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CBD Benefits & Risks?

CBD Benefits & Risks?

Medical marijuana traces its roots back to ancient civilizations that sprouted along banks of great rivers such as the Indus River in India, Hwang-Ho in China and river Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia. Just recently, a weed stash approximated to be 2700 years old was discovered in Yanghai tombs in Northern China. Considering the vast amount of cannabis in the tomb, it is clear that cannabis played a key role in the lives of the people living by the Turpan basin at that point in time.

Cannabis has had a tumultuous journey throughout the years, rarely finding grace in the eyes of the law. The last few years have ushered in a new dispensation for cannabis, thanks to the relentless efforts of cannabis supporters. In this article we shall look at the opportunities and drawbacks of medical cannabis, taking into consideration scientific evidence. But first, let us discuss the legality of cannabis in and out of the US.

Is cannabis legal?

The cannabis sativa L species plant has two primary sub species namely cannabis and hemp. The two sub species differ by the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that they contain. In case you are not aware, THC is the compound in cannabis that produces the mental buzz. This is the same compound that is screened for in standard drug tests. Cannabidiol (CBD) is another compound found in cannabis that has shown therapeutic potential but has no psychoactive effects. Hemp usually has trace amounts of THC usually less than 1%. Cannabis on the other hand could have THC amounts exceeding 30%. This makes the difference between cannabis and hemp.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial or agricultural hemp in all states in the US. As much as hemp has been legalized in the US, cannabis still remains illegal under the federal law. So far, 33 states have legalized medicinal cannabis while ten have moved a step further to legalize recreational cannabis that contains significant amounts of THC.

For hemp to be considered legal in the US it has to contain less than 0.3% THC while in the UK it has to contain less than 0.3% THC. In Canada, both medicinal and recreational cannabis have been legalized under law.

Discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS)

In the 1960s Robert Mechoulam an Israeli scientist started the journey towards the discovery of the endocannabinoid system. In trying to understand how cannabis is able to exert effects in the body, he came across receptors (CB2) and endogenous cannabinoids that make up the ECS. Cannabis compounds such as THC and CBD mimic endogenous cannabinoids whose function is to maintain homeostasis in the body. THC and CBD interact with endocannabinoid receptors that are spread throughout the body to support, optimize and restore the function of the endocannabinoid system.

When the ECS is not functioning optimally such as in clinical endocananbinoid deficiency (CECD) the body may go into a pathological state. CECD occurs when the body is not producing enough endocannabinoids and hence it cannot maintain physiological homeostasis. Research has shown that CECD has a role to play in the development and progression of fibromyalgia, anorexia, depression, migraines, autism, PTSD, multiple sclerosis and IBS among others.

Medical benefits of cannabis

The legalization of cannabis has sparked a heated debate on the use of cannabis as a therapeutic agent. Scientists are now keen to investigate how cannabis works the role it plays in treating different medical conditions. It is interesting to note that hundred of studies have been published online about the therapeutic potential of cannabis. However, the government and some physicians claim that the studies conducted have not met the threshold for clinical evidence, meaning that larger clinical studies need to be conducted to rubber stamp these findings. Meanwhile preliminary research has revealed the following medicinal benefits of cannabis.

  • Pain management
  • Cannabis has shown effectiveness in relieving chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia, arthritis, migraines and neuropathic pain.

  • Insomnia
  • Most cannabis strains will induce sleep. Fortunately the sleep caused here is non-REM meaning that the person will feel rested when they wake up as opposed to feeling more tired. Cannabis is also a powerful muscle relaxant. When the muscles of the body are well relaxed one is able to sleep better and more soundly.

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cannabis has been used to treat nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy treatment.

  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • War veterans have used cannabis to treat symptoms of PTSD. A retrospective chart review from New Mexico gave conflicting evidence on the usefulness of cannabis in treating symptoms of PTSD, while three studies supported it, two studies discouraged against its use. However, anecdotal evidence has shown great potential in this field.

  • Glaucoma
  • When you consume cannabis with significant amounts of THC, your eyes will become blood shot. This is because THC causes blood capillaries to dilate and subsequently there will be increased blood flow to the eyes. This is the same mechanism that is used in treating glaucoma.

  • Alcoholism and drug addiction
  • Previously cannabis was considered as a gateway drug to harder drugs. But current research is proving that cannabis may help in treating symptoms of alcohol withdrawal as well as opioid dependency.

  • Anxiety and depression
  • THC mimics the actions of anandamide which is the body’s bliss molecule. With this property cannabis is known to be a mood improver and may help in alleviating symptoms of depression. Cannabis also helps in reducing social anxieties by lowering inhibitions and inducing chitty chatty behavior.

  • Appetite stimulation
  • Cannabis is known to “induce the munchies.” This just means that cannabis will make you hungry. It is believed that cannabis stimulates the production of ghrelin which is a compound that is triggers the feeling of hunger. In the presence of THC, ghrelin inhibits the feeling of satiety and causes one to eat more and more.

  • Cancer
  • A lot of research is currently being directed at treatment options for cancer. One research suggested that endocannabinoid signaling has a role to play in tumor suppression. Phytocananbinoids found in cannabis are believed to cause apoptosis (cell death) of cancerous cells and thereby inhibit tumor growth.

  • Epilepsy
  • A lot of research on the therapeutic potential of cannabis have centered on the use of cannabis to treat seizures. In June 2018, the FDA legalized a CBD based drug for the treatment of severe forms of childhood epilepsy.

    Are there risks associated with marijuana use?

    It would be unethical to avoid mentioning the risks associated with prolonged use of cannabis. Firstly, there is the risk for mental health problems. Adolescents are likely to develop memory loss after prolonged exposure to cannabis with significant amounts of THC. It is also believed that early use of cannabis may increase one’s chances of developing schizophrenia. Secondly, smokable forms of cannabis may cause respiratory problems arising from combustion. To avoid this one can use vaporizers that circumvent the combustion process. Lastly, use of cannabis may predispose one to testicular cancer.

    What’s next?

    Considering that the above evidence is mostly anecdotal and preliminary it would be helpful to have more studies to validate these claims. People are excited about the potential that medical marijuana holds, however the government needs to speed up the process of mainstreaming cannabis as a treatment option for the above conditions.


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