultivated to produce hemp for ropes, paper, and even clothing. The male Cannabis plant is referred to as hemp. The difference between the male and female plant is that the female produces marijuana buds. Once these buds are removed from the plant and dried out, they can be smoked or put through an extraction process to produce a concentrate.
How does Cannabis affect your body?
In the natural cannabis plant, there chemical ingredients called cannabinoids that allow the plant to affect the body’s internal endocannabinoid system. The body’s endocannabinoid system plays a role in regulating physiological and cognitive processes, which include fertility, prenatal and postnatal development. It also allows the pharmacological effects of cannabis to take place on appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory. Both the male and female marijuana plants produce cannabidiol, or CBD. But only the female plant produces tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
Both CBD and THC, and their effects on the body, have been researched thoroughly. Both CBD and THC have medical benefits, but the main difference is THC is psychoactive and CBD is non-psychoactive. This means that THC affects the mental state, producing a “high”.
Both CBD and THC have the following medicinal effects on the human body:
- inhibits and Kills cancer cell growth
- reduces muscle spasms
- increases appetite
- relieves pain
- bone growth stimulant
Cannabidiol, or CBD, has additional medical benefits than those listed above. These benefits include the following:
- aids with sleep
- reduces anxiety
- reduces nausea
- lowers blood pressure
- acts as an anticonvulsant
Types of cannabis
Just like there are different color roses, there are different types of marijuana, broken down into two main categories: indicas & sativas. The each produce their own unique type of effects on the body. The following are the typical reactions to these strains:
- Body effects
- Muscle relaxer
- Sleep aid
- Pain relief
- Appetite stimulant
- Best used at night
- Mind/head effects
- Rush of energy
- Increases creativity
- Increases happiness/euphoria
- Best used during the day
What conditions does cannabis treat?
What medical conditions or symptoms does marijuana help with? Here in Florida, the Department of Health (DOH) regulates the cannabis industry. The DOH processes and approves potential medical cannabis users’ applications; they also set regulations in place for marijuana cultivators and dispensaries, to ensure the cannabis is grown and sold in a clean and legal manner. The following conditions have been approved by the Department of Health as indications for legal cannabis use in Florida:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Crohn’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Chronic nonmalignant pain
- Parkinson’s disease
Marijuana provides benefits to cancer patients in many ways tremendous ways. Firstly, it helps reduce the nausea from chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is vital in treating cancer in many patients, but the side effects are often horrible. Nausea and vomiting are very common among chemotherapy patients, but marijuana can help reduce the nauseas effect. Marijuana also acts as a pain reliever. Typical chemotherapy treatments are very painful, and studies have shown that consuming cannabis is helpful in the treatment of neuropathic pain, causing the patient to take less pain medication. CBD, one of the main cannabinoids in marijuana, have been shown to slow the growth and even cause death to cancer cells. While current studies have shown that cannabinoids can be safe in treating cancer, they do not show that they cure the disease. Relying on marijuana alone as treatment while avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.
Patients that suffer from epilepsy suffer from a wide range of seizures, sometimes many times a day. Evidence from laboratory studies suggest that cannabidiol, or CBD, the non-psychoactive agent in marijuana is helpful in controlling seizures, especially in patients with severe epileptic conditions. CBD works by targeting different neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for sending messages throughout the body. This alters the activity of the cells by switching how the ions flow in and out of the neurons and controlling the rate. This reduces the frequency of seizures. Studies have shown that patients with severe types of epilepsy such as Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS) and Dravet Syndrome in children benefit greatly from using CBD. Gold standard studies (double-blind, placebo-controlled) have indicated 89% of patients with epilepsy taking CBD see approximately a 54% reduction in seizures. Just by consuming CBD, the non-psychoactive compound of cannabis, patients can cut their seizures in half. Nearly 30% of epileptic patients have become resistant to traditional anticonvulsant medications, making the use of CBD more relevant and important.
Glaucoma is an eye condition, in which the optic nerve becomes damaged over time. This reduces the patient’s side vision and sometimes leads to partial to full blindness.
Glaucoma is an eye condition in which the optic nerve becomes damaged over time, reducing side vision. The damage to the optic nerve is either caused from higher than normal pressure within the eye, or reduced blood flow to the optic nerve. In both cases, the optic nerve becomes damaged, causing an array of symptoms. Evidence has shown that consuming marijuana lowers blood pressure systemically, by expanding the vascular system. This means the arteries and veins carrying blood throughout the body gets larger in diameter, causing less pressure with the same amount of blood flow. When someone consumes marijuana, their eyes get red. This is due to the expansion of the capillaries in the eyes, which promotes more blood flow with less pressure to the optic nerve. By intaking cannabis, you can stop the further progression of damage to the eyes from glaucoma.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is a disease that compromises a person’s immune system by killing the protective white blood cells. As the patient’s immune system shuts down, other harmful infections thrive. These infections can be as a mild as a common cold, and as severe as meningitis. HIV advances to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, once the patient has a low T cell count (white blood cells) and appearance of additional infections.
Patients with HIV/AIDS suffer from pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, chronic fatigue, and emotional decline. Most of these symptoms are side effects from traditional antiretroviral treatment. Just like in other conditions, cannabis helps patients by reducing nausea and helps alleviate pain. Cannabis use can also stimulate the appetite, causing these patients to restore their weight. Another aspect that marijuana helps with is the mental health side of this disease. Often, patients with HIV/AIDS suffer from anxiety and/or depression, due to the heavy toll of physical and emotional discomfort. Consuming marijuana helps to relieve stress, by giving the patient a euphoric effect. Currently, there are studies being conducted on another natural cannabinoid in marijuana called Denbinobin. This compound has been shown to inhibit the progression of HIV by slowing the replication of the virus, although further research has to be conducted.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the baseball legend. ALS is a degenerative neurological disorder that causes muscle weakness and paralysis of the limbs, but also affects vital functions like speech and breathing. It is often the deterioration of these crucial muscles that leads to respiratory failure. The average life expectancy of a patient with ALS is between two and five years. Stephen Hawking, one of the most iconic figures with ALS, just passed away; He lived with ALS for over 30 years.
Cannabis has been suggested to help patients suffering from ALS for its benefits. Marijuana helps with pain management and even acts as a muscle relaxant for patients with painful spasticity. The euphoric effect from cannabis helps alleviate depression symptoms, and marijuana can stimulate an appetite, causing weight restoration. For ALS patients with oral drooling, marijuana also causes dry mouth, which can help regulate the amount of drooling.
Lastly, marijuana acts as a bronchodilator, which expands the lungs and its pathways, making it easier to breath for patients with difficulty breathing.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety condition caused by a traumatic experience, such as military combat or sexual assault. In PTSD, there are three classes of symptoms: re-experiencing (flashbacks), avoidance (social isolation), and hyperarousal (insomnia). Research has shown that people suffering from PTSD have an endocannabinoid deficiency. The theory is that cannabinoids from marijuana can replace this decrease, thus filling the emptiness. Many medications currently on the market to treat PTSD offer temporary relief at best and come with an array of side effects. Cannabidiol, or CBD, has antipsychotic benefits that can help PTSD patients inhibit their learned fears. Patients that consume CBD have a decrease in the expression of fear. The cannabinoids in marijuana can also act as a sleeping aid, which many patients benefit from due to nightmares and flashbacks of their traumatic experiences.
Crohn’s Disease is defined as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), that affects the body by causing inflammation in the digestive tract. Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, and severe fatigue. Research shows that the disease is caused by the immune system attacking good bacteria in the gut, which makes it inflamed and painful. People that suffer from Crohn’s disease have lower than normal endocannabinoid levels, and consuming cannabis provides the body with cannabinoids to reduce the gastrointestinal inflammation. Studies have shown that approximately 90% of Crohn’s patients consuming cannabis with THC and CBD experienced less severe and lesser symptoms than before, and 45% of these patients went into complete remission from their condition.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) involves an immune-mediated process, which the body’s immune system targets the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. The immune system causes inflammation that damages the myelin – the substance that surrounds and insulates nerve fibers. When these fibers get damaged or destroyed, messages within the CNS are altered or stopped completely. This is why patients with MS often have difficulty with physical performances, such as walking. The messages sent from the brain to perform are interrupted or aren’t sent. These damaged fibers develop scar tissue, or sclerosis. This is where the disease gets its name: multiple sclerosis (multiple scar tissue areas). MS is believed to be a genetic disorder. Multiple sclerosis patients often suffer from painful muscle spasms. These spasms also affect the urinary bladder, manifesting as constant urges to urinate. Since cannabis produces a muscle relaxant affect, MS patients benefit greatly from cannabis. Marijuana can help calm these spasms, giving the patient more control over his/her arms and legs, while also giving the bladder relief. And by managing these painful spasms, the patient gets more relief from not being in pain from the damaged or destroyed nerve fibers.
Chronic Nonmalignant Pain
Chronic nonmalignant pain is defined as physical pain lasting 3 months or more, or as physical pain lasting beyond the time of expected healing. It can be caused from a trauma, such as a back injury, or a disease, such as fibromyalgia and chronic migraines. Conditions commonly associated with chronic nonmalignant pain include spine disease and injuries, headache disorders, fibromyalgia, neuropathies, and arthritis. The pain experienced from chronic nonmalignant pain typically impairs the function that encompasses nearly all activities, which means that the pain keeps you from doing daily tasks.
Neuropathy is defined as damage to the sensory, motor or autonomic nerves, producing weakness, numbness, and painful sensations throughout the body. Causes of neuropathy include traumatic injuries, infections, toxic exposure, diabetes and genetic predispositions. When nerve fibers are damaged, dysfunctional, or injured, they can send incorrect signals to other pain centers. Pain is complex and entirely subjective. It can’t be measured, it’s hard to describe and is unique to each individual.That’s why there are a wide variety of treatment options. Typical treatment for pain management include prescription opiate use. Many patients taking opiates complain of constipation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and addiction, which makes it difficult for doctors to properly dose. Over time, opiates take a toll on the patient’s liver and kidneys function.
In recent years, cannabis has been shown to provide relief to patients that are unresponsive to other forms of treatment. Peripheral nerves that detect painful sensations contain cannabinoid receptors and are therefore impacted by any form of cannabis consumption. When THC and CBD enter your body, they activate your cannabinoid receptors that regulate neurotransmitters and the central nervous system, helping to manage pain levels. Many studies have been conducted on the beneficial effects from consuming cannabis on patients with chronic and neuropathic pain. Although the patients’ pain was in different locations and different qualities of pain, these patients’ painful symptoms were greatly managed.
One studied concluded that inhaling 25mg of 9.4% THC cannabis three times a day reduced the intensity of pain, improved the quality of sleep, and improved the length of sleep. In another study, research suggested that vaporizing cannabis, even at low doses (1.29% THC), may present an effective option for patients with treatment-resistant neuropathic pain.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects dopamine-producing receptors in the brain. Patients with Parkinson’s disease typically develop symptoms slowly over time. These symptoms usually include muscle tremors, bradykinesia (slow movements), dyskinesia (impaired voluntary movement), muscle rigidity, sleep disorders, and cognitive impairment. The disease progresses through five stages, the first having mild symptoms and the fifth having severe debilitation. Currently, there is no cure for this disease, but treatments plans exist, which include drug therapy and surgery. In more recent years, studies have been conducted on cannabis use for Parkinson’s disease. These studies have shown positive results from the use of cannabis. One study of 85 severely debilitated patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease, showed a 31% reduction in muscle tremors, 45% improvement in bradykinesia, and 38% decrease in muscle rigidity. Additionally, the patients that continued their cannabis for another three months reported significantly more alleviation of their Parkinson’s disease symptoms. This makes the use of cannabis extremely relevant, as it shows its positive results on Parkinson’s disease symptoms.