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Medicinal Properties of Marijuana – History, Benefits and Effects


The term Medical Marijuana refers to the use of the cannabis plant and its chemical compounds to treat a range of illnesses and health conditions. It may not be medicine in the conventional sense, but there is anecdotal evidence of many sick people whose quality of lives have visibly improved after using moderate dosages of marijuana.

Marijuana has been used as a medicine for thousands of years. The earliest records date back to as early as 2737 BC in the writings of the Chinese emperor Shen Neng. The trend then travelled throughout Asia into the Middle East and Africa. Since 2013, Uruguay and numerous other forward-thinking countries have legalised medical marijuana, Germany being the latest to join the bandwagon. Although it is still a slow process, there is a definite trend towards its experimental legalisation.

The literature on medical marijuana is still inadequate because only 6 % of studies done on the subject research its medicinal properties.  Many countries are currently conducting a wide range of research and experiments, including those funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), exploring the possible benefits of THC, THCA, CBD, CBC, CBN and other cannabinoids for medicinal purposes.

Scientists have isolated a total of 483 chemical compounds in marijuana so far. Out of these, there are 85 biologically active compounds known as cannabinoids which relieve symptoms of illnesses by attaching itself to the brain receptors that look for similar, naturally occurring compounds in the human body. Researchers are currently breeding different strains of medical marijuana to harbour particular levels of each compound in order to treat different illnesses.

Currently, there is a growing interest in the two compounds – delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) for its medicinal properties. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the ingredient with mind-altering properties. It is responsible for the “high” experienced by people who use marijuana. Moderate dosage can act like an antioxidant, reduce nausea, inflammation, and pain.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is non-psychoactive. It can also counteract the THC induced “high” which makes it a safer, less controversial alternative. Its non-euphoric nature is the big selling point. It effectively treats Hungtinton’s Disease, seizures, neurodegenerative diseases, neuropathic pain, , schizophrenia, diabetes, cancer and possibly even treat addictions. It has a wider medical benefit than THC and scientists have been breeding marijuana plants to make CBD oil for medicinal purposes.

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It can decrease epileptic seizures and Dravet’s Syndrome

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a finding that confirmed the anecdotal claims made by parents over the years – that cannabidiol (CBD) inhibits drug-resistant childhood epilepsy. The findings were deduced from a study on a total of 120 children and teenagers who were suffering from Dravet syndrome.

Orrin Devinsky, the Director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center and the principal investigator says that the study has established cannabidiol as an effective remedy to reduce seizures in this age group. The marijuana strain that is high in cannabidiol and low in THC interacts with the brain cells to calm the excessive activity in the brain which causes seizures.

It has powerful anti-anxiety properties

Numerous studies conducted on animals and accumulating evidence from human experimental, epidemiological and clinical studies suggest that CBD can decrease anxiety. Made from a high-CBD, low-THC hemp derivative, CBD hemp oil is widely used to treat a number of anxiety-related disorders.

A study conducted by researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham, the University of Nottingham, the University of Sao Paulo and the Federal University of Santa Catarina, found that cannabidiol, reduces anxiety through 5-HT1A and activation of cannabinoid receptor in patterns concerning responses to threat.

Cannabidiol reduces fear expressions and disrupts fear memory, which can result in a reduction of learned fear. In his unpublished manuscript “Notes on Painless Detoxification from Narcotics Addiction” H.L Humes terms marijuana as a “neurological laxative,” that helps let go of anxiety that the patient holds within.

THC in marijuana helps veterans cope with PTSD

Recently, a publication made in Molecular Psychiatry claimed that the THC compound found in marijuana could possiby benefit Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients and that the psychoavtice cannabinoids found in the plant may possess chemicals that will relieve repeated nightmares and other symptoms related to PTSD. In September 2017, The New York Times published the story of a US veteran with Traumatic Brain Injury who claimed that after medicating himself with marijuana, he noticed significant improvements in his symptoms like decline in hyper-arousal, and less recollection of the trauma.

The drug disturbs the sleep cycles by intervening the later stages of REM sleep. Nightmares and other dreams occur during REM sleep, and by interrupting this stage of sleep, many of those dreams may not reoccur. In fact, a significant number of anecdotal evidence show that marijuana may be a better sleep aid than other substances like alcohol and medication, though more study is needed on the topic.

CBD in marijuana inhibits the growth of cancer cells

In 2007, the California Pacific Medical Center located in San Francisco conducted studies that found that CBD found in marijuana could inhibit the growth of metastasis in different conditions of aggressive cancer. The journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics published a study that found that cannabidiol inhibits the Id-1 gene, thereby preventing the growth of cancer. This gene is made in large numbers by cancer cells and causes them to spread throughout the entire body.

Breast cancer cells were studied and the Id-1 genes were treated with cannabidiol. The cells showed a decreased Id-1 expression and became less aggressive.  Preclinical (laboratory and animal) studies conducted by the National Cancer Institute has also demonstrated that cannabinoids reduce the risk of colon cancer, kill cancer cells in hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) and glioma tumour models, cause cell death in metastatic breast cancer and breast cancer, and inhibit the growth of tumour.

Marijuana relieves arthritis pain

In January 2014, Dr Sheng-Ming Dai at the Second Military Medical University in China published a finding in the Journal of Rheumatology that there are high CB2 receptors in the tissues of patients suffering from arthritis. Using marijuana has shown to activate the pathways of CB2 receptors, thereby fighting the inflammation caused in the joints.

A study on patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis found that medical marijuana improved pain caused by joint movement, quality of sleep and pain while at rest. A significant number of preclinical studies have confirmed the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects of marijuana. They support the idea that the endocannabinoid system relieves the pain triggered by arthritis.

It reduces the pain of Multiple Sclerosis and other types of muscle spasms

Evidence suggests that cannabis and individual cannabinoids may be effective in suppressing certain symptoms of spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis, including pain and spasticity. According to Dr Thorsten Rudroff, a Colorado State University neurophysiologist who has researched the effects of marijuana on symptoms of multiple sclerosis, there is a growing number of anecdotal reports on the benefits of the drug for treating common symptoms like sleep deprivation, muscle weakness, fatigue, and anxiety.

Cannabis strains that contain CBD levels equal or higher than THC have improved the effects on muscle spasticity and pain caused by multiple sclerosis. These positive effects of cannabis on spasticity and pain and its safety have also been emphasised by the American Academy of Neurology. The cannabinoid reduces spasticity and muscle tremors by interacting with cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 of the endocannabinoid system.

Cannabinoid interacts with CB1 and CB2 to regulate the inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters that are necessary to control the spasms. Clinical evidence has also shown that tetrahydrocannabinol and nabilone can produce relief from pain, spasticity, nocturia and tremor in patients with spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis.

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