Stoners have known for some time that marijuana is a different kind of drug, one that helps rather than hurts. However, fears surrounding the drug have clouded political and cultural judgement — until right about now.
As more states decriminalize and legalize cannabis, scientists are gaining greater access for the purposes of medical research, and they are discovering that there are several ways that marijuana can benefit the human body and mind.
If you are eager to understand how cannabis impacts your health, read on for the latest information.
First: A Primer on Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
Since Americans began developing fears about the psychoactive effects of marijuana — which started occurring around the beginning of the 20th century — researchers have endeavored to understand what compounds within cannabis produce the famous high and why. As a result, scientists were able to first identify non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) in 1940 and the intensely psychoactive cannabinoid delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in 1964. In fact, you can learn about the motivations behind studying THC specifically at hightimes.com
Yet, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that researchers truly began to understand how these cannabinoids and others worked within the human body. In 1990, scientists successfully cloned a receptor from what became known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a system which works to facilitate communication between the brain and various bodily systems, like the immune system, the cardiovascular system, the reproductive system, the digestive system and more. In effect, the ECS helps the body maintain homeostasis, which is internal balance despite external fluctuation. The ECS produces endocannabinoids, many of which scientists have not yet discovered, to stimulate different systems to behave in different ways.
Cannabinoids interact with the ECS in different ways, which is what results in the psychoactive and non-psychoactive effects of marijuana. Some cannabinoids bind to receptors, interfering with the normal function of various systems; other cannabinoids encourage the ECS to produce more of certain endocannabinoids, thereby helping the body heal itself. While more research on both the ECS and cannabinoids is warranted, here is what we know about cannabinoids and health in 2020:
What THC Can Treat
Present in the highest quantities, THC is the most dominant cannabinoid within cannabis and is almost entirely responsible for the psychoactive effects of the drug: the euphoria, the giddiness, the intense relaxation, etc. Though the THC high was initially what made the drug seem scary and dangerous, it is precisely this high that has beneficial medical applications.
When used, THC floods the ECS, binding to receptors in much greater quantities than endocannabinoids and overwhelming various bodily systems. This interruption in the normal function of the ECS and other systems helps sufferers of various conditions find relief.
Currently, THC is most often applied to chronic pain as a replacement for other, more hazardous pain relief like opioids or NSAIDs, both of which can cause damage in the long term. In small doses, THC can block the experience of mild or moderate pain without affecting a user’s ability to function. Conditions that cause chronic pain and seem to benefit from THC include multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, GERD, arthritis, ulcers and more. If you suffer from any of these diseases, you can find a dispensary near you on weedmaps.com
What CBD Can Treat
Though CBD was discovered first, it remains a cannabinoid shrouded in mystery. Unlike THC, there is no evidence of CBD binding to ECS receptors or any other receptors within the human body. As a result, CBD is not psychoactive, and it doesn’t work on the body the same way THC seems to.
Despite a wealth of anecdotal evidence that CBD is beneficial in treating issues as disparate as anxiety and diabetes, but there isn’t much trustworthy evidence to back up these claims. The largest and most reliable studies on CBD have focused on its applications in managing epilepsy — which have shown the cannabinoid to be so effective that CBD forms the basis for the first cannabis-based, FDA-approved medication, epidiolex.com
Larger studies applying CBD to other health conditions, especially chronic pain, are in the works and point to CBD being a mild anti-inflammatory that could help with some pain management. For now, it seems that CBD is not psychoactive, not addictive and rarely results in side effects. Though it is clear the CBD is not a cure-all, it could have wide-ranging physical effects yet to be discovered.
THC and CBD are not the only cannabinoids in cannabis, but they are the only ones that have enjoyed any scientific scrutiny. As states and private institutions devote more resources to the study of cannabinoids, we will gain a better understanding of what they are currently doing to the brain and body and how we can harness their power for good health.