We hear a lot in the news these days about medical pot. Whether it’s new countries legalising the medicine, or the debate here about our overly restrictive pot laws.
Austria, Canada, The Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Israel, Italy, Portugal and Spain have already legalised medical marijuana — as have 23 US states. Australia legalized growing medical pot, and studying it, and some states are set to follow and legalize the kind as medicine.
Marijuana has a range of medical benefits. It can reduce nausea and vomiting, increase hunger, treat chronic pain and muscle spasms. Studies have found cannabinoids to be more effective than conventional antiemetics (and from personal experience, I would say by more than a few factors of effect).
Here are some examples of conditions one can treat with cannabis:
- Muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis
- Nausea from cancer chemotherapy
- Poor appetite and weight loss caused by chronic illness, such as HIV
- Nerve pain cause by conditions like fibromyalgia and the common rheumatoid arthritis (where it has been shown safer than opioids)
- Seizure disorders
- Crohn’s disease
Some of cannabis medical effects come from the profound relaxation of smooth muscle – it’s effect on calming the gut (the digestive, reproductive and urinary systems have smooth muscles).
The endocannabinoid system is a system of receptors in the brain and throughout the body. It is involved in appetite, pain-sensation, mood, the immune system and memory. Typically it is regarded as an adaptive type of function – cannabinoids are naturally released during events like injury, pregnancy and exercise.
Interestingly as a total aside, while cannabis does lower short term memory, it actually increases long term memory.
In terms of hunger, cannabinoids are directly involved in the regulation of hunger. CB1 receptors in the hypothalamic nuclei trigger hunger in direct respond to the regulating hormone leptin, which operates like your hungers body clock. This also enhances the pleasure of eating food.
Medical cannabis also modulates the stress response, lowering the level of glucocorticoids. Which may explain its potential effect on PTSD.
The cannabinoid receptors are involved in the protective regulation of the immune system. A great example, of this is echinacea. It in fact contains CB2 receptor agonists, which explains it’s effect on bolstering the immune system. Honestly this is an important and under explored area – establishing the benefits of non-psychoactive cb2 receptor agonism on the immune system, could lead to strains or medicines that benefit people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly.
Not only do cannabinoids seem to reduce spasticity, pain and tremor with but there appears to be some evidence that cannabinoids effect the cause of the disease itself positively, offering protective benefits.
Administration of anandamide in rats has been shown to decrease wakefulness and increase slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, showing that cannabinoids can be used to induce sleep and may be useful for some sleeping and wakefulness disorders.
THC releases a tremendous amount of the sleep body clock hormone Melatonin (which also seems to be involved in dreaming). This means that extreme/excess use can make sleeping and dreaming harder, but it also speaks to the least explored role of Cannabis as a medicine. Melatonin is the bodies most potent anti-oxidant, effectively blunting even powerful immediate carcinogens. THC also coats the brain cells, the same effect that reduces short term memory, also decreases oxidation of the brain cells. There is even the suggestion that marijuana may exert anti-cancer effects, perhaps even reducing carcinogenic cells if directly administered to those cells, but either way, it is neuroprotective, anti-oxidant and brain cooling (prevents overheating in the brain), and as such we should in future explore and consider it’s potential anti-cancer, anti-ageing and cell protective effects.
Maybe cannabis can steer off alzeimers, parkinsons, or dementia? Maybe it can slow ageing?
As you can see, we are only starting to really prove or understand many of these effects, and the legal status opening to show these effects in long term clinical trials, really opens up the gate for us to show what users may have known for years. For us, the big benefit is our Aussie neighbours, who will be doing a lot of research. But when one looks at all of this, it makes one wonder – sure we lack in some cases long term, robust clinical trials. But if even one quarter of the medical claims were true, and many of them do have evidence, why isn’t this a widely used medicine everywhere? (at least in a vape, spray or edible form?) Especially given the synthetic alternatives NZ seems to prefer seem to lack many of these medical properties and just how many medical effects are possible.
I met a man once at a medical marijuana activist meeting for the green party. He like many I had seen on doco’s had severe MS, for which only cannabis helped. He was wheelchair bound, advanced stages. And cannabis may even have been helping him slow the advancement of his disease.
I can’t help but feel, if people could actually face these people, suffering people, and face the truth of this matter, they would be horrified that medicinal cannabis is not more widely available, legal, and accepted. And if they knew how many people could be helped, they might broaden their scope on who can benefit too. It’s tragic, we need to fix this.