During the last 3 years of learning about Medical Cannabis, I have come across many things that have surprised me. I’d like to share my top 5 with you today (and a bonus one at the bottom).
This article is intended to be for information purposes only, and not medical advice. I’ve tried my best to ensure accuracy but Cannabinoid research is ongoing and what I’ve typed now may have changed by the time you read this. But I hope it spurs you on to learn more.
Lets get to it!
Number 1: You can have a medical benefit without getting stoned or high.
I used to think that “medical cannabis” was a tongue-in-cheek joke, or excuse for people to “smoke pot” and pretend to have a medical reason for it. I remember people joking around and saying, “Yeah I smoke it for my glaucoma.”
But this thinking is wrong for many reasons. The first is because you don’t need to get high or stoned to benefit from Cannabis as medicine, and the second is that you don’t need to smoke it.
Most of you have heard of Cannabidiol (or CBD for short), but if you want to learn more about this non-intoxicating molecule, check out my article “What is CBD.”
Number 2: We make Cannabis in our body!
That sounds crazy I know. But our body does make its own cannabis.
Well more correctly we make our own Cannabinoids: the chemicals similar to the ones made by the Cannabis plant.
Since they are made within our body we call them Endocannabinoids. (Endo is a prefix for within or inside.)
Our endocannabinoid molecules act on Cannabinoid receptors that we also make within our body. We call them CB1 and CB2 receptors.
The endocannabinoid molecules and the Cannabinoid receptors make up our “Endocannabinoid System” or ECS for short.
The ECS is spread throughout the body and helps us regulate a large variety of body processes such as sleep, pain, appetite and memory.
It helps us maintain homeostasis (keeps us balanced, or in harmony).
When we use cannabis as medicine we are essentially “borrowing” the cannabinoid molecules from the Cannabis plant to act on our own Cannabis receptors (and other parts of the ECS) to help get us back to a normal state again.
(Yes I created the “artwork” above. Now you can see why I went into Sciences and not Fine Arts.)
This Endocannabinoid System is the “how” and “why” cannabis can be used as a medicine.
Number 3: Humans have cultivated a fascinating variety of Cannabis strains
I think of Cannabis as an umbrella term and underneath that umbrella is dizzying array of cannabis varieties with each having unique properties and attributes.
Humans have taken the basic “landraces” of Cannabis and created a dizzying variety of “strains”.
A landrace is basically the plant as it would have been found, undisturbed in nature.
A “strain” of Cannabis is a chemical variety of Cannabis that has different properties compared to other strains. This can mean one strain has a high amount of CBD and low amount of THC, whereas a different strain may have lots of THC and very little CBD.
Cannabis growers have cultivated plants that have certain qualities or attributes they desire.
Not only does each strain of cannabis have different amounts of the active chemicals called cannabinoids, but each strain also has different smells and tastes due to different kinds and amounts of Terpines and flavonoids respectively.
For many years growers were creating strains that had higher and higher levels of THC, so they would be more intoxicating. (Note to seniors: if you are going to try Cannabis again, its not like the stuff you had back in 1967…so go easy.)
But now with more people interested in the medical benefits of Cannabidiol (CBD) there are more high-CBD strains available compared to 10 years ago.
Keep in mind that because there is a large variety of cannabis strains out there, it means if one product doesn’t work for you it doesn’t mean all cannabis won’t work for you.
It just means the strain, or variety you tried didn’t have the right composition for you. (Or perhaps the dose you were taking wasn’t ideal.)
Number 4: Hemp is Cannabis
Hemp – which has a huge variety of industrial uses – is Cannabis sativa!
It is just a type of Cannabis that makes very little THC (the Cannabinoid that gets you stoned). In Canada, to be considered hemp it needs to contain less than 0.3% THC in the flowering parts of the plant.
Hemp has blossomed in popularity lately because people are once again seeing the value in this hardy plant.
Its fibers can be used to create paper, rope and clothing. Its seeds can be eaten or have the oil pressed to make hemp seed oil.
But I want you to note that hemp seeds do not contain CBD.
Therefore hemp SEED OIL doesn’t contain CBD. So if you go to a farmer’s market and they are selling “hemp oil” you need to realize that if its oil from hemp seeds, it will not contain CBD. It may moisturize the skin but it isn’t going to provide you with cannabinoids like CBD.
For it to contain CBD the “hemp oil” should come from the flowering parts of the plant, and not the seeds.
(Please note the above link is an “affiliate link” meaning if you click on it and go to Amazon and buy something, I make a small commission at no extra charge to you. It helps me cover my website hosting fees. Thank you.)
Number 5: Cannabis won’t shut down your breathing
In Number 2 above I mentioned that there are Cannabinoid receptors all over our body.
Q: But do you know where there are little to no Cannabinoid receptors?
A: In the part of the brain responsible for making us breath.
This means that when we consume cannabis it won’t shut down our breathing. There isn’t receptors in that part of the brain therefore Cannabis won’t affect our ability to keep breathing.
Below I have quoted a fancier way of saying this. “Sparse densities in lower brainstem areas controlling cardiovascular and respiratory functions may explain why high doses of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol are not lethal.” (This is quoted from a 1990 science article about this. Link below)
Contrast this with opioids which have a lots of opioid-receptors in that part of the brain. That is why opioids kill. They stimulate those opioid-receptors in the brain and shut down our breathing drive.
I believe that once doctors hear this, it makes them more willing to “let” their chronic pain patients try Cannabis as medicine in lieu of opioids.
Want to understand what #opioids do in the human body and brain? and how that relates to their dual nature of useful medicine / overdose-causing drug? Read @UNODC “Understanding the global opioid crisis” https://t.co/ZZX47iTjEi #opioidstrategy pic.twitter.com/4PFKate8Mq
— Martin Raithelhuber (@raithelhuber) March 7, 2019
Bonus #6 – American government says Cannabis is illegal, yet another arm of the US Government has a patent on some Cannabinoids!
Cannabis is a “Schedule 1” drug in the USA since 1970 according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (better known as the DEA). Here is quote directly from the DEA’s website. “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” (Accessed March 08, 2019) (website link https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling )
Cannabis has come up for rescheduling a few times (kind of like getting a parole hearing). But the DEA continues to classify it as Schedule 1.
Contrast that with Patent 6,630,507.
What is Patent 6,630,507 ?
Keep in mind that I’m not a patent lawyer, but in the late 1990’s three scientists working for the government filed a patent that was assigned to “The United States of America as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services (Washington, DC)” and it was granted in October 2003.
It states that since the Cannabinoids were discovered to have antioxidant properties they became very interested in it. The patent states: “This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.”
It goes on to state: “The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”
The patent does NOT cover all of Cannabis. So its not like the US Government has patented the natural plant Cannabis, but they are interested in the nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as CBD to use as nerve cell protectants (called neuroprotectants).
The reason I even bring this up is because I find the hypocrisy interesting.
One arm of the government says its illegal and has “no currently accepted medical use” and another arm of the government says “hey this stuff may help protect against stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.”
What makes it really interesting is in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a medication called Epidiolex. Epidiolex is an extract from the cannabis plant: basically it’s a CBD oil approved for the treatment of two kinds of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
So now that Cannabidiol is recognized as having medical benefit did the DEA change its scheduling of Cannabis?
No. The DEA didn’t change the scheduling of cannabis…they only changed the scheduling of the individual product Epidiolex to a Schedule 5 drug. A schedule 5 drug is a drug with “lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and consist of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics.”
So once again I’ll state that I’m not a patent lawyer, but I bring this up to get you thinking about the legal status of this drug and about the all the negative things we were told about this plant growing up.
I hope you also founds these facts surprising.
What have you found surprising about Medical Cannabis? Please comment below.