WHICH CONDITIONS CAN CANNABIS HEAL?
There’s nothing new about using cannabis as medicine. The Chinese must have discovered its medicinal uses not long after they began cultivating it some 6,000 years ago. A Chinese book called the Pen Ts'ao (“The Herbal”)—known only from copies 2,000 years old or newer— describes the medicinal benefits of cannabis. An Egyptian medical document of herbal knowledge called the Ebers Papyrus dates from around 1550 BC and describes some 850 plant medicines, including aloe, juniper, castor bean—and cannabis. Islamic physicians are believed to have used oil pressed from hemp seeds to relieve pain, and other medicinal uses are known from Greek culture and the medieval monasteries of Europe. One of most celebrated healers in her time was 12th-century Benedictine nun Hildegard of Bingen, who wrote a medical text called Causae et Curae. Since childhood she had luminous visions, which modern medicine has interpreted as attacks of migraine, and she documented in detail cannabis’s ability to relieve headaches. Before medical studies could be conducted in the 20th century, the plant was labeled dangerous and prohibited. But the limited trials that have been conducted suggest that cannabis can help relieve a variety of conditions.
IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME
IBS affects up to 45 million people in the U.S. The symptoms are nausea, flatulence, stomachache, and constipation. While treatments are available, not all of them work for all people. Cannabis has been shown to bring relief, but it’s not clear whether it has an anti-inflammatory effect or is simply masking symptoms.
In the U.S. about 3.4 million people—just over 1% of the population—have active epilepsy, which causes seizures. Anti-seizure drugs are effective in about two out of three people with epilepsy. Early evidence from laboratory studies, anecdotal reports, and small clinical studies also suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) can help control seizures.
While some lab and animal studies suggest cannabinoids can have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects, doctors say they should not be a first choice for arthritis pain relief but rather part of an overall plan that includes exercise and psychological support.
Conservative estimates suggest that between 10 and 15% of Americans are living with chronic insomnia. Some doctors believe cannabis can serve as an effective sleep aid by helping to restore a person’s natural sleep patterns.
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory condition, and there’s some evidence that cannabis can make a patient feel better. But gastroenterologists warn not to expect too much, as no objective improvement has been demonstrated in relieving inflammation. Cannabis can mask the pain, but doctors caution against using it as a “Band-aid” in lieu of treatment.
Migraine headache symptoms, which include pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light or noise, can be difficult to treat. Some research has shown that cannabis may help to ease those symptoms or even keep them from arising.
Cancer patients often experience chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and oral cannabinoids have been found to reduce nausea. Initial approval for the development of cannabis-based antiemetics was granted in 1985.
A study conducted by researchers at Washington State University found that the use of medical cannabis reduced stress by 58% and cut depression by half. Ten puffs produced the largest stress reduction; one puff was enough for depression.
The verdict on cannabis as a treatment for anxiety is a bit ambiguous. A University of Washington study found that THC can decrease anxiety at lower doses and can increase it at higher doses. However CBD decreased anxiety at all of the dose levels that were tested.
In studies that evaluated the effects of cannabinoids on the pain, spasticity, and bladder symptoms related to multiple sclerosis, it was generally found that they had a favorable effect on pain and spasticity. But most were small studies, and the outcomes varied among them.