Besides the interesting reasons as to why cannabis or marijuana was made illegal in various countries in the first place, the prohibited substance has an array of uses that far surpass its recreational use. Lets look at some of the things we know so far about the plant and stay away from the political side of all of it.
Written evidence of the medicinal and recreational uses of MJ dates back to around 2727 BC, written in manuscripts from the Chinese emperor Shennong (or Shen Nung). Emperor Shennong has been called the Father of Chinese medicine for his work and notes on many herbal medicines as well has his contributions to Chinese agriculture. Written in the text ‘The Herbal’, the pharmacologist (one of the first) experimented on himself with a variety of different herbs; including cannabis. Consumed as a tea called Ma’, Shennong recommended that the tea be used to treat more than 100 illnesses as well as stated the plants beneficial use in the manufacturing of paper, rope, textiles and a lot more. Besides documentation from China, artifacts dating back 10,000 years has shown the use of cannabis for making fibers and being used in rituals. Regardless, cannabis has been used for an array of applications for thousands of years. Cannabis now is used mainly recreationally either through smoking or ingesting. Its used predominantly to ‘chase a high’ with potential short term effects including hungry and euphoria as well as short term memory loss, paranoia and impaired motor skills. How can we use it now?
Though there is skepticism by some on the uses of cannabis on a recreational level, there is a large movement of individuals and groups that are pushing for the further investigation and use of cannabis medicinally. Let’s look at some of the studies that have been conducted around the use of cannabis. The studies below are but a couple that I found during my research and I tried to provided evidence for and against the use of cannabis.
Earlier this year, a study was conducted in Australia assessing cannabis use from 976 responses from the public around epilepsy. Of that sample, 15% (≈ 146 people) were adults with epilepsy and 13% (≈ 127 people) were carers of someone with epilepsy. From these numbers, 90% (≈ 131 people) and 71% (≈ 90 people) respectively reported the frequency of epileptic episodes had decreased since starting medicinal marijuana use. The main reason for cannabis use stemmed from wanting to treat seizures that appeared to be resistant to the 20 plus anti-epileptic drugs that are currently available.
A 2016 review of 31 studies showed that there is a marked increase in the concentration of ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC (the psychoactive component) and a decrease in other components like cannabidiol or CDB (the potentially beneficial component) in cannabis. Though the reason for this isn’t completely clear, it is potentially thanks to selective breeding practices as breeders aim for a more ‘pure’ product. Higher concentrations of THC has shown to have negative affects on several regions of the brain (hippocampus, amygdala, etc) affecting mental health, cognition and brain neuroanatomy (brain structure and connectivity). Alternatively, CDB has been identified as a therapeutic agent in seizures (mentioned previously), psychiatric symptoms, chronic pain and the adverse effects of THC. More potent strains of cannabis have been linked to earlier onset of psychosis and psychotic episodes, anxiety, and cannabis use disorders (CUD). This could suggest that THC levels in cannabis should be monitored and regulated to ensure minimal negative effects. Or maybe selective breeding techniques that ensure the higher concentration of CDB. To counter one of the ideas of the review, another 2016 study found that there was no increased risk of depression or anxiety after a 3 year follow up of people using cannabis. Also, that there was no increased or decreased chance of the use of cannabis base already on depression and anxiety diagnosis.
In 2015, a study looked at some of the regions in the brain that have a higher concentration of CB1 receptors (receptors sensitive to cannabis) and the potential effects of said cannabis use. The study consisted of 68 patients (33 users, 35 control) ranging in age from 18 to 25. The volume and surface area of the parietal and prefrontal regions were altered in adolescents who used cannabis. Associations made by anatomical variations within the brain could explain poorer performance from users in maintaining attention with extended use negatively affecting the ability to regulate stress, process emotions, social cognition, contextual decision making, anticipatory response and fear responses. Something that was mentioned by the authors though is that this study purely looked at anatomical variations of brains and this was correlated with previous work done to come to conclusions. It was concluded though that adolescences and early adulthood is a sensitive time for brain remodeling and that the use of cannabis during this time could be bad.
A year long study, also published in 2015, assessed the safety of the use of cannabis for chronic pain management that wasn’t associated with cancer. The research consisted of 215 patients with chronic pain who use cannabis (141 current and 58 ex users) to treat with a control group consisting of 216 patients. Over the year, 40 serious adverse effects were recorded by 28 patients (13% of cannabis users, 6% of total patients) and 818 non-serious adverse effects recorded by 190 patients (88% of cannabis users, 44% of total patients). The studied showed that there was no increase risk of serious adverse effects between patients who took cannabis and control but there was an increase in non-serious adverse effects. Some of the non-serious reports included symptoms like dizziness, headaches, the common cold and drowsiness. If you get the opportunity to do so, I highly recommend reading through the complete scientific article; it’s a good read.
Cannabis does have some amazing uses but being completely for or against is not the healthiest approach to have when the full list of its negative and beneficial side effects hasn’t completely been established yet. The only way that this can be done is through further investigation and investment into the product which is looking promising since the pro-cannabis movement that has been happening over the last couple of years. I have a feeling though that the future of cannabis is going to be pretty lit.