Medical Uses of Cannabis

Some of the most common medical uses of cannabis..

Ailments for which the medical use of cannabis may be beneficial include:

Addiction, Arthritis, Appetite Loss, Nausea, Cancer Chemotherapy, AIDS Wasting Syndrome, Nausea From Cancer, Chemotherapy, Glaucoma, Multiple Sclerosis, Depression, Parkinson's Disease, Movement Disorders, Dystonia, Asthma, Brain Injury/Stroke, Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Depression, Mental Illness, Epilepsy, Fibromyalgia, High Blood Pressure/Hypertension, Migraine, Nail Patella Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Tourette's Syndrome.

Arthritis: In 1994 the ‘Times' reported; ‘The demand for Cannabis among British pensioners has stunned doctors, police and suppliers. The old people use the drug to ease the pain of such ailments as arthritis and rheumatism. Many are running afoul of the law for the first time in their lives as they try to obtain suppliers.'

Arthritis affects the joints and surrounding areas, including muscles, membrane linings and cartilage. It causes painful inflammation, heat, swelling, pain, redness of skin and tenderness in the affected areas. Cortisone-type drugs provide dramatic pain relief for short periods but decrease in effectiveness if used over time. The side effects of these drugs include nausea, restlessness, insomnia, dizziness, headache, depression and mood swings, irregular heartbeat and menstruation problems. Several cannabinoids have both analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory effects, a combination particularly helpful for arthritic people. Cannabidiol (CBD), one of the main active ingredients in Cannabis is a very effective anti-inflammatory agent. Cannabis can be smoked or eaten to relieve the general pain, inflammation and discomfort of arthritis. Cannabis poultices can be applied topically to troubled areas. Cannabis in alcohol or as a cream can also be rubbed on the skin.

Appetite Loss, Nausea, Cancer Chemotherapy, AIDS Wasting Syndrome: One of the most outstanding medical values of Cannabis is the role it can play in restoring a person's relationship to food. Cannabis is remarkably powerful in combating nausea and vomiting, making it possible to consume food and hold it down. It is also an extraordinary stimulant of appetite itself; a condition known by Cannabis users as ‘the munchies'. Conditions characterised by nausea, vomiting, appetite problems and severe weight loss include AIDS Wasting Syndrome, kidney failure, tuberculosis, hyperemesis gravidarum (magnified form of morning sickness) and anorexia and the side effects of chemotherapy.

Nausea From Cancer Chemotherapy: Nausea and vomiting, which can last for days after a single treatment and be so violent as to threaten to break bones and rupture the aesophagus, are common side effects of the chemotherapies used in treating cancer. Many patients develop such an aversion to the site or odor of food that they stop eating altogether and lose the will to live. Up to 40% of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy do not respond to the standard treatment for preventing vomiting. These use expensive ‘antiemetics' drugs such as ‘Zofran' (which must be administered by intravenous drip and cost £250+ a treatment). ‘Marinol' which uses THC was approved after much resistance in the USA in 1986. It is effective in many cases where other drugs have failed. Smoking or eating Cannabis also seems to provide relief where standard treatments fail. The effectiveness of Cannabis in treating nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy is dose-related. The higher the blood levels of THC, the more complete the relief of vomiting. Lester Grinspoon, M.D. has calculated that using Cannabis to treat chemotherapy nausea would cost about one percent as much as treatment with Zofran.

Glaucoma: The usual treatment is eye drops containing drugs called ‘beta-blockers'. While effective they can cause depression, exacerbate asthma, decrease heart rate and increase danger of heart failure. The most common form of glaucoma, ‘open angle glaucoma' happens when the channels that carry fluid out of the eyeball gradually become narrower causing the intra ocular pressure to increase slowly over time, damaging the optic nerve that relays signals from the eye to the brain and resulting in blindness. Fortunately, it can be treated with Cannabis. Cannabis relieves symptoms by reducing intra ocular pressure, thereby slowing down the progress of the condition, sometimes bringing it to a complete halt. The pressure relieving effects achieved by using Cannabis last for four to five hours.

Multiple Sclerosis: Multiple Sclerosis destroys the sheathing that protects nerve fibres, interfering with the function of the nervous system. The victim suffers painful muscle spasms, loss of coordination, tremors, paralysis, insomnia, mood swings and depression, blurred vision, impotence, loss of bladder control and more. There are three types; fairly mild and does not get worse over time; one which gets worse slowly; and one which gets rapidly worse once it appears. Many suffers end up using wheelchairs. Modern medicine has failed to find an effective treatment for the overall condition although various drugs give short-term relief of different symptoms. Valium or similar tranquilizers are used to treat muscle spasms but have there associated side effect of addiction, and doses often have to be increased sharply over time (good for profits if nothing else). MS patients who use Cannabis report a soothing of the painful muscle spasms and improved muscle coordination. Some are able to walk unaided when they were previously unable to do so. It also helps blurred vision, tremors, loss of bladder control, insomnia and depression.

Depression: Depression can be a very depressing state of mind to be in, and can include pessimism, hopelessness, despair, loss of interest in life, boredom and sadness. Symptoms include insomnia or excessive sleeping, loss of appetite or over eating, decreased sex drive, constipation, listlessness, chronic tiredness, difficulty with concentration and decision making, and irritability. About 30% of patients with depression respond badly to antidepressants or find the side effects intolerable. A significant difference between the two is that the mood lifting effects of Cannabis occur within a few minutes of smoking or about an hour after ingesting while pharmaceutical antidepressants usually take several days or weeks to kick in - and the same or longer to safely get off them.

Movement Disorders: Diseases characterised by impaired motor function and difficulties with muscle control. Conventional drug treatments are not very effective and can have very bad side effects. Cannabis has proved to be surprisingly helpful. Research indicates that the reason may have something to do with the presence of receptors for cannabinoids in the ‘basal ganglia', a part of the nervous system involved in the coordination of movement.

Parkinson's Disease: A movement disorder closely associated with the aging process, thought to be caused by abnormalities in the ‘basal ganglia' and deterioration of the brain systems associated with the brain chemical ‘dopamine' which is involved in movement and motor control. Levels of dopamine decline with ageing. Conventional treatments include ‘Deprenyl', ‘Bromocriptine' and ‘L-dopa', all drugs which increase levels of dopamine in the nervous system. ‘L-dopa', the most frequently used of these treatments, may actually increase damage to parts of the brain involved in dopamine production. It does not slow down the progression of the disease or increase life expectancy. Its side effects include most of the symptoms of the disease it is intended to treat! These include nausea, loss of libido, vomiting, irritability, insomnia, loss of appetite, headache, dystonias, and muscle spasms. Cannabis has demonstrated a beneficial impact on all of them. However ‘Cannabidiol' one of the active agents of Cannabis may aggravate the ‘hypokinesia', or overall lack of movement associated with Parkinson's.

Dystonia: Dystonias are a group of movement disorders characterised by abnormal body movements and postures. Their causes can be a side effect of medicines used to treat psychotic conditions and Parkinson's disease. Cannabis has been shown to be helpful for dystonia in studies with both humans and animals when conventional drugs are rarely effective and have dangerous side effects. Cannabis used in conjunction with standard medications can help achieve a more effective overall treatment.

Chronic Pain: One of the most difficult problems for health practitioners to treat. Conventional medicine uses opiate-type drugs such as codeine. Opiates are highly addictive and dosages have to be increased to remain effective, increasing the addiction. Much addiction has its roots in pain being self medication conscious or not. Non-addictive painkillers are also available, but they are often not strong enough to provide adequate pain relief! The painkilling properties of Cannabis (THC) are comparable to those of codeine and other commonly used painkillers without the side effects or risk of addiction. Studies have found that the dose of THC required to kill pain was far smaller than the amount of codeine required to give the same level of relief. Amazingly the same dosage of Cannabis has a consistently stronger painkilling effect for experienced users of Cannabis than for inexperienced users. This is the opposite of a development of tolerance! A single dose can relieve pain for several hours. Eating is often more effective than smoking and the effects last longer. However, the use of Cannabis and opiates is not necessarily an either-or issue. If Cannabis is used in an ongoing regime of medication, opiates could be added or substituted during periods when pain levels rise. Conversely, if opiates are used as the basis of the ongoing regime, Cannabis could be added when pain levels rise , avoiding the need to increase the dosages of opiates being used and the associated dangers.

Diabetes: Insulin is excreted from the beta islet cells of the pancreas. Insulin, a natural body chemical, floods the body after a sugar-rich meal and causes various cell types to dramatically increase their uptake of glucose, a common sugar. The effect of insulin is to reduce the levels of glucose in the bloodstream. Diabetes can result from the body's inability to produce sufficient quantities of insulin or from an inability to respond properly to the insulin that is produced. In either case, many of the clinical effects of diabetes stem from the deleterious effects of high blood sugar.

There is some anecdotal evidence that Cannabis lowers blood sugar. AIDS and cancer patients, among other Cannabis users, often report an increase in appetite after consuming Cannabis, and a few reports indicate that smoking Cannabis can lower blood sugar in diabetics.

A study (Tracy Blevins phd) was undertaken to determine whether this effect can be detected using an easily available over the counter blood glucose testing kit.

A morbidly obese man had a non-healing wound on his lower leg and was experiencing confusion and sleepiness after large meals. He suspected diabetes as the culprit, and, since smoking a large Cannabis cigarette after large meals seemed to alleviate some of his symptoms, his blood sugar was tested before, immediately after and multiple times during the hour following a large meal rich in protein, fats and both complex and simple carbohydrates.

The results were dramatic and raised some interesting research questions. Before and immediately after the meal, the patient's blood sugar was in the normal range, but within a few minutes increased by 80 mg/dl and remained at this high level for almost an hour. Then he smoked a 1 gram Cannabis cigarette, and his blood sugar levels fell by 40 points almost instantly. This represents a full 50% of the abnormal increase in blood sugar.

The drop of blood which was taken at the exact moment when he was self reporting a ‘high' were the lowest in blood sugar, a good indication that the blood sugar lowering was caused by the ingestion of Cannabis. Curiously, after a few minutes, his blood sugar started to increase again. It might be that smoking Cannabis helped to reduce his blood sugar, but only transiently. Would a longer acting cannabinoid suppress blood sugar levels more efficiently?

Further studies are necessary to confirm this effect and to determine the parameters of the effect: the amount of Cannabis needed, the time course of the effect, and also whether different types of Cannabis show more or less blood sugar lowering. Also, in another non-diabetic patient, blood sugar was decreased by 11%, pointing to the possibility that Cannabis can lower blood sugar in a non-disease state. Could it be that we have finally discovered the biological mechanism of “the munchies”?

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