Cannabis is growing in popularity among people who are seeking alternatives to pharmaceuticals for pain and other long-term health conditions. Although cannabis has been used as both a medicinal and recreational herb for many years, it is only recently that research has begun to shed light on its many potential benefits.
It now seems that cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD) products could help with a wide range of health conditions including chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, anxiety, and insomnia to name just a few.
It might seem altogether too good to be true that one substance could help with so many different issues. So how exactly does it work? And how does cannabis stack up against some other popular alternative medicines?
How Does Cannabis Work as a Medicine?
Cannabis is a versatile herb which has been used for many years for its medicinal properties. However, it is only in more recent years that we have begun to understand exactly how it works.
Cannabis contains many different compounds including CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which interact with the endocannabinoid system within our bodies. The endocannabinoid system consists of receptors known as CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors are designed to work with endogenous cannabinoids, chemicals secreted by our bodies, to regulate cells and maintain homeostasis.
Homeostasis is vital to the health of any living organism. It refers to a state of internal balance, regardless of the constant changes happening outside the body. Homeostasis is what makes us sweat when we are hot, and what makes us thirsty when our body is low on fluids. Without it, the human body’s complex systems would begin to fail one by one, leading to disease and eventually death.
It is easy to see how crucial homeostasis is, and it appears that this is where cannabis can help. When you take ingest marijuana, CBD and THC molecules react with our CB1 and CB2 receptors in the same way that our own endogenous cannabinoids would. By aiding our bodies in their natural ability to stay internally balanced, cannabis may also help us to reduce the symptoms of a wide range of physical and mental health issues.
Outside the endocannabinoid system, cannabis has also been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, meaning that it could offer protection against many serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and even possibly some forms of cancer.
Despite the growing body of evidence for cannabis’ benefits, it remains a controlled substance in many parts of the world. This means that accessing it can be difficult, even impossible for some. However, this situation is slowly improving as more and more research is produced and attitudes begin to change across the globe.
How Cannabis Stacks Up Against Other Alternative Medicines
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese therapy which has been practiced for thousands of years. It involves inserting fine needles into specific points on the skin to maintain health and treat disease.
Acupuncture is usually thought of as a treatment for chronic pain, and much research exists on acupuncture for conditions like lower back pain, headaches, and knee osteoarthritis. However, acupuncture is also reputed to have a broader range of applications including reducing stress, improving digestion, boosting immunity and more.
Although acupuncture has been around for centuries, scientists are only just beginning to understand exactly how it works. It appears that acupuncture blocks pain signals by affecting the central nervous system. It also increases the activity of chemicals called endorphins, our own, natural painkillers, as well as regulating a number of other important substances within the body.
Acupuncture is also thought to have an anti-inflammatory action and improve local circulation, which may contribute to its beneficial effects. New research has even suggested that acupuncture can influence the endocannabinoid system in a similar way to cannabis, and like this potent herb, acupuncture may help to relieve a variety of symptoms by promoting homeostasis throughout the body.
2. Massage and Manual Therapies
Massage is an integral part of many traditional medicine systems, and it is easy to see why. Massage is something which humans do instinctively, for example rubbing your elbow after you knock it or squeezing your shoulders when you feel tense.
There are many different types of massage. Some are geared more towards relaxation, while others focus on treating pain and injuries. Some of the most common applications of massage therapy are pain relief and improving quality of life for patients with chronic conditions including HIV/AIDS or cancer. Massage may also help to reduce emotional stress and anxiety. It is thought that massage works by improving circulation, relaxing the muscles, and relieving physical and emotional tension.
Manual therapies such as physical therapy, osteopathy, and chiropractic use the manipulation of specific muscles and joints to improve mobility and relieve pain. These therapies may be particularly helpful for structural problems or rehabilitation following an injury.
Like cannabis, a good massage can be incredibly relaxing at the end of a long day. It is generally considered safe, but should only be carried out by qualified professionals to reduce the risk of further injury.
The ideas behind homeopathy came from Germany in the late 18th century. This alternative medicine uses remedies made from natural substances such as plants, minerals or animal parts which have been diluted many times.
Homeopathy is thought to work on two fundamental principles. Firstly, the more diluted a remedy is, the more powerful it becomes. This is known as the “law of minimum dose.”
Secondly, homeopathy recommends that you should “treat like with like,” meaning that a plant that produces a particular effect on the body could be used to treat symptoms of a similar nature. Homeopathic remedies may be used for many different conditions, with remedies selected according to the patient’s symptoms and individual constitution.
Unlike cannabis, homeopathic remedies are not considered completely safe, as some remedies have the potential to interact with other medications. There is also sparse scientific evidence supporting the benefits of homeopathy, and it has been suggested that the primary way in which it works is via the placebo effect.
4. Talking Therapies
Talking therapies such as counseling, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are most commonly used to address mental health issues. These include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), relationship difficulties and so on.
These therapies aim to identify and deal with past or present negative emotions and behavior, under the guidance of a qualified therapist. Sessions can be carried out one-on-one, in a group setting, or even over the phone. They provide patients with a range of tools to help them cope better with everyday life and break patterns of negative thinking. As well as benefiting people with mental health disorders, counseling may also help those dealing with the effects of chronic pain or other long-term conditions.
While cannabis may help the symptoms of anxiety and depression, if you are suffering from any mental health issues, it is also essential to address the underlying cause. In these cases, talking therapies are definitely worth considering.
The downside of talking therapies is that they can take a long time to work and it may take several sessions before noticing any real improvements.
5. Meditation and Relaxation Techniques
Chronic stress has been linked with many serious diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastric ulcers, psychiatric disorders, and some forms of cancer.
In a stressful situation, our body’s “fight or flight” response kicks in. Our heartbeats quicken and blood is diverted to our muscles, ready for action in the face of danger. Under these circumstances, the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are produced, and non-urgent functions such as digestion and immunity are put on hold. This is why remaining in this amped-up state is so detrimental to your health in the long run.
Practices such as meditation, relaxing exercises like yoga, tai chi and qigong, and even simple breathing exercises may help the nervous system to calm down and switch into “rest and digest” mode. There is some evidence for meditation’s efficacy in the treatment of pain, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and insomnia.
Like cannabis, most relaxation techniques can be done without any special equipment in the comfort of your own home. However, it may take some practice to be able to switch into the right mindset and prevent your thoughts from wandering. Some people find that attending a class, at least in the early days, can help with this.
Final Thoughts on How Cannabis Stacks Up Against Other Alternative Medicines
Cannabis is a safe and natural medicine which could help with a whole spectrum of health problems from chronic pain to anxiety. Many other alternative medicines make similar claims, but are either lacking in evidence or need to be carried out by trained professionals, which can get expensive fast.
If you are thinking about trying cannabis, or any other alternative medicine, it is important to discuss it with your healthcare provider first. It is also inadvisable to stop taking any medication without talking to your prescribing physician. Finally, do your research to find a reputable, well-qualified therapist to ensure that your health is in safe hands.