May is a Health Awareness Month – Here’s How Cannabis Can Help

In our last post on why cannabis can be useful for so many different conditions, we looked at the endocannabinoid system and why cannabis can be useful as a treatment for all of them. In this post, we will be detailing more on each condition specifically, especially as May is an awareness month for so many different health problems. While cannabis science has not yet advanced to a point where medical grade marijuana can “cure” persistent conditions – as in eliminating them from a patient for once and always – the relief provided by medical cannabis for lifelong ailments is real. As May also marks so many health awareness initiatives, here’s why medical cannabis can help treat so many different conditions, with a few more specific details and quotes.

Cannabis for Arthritis

Arthritis is a very common painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints. The Arthritis Foundation has counted up more than 100 types of arthritis and tallies three million new sufferers of the condition each year, none of whom can be cured. The Foundation offers hope for relief from painful swelling and decreased range of motion in cannabidiol (CBD) treatment. An abbreviation for cannabidiol, CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid valued for its anti-inflammatory properties.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends consulting a health care provider before conducting a trial run with an edible or topical CBD product: “Start with a low dose, such as a few milligrams of CBD in sublingual form twice a day. If relief is inadequate after one week, increase the dose by that same amount. If needed, go up in small increments over several weeks. If you find relief, continue taking that dose twice daily to maintain a stable level of CBD in the blood.”

Results cited for arthritis sufferers treating their condition with medical CBD products are “noticeable pain relief, sleep improvement and/or anxiety reduction.”

Medical marijuana, cannabis, arthritis and arthritic pain.
Medical cannabis / MMJ for arthritis.

Cannabis for Fibromyalgia

Diagnosed and noted by the Mayo Clinic for its widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues, fibromyalgia is a disorder that researchers believe affects the way the human brain and spinal cord process painful and non-painful signals, amplifying painful sensations.

The brain and spinal cord, remember, are strongholds of the endocannabinoid system. Research studies going back to 2007’s “Nabilone for the Treatment of Pain in Fibromyalgia” published in the The Journal of Pain found treatment with nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid (synthetic THC), “to have significant pain-relieving effects” for patients with fibromyalgia.

In a 2011 peer reviewed study titled “Cannabis Use in Patients with Fibromyalgia: Effect on Symptoms Relief and Health-Related Quality of Life,” 43 percent of participants ranked their pain relief at strong. An additional 43 percent felt mild pain relief.

In 2018, The National Library of Medicine published “An Experimental Randomized Study on the Analgesic Effects of Pharmaceutical-Grade Cannabis in Chronic Pain Patients with Fibromyalgia.” The study indicated that treatments containing higher levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) were more effective in minimizing fibromyalgia distress.

As usual, medical scientists call for more research into the effectiveness of cannabis in treating fibromyalgia. With all the evidence for effectiveness that’s in so far, individual study may be in order, after consulting a physician and obtaining a medical marijuana recommendation card.

fibromyalgia pain cannabis

Cannabis for Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s defense mechanisms to attack its own tissues and organs. Lupus, the Mayo Clinic warns, will target a body’s joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.

Lupus is thought to be caused by a combination of genetics and environment. Triggers include sunlight, infections, blood pressure and antiseizure medications and antibiotics.

The Lupus Foundation of America’s official organizational statement on medical marijuana is optimistic, but under a blanket of skeptical caution:

The Lupus Foundation of America supports further scientific research on the use of cannabis and its derivatives (medical marijuana) for treating and alleviating the symptoms of lupus. Research conducted to date has shown that cannabinoids may be somewhat effective in treating pain from arthritis and related conditions, but other research has also suggested potential adverse effects and interactions with medications. Further scientific research on its effects for people with lupus is needed to provide evidence regarding its safety and effectiveness.

We strongly recommend that those with lupus engage their doctors in a frank conversation about the use of cannabis and its derivatives before considering use for lupus.

One doctor who is encouraged by the use of cannabis to treat Lupus, Yale Medicine’s Dr. Fotios Koumpouras, has been focusing on a synthetic cannabinoid molecule that binds to CB2 receptors to help ease Lupus pain and inflammation.

“The more data,” says Dr. Koumpouras, “the more we’re able to make informed decisions.”

There is a lot of good evidence that CBD’s and THC’s anti-inflammatory properties and ability to modulate the immune system can help treat many autoimmune conditions, where an overactive immune system attacks the body and causes widespread inflammation. Lupus, being an autoimmune disorder, is included in this!

Conditions often suffered alongside fibromyalgia (comorbidity). ME/CFS is most common.
ME/CFS is a common comorbidity with fibromyalgia. Author: MEcfsFMS.

Cannabis for ME and CFS

The Centers for Disease Control recognizes myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) as “a serious, long-term illness that affects many body systems. People with ME/CFS are often not able to do their usual activities.”

The medical community is baffled by what causes ME/CFS. The CDC admits that most American medical schools have no physician training in ME/CFS and that the condition is not taken seriously by some healthcare providers.

The Health Rising: Finding Answers for ME/CFS website reports that chronically elevated levels of cytokines, proteins that help coordinate immune responses to infection and inflammation, are being linked to cases of ME/CFS. The site’s 2019 article, “Marijuana as Medicine for ME/CFS and/or Fibromyalgia” cites evidence that “THC and CBD have been shown to affect the immune system by increasing immunosuppressive cytokines and decreasing T-cell activating cytokines.”

The article’s author, Amber Ella, asserts that “scientific literature provides strong support for using cannabis to treat” ME/CFS, but recommends “extreme caution” for first time medical cannabis users to treat these conditions.

Ella recommends starting with a product that has a 20:1 CBD to THC ratio to maximize the workings of both the THC and the CBD while minimizing potentially disturbing psychoactive effects.

Cannabis for Cystic Fibrosis (CF)

A hereditary disease that affects the lungs and digestive system, cystic fibrosis is characterized by Medical News Today as a condition in which the body produces thick, sticky mucus that can clog the lungs and obstruct the pancreas.

Obviously, no smokable marijuana products can be recommended as treatment for a chronic lung condition. Edible medical cannabis products are a more encouraging story for anyone afflicted with cystic fibrosis.

A February 2018 feature by columnist Brad Dell in Cystic Fibrosis News Today recounts the writer’s experience with his cystic fibrosis symptoms and edible marijuana. In “Let’s Talk About Marijuana,” Dell admitted a profound reluctance to experiment with marijuana to treat his cystic fibrosis based on a conviction that the stigma against cannabis is both a legal and a moral imperative. Despite these doubts, two hours after ingesting his first ever cannabis gummy bears: “My airways and sinuses shot wide open for the first time in years, and my inflammation pain ‘magically’ disappeared. I also coughed up a lot of mucus.”

Subsequently, Hall tried CBD with muted success. His Medical News Today column ends with a plea for legal access and accelerated research into cannabis treatments for cystic fibrosis.

An asthma patient using an inhaler.
Source: My Up Char (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Cannabis for Asthma

Another chronic respiratory condition, asthma is marked by spasms in the bronchi of the lungs in which airways become inflamed, narrowed, swollen and clogged with extra mucus , asthma is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to afflict 25 million Americans.

Medical News Today quotes studies that have unsurprisingly found that smoking marijuana can trigger an asthma attack. Persisting in “smoking marijuana during an asthma attack could further irritate the lungs, worsen coughing and increase health risks.”

Medical cannabis edible products and tinctures for use in minimizing asthma symptoms is, as with other chronic respiratory diseases, a more promising story. The anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis were the basis for a 2015 study, “The Role of Cannabidiol Treatment in Animal Model of Asthma.” Published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the study praised CBD’s “potent immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory properties.” THC also has bronchodilatory properties (i.e. it can open up their airways), as does the terpene pinene.

No one is suggesting that asthma patients toss away their inhalers in favor of a bag of cannabis infused gummies, but findings demonstrating CBD’s protective effects on lung inflammation suggest that CBD treatment may postpone the next asthma attack. There are also cannabinoid-filled inhalers, and these could be an adjunct to typical steroid-based asthma medications (and possibly reduce an asthmatic’s reliance on them). Medical cannabis can also help treat any anxiety accompanying the asthma.

Cannabis for Stroke

According to the Mayo Clinic, a stroke is a medical emergency and prompt treatment is critical. The patient’s brain has been deprived of its blood supply. Brain cells die within minutes. How fast the victim receives medical care will have a direct effect on the severity and duration of the stroke’s often devastating aftereffects.

After-effects of stroke tend to include paralysis, loss of muscle movement, difficulty talking or swallowing, memory loss, cognitive difficulties, emotional problems, pain, numbness, changes in behavior and inability to self care.

“Therapeutic Potential of Non-Psychotropic Cannabidiol in Ischemic Stroke,” published by scientific journal curation site MDPI (the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute) in 2010, concluded that, as reported by Healthline, “CBD may help protect stroke patients from brain damage and even aid recovery by boosting brain function.”

A 2017 review that focused on animal studies, “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Haemodynamic Effects of Cannabidiol” published by Frontiers in Pharmacology, found evidence that CBD can increase brain blood flow, even during a stroke.

Sublingual CBD products are recommended for stroke protection over vaping, smoking or using medical cannabis oils and tinctures or skin creams. It is suggested that cannabinoids like CBD can help repair the brain and promote neurogenesis.

Cannabis for Celiac Disease

Gluten intolerance is the vernacular term for “celiac disease.” Medline Plus, an offshoot of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, notes that if people who have celiac disease eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, their immune system will respond by attacking and damaging the small intestine.

Celiac disease is genetic. The basic commonsense treatment for celiac disease is to remove foods containing gluten from the diet. However, sometimes morsels of wheat, rye or barley will slip into a meal despite the keenest vigilance. The gluten ingestion is only detected later, with notifications in the form of stomach and abdominal pain, digestive issues (as in diarrhea and rumbling intestinal gas), headache and nausea.

A 2013 study featured by the U.S. National Library of Medicine demonstrated that cannabinoid receptors have influence on repairing intestinal damage caused by celiac disease.

Expecting medical cannabis products to eliminate celiac disease will probably be misplaced faith. However, medical cannabis has been used successfully to treat the suite of celiac symptoms individually. The anecdotal evidence of celiac disease sufferers finding relief through medical cannabis products is plentiful and encouraging.

Additionally, many celiac disease patients are underweight upon initial diagnosis. Medical cannabis products can function as an appetite enhancement, aiding the return of body weight to healthy levels.

Indica strains of cannabis, due to relaxing properties that ease contraction of intestinal muscles, are often recommended for reducing the discomfort associated with gluten intolerance.

Can you be alergic to marijuana?
Marijuana allergies.

Cannabis for Allergies

When a person’s immune system responds to a foreign substance not typically harmful to the human body—such as pollen, bee venom, pet dander or specific foods—by triggering an annoying physical reaction such as a rash, sneezing, itchy swollen red eyes, throat constriction, digestive or respiratory disruption and a host of other symptoms, that person has an allergy.

Allergic reactions run the gamut from mildly distracting to potentially fatal. Many allergic reactions respond to over-the-counter medications. The Mayo Clinic recommends consulting a doctor if severe allergy symptoms persist after taking over-the-counter medications or if allergy symptoms are triggered by a new medication prescribed by that doctor.

A wellness article in cannabis lifestyle journal Civilized titled “This Is How Cannabis Can Help You Deal With Your Allergies” suggests that medical marijuana products can do just that. Pointing out that many allergy symptoms manifest as inflammation. The article points out that medical cannabis products are among the most effective anti-inflammatory substances on the planet.

As cannabis researcher Dr. Sue Sisley explains: “Cannabis seems to inhibit the inflammatory pathway. That certainly does relate to allergies. If you can cut the inflammatory pathway, it could certainly help all the classic untreated allergies symptoms, the runny nose, itchiness, hives, all those kinds of things.”

One caveat to using medical cannabis products to treat common allergy symptoms is that cannabis itself has been discovered to be a not uncommon allergen. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology cautions that for some unfortunate souls: “Contact or touching the plant can result in breaking out in rashes, hives, or swellings called angioedema. Breathing or inhaling marijuana allergens can result in nasal or ocular or eye allergy symptoms. This includes runny nose, sneezing, itching, and swelling and watering eyes. Asthma with the development of wheezing and shortness of breath also can occur. Anaphylaxis has also been reported.”

Clearly more research into cannabis and allergens needs to be done. If you experience symptoms of cannabis allergy, good advice may be to not take on that research as your own.

Hepatitis C Virus structure.
Hepatitis C Virus structure. GrahamColm at English Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Cannabis for Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B and C are both caused by viruses invading the liver and wreaking havoc there. The difference between the two blood borne pathogens, is that the hepatitis B virus gives the liver its best shot and moves on.

The hepatitis C virus, in contrast, sets up home in the host liver and is not dislodged without profound and recently developed pharmaceutical intervention.

“Potential of Cannabidiol for the Treatment of Viral Hepatitis” is the heading of a 2017 study contained in the National Institute of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine. Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Department of Medical Sciences at Kingston, Jamaica’s University of the West Indies, in exploring cost effective therapies for hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV), found that a single dose of CBD inhibited HCV replication in a petri dish by 86.4 percent.

The study’s CBD solution was not active against the HBV virus. But, as medical experts are fond of saying, more studies of ways medical cannabis can be used to treat hepatitis B and hepatitis C need to be done. The research is in its early days.

Hepatitis patients of the next generation may well live with cleansed and rejuvenated livers due to medical cannabis research done by this generation. Hepatitis B and C sufferers are also more likely to suffer from fibromyalgia as well, which medical cannabis can certainly help with. Once again, this illustrates medical cannabis’ multi-pronged therapeutic effects perfectly – i.e. it’s a multipurpose medication that can be used either as an adjunct to other therapies, and/or as a replacement for other, more addictive medications, reducing the need for dose set boxes full of pills.

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Written by
Allan MacDonell
Allan MacDonell

Leafwell's Editorial Director, 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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