"Nurse Mary" to the Rescue - The Powers of THC and CBD

As many advocates of cannabis have repeated throughout the years, there are many reputed health benefits of this herb. But, what are they exactly, and how much evidence backs them up?

To start off, there are at least two active chemicals in marijuana that researchers consider to have medicinal applications. These include cannabidiol (CBD), which appears to impact the brain without a high; and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which has pain-relieving, among other, properties. Check out the video below and see how active people use this powerful plant on their routine.

Now that you know two of the main components of this popular herb, what can it be used for?

According to researchers at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco,  CBD may help with the prevention of the spreading of cancer. Cannabidiol stops cancer by deactivating a gene called Id-1. Cancer cells make copies of this gene faster than non-cancerous cells, allowing them to spread quickly throughout the body. The researchers studied breast cancer cells with high expression levels of Id-1 and treated them with cannabidiol. After this treatment, the cells had reduced Id-1 expression and were less aggressive spreaders.

The drug has been said to help with relieving pain and suppressing nausea —two of the primary reasons why it is often used to relieve the side effects of chemotherapy. In 2010, researchers at Harvard Medical School said that some of the benefits of the drug may actually be from the reduction of anxiety, which would improve mood as well as act as a sedative in low doses. However, higher doses can actually increase anxiety and end up making you paranoid – the complete opposite effect!

Marijuana may alleviate painful symptoms of multiple sclerosis.  Jody Corey-Bloom studied thirty multiple sclerosis patients who had agonizing contractions in their muscles. While these patients did not respond to other treatments, using marijuana for a few days eased the pain they were experiencing. The THC in the cannabis binds to the receptors within the nerves and muscles, helping to relieve pain. Other studies suggest that the chemical also helps to control the muscle spasms that are a part of multiple sclerosis.

There are other types of muscle spasms that also respond to cannabis. Dr. Sanjay Gupta – an American neurosurgeon and medical reporter who also serves as associate chief of the neurosurgery service at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as assistant professor of neurosurgery at the Emory University School of Medicine – found a teenager named Chaz who was using medical marijuana to treat diaphragm spasms that were not able to be treated by other potent medications. His condition, myoclonus diaphragmatic flutter (also known as Leeuwenhoek's Disease), causes non-stop spasms in the abdominal muscles. These are not only painful, but also interfere with breathing and with speaking. Cannabis is able to stop these attacks almost immediately, as it calms the muscles within the diaphragm.

A study published in Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2012 said that marijuana does not impair lung function and can actually increase capacity of the lungs. Researchers were looking for risk factors of heart disease, and they tested the lung function of over 5,000 young adults throughout a period of two decades. While tobacco smokers lost lung function over time, cannabis users actually displayed an increase in lung capacity. It is possible that this may be due to taking deep breaths while inhaling the drug and not from a therapeutic chemical in the drug, but either way it seems to have helped!

Cannabis can also help with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Researchers at the University of Nottingham found that chemicals in marijuana, specifically THC and cannabidiol, interact with the cells in the body that play an important role in gut function and immune responses. THC-like compounds made by the body increase the permeability of the intestines, which allows bacteria in. The plant-derived cannabinoids in marijuana help to block these body-cannabinoids, preventing this permeability and making the intestinal cells bond more tightly together.

Marijuana can actually be helpful in treating as well as preventing glaucoma, an eye disease that increases the pressure within the eyeball, not only damaging the optic nerve but also causing loss of vision. The effect Marijuana has that helps to treat this is that it decreases the pressure within the eye. The National Eye Institute even says that “studies in the early 1970s showed that marijuana lowered intraocular pressure (IOP) in people with normal pressure and those with glaucoma." These beneficial effects of the drug are useful for decelerating the advancement of the disease, potentially preventing blindness.

A study made by Kim Janda of the Scripps Research Institute says that cannabis may also be able to slow the development of Alzheimer's disease. In this 2006 study, it was found that THC slows the creation of amyloid plaques by blocking the enzyme in the brain that makes them. These plaques are what kill brain cells and eventually cause Alzheimer's.

annabis alleviates pain, promotes sleep, and reduces inflammation, which may help to relieve pain and discomfort for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers at several hospitals in rheumatology units gave their patients Sativex, a cannabinoid-based pain-relieving medicine. After a two-week period, people on Sativex experienced a significant reduction in pain as well as improved sleep quality compared with placebo users.

Cannabis can also be used for treatment of hepatitis C. Treatment is normally very harsh — negative side effects include muscle aches, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, and depression — and can last for months. In fact, many people aren't able to finish their treatment course because of these negative side effects.

However, cannabis came to the rescue! A 2006 study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that 86% of patients using marijuana successfully completed their Hep C therapy, as opposed to only 29% of non-cannabis-users completing their treatment. This is possibly because the marijuana helps lessens the treatment’s side effects. Cannabis also seems to improve the effectiveness of the treatment: 54% of hep C patients using marijuana got their viral levels low and kept them low, in comparison to only 8% of non-users.

A 2003 study showed that  marijuana use can prevent epileptic seizures. Robert J. DeLorenzo, of Virginia Commonwealth University, studied epileptic rats. He gave marijuana extract and synthetic marijuana to them, finding that they liberated the rats from the seizures for approximately 10 hours. Cannabinoids, like THC, help to control seizures by binding to the brain cells that are responsible for controlling excitability and promoting relaxation.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta interviewed the Figi family during the research for his documentary "Weed." This family treats their 5-year-old daughter using a medical marijuana strain high in cannabidiol and low in THC. Their daughter, Charlotte, has Dravet Syndrome. This causes seizures as well as severe developmental delays. Her seizures have decreased from 300 in a seven-day period, to just one a week. There are 40 other children in the state who are using the same strain of marijuana to treat their seizures — and it seems to be working. The doctors who recommended this treatment say that the cannabidiol in the plant interacts with the brain cells to quiet the excessive activity in the brain that causes these seizures.

As you can see, there are many benefits to this herb that many people are not aware of. Hopefully, this helps fight the stigma that has attached itself to cannabis.