20 Health Benefits of Cannabis
States around the country — more than 20 in total — have legalized medical cannabis. Experts have been changing their minds too — recently, CNN's chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta reversed his opinion on medical cannabis.
While recreational pot usage is controversial, many people agree with Gupta's new stance, and believe that the drug should be legal for medical uses.
And even though the benefits of smoking pot may be overstated by advocates of cannabis legalization, new laws will help researchers study the drug's medicinal uses and better understand how it impacts the body.
It can be used to treat Glaucoma.
Cannabis use can be used to treat and prevent the eye disease glaucoma, which increases pressure in the eyeball, damaging the optic nerve and causing loss of vision.
Cannabis decreases the pressure inside the eye, according to the National Eye Institute: "Studies in the early 1970s showed that cannabis, when smoked, lowered intraocular pressure (IOP) in people with normal pressure and those with glaucoma."
These effects of the drug may slow the progression of the disease, preventing blindness.
It may help reverse the carcinogenic effects of tobacco and improve lung health.
According to a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2012, cannabis does not impair lung function and can even increase lung capacity.
Researchers looking for risk factors of heart disease tested the lung function of 5,115 young adults over the course of 20 years. Tobacco smokers lost lung function over time, but pot users actually showed an increase in lung capacity.
It's possible that the increased lung capacity maybe due to taking a deep breaths while inhaling the drug and not from a therapeutic chemical in the drug.
It can help control epileptic seizures.
Cannabis use can prevent epileptic seizures, a 2003 study showed.
Robert J. DeLorenzo, of Virginia Commonwealth University, gave cannabis extract and synthetic cannabis to epileptic rats. The drugs rid the rats of the seizures for about 10 hours. Cannabinoids like the active ingredients in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (also known as THC), control seizures by binding to the brain cells responsible for controlling excitability and regulating relaxation.
The findings were published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
A chemical found in cannabis stops cancer from spreading.
CBD may help prevent cancer from spreading, researchers at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco reported in 2007.
Cannabidiol stops cancer by turning off a gene called Id-1, the study, published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, found. Cancer cells make more copies of this gene than non-cancerous cells, and it helps them spread through the body.
The researchers studied breast cancer cells in the lab that had high expression levels of Id-1 and treated them with cannabidiol. After treatment the cells had decreased Id-1 expression and were less aggressive spreaders.
In "WEED," Gupta also mentioned a few studies in the U.S., Spain, and Israel that suggest the compounds in cannabis could even kill cancer cells.
It may decrease anxiety.
Medical cannabis users claim the drug helps relieve pain and suppress nausea — the two main reasons it's often used to relieve the side effects of chemotherapy.
In 2010, researchers at Harvard Medical School suggested that that some of the drug's benefits may actually be from reduced anxiety, which would improve the smoker's mood and act as a sedative in low doses.
Beware, though, higher doses may increase anxiety and make you paranoid.
The drug eases the pain of multiple sclerosis.
Cannabis may ease painful symptoms of multiple sclerosis, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in May suggests.
Jody Corey-Bloom studied 30 multiple sclerosis patients with painful contractions in their muscles. These patients didn't respond to other treatments, but after smoking cannabis for a few days they were in less pain.
The THC in the pot binds to receptors in the nerves and muscles to relieve pain. Other studies suggest that the chemical also helps control the muscle spasms.
It relieves arthritis discomfort.
Cannabis alleviates pain, reduces inflammation, and promotes sleep, which may help relieve pain and discomfort for people with rheumatoid arthritis, researchers announced in 2011.
Researchers from rheumatology units at several hospitals gave their patients Sativex, a cannabinoid-based pain-relieving medicine. After a two-week period, people on Sativex had a significant reduction in pain and improved sleep quality compared to placebo users.
It keeps you skinny and helps your metabolism.
A study published in the American Journal Of Medicine on April 15 of last year suggested that pot smokers are skinnier than the average person and have healthier metabolism and reaction to sugars, even though they do end up eating more calories because of the munchies.
The study analyzed data from more than 4,500 adult Americans — 579 of whom were current cannabis smokers, meaning they had smoked in the last month. About 2,000 had used cannabis in the past, while another 2,000 had never used the drug.
They studied their body's response to eating sugars: their levels of the hormone insulin and their blood sugar levels while they hadn't eaten in nine hours, and after eating sugar.
Not only are pot users skinnier, but their body has a healthier response to sugar.
While not really a health benefit, cannabis spurs creativity in the brain.
Contrary to stoner stereotypes, cannabis usage has actually been shown to have some positive mental effects, particularly in terms of increasing creativity. Even though people's short-term memories tend to function worse when high, people get better at tests requiring them to come up with new ideas.
One study tested participants on their ability to come up with different words related to a concept, and found that using cannabis allowed people to come up with a greater range of related concepts, seeming "to make the brain better at detecting those remote associations that lead to radically new ideas," according to Wired.
Other researchers have found that some participants improve their "verbal fluency," their ability to come up with different words, while using cannabis.
Part of this increased creative ability may come from the release of dopamine in the brain, lessening inhibitions and allowing people to feel more relaxed, giving the brain the ability to perceive things differently.
Cannabis might be able to help with Crohn's disease.
Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disorder that causes pain, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and more. But a recent study in Israel showed that smoking a joint significantly reduced Crohn's disease symptoms in 10 out of 11 patients, and caused a complete remission of the disease in five of those patients.
That's a small study, but other research has shown similar effects. The cannabinoids from cannabis seem to help the gut regulate bacteria and intestinal function.
Cannabis helps veterans suffering from PTSD.
The Department of Health and Human Services recently signed off on a proposal to study cannabis's potential as part of treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cannabis is approved to treat PTSD in some states already. In New Mexico, PTSD is the number one reason for people to get a license for medical cannabis, but this is the first time the U.S. government has approved a proposal that incorporates smoked or vaporized cannabis, which is currently classified by the government as a drug with no accepted medical applications.
Naturally occurring cannabinoids, similar to THC, help regulate the system that causes fear and anxiety in the body and brain.
It also decreases the symptoms of a severe seizure disorder known as Dravet's Syndrome.
During the research for his documentary "Weed," Gupta interviewed the Figi family, who treats their 5-year-old daughter using a medical cannabis strain high in cannabidiol and low in THC.
Their daughter, Charlotte, has Dravet Syndrome, which causes seizures and severe developmental delays.
According to the film, the drug has decreased her seizures from 300 a week to just one every seven days. Forty other children in the state are using the same strain of cannabis to treat their seizures — and it seems to be working.
The doctors who recommended this treatment say that the cannabidiol in the plant interacts with the brain cells to quiet the excessive activity in the brain that causes these seizures.
As Gutpa notes, a Florida hospital that specializes in the disorder, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Drug Enforcement agency don't endorse cannabis as a treatment for Dravet or other seizure disorders.
THC slows the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
Marijuana may be able to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease, a study led by Kim Janda of the Scripps Research Institute suggests.
The 2006 study, published in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics, found that THC, the active chemical in cannabis, slows the formation of amyloid plaques by blocking the enzyme in the brain that makes them. These plaques are what kill brain cells and cause Alzheimer's.
Marijuana protects the brain after a stroke.
Research from the University of Nottingham shows that cannabis may help protect the brain from damage caused by stroke, by reducing the size of the area affected by the stroke — at least in rats, mice, and monkeys.
This isn't the only research that has shown neuroprotective effects from cannabis. Some research shows that the plant may help protect the brain after other traumatic events, like concussions.
It can help eliminate nightmares.
This is a complicated one, because it involves effects that can be both positive and negative. Marijuana disturbs sleep cycles by interrupting the later stages of REM sleep. In the long run, this could be a problem for frequent users.
However, for people suffering from serious nightmares, especially those associated with PTSD, this can be helpful. Nightmares and other dreams occur during those same stages of sleep. By interrupting REM sleep, many of those dreams may not occur. Research into using a synthetic cannabinoid, like THC, but not the same, showed a significant decrease in the number of nightmares in patients with PTSD.
Additionally, even if frequent use can be bad for sleep, cannabis may be a better sleep aid than some other substances that people use. Some of those, including medication and alcohol, may potentially have even worse effects on sleep, though more research is needed on the topic.
Other types of muscle spasms could be helped too.
Other types of muscle spasms respond to cannabis as well. Gupta also found a teenager named Chaz who was using medical cannabis to treat diaphragm spasms that were untreatable by other, prescribed and very strong, medications.
His condition is called myoclonus diaphragmatic flutter (also known as Leeuwenhoek's Disease) and causes non stop spasming in the abdominal muscles which are not only painful, but interfere with breathing and speaking.
Smoking cannabis is able to calm the attacks almost immediately, as it calms the muscles of the diaphragm.
Pot soothes tremors for people with Parkinson's disease.
Recent research from Israel shows that smoking cannabis significantly reduces pain and tremors and improves sleep for Parkinson's disease patients. Particularly impressive was the improved fine motor skills among patients.
Medical cannabis is legal in Israel for multiple conditions, and a lot of research into the medical uses of cannabis is done there, supported by the Israeli government.
Weed reduces some of the awful pain and nausea from chemo, and stimulates appetite.
One of the most well-known medical uses of cannabis is for people going through chemotherapy.
Cancer patients being treated with chemo suffer from painful nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. This can cause additional health complications.
Marijuana can help reduce these side effects, alleviating pain, decreasing nausea, and stimulating the appetite. There are also multiple FDA-approved cannabinoid drugs that use THC, the main active chemical in cannabis, for the same purposes.
It might protect the brain from concussions and trauma.
There is some evidence that cannabis can help heal the brain after a concussion or other traumatic injury. A recent study in the journal Cerebral Cortex showed that in mice, cannabis lessened the bruising of the brain and helped with healing mechanisms after a traumatic injury.
Harvard professor emeritus of psychiatry and cannabis advocate Lester Grinspoon recently wrote an open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, saying the NFL should stop testing players for cannabis, and that the league should start funding research into the plant's ability to protect the brain.
"Already, many doctors and researchers believe that cannabis has incredibly powerful neuroprotective properties, an understanding based on both laboratory and clinical data," he writes.
Goodell recently said that he'd consider permitting athletes to use cannabis if medical research shows that it's an effective neuroprotective agent.
It lessens side effects from treating hepatitis C and increases treatment effectiveness.
Treatment for hepatitis C infection is harsh — negative side effects include fatigue, nausea, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and depression — and lasts for months. Many people aren't able to finish their treatment course because of the side effects.
But, pot to the rescue: A 2006 study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that 86% of patients using cannabis successfully completed their Hep C therapy, while only 29% of non-smokers completed their treatment, possibly because the cannabis helps lessens the treatments side effects.
Marijuana also seems to improve the treatment's effectiveness: 54% of hep C patients smoking cannabis got their viral levels low and kept them low, in comparison to only 8% of nonsmokers.