Many people have a varied opinion on whether cannabis has health benefits or health risks. Depending on whom you ask, you can get interesting answers.
The variations, myths, and superstition surrounding the usage of the drug and its potential benefits or risks led to the formation of a committee that was designed to investigate the matter and offer their results and findings.
This committee, comprising 16 professors among other academics, produced a 2017 document called the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report, which was designed to debunk these myths and offer informed opinions on the health effects, benefits, and risks of using cannabis.
That 487-page report is the basis of this article, which hopes to breakdown that document in a digestible manner. So, does cannabis cure diseases, or is it a risky substance to take? To better understand this complex question, we have broken this information into the following 3 sections.
Benefits of Using Cannabis
The National Academy of Sciences Report points to a number of health-related benefits that cannabis can provide to consumers. These include:
- Reduction in nausea and vomiting among patients undergoing chemotherapy sessions. By smoking the drug, these patients found relief and comfort through their chemo sessions.
- Noted improvements in patients with Tourette syndrome. This disorder normally affects children and it is characterized by involuntary and sporadic movements and unwanted sounds. There is evidence from this report that cannabis helped in the treatment of this condition.
- Reduction in spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients. Spasticity is when certain muscles are contracted involuntarily, leading to stiffness. This can impede a person's movement as well as their speech. These symptoms were observed to subside when the patients medicated with cannabis.
- Assisting patients with post-traumatic disorders.
- Assisting patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries (though researchers admit they found little evidence to support cannabis as a treatment for these conditions).
- Treatment of social anxiety disorders.
- Helping individuals who suffer from disturbed sleep.
- Managing pain. Cannabis was found to be specifically helpful when it came to the reduction of pain among patients with chronic illnesses.
Risks Outlined in the Document
As the group of researchers noted, the risks that were outlined in the National Academy of Sciences Report were often based on speculation rather than hard science. In many cases, not much evidence could be found to substantiate the alleged risks, or those undesirable side effects were not linked directly to the usage of cannabis.
Those risks include:
- Decreased motor capacities after smoking. Researchers found that individuals who decided to drive or operate machinery after smoking cannabis posed a great threat to themselves. Cannabis reduces a person’s motor capacity making them slower and less energetic, a condition that can make one cause accidents when driving. (In other words, don’t smoke and drive.)
- Increased risk of heart attacks. Researchers found slight evidence that linked the smoking of cannabis to a higher likelihood of having a heart attack.
- Increased risk of lung disease. Smoking cannabis causes the blackening of lungs, phlegm creation and, in extreme cases, lung cancer.
- Higher incidence of gestational complications. Smoking cannabis among pregnant women has been linked to the birth of underweight babies.
Inconclusive Effects of Cannabis
Despite many people linking cannabis to a number of health effects, both beneficial and risky, this committee found little or no evidence on some of the following popular beliefs.
There was little evidence to support the treatment of epilepsy through smoking cannabis. While the team of researchers agreed that some cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabis extracts could be sourced for use as one of the ingredients in the drug used to treat epilepsy, there was no direct link to cannabis smoking and epileptic treatment found.
Other findings included:
- The smoking of cannabis does not alleviate depression. Depression is a state of the mind in itself and while smoking cannabis was seen to lower anxiety levels among users, there was no link to successful treatment of depression—at least not from a scientist’s perspective.
- The committee did not find a conclusive link to the increase in appetite and in the reduction of weight loss among patients suffering from HIV/AIDS condition.
- There was no evidence linking the smoking of cannabis to the treatment of glaucoma.
- Little evidence was found linking the smoking of cannabis to the treatment of the Parkinson’s disease.
- There was no evidence to show improvement in symptoms among sufferers of dementia after smoking cannabis.
- The committee debunked the myth that smoking cannabis reduced the risk of metabolic issues.
- No link was found to support treating common conditions such as asthma, schizophrenia or stroke with cannabis.
The research on the effects of the drug is still ongoing. As noted, the drug comprises numerous strains and extracts that can be tapped into the generation of important and groundbreaking medicine.
The risks associated with smoking cannabis are also very real. Hence people are advised to exercise caution when using the drug, particularly if they are not doing it for medical purposes.
Medical cannabis works best when the product is regulated, when it is recommended for the treatment of specific diseases and used according to the right doses. Before you reach to grab an ounce of weed to help cure some form of illness, you should consult your doctor first.
Recreational use of cannabis is also gaining traction pretty fast across many states and countries. Countries have started to see the benefits that the drug has and are either legalizing its use or considering doing so. Australia, Canada and some countries in Europe are in this mix.
For the longest time, cannabis has been the most misunderstood drug in the world. Research into the potential benefits of the drug has been limited because of many factors, including bureaucracy and a blatant refusal to fund hemp research projects.
Just like a weapon, cannabis usage can have both positive and negative health effects as this article shows. It just depends on the way the drug is being used and for what purpose. Hopefully, as people come to understand more about the drug, more benefits will be unlocked in the future.