In part one of this series, we took a look at some of the most impactful studies in medical cannabis, specifically those relating to CBD. This next installment highlights several cannabis wins beyond CBD, as it shows promise in healthy aging, neurodegenerative disease, and more.
Cannabis is a powerful weapon against the opioid epidemic.
Source: International Journal of Drug Policy, April 2017 and PLoS One, November 2017
One of the biggest health news stories of 2017 has been the escalating need to address the opioid crisis. President Trump declared it a “national emergency,” but in addition to not allotting sufficient resources to prevent problematic opioid use, the Trump administration’s combat strategy doesn’t include cannabis. Research published in 2017 suggests that it should.
84% of patients who received access to medical cannabis reduced their opioid prescriptions, compared to 45% in the comparison group.
Association studies over the last couple of years have identified that there are fewer opioid-related overdoses in states with access to medicinal cannabis. But those studies didn’t directly address whether medical cannabis led to improved pain management as an opioid substitute.
Several studies published in 2017 address these issues. One surveyed 271 Canadian patientswho were seeking prescription drug treatment for a variety of ailments including pain, anxiety, and depression; among these, 63% reported that cannabis substituted for their prescription medications. Specifically among pain patients, 30% reported that they swapped out their prescription opioids for cannabis. Patients reported that one of their greatest reasons for switching from opioids to cannabis wasn’t necessarily because of better symptom management (after all, opioids are effective pain killers…initially), but because there were fewer side effects associated with cannabis use.
University of New Mexico scientists put the substitutability of cannabis for opioids to the test in a cohort of chronic pain patients. The study compared prescription opioid use, mostly to treat back pain, between patients enrolled or not enrolled in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program. They found that 84% of patients who received access to medical cannabis reduced their opioid prescriptions, compared to 45% in the comparison group. Notably, 41% of the cannabis users stopped using opioids altogether.
As described in previous surveys, cannabis use was not found to cause any serious side effects. Instead, it was associated with improved measures of quality of life with noted benefits to their social and activity levels, as well as boosted concentration.
These studies are the latest to support cannabis’ benefits in reducing opioid use. They find that cannabis can either substitute for prescription pain medication or supplement its effect, thus requiring fewer opioid pills to be consumed. And all of this with few side-effects!
Low doses of THC promote healthy brain aging.
Source: Nature Medicine, June 2017
As the mature brain ages in adulthood, its endocannabinoid systemweakens. The number of CB1 receptors–the receptors through which cannabis takes its classic effect–decrease with age, and the ones that remain are less effective. It’s thought that the weakened endocannabinoid system in the elderly contributes to their cognitive decline. This past spring, a research team from Germany reported that consistently activating CB1 receptors with low doses of THC prevents age-related cognitive decline in mice.
In old mice, THC increased the number of connections brain cells made with one another in the hippocampus.
For 28 days, scientists gave a single low-dose of THC to young and old mice, after which they were tested for learning, memory, and cognitive flexibility (i.e., how well they could adapt to changing instructions). Old mice generally perform worse than young mice in these tasks, but THC impaired performance in young mice. However, old mice treated with THC performed similarly to their younger cohorts that did not receive THC, revealing that THC can impair brain function in the young, but rescue age-related decline in old animals.