The past few years have seen a real boom in the cannabis industry, with policy changing at an incredible rate and legalization slowly sweeping across the world. As a result, marijuana is now legal for medicinal and recreational use in more states than ever before, and the number is still rising as we enter 2020.
One of the most significant factors in this increased acceptance of the herb is an ever-growing body of evidence supporting its medicinal uses. More and more research is continually emerging regarding the benefits of marijuana, and the past year has been no exception.
Every scientist and doctor understands the importance of high-quality clinical trials, but research is an essential tool for the general public too. With so much fake news now splashed about the internet, and many articles published with strongly opposing views, it can be tough to know what to believe. Unfortunately, reading a research paper can be a daunting task for many people, especially as most of them are stuffed with difficult-to-comprehend jargon and statistical data.
In this article, we have done the hard work for you and summarized a selection of research papers from the past few years. So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the most astonishing cannabis studies of the last decade.
Cannabis-Based Medicine Found Effective for Epilepsy
Research published in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology found that a combination of CBD and THC reduced seizures and improved quality of life for young patients with Dravet syndrome, a rare but dangerous form of epilepsy.
The 19 subjects were given a drug known as TIL-TC150, an oil containing a 50:1 ratio of CBD and THC, two of the primary active compounds in cannabis. The dose administered was 2–16mg/kg/day of CBD and 0.04–0.32mg/kg/day of THC.
Eleven of the subjects were unable to reach the maximum dose due to side effects that included drowsiness, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and weight loss. However, these side effects were transient, and no participants withdrew from the study because of them.
At the end of this 20 week study period, the results were overwhelmingly positive. The subjects’ seizures had reduced by an average of 70.6%, with seizure free days increasing from a median 11.89 to 18.32. Although some of the children experienced adverse effects, these were not deemed serious and improved over time.
This small-scale study is just one of many that demonstrate the benefits of cannabinoids for epilepsy, a condition that is notoriously hard to treat and potentially fatal.
CBD Offers Fast Relief from Depression
Depression is an extremely prevalent condition. It is estimated to affect a staggering 300 million people worldwide and is a leading cause of disability. One of the major problems with conventional antidepressants is that they are relatively slow to work. On average, they can take 7–10 days to start working and several weeks to reach their full effect. This situation is obviously less than ideal if you are in a bad place and in need of urgent help.
Fortunately, a new study published in Molecular Neurobiology suggests that CBD may have antidepressant properties that act on the brain far more quickly. The researchers administered a single dose of CBD to rats who were subjected to a forced swim test and analyzed the results. They found that after being treated with CBD, the rats had increased levels of several proteins in their brains. The areas affected were the medial prefrontal cortex which is associated with decision making and memory, and the hippocampus which is primarily involved in memory and emotion.
The most incredible finding of this study was that these effects occurred very shortly after the CBD was administered, just 30 minutes later, in fact! Of course, more studies are necessary to confirm the effects of CBD on depression in humans, but these initial findings are very promising indeed..
CBD Reduces Psychosis and Schizophrenia Symptoms
CBD is also offering hope to patients with psychosis and schizophrenia. The relationship between these conditions and cannabis is a complex and challenging one. The herb is known to induce psychosis in some individuals, especially those who start using it at a young age while their brains are still developing.
However, researchers have found that CBD in isolation could offer some relief from the symptoms of psychosis. The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, investigated the effects of taking 1000mg of CBD daily, alongside the participants’ regular medication.
A total of 43 schizophrenic patients were treated with CBD during the trial, while 45 were given a placebo. The trial had a double-blind design, meaning that neither participants nor researchers knew who was taking the placebo or the real thing.
After six weeks of treatment, the participants in the CBD group had a reduction in positive psychosis symptoms, felt less severely unwell, and had a slight improvement in cognitive function compared with the placebo group. This is excellent news as many people find conventional antipsychotic medications ineffective, not to mention the unpleasant side-effects!
Cannabis-Based Medicine Benefits Children with Autism
The symptoms of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) can vary significantly between individuals, and while some people with autism may be able to live a relatively normal life, for others, this seems impossible. And the impact of this condition is not limited to the sufferers themselves, but also their families. Treatment options for ASD are currently few, but a new cannabis-based treatment is offering a glimmer of hope.
The research published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in October found that a medicine containing CBD and THC in a 20:1 ratio significantly reduced symptoms such as behavioral outbursts and anxiety.
A total of 60 children aged 5–17.5 years were treated with the medication, and the results and side effects were monitored closely. Adverse effects included sleep disorders, irritability, and reduced appetite, and one girl experienced a psychotic episode which required treatment. However, the results were positive overall, with 61% of the subjects showing major improvements in behavior, and 47% showing improvements in anxiety and communication. Furthermore, the parents of these children reported feeling 33% less stressed compared with before the trial.
The authors of the study feel optimistic about these results, and already have another, larger-scale trial in the pipeline.
The Effects of Second-Hand Cannabis Smoke
Inhaling second-hand smoke, or “passive smoking,” occurs when a person other than the “active” smoker breathes in ambient air containing potentially toxic substances caused by the combustion of tobacco or marijuana.
According to Cancer Research UK, “the evidence is clear” that second-hand (tobacco) smoke can cause lung cancer as well as heart disease.”
Inhaling second-hand tobacco smoke is also associated with an increased risk of cancers of the larynx (voice box) and pharynx (upper throat). Cancer Research UK also says that passive smoking may also increase the risk of other cancers, stroke, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
While a lot of research has been carried out into the effects of second-hand tobacco smoke, not as much is known regarding the long-term health consequences of second-hand marijuana smoke. This is, of course, an important area of research going forward.
That said, there has been limited research done on the short-term effects of passive marijuana smoke. One particular study looked at the “physiological, subjective, and behavioral/cognitive effects of second-hand cannabis exposure.” A principal aim of the study was to determine how these effects were influenced by room ventilation.
The participants, who were non-cannabis users, were placed in a specially constructed chamber during the study. They were exposed to second-hand cannabis smoke produced by six individuals for one hour. Chamber ventilation was experimentally manipulated to determine its influence on the effects of second-hand cannabis smoke.
The study found that room ventilation had a “pronounced effect” on exposure to second-hand cannabis smoke. The researchers noted that in extreme, unventilated conditions, second-hand cannabis smoke produced “detectable levels of THC in (the participants) blood and urine.” This potentially could lead to a failed drug screen or drug test, and therefore have very serious career-related repercussions.
A Novel Approach to Cannabis Research in the 21st Century
Most cannabis research is conducted in labs, either on human subjects or, more often, animals. While this is undoubtedly valuable and has shed new light on many of the mysteries surrounding how marijuana works as a medicine, it does not really give an accurate picture of what is going on in the real world.
One research team has solved this problem using software known as the Releaf App. This app allows users to rate their symptoms in real-time before and after medicating with weed. This enables patients to track the effects of different strains that they have tried but also lets scientists analyze data from thousands of sessions, shedding more light on how well cannabis works for various conditions.
Between March 2016 and December 2017, a total of 13,638 sessions were recorded, with patients rating their primary symptoms on a scale of 0–10 before and after smoking cannabis. Some of the most commonly reported conditions included chronic pain, insomnia, depression, and seizures. Significant improvements were noted in all categories, with an average reduction in symptoms between 2.8 and 4.6 points.
Although this approach is not particularly scientific due to its lack of a control group for comparison, it does offer cannabis users a valuable opportunity to become involved in research without having to sign up for a clinical trial.
Hopefully, this contribution will mean that marijuana research continues to blossom and ensure that the herb’s status as an effective medicine is maintained, now and in years to come.