January 4th, 2024
As cannabis restrictions are lifted in various parts of the world, it signals the initiation of research into cannabis as a medicinal substance. Studies have honed in on the therapeutic and medicinal properties in recent years, delving into health areas that may have been previously disregarded due to stigma and legal constraints.
We will delve into some of the recent research on cannabis as a medicine and explore its potential benefits.
Cannabis’ ancient roots
Cannabis has a rich legacy rooted in ancient cultures. Dating back thousands of years, civilisations such as the ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Greeks documented the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Its versatile properties were revered, with records indicating applications in treating pain, inflammation and even spiritual ceremonies.
The ancient Chinese pharmacopoeia, “Pen Ts’ao Ching,” written around the first century AD, highlighted cannabis as a remedy for various ailments, emphasising its potential to alleviate pain and induce relaxation. In ancient India, cannabis found a place in Ayurvedic medicine, where it was believed to balance the body’s doshas and promote overall well-being.
Prohibition and stigmatisation
The cannabis plant was first criminalised in Arabia as early as 1300 and has been at the heart of controversy ever since. The prohibition of cannabis and harsh laws for possession in the UK (1928) and the USA (1937) set the stage for the many decades of stigma towards cannabis.
This stigmatisation hindered scientific research and impeded the exploration of cannabis’s medicinal potential. As a result, for much of the 20th century, cannabis was relegated to the shadows, perceived more as a threat than a therapeutic agent.
As societal attitudes shifted, the late 20th century and early 21st century witnessed a gradual reevaluation of cannabis. Medical professionals, researchers and policymakers began to revisit its potential benefits, paving the way for the emergence of medical cannabis programmes in various parts of the world.
Where we stand with cannabis research today
As scientists delve deeper into medical marijuana research, cannabinoids, the active compounds in cannabis, have become a focal point. Among these cannabinoids, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) have undergone extensive examination. THC is renowned for its psychoactive effects, whereas CBD lacks the intoxicating properties associated with a “high” and has been the subject of investigations into potential therapeutic benefits.
Exploration into the potential advantages of cannabis extends across a spectrum of medical conditions, including but not limited to chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and certain mental health disorders. Studies have suggested that cannabinoids may possess anti-inflammatory, analgesic and neuroprotective properties, opening avenues for further understanding and potential applications in the field of medicine.
Uncovering the potential of cannabis in the medical world
As the shackles of cannabis restrictions have been lifted, research around the drug has been given the green light more and more over the years. Here are just three of the areas that are currently being researched:
Parkinson’s disease and cannabis
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder characterised by progressive deterioration of motor functions. Symptoms include tremors, stiffness and impaired balance. It results from the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain, impacting movement control. There is no current cure for Parkinson’s, and the current treatment options are scarce.
In 2016, a fascinating video surfaced on YouTube documenting the bodily reaction of a person suffering from severe Parkinson’s disease after being given medical cannabis.
In the opening seconds, we see Larry struggling to control his bodily movements, which affects his speech, balance, and ability to concentrate.
Larry is then given a liquid form of medical marijuana by Dr. Piomelli, director of Pharmacology at UC Irvine and within just a few moments, we see an incredible transformation. He no longer shakes; his voice returns to a normal tone and, funnily enough, wants to know, ‘Has everyone eaten lunch yet?’.
Watching this video, one might be forgiven for feeling as though they are being duped into watching a movie with actors. However, in reality, cannabis was able to provide relief to a man suffering from a destructive illness.
So, what does the research say?
In 2019, a study into how people with Parkinson’s reacted after being given cannabis in a medical setting was observed. The short-term effects were incredible, with patients who incorporated cannabis into their treatment reporting alleviation of symptoms such as bradykinesia, tremors, rigidity, depression, sleep disturbances and pain.
Nevertheless, the utilisation of marijuana is accompanied by both short-term and long-term effects, including cognitive impairments. It is noted that sustained, prolonged use of marijuana is necessary for the manifestation of its effects, which may also expose individuals to the risk of cannabis dependency.
The study closes by stating that more research will need to be done in the field for a clearer representation of how helpful cannabis is for patients who have Parkinson’s.
ADHD and cannabis
ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, stands as a neurodevelopmental condition marked by patterns of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Those struggling with ADHD often face challenges in maintaining focus, organisation and self-control, significantly impacting their daily lives. Typically diagnosed in childhood, the symptoms frequently persist into adulthood. Treatment approaches encompass therapy and medication, although in the UK, accessing medication for ADHD treatment can be a challenging feat.
In 2023, a Sky News report shed light on a unique approach adopted by some people coping with ADHD. Cannabis emerged as an unconventional remedy for alleviating ADHD symptoms. The scarcity and difficulty in obtaining traditional medication prompted individuals like Chris, an individual with ADHD, to explore alternative avenues for managing their condition.In an interview with Sky News, Chris shared his firsthand account of how cannabis played a role in dealing with the challenges posed by ADHD in his life.
Interviewer: You’ve effectively been self-medicating with cannabis for the past 15 years now, so half of your life and you say it’s been life-changing.
Chris: Yeah absolutely… I always thought that I was doing something wrong, which I was, in terms of the law, but… medically maybe not so much. I’d use cannabis and go and clean my house. I’d use cannabis and do my schoolwork. It stopped me shouting out in class. It helped me sit still and it just helped me focus. It helped me relax.
So, again, what does the research say?
One study that viewed 3 three ADHD patients who added cannabis to their treatment reported significant positive effects. These improvements included enhanced emotional control for all three patients and successfully pursuing more responsible jobs for two.
Objective measures showed enhancements across rating scales.
- Depression, measured by PHQ-9, improved by 30–81%
- Anxiety (SCARED) improved up to 33%
- Emotional regulation (CEER-9) showed gains of 22–78%
- Inattention (SNAP) saw improvements of 7–30%.
Notably, all patients used cannabis alongside conventional medications, with one patient even discontinuing stimulant therapy, attributing life-changing benefits to cannabis in conjunction with a shift to lithium.
The research paper ends by suggesting that more research is done into the benefits of cannabis for ADHD users.
Chemotherapy and cannabis
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to inhibit or kill rapidly dividing cells. While it targets cancer cells, it can also affect healthy cells, leading to side effects. Common symptoms include nausea, fatigue, hair loss and weakened immune function. These occur because chemotherapy impacts normal cells that also divide quickly. Though essential for cancer treatment, managing these side effects is crucial to improve patients’ quality of life during and after chemotherapy.
A cancer patient interviewed on Al Jazeera News said that she, at the time, signed up to be a part of a clinical trial that gave cannabis to patients recovering from chemotherapy. She stated that there were some medicines given to her as part of the chemotherapy that wreaked havoc on her body:
“There’s one drug that I can’t really leave the house for a week because I’m vomiting the whole time…yeah that’s pretty traumatic. It’s not very pleasant.”
These types of side effects have led many down the route of cannabis and a 2021 study sought to dig deeper into the link between the drug and reducing chemotherapy symptoms. Here’s what they found:
- Anecdotal reports from patients suggest cannabis, specifically THC, provides relief from chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
- Nabilone, an oral suspension capsule containing THC, is FDA-approved for treating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
- Higher doses of THC can be sedating, raising concerns about its suitability for all patients.
- CBD doses ranging from 0.5-5.0 mg/kg demonstrate effectiveness in treating nausea.
- In contrast to THC, CBD does not impair locomotor activity, offering a potential advantage in certain medical contexts.
The results show that certain elements of the cannabis plant may have the potential to alleviate some of the nasty side effects that chemotherapy can bring, especially when it comes to the nausea that so many suffer from.
Final thoughts and disclaimers
We’re in an exciting time for medicine as cannabis research makes a comeback. Today’s case studies highlight the need for more research in various areas. It’s a hopeful shift, suggesting cannabis could perhaps replace some traditional medications. The future looks promising, offering alternatives that weren’t considered before.
But, while cannabis has shown promise in alleviating symptoms associated with various medical conditions, it’s crucial to recognise the potential risks, especially in terms of cannabis addiction. Medical cannabis should be approached with caution, and medical professionals must guide its use.
It is crucial to emphasise that cannabis’ potential for addiction should not be underestimated. Frequent and uncontrolled use can lead to dependence and negatively impact your overall well-being. If you feel that you’ve already built a harmful relationship with cannabis, it could be time to reach out for help.
Reaching out for help for cannabis addiction
For those who are worried about their, or a loved ones, relationship with cannabis, seeking professional help is essential. UKAT centres can provide comprehensive support and rehabilitation services. Through thorough treatment plans, counselling and medical monitoring, you can find the help you need to overcome your dependency to cannabis. Contact us today!
(Click here to see works cited)
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- “Medical Marijuana and Parkinson’s Part 3 of 3.” YouTube, YouTube, 22 Nov. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNT8Zo_sfwo&ab_channel=RidewithLarry. Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.
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- “ADHD Sufferers Self-Medicating with Cannabis Due to NHS Delays, Charity Warns.” YouTube, YouTube, 5 Aug. 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JB_ljjWuTXo&ab_channel=SkyNews. Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.
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- “Can Cannabis Ease Chemotherapy Side Effects?” YouTube, YouTube, 4 Feb. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSxLDO0HVpc&ab_channel=AlJazeeraEnglish. Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.
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