For it? Against it?
Smoke it? Don’t smoke it?
Love it? Hate it?
No matter where you stand on the controversial issue of medicinal marijuana, you simply cannot deny the science-based facts that back these uses for “grass.” For centuries, people have consumed cannabis to treat a variety of conditions from anxiety to glaucoma and more.
Here are 21 science-based benefits of marijuana which include common uses you’re probably familiar with and others that might be new to you. Keep reading as we uncover the medicinal powers of this infamous plant and the rationale behind each one.
21 Medicinal Uses for Cannabis and the Science Behind Them
- Muscle Spasms – Strong evidence suggests that medical marijuana can help ease muscle spasms. A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that there was significant evidence that cannabis helps patients with muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis (MS). Muscle spasms that were not caused by MS, such as diaphragm spasms, also responded to cannabis treatment.
- Chronic Pain – Consistently, chronic pain has been cited as the best-supported medical use of cannabis. The same report listed above said that cannabis or cannabinoids (CBDs – substances within the marijuana plant) are effective treatments for the management of chronic pain. In fact, the study also revealed that chronic pain is “by far the most common” reason people use medicinal marijuana.
- Glaucoma – Marijuana, or possibly a drug derived from the plant, is used to treat glaucoma. Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease which causes increased pressure in the eyeball which can cause damage to the optic nerve and result in the loss of vision. Using cannabis for this progressive disease is so common that most states that legalized medicinal marijuana did so in part because of the benefits for glaucoma as it’s proven to reduce the pressure inside the eye. According to the National Eye Institute: “Studies in the early 1970s showed that marijuana, when smoked, lowered intraocular pressure (IOP) in people with normal pressure and those with glaucoma.”
- Cancer – In cell cultures, a chemical found in marijuana stopped the spread of cancer. Researchers at the California Pacific Medical Center reported that cannabinoids may help prevent cancer from spreading. Other studies on mice that analyzed the effects of cannabis as a treatment of aggressive brain tumors found that THC and CBD when administered at the correct dose, can shrink or slow tumors. A more recent study from 2014 found that marijuana substantially slowed the growth of the specific type of tumor that is responsible for 80 percent of malignant brain cancers. While the findings of the effects of cannabis on cell cultures and animals don’t necessarily mean it will work the same on people, results are promising and this potential cancer treatment deserves further investigation.
- Anxiety – In low doses, medical marijuana may decrease anxiety levels. While it’s well-known that many users consume cannabis to lessen anxiety, it’s also highly reported that some patients experience increased anxiety following cannabis consumption. Considering this, scientists conducted a study which found the “Goldilocks” zone that is just the right amount of marijuana to elicit a calming effect and avoid an anxious response. Emma Child, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a co-author of the study and stated, “we found that THC at low doses reduced stress, while higher doses had the opposite effect.”
- Lung Capacity – In an interesting revelation, it was found that marijuana does not seem to harm lung capacity as you would expect. Rather, it may improve it! A study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that marijuana doesn’t impair the function of the lungs, it actually increases the capacity.
- Hepatitis C – Research suggests that cannabis not only lessens the side effects caused by hepatitis C, it can also increase the effectiveness of treatment. A rigorous medical regimen is used for hepatitis C which can be quite harsh and renders nasty side effects such as nausea, muscle aches, decreased appetite, depression, and fatigue. Because they feel absolutely defeated by these unwanted side effects, many patients decide to stop treatment altogether. A study published by the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology revealed that 86 percent of patients using medical marijuana were able to successfully complete their therapy for hepatitis C, and only 29 percent of non-smokers completed the treatment. Furthermore, the marijuana users experienced more effective treatment with 54 percent of the hep C patients using cannabis being able to get their levels of virals low and keep them low compared to only eight percent of non-smokers.
- Alzheimer’s Disease – According to a study led by Kim Janda of the Scripps Research Institute, marijuana may have the ability to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. This study, published by Molecular Pharmaceutics, found that the active chemical in marijuana, THC, slows amyloid plaques from forming and growing by blocking the specific enzyme in the brain that makes them. It’s these very plaques that are associated with Alzheimer’s because of the brain cells they attack.
- Arthritis – Marijuana is an effective treatment to help reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and promote sleep, which makes it ideal for the discomfort and pain people with rheumatoid arthritis experience according to researchers.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Veterans across the nation who suffer from PTSD report positive effects of cannabis. While no official research has been conducted to back this stated benefit reported by patients, there is a study in progress that is the first clinical trial of smoked marijuana as a treatment for PTSD in U.S. veterans. The study is taking place at the Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) located in Phoenix Arizona and will evaluate the efficacy and safety of cannabis in four different potencies as a treatment for PTSD in 76 U.S. veterans. Hopefully, it will provide scientific data confirming whether it’s a viable treatment option.
- Multiple Sclerosis – Medical marijuana was found to ease the painful symptoms associated with MS in a study by the Canadian Medical Association Journal. In the study, there were 30 patients with multiple sclerosis who suffered from painful muscle contractions that didn’t respond to other treatments. By smoking marijuana for just a few days, all subjects reported a reduction in pain. The THC found in cannabis seems to bind to nerve and muscle receptors, thus relieving pain.
- Obesity – Despite reports of the “munchies,” or the appetite-stimulating effects of marijuana, people that smoke cannabis tend to respond to eating sugar better and are less likely to be obese. Pot smokers are skinnier than the national average and have a healthier reaction to sugars and metabolism according to a study in the American Journal of Medicine. Interestingly, pot smokers were also consuming more calories than the national average. The participants’ bodies were studied in reaction to eating sugars by measuring levels of blood sugar and the hormone insulin following a nine-hour fast and subsequent consumption of sugars.
- Parkinson’s Disease – Cannabis creates a soothing effect on tremors experienced by people with Parkinson’s disease. Notably, patients experienced impressive improvement with fine motor skills.
- Concussions and Trauma – One recent study discovered that patients who routinely used marijuana were less likely to experience traumatic brain injuries. Working proactively, cannabis may help protect the brain from trauma and concussions. Harvard psychiatry expert, Lester Grinspoon wrote an open letter to Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner: “Already, many doctors and researchers believe that marijuana has incredibly powerful neuroprotective properties, an understanding based on both laboratory and clinical data,” as he suggested athletes should use medical marijuana to help prevent concussions.
- Chemotherapy – Marijuana has been found to help reduce nausea and pain caused by chemotherapy. As if a match made in heaven, not only are those symptoms relieved, but marijuana also stimulates appetite. The National Academies report provided substantial evidence that cannabis helped reduce the negative side effects of chemo.
- Opioid Overdoses – The legalization of medical marijuana seems to reduce the overall total of opioid-related overdoses. Treating chronic pain with opioids is a major contributor to the recent epidemic of overdoses. Using powerful drugs to treat pain comes with a high risk of addiction and overdose. Medical marijuana is also an effective treatment for pain and a far safer alternative. Multiple studies suggest that the states that permit the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes have fewer deaths from opioids. Over time, this effect only grows, and according to Stat News, these states experience an average 20 percent lower rate of opioid deaths during the first year, 24 percent in the third year, and a 33 percent reduction in the sixth year.
- Alcoholism – While marijuana is not completely without risk – it’s certainly much less addictive than alcohol and does not inflict anywhere near as much damage physically. Alcoholism causes a disruption in the endocannabinoid system. This reaction is thought to be the reason marijuana helps people who want to quit drinking or cut back on alcohol intake. The Harm Reduction Journal conducted research that suggested often times people use cannabis as a safer option rather than alcohol, illegal drugs, and prescription drugs. Patients cited that because marijuana had fewer side effects and was less likely to create withdrawal symptoms, it was a preferred substance.
- Stroke – Preliminary animal studies show that cannabis may be able to protect the brain following a stroke. The University of Nottingham conducted research that showed marijuana may help protect the brain from suffering permanent damage by reducing the size of the stroke in monkeys, rats, and mice.
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (i.e. Crohn’s disease) – Patients who suffer from bowel disorders, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, may benefit from medical marijuana. A study from the University of Nottingham found that the chemicals in marijuana, including THC and cannabidiol, serve an important function in both the body’s immune responses and gut function.
- Epileptic Seizures – Patients who suffer from epilepsy often experience grand mal seizures and have a resistance to traditional approaches to treatment. A major marijuana compound, cannabidiol (CBD), has been shown in some studies to help these people with treatment-resistant epilepsy. In addition, numerous people have reported that medical marijuana is effective at treating theirs or their children’s seizures.
- Dravet Syndrome – While Sanjay Gupta was researching the documentary “Weed”, he interviewed the Figi family that was using medical marijuana low in THC and high in CBD to treat their five-year-old daughter’s seizures. The film states that her seizures were reduced from 300 a week to just one seizure every seven days.