Health Benefits Of Cannabis, According To Experts

The Growing Popularity and Controversy Surrounding Cannabis

The popularity of cannabis is on the ascent, with an increasing number of states legalizing its use for either medical or recreational purposes. Despite this, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, a stance contested by numerous medical experts and researchers who question the decision upheld by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

While additional peer-reviewed clinical research is essential, a multitude of studies endorse cannabis as a valid and safe therapeutic substance when appropriately utilized under expert supervision. Delve into the diverse medical conditions that cannabis is believed to aid, and explore the perspectives of industry experts on the use of cannabis.

Understanding Cannabis: Components, Effects, and Potential Health Benefits

Cannabis sativa, commonly known as cannabis, is a intricate plant belonging to the Cannabaceae family. Comprising approximately 540 chemical compounds, it houses over 100 cannabinoids, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) being the most prominent.

The term “marijuana” typically refers to cannabis components containing substantial THC levels, while “hemp” denotes components with less than 0.3% THC by dry weight, as defined by the federal U.S. government.

THC is the compound responsible for cannabis’s reputation as an intoxicating psychoactive substance, inducing feelings of euphoria, reduced anxiety, and increased relaxation. According to Daniele Piomelli, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Study of Cannabis at the University of California, Irvine, THC and other cannabinoids in cannabis interact with the endocannabinoid system, regulating pain, appetite, and stress response.

Potential Health Benefits of Cannabis:

  1. Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects:
    The FDA has approved prescription drugs like Marinol and Syndros, containing synthetic THC (dronabinol), to alleviate nausea and vomiting during cancer chemotherapy. Cesamet, another drug with synthetic THC, is also used to address these symptoms, as well as loss of appetite and weight in HIV/AIDS patients.
  2. Managing Multiple Sclerosis Spasticity:
    Sativex, an oral spray with both THC and CBD, is utilized in 25 countries to treat muscle stiffness and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis. In Canada, it serves as an adjunctive treatment for adult patients not responding well to other therapies. In the U.S., Sativex is under testing for its efficacy in treating multiple sclerosis spasticity.
  3. Addressing Chronic Pain:
    Clinical research in Inflammopharmacology suggests that a combination of THC and CBD can be effective in treating chronic pain, including neuropathic, nociceptive, and nociplastic pain. This combination is reported to be more tolerable, safer, and less addictive than opioid-based analgesics.
  4. Improving Sleep Quality:
    Studies indicate that dronabinol (synthetic THC) may improve sleep quality for individuals with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). A 2018 study in Sleep found a reduction in breathing interruptions during sleep, with the 10-milligram dose outperforming lower doses and a placebo. Another study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine observed improved sleep metrics in OSA patients using dronabinol.

While these findings suggest potential health benefits, ongoing research is crucial to fully comprehend the therapeutic applications of cannabis and its constituents.

Exploring Additional Health Benefits and Risks of Cannabis

Krissy Bernazani, a registered pharmacist and clinical director at the medical cannabis dispensary Zen Leaf Maryland, sheds light on the prevalent health and wellness needs addressed by her team through cannabis interventions. Common concerns include:

  1. Migraine
  2. Neuropathy
  3. Nausea and vomiting
  4. Appetite loss
  5. Inflammation
  6. Inflammatory bowel disease
  7. Rheumatoid arthritis

Bernazani emphasizes that many medical cannabis patients turn to cannabis as an alternative when conventional pharmaceuticals fail to provide relief.

While cannabis is considered distinct in its safety profile compared to many other drugs, including legal pharmaceuticals, it is not without potential health risks. The type and quantity of cannabis used can lead to varying short-term and long-term effects across different populations.

Side Effects:
Excessive consumption of THC, a prominent cannabinoid in cannabis, may result in side effects such as panic, anxiety, drowsiness, dry mouth, impaired motor function, elevated heart rate, and dizziness. Dr. Piomelli notes that adverse side effects are more prevalent in women. Inexperienced users may also experience vomiting, which can be alleviated with a hot shower or hot chili pepper ointment on the skin.

Smoking Risks:
Smoking cannabis, especially when combined with tobacco, poses risks for individuals with pulmonary diseases. The associated risks of tobacco use, including lung, head, and neck cancer, are also applicable when cannabis and tobacco are used together.

Vulnerable Populations:
The impact of regular cannabis use on the developing bodies and brains of adolescents remains unclear and warrants further research, according to Dr. Piomelli. Limited clinical data exists regarding the effects of general cannabis use on pregnant individuals and their fetuses, with smoking cannabis potentially linked to smaller fetus size. Dr. Piomelli advises caution against regular cannabis use in both of these populations.

Additionally, THC, a psychoactive component of cannabis, may worsen symptoms of schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis in individuals predisposed to such psychological conditions.

Drug Interactions:
Cannabis may interact adversely with other medications, including warfarin (a blood thinner), certain chemotherapy agents, anti-seizure medications, and anti-rejection medications used after transplant surgery. Bernazani warns against these interactions, especially with drugs that have a “narrow therapeutic index,” where small differences in dose or blood concentration can lead to serious therapeutic failures or life-threatening reactions, as defined by the FDA.

Navigating Cannabis Quality: The Impact of Sourcing

Ensuring the safety and reliability of cannabis products requires careful consideration of their source. Dr. Worster underscores the importance of obtaining cannabis from regulated state dispensaries, emphasizing the reliability added to product composition and quality through rigorous testing and labeling protocols. Products obtained online, from retail food stores, or other unregulated sources may lack the same level of quality control, posing a risk of undisclosed harmful ingredients like butane, propane, or brodifacoum.

National cannabis provider Verano exemplifies the gold standard in quality and transparency, according to George Archos, the founder and CEO of Verano. The company’s seed-to-sale operations across 13 states prioritize clarity, consistency, and quality. Verano’s approach includes cloning existing cannabis plants to maintain product consistency, followed by thorough chemical testing by state-accredited third-party laboratories. These tests confirm THC,, and other cannabinoid levels, while also disclosing the presence of heavy metals, pesticides, and molds. Verano goes a step further by publicly sharing comprehensive reports of these results through certificates of analysis (COAs) for each product.

However, the cannabis industry lacks federal guidelines and uniform regulations for medical and recreational use, leading to varying levels of quality and safety concerns. To enhance the cannabis purchasing experience, Mack Hueber, president of Ayrloom, a New York-based cannabis beverage company, and CFO of its parent company Beak & Skiff, advises consumers to visit licensed dispensaries and engage with budtenders—knowledgeable cannabis experts. Budtenders, Hueber suggests, can provide personalized guidance based on the customer’s preferences and needs, offering insight into different products and brands carried by the dispensary.

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