WHY DOES CANNABIS HELP YOU TO FEEL BETTER?
Cannabis contains hundreds of natural chemical compounds, many of which possess psychoactive and therapeutic properties that work within your body to produce positive effects that support healing. Whether you inhale or ingest cannabis, the active ingredients in cannabis make their way to your blood stream and interact with your body to produce various effects, including relaxation, hunger, pain relief, spasm control, and numerous others.
Depending on your particular condition and its symptoms, different medications may produce different results. For example, one cold medicine may work better for you than another even though they are both cold medicines. How the medicine’s chemicals affect your specific symptoms will make it useful for your condition. The chemical compounds that make cannabis an effective medication are called cannabinoid.
WHAT IS A CANNABINOID?
You’ve heard the term THC in reference to marijuana. THC is short for Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the most prominent psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis. A cannabinoid is a pharmacologically active chemical compound, and THC is one of the many different cannabinoids with widely varying degrees of medical usefulness. When you use marijuana, its constituent cannabinoids are taken in and find their way to their target—your body’s natural cannabinoid receptors. When the cannabinoid compounds bind to their receptors, physical and behavioral effects are produced. These interactions might make you feel euphoric and can affect the symptoms of your medical condition to make you function better.
HOW DOES YOUR BODY PROCESS CANNABIS?
The effects of cannabis are produced by a cannabinoid receptor system in your body consisting of at least two receptor types: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found exclusively in the brain. There is a concentration of CB1 receptors in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex (see figure XX), which control memory and cognition. CB1 receptors interact with marijuana’s active compounds to produce its psychoactive effects including the euphoric, blissful state that often makes suffering more manageable.
Medical marijuana is available in several different forms. It can be smoked, ingested in a pill form or an edible version can be added to foods such as brownies, cookies and chocolate bars.
Cannabis contains about 60 active ingredients called cannabinoids (chemicals unique to marijuana). The primary psychoactive chemical in marijuana is THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. THC offers feelings of euphoria and “floating” and has pain-relieving properties. These properties may benefit people with chronic pain, nausea from chemotherapy and the effects of progressive diseases such as glaucoma and multiple sclerosis (MS).
For example, researchers at the American Academy of Neurology found that medical marijuana in the form of pills or oral sprays appeared effective in reducing stiffness and muscle spasms in MS. The medications also eased certain symptoms of MS, such as pain related to spasms, and painful burning and numbness, as well as overactive bladder, according to the study published in the journal Neurology.
One of the most common uses for medical marijuana is to ease the symptoms of nausea from chemotherapy. Two FDA-approved cannabis-based drugs, dronabinol and nabilone, have been shown to reduce chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting in cancer patients.
Medical marijuana has also been used to treat glaucoma, which is an elevated pressure in the eyeball that can lead to blindness. While smoking marijuana may reduce intraocular pressure, some debate the effectiveness of marijuana use because it must be consumed numerous times during the day to have the desired effect, which can have mood-altering implications and impact the patient’s ability to function, according to the American Cancer Society. A well-known effect of marijuana use is the “munchies,” so it has also been used to stimulate appetite among HIV/AIDS patients and others who have a suppressed appetite due to a medical condition or treatment.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that has therapeutic benefits without the feeling of being stoned. For example, a 2012 study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry found that cannabidiol may be effective in treating schizophrenia. In the study at the University of Cologne, 42 patients randomly received either cannabidiol or amisulpride, an effective drug used for the treatment of schizophrenia, for 28 days. Comparison of the clinical effects found “no relevant difference” between the two treatments.
Marijuana does have side effects. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors, which are concentrated in areas of the brain associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception. The effects of marijuana can interfere with attention, judgment and balance.
Marijuana also suppresses the immune system, which can be damaging to many people, but useful for others with certain health conditions. Although marijuana has been known to decrease pressure within the eyes, a symptom of the condition glaucoma, research has shown that other drugs may be more effective. Studies have produced conflicting results on whether smoking marijuana carries a significant cancer risk. According to the American Cancer Society, worldwide research into the benefits and side effects of compounds in marijuana is ongoing.
The FDA has not approved marijuana in its plant form as a treatment. During a 2004 congressional testimony, a doctor speaking on behalf of the FDA said marijuana as a “botanical product” is difficult to test for efficacy and safety because the proportions of active chemicals can range greatly from plant to plant. This, he said, can also cause problems for patients trying to use marijuana. But he added that the FDA “will be receptive to sound, scientifically based research into the medicinal uses of botanical marijuana and other cannabinoids.”