Potential Benefits and Applications of Cannabinoids

If you haven’t read “What’s the Deal With Cannabinoids” (Part one of our three part series), you may want to read it prior to proceeding here.  Part I offers some foundation and expectations of cannabinoids and covers terminology used in this Part II.

Medical Effects of Cannabinoids

While THC is often associated with the psychoactive effects, it does contain a fairly potent pain reliever.  In the UK, Nabiximols is a medically approved use of a combination of THC and Cannabidiol (CBD) in a close to 1:1 ratio.  It’s used for spasticity, neuropathy, pain, and other symptoms associated with Multiple Sclerosis.  THC’s psychoactive properties, while often associated with recreational use, may also provide benefits with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Although, the research data is based on self-reported results by marijuana users rather than the typical scientific standard for most medical research.

THC is useful for improving appetite in AIDS patients and reducing chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting in cancer patients.  Currently, the drug Marinol (dronabinol) is the only FDA approved Cannabinoid in the United States, and it was approved specifically for these symptoms.  Marinol (dronabinol) is not a natural-occurring Cannabinoid. Instead, it is synthetically manufactured by a pharmaceutical company.

Scientists have demonstrated how Cannabichromene (CBC) can cause neurogenesis in mice.  Neurogenesis is the process of growing new brain cells.  THC and CBC both have exhibited a positive effect on depression.  Furthermore, both CBC and CBD have shown to reduce pain without the psychoactive properties of THC.

Cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to have potential as a treatment for seizures, particularly when taken in association with Clobazam, in some parts of the US as a “compassionate use” policy the FDA has set forth.  In fact, CBD may hold the most promise of any of the Cannabinoids, with effect that potentially include:

  • Pain Relief
  • Anti-Bacterial
  • Blood Sugar Reduction
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Reduced Risk of Artery Blockage
  • Cancer Cell Growth Inhibitors
  • Psoriasis
  • Anti-psychotic
  • Anti-spasmodic
  • Anti-Anxiety
  • Bone Growth Stimulant
  • Immunosuppressive
  • Protect Nervous System From Degradation

With more than 110 cannabinoids to research besides the few discussed above, growing data illustrates the potential application cannabinoids may have.  Currently, the research (particularly in the US) lacks extensiveness to give us undeniable results.  Many of the circulating claims (positive and negative) are only from self-reported research, small sample set research, or even research done on mice.  Much more scientific research needs done in order to fully understand both the benefits and negative implications of cannabinoids.

“But, I read online that…”

Be careful about what you read online about cannabinoids, even from reputable news outlets.  There’s a reason why almost everything posted here about research goes to the actual research papers.

First off, you’ve got to be careful about news reporting (particularly online) when it comes to science and medicine.  Unfortunately, it’s quite often that results are missrepresented.  A great example of this:  Time magazine (and many other news outlets) released finding of a study that says smelling farts may be a cure for cancer. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide links to this, because Time has since completely corrected the article, leaving as little traces of the original as possible.  The real study paper was “AP39, a novel mitochondria-targeted hydrogen sulfide donor, stimulates cellular bioenergetics, exerts cytoprotective effects and protects against the loss of mitochondrial DNA integrity in oxidatively stressed endothelial cells in vitro.

Always go to the original source, or ask your medical practitioner before doing something silly like smelling flatulence as a potential replacement for a medication.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and news outlets like to skip the evidence stage.

Speaking of evidence, reading about how a single case of (insert disorder or disease) was cured with (insert cannabinoid) can be very misleading.  As with the case of smelling farts, you may well not have the entire story. Medications, herbs, and supplements all interact with each other in one way or another.  For instance, eating grapefruit while taking certain medications may be inadvisable.  Different people react differently to certain medications.  For example, paradoxical reactions induce the the exact opposite effect of some medications’ normal functions in some patients.  For instance, amphetamines are potent central nervous system stimulants (i.e. “speed”), yet, these drugs tend to”slow down” people with attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Similarly, many drugs indicated for certain symptoms, such as nausea, can actually “cause” or create those symptoms in some people.

This is why evidence-based science is important in medicine, including the discussion cannabinoids.  Cannabinoids have many potential benefits, though it’s going to take time and research to figure it all out.

How Are Cannabinoids Taken?

Certain Cannabinoids are sensitive to heat, dryness, and other chemicals.  For example, THCA lacks the psychoactive effects of THC.  Thus, when exposed to heat and/or drying, it becomes THC and has a potentially different set of effects, including “getting high”.

THC, on the other hand, can be ingested as pills or food form (edibles), sprayed under the tongue (sublingual), or inhaled (as a vaporized form of the oil or directly burned as the colloquial term “a joint, bowl, or pipe”) without worry of degradation of the active compound.  Marinol (Dronabinol) is currently offered as a capsule in the US, and Nabiximol is offered as an oral spray in the UK.

Are There Downsides to the Use of Cannabinoids?

Potentially, yes.  More scientific research studies are needed to demonstrate both the potential medical benefits and side effects.  Always consult your medical provider before using any medications or supplements.

Obviously, addressing the actual science of the potential medical benefits of cannabinoids takes time and research.  Similarly, thanks to many “junk science” blogs and websites, covering the probable side effects of cannabinoid use is extremely difficult.  In fact, it’s potentially more difficult to examine due to any mentions of cannabinoids and their side effects tending to be lumped in with recreational marijuana use, which are definitely not in scientifically controlled settings.  Simply put:  finding the true science is hard because the topic has become highly politicized and vilified by many.

And, even when you do find the science, it’s often still in preliminary stages.  In 2009, a study found that there may be an association between recreational marijuana use and testicular cancer.  Unfortunately, the sample set was fairly small (less than 300 men), and it was specifically related to marijuana in a recreational setting, rather than a more controlled use of cannabinoids.

But, since the FDA has approved Marinol, we can at least get a solid read on one of the cannabinoids (although synthetic in this case):  THC.  It’s potential side effects include:

  • Dizziness
  • Memory Loss
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Elevated Mood
  • Hallucinations
  • Sleepiness
  • Weakness
  • Elevated Heart Rate
  • Seizures

Sounds like any drug commercial….

Some of THC’s effects that are listed as side-effects are therapeutic effects in certain situations.  For treatment of PTSD, temporary memory loss and elevated mood may actually be a large part of the benefit of THC’s therapeutic use.

In summary, there’s research showing potential benefit of cannabinoids as well as the need for more research to fully explore those potential benefits.  There’s already one legal (synthetic) cannabinoid drug on the market, which is based on existing research.  More studies are underway, and the scientific body of research continues to grow.

In Part III we’ll examine why some cannabinoid oils and similar products are fully legal, so stay tuned….

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