In recent years, the use and benefits of medical marijuana have gained considerable attention due to its potential therapeutic effects on various medical conditions. The biological mechanisms underlying these effects are rooted in the complex interaction between cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the human body.

Through basic scientific research and clinical trials, several benefits of medical marijuana in humans have been established, shedding light on its potential as a valuable therapeutic agent. Let’s delve deeper into the biology behind medical marijuana and its proven benefits.

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

At the core of medical marijuana’s efficacy lies the ECS, a complex network of receptors, internal cannabinoid chemicals (endocannabinoids), and enzymes distributed throughout the body. The ECS plays a crucial role in regulating numerous physiological processes, including pain sensation and perception, inflammation, mood, appetite, and memory. Cannabinoids found in marijuana, such as THC and CBD, interact with the ECS, some through receptors and others via direct biochemical pathways, modulating its activity.

Pain Management

One of the most well-established benefits of medical marijuana is its effectiveness in managing pain. THC activates cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) in the central nervous system, peripheral nerves, and immune system, resulting in the modulation of pain perception pathways. Further, pain perception is a complex experience that encompasses not only perception of painful stimuli, but also cognitive and emotional responses to those stimuli. THC, acting on Pre-frontal Cortex, Amygdala and Hippocampus in the brain alters those higher-order responses to diminish the “anguish” that pain creates.

Clinical studies have shown that THC can provide relief for chronic pain conditions, neuropathic pain, and pain associated with diseases such as cancer.

Benefits of Medical Marijuana on Sleep

Insomnia is, after pain, the next most common complaint of Americans to their doctors.  While clinical trials demonstrate that cannabis can be effective for sleep, it remains less well documented than pain management. Clinical experience, however, suggests that cannabis is even more effective for sleep than for any other condition.

Insomnia falls into 3 types: trouble getting to sleep, trouble staying asleep, and both. The approach to insomnia will vary depending on the type. To get effective results, the approach is not simply based on the preferences of the user.

It is interesting that older studies demonstrated that cannabis can disrupt sleep, particularly the all-important REM stage. These studies, typically done in recreational users, were required by law and policy to avoid any interaction with the administration of cannabis. Subjects would use whatever and however much cannabis they wanted prior to the sleep study. As a result, doses much higher than would typically be used for therapeutic purposes were likely used, skewing the results. More recent studies that monitor dose show no such suppression of REM. 

Benefits of Medical Marijuana on Mood

Treatment of anxiety and depression, typically understood to be derangement of the Amygdala and Hippocampus, can be addressed using cannabis. However, it must be understood that data to support this is complicated and not yet conclusive. Evidence suggests that cannabis, while effective, is just not as effective as modern conventional medications such as SSRIs and SNRIs. Nonetheless, cannabis can be a useful addition for further benefit and also to address some of the side effects of these conventional medications.

One thing that is clear from the large body of research is that using excessive cannabis, particularly during the daytime, can backfire causing increased anxiety and depression. Dose and timing of cannabis administration becomes critical to successful treatment.

Many recreational users who believe that they are self-treating anxiety and depression use excessive amounts throughout the day. As a result, they get caught in a vicious cycle of use leading to worsening symptoms leading to more self-treatment leading to further worsening. Attention to dose and timing can avoid this situation.

Rare Genetic Seizure Disorders in Children

While there are few proven uses for CBD, one of the most compelling success stories is its efficacy in treating severe genetic forms of epilepsy in children, called Dravet’s Syndrome, Lennox-Gastault Syndrome, and Tuberous Sclerosis. Over a decade of work has been poured into developing purified CBD extracts into the FDA-approved pharmaceutical medication called Epidiolex.

Children with these seizure disorders can have upwards of 100 seizures per day resulting in brain damage and cognitive delays. Their seizures are often resistant to conventional treatment. Epidiolex has been shown to decrease their seizures substantially, sometimes even to none. 

However, these data only apply to Epidiolex and have not been adequately studied in dispensary-style CBD preparations. Further, the benefit to their seizures has not been shown to apply to adult seizures or childhood seizures from non-genetic causes. 

Benefits of Medical Marijuana on Autism

Emerging clinical data demonstrates that cannabis can be effective for several different problems that arise in individuals with Autism. Autistic patients often exhibit language and social difficulties that seem to be improved with CBD treatment. They may also exhibit OCD-like symptoms, emotional outbursts, and self-injurious behaviors that benefit from THC-dominant medication.

Anti-inflammatory Effects

Chronic inflammation is implicated in a wide range of medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, and potentially some neurodegenerative disorders. In the laboratory, nearly all cannabinoids like THC and CBD have demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. This occurs by modulating immune responses and reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

However, these anti-inflammatory have not yet been demonstrated robustly in human beings. For example, multiple studies have shown that Crohn’s patients who use cannabis have decreased symptoms and increased quality of life.  Nonetheless, when their bowel is examined by endoscopy and/or their blood markers of inflammation are measured, no difference is found.  Clearly, the effects noted in the test tube are not immediately applicable to intact humans. 

One notable exception is a cannabinoid called THC-A (not THC). This cannabinoid is felt to be 10 times more potent as an anti-inflammatory than CBD or THC, is non-intoxicating, and has been shown to actually decrease disease in Crohn’s bowel specimens. 

Neuroprotective Properties

Due to the anti-inflammatory effects mentioned above, cannabinoids have been extensively studied in laboratory models of various neurological disorders. CBD, in particular, has shown promise in protecting neurons from damage, reducing oxidative stress, and promoting neuro-regeneration.

However, as with the anti-inflammatory idea above, we still do not have adequate human trials in conditions such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease, to demonstrate slowing or reversal of the underlying disease.

How To Get Benefits of Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana offers a diverse range of therapeutic benefits rooted in its interaction with the ECS. This can include pain management, treatment of mood problems, and relief from insomnia.   Cannabis can be used for nausea, to stimulate appetite, and to control some forms of seizures in kids.  Anti-inflammatory effects and neuroprotection remain to be proven in human beings, but have a promising start in the lab. 

To get the best benefit, optimize dosing regimens, and address safety concerns, seek expert care from a cannabinoid specialist. 

Consult with a Qualified Boston Medical Marijuana Expert Today

Those considering using THC, CBD, or any type of medicine found in cannabis to help manage their condition should consider speaking to a trained medical expert who is knowledgeable about using cannabis therapeutically. Massachusetts medical marijuana doctor Jordan Tishler, M.D. sits on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and has years of experience helping patients treat pain and other ailments using cannabis. He and the team at InhaleMD stand ready to assist patients in determining whether medical marijuana is right for them.

For more information, or to set up a virtual consultation with the team at InhaleMD, call us at (617) 477-8886 today.

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