As both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are legalized in more states, the discussion of the marijuana’s benefits is entering the mainstream. Marijuana’s health effects, from pain management to anxiety relief, are being discussed more openly as patients consider marijuana for their health concerns. There is a growing body of evidence that points to cannabis as a possible treatment for chronic pain, anxiety, sleep disorders, and seizures.
Pain Management Through Marijuana
According to the CDC, over 50 million Americans (about 20% of the population) experience chronic pain. As the opioid crisis continues to escalate, patients and doctors are looking for alternatives to these highly addictive prescription drugs. The benefit of marijuana as a potential treatment for chronic pain is providing hope for many of these patients.
The marijuana’s health effects related to pain management have not been fully verified, but one study out of the Netherlands showed a significant increase in pain threshold from inhaled THC, a psychoactive cannabinoid. Other studies suggest that CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, is particularly useful for the treatment of chronic pain. CBD also seems to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can be helpful in treating chronic pain conditions.
Patients that seek marijuana’s benefits for pain management can take CBD products orally, either through tinctures, pills, or edibles. CBD can also be applied topically for the relief of pain. Topical options include oils, creams, gels, and balms. People who use CBD products topically for pain management claim significant improvement in their pain through these products.
Just over 19% of Americans suffer from a diagnosed anxiety disorder. It is believed that the actual number of Americans with anxiety is much higher. Managing anxiety can be challenging. There are pharmaceuticals that can be prescribed for the treatment of anxiety, but people report mixed efficacy with those drugs.
A new frontier in the treatment of anxiety involves tapping into the marijuana’s health effects and using both THC and CBD products to alleviate anxiety. A growing number of people are experimenting with marijuana’s benefits for treating anxiety and depression.
It appears that THC helps treat anxiety only at lower doses. It is important to note the dosage, as many people report an increase in anxiety at higher doses. Further study is needed to find the optimal dosing of THC and to verify its efficacy for treating anxiety, but for many the anecdotal evidence in their lives is powerful. CBD, on the other hand, seems to be helpful at all dosage levels for the treatment of anxiety.
A 2018 study looked at marijuana’s benefits for treating both anxiety and depression. The study reported a reduction in anxiety and depression in 58% of the people using medical marijuana. The effect was higher for the females in the study. This is compelling data to show a possible link between the use of both CBD and THC and the lessening of anxiety. As with pain management, more study is important for establishing the efficacy of these treatments and for setting appropriate dosage ranges.
The Benefit of Marijuana as a Sleep Aid
The American Sleep Association reports that 50 to 70 million Americans experience some kind of sleep disorder, with about 10-15% of adults dealing with some form of chronic insomnia. The damage to the human body from inadequate sleep is well documented. Treating the sleep disorders of these patients, then, is extremely important for their overall health and well-being.
A potential benefit of marijuana is the treatment of sleep disorders. Many members of the medical marijuana community point to cannabis as an excellent sleep aid. Because marijuana is still a regulated substance in the US, few scientific studies have been conducted on the health effect of marijuana for sleep.
According to WebMD, there have been a few studies that have linked cannabinoid products to the improvement of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea and difficulty falling asleep. One interesting finding is that those who tap into marijuana’s benefits as a treatment for other health problems, like chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, often report better sleep after starting to use marijuana.
Clearly, more work needs to be done to assess the efficacy of marijuana as a treatment for sleep disorders, but the preliminary evidence and the reports from users are a promising start.
Treatment of Seizure Disorders
There is some evidence that marijuana benefits the treatment of seizure disorders. A few small clinical studies have been done that suggest a link between the use of CBD and the control of seizures. A growing body of anecdotal evidence from marijuana users that suffer from seizures is also promising. This is a possible health effect of marijuana that could provide relief for a number of people.
For the millions of Americans that suffer from seizure disorders, the potential for treatments using marijuana could be life-changing. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA), which has the authority to approve pharmaceutical treatments in the US, has already approved one drug that contains CBD to treat certain kinds of seizures. This is the first drug containing any cannabinoid that has been approved by the FDA. As more evidence of the benefits of marijuana is gathered through rigorous scientific research, there may be more drugs approved to treat seizures and other disorders in the future.
The potential health effects of marijuana are exciting. The reports of cannabis users point to some clear benefits from the use of marijuana for a variety of conditions. As we have seen, more study is needed to firmly establish marijuana’s benefits for the treatment of chronic conditions such as pain, anxiety, seizures, and sleep disorders.