5 Surprising Ways Cannabis (or CBD) Could Improve Your Health
Cannabis and its non-psychoactive partner, CBD (cannabidiol), are emerging as major front-runners on the alternative medicine scene. But are there actually any cannabis benefits that can be good for our health? We spoke to health experts to explore the surprising ways these compounds are showing promise to alleviate chronic pain, reduce anxiety, enhance sleep, and more. While the research is still new in this area, there is a lot to learn about cannabis health benefits and how you might incorporate it into your routine.
THC vs. CBD
Both byproducts of cannabis, THC and CBD interact with the body in very different ways. THC, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive compound responsible for the “high” feelings associated with cannabis use. It interacts with cannabinoid receptors in the brain and central nervous system, potentially leading to effects like euphoria, relaxation, and altered sensory perception.
While it has potential therapeutic benefits, THC should be used responsibly in accordance with local laws due to its psychoactive nature, which can vary in its effects and may result in negative consequences when used excessively or improperly.
On the other hand, CBD is an amino acid that collaborates with the endocannabinoid system, serving as a sort of command center. CBD is not psychoactive and will not produce a “high” when used.CBD can be consumed in various forms, such as gummies, creams, tinctures, and beverages. Brands are becoming more innovative, offering a range of products to suit different lifestyles.
Some brands are combining CBD with various THC dosages, so it’s crucial to read labels to ensure you’re not buying a psychoactive product. Keep in mind that everyone’s response to cannabis is unique, so it’s essential to be mindful of your personal reaction when using it.
There are many reasons why someone would want to limit or avoid cannabis. Particularly, if you are at risk for substance abuse concerns, pregnant or breastfeeding, or are under the age of 25. Speak with a qualified health professional to receive personalized medical advice about cannabis health benefits.
- Substance abuse risks and mental health: Cannabis use can exacerbate or trigger mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and psychosis, particularly in individuals with a predisposition to these conditions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, up to 30-percent of folks using marijuana may have marijuana use disorder.
- Anxiety: Contrary to it’s street reputation, a significant amount of research suggests that long-term cannabis use is associated with increased levels of anxiety.
- Folks with diabetes: “I’d add the caution that anyone with diabetes should use caution with THC products because there is a diabetes ketoacidosis-like syndrome induced by THC products in some,” advises Lane.
- Weight management concerns: Given the side effects of increased appetite, weight management or weight gain could be one concern of regular cannabis use.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised against all unprescribed drug use.
- Age related development: Regular cannabis use, particularly during adolescence, can interfere with brain development and may lead to long-term cognitive impairments. It’s generally recommended that individuals under the age of 25 avoid regular cannabis use.
5 Ways Cannabis Could Improve Your Health
Let’s find out exactly what the experts have to say about how cannabis may improve your health, and how you can incorporate it.
Some strains of cannabis, like indica, contain natural compounds that induce feelings of drowsiness and sedation. These strains can be particularly helpful for those who struggle to fall asleep due to restlessness or insomnia.
Some research shows there is a small sleep benefit to using cannabis for folks who have chronic pain, according to a 2022 Meta-Analysis in Sleep. There was another small study from 2022 in the Canadian Pharmacists Journal that found folks who struggled with insomnia were able to reduce or eliminate sleep medications due to cannabis use.
Many folks worry about relying on melatonin for sleep. New products on the market like The Doctor’s Brand MDSleep contain a formulation significantly proven to improve sleep and stress without melatonin, as shown in a 2023 randomized, double-blind, controlled trial in Nutrients.
2. Stress and anxiety
While THC appears to be associated with stress and anxiety levels, CBD seems to have a positive influence on anxiety, as shown in a 2019 study in the Journal of American Pharmacists Association. However, everyone’s tolerance and thresholds are different. You might need to experiment with different types of CBD, doses, and delivery methods to figure out the best delivery of CBD for you.
CBD has fewer risks and associated adverse events and may be better tolerated than cannabis containing THC.
3. Pain management
A large analysis showed that a variety of cannabis products (both inhaled and non-inhaled options) have a small association with improved pain relief, from a 2021 study published in the British Medical Journal.
Similarly, some research suggests that cannabis may be a less harmful alternative to opioids and other drugs, potentially helping individuals manage their pain without prescription opioids. One study from 2021 in Pain Medicine found that utilizing cannabis to assist in managing chronic pain resulted in decreased opioid consumption. Researchers wonder if this indicates a larger question of whether or not cannabis could serve as a harm-reduction strategy amid the opioid overdose crisis.
Other possible modes of pain management include using cannabis for anti-inflammatory processes like rheumatoid arthritis or epilepsy, according to a 2020 paper in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research and headaches, according to a 2020 paper in the Journal of Integrative Medicine.
4. Nausea and appetite stimulation
Nausea relief is a short term benefit of cannabis, although folks in risky groups like pregnancy or adolescents are recommended to avoid consuming it. For folks who may need immediate relief or increased appetite, like folks going through chemotherapy treatment, they may find cannabis provides a solution to their low appetite and sickness from food.
Amanda Lane, MS, RD, CDCES, founder of Healthful Lane Nutrition explains her take on cannabis’ health benefits: “Cannabis products can help with a variety of conditions, but they are most well known for helping decrease nausea and increase appetite, particularly useful for those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Of course, as with any supplement, be sure to talk with your healthcare team first before you begin taking it regularly.”
5. Skin conditions
Topical cannabis products, such as creams and balms, are used by some individuals to alleviate skin conditions like pruritus, inflammatory skin conditions, and even some skin cancers, according to a 2022 review in Pharmaceuticals.
Some folks report improvements in muscle soreness and joint pain when applying a topical cannabis product to their skin. These products are quite new, and more research is needed to make definitive claims about their long-term impact on our health.
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