There have been several debates in recent years over the full legalization of cannabis and all its products. Both sides of the arguments present very compelling cases and each is steadfast in their stance about cannabis. While arguments push on and on, researchers have been hard at work exploring the benefits of the plant and they have yielded some amazing results.
A Short History of Medical Marijuana
The history of medical marijuana goes way back as one would imagine. It has its roots in ancient times when the plant was used for relieving pain and curing other illnesses. Not until the 19th century that cannabis was introduced to the Western world as alternative medicine. Since then, the administration of the drug saw several changes. It used to be crushed up and mixed with wine for it is administered. In the early 70s, synthetic THC extracted from the plant was created in a drug called Marinol. The 20th century, along with the many places legalizing the drug, saw a new wave of innovation in cannabis consumption. Edibles are getting popular as well as vaping. Oils and tinctures are also grabbing the attention of a lot of cannabis enthusiasts. But smoking remains to be the most popular way of consuming cannabis, medical or otherwise.
The Endocannabinoid System
How cannabis affects the health of the body can be traced back to a complicated cell-signaling system inherent in all animals. The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is made up of endocannabinoids, a form of neurotransmitter that helps regulate several bodily functions like sleep, appetite, mood, memory, and reproduction. Even with cannabis present in the body, the ECS stays active.
Throughout the body are endocannabinoid receptors where endocannabinoids bind to in order to activate the ECS. The two main receptors are CB1 receptors, found in the central nervous system; and CB2, found in the peripheral nervous system as well as in immune cells. Endocannabinoids bind to either receptor and its effects depend on where the receptor is located in the body.
For instance, if the endocannabinoid binds to a CB1 receptor in the spine, it will relieve pain. If it binds to a CB2 receptor in immune cells, it can tell the body of that it’s experiencing inflammation, a common symptom on most autoimmune diseases.
The moment cannabinoids from cannabis enter the body, it interacts with the ECS by binding to the many receptors across the body. Its potency is largely due to the fact that it is able to bind both CB1 and CB2 receptors. This creates a range of physiological effect on the body and on the mind, some more desirable than others. It can reduce pain and increase appetite, but it can also cause anxiety and paranoia in some cases.
Chronic pain is something people with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes suffer from. It is the number one cause of disability in the United States alone. Despite cannabis products still not approved by the FDA for relieving pain, many personal accounts have upheld the effectivity of the drug in reducing their pain. Different strains of the plant have varying effectivity towards pain management. An online survey result that was featured in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2014 found that users preferred to use indica strains for pain management, sleep, and sedation.
More than 50 million adults in the United States suffer from some type of sleep disorder. About 40% of adults will experience insomnia at some point in their lives. And around 15% will suffer from chronic insomnia. With these much people suffering from a sleep disorder, an increased interest in the search for a non-pharmacologic cure lead many to try cannabis. The cannabinoids in the plant activate the ECS in the body that is responsible for allowing people to fall asleep. Cannabidiol, a compound in cannabis, is a popular choice among the sleep-deprived because it doesn’t have any psychoactive effects.
Almost any recreational cannabis user know the hunger associated with its use but it is only in recent times the science has been able to unveil the reasoning behind this increased appetite. Research has revealed that the compound THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is responsible for turning the eating behavior on or off. This is especially valuable to people who suffer from chronic illnesses that result in a loss of appetite.
These are only some of the numerous ways that cannabis affects health. Ever since the number of states lifting their ban on the drug, more and more research is being conductive to further support the health benefits of cannabis.