Cannabis researchers are making up for lost time. Prohibition of the plant has set science back decades, and only now are we truly learning about the overall medicinal possibilities of cannabinoids. Our improved knowledge of cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabigerol (CBG) and more is helping to develop different cannabis products that can be used to treat certain conditions more effectively.
Furthermore, the arrival of non-psychoactive, CBD-rich cannabis oil and other methods of consumption that don’t involve inhaling or getting “high” has transformed the herb, and public opinion of it – it’s now perfectly clear that cannabis does have medical value, and that it’s classification as a Schedule 1 banned substance is untenable. No longer is it just an alternative, controversial remedy, but a cutting-edge treatment for a selection of debilitating and life-threatening illnesses.
CBD has progressed at a faster rate as a medicine than THC, and the non-intoxicating nature of the compound has made potential patients more receptive to trying it.
Why does CBD work?
The general public is always sceptical when a new wonder treatment starts making headlines in the media, and CBD has sure done that. However, science shows that CBD really can help with depression, immune system issues, sleep problems and skin conditions by regulating an obscure but vitally important network in the body: the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS first came to the attention of researchers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it was soon shown that CBD can regulate it. Typically, the ECS operates by creating a set of compounds called endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors all over the body, influencing variables such as pain sensitivity, mood and appetite.
Cannabinoids, a set of 113 compounds in cannabis, are chemically compliant with the ECS, and can bind with or indirectly affect cannabinoid receptors to produce certain effects. CBD doesn’t hijack receptors as THC does to cause extreme bodily changes (such as euphoria and other mind-altering effects), but rather work to restore natural balance to the ECS. CBD manages this by boosting the concentration of endocannabinoids where necessary – these neurotransmitters can then bind to receptors to help with inflammation, pain and mental anguish to name a few.
While a recent discovery, the ECS is truly ancient, having appeared in life forms for an estimated 600 million years. With known cannabis use dating back perhaps as far as 12,000BC, it’s safe to say that humans have inadvertently been regulating their ECS for millennia.
CBD’s epilepsy breakthrough
The medicinal effects of CBD have been studied seriously since the 1960s, with much of the most significant research taking place in Brazil, Israel and the United States. However, it wasn’t until CBD was found to be an effective and crucial treatment for rare, intractable epilepsy in children that the public sat up and took notice. CBD oil garnered massive attention after a 2013 CNN documentary on the new science behind cannabis, and its importance as an epilepsy treatment.
Patients from all over the world have descended on pro-cannabis states like California, Colorado and Oregon, where they can legally access life-changing and even life-saving medication. In the case of epilepsy, some patients with conditions like Lennox-Gastaut syndrome could suffer from hundreds of seizures each week. However, CBD oil is often effective from the first dose, and there are numerous stories where a patient’s seizures have cleared up within weeks of starting a treatment plan.
Epilepsy is a condition that affects the brain, causing it to become overly excited. CBD appears to control symptoms by striking a balance between excitation and inhibition in neuronal activity – reduced excitation means a reduced chance of seizures. The effectiveness of CBD for epilepsy is no longer in doubt, with rigorous studies on a CBD extract drug carried out by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) successful enough for its approval – this happened earlier in 2018, and was a landmark moment, as the FDA had never previously approved a drug containing cannabis compounds.
A viable alternative to prescription medication?
There has always been a split in opinion on which is the best type of medication: pharmaceutical drugs or plant-based solutions. The re-emergence of cannabis as a medicine and the discoveries about CBD has only re-energized that debate. Furthermore, for a growing number of patients, prescription medication is problematic.
Opioid-based painkillers are generally prescribed for advanced cases of chronic pain, but these drugs are known to cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness and more – they are also addictive and easily overdosed, with tens of thousands in the US dying each year from opioid ODs. There are not enough long-term studies on CBD as a solo medicine for pain, although we do have surveys in states with medical cannabis which show patients making the change from painkillers to CBD e-liquid and vape oil, and other CBD solutions.
Mental health is another area where the approved, mainstream medication is letting patients down. This has resulted from a lack of development in treatments for conditions like anxiety and depression – SSRIs like Prozac and Zoloft have been used for decades, despite having limited effectiveness and being littered with side effects. However, CBD affects the ECS to promote anandamide, an endogenously-produced antidepressant that has been proven to improve mood by connecting with the CB1 receptor – scientists know the CB1 receptor to have an effect on emotions through its interactions with THC.
With non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) causing side effects like stomach ulcers, it’s only encouraging for patients suffering from inflammatory conditions and autoimmune diseases that CBD can help. In fact, the connection that the ECS has to immune system response is perhaps the most influential that scientists have discovered. CBD edibles are a great way of managing internal inflammation, while CBD topicals are suited for tackling skin disorders typified by inflammation.
Cannabis research has introduced experts to a whole new branch of medical science, presenting them with novel ideas to treat conditions that have left them puzzled for decades. The cannabis industry looks primed for astonishing growth going forward.