We’ve known for decades that marijuana works well as an anti-convulsant and as a treatment for glaucoma. There have been many claims of marijuana’s potential beyond that, though little scientific data to support it.
Conducting cannabis research has long been a challenge due to the U.S Federal government’s classification of it as a Schedule I narcotic, defined as drugs that are highly addictive and have no accepted medical use. Despite medical marijuana having been approved in over 30 U.S. states, the FDA refuses to recognize marijuana as having any medicinal value.
Dr. David Hepburn, a leading expert on medical cannabis use and member of several medical cannabis organizations, says there is a growing body of evidence supporting the use of cannabis to treat a range of different conditions, regardless of the FDA’s archaic stance.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
Dr. David Hepburn notes that cannabis works via the same kind of internal mechanisms that make opiates effective (though without the lethality). In marijuana’s case that mechanism is the endocannabinoid system. This system contains receptors that exogenous (originating from outside the body) cannabinoids like THC and CBD can bind to just as easily as endogenous (created within the body) ones can.
Yes, you read that right; your body already naturally produces cannabinoids and has receptors all over it whose sole purpose is to interact with them. These receptors are found in the brain, central nervous system, and many peripheral organs, suggesting cannabinoids are needed on some level for their maintenance.
Since the body can become deficient in endocannabinoids, which has been linked to a variety of health concerns, giving it a boost through exogenous cannabinoids seems to make a lot of sense.
Medical Conditions That Marijuana Use Could Alleviate
As noted, marijuana is already a widely accepted treatment for glaucoma and epilepsy and has been shown to reduce the incidence of muscle spasms and stiffness in people with Multiple Sclerosis (though it also reduced their working memory).
Endocannabinoid deficiency has been implicated in a number of conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, migraines, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, making marijuana a promising treatment for these conditions.
In the case of Alzheimer’s, Dr. David Hepburn states one study showed that marijuana use reduced the rate of protein deposits, which clump together in the brain to form amyloid plaques that destroy neural connections, leading to cognitive decline, and eventually, dementia.
Marijuana’s pain-relieving and spasticity-reducing properties have also proven beneficial for people suffering from spinal cord injuries or diseases, HIV/AIDS, arthritis, and other forms of chronic pain. While it won’t treat or cure the underlying condition, it will help with the symptoms. It’s also been shown to help relieve insomnia.
Most interesting of all is marijuana’s potential to treat cancer, which the National Cancer Institute has recognized, stating that “Cannabinoids may be able to kill cancer cells while protecting normal cells.” Certain marijuana extracts have shown the ability to kill cancer cells in studies, while others have stopped tumor growth.
As an added bonus, marijuana can also stimulate the appetites of cancer patients, helping them build and maintain their strength as they combat the disease. Marijuana is also useful for preventing nausea, which can result from the chemotherapy treatments often used to fight it.