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Cannabis Education: Potential Benefits

April 3, 2024

Recently, we spoke with Terese Bowors, a cannabis wellness coach in Nelson, BC. We discussed cannabis and its potential benefits and the importance of cannabis education:

“We have recreational and medical access, but we don’t have education to help people navigate the system. This is where I come in: providing that education, answering questions, and bringing in clarity. There’s still a lot of stigma and false information, so I try to educate in a comfortable and understandable way. OGs don’t necessarily know the science because the information hasn’t been available. There are also so many new things to learn more about, like the [endocannabinoid system].”

Terese also mentioned five promising areas in cannabis research: sleep disorders, pain management, cancer support, anxiety and depression, and inflammation. In the spirit of cannabis education, we wanted to discuss these topics and determine what science says about them so far. Below, we’ve summarized the conversations and included links to more research and information.

A big thank you to Terese for sharing her knowledge of the emerging research in the cannabis field.

Please keep in mind: Neither Woody Nelson nor Terese Bowors are medical professionals, and the purpose of this blog is to describe the current state of cannabis research. The educational information provided here should not be considered medical advice, and does not intend to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.

If you have any questions about cannabis and your health, please consult with a medical professional.

Research Notes

As a field, cannabis research is in its early stages. This is primarily because of its legal status and lingering stigma from pre-legalization. A vast majority of early-stage medical research funding comes from the US government institutions, which limits the kind of research that can be done even in places with legalized cannabis, like Canada. This results in a limited scope of funding streams, mainly supporting research areas covering negative effects like impairment, addiction, and unintended consequences (i.e. second-hand smoke).

As an emerging field, most existing studies are done either in vitro (petri dish), with animals, or are preliminary. This means that they might suggest certain things, but they’re not enough to prove anything yet because they have yet reached the clinical trial stage.

Also, what they’re testing matters a lot, too. For example, a lot of CBD research is done with isolate, meaning that they’re only investigating CBD. The same goes for things like THC or other applicable compounds. As pharmaceutical research aims to identify compounds that can be further studied and developed into drugs, purity is critical to repeatability. An emerging class of drugs derived from cannabis, or cannabis-related compounds, for hard-to-treat conditions is increasing the interest in the utility of specific cannabis and cannabinoids in clinical research in the pharmaceutical industry. However,  as we anecdotally know, things like supporting cannabinoids and terpenes can make a difference in how something may affect you.

Just keep in mind that while the science of cannabis is still early-stage. People have been using cannabis for hundreds of years before the scientific community started to research it, so it’s essential to recognize the value of personal experience or tribal knowledge in shaping our opinions about cannabis.

A Matter of Full Spectrum

The current cannabis research landscape in relation to health effects is focused on understanding how THC, CBD, ancillary cannabinoids and other compounds affect us — in isolation. Researchers are beginning to recognize what is known as the entourage effect when the synergies of the individual compounds (CBD, THC, terpenes and other supporting compounds) work together to amplify one another. If the entourage effect is desired, a full spectrum product will provide the greatest diversity of compounds, including minor cannabinoids and terpenes, as compared to distillate or isolate products.

When it comes to the synergy between THC and CBD, Terese summed up the conversation well:

“Combining THC and CBD enhances therapeutic effects. While THC and CBD each address symptoms independently, their synergy can lead to more effective results. A small amount of THC can entice CBD in the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body, producing an entourage effect that amplifies their therapeutic benefits. While CBD alone has numerous advantages, its effectiveness may be significantly diminished.

There’s also a lot of overlap between THC and CBD, where they both provide similar benefits in things like pain relief, anxiety/depression, anti-inflammatory benefits, and reducing muscle spasms.”

To summarize, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts: it is essential to consider the ancillary compounds at play when considering the net effects of the product, not just the THC.

Below, we have detailed several promising areas of cannabis research with bodies of high-quality evidence for medical benefit.

1.     Sleep Disorders

Anecdotally, one of the main things cannabis is often used for is to help with sleep. Many people can attest to its relaxing and anti-stress effects, and it’s known to be a popular substitute for other sleep aids. CBD is the primary compound researched in this area, and you can learn more about it here. A body of research about THC specifically is emerging on how it may impact dreaming, REM sleep, and our sleep cycles. As mentioned above, a large part of the reason that cannabis is promising with sleep is the role of supporting cannabinoids and compounds.

If you’re looking for more detailed information, we recommend this article published by The Sleep Foundation on cannabis and sleep.

One interesting thing to note is the contrast between Indica and Sativa strains, with the former being described as more a more relaxing form of cannabis. Since most cultivars nowadays are hybrids of the two, strain characterization is nuanced. For more information about strains, check out what we wrote here.

2.     Pain Management

Among many users, cannabis is synonymous with pain-management properties. There is a growing compendium of research to support this use, ranging from how cannabis impacts our bodies and the endocannabinoid system in general, to potentially assisting in more specific issues, like arthritis, exercise, periods and hormonal disorders, headaches, and sex.  

A CBD-based pharmaceutical called Nabiximols (Sativex) has been approved for use within Canada as a potential pain reliever for the discomfort associated with advanced cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Currently, there is great interest in, CBD and pain management – at this time, however, there is less research on the potential role of THC.

When it comes to sex and THC, Terese added:

“THC can help reduce pain and discomfort and helps get the juices flowing. THC enhances our sexy vibes by helping us get in the mood and by reducing pain. CBD supports mental presence and reduces anxiety.”

3.     Cancer Support

One of the original use cases for medical cannabis is cancer patient support. In palliative care, cannabis is useful for alleviating nausea, reducing pain, and stimulating appetite in cancer patients.

High-quality research suggests that cannabis may help to mitigate tumour growth under specific conditions. There is evidence to support cannabis being used as a treatment for things like nausea, pain relief, and to help trigger appetite, and promising research suggests cannabis may help improve cancer patient’s quality of life.

4.     Anxiety and Depression

When it comes to anxiety, research indicates that THC and CBD impact anxiety differently. Evidence suggestsTHC in low doses may help with anxiety, while higher doses may exasperate it. In contrast, an early-stage body of research may indicate the efficacy of high or low doses of CBD. However, this has yet to be widely studied in a clinical setting.

With depression, evidence exists to support that THC either doesn’t help with, or may actually exasperate depression. There may be a link between depression and cannabis use, but the nature of that link is still unclearand under researched. It is important to note that Health Canada warns that THC can cause anxiety and impair memory and concentration.  

When it comes to mental health and cannabis, Terese says:

“Cannabis can be used for anxiety and depression, but CBD is particularly important for these challenges.”

5.     Controlling Inflammation

There is a growing body of research to support the role of cannabis in controlling inflammation. CBD has been studied extensively as a possible anti-inflammatory compound, and you can learn more in our posts about arthritis, covid-19, and migraines.

Findings indicate that cannabis may help to reduce inflammation related to covid-19; however, this evidence suggests these effects have less to do with THC specifically and more to do with different cannabinoids, such as CBG and CBD.

About Terese Bowors

Terese is a Cannabis Wellness Coach from Nelson. She’s completed her Cannabis Coaching Certificate, Interpener Certificate, and Cannabis Consultant Training. Terese is also on the Board of Directors with EduCanNation.  She currently offers Sacred Cannabis Ceremonies to individuals who wish to embark on a sacred journey guided by the wisdom of Cannabis. Check out the details here.

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