The legal weed market could be worth around $10 billion a year in sales. It’s great news for business. But modern marijuana research is revealing things that are far more important about money.
Could cannabis really be used to treat pain, stress, and other disorders?
The research is in the early stages, yes, but we have good reason to be hopeful about the early results delivered by research.
Could cannabis – or more specifically, its non-psychoactive component cannabidiol (CBD) – have medical applications to help patients cope with pain and stress?
As marijuana research was restricted by legislation for many years, it has been somewhat throttled. It is therefore far behind the research undertaken on other medicines and treatment methods.
However, thanks to its promising early days, we see a bright future ahead for the use of cannabis as medicine. Here’s what you need to know about the research.
Cannabis may help patients cope with chronic pain. It is the CBD compound found in weed that helps them to deal with pain.
The other components of the plant are not as effective at controlling pain over the long term.
Back in 2010, research in England found that smoking cannabis could relieve chronic nerve pain. ‘Chronic’ means that the pain never really goes away, but varies in intensity. So for patients, this was big news.
The study was criticized due to its small sample size, but there has often been a political element to criticism directed at marijuana research in the past.
In that context, it is worth bearing in mind that the UK has something very nearly like an outright ban on even medicinal cannabis use. There is only one legal product based on cannabinoids which may be prescribed and dispensed.
It hasn’t followed in the footsteps of the many states in the USA which have legalized cannabis for medicinal or even recreational use.
In any case, since then there have been many developments. A peer review of other studies in 2015 came to the conclusion that there is “high-quality evidence” that marijuana is effective at dealing with pain.
The study specifically refers to the use of marijuana to treat chronic and neuropathic (nerve) pain, as well as the disease multiple sclerosis.
Marijuana research is therefore now pointing at a significant benefit to the use of cannabis in treating these forms of illness.
Marijuana is also potentially a better solution than the more commonly used opioid family of drugs at treating pain. Opioids are addictive, and their effects on health are well-documented.
Cannabis use has been found to help people use 64% fewer opioids to help deal with chronic pain. The study that figure comes from also states that cannabis use (compared to a patient taking opioids) results in a better quality of life. Fewer side effects of cannabinoid-based drugs were observed.
The fact that it results in a better quality of life is one of the reasons why it’s used to treat pain in cancer sufferers. Ironically, this pain is often caused by the chemotherapy used to treat them.
However, CBD has properties which may help to fight cancer.
As well as helping patients to cope with forms of chronic pain, medical marijuana is also useful when treating migraines.
It’s not all about treating the pain during a migraine though. Marijuana research has found that use of cannabis can help to reduce the number of migraines experienced in a month by nearly half.
Patients had some success in using marijuana to prevent a migraine coming on when they felt initial symptoms. However, inhaling methods (smoking, vaping) were much more effective than edible forms of marijuana.
That may be down to the long onset time of edibles, as well as the varying intensity of these products.
Recreational users have long alluded to feeling relaxed when they smoke pot. Anecdotal evidence is not, of course, a reliable scientific method. However, they may be on to something.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active part of cannabis which makes users ‘high’. It is a psychoactive compound which, when taken by humans, stimulates the brain in order to release dopamine.
Being ‘high’ is often described as a euphoric sensation, but it’s also sometimes perceived as a sedating experience. The effects as reported by users vary widely.
Marijuana research has shown that at low doses, THC can help to reduce stress. However, consuming too much THC can produce side-effects which are quite the opposite – anxiety and the ‘jitters’.
The research found that there was a fine balance – and that dosage was an important factor in whether marijuana was a solution to, or source of, stress.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a form of anxiety, which is ‘triggered’ when someone remembers traumatic memories.
It is often experienced by soldiers returning from war, people who have had serious accidents, and victims of assault or sexual assault. These are examples, not a list of all people who can suffer from PTSD.
For example, a soldier may hear car doors slamming and think of guns firing. Everyday sounds create a waking nightmare of reactions to threats that aren’t there.
Marijuana research has indicated that cannabis may be effective at controlling the symptoms of PTSD.
PTSD therapy often involves desensitizing people to their ‘triggers’. This means exposing them to the trigger itself.
Patients are presented with their trigger(s) in more concrete forms over several sessions, until they are coming face-to-face with the source of their fear. This is done in a safe, comfortable environment. The idea is to ‘rewire’ their brain’s reaction to the trigger.
Cannabis (CBD, to be specific) helps to speed up this process. It makes people feel less fearful when confronted with the stimuli that would otherwise provoke a ‘fight or flight’ reaction.
Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative condition. This means that it gets worse over time.
Patients find that controlling their muscles becomes difficult. They may experience spasms, and a symptom called ‘dyskinesia’. This results in completely involuntary movements.
Patients may find it difficult to walk without help, or the use of a stick, or wheelchair, as the disease gets worse.
CBD can help to reduce the exhibition of symptoms in patients. Watch the video on our Parkinson’s subsite. You’ll see how medical marijuana helps reduce the effects of dyskinesia in a few minutes.
When you see the results, it’s hard to believe that you’re looking at the same person. Before dosage, they may not be able to sit upright without twitching or shaking. Afterwards, there’s not a jitter in sight.
Arthritis is characterized by pain and stiffness in the joints. Some patients experience swelling. They may also lose the ability to move as they used to. They have to use walking sticks or frames to get around.
In the past, some sufferers turned to using marijuana to treat their condition. They said it helped them cope with the pain, though there wasn’t much research around at the time.
Now, there is research which does suggest that again, the patients who were self-medicating have a point.
Marijuana research suggests cannabinoids may be effective at treating the symptoms of arthritis. But that’s not all. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis. It’s a type of disease called an ‘autoimmune disorder’.
This means that the disease is actually caused by the body itself, not an invasive bacteria or virus. The immune system has become over-protective.
It starts to attack joints. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, this can cause permanent damage – resulting in lasting pain.
Cannabis helps to moderate this over-activity of the immune system. Which means it may also be effective at treating other autoimmune conditions.
Other autoimmune disorders include multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease. These both cause patients to suffer large amounts of pain.
As we’ve said, we’re still in the early days of marijuana research. However, it’s exciting to see the wide range of conditions that CBD and THC treatments are now linked with.
Beyond pain and stress control, there’s much more to come. Cannabis has the potential to fight muscle and bone pain, have anti-aging properties and battle high blood pressure.
It could also help to tackle and cope with the effects of other degenerative diseases. It has already been linked to the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease, for example. These neurological disorders are both highly debilitating.