The healers and ancient doctors across the world who practiced cannabis medicine thousands of years ago did this due to the fact that they witnessed the benefits of medicinal cannabinoids on people firsthand. In the last fifty years we’ve seen modern science begin to shed a light on the biological mechanisms behind the healing, where animal and plant chemistry work in concert. The amount of research on THC, CBD, and many other cannabinoids has exploded exponentially in the last ten years. This article pulls together the most up to date scientific research from around the world on treating some common conditions plaguing our society today.
It’s important for us to note that cannabis refers to both hemp and marijuana, as these are varieties of the plant, bred for different purposes. In much the same way macintosh and granny smith apples are bred for variety and taste, hemp and marijuana both come from the same plant genus, but are significantly different in their applications and consumability. Hemp is considered the low-THC (0.3%) variety of cannabis, whereas marijuana is specifically bred for high-THC at levels above 10-15 percent, which results in the psychoactive “high” users experience. Hemp is often considered the obvious choice for those wanting more of the medicinal effects without the psychoactive, as it still contains over 120+ cannabinoids including cannabidiol (CBD oil), cannabigerol (CBG), CBN, and many more that research is showing can help promote positive health outcomes. In following, we will use the word “cannabis” to broadly cover all varieties of the plant, hemp or otherwise.
The opinion of authors from a study in 2016 called “Cannabinoids and GI Disorders” published in Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology sums up the current climate and brings a clear call to action for the medical and scientific community to integrate medicinal cannabinoids and their understanding into line with our current understanding of neurochemistry.
Despite the political and social controversy affiliated with it, the medical community must come to the realization that cannabinoids exist as a ubiquitous signaling system in many organ systems. Our understanding of cannabinoids and how they relate not only to homeostasis but also in disease states must be furthered through research, both clinically and in the laboratory. (1)
The message from these scientists conveys a clear message that the endocannabinoid system, which was first discovered by Raphael Mechoulam in the mid-1990s, is potentially one of the most important recent discoveries about endogenous chemicals involved in optimizing and maintaining health in all mammals. Endogenous means, created naturally within the body. Cannabinoids and their receptors aren’t just found in the brain, but also in many organs as well as skin, connective tissue, immune cells, and glands.
There is a very long list of conditions that CBD can assist with treating due to the fact that cannabinoid receptors are so integral to so many bodily systems. This is also the reason cannabinoids can be used as a general preventative medicine to help keep the body healthy by protecting the body against the damaging effects of stress and aging.
Compared to commonly prescribed drugs for the same conditions, CBD is extraordinarily well-tolerated by most people. When seldom side-effects do occur, they're occasionally accompanied with one or any of the following; reduced appetite, drowsiness, fatigue, diarrhea, or dry mouth. CBD interacts with the same medications that contraindicate with grapefruit, so its best to check with your doctor prior to using CBD if you're taking a pharmaceutical drug.
Cannabinoid therapy is connected to the part of a biological matrix where the brain and body meet. Because CBD and other chemicals in cannabis are much like the chemicals created by our own bodies, they are superior in their integration than many synthetic drugs. Dr Bradley E. Alger, a leading scientist with a doctorate in experimental psychology from Harvard University, who specialises in research surrounding endocannabinoids, believes that there are complex actions happening in our nervous system, immune system, and almost all of the body’s organs, and that the system that connects them all, is the endocannabinoid system. It is a bridge between mind and body. When we understand this system, we will start to see a mechanism that could link brain activity and states of physical health and disease. (2)
Many studies show that those who regularly use cannabis have a lower body mass index, small waists, and reduced risk of obesity and diabetes. In a 2011 report published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that based on a survey of more than 52,000 participants, the rates of obesity were roughly one-third less among users of cannabis. (3) This is even despite the fact that participants tended to consume more calories per day, an activity that is potentially related to the appetite increasing activity of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) through the activation of the hormone ghrelin, which also increases the metabolism of carbohydrates. In a study from 2006, CBD was shown to lower the incidence of diabetes in lab rats, (4) and in 2015 an Israeli-American biopharmaceutical collective began stage 2 trials which were related to using CBD to treat diabetes. (5) Research has shown that CBD helps the body to convert white fat into the weight-reducing brown fat, which promotes normal sugar metabolism and insulin production.
In a study of over 4600 subjects, researchers discovered that active cannabis users had 16 percent lower fasting insulin levels than non-cannabis users. They also had higher levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol (that can help protect against diabetes), and 17 percent lower levels of insulin resistance. Those who had previously used cannabis in their lifetime but were not currently using, showed similar but less obvious associations, indicating that the protective effect of cannabis dissolves over time. (6)
Excess insulin increases the conversion of sugars into stored fat and this leads to weight gain and obesity. The research emerging about the exchange between cannabinoids and insulin regulation may lead to some incredible breakthroughs in the prevention of type 2 diabetes and obesity.
In 2013 a study measured data from 4652 participants surrounding the effects of cannabis on metabolic systems compared non-users to current and former users. The researchers discovered that current users had higher blood levels of high-density lipoprotein (HCL-C) or “good cholesterol.” In the same year, there was an analysis of over seven hundred members of Canada’s Inuit community, which found that, on average, regular cannabis users had increased levels of HDL-C and slightly lower levels of LDL-C (“bad cholesterol”)
Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disorder involving the progressive depositing of atherosclerotic plaques (immune cells carrying oxidized LDL or low-density lipoproteins). This condition, which is linked to diet and lifestyle factors, is commonly developed in Western nations and can lead to stroke or heart disease. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests endocannabinoid signaling plays a vital role in pathology of atherogenesis. (7) The condition is currently understood to be a physical response to injuries in the arterial walls’ lining, caused by infectious microbes, high blood pressure, or the excessive presence of an amino acid called homocysteine. Research has shown that inflammatory molecules stimulate the cycle leading to atherosclerotic lesions. (8) Current treatments are only moderately effective, though carry many side effects. The cannabinoid-2 (CB2) receptors actually triple in response to inflammation, allowing 2-AG and anandamide, the body’s natural cannabinoids, to decrease inflammatory responses. The CB2 receptor is also activated by cannabinoids from plants called phytocannabinoids. (9)
In a 2005 study researchers discovered that low-dose oral cannabinoids had the ability to slow the progression of atherosclerosis in mice. The scientists later wrote the following year that the immunomodulatory capacity of cannabinoids was “well established” in science and suggested they had a broad therapeutic potential for a variety of pain management conditions, including atherosclerosis. (10)
A study from 2007 with cannabidiol (CBD) found that it had a cardio-protective effect during heart attacks, (11) and more information was published that year covering the involvement of the CB1 and CB2 receptors in cardiovascular illness and health. (12)
Could utilizing cannabidiol assist in helping to prevent tumors and other cancers before they grow? A study from 2012 found that animals treated with CBD were much less likely to develop colon cancer after being induced with carcinogens in a laboratory. (13) Many studies have already shown that THC prevents tumors and reduces them, including one in 1996 on animals models that found that it decreased the incidence of both hepatic adenoma and benign tumors. (14) In 2015, researchers went ahead and analyzed an astounding 84,000 male patient records in california and discovered that those who used cannabis, but not tobacco, had a rate of bladder cancer that was 45 percent below the norm. (15) Topical products can be used to prevent and treat skin cancers. The availability of CBD and cannabis products in your country may vary depending on its current legal status, and as always, consult with your licenced medical professional prior to undertaking any changes to your treatment or lifestyle plan.
The neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids mean they help regulate and maintain brain health. The effects seem to be related to multiple actions they have on the brain, this includes improved efficiency of mitochondria and removal of damaged cells. Cannabidiol (CBD) and other antioxidant compounds in cannabis also work to reduce glutamate toxicity. Extra glutamate, which activates nerve cells in the brain to fire, causes cells to become over-stimulated, which leads to cell damage or death. What this means, is that cannabinoids help protect brain cells from damage, keeping the brain healthy and functioning properly. CBD has also been found to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the brain. (16) This is another reason why CBD products can assist with anxiety, bipolar, BPD, depression and other mood-related conditions.
As our brain ages, the creation of new neurons declines significantly. In order to prevent degenerative diseases and maintain brain health, new cells need to be continuously created. In a study from 2008, researchers revealed that low doses of CBD- and THC-like cannabinoids assisted in the creation of new nerve cells in animal models, even in aging brains. (17) CBD also helps in the prevention of other nerve related conditions like Alzherimer’s disease and neuropathy.
Cannabinoids guide the process of bone metabolism, which is the cycle where old bone material is replaced by new at a rate of about 10 percent per year, vital to maintaining strong, healthy bones over the years. CBD especially, has been found to block an enzyme that annihilates bone-building compounds in the body, reducing the risk of age-related bone diseases like osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. In both of those diseases, the body isn’t creating any new cartilage cells or bone. CBD helps encourage the process of new bone-cell formation, which is why its been found to speed the healing of broken bones, and due to a tougher fracture callus, decrease the likelihood of re-fracturing the bone (bones are 35-50 percent stronger than those not using cannabidiol). (18)
The skin happens to have the highest concentrations of CB2 receptors in the body. When applied topically as an infused balm, serum, lotion, oil or salve, the antioxidants in CBD (a far more powerful antioxidant than vitamins E and C) (19) can repair the damage from free radicals like environmental pollutants and UV rays. Cannabinoid receptors can be found in the skin and seem to be connected to the adjustment of oil production in the sebaceous glands. (20) Cannabis-based topical products are being made to assist with acne, eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions, along with promote faster healing of damaged skin. In fact, historically there is wide documentation of cannabis salves and preparations being used to promote wound healing in both animals and humans across a large scope of civilizations across the planet dating back thousands of years to the ancient egyptians and greeks. Popularity is also growing with the use of highly concentrated cannabis oils to treat various forms of skin cancer. (21) Cannabis applied topically is non-psychoactive.
Many cannabinoids have proven anti-inflammatory effects in hundreds of published peer-reviewed studies. (22) CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system in many organs throughout the body, assisting in reducing inflammation and chronic pain systemically. The therapeutic potential is significantly long-reaching, as inflammation is involved in a wide spectrum of diseases.
Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the reproductive system in both men and women. When activated by cannabidiol (CBD) these receptors can assist with blood flow to the tissue, increasing sensitivity and promoting the body's own natural functioning. Although, further research is needed in this area.
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