Ok, let’s get the obvious health benefits out of the way. Most of us know (and dozens of studies conclude) that THC stimulates appetite, eases nausea, can help with insomnia (depending on the strain — Sativas need not apply), and provides pain relief (analgesic) while reducing inflammation (anti-inflammatory). But wait, there’s more! Here are 3 (of many) surprising health benefits of THC:
The neuroprotective properties of THC have been studied for years. However, it wasn’t until Yosef Sarne of Tel Aviv University’s Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine published a study (building on earlier research) in 2013 that THC’s remarkable capacity to protect brain cells was brought into the mainstream.
It may seem counterintuitive that THC, known for its intoxicating effects and disruption of encoding short-term memories, could be neuroprotective, but it’s true. Keep in mind, we’re not talking about high doses of THC. Less is definitely more!
Sarne and his team found that low-dose THC could protect our brains from long-term cognitive damage caused by oxygen deprivation (hypoxia), exposure to toxic drugs, and seizures. His team concluded THC improves cell signaling, promotes neurogenesis (generation of new neurons), and prevents cell death.
Other studies have found that THC can prevent (and possibly treat) traumatic brain injury (TBI) and may even prevent or slow onset of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.
Sadly, due to the federal government’s absurd restrictions and impossibly navigable bureaucracy, research on cannabis as a treatment for PTSD is still in its infancy. We have numerous animal studies and a wealth of anecdotal evidence that THC (and CBD) help those living with PTSD to quell symptoms from their condition while improving their overall quality of life. Of course, animals aren’t people (and results aren’t always replicable in humans). And anecdotal evidence is just that: anecdotal. It’s not the same as gold-standard, double-blind placebo-controlled studies.
There are a few human studies, however, that are well-documented in the book Friendly Fire: Why Vets Are Ditching Pills and Lighting Up to Treat PTSD, by Dr. Mike Hart and Jeremy Kossen. The authors provide a plausible scientific explanation on why THC seems to help individuals coping with PTSD. The book demonstrates how most drugs prescribed to treat PTSD do nothing to address the underlying physiological causes.
Studies show that PTSD patients are clinically deficient in anandamide, a fatty acid neurotransmitter named after the Sanskrit word ananda, which translates to “joy,” “bliss,” or delight. Anandamide is essentially the body’s naturally occurring version of THC. An anandamide and endocannabinoid signaling deficiency are associated with chronic, unpredictable stress and anxiety. Logically, correcting the deficiency (through diet, exercise, or THC supplementation) could help those with PTSD.
That THC can treat cancer and chemo-related effects is well-researched and accepted by mainstream medicine. What’s more controversial is THC’s potential as an anticancer agent.
There’s little debate over whether THC has anticancer properties. As Dr. Manuel Guzman notes in his study Anticancer Mechanisms of Cannabinoids, “a large body of evidence shows that these molecules [cannabinoids] can decrease tumor growth in animal models of cancer.” But again, like PTSD, gold-standard human studies are virtually non-existent.
Moreover, just because THC has anticancer properties like inhibiting angiogenesis and decreasing metastasis of various tumor types, does not mean THC is a “cancer cure.” Cancer is an umbrella term used to label more than 100 highly complex diseases that share the common characteristic of causing the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. What this means is that an anticancer drug could inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells or even induce remission for some people with specific types of cancer.
Sadly, again due to restrictions on research, we’re only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding how and which cancers THC could possibly treat. Yes, there’s anecdotal evidence, but that’s not the same as hard evidence from controlled studies.
We could literally write a book (or books) on the myriad of health benefits of THC, but these are three that are too often overlooked. However, there’s still a lot of research that needs to be done to fully comprehend and appreciate THC’s full therapeutic potential. Beyond the three health benefits of THC that we summarized, THC has also been shown to be an antioxidant, an antibacterial agent, a bronchodilator, a muscle relaxant, an anticonvulsant, and even treat drug addiction!
While THC may not be a panacea, its therapeutic versatility makes it about as close to being a panacea as any synthetic drug. And the best part is it comes from mother nature!
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