Medical Marijuana & Chronic Fatigue: Helpful Herb or Harmful Toxin?

As counterintuitive as it may seem, marijuana may actually improve the function of your mitochondria. Resulting in lower fatigue levels.

I’m sure most of you know marijuana/cannabis as a sedative. It relaxes you.

How could it possibly be beneficial for a condition like chronic fatigue?

CFS patients don’t need any more sedation. They need more energy! Fortunately, research on marijuana has progressed a long way (especially since legalization in some American states and in Canada). It turns out that the simple adage marijuana makes you tired isn’t what the research shows. Marijuana could actually be a way to improve your fatigue.

The dramatic effects Marijuana has on your body

Inside of you, me, and every other mammal on this planet is something called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Yes, you all produce (inside your bodies), cannabinoid compounds. Which work in a very similar fashion to the way cannabinoids found in marijuana do. Even your mitochondria contain receptors specifically designed for cannabinoid receptors! (1)

Your endocannabinoid system helps your body maintain homeostasis. More specifically, it helps to regulate your:

  • Memory (2)
  • Appetite (3)
  • Energy balance and metabolism (4)
  • Immune function (5)
  • Sleep (6)
  • Pain perception (7)
  • Stress response (8)

The marijuana plant contains something called phytocannabinoids. These closely resemble the endocannabinoids your body produces. If you take an exogenous (outside) form of a cannabinoid (like when you consume marijuana) you’re going to exert an effect on each of the above body systems. This is why marijuana is thought to help with many, seemingly unrelated, illnesses — from improving sleep to decreasing pain and even affecting your immune system. Because you have cannabinoid receptors on many different cell types within your body, marijuana will have an effect on a wide variety of body systems.

Re-thinking the marijuana hypothesis

Most medications have what is called a linear dose-response curve. What this means is that the more medication you take, the stronger the effect will be. Higher doses of painkillers result in lower and lower pain signals. This is the linear dose-response relationship at work. But marijuana doesn’t fall into this category at all.

Marijuana has something called a bi-phasic dose-response curve. Bi-phasic indicates that a single compound can have two opposite effects. Low doses of THC — the psychoactive compound in marijuana — have been shown to increase the function of your mitochondria. (9) Remember, optimized mitochondrial function is key to overcoming fatigue. High doses of THC have been shown to decrease mitochondrial function.

If you’re looking to improve your fatigue, you’re going to want your marijuana to stimulate mitochondrial function, not decrease it.

Marijuana and your brain

Marijuana has even been found to improve the health of your brain! At low doses, THC has been shown to reduce the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain. (10) Amyloid plaques destroy the connections between nerve cells in your brain. You’ll find lots of amyloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

The way in which THC reduces amyloid plaque formation is by enhancing mitochondrial function. In the context of chronic fatigue, enhancing mitochondrial function is the best way to increase your energy! Certainly, more research is needed to see exactly how marijuana affects CFS. But the preliminary research suggests low doses may improve mitochondrial function. Thus increasing your energy!

Terpenes & fatigue

Terpenes are organic compounds found in plants. The distinct odor found in marijuana (or many other plants) is caused by the terpenes. At the time of this writing, there has been very little research into the effect terpenes have on your health. Though it is thought that terpenes may have a wide variety of beneficial health effects.

Some of the more common terpenes found in marijuana include:

  • Myrcene
  • Limonene
  • Caryophyllene
  • Borneol

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the terpenes that can be found in marijuana. I’ve chosen these terpenes specifically for their potential benefit on fatigue.

Myrcene

This is the most common terpene found in marijuana. That distinct marijuana smell, that’s myrcene. Myrcene is known to be anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. (11) Those with CFS often have elevated inflammatory markers (link to leaky gut blog) and/or IBS. IBS — and even chronic fatigue — is linked to an overgrowth of bad bacteria.

I’m certainly not suggesting that marijuana will cure the bacteria or inflammation commonly found in CFS. But it may help you to better deal with the symptoms. Just remember, a low dose is essential for optimizing mitochondrial function.

Limonene

This is the second most common terpene found in marijuana. As the name implies, limonene creates a strong citrus scent. Limonene has been shown to be both antibacterial and anti-fungal. (12)

Limonene helps to protect against mitochondrial damaging oxidative stress. (13) It has also been reported to improve mental clarity. Unfortunately, there’s no research to back up this claim (as of yet).

Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene exhibits a spicy flavor. You’ll find high levels of this terpene in black pepper.

Studies done on mice have shown that caryophyllene has beneficial effects on both anxiety and depression. (14) Again, I want to emphasize that caryophyllene is not a cure for anxiety or depression. But it may position you to better deal with these symptoms.

Borneol

The wonderful smell of camphor can be attributed to borneol. You’ll also find high levels of this terpene in rosemary. Borneol has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal remedies for a number of years. It is thought to reduce swelling, relieve stress, and even increase energy. (15) Please note that this is anecdotal evidence. There has yet to be a peer-reviewed study that gives us a clear(er) picture of the beneficial effects of borneol.

Should you consume marijuana if you have chronic fatigue?

The safe answer here is: we don’t know. There isn’t any published research on the effects marijuana has on chronic fatigue. I’m confident this will change as public acceptance of marijuana continues to improve. Who knows, marijuana could end up being of incredible benefit to those with CFS.

With that said, marijuana’s safety record is (so far) looking great. A large analysis of more than 31 different studies found that dizziness was the most commonly reported adverse event. (16) These studies have only been done on short-term use of the drug. We just don’t know the long-term adverse effects of marijuana because they haven’t been studied.

If you are keen on seeing if marijuana can improve your fatigue symptoms, look for strains high in the terpenes I listed above. These are the ones that are most likely to offer benefit for CFS patients. And remember the biphasic curve of dosing! Small amounts of cannabis will be of greater benefit than larger doses.

Now, I want to hear from you!

What have cannabis products done to your fatigue?

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Originally published at Fatigue to Flourish.