The medicinal and spiritual benefits of cannabis have been known to societies for thousands of years, and the use of psychoactive substances was widespread throughout the ancient world. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that science was able to start confirming the medicinal value of the herb, which has since allowed us to develop and refine its potential so that it can be used to treat an array of illnesses.
Until now, it’s been a controversial topic. But with recent breakthroughs in science and more information becomes available about what exactly this herb does, more and more Americans are shifting their perspective from taboo to accepting.
While the expansion of product types has undoubtedly helped to improve the reputation of cannabis – in addition to cannabis flower itself, users can now purchase oils, edibles creams and more – it is the growth of non-psychoactive cannabis which has helped to push the recent wave of legalization in the United States and elsewhere. These non-psychoactive products are based around a compound called cannabidiol (CBD), which is generally the second-most abundant compound in cannabis following tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Natural Medicinal Benefits of Cannabis
Both THC and CBD are categorized as cannabinoids, and while they both have medicinal uses, they are polarizing compounds – THC boasts the psychoactive properties which have made cannabis a recreational favorite; in contrast, CBD is not psychoactive and can even be used to suppress a THC-influenced “high.”
Other important cannabinoids include cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN) and cannabidivarin (CBDV) – the benefits of these chemicals range from anti-epileptic to anti-bacterial. However, less is understood about the exact effects of these cannabinoids due to the long-time restrictions on cannabis research. A total of 113 unique cannabinoids have been identified in the cannabis plant so far, which puts into perspective how much is still to be learned about the herb’s effects.
However, scientists have still found out plenty since the early 1960s – let’s take a more detailed look at some of the confirmed benefits of cannabis.
Cannabis Is also a Powerful Anti-inflammatory
Existing anti-inflammatories may be effective for much of the population, but the dangers of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are also well-documented. In 2018, a study was released showing that daily intake of aspirin, an over-the-counter NSAID, provided no benefits to those over the age of 70, while possibly increasing the risks of stomach bleeds. Stronger NSAIDs have long been associated with stomach pains and ulcers.
Treating inflammation has historically been difficult, due to the volatility of immune system response – asthma, sinusitis and rheumatoid arthritis are all caused by chronic inflammation. However, in the early 1990s, cutting-edge cannabis research from Israel led to the uncovering of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which has since been found to have a prominent role over our mental and physical wellbeing.
The ECS consists of cannabinoid receptors, which are responsive to fatty neurotransmitters produced by the body, known as endocannabinoids, as well as cannabinoids from cannabis. Intriguingly, cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) has been found to modulate immune system response, as it is present in many types of immune cells. THC is a partial agonist (or activator) of the CB2 receptor, while CBD facilitates an increased concentration of endocannabinoids in the ECS, enabling them to bind with receptors and control inflammation.
The versatility of cannabis products means that all kinds of inflammation can be remedied, from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to acne. The former is effectively treated with CBD vape oil and e-liquid, as the quick onset of effects rapidly soothes onsets of pain. For acne and also rheumatoid arthritis, liberal application of a cream or salve is beneficial, as this ensures cannabinoids interact with receptors, and therefore immune cells, in the skin.
CBD has been proven to have sebostatic properties, meaning it can regulate sebum production, and treat the primary symptom of acne (excess sebum).
How CBD Helps Boost Mental Health
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be the leading class of antidepressants, but these drugs are far from perfect. Patients may not notice benefits for several weeks, and side effects of insomnia, nausea and drowsiness are common – fatigue also tends to reduce productivity, which can fuel feelings of negativity. However, researchers have struggled to understand the causes of depression, and up to 40 percent of patients find SSRIs totally ineffective.
However, in recent times, researchers have located receptors in both the endocannabinoid and serotonin systems which influence mood. Moreover, brain scans are showing that depression could be a result of physical changes, caused by inflammation of the brain – damage to the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex has been connected to depression.
CBD is a promising treatment for brain inflammation and chemical imbalance in this most important of organs. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid which has mood-lifting properties, which are realized when the neurotransmitter binds with the CB1 receptor. CBD encourages more of these bonds by stopping the FAAH enzyme from breaking down anandamide. In 2005, a study demonstrating that CBD is a partial agonist of the serotonin 1a receptor was published in the peer-reviewed Neurochemical Research. Agonising this receptor may help to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, CBD helps to mend neuronal circuitry damage in the prefrontal cortex, and reverse shrinkage to the hippocampus, along with CBC. A shrunk hippocampus has been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, a neurodegenerative disease that causes memory loss.
It’s somewhat ironic that cannabis is now being shown to improve mental health, as a narrative has prevailed in the media that the herb is psychologically detrimental. While there are indications that those predisposed to conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia could have symptoms triggered by high doses of psychoactive THC, research on patients with these disorders has revealed that CBD is a potent anti-psychotic and a safe treatment for schizophrenia.
What’s Next for Cannabis?
While legalizing cannabis is largely considered a big and unusual step for society, in reality, it is the oppression of the herb which is unusual. The 21st century re-embracement of the plant has already helped to treat some of the most vulnerable, such as child epilepsy patients with intractable conditions. The emergence of non-psychoactive products like CBD gummy bears is also increasing the viability of cannabis medication, offering an alternative for people opposed to smoking or vaporizing