However, its pedigree goes back much farther. There is concrete evidence of cannabis being used for medicinal purposes as far back as 400 A.D., though we know the plant was in broad usage for general purposes more than 4,000 years before that.
It would seem that our forebears understood the benefits of cannabis, as it is now being pressed into use to treat a variety of ailments and promote better overall health. Its potential benefits are varied, and include but are not limited to:
Relief from Chronic Pain
One of the most prominent roles that cannabis has been pressed into is in managing chronic pain. This is because cannabinoids, the active ingredients in cannabis, have been linked to pain relief in patients.
And because cannabis is effective at managing pain, it may eventually help us to reduce our reliance on opioids for pain relief. In fact, one recent study found that through the use of cannabis, many chronic pain sufferers were able to drastically reduce their opioid intake, or even eliminate it altogether.
About 50 million Americans deal with chronic pain, which has been a major driver of our current epidemic of opioid addiction. According to this study, the introduction of medical cannabis into treatment regimens saw patients able to reduce opioid usage by 64 to 75% overall, with 32% to 59% of medical cannabis users able to discontinue opioid use entirely.
With the ubiquity of both chronic pain and opioid reliance, medical cannabis offers the opportunity to mitigate two public health crises at once.
Improved Lung Capacity
Though it sounds counter-intuitive, use of cannabis may actually improve lung function.
One study compared the effects that smoking cannabis had on the lungs to those of smoking cigarettes. Researchers expected both study groups to show lung damage from inhaling smoke.
And while the cigarette smokers demonstrated the expected damage to lung tissue, moderate cannabis users actually showed increased lung capacity over non-smokers.
Because the results came as such a surprise, researchers are still unsure as to why this is the case. But they think that benefits come from the acts of smoking and inhaling deeply.
Unlike cigarette smokers, cannabis users usually inhale deeply from a joint or a water pipe and hold the smoke there. One of the study’s authors observes that this functions a lot like doing a pulmonary function test and that this type of deep inhaling “practices” the lungs and may account for the unexpected results.
Despite the stereotype of the average cannabis user being a layabout who subsists on junk food, the science paints a different picture.
A study that compared obesity rates from cannabis users and non-users found that those who use cannabis users had significantly lower rates of obesity.
Scientists believe that this is the case because of how cannabis affects our metabolism. Our metabolism is among the bodily functions that are managed by our endocannabinoid system, a series of receptors and chemical compounds. The endocannabinoid system is designed to interact with the cannabinoids that our body naturally produces, but it can also interact with the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
Because of the way these outside cannabinoids interact with our bodies, they actually help regulate our metabolism and help keep it functioning optimally.
Regulates and May Help Prevent Diabetes
Our metabolism isn’t the only system that cannabis’ cannabinoids can interact with. It can also help regulate insulin production.
This can make diabetes easier to manage in certain patients and help to prevent it in at-risk individuals. And since obesity is a major risk factor for developing diabetes, you can count that function towards helping prevent the disease as well.
The major driving force behind the movement to legalize medical cannabis was its value in treating cancer. Initially, this was simply because of its use in treating the pain caused by cancer and in managing the side-effects of chemotherapy. But as time went on, it became clear that cannabis itself helps to inhibit the spread of cancer.
Cancer occurs when cells begin reproducing uncontrollably, soon getting out of control. Cannabis is able to help inhibit this growth because of how it interacts with the endocannabinoid system. By signaling to the endocannabinoid system that there are foreign bodies present that need addressing, it triggers an antitumorigenic warning that inhibits cancer’s ability to reproduce and spread.
Improves Mood and Helps Treat Depression
Cannabis has demonstrated not only the potential to treat physical ailments but mental ones as well. About 16.2 million Americans have a major depressive episode a year, and there’s some evidence that that number is on the rise. And dissatisfied with pharmaceutical treatments, many are turning to cannabis for relief.
Because of how cannabis interacts with the endocannabinoid system in the brain, research has found that it can work as a fast-acting anti-depressant, providing quick relief without the side-effects of pharmaceutical anti-depressants. It has also been linked to improved cognitive function in bipolar sufferers, and moderate cannabis users report overall lower levels of depressive thoughts and feelings.
Reaping the Benefits of Cannabis
Cannabis has used as medicine for more than a thousand years, and with modern science, we have been able to demonstrate both the benefits of cannabis and its safety.
If you’ve never used cannabis and are considering trying it for the first time, one important note to keep in mind is to always start out with small doses. Different strains can have wildly different potencies, and cannabis can affect different people in different ways. And as always, consult with your regular physician beforehand.
And for more health and lifestyle news to help you live your best life, be sure to keep up with the latest from My Zeo.