To sort out the question of what people use Cannabis for we need to be sure that we understand what Cannabis is. The term “Cannabis” is used to denote two major products of the Cannabis plant: THC and CBD. THC is the kind of Cannabis that makes people feel high and is usually ingested by way of smoking a “joint.” CBD on the other hand or also known as Cannabidiol, is the kind that does not produce a high but is being used increasingly to treat a whole variety of health problems.
The list of things which CBD is being used to treat is very long and includes anxiety related disorders, insomnia, inflammation, chronic pain, acne, depression, cancer, smoking cessation, rheumatoid arthritis, Type I Diabetes, anorexia and weight loss, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Tourette Syndrome, ALS, dystonia, dementia, Glaucoma, PTSD, Schizophrenia and other psychoses, Lupus, chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting and certain types of seizures or convulsions, among others.
One of the earliest uses of Cannabis was to treat pain and there is documented evidence of such use as far back as 2900 BCE!! Several human studies have shown improvements in sciatic nerve pain and inflammation. One study showed significant improvement in pain, walking and muscle spasms in MS patients with Cannabis compared to a placebo group. A combination of THC and CBD is approved in several countries to treat pain related to multiple sclerosis and arthritis. Cannabis has also been shown to improve pain during movement, pain at rest and sleep quality in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Another difficult type of pain is headache especially migraine headache which can be severely disabling. There is literature support for Cannabis in treating several types of headache including migraine and cluster headache. Most of the evidence is either from laboratory studies or limited case reports. It appears that Cannabinoids modulate and interact at many pathways related to migraine headaches including tripan mechanisms of olfaction and opiate pathways which suggest that Cannabis might be used along with other currently used medication treatments of migraine headaches to get a combined effect better than either type of treatment alone.
Cannabis has been used to treat seizures or convulsions for centuries although the exact mechanism by which Cannabis, specifically CBD prevents seizures is unknown. The oromucosal spray which is a combination of THC and CBD has been in use for over 5 years in several countries around the world for the successful treatment of spasticity in Multiple Sclerosis. Cannabis is also being explored for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease in addition to epilepsy.
Anxiety related disorders:
A recent World Health Organization report indicated that depression was the single largest contributor of disability worldwide and that anxiety disorders are ranked sixth. The anxiety disorders include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PSTD, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and obsessive- compulsive disorder. Cannabis has been shown in animal studies to exhibit an anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effect and that is the primary desired effect in the anxiety disorders in humans. Anxiety and depression are usually treated with traditional medications which can cause significant side effects such as drowsiness, agitation and suicidal thoughts and many patients and therapists are now turning to a more natural approach using Cannabis.
Several recent studies have shown improvements in social anxiety disorder and PTSD in patients who received Cannabis compared to a placebo. It is thought that Cannabis relieves anxiety due to its action on brain receptors for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and social behavior.
Cannabis may also be helpful in the treatment of schizophrenia, a severe type of psychosis associated with, among other things, severe cognitive deficits. Preliminary evidence suggests that Cannabis may improve cognitive function in people with schizophrenia. Cannabis has also been shown to reduce dementia related symptoms in late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Acne is a common and often embarrassing problem caused by overactive sebaceous glands that secrete the oily substance, called sebum, that makes skin smooth and hair shiny. Inflammation causes overproduction of sebum which blocks skin pores leading to the condition of acne. Cannabis which blocks inflammation can reduce excess sebum production and lead to clear skin.
Epilepsy or convulsions:
Two types of severe epilepsy that occur in young children are very difficult to control with the usual anti-epileptic medications. These are Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome which is seen between ages 3 and 5 and the Dravet Syndrome which is prevalent in the first year of life and includes frequent fever related seizures. Cannabis has shown significant promise in the treatment of these two types of seizures which can destroy the lives of children and their parents. Both CBD and CBDV, a chemical variant of CBD have shown significant anti-epileptic activity in a variety of laboratory models of epilepsy. CBD is very well tolerated with no significant central nervous system side effects or effects on vital signs or mood in a variety of clinically useful dosages in both acute and chronic administration.
An exciting area of Cannabis usage is in the treatment of cancer. It has been known for some time that Cannabis can be helpful in reducing the nausea and vomiting which can be brought on by certain chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer, particularly when normally used anti-nausea drugs are ineffective. Recent studies however, suggest that Cannabis may be helpful in the treatment of the underlying cancer itself. Experimental studies carried out on cell lines and in animal models have shown the Cannabis can lead to inhibition of the growth of many types of tumors and actual death of tumor cells.
One of the most difficult groups of diseases to treat are the so-called autoimmune diseases in which the bodies own immune defense mechanisms destroy normal body tissues. Examples of these diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 Diabetes and Lupus. In Type 1 Diabetes, for instance, the bodies own defenses attach and destroy the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. In rheumatoid arthritis the defenses attach the various joints of the body and in Lupus the kidneys and heart can be damaged. Cannabis has been shown to decrease inflammation in the pancreas which may protect against or delay development of Type 1 diabetes. In rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, the decreased inflammation may slow or reverse damage to joints and other body tissues.
One final area for us to discuss among the many available is the use of Cannabis in helping in cessation of smoking and with drug withdrawal in addicts. Cannabis has been shown to decrease nicotine craving and reduce the number of cigarettes used. In opioid addiction Cannabis can reduce the symptoms of substance abuse disorder such as anxiety, mood-related symptoms, pain and insomnia.
Well, I think that you can see the amazing array of medical and psychological problems for which people are using Cannabis. There is much to be learned about the medical and psychological effects of Cannabis but for now, many people have found it to be of great benefit for a variety of difficult problems.