For all the talk surrounding the negatives of long-term medical marijuana use, we often forget to mention the positives. Of course, since scientists’ hands are tied behind their backs with regards to research, we cannot say for certain what the long-term positives and negatives of marijuana consumption are.
What we can do, however, is 'connect the dots' and come up with some sensible ideas as to how and why cannabis may prove to be positive in the long-term. Here are three ways cannabis could be good for you in the long-term.
1. Regrowing Brain Cells
For many years, people thought that cannabis killed brain cells. But according to a study published in The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, the cannabidiol (CBD) in cannabis can actually help promote brain growth (neurogenesis). Researchers found that CBD causes brain cells in the hippocampus to grow - in rats and mice at least.
So CBD could be effective for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression since the hippocampus regulates emotion and cognitive function. Recent research suggests that CBD could also be an effective neuroprotectant that protects the nervous system from damage caused by amyloid proteins associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease; oxidative stress and potassium and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) loss associated with stroke; and neurotoxin damage associated with Parkinson’s Disease.
So how does cannabis regrow brain cells and serve as a neuroprotectant? The theory is that marijuana 'floods' the endocannabinoid system (ECS) with cannabinoids, and the body responds by making more cannabinoid receptors to capture them.
This could be great news not only for those suffering from neurodegenerative disease, but also those fearing the neurological effects of high contact sports like boxing, American football, mixed martial arts (MMA) and many other activities carrying a risk of traumatic brain injury. CBD could well become the medicine of choice for recovering athletes due to its anti-inflammatory properties as well.
Cannabis could be effective for treating a wide range of medical conditions because of the endocannabinoid system's role in homeostasis (the body's maintenance of a constant internal environment). Researchers like Dr. Ethan Russo have posited that cannabis can help regulate a nervous system that is 'out of whack' and suffering from an endocannabinoid deficiency. Dr. Russo’s work looks at the therapeutic effects of cannabis on migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and related disorders. Cannabinoid deficiencies have also been associated with eating disorders.
Maintaining the body's homeostasis also keeps the immune system healthy, so it is one of the best ways to prevent further illnesses from developing. Any doctor will tell you that it is especially challenging to keep the body healthy when so many medications out there have side-effects that make homeostasis very difficult to maintain. Doctors often turn to prescribing more pills to counteract the side-effects of the others, and so on and so on.
But cannabinoids like CBD — which has few side effects and, as far as we know, not too many negative interactions with other drugs (research permitting) — could help deal with the endless pill-prescription cycle and the difficulties of maintaining homeostasis.
The potential of cannabis as an effective painkiller has caused a stir in the medical community by forcing researchers to reassess how we manage pain.
Right now, people are often given opioids in order to treat post-surgery pain. And since stress is a huge contributing factor to pain, doctors often prescribe antidepressants to patients as well. But rather than combine antidepressants and opioids, could we instead combine antidepressants with cannabis as a safer, less addictive alternative? And since cannabis might be an effective substitute for antidepressants as well, could most pain and stress medications be based on cannabinoids rather than other chemicals? Is the future of pain management in cannabis-based medications (i.e. cannabinoids and terpenes), meditation and nutrition, with opioids being used in only the most necessary or extreme circumstances?
Some researchers seem to think so. And anything that helps doctors keep patients healthy, happy and free from addiction is a win for the medical community.
But at the moment, pain management tends to be based on prescriptive rather than holistic models. While that approach may work for some patients, those suffering from long-term pain (e.g. pain associated with diabetes or multiple sclerosis) would likely prefer to avoid the risk of addiction and other detriments associated with opioid-based pain management. And there may be a better alternative for them as a growing body of evidence suggests that cannabis can reduce or eliminate entirely the need for opiates and opioids.
As with any medicine, we ought to treat cannabis as objectively and fairly as possible, noting not only the negatives but also the positives. Marijuana’s complexity as a plant warrants extensive research, especially considering the huge number of conditions it can potentially treat, prevent or even cure. The only thing stopping scientists are bad laws, bad politics and bad governance.