Health Impact and Usage Guide: Medical Cannabis, THC, Cannabidiol, and Hemp Part 1

By: Dr. Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM


Introduction to Medical Cannabis

A container and pipe with medical cannabisMedical cannabis, which is also referred to as medical marijuana, pot, or weed, is undoubtedly becoming more commonplace in the United States. Medical cannabis simply represents the utilization of the entire marijuana or cannabis plant and all the extracts as natural medicine to remedy unpleasant symptoms or improve a condition. This plant must be classified as medical grade and produced without the use of fertilizers or pesticides, which may contain toxins.

The healing component of medical cannabis comes from its concentration of cannabidiol (CBD) and specific flavonoid and terpene content. Another part of the cannabis plant that is well-known for its psychotropic effect on the brain is tetrahydrocannabinol, which is usually referred to as THC. Those seeking marijuana for recreational purposes are drawn to higher THC levels, whereas medical cannabis has lower levels of THC but a high CBD content.

Until 1942, marijuana was classified as a medicinal plant. Around 50% of Americans have tried it. There are about 200 medical conditions that have been noted to improve by the use of cannabis.

History of Medical Cannabis

Since medical marijuana has become more widespread, it’s sometimes believed to be a recent trend. This notion that medical cannabis is relatively novel is inaccurate, however, as it’s use can be dated back to at least 5,000 years ago.

Cannabis is a type of hemp plant that is used to make fiber, food, oil, paper, biofuel, clothing, and medicine. A spiritual instructor called Zoroaster wrote a book that covered almost 10,000 plants around 2,700 years ago. This author considered hemp to be one of the more valuable plants in his collection. A famous Greek physician named Hippocrates, one of the architects of western medicine, even endorsed extracts from the cannabis plant.

Even the physician who served Queen Victoria offered medical cannabis for her majesty’s menstrual cramps. This physician, Russell Reynolds, was a leader in the medical field and boasted that, when it comes to medicine, cannabis was one of the most beneficial. During this same era, cannabis was effectively used by other well-known doctors for the correction of depression and migraines, things that it is still widely used for today.

Soldiers of the American Revolutionary War were given compensation via cannabis. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington even urged farmers to produce more hemp for goods such as ship sails, paper, and more. Hemp is also a useful alternative to plastic and is better for the environment.

How Medical Cannabis Works and What It Can Help With

Medical cannabis has many uses despite not being approved by the FDA (as of 2016)The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve cannabis, but a growing number of physicians are in favor of this drug for its value and benefit to health.

Cannabis is made up of many compounds. Two of these, CBD and THC, are referred to as cannabinoids. There have been approximately 80 of these cannabinoids identified, and they represent almost half of the plant.

Most of these cannabinoids work in the body by binding to cannabinoid receptors that exist in the body naturally. Cannabinoid receptors can be found in the kidneys, liver, immune system, lungs, and brain. Researchers now consider cannabinoid receptors to be the most extensive receptor system in the body.

Cannabinoid receptors are involved in how the body addresses pain, immune function, regulation of metabolism, food cravings, bone growth, and anxiety. The endocannabinoid system is believed to play a role in almost all physiological activities. It helps to ensure homeostasis, and it supports energy storage and intake, cell communication, emotional balance, memory, sleep, reproduction, and more. The body produces natural cannabinoids that play a role in operating signals that mimic serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters.

Cancer patients that use medical cannabis see a decrease in nausea, insomnia, and pain that are side effects of chemotherapy. There’s also a possibility that cannabis can function as a natural form of chemotherapy in two ways. First, it can trigger suicide of cancer cells, and unlike traditional chemotherapy, it allows healthy cells to remain intact. Second, cannabis has been shown to possess anti-angiogenic properties, which restrict blood supply to cancer tumors.

Medical cannabis has also been used in the correction of mental and mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), multiple sclerosis, autoimmune conditions, obesity, seizure disorders, heart conditions, degenerative types of neurological disorders, and Parkinson’s disease.

Methods for Using Medical Cannabis

The following list explains some of the many different methods of administration:

Smoking – Cannabis can be smoked using a joint, pipe, or water bong (pipe). This method could cause some of the drug to be lost since it can burn with a marijuana cigarette or joint. Utilizing a water pipe can prevent some of the airway irritation that can be caused by using a pipe or joint as well.

Vaporization – When medical cannabis is heated to a designated temperature, the medication will be released into vapors that can then be breathed.

Oromucosal or sublingual – Cannabis can be produced in a form that can be placed in the mouth or under the tongue to deliver immediate relief. This is an attractive option for those who do not wish to smoke.

Brownies are a popular form of medical cannabis consumptionEdibles – Cannabis can be found in pre-made cookies, brownies, or teas that are designed to be eaten. While there could be complications with absorption due to cannabinoids affinity for fat, this is another option for non-smokers.

Topical products – Cannabis comes in many topical forms, such as lotion and ointment to help with muscle pain, inflammation of the skin, and arthritis.

Cannabis can be used to help remedy a wide variety of conditions. Although administration methods vary with this drug, it’s critical that medical grade cannabis is utilized, that it lacks any type of pesticides or synthetic chemicals.

CBD vs. THC

The part of the plant that proves therapeutic stems from the cannabidiol (CBD) content. CBD works in the human body by serving as an agonist of the 5-HT1A receptor, which is responsible for neuromodulation. Neuromodulation on this receptor is involved in dilating vessels to in turn decrease heart rate and blood pressure. This type of receptor agonist also functions as an antidepressant that provides anti-anxiety properties.

The American Stroke Association has found that CBD offers neuroprotective benefits. CBD is also classified as an allosteric modulator of receptors of opioid, and it allows for pain reduction and decreases the effects of chronic inflammation on the body.

CBD functions as a powerful antioxidant. CBD was found to decrease inflammation in the intestine. It has also been proven to decrease barrier disruption and inflammation in endothelial cells as a result of high glucose, which is important to diabetes research.

Medical cannabis typically has low levels of THC and high levels of CBD. This is achieved by allowing male cannabis plants to pollinate the female plants. When the two are separated and female plants are not pollinated, the concentration of THC increases dramatically. In order to obtain high levels of CBD, it is also possible to extract it from the cannabis plants and take it as a singular ingredient.

THC, in contrast to CBD, has been suspected of being a potentially addictive component in the marijuana plant. THC binds mostly to receptors called CB1, which simply stands for cannabinoid receptor type 1. CB1 receptors can be found mainly in the peripheral and central nervous system. These systems include the brain (minus the brainstem), liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, and pancreas.

CBD can help to dispel some of the psychoactive symptoms of THC and helps prevent the memory loss that can be associated with using the drug. It also has a very low toxicity level. No one has ever died while using CBD, which is in stark contrast to drugs such as aspirin or alcohol; responsible for 1,000 and 110,000 deaths every year respectively.

It is important to note that medical marijuana still contains both CBD and THC. CBD that is extracted and isolated does not contain any THC. However, while medical cannabis is grown to ensure maximum CBD levels, THC levels can sometimes meet this level and their concentration can vary. Medical cannabis is considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance that is only available with a doctor’s prescription, and it is legal only in specific states. CBD that is produced from hemp oil, however, unlike CBD produced from medical marijuana, is perfectly legal for purchase without a prescription and is widely available.

Difference between CBD from Cannabis and Hemp Oil

The compounds from hemp are different compared to medical cannabisCBD can be made from either medically produced cannabis plants, or industrially produced hemp plants. Hemp oil is made from hemp seeds, whereas CBD is made from the leaves, flowers, or stems of the plant. CBD produced from the cannabis plant, on the other hand, can contain high levels of THC, which can help a number of conditions but does have drawbacks with regard to psychotropic side effects or feelings of anxiety. Hemp CBD is safe for all ages due to its insignificant levels of THC. Hemp has a THC concentration of less than 1 percent, lacks flavonoids and terpenes used in healing, and has a CBD concentration of around 4 percent. This means that CBD from hemp is safer to use for certain medical ailments.

Read Part 2 | Part 3

 
© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


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1 Comment

  • Kathy says:

    I tried some CBD oil to reduce histamine in my body and felt calm and free from anxiety for the first time in years! It should be sold over the counter!!