Cannabis is the most popular illicit substance in the world, and prior to aspirin was used in as the primary pain reliever in the Western World.
It is non toxic, and is near impossible to overdose on, and deaths are extremely rare (and linked to pre-existing conditions). Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the key psychoactive compound of cannabis, has been found to be non toxic even following chronic use over the long term. The plant has many potential medical applications and an ever expanding base of research to support its use in medicine.
Cannabis has a very long history of medical use, and at least 85 different cannabinoids have been identified in the plant so far. One of the interesting things that makes cannabis unique from other isolated medicines or pharmaceuticals is that there are a number of these cannabinoids with biological activity, and the total sum of their effect may exceed that of any of the individual compound acting alone.
Sativa plants produce a higher ratio of THC to cannabidiol (CBD), producing a more cerebral, stimulating high, and for this reason are better suited to daytime medical use. While THC is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, CBD is the primary non psychoactive compound in cannabis and is a mild analgesic and antioxidant. While it isn’t psychoactive, it does display anti anxiety effects and can decrease social isolation.
Many cannabis strains have been bred to be high THC and very low CBD, which competes for the same receptors in the brain. Indica plants are more CBD dominant and more sedative in effect, and tend to be preferred for evening or night time use, and are supportive of sleep. There has been much interbreeding between the two species, to produce varying ratios of genetics and THC/CBD rations, with some relatively balanced 50/50 strains.
Higher CBD strains are less likely to induce anxiety than higher THC strains, with CBD balancing out the effect of the THC and having its own anti anxiety effects. The genetics of particular strains is responsible for the potency and THC/CBD ratio of the plant, although this is also influenced by harvesting time.
Hashish tends to have a much higher CBD/THC ratio than most cannabis does; the resin rich indica plants are known to produce more CBD and resin than sativa strains. Choosing the right strains is an important consideration if cannabis is to be used medicinally. People tend to prefer cannabis to pure THC, with the other cannabinoids such as CBD having a balancing effect on the psychoactive effect of the plant.
Israel is at the forefront of medicinal cannabis research, and in stark contrast to the THC dominant strains, high CBD strains have been developed with only trace amounts of THC. These strains are in increased demand and allow people who are seeking the medicinal properties of CBD to use cannabis without getting stoned and so go about their day to day lives clear headed.
Cannabis & the brain
Cannabis may have a positive effect on neurogenesis, or growth of new neurons in the brain. Studies with a synthetic cannabinoid closely related to THC in rats found an increase in hippocampal neurogenesis, with associated anti anxiety and antidepressant behaviour. When this process was blocked via X-irradiation, neurogenesis was blocked and the anti anxiety behaviour was no longer observed, suggesting a link between the two.
Cannabis has been found to protect the white matter of the brain from the neuro-degeneration caused by excessive alcohol in both rodents and humans, and so may protect the brain of drinkers to some degree. Much cannabis has been bred to be high THC and low CBD, which competes for the same receptors in the brain.
CBD itself has been implicated with neurogenesis and as a neuroprotective agent. It is a molecule of increasing medical interest; as well as being a powerful antioxidant; it is an anti psychotic compound that balances out the effects of THC. CBD containing strains may be preferable with regards to brain health, and to get the most out of cannabis, vaporizing and consuming it orally are the most healthy and efficient methods.
Cannabis has been suggested as much safer substitution treatment for alcoholism and cocaine and opiate addiction. Recent research has found CBD to markedly reduce cigarette consumption in smokers, and it may reduce cravings with other substances.
Cannabis is being investigated for a potential treatment to restore brain function after traumatic injury. It may work to precondition the brain against damage from brain injury induced by things such as lack of oxygen, seizures or toxic drug exposure, and increases levels of endogenous neuroprotective compounds and growth factors.
It could be used as a preventative medicine for conditions such as epilepsy and prior to open heart surgery to buffer the brain from injury. Other cannabinoids have been found to have neurotrophic properties. Cannabichromene has been found to enhance survival rates of neural stem progenitor cells as they differentiate into different types of neurone.
Cannabis & Creativity
When ingested in some form, cannabis appears to increase hyper-priming, or the ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, and allows one to transcend ordinary thinking patterns and see remote associations. It can also increase verbal fluency, and it relaxes and lowers inhibition, turning off one’s “inner-editor” and allows thoughts and feelings to flow more freely.
Cannabis also blurs the line between people’s senses and enhances people’s capacity to experience wonder and awe. Creativity however is a very tricky thing to quantify with the scientific method. However numerous musicians, artists and people working in creative industries have found cannabis a source of inspiration.
A number of scientific and technological visionaries used cannabis. The theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould, integrative medicine founder Andrew Weil and psychologist Susan Blackmore all dabbled with cannabis (her first experience with cannabis inspired her to pursue a career in parapsychology).
The preeminent astrophysicist and cosmologist Carl Sagan also used cannabis and advocated its use for the enhancement of intellectual, aesthetic and sensory pursuits. Steve Jobs was known to have experimented with LSD and cannabis, and found his experience to be of great personal value. On the subject he said “The best way I would describe the effect of the cannabis and the hashish is that it would make me relaxed and creative.”
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