Cannabis was first prescribed by Chinese emperor Shen Nung in 2737 B.C. for rheumatism (inflammation and pain in the joints or muscles), gout (a form of arthritis), constipation and menstrual cramps.
Thereafter, there are many recorded recollections of cannabis being used for medical purposes around the world, including:
● 1798 – cannabis was used to treat cough, tumors, and jaundice in France
● 1839 – cannabis’ therapeutic uses were introduced to Western medicine
● 1900 – cannabis was available over-the-counter in various medications in the U.S.
Fast forward to 1937, when the Marihuana Tax Act* went into effect, which essentially outlawed cannabis. The only objection of the Act was the American Medical Association:
“There is positively no evidence to indicate the abuse of cannabis as a medical agent or to show that its medicinal use is leading to the development of cannabis addiction. Cannabis at the present time is slightly used for medicinal purposes, but it would seem worthwhile to maintain its status as a medicinal agent… There is a possibility that a restudy of the drug by modern means may show other advantages to be derived from its medicinal use.”
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 then categorized cannabis as a schedule I drug – a drug with a high potential for abuse and no medical use – which restricted research for medical uses.
Other schedule I drugs on the list include heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
In 1996, the first medical cannabis bill was passed in California – the Compassionate Use Act – and allowed patients to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical use. Now in 2019, medical cannabis is legal in 33 states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and the recreational use of cannabis is legal in 10 states plus Washington, D.C.
Today, marijuana is still categorized as a schedule I drug and its status is maintained because of insufficient scientific evidence on its medical value. The University of Mississippi is the only authorized grower by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to provide marijuana for research interests, while research studies are continually denied or delayed.
Despite the restrictions around research, people all around the world are realizing the wide array of benefits cannabis can offer:
1. Relieves Pain and Treats and Prevents Diseases
Cannabis is commonly used to treat everyday aches and pains, as well as chronic pain. Chronic pain is “by far the most common” reason people request medical marijuana, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Research has shown that cannabis can help:
o Ease sore muscles and period cramps
o Provide relief from headaches and migraines
o Reduce nausea and vomiting
o Lower inflammation
o Reduce muscle spasms
o Heal fractures and rebuild bones
In addition to relieving pain, research has shown cannabis can help treat, reduce symptoms of and even prevent diseases, such as:
o Cancer – eases the effects of chemotherapy and radiation
o Epilepsy – reduces and suppresses seizures
o Glaucoma – decreases pressure in the eyeball
▪ In 1976, Robert Randall became the first medical marijuana patient since 1937. Robert suffered from glaucoma and used cannabis from going blind but was arrested. He fought his case in court and it was ruled that the federal government would provide him with cannabis.
o HIV – reduces nausea and weight loss
o Brain tumors – shrinks tumor cells and prevents cells from coming back
o Alzheimer’s disease – slows the progression of and preserves the memory
o Parkinson’s disease – reduces tremors and pain, and improves fine motor skills
2. Stimulates Appetite
Cannabis users are all familiar with the term “the munchies” – when you get hungry after smoking cannabis. But why? Intestinal receptors – CB1 receptors – are the same type of receptors that interact in the brain with THC, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. These receptors elevate pleasure in eating by increasing sensitivity to smells and taste, which helps explain why cannabis triggers “the munchies.” This appetite stimulation can be beneficial to those suffering from harsh side effects from diseases previously listed, as well as eating disorders like anorexia.
o More than half of the patients with advanced cancer experienced an increase in appetite in one study published by the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
o Patients with anorexia were given a synthetic form of THC in a study conducted by the Center for Eating Disorders, and on average, gained 1.6 pounds more than patients who only took the placebo. Even after one year, the patients’ symptoms and nutrition continued to improve.
3. Reduces Obesity and Metabolic Disorder Rates
Contrary to stimulating the appetite, cannabis consumers tend to be skinnier and less likely to be overweight than non-users. Obesity rates are lower by roughly a third in people who use cannabis at least three times a week compared to those who don’t use cannabis at all, according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. In this study, cannabis users had a 16.1% obesity rate compared to 22% of non-users.
In the U.S., 25.8 million people have diabetes and an estimated 79 million may be pre-diabetic, with 8.5% of adults worldwide living with this costly and debilitating disease. Those who have diabetes, their bodies lack the ability to produce and regulate insulin – a pancreas-created hormone that lets your body process sugar. Research has shown that cannabis stabilizes blood sugars, prevents nerve inflammation, lowers blood pressure and improves circulation. Cannabis may also be more effective in treating diabetes than existing medication.
4. Less Dependency on Opioids
Powerful and highly addicted opioid painkillers have been overly prescribed to treat chronic pain and are a major reason why there is an epidemic currently across the U.S. The states with medical cannabis have fewer opioid overdoses than the other states, which as the years go by, according to a study published by JAMA Internal Medicine, the rates continue to drop.
● 20% lower rate in the first year
● 24% lower rate in the third
● 33% lower rate in the sixth
Another study in Health Affairs found that doctors in states with medical cannabis wrote fewer prescriptions for opioids.
People are realizing cannabis can be used as a safer and less harmful substitute for powerful pain medications, resulting in less negative side effects like withdrawal or even overdose. Cannabis offers more effective health benefits that other prescriptions cannot, which according to a study in The Journal of Pain, use over one year was associated with improvements in pain, function, quality of life and cognitive function.
5. Decreases Anxiety
For some cannabis users, an adverse side effect is that cannabis can cause anxiety, but for others, cannabis can help treat or manage anxiety. Cannabis ingredients have been proven to reduce anxiety and provide relief, which for the 40 million people in the U.S. affected by anxiety disorders, can be a natural alternative. But each person needs to find what one study published in the Journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence calls the Goldilocks zone – the right amount of cannabis to calm yourself. Be aware that THC can provide feelings over overexcitement, leading to anxiety and paranoia, whereas CBD counteracts THC’s psychoactive effects, resulting in a calmer and more clear-headed experience.
6. Treats Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Along the lines of anxiety is PTSD – a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event. In New Mexico, PTSD is the number one reason why people get a medical marijuana license. About one in five military personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan experience PTSD, and according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), psychotherapy and sleep aid medications are the most common treatments for PTSD. Medical cannabis is becoming a popular option for veterans who don’t want the side effects of pharmaceuticals, and according to research published on Science Daily, helps relieve nightmares and decrease re-experienced trauma.
7. Increases Sleep and Prevents Insomnia
Cannabis can help you fall asleep faster and get a good night’s sleep, helping those suffering from restless sleep, insomnia and even sleep apnea. Cannabis can also help with nightmares because your time spent in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep – your final sleep cycle stage – is reduced, which according to a study in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, means you won’t have as many or as graphic dreams. For some, this could be a negative side effect.
8. No Harm is Done to the Lungs
Research has found smoking cannabis does not impair lung function and may even increase lung capacity, even for daily users, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers are unclear, though, if the increased lung capacity is from a therapeutic chemical or due to taking deep breaths when inhaling. In addition, researchers have found cancers associated with smoking tobacco are not any more likely with cannabis users.
People across the world are realizing the long list of benefits cannabis has to offer like easing pain, increasing appetite and sleep, and decreasing anxiety and obesity – the list goes on and on. With the negative connotation around cannabis slowly disappearing, with 62% of Americans approving of its full legalization, the future looks bright for cannabis being accepted into today’s culture and everyday lives.
*The Marihuana Tax Act restricted the use and sale of marijuana unless you paid a tax, which was $1 an ounce for registered handlers or $100 an ounce (in 2019 dollars, this would be around $1,748) for unregistered handlers. Punishment for those who did not follow the Act was a fine up to $2,000 and/or imprisonment for five years.