The term “medical marijuana” is used a great deal in the media, and, for the most part, is widely misunderstood. It conjures up images of cancer patients smoking joints, hopefully, to reverse their cancer while getting high in the process. In truth, when scientists and lawmakers discuss “medical marijuana,” most often they aren’t talking about marijuana at all, but cannabidiol. Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is a byproduct of the marijuana plant, like its sister compound THC, but it can also derive from the non-psychotropic hemp plant. Nonetheless, CBD faces the same legal issues like marijuana, which hampers research. In recent years, however, as the legislative pressure has lessened, research into CBD has shown significant promise. CBD could end up being instrumental in treating some severe diseases.
More often than not, when discussions about the use of CBD do arise, they are about the treatment of cancer. This link might be tenuous, as most “curing cancer” claims try to associate with studies from decades ago that have not been replicated and could be out of date on their methodology. That doesn’t mean CBD can’t cure cancer since lack of proof is never proof of a lacking. Some do believe CBD to be a cancer preventative because it’s an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, but further research is necessary to know for sure how CBD affects cancer. However, there have been some recent studies that suggest CBD can slow the growth of cancer cells in animals.
CBD has been quite useful already for treating side effects in those who already have cancer. Doctors often prescribe marijuana as a pain preventative, but patients receiving CBD on its own (such as children who can’t take a psychotropic drug) need less pain medication. CBD has also been shown to successfully mitigate nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
Inflammatory bowel diseases are a branch of digestive diseases that stem from inflammation within the digestive system. Crohn’s disease is the most common of these. Specifically categorized by inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, no one is sure what causes Crohn’s disease. One common belief is that it is a genetic disorder related to the immune system that can be triggered by environmental factors, but it could also be related to bacteria in the digestive system. Its symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloody stools, and fevers. Even worse, Crohn’s can interfere with nutrient absorption inside the intestine, causing severe malnutrition.
Cannabinoids have been shown to treat Crohn’s disease by suppressing the immune system’s inflammatory response, and instead triggering an anti-inflammatory one. It does so by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system, connected to cannabinoid receptors found inside immune system cells all along the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, it is possible that inflammatory bowel diseases occur when the body fails to produce enough endocannabinoids naturally.
Epilepsy affects 50 million people around the world. It is not just one disorder, but a group of different neurological disorders that are characterized by epileptic seizures. Epileptic seizures are not standard and can vary from imperceptibly short or quite prolonged, but they are all defined by a loss of physical control, loss of consciousness, and rigid, uncontrollable shaking. There is no known cause, and epileptic seizures tend to recur. Epilepsy usually starts in early childhood, is extremely difficult to live with, requiring special accommodations for those who suffer from it, and has been known to cause stigmatization and ostracization around the world.
Cannabidiol treatment in epilepsy is one of the more studied areas in recent years, as it has shown extreme promise in treatment. On average, CBD treatments have reduced seizures by 45.1%. It has been particularly useful in treating childhood epilepsy. Because there are different (and unknown) causes and similar symptoms, individual responses to CBD treatment vary widely. Some patients have not responded to CBD treatment at all, whereas others have seen a nearly 100% reduction in seizures. It is also important to note that consistency in dosing is critical, as switching up the concentration of cannabidiol in a dose has been known to trigger seizures. There is evidence that CBD could be used to treat some other neurological disorders, like schizophrenia or neonatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, but there haven’t been enough studies funded due to legality issues.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a neural disease which destroys nerves that control muscles. Over time, patients lose their ability to move, speak, and eventually even eat and breathe. While CBD will not directly treat the muscle weakness, it has had a marked effect in some ALS patients in managing the side effects. The cannabidiol can treat a broad range of ALS symptoms, as an anti-inflammatory to treat the pain, a muscle relaxant to deal with spasms, and an appetite stimulant to help with nutrition. Its antioxidant qualities might even slow down the progression of the disease.
Cannabidiol may also be instrumental in treating other diseases; new evidence suggests that CBD could be used to treat Parkinson’s. Scientists can not yet say for sure, however, because of constant interference in CBD research. However, as medical marijuana laws have been changing progressively all around the U.S., it is possible that there will soon be even more uses for CBD.
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