For many centuries, human beings have been obsessed with the idea of extending their lives. The concept of immortality was central to the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, and in China, the coveted ‘elixir of life’ has been the subject of legends for millennia.
We are now lucky to live in a time when people are surviving for longer than ever. Due to medical advances and vast improvements in living conditions, life expectancy has risen steadily over the past few centuries. The downside of having longer life spans is that we now also have a higher incidence of age-related diseases such as heart disease, strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease. The fact is that ‘life expectancy’ and ‘healthy life expectancy’ mean very different things.
Although discovering a cure for aging is many a scientists’ dream, we are still a long way away from that goal. However, something has been sitting under our noses for a while which may hold some of the answers, and that is cannabis.
Cannabis was used a medicine long before prohibition gave it its bad reputation, and in recent years its medicinal benefits have been rediscovered. But could marijuana really help you to live longer and enjoy better health well into your later years? We explore the facts.
Inflammation and its Role in Health and Disease
Inflammation is your immune system’s response to injury or infection. It happens when you pull a muscle and when you catch a cold. When your body detects physical trauma or an invading virus, your immune system springs into action. Cells in the affected area produce chemicals called cytokines, which are like distress signals calling for help.
These chemicals summon white blood cells to the area. These destroy any unwelcome visitors by secreting enzymes which allow them to digest invading pathogens and prevent infection from spreading further. Specific white blood cells also produce chemicals called reactive oxygen species (ROS), also known as free radicals. These are unstable molecules which react with dead or damaged cells and tissues to remove them and allow healing to begin.
Although this process can cause some side effects such as redness, swelling, and pain, it is normal and healthy and protects your body from infections and environmental toxins alike. Once a threat has successfully been removed, the inflammatory process should switch off, and your body should return to its regular state within a few days.
However, sometimes inflammation continues for longer than it should. This could happen due to a virus which could not be fully eliminated, or exposure to low levels of toxins over time. Some people suffer from autoimmune disorders, meaning that their immune systems do not recognize their own cells and begin to attack them. All of these situations lead to chronic inflammation and increase the risk of serious disease.
Although it is most often thought of in relation to painful conditions such as arthritis, many other dangerous health issues have also been linked with chronic inflammation. These include heart disease, strokes, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease, and cancer.
Inflammation and the Ageing Process
Inflammation increases with age. This is only natural as the longer you live, the more toxins your immune system is exposed to over time. Constant exposure to these toxins means that the inflammatory process never entirely switches off, and this can lead to all kinds of problems.
The free radicals that are produced by white blood cells can become excessive and leak into healthy tissues. Here they begin to damage the body’s cells in a process called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can contribute to many degenerative diseases which are especially common in the older population. In some cases, oxidative stress can also damage the DNA of cells, causing them to mutate. This process can lead to abnormal cell growth and is the root cause of many types of cancer.
Although aging is one of the biggest risk factors for developing chronic inflammation, there are other factors which may also contribute. Being overweight, smoking, poor diet, stress, and sleep disorders all increase your risk of chronic inflammation, and with it the risk of serious disease.
How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally
There are many different ways to reduce your risk of chronic inflammation as you age. Eating a balanced, natural diet and maintaining a healthy body weight are both key. It is important to avoid eating foods which contribute to inflammation as much as possible. These include processed foods, trans-fats, saturated fats, and sugar. Anti-inflammatory diets are rich in fresh fruit, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. You can find many examples of anti-inflammatory diets online. Some of the most famous include the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.
Managing your stress levels and keeping good sleeping habits are also crucial. Stress is extremely widespread in our modern world and often goes hand in hand with other issues such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. There are many ways to manage stress, ranging from meditation to exercise. What suits one person may not necessarily be right for another, so keep experimenting until you find the best method for you.
Stopping smoking is another critical way to reduce inflammation. Although this can be challenging for many people, there is help and support available. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about which methods may be most suitable for you.
How Cannabis Could Help You Live Longer
Cannabis contains many different active compounds called cannabinoids. These have a direct influence on many of the human body’s systems. The two most thoroughly researched of these cannabinoids are Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC is the psychoactive compound which gives cannabis users the characteristic high associated with the herb. CBD alone does not make you high, but it does have many other profound effects on the body. One of the major advantages of CBD is its anti-inflammatory properties. These have led to it becoming a popular remedy for chronic pain among many other conditions.
Cannabinoids have also been found to act as powerful antioxidants, meaning that they can prevent oxidative stress. They do this by reacting with free radicals and stopping them from damaging cells. Thanks to this, the compounds in cannabis may be useful in the prevention of many chronic and age-related diseases including heart disease and strokes. THC and CBD also have a protective influence over nerve cells which could help to prevent neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
Cannabinoids may also help to reduce the risk of developing cancer. They have the potential to do this by increasing the rate of a process called apoptosis, the destruction of old, dead cells. This could help to stop tumors from forming and cancerous cells from spreading throughout the body. Definitely a bonus if you are trying to extend your life!
Cannabis could also help to reduce some of the risk factors for chronic inflammation by relieving the symptoms of stress and improving sleep patterns. There is even some evidence that CBD could help with weight loss and stopping smoking.
Does Cannabis Cause More Harm than Good?
Despite all of its potential health benefits, cannabis is not entirely harmless either. For one thing, marijuana is traditionally consumed by smoking, something which is harmful to our lungs and increases the risk of developing chronic inflammation as we age.
There are other ways to take cannabis, such as edibles, and these are becoming increasingly popular. Although these reduce the risk of lung damage, it is still possible that there could be some negative side effects associated with them. Frequent cannabis use has been linked to problems with memory and learning, as well as serious psychiatric disorders such as psychosis. Cannabis has also been linked with a higher risk of heart attacks in certain individuals. Many of these problems are attributed to THC, and could possibly be avoided by taking CBD extracts alone.
Unfortunately, there is currently no research available specifically on cannabis and life expectancy, although its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects are well-known. It seems that marijuana is indeed beneficial for health, but the long-term effects still have not been fully explored.
Therefore, whether cannabis does more harm than good remains something of a mystery, for the time being at least.
Could Cannabis Help You Live Longer? Final Thoughts
There are many benefits associated with cannabis including reducing inflammation and offering protection against a whole range of age-related problems. Because of these benefits, there is a chance that using marijuana medicinally could help to slow down the aging process and help to prolong your life.
That said, the herb is not completely free from adverse effects. For example, we all know that smoking is bad for our lungs, and increases the risk of cancer among other things. This issue is one major downfall in the theory that cannabis could help you live longer since it is typically consumed by smoking. Regular cannabis use could also increase the risk of heart problems and mental health disorders in some people.
Research into the long-term consequences of cannabis use is still somewhat lacking, although this will hopefully change in the near future. Once studies have confirmed the influence of cannabis on life expectancy, and only then, will we know for sure whether marijuana is the elusive elixir of life that humans have been seeking for so long.