Cannabis research has come a long way recently — and it’s finally starting to prove how effective a medicine the plant can truly be
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We may pretend like cannabis is all fun and games around here — and to be fair, for us, it is. But the reality is that the plant is a lot more than just a miracle fix for social anxiety or lame parties; it’s also a very potent and effective medicine. Many devoted cannabis users have attested to this over the last several decades, but there hasn’t been much in the way of research to prove it.
Well, until now, that is.
Thanks to looser research restrictions, scientists and researchers have finally been making some serious headway in proving that the plant can be used as a safe, effective medicine for all sorts of ailments. But what exactly are they researching — and what have they found while taking a deep dive into cannabis as medicine? Well, the short answer is: a lot of things.
If you’re curious as to how cannabis is finally getting the medical recognition it deserves, check out some some of the recent research into the plant, outlined below. It’s about time that the cannabis plant got its fair shake with serious research — and we can’t wait to see what else is uncovered as time goes on.
Does research prove that cannabis is the safe, effective sleep aid you’ve been dreaming of?
Sleep disorders are a common health issue that may negatively impact other physical and mental health conditions. According to the American Sleep Association, 50-70 million adults in the U.S. suffer from a sleep disorder. The most common sleep disorder is insomnia with chronic insomnia affecting 10% of adults and short-term issues reported by about 30% of adults.
The long-term effect of sleep loss can cause a wide variety of health issues including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke. Sleep disorders can severely impact learning and memory functions, and left untreated can produce visual and auditory hallucinations, even triggering mania in people with manic depression.
According to the American Thoracic Society, sleep disorders are even more common among older Americans, afflicting from 30 to 80 percent of the elderly. Studies published in the Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine suggest that sleep disorders may contribute to amyloid deposits in the brain, the plaque-building peptides associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Research shows that untreated sleep disorders in the elderly may accelerate cognitive decline, increasing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Proper sleep is necessary to allow neurons in the brain to rejuvenate. Lack of adequate sleep affects mood, focus, muscle function, and the ability to recall information. In the workplace, these issues may result in relatively minor problems, such as clerical errors, to severe and major accidents. A 2017 report commissioned by Harvard University estimated
that in 2015 the direct cost of sleep deficiency in the U.S. was over $410 billion, equal to 2.28 percent of the gross domestic product.
The medical community has traditionally treated sleep disorders with a combination of medication and the modification of habits. Limiting the intake of caffeine and alcohol along with a proper diet can help to alleviate symptoms in some patients. Physicians often prescribe dietary supplements and prescription sleep aids to help patients receive adequate sleep. While prescription sleep aids are effective at inducing sleep they often have significant undesirable side effects, which can add additional health burdens and may cause tolerance and dependency.
Research and anecdotal evidence suggests that certain strains of cannabis may be useful as sleep aids. Cannabidiol(CBD) has been shown to reduce anxiety levels effectively, while tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) relaxes patients and induces sleep. Statistical evidence shows that when ingested, marijuana strains with the proper ratio of CBD and THC provide significant improvements in patients who have insomnia and other sleep disorders.
According to a 2008 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology, marijuana strains with high levels of THC reduce the amount of REM sleep in individuals. Less REM sleep means fewer dreams, which can reduce or eliminate nightmares, especially beneficial for patients who have PTSD.
Less time in the REM stage enables patients with sleep disorders to spend more time in
a “deep sleep” phase which is believed to be the most restorative, therapeutic, and restful part of the sleep cycle.
A 2018 peer-reviewed study published by the Molecular Diversity Preservation International and Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) found that marijuana reduced sleep disorder symptoms by as much as 4.5 points on a scale of one to ten. This study also found that the method of ingestion was a factor in the effectiveness of marijuana as a sleep aid, with the highest levels of relief achieved by using a vaporizer followed by smoking from a pipe. Their study also suggested that after controlling for other characteristics of the strain consumed, higher levels of CBD combined with high THC content provided the most significant levels of relief.
Anecdotal evidence concerning the effectiveness of cannabis as a sleep aid has been available for years and recent scientific evidence shows that marijuana offers a safe, effective alternative to prescription medications for the treatment of sleep disorders. The recent changes in the public perception of the plant and
its therapeutic benefits have caused the legal and medical communities to rethink the plant’s prohibition. As the legal status of cannabis continues to change, allowing more research and scientific studies to take place, scientific data will undoubtedly continue to support the anecdotal evidence.
Research on cannabis as a treatment option for epilepsy
Epilepsy is a neurological disease that affects nearly 65 million people globally. In the United States, about 3.4 million people, or 1.2% of the population, are currently diagnosed with epilepsy. While epilepsy is more common than many other neurological diseases, it is widely misunderstood, and for nearly half of those with the condition, the cause is unknown.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by repeated, unprovoked seizures caused by a disturbance to nerve activity in the brain. Everyone’s brain transmits messages through electrical pulses to their body to tell the body what to do. Epileptic seizures happen due to a disruption or interference to the electrical activity, causing the movement, behavior, level of awareness, and feelings of a person to change. The disease and the seizures it causes can vary significantly among people.
The condition is typically diagnosed by a medical specialist after two unprovoked seizures, but not all people that suffer from seizures are diagnosed and uncontrolled seizures when recommended by a qualified physician.
The cannabis plants, both marijuana and hemp, contain over a hundred chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. The two most well-known and well-studied cannabinoids are also the most abundant, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly referred to as THC and cannabidiol or CBD.
THC is the psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis, while CBD is
a non-psychoactive compound. Both cannabinoids have been shown to have a variety of medical benefits. However, CBD is quickly emerging as one of the plant’s leading medicinal compounds, and preliminary evidence suggests that the cannabinoid can help control seizures.
The percentage of cannabinoid compounds varies between different cannabis strains. Research has found that controlling specific symptoms is dependent on the ratios of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids found in one particular strain.
THC and CBD can both be isolated into a pure form, but studies have found when it comes
to cannabis, there is a phenomenon known as the entourage effect. This effect suggests that a full spectrum product containing at least trace amounts of the full range of cannabinoids is more effective at treating symptoms than a pure isolate.
Many patients are wary of trying cannabis as a treatment because of the psychoactive effects of THC. Additionally, in some people, the compound has been shown to cause anxiety.
However, CBD is derived primarily from hemp, which has less than 0.3% THC by law. Therefore, CBD has none of the psychoactive effects of marijuana but has the same capacity to bind with receptors in the endocannabinoid system. CBD’s ability to regulate the endocannabinoid system without producing a high makes it the preferred cannabinoid for treating seizures.
While nearly everyone agrees that more research is needed, there is evidence that CBD can effectively treat drug-resistant types of epilepsy. A 2018 review of data collected from various clinical trials of CBD from 1978 to 2017 found that while the cannabinoid was not helpful for everyone, many patients saw improvements in their condition.
How does cannabis help relieve symptoms of epilepsy?
While research has yet to reveal precisely how CBD and THC helps prevent seizures, it is believed to be the result of the interaction of the chemical compounds with a system of neurotransmitters and receptors called the endocannabinoid system.
Researchers believe that the endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating nearly every body function, including appetite, pain, sleep, cell reproduction, immune system response, and even your level of consciousness, emotions, and dreams. Scientists have found that CBD modifies these bodily functions by binding with receptors found throughout the body as part of the endocannabinoid system. In addition, research has shown that CBD has positive effects on a broad spectrum of seizures based on animal model data.
Recent changes in Federal law have enabled the research of cannabis for therapeutic purposes to increase dramatically. As a result, the first FDA-approved, plant-based drug derived from cannabis hit the market in 2018. Epidiolex is a purified, pharmaceutical-grade CBD product approved as a treatment for two rare forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes.
There is increasing interest in researching and developing canna-bis-derived drugs to treat drug-resistant epilepsy with minimal side effects. Research into this area should be encouraged to decrease the symptoms associated with drug-resistant epilepsy.
Research shows how cannabis can help treat PTSD
Post Traumatic Syndrome (PTSD) is often associated with military veterans struggling to live normal lives after experiencing the horrors of warfare. And while some members of the armed forces have this potentially crippling disorder, many people are surprised to learn that most PTSD sufferers are not soldiers or sailors but everyday people. Also surprising is one of the most effective treatments for PTSD: Cannabis.
The medical profession has studied the use of cannabis to treat PTSD for quite some time. And since anyone can suffer from PTSD, which occurs as a result of experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, cannabis could be a viable and affordable option for many. After all, anyone can buy weed from an online dispensary or authorized seller.
PTSD symptoms can be overwhelming: mood changes, sleep disorders, nightmares, anxiety, flashbacks, and irritability are some of the most common. Researchers have studied the effectiveness of cannabis as a treatment for PTSD and found encouraging results.
A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment-funded study of 150 participants found those who used cannabis were 2.57 times more likely than the non-cannabis users to no longer medically qualify as having PTSD. Researchers seem optimistic that recreational and medical cannabis found in dispensaries may be a viable treatment for PTSD. However, they recommend that randomized place-bo-controlled trials should be done for safety and performance issues.
A Washington State University study looked at the effectiveness of the short and long-term effects of cannabis. Participants showed a more than 50% improvement of their symptoms shortly after the treatment. The study found cannabis can be effective in treating PTSD at least in the short term. It also revealed more PTSD sufferers are increasingly turning to cannabis on their own when traditional therapies and mainstream medications prove ineffective.
The study focused on delta-9-tetra-hydrocannibinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which are extracts of cannabis known as cannabinoids. THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid responsible for the “high” associated with recreational cannabis use. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that may weaken the effects of THC in certain people. Researchers suggest more studies need to be done on how the entire cannabis plant impacts PSTD symptoms, as most people use the whole plant.
A study done by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) found participants treated with THC had the greatest improvement of PTSD symptoms among three study groups. According to Dr. Marcel O. Bonn-Miller, Coordinating Principal Investigator and study lead author, this was “the first randomized placebo-controlled trial comparing the therapeutic potential of varying ratios of THC and CBD for treating symptoms of PTSD.” Dr. Bonn-Miller recommends larger trials to determine the effective minimal THC dose a PTSD sufferer would need without becoming addicted.
Many will continue to turn to cannabis to treat their PTSD symptoms– even if relief is only temporary. More studies will continue to be done in the USA, as well as other countries, as cannabis is found to be an effective and viable treatment for PTSD.