A brief overview of Medicinal Cannabis

By Alessandro Sorbello

Cannabis and the Human Body

The human body has an endocannabinoid system that makes cannabis-like substances that affect pain, inflammation, and many other processes. It’s perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in maintaining human health. While the cannabinoid system performs different functions in each area of the body, experts believe its main role is to regulate homeostasis, the process that maintains the stability of the body’s internal environment in response to changes in external conditions.

A research breakthrough in 1964 by Israel scientist Raphael Mechoulam isolated and identified from the cannabis plant, the cannabinoids THC and shortly after CBD. Being able to isolate these cannabinoids for the first time was the first stepping stone in discovering the endocannabinoid system – a biological system that can be found in just about any living thing with vertebrae.

By using a plant that has been around for thousands of years, we discovered a new physiological system of immense importance, we wouldn’t have been able to get there if we had not looked at the plant.”

-Dr Raphael Mechoulam, Dean of the transnational cannabinoid research community

Anandamide was the first, naturally occurring endogenous cannabinoid, or endocannabinoid. This is still only one of two known and relatively well-understood endocannabinoids. It attaches to the same CB receptors as THC and it was named after the Sanskrit word for bliss.

It was these discoveries, working backwards, tracing the metabolic pathways of THC, which allowed scientists to discover an entirely unknown molecular signalling system that resides within us – and within thousands of other biological life forms, basically everything on our planet with the exception of insects.

Since then, we have found out that the endocannabinoid system is responsible for maintaining many of our normal bodily functions. Actually, the endocannabinoid system is possibly the single-most important system within our entire bodies – responsible for maintaining homeostasis.

This one system helps to regulate almost every aspect of our well-being – meaning if we can learn to manipulate these receptors (with use of cannabinoids from cannabis) we could possibly have the answer to not only curing diseases, but preventing them all together.

Health Benefits of Medical Marijuana

According to a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association marijuana does not impair lung function and can even increase lung capacity. It may help reverse the carcinogenic effects of tobacco and improve lung health,

It can help control epileptic seizures a 2003 study showed. The findings were published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

It also decreases the symptoms of a severe seizure disorder known as Dravet's Syndrome. During the research for his documentary Weed, Gupta interviewed the Figi family, who treats their five-year-old daughter using a medical marijuana strain high in cannabidiol and low in THC.

Marijuana may be able to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease, a 2006 study, published in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics, found Marijuana may ease painful symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

A 2006 study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that 86 per cent of patients using marijuana successfully completed their hepatitis C therapy, while only 29 per cent of non-smokers completed their treatment, possibly because the marijuana helps lessens the treatments side effects. Marijuana alleviates pain, reduces inflammation, and promotes sleep, which may help relieve pain and discomfort for people with rheumatoid arthritis, researchers announced in 2011.

Researchers from rheumatology units at several hospitals gave their patients, sativex, a cannabinoid-based pain-relieving medicine. After a two week period, people on Sativex had a significant reduction in pain and improved sleep quality compared to placebo users. Medical marijuana is being used to treat the autoimmune disease Systemic Lupus Ertyhematosus, which is when the body starts attacking itself for some unknown reason.

Marijuana usage has actually been shown to have some positive mental effects, particularly in terms of increasing creativity. Even though people's short term memories tend to function worse when high, people get better at tests requiring them to come up with new ideas.

A recent study in Israel showed that cannabis significantly reduced Chron's disease symptoms in 10 out of 11 patients, and caused a complete remission of the disease in five of those patients. Whilst another recent research from Israel shows that smoking marijuana significantly reduces pain and tremors and improves sleep for Parkinson's disease patients. Particularly impressive was the improved fine motor skills among patients.

Marijuana helps veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and is approved to treat PTSD in some US states already. In New Mexico, PTSD is the number one reason for people to get a licence for medical marijuana. Research from the University of Nottingham shows that marijuana may help protect the brain from damage caused by stroke, by reducing the size of the area affected by the stroke -- at least in rats, mice, and monkeys.

There is some evidence that marijuana can help heal the brain after a concussion or other traumatic injury. A recent study in the journal Cerebral Cortex showed that in mice, marijuana lessened the bruising of the brain and helped with healing mechanisms after a traumatic injury.

Harvard professor emeritus of psychiatry and marijuana advocate Lester Grinspoon recently wrote an open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, saying the NFL should stop testing players for marijuana, and that the league should start funding research into the plants ability to protect the brain.

Goodell recently said that he'd consider permitting athletes to use marijuana if medical research shows that it's an effective neuroprotective agent.

It can help eliminate nightmares Marijuana disturbs sleep cycles by interrupting the later stages of REM sleep. However, for people suffering from serious nightmares, especially those associated with PTSD, this can be helpful. Research into using a synthetic cannabinoid, like THC, but not the same, showed a significant decrease in the number of nightmares in patients with PTSD.

Additionally, even if frequent use can be bad for sleep, marijuana may be a better sleep aid than some other substances that people use. Some of those, including medication and alcohol, may potentially have even worse effects on sleep, though more research is needed on the topic.

One of the most well-known medical uses of marijuana is for people going through chemotherapy, cannabis reduces some of the awful pain and nausea from chemo, and appetite. Cancer patients being treated with chemo suffer from painful nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. This can cause additional health complications.

Marijuana can help people trying to cut back on drinking and with disorders like alcoholism involve disruptions in the endocannabinoid system.

Market Growth and Investment

The Investing Parallels of Alcohol and Marijuana (Bloomberg)

This moment might be like 1932, just before Prohibition ended. Legal marijuana was a $3.4 billion business in 2015 in the U.S.; Arc View Market Research pegged the legal marijuana market in 2016 at $7.1 billion. That is expected to triple during the next three years to $22 billion

New figures put North America's legal marijuana "green rush" Legal marijuana sales in US 'bigger than dot-com boom' (ABC) of the early 2000s in terms of industry growth, according to Forbes.

North America's legal marijuana market posted $US9.3 billion ($12 billion) in revenue in 2016 — a 30 per cent increase on 2015 — according to a report by ArcView Market Research, a leading cannabis research publisher.

The report said the industry could post sales topping $US20.2 billion ($27.9 billion) by 2021, assuming a compound annual growth rate of 25 per cent.

"To put this in perspective, this industry growth is larger and faster than even the dot-com era," Forbes said. "Twenty-one per cent of the total US population now live in legal adult-use markets," ArcView chief executive officer Troy Dayton told Forbes.

He said sales in Colorado, Washington and Oregon jumped 62 per cent between the period of September 2015 and 2016.