- by Marni Meistrell
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the assertion that medical marijuana is highly effective, and that has been true for a long time.
But science doesn’t rely on anecdotes alone. Controlled studies are necessary to establish the true healing qualities of any medicinal substance, and to gain a greater understanding of how it functions inside the body.
While more research is needed, findings obtained so far have given us important insights into how and why medical marijuana works for such a wide range of conditions.
The Discovery of the Endocannabinoid System
- A 1988 St. Louis School of Medicine study confirmed what had long been suspected. In the human brain and central nervous system, there are a multitude of receptors capable of binding with cannabis plant compounds, specifically the cannabinoids THC and CBD.
- Four years later, researchers funded by the National Institute of Mental Health discovered the first natural, human-produced cannabinoid, a neurotransmitter called anandamide (others have since been detected).
- Just a year after that, yet another type of cannabinoid receptor was found to exist in the human body, in the organs and support structure of the immune system (the liver, heart, kidneys, gut, spleen, blood vessels, bones and lymph cells).
These receptors and neurotransmitters were collectively labeled the endocannabinoid system, in acknowledgement of their endogenous (produced by the body) origins. From the standpoint of the receptors, there is no difference between endocannabinoids like anandamide and cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant, meaning they can bind just as easily with THC or CBD as they can with similar substances produced in the body.
Explaining the Therapeutic Value of Medical Marijuana
Endocannabinoids like anandamide are neurotransmitters, but they have a unique function. They act as neuromodulators, which means they affect the overall activity of neuronal groups instead of affecting neurons individually as conventional neurotransmitters do.
Specifically, they can inhibit neuronal groups or systems from acting as strongly or decisively as normal. This can have multiple health benefits, as the endocannabinoid system contributes to our wellbeing in a number of ways (it wouldn’t exist if it didn’t).
The discovery of the endocannabinoid system should have led to a shift in attitudes about marijuana. After all, if the body needs cannabinoids to maintain its health, their source shouldn’t matter.
But resistance to the new scientific findings, and their implications, remained strong for quite some time. Propaganda campaigns were launched by anti-drug forces; they argued that cannabinoids in marijuana products were too powerful for endocannabinoid receptors to handle and would cause more harm than good if used for therapeutic purposes.
Thankfully, these scare tactics were only partially successful, and as time passed unbiased researchers began to take a closer look at how compounds like THC and CBD actually worked in the brain and body. Eventually, they were able to confirm the therapeutic capacities of medical-grade cannabis products, which can help restore health by binding with compatible receptors and boosting the endocannabinoid system’s ability to fight pain, reverse cellular damage and facilitate better immune responses.
When administered as medicine, cannabinoids regulate brain and body processes to counteract the damage caused by various types of illness or injury, and at this point their efficacy in medical treatment is well established. More research on medical marijuana needs to be performed, however, since we don’t yet know the full range of conditions it can help.
The Science is In …. Medical Marijuana Wins
In one form or another, cannabis products have been used for medical purposes on multiple continents for thousands of years. In more recent times, peer-reviewed studies have verified their effectiveness against a number of medical conditions, including cancer, ALS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, bipolar disorder, glaucoma, HAV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, chronic pain and nausea and a whole lot more.
The science proves our bodies evolved with a built-in capacity to exploit the medicinal potential of cannabis. Medical marijuana enhances the body’s ability to heal itself, and its acceptance as a legitimate form of treatment is an immensely positive development in the healthcare field.