Throughout the last century, medical research has proven to exceed beyond boundaries. Yet, one little plant slid passed all eyes throughout this time.
Due to cannabis prohibition, the many cannabinoids found in cannabis have been ignored by medical researchers until recently. What’s been discovered – and continues to make progress – are the numerous medical benefits of these cannabinoids.
As cannabis legalization – both medical and recreational – continues to become legal throughout the country, more and more people are gaining access to these benefits.
Throughout this article, we’re going to explore the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, and all the medical properties modern research can confirm. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
How Does THC Affect the Brain and Body?
In order to properly understand the medical benefits of THC, we must first understand what THC does to our brain and body when we consume it.
The reason people feel “high” when they smoke marijuana is because of the way THC interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS). Our ECS is a naturally concurring neurotransmitter within many of our vital organs, including our brain, gut, and liver.¹
Scientists have observed that healthy individuals tend to have a balanced ECS. Whereas people who face various diseases have an imbalanced ECS.
Within our ECS are two receptors, CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. THC has a direct effect on our CB1 receptors which is located in our brain and responsible for producing euphoric sensations.
Due to THC’s binding to our CB1 receptors, we receive a high when we consume it. However, an influence on our CB1 receptors also can have medical benefits.
THC’s Medical Benefits
The following is an analysis of THC’s various medical benefits observed by scientists:
When it comes to cannabis and anxiety, most researchers have concluded that there are short-term benefits.
One study by Washington State University found that those who smoked cannabis saw a significant reduction in anxiety, depression, and stress. However, this same study revealed that these individuals didn’t see any reduction in these symptoms for the long-term.²
Furthermore, some people report cannabis has induced anxiety in them. This is because THC affects our amygdala. This is a neurotransmitter within our brain that’s responsible for anxiety – whether we feel an increase or decrease in it.³
There is no way to tell whether or not cannabis how cannabis will affect you if you struggle with anxiety besides giving it a try. If you’ve been thinking of trying cannabis for anxiety, we advocate you try a small amount and work your way up.
In certain chronic illnesses, appetite loss is a serious symptom that can lead to negative long-term changes. For some time, scientists have been trying to find a cure to this symptom. And cannabis just may be the answer.
Research has found that cannabis alters eating behaviors in those who consume it regularly. Through a lab rat experiment, it was discovered that cannabis activates the hunger hormones in the brain.⁴
In the words of Jon Davis, Ph.D., a researcher at the Department of Integrative Physiology and Neurosciences at Washington State:
“We all know cannabis use affects appetite, but until recently we’ve actually understood very little about how or why. By studying exposure to cannabis plant matter, the most widely consumed form, we’re finding genetic and physiological events in the body that allows cannabis to turn eating behavior on or off.”
Many cannabis enthusiasts goes as far as to claim THC is the cure for cancer. However, science can’t back up such a claim just yet.
What we do know is THC has the ability to inhibit cancer cell growth. In other words, if cancer is discovered early on, THC may have the ability to prevent it from spreading throughout the body.⁵
The only difficulty with this is there are so many different types of cancer. With that, research concerning THC has only looked into a few.
Still, many researchers agree that cannabis is a suitable complementary therapy for cancer patients. This means cancer patients are highly advised to continue with traditional treatments, such as chemotherapy, while using cannabis to combat cancer growth.
Furthermore, THC has the ability to combat side effects brought on by these traditional forms of treatment. These side effects include:
- Loss of appetite
It’s always important to consult a medical professional before taking THC as it may interact with other medications.
Many medical researchers agree that in order to treat glaucoma, eye pressure must be controlled 24 hours a day. Therefore, cannabis isn’t necessarily the best option for this kind of eye management.
Still, similarly to THC’s role in cancer patients, the cannabinoid may be able to help assist in traditional forms of treatment.
Research from the 1970s and 1980s found that glaucoma patients who used marijuana saw a significant decrease in intraocular pressure for around 3 to 4 hours. The biggest difficulty with these findings is, in order to maintain eye vision, a person would need to intake 18 to 20 mg of THC six to eight times in a single day. And they would have to do so every day until the glaucoma was resolved.⁶
Obviously, this can have negative effects in other areas of one’s life, including:
- Lung health (if smoked)
- Mental clarity
Therefore, more research is looking into CBD as a means of proper cannabis glaucoma treatment.
Sleep disorders are common amongst the United States and can lead to a number of other health problems. If you’ve had difficulty getting enough sleep at night, you may have considered cannabis as an option.
A study published in 2008 found that THC affects the brain in a way that decreases REM sleep. REM sleep is responsible for producing dreams. With this discovery, some researchers have concluded marijuana may help people who face consistent nightmares, such as those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).⁷
The only difficulty with this is REM sleep is important for some health aspects, including cognitive and immune functioning.
The truth is, cannabis may be a short-term solution to sleeping problems. Medical professionals have agreed that taking cannabis in the long-term for sleep could have negative effects. But when taken in the short-term, cannabis does show to help individuals get a better night’s rest.
If you’ve considered cannabis for sleep, you understand the different strains of cannabis. These include:
- Indica: A strain associated with relaxation and sleep.
- Sativa: A strain associated with feelings excitement and energy.
- Hybrids: A combination of indica and sativa. Some hybrids are more indica-heavy, whiles others are more sativa-heavy.
For sleeping problems, indica is the best strain of cannabis.⁸
Research has found that marijuana can help in decreasing both muscle pain and spasticity. In one study, researchers discovered that those who consumed cannabis experienced a one-third reduction in spasticity while those given a placebo experienced none.⁹
However, what was more significant was this study found that patients perception of the pain was reduced by nearly 50%. So, marijuana not only helps reduce muscle spasms but also the pain associated with them.
When serotonin and dopamine bind together, people tend to feel nauseous and may even go as far as to vomit. THC has been found the block this binding and, in turn, prevent nausea and vomiting.¹⁰
This is a big discovery for those who experience nausea due to other medications. For example, cancer patients are likely to experience nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy. Marijuana is currently being researched as a complementary therapy for cancer patients.
Due to the rise of the opioid overdose epidemic, many people are looking towards natural alternatives as a means of easing mild to chronic pain. One of the alternatives which has received a lot of attention is marijuana.
THC has been found to activate the reward system within the brain, in a similar fashion to opioids. In turn, this causes the brain to receive less pain signals from other areas of the body.¹¹
From what research knows, as of this time, the following pains have shown reduction when THC is consumed:
- Joint pain
- Non-migraine headaches
In many cases, THC is an ideal alternative medicine to certain pharmaceuticals due to it’s ability to produce little side effects outside of psychoactivity.
Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, THC isn’t the almighty answer we’ve been looking for when it comes to battling difficult diseases, such as cancer. Still, there’s no denying THC can play a positive role in treating these conditions.
As medicine continues to develop, scientists are going to have to focus on using cannabis along with other forms of medication. Through this focus, we may just find the almighty answer to battling these difficult diseases.
Still have questions concerning THC and its medical benefits?
We invite you to ask them in the comments below. If you have any personal or professional information on the topic, we’d also love to hear from you.
² Journal of Affective Disorders: A naturalistic examination of the perceived effects of cannabis on negative affect
⁴ Science Daily: How cannabis affects appetite: Brain changes
⁵ National Cancer Institute: Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®) – Patient Version
¹⁰ British Journal of Pharmacology: Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids
¹¹ Harvard Medical School: Medical marijuana