The Health Benefits of Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana is a controversial topic, but many studies and patient surveys show that it’s highly effective in treating a wide range of ailments and medical conditions. Many patients who don’t respond well to traditional treatments for diseases find that marijuana relieves the painful and uncomfortable symptoms.
Understanding the health benefits of medical marijuana helps you determine if this alternative treatment can help you.
Cannabinoids and the Body
The body’s endocannabinoid system helps regulate various processes to create homeostasis. In other words, a properly functioning endocannabinoid system creates a sense of balance in the body that lets everything run smoothly. Endocannabinoids are the body’s natural cannabinoids. They interact with the cannabinoid receptors on cell surfaces. The receptors are found throughout the body in the cells of various body systems.
Sometimes, the endocannabinoid system is out of balance or can’t keep up with the body’s needs. This can cause physical symptoms. The cannabinoids in marijuana interact with the receptors in much the same way as the body’s endocannabinoids do. That reaction with the body’s receptors is why you experience the psychoactive “high” effect and the other health benefits of marijuana.
This interaction can make up for the imbalance in the system, which helps relieve symptoms you experience. Think of the cannabinoids in marijuana as a natural replacement for the endocannabinoids in your system.
Chronic pain is a common complaint that affects many people. Sometimes the cause of that pain is a disease or injury. Other times, the cause is unknown. No matter the reason, though, pain is often disruptive and may keep you from engaging in your normal daily activities.
Marijuana is known for its analgesic qualities. Cannabis may be particularly helpful in treating neuropathic pain, which is chronic pain associated with the body’s tissues. Damage to nerve fibers causes problems in the signals sent to pain centers. The pain relief is often more effective than over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers and it works without potential side effects, such as liver damage and ulcers.
It relieves pain caused by a number of conditions or triggers, for everything from headaches to severe pain caused by fibromyalgia and cancer. It even helps with arthritis pain, which can cause crippling effects without effective treatment. Creams and balms infused with cannabis let arthritis and other pain sufferers apply the treatment directly to the source of the pain.
Inflammation can happen throughout the body. While inflammation is sometimes a helpful response to injuries and infections, other times inflammation happens when it’s not necessary. It is often the cause of disease, or at least a contributing factor, and can do lasting harm to the body.
Marijuana often has an anti-inflammatory effect, minimizing that chronic inflammation to ease symptoms, prevent damage and slow the progression of inflammatory diseases. Inflammation and pain are often related. The dual effect of reducing pain-causing inflammation and relieving pain itself makes marijuana an effective tool. THC and CBD both appear to reduce inflammation.
Decreased Anxiety and Depression
While some people worry that marijuana can cause negative mental health effects, research tends to show the opposite. Cannabis often helps reduce anxiety and feelings of depression. This can help with general depression and anxiety as well as certain related diseases and health conditions. It can also help people with phobias and those who suffer from PTSD, which often causes stress, anxiety and depression.
The relaxing effect of marijuana helps minimize anxiety, but the reason for the mental health benefits may go deeper. Cannabis supports your body’s natural endocannabinoid system, which may help stabilize your emotions. This may help combat depression. Marijuana is even effective in calming panic attacks in some people.
Low doses of THC may be effective in boosting your mood. A balanced strain with THC, CBD and CBC is often a good choice for an antidepressant effect.
Indica strains of marijuana tend to cause a sleepy effect. This is ideal for people who have trouble sleeping, as it can help you fall asleep and stay asleep. This effect can be particularly helpful for people suffering from medical conditions that cause pain. That pain often makes it difficult to sleep well. Marijuana helps relieve the pain and causes the sleepy effect, doubling up on sleep issues caused by pain.
Another potential sleep benefit is reducing or eliminating bad dreams. If you experience night terrors or nightmares that affect your sleep, cannabis may help. Marijuana affects the REM sleep cycle, often causing a deep sleep without dreams.
Nausea is a symptom of many medical conditions and a side effect of many prescription drugs used to treat diseases. Chemotherapy is one of the most common “traditional” treatments that causes nausea. Cannabis can counteract those nauseous feelings.
Indeed, marijuana can be even more effective than medications designed to stop nausea because those medications are sometimes difficult to keep in the system due to vomiting. Marijuana can be vaporized, smoked or ingested through edibles, giving you the relief without the worry of keeping it in your system.
Controlling nausea is important for a few different reasons. First, it makes you feel better. You may find it easier to return to your normal activities and schedule. Relieving nausea and vomiting also enables you to eat and keep the food down, which is essential for proper nutrition. This effect is particularly important for people with conditions that cause weight loss, malnutrition or decreased appetite.
When you’re trying to lose weight, an increased appetite isn’t desired — but many medical conditions cause a lack of appetite, which can cause weight loss and malnutrition. Marijuana stimulates the appetite, which may help you increase your calorie consumption to gain the weight you need to be healthier. Nausea can also cause you to avoid eating, and since marijuana helps with nausea, you may get an extra boost when it comes to your appetite.
That increased appetite may help people with eating disorders. The cannabinoids in marijuana may help treat anorexia, for example.
Marijuana may help you regulate your metabolism. A stable metabolism helps you more effectively lose or maintain your weight to keep your body healthier overall.
In addition to increased appetite, marijuana can help improve your digestive health. It is often effective for people who suffer from ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases. Under normal circumstances, the endocannabinoid system regulates various elements of the digestive system, including the intestine lining’s permeability. Digestive system diseases throw off the balance of that system.
Cannabis can help counteract that imbalance to help your digestive system operate better. The digestive system contains several endocannabinoid receptors, which may be one reason why marijuana is effective in improving digestive health.
Some treatments traditionally used for these conditions cause additional problems, such as diarrhea and constipation. Cannabis can offer the same positive effects without those unwanted side effects.
Improvement in Muscle Spasms
Muscle spasms range from mildly annoying to painful and debilitating. Certain medical conditions cause spasms that complicate the condition. Marijuana eases those spasms by calming the affected muscles. You also get the bonus pain relief of marijuana that can help ease discomfort associated with the muscle spasms.
Applying a cream infused with cannabis can often work on the muscle spasm or cramp quickly, providing effective relief.
Immune System Suppression
It may seem like immune system suppression as a bad thing, but certain conditions actually improve when the immune system’s functioning is decreased. In particular, autoimmune disorders can benefit.
Normally, your immune system attacks foreign invaders in the body to keep you healthy. In an autoimmune disorder, the immune system attacks healthy tissues in the body, causing damage and a variety of symptoms. Suppressing the functioning of the immune system may minimize that damage and the symptoms associated with it.
Therapeutic Effects on Specific Medical Conditions
Many patients use medical marijuana to treat specific conditions or diseases. Marijuana is often used to treat the symptoms of the condition rather than cure it, but that relief can often make the disease more manageable. People with debilitating diseases may be able to resume a more normal way of life with the help of marijuana.
The way cannabis helps depends on the specific disease and the symptoms the person feels. Some patients take marijuana instead of prescription medications, while others use marijuana to complement drugs and treatments prescribed by their primary care physicians. Working closely with a health care professional is important to ensure your condition is properly treated.
Marijuana may help the following diseases and conditions:
MS is a degenerative autoimmune disorder affecting the central nervous system. The body’s immune system attacks myelin in the nerve cells, interrupting or distorting the nerve impulses to the brain and spinal cord.
Common symptoms of MS include numbness or weakness, vision loss, double vision, tingling, pain, tremors, slurred speech, fatigue and issues with bladder and bowel control. The symptoms often progress in severity, affecting mobility and basic functions.
Marijuana can help MS in the following ways:
- Decrease inflammation, which may minimize the immune system’s attack on the central nervous system.
- Pain relief for MS-related pain.
- Relief from muscle tightness that sometimes accompanies MS.
- Reduction in muscle spasms.
- Improved digestion, which may help with bowel control issues.
- Protection of eyesight by reducing inflammation in optic nerves.
Epilepsy is a disorder that causes electrical disturbances in the brain, resulting in seizures. The seizures range in severity and in their specific symptoms. Seizures can cause staring, muscle twitches, changes in your senses, confusion, convulsions and loss of consciousness. Epilepsy can also cause injuries from falls during a seizure, car accidents caused by having a seizure while driving, and drowning due to seizures that happen in the water.
Cannabis appears to minimize seizures in many patients with epilepsy. In particular, the cannabinoid called CBD seems to work to prevent or reduce seizures. Patients who don’t find relief in their prescribed anti-seizure medications sometimes see a major reduction in the seizure activity with the use of marijuana.
Controlling the seizures is essential to living a normal life and reducing the risk of injury.
Lupus is a type of autoimmune disorder characterized by inflammation that affects many areas of the body, including the joints, skin, brain, heart, kidneys and lungs.
Common symptoms include a butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose, skin lesions, fatigue, fever, stiffness, pain, swelling, headaches, sensitivity to light, hair loss and ulcers in the mouth and nose.
Marijuana can help treat lupus in the following ways:
- Reduced inflammation, which causes many of the symptoms.
- Relief from joint pain associated with the disease.
- Suppression of the immune system to minimize the attack on healthy tissues.
- Increase in energy with certain strains of marijuana to help with fatigue.
Fibromyalgia is a condition of unknown origin that is characterized by long-term and widespread pain throughout the body. The pain sometimes seems to travel through the body. While the pain doesn’t cause any damage to the body, it can be severe and debilitating at times.
Along with pain, fibromyalgia often causes tenderness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, depression, headaches, abdominal cramping, stiffness, numbness and difficulty sleeping.
Ways that marijuana helps fibromyalgia include:
- Relieving the pain that is characteristic of the condition.
- Relief from insomnia.
- Fewer muscle spasms.
- Help with depression.
- Reduced muscle stiffness.
Cancer causes cells to grow abnormally, resulting in tumors. The condition causes various symptoms throughout the body, depending on the location and stage of the cancer. Marijuana may help cancer patients by:
- Controlling nausea caused by chemotherapy.
- Reducing pain caused by the disease.
- Potential to slow the growth of some cancer cells.
- Improved appetite which can help cancer patients get important nutrients and gain weight.
The slowed growth of tumors may come from the THC in marijuana. This cannabinoid causes the ID-1 gene to turn off. That gene is responsible for perpetuating cancer cell growth. CBD supports the effects of the THC.
This type of arthritis is another autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack healthy tissues, particularly in the joints and around the bones. Inflammation is often a major factor in rheumatoid arthritis. It can cause scarring and deterioration of the affected tissue. Besides pain and stiff, aching joints, other symptoms include fatigue, numbness, tingling, locked joints and digestive issues.
Cannabis provides relief for arthritis sufferers in the following ways:
- Relieves pain in the joints and soft tissues.
- Reduces inflammation that causes damage in the tissue.
- Helps you sleep when pain and stiffness make sleep difficult.
Marijuana can potentially help or relieve symptoms of many other conditions, including:
- Crohn’s disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Parkinson’s disease
Natural Alternative Treatment
More people are considering marijuana to treat health conditions, symptoms and general health issues because it is a natural alternative. Prescription medication can cause a host of unwanted side effects, sometimes with the potential for serious complications. Marijuana has far fewer side effects.
The effects you’ll feel are mild and typically stop when the cannabis wears off. Common side effects include a “high” feeling, increased appetite and sleepiness. In many cases, these “side effects” are actually positive experiences that people wish to have.
Marijuana shows tremendous promise for a variety of symptoms and conditions, from run-of-the-mill headaches to severe and debilitating diseases. The first step toward finding relief with medical marijuana is completing our Eligibility Survey.
Dr. Glider is a board certified Internal Medicine Specialist. He received his Florida Medical Marijuana Physicians Certification in 2017 and was one of the first recommending physicians with DocMJ. In addition to medical marijuana recommendations, Dr. Glider continues to practice Internal and Geriatric Medicine in private practice. Additionally, he serves as Medical Director for a home health company, supervising and educating staff, as well as supervising an advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners for a transitional care program.
Dr. Glider graduated from the College of Osteopathic Medicine & Surgery in Des Moines, IA and completed his residency at Saddlebrook General Hospital in Saddlebrook, NJ. He has received several honors and awards throughout his professional career, including a City of Des Moines Merit Award and a Chamber of Commerce Award (Port St. Lucie, FL). Dr. Glider is an experienced and caring physician who is loved and respected by his peers and his patients.