EducationTop 10 therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis

Top 10 therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis

9 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Top 10 therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering ‘What are the potential medical benefits of cannabis?’ you’ve come to the right place. Medical cannabis is a term used to describe the medical application of cannabis or cannabis-based medicines to help relieve symptoms associated with certain health conditions.

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Because of its association with recreational drug use and subsequent stigmatisation, there was very little research into the medical benefits of cannabis until the 1990s. However, following the 1996 legalisation of medical cannabis in California, there has been a major surge in investigations into the plant's therapeutic benefits.

Today, the possible benefits of medical cannabis are well-recorded. There are a high number of trials that demonstrate the potential efficacy of cannabis-based treatments to help relieve the symptoms of patients with multiple sclerosis, anxiety, chronic pain and inflammatory diseases, to name just a few. Typically, these studies analyse the impact of CBD and THC, which are the major cannabinoid components in cannabis, or their synthetic, man-made equivalents.

To save you from weeding through hundreds of medical journals, we’ve put together a list of the top 10 potential therapeutic or medical benefits of medical cannabis. Find out how cannabis may impact pain, inflammation, anxiety, appetite, nausea, seizures, sleep, tremors, memory, and overall quality of life below.

But, before we dive headfirst into the wonderful world of medicinal cannabis, we must stress that more research must be done before any definitive claims can or will be made about the efficacy of treating or curing any illnesses, diseases, or conditions with medicinal cannabis. This guide is simply that, a guide into the current research. 

Medical cannabis and pain

Pain management is one of the most commonly sought-after potential therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis, as chronic pain affects an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide. When cannabis is consumed, THC is released into the body, where it activates cannabinoid receptors in nerve cells that essentially trick the brain’s reward system. This function may relieve the sensation of pain. 

There is substantial evidence and a consistent trend that suggests one of the key prospective benefits of medical cannabis is its effect on pain management. This is demonstrated in a systematic review of 28 studies that used a range of natural cannabis cannabinoids and synthetically manufactured medical cannabinoids.

Another study (which did recommend additional rigorous studies were needed) found that there was a 64% reduction rate in opioid use amongst cancer patients once they started using cannabis to help manage their pain.Just like opioids, medical cannabis may target the nervous system, but thankfully, it does not have the same addiction or drug-related death rate. Tentative results from this Israeli study suggest that cancer patients’ pain and general well-being scores could improve by 70% after just a month of medical cannabis treatment.

Medical cannabis and inflammation

Typically, the immune system is notified of inflammation, and it automatically triggers responses to calm it by eliminating the source. However, if the body fails to do this, inflammation builds and develops, damaging the surrounding tissue which can lead to or contribute to health conditions like arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and neurodegenerative diseases.

When consumed, the cannabinoids within cannabis bind to receptors in the endocannabinoid system (which is known to regulate the immune system) and may inhibit, or prevent, inflammatory responses. THC, CBD and CBG are all cannabinoids that have been shown, in a number of studies, to possibly act against inflammation. The effects of medical cannabinoids on inflammation relating to skin, joints, and organs have all been investigated, and there is strong evidence to likely suggest that one of the main therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis is its anti-inflammatory properties.

Medical cannabis and stress or anxiety

One of the most well-researched prospective health benefits attributed to medical cannabis is its influence on anxiety and depression. When cannabis is administered, the cannabinoids it contains bind to endocannabinoid receptors to trigger responses that could attempt to resolve the chemical imbalance occurring in the brain.

At every tested dose, in anxiety studies, CBD has shown the potential to offer psychological benefits by regulating the perception of stress and possibly reducing anxiety levels in both humans and animals. 

A Brazilian study compared the effects of CBD oil to those of a placebo on anxious participants as they took part in a public speaking test, which was recorded for psychological analysis. This study found that patients using CBD oil experienced enhanced cognitive performance in stressful situations, as well as a significant reduction in the physiological manifestations of anxiety. 

However, the other major cannabinoid in cannabis: THC has been shown to increase anxiety if it is taken in high doses, therefore it is important to follow clinical guidance and dosage instructions.

Medical cannabis and appetite

The influence cannabis can have on eating behaviours is another benefit of medical cannabis that has been investigated by researchers across the world. According to experts, the cannabinoid THC triggers hunger hormones when it partially binds to cannabinoid receptors (CB1) in the brain, which could induce the feeling of hunger. This therapeutic benefit of medical cannabis can be seen in various studies involving people with HIV/AIDs who suffer from wasting syndrome. 

One study assessed the effects of Dronabinol, a synthetic medical cannabinoid identical to THC that has been approved for use in the US since 1985. In this study, respondents showed a consistent improvement in appetite and on average maintained a stable body weight for at least seven months.

Medical cannabis and nausea or vomiting

According to ancient records, cannabis has been taken to help reduce nausea symptoms for millennia; however, further research is required into how this benefit of medical cannabis is actually achieved biologically. 

In a systematic review of 28 trials, cannabis-based treatments were shown to have the capacity to be more successful than conventional medications and placebos in treating vomiting and nausea caused by chemotherapy treatment. Another review of 23 trials found that overall patient preference was higher for treatment with cannabinoids than with conventional antiemetics, which demonstrates the potential medicinal value and therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis.

Medical cannabis and seizures

It is believed seizures can be initiated by a molecule found in brain cells called lysophosphatidylinositol. This molecule normally functions by amplifying signals within the nerve, however, it can be overtaken or hijacked by diseases that promote seizures. There is evidence to suggest that CBD may block the signals and the ability of lysophosphatidylinositol, in doing so this reduces the severity or frequency of seizures.

When surveying parents with epileptic children, it was found that CBD-enriched cannabis products could reduce the seizure frequency in children by an average of 85%. Another study in 2015 found that after 12 weeks of taking an oral cannabidiol treatment, patients with epilepsy experienced a 36.5% reduction in motor seizures. 

Due to the strong evidence pointing towards the potential efficacy of medical cannabis in the treatment of epilepsy, the NHS has approved and prescribed (in very few instances) the cannabis-based medication Epidyolex to help in the treatment of rare forms of epilepsy such as Lennox - Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.

Medical cannabis and sleep disorders

One of the main psychological benefits medical cannabis may offer is its influence on sleep, which can be split into two stages: deep sleep, and ‘dream sleep’ or REM sleep. In 2008, it was found that consuming cannabis with high levels of THC led to a reduction in REM sleep, which could prove beneficial for people who experience nightmares, such as PTSD patients.  

An analysis of trials testing the efficacy and therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis identified 8 separate studies that demonstrated an improvement in sleep quality, and another 3 showed a possible reduction in sleep disturbance levels when using medical cannabis.

Medical cannabis and tremors

One of the reported prospective medical benefits of medical cannabis is its effect on tremors, which can affect people with Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis as well as people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury or a stroke. 

When analysing how tremors are reduced by using cannabis, researchers found that a type of synthetic medical cannabinoid activates the brain and spinal cord's ‘support cells’, which then diminish involuntary tremors. One study analysed the difference in patients with Parkinson’s Disease before and 30 minutes after inhaling 0.5g of cannabis. Here researchers reported that patients showed a significant improvement in tremors, rigidity and bradykinesia.

Medical cannabis and memory

Cannabis has been shown to impair memory in humans, which can be extremely problematic. However, this is not the case for everyone. 

A 2020 study revealed that administering low doses of THC or a combination of THC and CBD caused an increase in the extinction rate of traumatic or challenging memories for PTSD patients, which may lead to a reduction in anxiety. This study gives weight to the argument that the effect of cannabinoids on human memory can also be seen as one of the potential benefits of medical cannabis, and this can also be seen in Alzheimer’s research. 

Cannabinoids have shown potential to slow down the onset of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease, which slowly destroys stored memories. The function of medicinal cannabis here may be through reducing inflammation. A systematic review of nine separate studies found that both cannabis compounds THC and CBD may have the ability to suppress some of Alzheimer’s causal factors, to slow its progression and its impact on memory.

Medical cannabis and quality of life

The potential therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis are seemingly evident when looking at the self-reported quality of life scores given by patients before and after starting medical cannabis treatments. 

A study of 900 medical cannabis patients in the UK revealed that there was a 51% increase in scores relating to ‘health and ability to lead a more normal life’ reported by those involved in the study after three months of medical cannabis treatment. These findings also show that medical cannabis may benefit the quality of life by significantly improving patients' ability to manage secondary conditions such as inflammation, insomnia, and anxiety.

Conclusion

So, there we have it. An albeit brief, but somewhat comprehensive rundown of the current findings relating to the potential benefits medicinal cannabis may offer patients suffering from a wide range of conditions. 

If you are interested in finding out more in regards to medicinal cannabis, feel free to reach out to us here at Releaf. We provide an ‘all-in-one’ medicinal cannabis service, from initial consultation to doorstep delivery of your prescription. 

At Releaf, we believe that access to medical cannabis is important. That's why we offer tailored monthly packages based on your cannabis prescription, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Authors

With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

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Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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