Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding marijuana has long limited the amount of medical research that could be conducted on its potential health benefits. While some studies have been conducted on short- and long-term cannabis use—and the field has expanded greatly in the past few years—there are still a lot of unknowns.
Take alcohol, for example. Even after decades of studying alcohol (something with far less stigma than marijuana), it seems like every time we turn around, there’s another study that makes us rethink its benefits and hazards. Is red wine good for your heart? Bad for your heart? Depends on who you ask. Likewise, our understanding of the health effects of marijuana will continue to grow and change as more studies are conducted.
While we’re happy to share what we have read and learned about medical marijuana research, keep in mind that this isn’t medical advice. As our original Gentleman Toker likes to say, “I’m a Gentleman, dammit, not a Doctor!” You should consult a physician on all medical matters.
Is Marijuana Healthy?
Like many substances, the health effects of cannabis are heavily dependent on how it is used.
Studies show that heavy, constant marijuana smoking may be associated with negative health outcomes. However, cannabis products have been used to treat specific health issues, including anxiety, pain, nausea, and inflammation.
There is a lot of research still to be done, but many consumers have reported that marijuana has alleviated their symptoms. Whether cannabis products are actually treating the source of the problem or just alleviating certain symptoms is continuing to be researched.
How Much Marijuana Does One Need to Consume to Reap Health Benefits?
That is going to depend on what kind of cannabis product you are using and the symptom you are trying to treat.
Some people experiencing pain or inflammation will use a small amount of topical CBD ointment or a few drops of a tincture. People experiencing other forms of pain or nausea will smoke cannabis or use an edible. The potential health benefits of cannabis will vary for each person depending on several factors, including their previous history of THC. If you’re a newbie, we recommend starting small.
Do Sativa and Indica Provide Different Health Benefits?
Users typically find indica to have relaxing effects, so they often consume indica when they need help falling asleep, alleviating anxiety, or mitigating pain. It is also commonly used to treat muscle spasms, PTSD, inflammation, or low appetite.
Sativa is associated with more energizing effects. People often consume sativa to combat mental fog, fatigue, nausea, and depression.
Since every strain has its own unique effects, they are not one-size-fits-all. There are also hybrid strains and products that may be used for a variety of symptoms.
Popular Claims of Potential Weed Health Benefits
Cannabis for Pain
One of the most common uses of cannabis is to alleviate pain. While some doctors contend that the perceived health benefits of weed in regard to pain are not much different than placebo, the issue is still being studied. Doctors admit that they still don’t fully understand the neurotransmitters, including endocannabinoids, that are produced by cannabis use.
Studies have found that there may be cannabis health benefits specifically related to chronic pain caused by nerve damage, but that research is still ongoing. Some studies also show that medical marijuana legalization may help reduce people turning to illegal means of pain reduction, such as opioid use.
Cannabis for Nausea
One recent study found that cannabis produced “immediate relief from symptoms of nausea.” Scientists found that phytocannabinoids stimulate the brain region that is related to the feeling of nausea, but why it appears to be able to produce such fast and effective results is still being studied.
Cannabis for Mental Health
Many people use marijuana to treat a variety of mental health issues, including PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
Studies indicate that marijuana decreases anxiety when taken in small doses, but it can increase anxiety at higher doses. The effects are also going to be dependent on your tolerance for THC and the strain or product that you use. CBD also appears to decrease anxiety, but it does not seem to increase anxiety at higher doses.
Many people carry a misconception that cannabis causes depression. While studies show that many people who experience depression use cannabis, there is no evidence that it causes depression. Instead, the correlation appears to come from people turning to cannabis in an attempt to alleviate depression.
While there is some evidence that “alteration in the endocannabinoid system could potentially benefit patients suffering from depression”, it has not been fully tested in a medical research environment. Previous studies may also indicate that the benefits of using marijuana for depression are short-lived, but the data are not conclusive.
At least one small study indicated that THC may decrease PTSD-induced nightmares, but the research in this area remains slim.
Cannabis for Epilepsy
Several pieces of research have shown that CBD could help control seizures, including in people who have not been helped by other methods, but (as always) there is much that has yet to be fully understood.
Cannabis for Appetite Stimulation
We all know about marijuana’s reputation for causing “the munchies,” but you may not know that there are some people who may be able to significantly benefit from appetite stimulation. People who have been diagnosed with cancer, HIV, or anorexia often experience extreme weight loss. Studies have shown that THC increases appetite, which may help encourage weight gain in people suffering from a disease.
Cannabis for Sleep Disorders
One of the most common reasons that people take medical marijuana is to relieve insomnia. Certain strains of weed are popular because of their ability to make people feel sleepier. People who have participated in studies on the effects of cannabis on insomnia have been able to improve their sleep and even quit taking a prescription sleep aid.
Cannabis for Combatting Addiction
Since marijuana is commonly used to treat symptoms such as pain or depression, some people try to use marijuana to get off other addictive substances, such as alcohol or opioids. While there is some evidence that marijuana can relieve some of the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, other studies have shown the opposite effect. More research will be needed before conclusions can be drawn. If you’re struggling with addiction, it’s best to talk with a doctor first before experimenting with trading one vice for another.
A few studies have shown that CBD could have “therapeutic properties on opioid, cocaine, and psychostimulant addiction,” but the research is still ongoing.
Health Risks of Marijuana
Just as marijuana has a list of potential health benefits, it also has a list of potential health hazards that are being researched. As you might have guessed, the potential hazards are heavily related to how you consume THC and how much you take over a period of time. There are fewer potential health risks believed to be associated with CBD oil than with smoking marijuana, for example.
Research has shown that marijuana may have adverse effects on young people (and possibly pregnant women, with research still ongoing), which is why it is crucial to make sure cannabis products are consumed responsibly and secured safely when not in use.
As always, research continues to be conducted on the health effects of marijuana. Be sure to talk to a doctor before using marijuana to treat a health condition.
Potential Side Effects
Like any drug, cannabis will affect each person differently, and it is important to research the potential side effects. Some people can experience headaches, dry mouth, light-headedness, fatigue, nausea, and confusion when using cannabis.
Most of these effects will depend on how cannabis is consumed. If you decide to use cannabis, it is best to start with a small amount until you learn more about how that particular product affects you.
Medical Marijuana: Cannabis as Medicine
Depending on the state you live in, a doctor can prescribe you medical marijuana for a variety of illnesses. The laws and regulations surrounding marijuana have changed significantly in the last few years, and those changes are likely to continue. Be sure to stay up to date on local regulations if you are considering using medical marijuana.
Does Health Insurance Cover Medical Marijuana?
Since marijuana remains illegal at a federal level, insurance companies will not cover medical marijuana. However, that may change as marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug is currently under review by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
How Do I Get a Medical Cannabis Card?
That’s going to depend on your state and its current regulations. Be sure to research the legal regulations on how to get a medical marijuana card in your state. If you’re in DC, it recently became much easier to self-certify your need for medical marijuana and obtain a card.
Find DC Dispensaries
Looking for cannabis products near you? The DC area has some great dispensaries for both recreational and medical marijuana.