Happy 4/20: Here’s some science to shut up the cannabis haters

Happy 4/20: Here’s some science to shut up the cannabis haters
Credit: Nicole Gray

April 20th is a holy day for many who imbibe cannabis. For some, it’s just a great day to watch stoner flicks and smoke herb all day. Others view it with more import; especially those who consume cannabis medicinally. To them it’s a celebration of the day they found a therapeutic treatment that works.

Every year, around this time, we see an outpouring of testimony in the news and on social media from people whose lives have been positively changed through the addition of medicinal cannabis. These inspiring stories include children who’ve found the first relief in their lives after years of constant, crippling seizures. They also include veterans and abuse survivors who now have another safe method of mental health treatment available to them (in many US states and forward-thinking countries such as Canada).

Unfortunately, this time of year is also rife with misinformation and propaganda. There is scientific evidence indicating cannabis use can have potentially harmful side-effects, this much is true. But, compared to eating bacon, drinking wine, or driving a car – well, there’s never been a documented case of someone dying due to the consumption of cannabis.

Still, in order to make sure you’re being as informed as possible this 4/20 (and so you can throw some research in the haters’ faces), we’ve decided to round up some of our favorite papers and articles on the subject of cannabis.

First off, about that “potentially harmful side-effects” bit…

There have been countless studies on “marijuana use” by researchers and academics across the globe. As this article on the US Government’s National Institutes of Health National Institute on Drug Abuse shows, long-term studies indicate that THC may cause cognitive dysfunction in the human brain.

It’s important to remember that none of these studies would appear to show any conclusive evidence that cannabis actually does harm the brain, but instead they attempt to establish a relationship between self-reported cannabis use and temporary or persistent cognitive impairment.

Furthermore, a large portion of studies claiming to indicate possible side-effects of cannabis use don’t actually study cannabis. As we wrote last year, many of them use synthetic ‘marijuana‘ to create compounds similar in molecular structure to naturally occurring THC. And then, in many of the studies, all the testing is done on laboratory mice. Synthetic ‘marijuana,’ unlike cannabis, is responsible for tens of thousands of overdoses every year. It goes without saying that people aren’t mice.

Though it’s possible to have an allergic reaction or negative emotional response to cannabis, no one has ever overdosed on it. Until long-term studies of humans consuming actual cannabis under laboratory conditions (including proper dosing and measurement) occur, studies claiming to show “links” between cannabis and cognitive dysfunction shouldn’t be getting the media hype they are.

A study funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, seeking to discover if cannabis can help PTSD sufferers, states that the problem is there’s been very few studies involving humans and actual cannabis:

As a result, our understanding of the potential adverse effects of chronic cannabis use remains meager. Nonetheless, there are indications that cannabis promotes cognitive disturbances, impairs neuronal plasticity and organization in the adolescent brain, promotes persistent functional brain changes, promotes abuse liability and, in highly vulnerable individuals, may exacerbate the course of schizophrenia.

At the same time, it may be essential not to go overboard; caution has been recommended concerning “the real risks” of marijuana, and calls have been made for evidence-based analyses of the links between this agent and the occurrence of mental illnesses.

On the other hand, there’s mountains of research indicating cannabis has legitimate regenerative healing powers and thousands of years of anecdotal evidence hailing its usefulness as an agent for reducing stress and anxiety. These headlines don’t do as well as the ones with the word “danger” in them.

This article, written by Dr. Ethan Russo, indicates cannabis can not only relieve symptoms for people who suffer from migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome, but it could potentially address the underlying cause. Its conclusion:

Migraine, fibromyalgia, IBS and related conditions display common clinical, biochemical and pathophysiological patterns that suggest an underlying clinical endocannabinoid deficiency that may be suitably treated with cannabinoid medicines.

Here’s a clinical pharmaceutical study on a sativa-based cannabis drug designed to help chronic pain sufferers get some sleep. The research appears to indicate that “Sativex,” can help provide quality of life:

Experience to date with Sativex in numerous Phase I–III studies in 2000 subjects with 1000 patient years of exposure demonstrate marked improvement in subjective sleep parameters in patients with a wide variety of pain conditions including multiple sclerosis, peripheral neuropathic pain, intractable cancer pain, and rheumatoid arthritis, with an acceptable adverse event profile.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Advisor to the UK Government, published this paper detailing the results of her “review of reviews” concerning the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. Its purpose was to help the UK determine whether it should de-schedule cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic. Her findings:

There is now however, conclusive evidence of the therapeutic benefit of cannabis based medicinal products for certain medical conditions and reasonable evidence of therapeutic benefit in several other medical conditions. This evidence has been reviewed in whole or part, and considered robust, by some of the leading international scientific and regulatory bodies, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO). As Schedule 1 drugs by definition have little or no therapeutic potential, it is therefore now clear that from a scientific point of view keeping cannabis based medicinal products in Schedule 1 is very difficult to defend.

A Google Scholar search on the topic of ‘cannabis for therapeutic use‘ will reveal thousands of other examples of research indicating cannabis is a medicinal substance — or at least has the potential to treat mental and physical illness.

The bottom line is that the jury is still out on whether cannabis has long-term harmful effects. It’s clear, however, that it has medicinal and therapeutic benefits. Furthermore, as a social lubricant or anxiety-reducer in the recreational capacity, it’s obviously less dangerous to human health and mortality than the consumption of alcohol, over-the-counter pain killers, or tobacco.

Have a safe, legal, happy, and informed 4/20!


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