The use of cannabis was first documented as early as 3,000B.C. The plant can be used in hemp oils and creams, as well as for medicinal purposes and of course, recreational drug use. Cannabis is currently a Class B drug in the UK, meaning potentially 5 years in prison for possession. However, with new drug trials underway, growing evidence against its harmful effects, and numerous states in the US and Canada legalising the drug, could we be halting a potential miracle drug by not legalising its use?
Cannabis has been used in herbal medicines for thousands of years across the Globe. It is reported that even Queen Victoria was regularly prescribed cannabis to ease her period cramps. Cannabis was freely available until 1928, when the UK made it illegal after a drugs conference, where an Egyptian delegate convinced the assembly that the drug was as harmful as opium (heroin). A lot more is now known about cannabis and there is still to be a reported death due to its use alone compared to opioids, on which 53,332 people overdosed in 2016 in the US alone.
So where does the worry about cannabis come from? Two main substituents (i.e. cannabinoids) of cannabis are THC and CBD. Both cannabinoids interact with our endocannabinoid system (ECS, yes, that is a thing) which is involved in the regulation of pain, appetite, mood, memory, immune response, sleep and the cycles of cell life and death. THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid, responsible for causing the characteristic ‘high’ of marijuana use. THC is also linked to reports of psychosis and paranoia in those already susceptible to the condition, or those whose brains are still developing and use it in high doses. CBD however is not a psychoactive cannabinoid, meaning it cannot cause the ‘high’ usually associated with the use of marijuana. THC and CBD have the same molecular formula but different atomic arrangements (see the image).
CBD has an open ring, whilst THC has a closed ring, and it is this slight difference that causes a huge change in their effects. It is possible to grow strains of cannabis to have varying concentrations of THC and CBD. Strong marijuana (such as Skunk) is high in THC, whereas medicinal marijuana has minimal THC content and is high in CBD.
Below are outlines of some conditions that are currently treated with, or have medical trials for, the use of cannabis to alleviate symptoms of the condition.
Arthritis and chronic nerve pain: Arthritis is a condition which affects the joints, sometimes causing constant pain to those that suffer. Since 2001, medicinal cannabis has been prescribed in Canada for the treatment of pain related to arthritis, with 2/3 of those prescribed medicinal cannabis using it for this condition. It is still not available to those under 25 to avoid any possible harm to the developing brain. However, it was found that a small dose (25mg) of cannabis could reduce pain, as it acts as an analgesic (i.e. relieves pain) for those who suffer from arthritis, and also those who have chronic nerve pain (i.e. pain caused from nerve damage). The pain relief felt was not dramatic, and did not remove all pain by any means, but it was a noticeable reduction compared to how the patients usually felt. The concentration of THC was varied throughout the trial (0%, 2.5%, 6% and 9.4%) to determine how THC affected relief. It was found the 9.4% dose reduced pain the most, and also improved the sleep of those in the trial. It is possible cannabis blocks neuron signalling which cause the pain or it reduces the signalling which can occur.
Crohn’s Disease: Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease which can be very distressing for the sufferer and can be debilitating. Patients, who use cannabis without a prescription, have claimed relief from their symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhoea and poor appetite. A study in 2014 found that of 319 patients asked, 91% found their symptoms improved. However, those in the study that suffered from Crohn’s actually had a worse prognosis after long-term cannabis use. There have been numerous research programmes which have linked Crohn’s disease to the ECS, and thus it is possible to conclude that some form of cannabinoid could be made to target the system causing Crohn’s. More extensive and controlled studies are required to truly conclude the effectiveness of cannabis for Crohn’s disease, but there is promise for inflammatory bowel disorders.
Epilepsy: a common condition that affects the brain and causes frequent seizures. The first person to be prescribed cannabis oil for epilepsy in the UK was in 2010; an 11 year-old boy who suffered from up to 100 seizures a day. His mother reported that by taking the cannabis oil daily, his seizures stopped. Cannabis oil does not contain THC, only CBD. Another case in the UK was last month (March 2018), when a 6 year-old boy was placed on a clinical trial for the use of cannabis to reduce the number of seizures he was having (up to 60 a day). If the trial is successful, it would reduce the use of very strong steroids currently used to control the condition, which are known to cause psychosis after long-term use, or even early death with the extra pressure steroids put on the heart. During a short trial in the Netherlands, the boy lasted 27 days without a seizure whilst using cannabis.
Overall, cannabis has shown promising results in the treatment of various conditions including others such as MS and depression, helping to alleviate some symptoms which cause the sufferer untold discomfort. However, most studies conducted so far have been small or just anecdotal, and there is very little money for research in this area as the drug is still illegal in many countries. Should we be funding cannabis research to further understand it, how it works in these conditions, and how it could help in others? Larger, more extensive research studies would provide evidence either for or against the use of cannabis in numerous conditions. The ability to conduct such studies would finally determine if cannabis is a wonder drug, the use of which should be considered, and not punished.
If you want any more information about cannabis or other drugs, here is a website from the UK which we’ve always been directed to for help: http://www.talktofrank.com/