This was a research paper I wrote for school. I felt this would be an appropriate place to share my findings. All references are listed at the bottom of this article.
The Types, Components, and Effects Of Cannabis
Since the 1930’s, marijuana has been considered a drug by all states and it has been illegal to use, whether that’s for recreational or medical use. However, in recent years many people have begun to support the legalization of marijuana in their state(s). This has grown to the extent of a couple states, like Washington, California, and Colorado, which have fully legalized marijuana for both recreational and medical use.
This has given those states a great economic boost and helped many people with medical problems. Unfortunately, there are still many people throughout the United States who believe cannabis should remain illegal and has no good benefits for those using it. The negative stigma around cannabis is unwarranted due to how the different aspects of the plant can provide drastic medical benefits.
What Are The Main Components Of Cannabis?
The first thing many people do not realize about cannabis, though it’s essential to know, is that there are different types of cannabis available and each individual strain of cannabis is a little bit different than the last. Two of the most popular and well known strains of cannabis are marijuana and hemp (Turner, 2017, p. 34). Though these two are very similar, they are still different plants that come from the Cannabis Sativa l. family.
Some of the main differences are marijuana gets its cannabinoids from the flowers & leaves of the plant, while hemp gets its cannabinoids from its fibers and seeds, primarily found in the stalk of the plant. Hemp also has very little THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and high amounts of CBD (cannabidiol), whereas marijuana has high amounts of THC and low amounts of CBD. This results in getting high while using marijuana much easier than using hemp because THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid responsible for making someone feel “high”.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, also commonly known as THC, is one of the two most common components found in cannabis. This is the component within cannabis responsible for making the user feel “high”. As a result, the THC is what shows up on drug tests to prove someone has been using marijuana (but not all cannabinoids show up on these tests). Despite all of this, it actually has medicinal benefits within the different classifications of THC found.
In fact, one type of THC, called dronabinol, has eliminated many PTSD-related symptoms (Knopf, 2015, p. 4). This cannabinoid is not all it’s cracked up to be: it has become widely reported that THC suppresses neurotransmitters (Owolabi, Olatunji, & Olanrewaju, 2017, p. 70). Suppressed neurotransmitters will often cause people to become tired or unable to think clearly. It must be understood that any substances that alter someone’s neurotransmitters will affect people differently and to different extremes.
Cannabidiol, also commonly known as CBD, is the second of the two most common components found in cannabis. CBD almost acts like the opposite of THC in the sense that is does not have any psychoactive effects, will not get the user high, will not suppress any neurotransmitters, and does not show up on drug tests when taken by itself as an extract (commonly known as CBD oil). However, CBD oil and oil extracted from hemp plants are different from each other.
The major difference being hemp oil is made from hemp seeds while CBD is retrieved from other parts of the plant other than just the seed, such as the leaves or flowers (Turner, 2015, p. 34). One widely unknown fact about CBD is how it affects the endocannabinoid system, which is a system that plays a vital role in how the nervous and immune systems work. Most people don’t know this system exists or that CBD has anything to do with it (Turner, 2015, p. 34).
CBD oil itself may be the component within cannabis that has the most potential health benefits to offer people. It has been found to greatly decrease both the quantity and harshness of seizures caused by epilepsy in all humans, regardless of age. It can also treat a wide variety of anxiety problems (Turner, 2015, p. 35). CBD also acts as a strong anti-inflammatory, and has been proven to be effective in getting rid of arthritis.
It is capable of doing this without the worry of other symptoms often caused by other medications (Turner, 2015, p. 35). Lastly, tests have discovered that CBD can eliminate the risk of strokes and heart attacks by decreasing blood pressure, as well as inhibiting tumor growth (Turner, 2015, p. 35). THC and CBD are often used together as a treatment to fight cancer in patients, though those who do this reportedly have been doing it on their own accord as doctors haven’t been very active in prescribing marijuana in cancer patients unless they are using it for pain (rather than for treatment).
How Does Cannabis Affect A Person?
Second, using cannabis has generalized effects on people, such as getting high. However, cannabis doesn’t affect everyone in the same ways or to the same extent. There are many factors to take into account when determining how cannabis will affect someone as an individual. For starters, how often cannabis is used is one of the major factors that determine how it’ll affect someone. A couple more major factors are the user’s age and how much cannabis is used are two more major factors when determining how cannabis affects someone (Cuttler & Spradlin, 2017, p. 9).
Someone’s family history is something else that needs to be taken into account when trying to determine what will happen if cannabis is used. For example, people who are more prone to psychosis or have family members who have suffered from psychosis should abstain from cannabis usage as it can trigger or amplify any psychosis problems. Even if someone doesn’t have any family history of psychosis, THC-rich cannabis can give users minor symptoms of paranoia depending upon how high the dosage given is (Cuttler & Spradlin, 2017, p. 9).
As mentioned above, the THC in cannabis is a psychoactive cannabinoid and, as a result, will affect your neurotransmitters. Though it’s primarily the THC that’s psychoactive, the whole cannabis plant is considered to be a psychoactive drug and this is what has caused cannabis to remain illegal throughout the United States for so many years (Owolabi et al., 2017, p. 65). Caffeine, much like cannabis, affects your neurotransmitters and is also considered to be a psychoactive drug.
Usage of both marijuana and caffeine resulted in elevated levels of dopamine in a user’s brain (Owolabi et al., 2017, p. 70). A big difference between caffeine and cannabis is caffeine is legal and is in many things someone consumes daily, but cannabis remains illegal, which is likely thanks to marijuana often being misused with the purpose of changing neurological characteristics (i.e. getting high) (Owolabi et al., 2017, p. 65-66). Regardless, usage of marijuana and caffeine during studies both resulted in elevated levels of dopamine in a user’s brain (Owolabi et al., 2017, p. 70). It’s interesting how cannabis is still illegal in most states yet caffeine is legal despite them both altering neurotransmitters and elevating levels of dopamine. Especially when considering there have been fewer automobile accidents in states where cannabis is legal.
A new study has shown that states with legal cannabis use has resulted in a reduction in deaths from automotive wrecks (Aydelotte, Brown, Luftman, Mardock, Teixeira, Coopwood, & Brown, 2017, p. 1330). This study wanted to measure vehicle accident deaths over the course of seven years between states with legal recreational cannabis and states where cannabis is entirely illegal. Eight states (Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin) without legal medical or recreational marijuana were compared against Washington and Colorado as they have similar road traffic.
In total, there was a decrease from 12.8 to 11.4 automotive deaths from 2009-2015 (Aydelotte et al., 2017, p. 1330). After 3 years of legal recreational cannabis use being allowed in Washington and Colorado, automotive deaths don’t differ much when compared with states with similar road traffic where recreational marijuana use is illegal (Aydelotte et al., 2017, p. 1331). This study has proven that cannabis doesn’t impact driving as much as many may believe.
Unfortunately, however, there are still some negative impacts that cannabis can have on the user, especially if the user is a teen or young adult. For instance, frequent and abusive cannabis usage by young people can attribute to extensive negative psychological effects (Brown University Child & Adolescent Psychopharmacology Update, 2017, p. 1), which may end up attributing to putting those frequently smoking cannabis at a larger risk for neurological death (Brown University Child & Adolescent Psychopharmacology Update, 2017, p. 1). Researchers haven’t been able to fully test the effects of cannabis on young people and comparing those results with effects from older people because there have been problems with conducting these studies due to ethical issues and the massive negative stigma that many people still possess when it comes to their feelings on cannabis (Brown University Child & Adolescent Psychopharmacology Update, 2017, p. 2).
It’s also difficult for researchers to try to test these effects on young animals instead of young humans because research between clinical trials and studies in animals don’t always match up. This is highly unfortunate because the younger generations are going to continue to use marijuana for both recreational and medical use with little to no regard about how those around them feel about it. As a result, there may be some highly negative (or positive) effects happening that researchers currently aren’t aware of or don’t have enough data to come to a proper conclusion on.
What Health Issues Can Cannabis Help With?
Despite some of the negative things mentioned so far, cannabis has many really good medical benefits that everyone should know about. In fact, many of the things it can help with would result in eliminating the need for some prescription medications and getting rid of the often bad (and sometimes dangerous) side effects that some with those drugs. Many people, especially in the older generations, have to take a lot of different pills for different problems every day.
This can include medication to lower or eliminate stress, anxiety, and blood pressure. Imagine them being able to eliminate many of those daily pills using cannabis while still fixing their health issues and getting rid of the side effects caused by the pharmaceuticals! This is something made possible by cannabis, which is an all-natural product as an added bonus. This means that those who use it won’t have to worry about man-made chemicals being ingested. In fact, Marijuana and hemp plants have thick stems that are capable of bioremediation, meaning they will absorb toxic material when grown in bad, contaminated soil (Bruenig, 2015, p. 22).
The first, and one of the most important, issues cannabis helps to fix would be neurological disorders. Neurological disorders would include stress, anxiety, PTSD, and more. PTSD by itself can cause problems such as fear, mistrust, flashbacks, insomnia, and nightmares. There have been reports showing many individuals utilizing cannabis to aid with their PTSD and the side effects that come along with it (Knopf, 2015, p. 4). This, as a result, has made a ton of military personnel start self-prescribing cannabis to help them get rid of the horrible PTSD symptoms they have to go through every day. Also, as mentioned above concerning CBD, it can also treat a wide variety of anxiety problems.
However, there’s not as much known about the direct effects of cannabis and neurological disorders because it’s often self-prescribed and the user’s doctors aren’t often watching how much they take and what exactly happens to them as a result afterwards. The article Cannabis for psychotic disorders or PTSD: Does it help? by Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly states the following:
“Taking the opposing side, Evins said that little is known about the effects of medical cannabis, whether for pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression or PTSD. It’s also unknown whether daily users become addicted, as 25% to 50% of daily recreational users do, she said (Knopf, 2015, p. 4).”
Despite there not being a ton of concrete evidence on the exact effects of cannabis on neurological issues, it seems unlikely for individuals to continually self-medicate marijuana if it didn’t work and solve the problems they were having.
More major medical issues that cannabis has been found to fight and protect against is cancer (Turner, 2017, p. 35), risk of strokes (Turner, 2017, p. 35) and heart attacks (Turner, 2017, p. 35), and arthritis (Turner, 2017, p. 35). One of the primary cannabinoids that can help to fight these ailments, as mentioned above, is cannabidiol (CBD). Those who choose to take CBD as an extract (CBD oil), instead of smoking cannabis, will be benefitted from this as CBD isn’t psychoactive, unlike THC, meaning it doesn’t give the user any sense of a “high” and doesn’t show up on drug tests (Turner, 2017, p. 34).
Many people also use cannabis to help fight the effects of fibromyalgia and to lower the risk of having a seizure in people who are more prone to having them (such as those who have some type of brain damage or pressure) (Welsh & Loria, 2014). There have even people people who have reported smoking cannabis resulting in getting rid of the unwanted carcinogenic effects in their lungs caused by smoking cigarettes or other unhealthy tobacco-based products (Welsh & Loria, 2014). The deeper someone researches into this topic, the more they will find there are tons of physical and mental ailments that studies are finding cannabis helps with or can completely prevent that are not listed here.
Finally, the most important health issue that cannabis is able to fight against is extreme pain. This results in cutting down on the need to use opioids for getting rid of pain, which further reduces opioid overdoses. A study released in 2014 found that states who legalized medical marijuana between 1999-2010 had 25% less painkiller overdose fatalities every year than states where cannabis was still illegal (Hsu, 2016, p.1).
Another study found 185 people who regularly used medical marijuana from Ann Arbor, Michigan reported using half of the painkillers they normally used when treating their pain. According to Hsu (2016), “Dr. Bachhuber said, ‘I think medical cannabis could fall into the category of alternatives for treating chronic pain so that people don’t use opioids or use a lower dose of opioids than they otherwise would’” (p. 1). Hsu (2016) also reported the following:
“Kevin Boehnke, a Ph.d. candidate in environmental health sciences and public health at the University of Michigan and co-author on the Ann Arbor study. ‘At this point, we really need a policy on the ways that cannabis can be researched and accessed by the scientific community to catch up with that reality.’”
With so many positive results in using cannabis as an alternative method of treating chronic pain, it’s hard to see why those who suffer from this wouldn’t use it. The only issue that may hold many back is that even medical marijuana is still illegal in many places across the United States. Luckily, the government in Canada will be making marijuana legal in 2018 as 12% of Canadians (3.6 million individuals) said they use cannabis (Franklyn, Eibl, Gauthier, & Marsh, 2017, p. 2). It can only be hoped that the United States will still follow suit and fully legalize cannabis on the federal level.
The negative feeling many people possess about cannabis and those who use it isn’t necessary due to the many positive benefits the different parts of the plant possess. The topic of cannabis is much more intricate subject than many people realize. It has many different parts than will affect the user in different ways, especially if those parts are being ingested as separate extracts such as CBD oil or pure THC extract. It’s important to keep in mind that there are many factors that go into how cannabis will affect a person, and the effects it has aren’t always positive.
One of the primary cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main cannabinoid responsible for affecting people differently due to it having psychoactive properties resulting in a person’s neurotransmitters being suppressed. Despite all of this, it’s essential to keep in mind the positive benefits cannabis has to offer for people of all ages. This includes helping with neurological disorders, such as PTSD, anxiety, and stress, eliminating the risks of heart attacks and strokes along with fighting cancer, and helping to eliminate pain which cuts down on opioid usage and lowers overdose deaths. It’s everyone’s responsibility to inform the public about the truth of cannabis, and to stop those who have a biased, negative view on the subject so that everyone has the opportunity to decide if cannabis is right for them while knowing it’s not as bad as they may have been lead to believe.
- Aydelotte, j. D., Brown, l. H., Luftman, k. M., Mardock, a. L., Teixeira, p. R., Coopwood, B., & Brown, c. r. (2017). Crash Fatality Rates After Recreational Marijuana Legalization in Washington and Colorado. American Journal Of Public Health, 107(8), 1329-1331. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2017.303848
- Teen use of cannabis may cause cognitive and affective problems in adulthood. (2017). Brown University Child & Adolescent Psychopharmacology Update, 19(5), 1-3. doi:10.1002/cpu.30211
Bruenig, e. (2015). THE WONDER DRUG. New Republic, 246(12), 18-25.
- Cuttler, C., & Spradlin, a. (2017). Measuring cannabis consumption: Psychometric properties of the Daily Sessions, Frequency, Age of Onset, and Quantity of Cannabis Use Inventory (DFAQ-CU). Plos ONE, 12(5), 1-14. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0178194
- Fischer, B., Russell, C., Sabioni, P., van den Brink, W., Le Foll, B., Hall, W., & … Room, r. (2017). Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines: A Comprehensive Update of Evidence and Recommendations. American Journal Of Public Health, 107(8), e1-e12. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2017.303818
- Franklyn, a. M., Eibl, j. K., Gauthier, g. J., & Marsh, d. c. (2017). The impact of cannabis use on patients enrolled in opioid agonist therapy in Ontario, Canada. Plos ONE, 12(11), 1-11. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0187633
- Hsu, j. (2016). Can Medical Cannabis Break the Painkiller Epidemic?. Scientific American, 315(3), 10-12.
- Knopf, a. (2015). Cannabis for psychotic disorders or PTSD: Does it help?. Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly, 27(48), 3-5. doi:10.1002/adaw.30423
- Owolabi, j. O., Olatunji, s. Y., & Olanrewaju, a. j. (2017). Caffeine and Cannabis Effects on Vital Neurotransmitters and Enzymes in the Brain Tissue of Juvenile Experimental Rats. Annals Of Neurosciences, 24(2), 65-73. doi:10.1159/000475895
- Turner, l. (2017). CBD Oil: Anxiety Aid & Much More. (Cover story). Better Nutrition, 79(11), 34-36.
- Welsh, J., & Loria, K. (2014, April 20). 23 Health Benefits Of Marijuana. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from http://www.businessinsider.com/health-benefits-of-medical-marijuana-2014-4