The Therapeutic Effects of Cannabis: Everything You Need to Know About Medical Marijuana
Breaking Down Medical Cannabis: How Does It Work?
All humans have naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors throughout the body, found in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. Referred to as the endocannabinoid (EC) system, these receptors are hugely important for the body to gage and maintain its health, connected to mood, appetite, pain and memory, and get activated by cannabinoids.
There are at least 113 cannabinoids found in cannabis plants, including THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD (Cannabidiol), and CBN (Cannabinol), which is why our brains and bodies react when we consume cannabis-derived or cannabis based products, be it by inhaling it (smoking), ingesting it or topically.
THC is the primary psychoactive compound (associated with the effects of feeling high), while CBD is a non-psychoactive compound. Both THC and CBD are attributed with positive recreational and medical properties. Other cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant have been shown to have some positive medicinal effects as well. In combination with each other, or consumed separately, research has shown that THC and CBD can be used as a powerful aid for overall health, as well as used to supplement other medical treatments.
How Do People Consume Medical Cannabis
The most common way for consumers (recreational users, regular users for medical purposes or patients undergoing certain treatments) to consume cannabis and cannabis-derived products is by smoking it. The flowers of the cannabis plant, sometimes referred to as bud, contain the highest concentration of THC and CBD (although there are traces of cannabinoids in other parts of the cannabis plant).
Aside from smoking the plant, THC and CBD can also be absorbed by cannabis edibles (from baking the cannabis plant and flowers into fat to best extract the cannabinoids, through a distillation process), cannabis pills, cannabis capsules or cannabis tablets, cannabis powder (powdered THC can be easily dissolved in water), as well as THC or CBD transdermal patches and topical cannabinoid creams (which allow cannabinoids to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream), and THC or CBD tinctures. Vaping has become a popular, modern way to consume medical cannabis in recent years for patients.
The Long History of Medical Cannabis
Part of Popular Medicines in Ancient Times
The history of medical cannabis spans thousands of years, going back to ancient times. The use of medicinal cannabis can be traced back to over 6,000 years, with evidence of THC found in medical cannabis leaves to have been found in ancient ashes. In China, the first recorded use of medical cannabis dates back to 2696-2737 BC, where it’s medicinal effects were written about in detail, putting the cannabis plant to use for treatment of malaria, constipation and pain. In Africa, Egypt, there are medical records dating 1550 BC indicating that the use of the cannabis plant was meant for medicinal purposes, helping treat a range of ailments including pain and fever. Over in the Mediterranean territory, in Roman Emperor times, the use of medical cannabis was documented to help treat ear pain. As early as the 8th century, Arabic countries have been using medical cannabis as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory and herb to treat epilepsy.
Medical Cannabis Heads West
Although proven to have been very popular at one point, especially in the UK (medical cannabis was prescribed to Queen Victoria for her menstrual pain and symptoms after childbirth), cannabis has a complicated history within the world of Western medicine. Not a native plant to Europe, cannabis was imported to England around the late 1800s after its discovery through India and vigorously medically tested (in often unethical manners). However revered its medical effects and benefits were (mostly attributed to CBD), it was the intoxicating effects of THC (what makes you high) that caused a stir, associating the cannabis plant to causing mental illness and drug addiction.
Marijuana was a widely used patent medicine in the United States in the 19th and 20th century, but was soon associated with racist propaganda, amongst other things. The use of cannabis, even medicinal cannabis, was then federally prohibited in the late 1930s, soon after declared as an illegal substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, part of Nixon’s “War on Drugs” era.
Since then, medical cannabis has come a long way, especially in terms of legal medicinal use, first in California as under the Compassionate Use Act which served to provide patients with health issues and chronic illnesses, especially those undergoing cancer treatments, access to use marijuana as a physician-supervised drug treatment to help relieve pain and other symptoms.
Today, thanks to medical advances, further studies and more accurate information made public around the cannabis plant. Medical cannabis has been seeing many breakthroughs worldwide in recent years. Countries, such as Canada, are trying to create balance in medical regulation, fair access for patients who need cannabis for medical purposes as well as for recreational users, while controlling potential abuse of cannabis.
CBD Gains More Respect Over THC
Unsurprisingly, it is CBD that has had more treatment in terms of legal allowances and within the medical and health industries. Compared to its drug-associated counterpart THC (preferred by recreational users for its effects of making you feel high), CBD is attributed to a wealth of medical benefits and therapeutic effects. As such, it is easier to gain access to CBD products as long as the THC levels of those products are below the limit issued by governments. Examples of THC limits in CBD products are:
0.03% or less in the United Kingdom and the United States
Below 0.2% in France and most European countries
1% or less in Switzerland
There are many CBD products now available on the market, used for medical treatments and also as general health supplements, thanks to the use of more advanced distillation techniques to extract pure CBD, using modernized genetics and cannabis strains that produce plants with very high levels of CBD and low levels of THC. From CBD oils to CBD flowers that boast CBD but little THC, there is now a variety of cannabis-derived CBD products on the market that are suited for every need and every preferred consumption method.
Therapeutic Effects of Medical Cannabis: Evidence Based and Reported by Patients
Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, but its medical effects have been a point of interest for scientific research in developing pharmaceutical solutions and treatments.
While research and clinical trials remain ongoing to better understand the potential of cannabinoids, with separate focuses on THC and CBD, there is substantial clinical and evidence reported by patients that support the medicinal effects of medical cannabis and cannabis-derived medical products.
From helping treat or alleviate symptoms related to chronic diseases and mental health issues, to improving overall quality of life, medical cannabis and cannabis-derived medical products has been linked to help with (but not limited to):
- Chronic pain and general pain relief
- Cancer treatment and chemotherapy induced nausea vomiting
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Anxiety and depression
- Sleep disorders such as insomnia
- Weight loss attributed to cancer, HIV/AIDS, and anorexia
- Prevent and control seizures caused by epilepsy
- Muscle caused by multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Neurological disorders including Tourette syndrome
- Improved symptoms in diseases such as Parkinson's
- Dementia and
- Schizophrenia other psychoses
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Treatment of other drug addictions
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Legalization of Cannabis for Medical Use Around the World
With extensive research having been done on the medicinal virtues of the cannabis plant, governments and health entities around the world have taken notice, with evolving on both its medical and recreational consumption. The most important drive to investing in medical research and studies around the medical potential and capabilities of medicinal cannabis is to help patients access new ways to treat symptoms and manage pain, as part of medicines and treatment options that are an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs.
As of 2021, prescribed use of medical cannabis or cannabis-derived medical products has been legalized in (but not limited to) Europe (Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Switzerland), the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, North Ireland, Wales), North America (Canada, Mexico, and in some states of the United States including California, Washington and the District of Columbia), South America (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay), Africa (Lesotho, Zimbabwe) as well as in Australia and New Zealand, Israel, Jamaica, and Turkey.
What Does the Future Hold for Medical Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products?
While some countries are more restrictive than others—allowing only the medical use of specific cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals, such as Sativex (via NHS access) or FDA-approved Marinol and —laws are continually changing, both recreationally and medically, for the better, primarily ensuring that a patient who needs access to medical cannabis treatment can actually get it.
The future of medical cannabis and new cannabis-derived medical products is greatly aided by its and by the global cannabis industry's projected value of $90.4 billion by 2026, which is good news for new drug development as well as the medical and holistic health industries which also benefit patients.
Referred to as cannabis, marijuana, or hemp, with even more slang appellations such as weed pot, grass, dope, ganja, green, herb (and the list goes on), there is one thing we know for certain: the use of medical cannabis and cannabis-derived medical products can be found across generations, geographical locations, socio-economic classes — a common red thread in terms of source of treatment for bettering one’s health and well-being, something we all care about.