Cannabis And Cannabinoids For Pain Management And Disease Prevention
- Cannabis and cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.
- Studies suggest that cannabinoids may reduce the risk of cancer, metabolic disorders, and neurodegenerative disease, leading to chronic pain.
- Cannabinoids stimulate the creation of new nerve cells in animal models.
- Cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabis derivative, has been shown to block an enzyme responsible for breaking down bone-building compounds in the body, possibly reducing the risk of age-related bone diseases like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
- Applied topically, cannabinoids have been shown to have more potent antioxidant effects than vitamins E and C and can repair damaged skin.
Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system, a neuromodulatory system that connects the brain to the body in a way that helps to modulate the regulation of homeostasis across all our body systems. Since cannabinoids in cannabis are so similar to the chemicals created by our bodies, they can interact with the body to affect the modulation of regulation of homeostasis across our body systems through a complex interaction with our immune system, nervous system, and virtually all of the body’s organs. Thus, endocannabinoids bridge the gap between body and mind. And, by understanding this system, we might begin to recognize a mechanism that positively connects brain activity and states of physical and mental health and disease.
A 2017 review of the efficacy, tolerability and safety of cannabis-based medicines for chronic pain management found mixed results on the use of cannabis-based medicine for pain management in patients with rheumatic diseases and cancer pain. Also, in 2017, The National Academies of Sciences concluded that cannabinoids effectively treat chronic pain. Thus, cannabis-based medicines undoubtedly enrich the possibilities of drug treatment of chronic pain conditions. Still, It remains the responsibility of the health care community to continue to pursue the rigorous study of cannabis-based medicines to provide evidence that meets the 21st-century standard for evidence-based clinical care.
In another selective review, published in 2017, cannabis for cancer-related pain found evidence suggesting that medical cannabis reduces chronic or neuropathic pain in advanced cancer patients. However, the results lacked statistical power due to a limited number of study participants. Therefore, more controlled research is needed with large sample sizes to establish the optimal formulation, dosage, and efficacy of different cannabis-based therapies. Considering the vast number of people already using cannabinoids for many diseases and disorders and recreationally, it has become a social responsibility to get statistically significant numbers to support or refute claims.
Reduced Risk Of Diabetes & Obesity
Several studies have shown that regular cannabis users have a lower body mass index, smaller waist circumferences, and reduced risk of diabetes and obesity. One 2011 report published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, based on a survey of more than fifty-two thousand participants, concluded that rates of obesity are about one-third lower among cannabis users. This is despite the findings that participants tend to consume more calories per day. This activity is potentially related to THC’s stimulation of ghrelin, a hormone that increases appetite and increases carbohydrates’ metabolism. CBD on its own was shown in a 2006 study to lower the incidence of diabetes in laboratory rats. In 2015 an Israeli-American biopharmaceutical collective began stage 2 trials related to CBD use to treat diabetes. In addition, research has demonstrated that CBD helps the body convert white fat into weight-reducing brown fat, promoting normal insulin production and sugar metabolism.
In a 2013 study published in The American Journal of Medicine, over 4,600 subjects, researchers found that current cannabis users had fasting insulin levels that were up to 16% lower than their non-using counterparts, higher levels of HDL cholesterol that protects against diabetes, and 17% lower levels of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance results in excess insulin being produced, promoting sugars into stored fat, leading to weight gain and obesity. Thus, a growing body of research exploring the interplay between cannabinoids and insulin regulation may lead to significant breakthroughs in treating or preventing obesity and type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, respondents who had used cannabis in the past, but were not current users, showed similar but less pronounced benefits suggesting that the protective effect of cannabis is not permanent.
Improved Cholesterol And Lowered Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease
In the same 2013 study reference above, researchers compared the effect of cannabis on metabolic function comparing non-users to current and former users. It found that current users had improved cholesterol levels with higher blood levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL-C) or “good cholesterol.” Another study involving over 700 members of Canada’s Inuit community found that regular cannabis users had slightly lower LDL levels or “bad cholesterol.” This suggests that cannabis may help prevent heart diseases like atherosclerosis or stroke.
Atherosclerosis is linked to diet and lifestyle and is common in developed Western nations. It is a chronic inflammatory condition involving the progressive depositing of atherosclerotic plaques (immune cells carrying oxidized LDL) in veins and arteries. A growing body of evidence suggests endocannabinoid signaling plays a critical role in the pathology of atherogenesis. The condition is now understood as a physical response to injury to the lining of veins and arteries caused by high blood pressure, infection, or the excessive presence of an amino acid called homocysteine. Studies have shown that inflammatory molecules stimulate the cycle leading to atherosclerotic lesions. Existing treatments are moderately effective, though they carry numerous side effects. Cannabinoid receptors interacting with plant-derived cannabinoids increase anandamide and 2-AG production, the body’s natural cannabinoids, down-regulating the body’s inflammatory responses.
Furthermore, a 2007 animal study involving cannabidiol (CBD) showed a cardioprotective effect during heart attacks via cannabinoid receptor activation, suggesting it be beneficial for cardiovascular illness and health.
Reduced Risk Of Cancer
Could cannabidiol help prevent tumors and other cancers before they grow? A 2012 study showed that animals treated with CBD were significantly less likely to develop colon cancer after being induced with carcinogens in a laboratory. In addition, several studies showing that THC may prevent or reduce tumors in animal models have been published, including one study published in 1996, which found that THC reduces the incidence of both benign and hepatic adenoma tumors. In yet another study published in 2015, scientists analyzing the medical records of over eighty-four thousand male patients in California found that those who used cannabis, but not tobacco, had a 45% lower rate of bladder cancer than the average expected rate. Finally, and most recently, a 2020 meta-analysis review, published online in The Journal of Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, suggests that cannabis may reduce cancer risk in the United States.
Maintains Brain Health & Create Resilience To Trauma & Degeneration
Cannabinoids are neuroprotective, meaning that they help maintain and regulate brain health. The effects appear to be related to several actions they have on the brain, including removing damaged cells and the improved efficiency of mitochondria. CBD and other antioxidant compounds in cannabis also work to reduce glutamate toxicity. Extra glutamate, which stimulates nerve cells in the brain to fire, causes cells to become over-stimulated, ultimately leading to cell damage or death. Thus, cannabinoids help protect brain cells from damage, keeping the organ healthy and functioning properly. CBD has also been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the brain.
Cannabinoids support and regulate good brain health. As the brain ages, neurogenesis slows. Therefore, to maintain brain health and prevent degenerative diseases as we age, our nerve cells need to be protected, and new nerve cells need to be continuously created to replace those damaged by injury or illness. A 2018 review of low doses of CBD- and THC-like cannabinoids were shown to encourage the creation of new nerve cells in animal models, even in aging brains. CBD has also been shown to help prevent other painful nerve-related diseases like neuropathy, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Protects Against Bone Disease & Broken Bones
Cannabinoids are facilitative of the process of bone metabolism — the cycle in which old bone material is replaced by new at a rate of about 10% per year, crucial to maintaining strong, healthy bones over time. CBD, in particular, has been shown to block an enzyme that destroys bone-building compounds in the body, reducing the risk of age-related bone diseases like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. In both conditions, the body is no longer creating new bone and cartilage cells. Instead, CBD helps spur the process of new bone-cell formation, which is why it has been found to speed the healing of broken bones and, due to a stronger fracture callus, decrease the likelihood of re-fracturing the bone (bones are 35–50% stronger than those of non-treated subjects).
Protects & Heals The Skin
Research published in 2012 showing CBD can repair damage from free radicals like UV rays and environmental pollutants suggest potential skin health benefits. The skin has the highest amount and concentration of CB2 receptors in the body. Therefore, when applied topically as an infused lotion, serum, oil, or salve, the antioxidants in CBD can repair damage from free radicals like UV rays and environmental pollutants. In addition, cannabinoid receptors can be found in the skin and seem to be connected to the regulation of oil production in the sebaceous glands.
Cannabis-based topical products being developed to treat related issues from acne to psoriasis and promote faster healing of damaged skin. Historical documents describing the use of cannabis preparations for wound healing in animals and people from various cultures spanning the globe going back thousands of years suggest that cannabis for skin health and healing has a long tradition. Today the use of concentrated cannabis oils to treat skin cancer is gaining popularity. Several well-documented cases of people curing melanoma and carcinoma-type skin cancers with topical CBD and THC products. A recent study, published in 2021, investigating the roles of cannabinoids in melanoma found that “cannabinoids, individually or combined, reduced tumor growth and promoted apoptosis and autophagy in melanoma cells.” Cannabis applied topically is not psychoactive, so the safety and tolerability are superior to oral on inhaled products.
Anti-inflammatory and Neuro-Protective
A 2021 study reviewing the effects of cannabis on the skin found that Cannabinoids are potent anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective agents. CBD has been shown to interact with the endocannabinoid system in many organs, helping to reduce inflammation systemically and protecting the nervous system. The therapeutic potential of cannabinoids for inflammatory and neurodegenerative conditions is wide-ranging, as inflammation and neurodegeneration are involved in a wide range of diseases and illnesses.
The best way to avoid chronic pain and manage it is to prevent diseases or learn to manage the conditions that cause it. While there are many different types of pain, many conditions that can lead to long-term chronic pain include uncontrolled inflammation and neurodegeneration, two areas where cannabis has been shown to have great potential for benefit. In addition, injuries or illnesses that are inflammatory or have excessive inflammation as a symptom can be challenging to treat and manage as inflammation can prevent the body from healing. Using cannabis or cannabinoids can help promote a healthy inflammatory response and support the central nervous system. A healthy inflammatory response means improved recovery from illness and injury and may mean less pain and a lower risk of long-term health challenges.
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