Why Does Cannabis Help Treat So Many Conditions?

Allan MacDonell
Allan MacDonell - Content Writer

Apr 07 2021 - 4 min read

The flowering cannabis plant is not yet the official shrub of World Health Day. Give medical science a little time to catch up with the experiential knowledge of medical marijuana users across the globe, and cannabis may yet become the official greenery of every day that is a good health day.

Every April 7 since 1950, the World Health Organization has celebrated World Health Day as a way to support the coming year’s priority health theme. Previous World Health Days have concentrated on mental health, maternal care and climate change. For 2021, the World Health Day theme is, “Let’s Build a Fairer, Healthier World for Everyone.”

One key to providing the broadest spectrum of safe, nontoxic, equitable medical treatments may be expanded access to and exploration of medical cannabis products.

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The Human Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and Homeostasis

Homeostasis is defined by RxList as “a healthy state that is maintained by the constant adjustment of biochemical and physiological pathways.” Blood pressure and body temperature, for instance, are maintained through the homeostatic coordination of precision adjustments in the hormonal, neuromuscular and cardiovascular systems.

In 1992, working at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Czech analytic chemist Dr. Lumir Hanus and American researcher Dr. William Devane isolated a network of nerve receptors that acts as a stabilizer and activator of homeostasis in many complex and necessary functions of the human organism. Hanus and Devane’s molecular signaling network was named the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS’s cannabinoid receptors stimulate chemical responses to regulate biological functions and stabilize imbalances within the human body. Cannabinoid receptors are the brain’s most abundant type of neurotransmitter receptor. The endocannabinoid system is considered to be the primary molecular network for maintaining homeostasis within the human organism.

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The Human Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and Cannabis

The discovery of the ECS and how its cellular messaging network operates cleared up much of the mystery of why medical marijuana provides effective relief for such a wide range of chronic health conditions.

The cannabis plant’s psychoactive components, molecules such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) classified as cannabinoids, produce their effects by binding to the ECS’s two main receptors and signaling for action.

CB1 receptors are concentrated in the central nervous system.

CB2 receptors are situated in the peripheral nervous system, including immune cells.

According to Healthline, the influence of the ECS, especially as activated by binding with medical marijuana’s cannabinoids, extends throughout a stack of processes essential to homeostasis:

  • appetite and digestion
  • metabolism
  • chronic pain
  • inflammation and other immune system responses
  • mood
  • learning and memory
  • motor control
  • sleep
  • cardiovascular system function
  • muscle formation
  • bone remodeling and growth
  • liver function
  • reproductive system function
  • stress
  • skin and nerve function

The list of functions influenced by the ECS goes a long way toward clarifying why medical cannabis products are effective in providing relief to so many chronic health conditions on World Health Day and every day.

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The Endocannabinoid System and the Inflammation Theory of Disease

A 2012 report published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health titled “The Inflammation Theory of Disease” discusses the potential of treating many common diseases by controlling the body’s inflammation processes. The article’s author, Philip Hunter, cites an increasing body of evidence indicating that chronic inflammation causes and advances conditions such as cancers, autoimmune disorders and infectious diseases.

Hunter reports that Maija Kohonen-Corish from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, Australia, has pinpointed how chronic inflammation causes cancer: Chronic inflammation destroys and scars tissue, deforms the tissue architecture, and creates changes in gene expression that contribute to the production or formation of tumors (tumorigenesis).

As yet, medical cannabis products can make no valid claim to cure, prevent or slow the progress of any cancers. However, the fact that low-level inflammation is essential to the advancement of tumorigenesis cries out for deeper oncological research into the well-documented antiinflammatory properties of therapeutic marijuana and how those effects might prevent formation and spread of cancerous tumors.

A host of diseases and conditions other than cancer are either initiated or sustained by chronic inflammation. Molecular and epidemiological research presented in Philip Hunter’s “The Inflammation Theory of Disease” suggests that beyond cancers and many infectious diseases, inflammation is a critical contributor to “a broad range of non-infectious diseases, perhaps even all of them.”

Conversely, the anti inflammatory properties of medical cannabis products need to be investigated as treatment to “a broad range of non-infectious diseases, perhaps even all of them.”

Best CBD products for pain - treating pain with cannabidiol. Picture of a woman with back pain.

Inflammation, Stress and Cannabis

The effects of unrelieved inflammation are compounded when overlaid with unrelieved stress.

Stress is, of course, another condition that the endocannabinoid system has shown great success in treating, especially in conjunction with the cannabinoids introduced by medical marijuana products.

A 2012 American study of alternatives to pharmacology found physical exercise to be like medical cannabis in that exercise also reduces inflammation and stress. A regimen of physical activity has been shown to reduce mortality rates from breast and colon cancers and improve biometrics overall.

Dr. Sheldon Cohen, Director at Carnegie Mellon University’s Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity and Disease, associates cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions and clinical depression with prolonged stress. Cohen believes that the corrosive interactions among stress, immune systems and infectious disease produce chronic inflammation that leads to even more diseases.

Inflammation and stress create a complex of interacting negative effects on human health as a whole, the very opposite of World Health Day 2021’s call to, “Build a Fairer, Healthier World for Everyone.”

To overcome imbalances among internal systems crucial to the human organism’s stability and survival, medical science needs to take a holistic approach to keeping the body in harmony with itself.

Any study of holistic approaches to the ravages of stress and inflammation, any interdisciplinary field of systems medicine that looks at the systems of the human body as part of an integrated whole, incorporating biochemical, physiological, and environment interactions, but failing to investigate medical cannabis applications, is a study in incomplete science.

Written by
Allan MacDonell
Allan MacDonell

Contributing commentator Allan MacDonell’s work has been featured in publications ranging from Dazed and Confused UK to the New York Times and Washington Post. He is the author of Prisoner of X, Punk Elegies and Now That I Am Gone, and was a founding editorial director at online outlets including Buzznet, TakePart and Kindland. MacDonell views teaming with Leafwell as an opportunity to encourage the emerging role of legal cannabis as a highly effective medical treatment.

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