How Does Cannabis Affect Our Health?

Mary Mart

Is cannabis a dangerous controlled substance, an intoxicant fit only for limited adult use, or a powerful, even potentially vital medication nearly perfectly suited to human physiology? The answer may be all three, depending on your perspective. If you’re a wee bit confused, join the club!

Nearly everyone now alive in this country grew up in an era of cannabis prohibition. Though cannabis has an astonishingly long and deep history as a medication, we’re only now beginning to unlock its potential in a thorough and scientifically grounded fashion. And what we’re finding flies in the face of much of the conventional “wisdom” dispensed over the last 75 years or so.

Cannabis’ Influence On Our Health

If it’s a bit early to issue blanket statements like “cannabis will improve your health,” you’ll be surprised by what we are learning about this incredibly complex and medically useful plant.

Research shows there are some conditions that cannabis does an equal or better job of treating than do conventional first-line treatments. This list includes some very difficult-to-diagnose conditions, notably fibromyalgia, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis (MS).

What’s more, cannabis often reduces patient’s dependence on other, objectively less safe drugs such as opioids, while in many cases doing a better job of treating the underlying symptoms, such as chronic pain.

The Endocannabinoid System

But beyond specific conditions, what may prove to be the single most important discovery concerning cannabis took place not in a botany lab, but inside our own bodies. In 1992, researchers uncovered the first endocannabinoid—a class of neurotransmitter vital to the body’s regulatory functions—and named it anandamide (for the Sanskrit word for “bliss,” for its role in regulating pain and depression).

Many others have followed since, and it’s becoming clear that the endocannabinoid system is perhaps the single most important regulatory system in our body. If the word “endocannabinoid” looks suspiciously familiar, give yourself a gold star. It turns out that endocannabinoids are our body’s way of producing the compounds found in cannabis (or vice-versa, if you prefer the plant’s point of view).

What this means is that the compounds in cannabis are uniquely and ideally suited for our regulatory system.

On a personal level, beyond any pleasurable effects you may derive from imbibing cannabis, cannabis has a very real impact in aiding your body’s natural regulation of such things as appetite, immune system functions, and pain management, to name just a few.

Cannabis and Health: A Promising Future

As we know, these are deep and vital aspects of bodily function. But, there’s still much we don’t know. As with so many of the facets of cannabis we’re investigating, the predictable (but unsatisfactory) answer—at least for now—is: more research is needed.

But that research is underway. We eagerly await its findings. It’s not difficult to envision a day when we can state: “Cannabis will improve your health…and we’ll tell you exactly how!”

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