Cannabis: A Powerful Therapy To Reduce Chronic Medications and Prevent Disease
Cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive part of cannabis plant has been proven medically to relieve many diseases including the inhibition of cancer cell growth. Recent studies have even shown it to be an effective atypical anti-psychotic in treating schizophrenia, a disease many other studies have inconsistently found it causing. There is little doubt now that cannabis is gaining strong ground as a valid therapy and the government engine which criminalizes the plant is find less support by the day. Cannabis offers relief where medications fail and the benefits are overwhelming.
Raw cannabis is considered by many experts as a dietary essential. As a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, some classify it as one of the most important plants on earth. The biggest benefits from the plant may come not by smoking it, but rather by consuming it in its raw and natural form.
The first research to show marijuana's anti-tumor properties was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Los Angeles in 2007 demonstrating that THC may activate biological pathways that halt cancer cell division or block development of blood vessels that feed tumors. It then became a target of synthetic research into THC for drugs such as ImClone System Inc.'s Erbitux and Amgen Inc.'s Vectibix.
Cannabis is a Class B drug that is illegal to have, give away or sell. “If cannabis were discovered in an Amazon rainforests today, people would be clambering to make as much use as they could out of the potential benefits of the plant,” said Donald L. Abrams, MD, Chief of Hematology and Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and Professor of Medicine at the University California. Dr. Abrams is widely known for his research on medical cannabis applications. "Unfortunately, it carries with it a long and not so long history of being a persecuted plant," he added.
In 2009, Zach Klein, a graduate of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Film and Television Studies, directed the documentary Prescribed Grass. Through the process, he developed an interest in the scientific research behind medical marijuana, and now, as a specialist in policy-making surrounding medical cannabis and an MA student at TAU’s Porter School of Environmental Studies, he is conducting his own research into the benefits of medical cannabis.
Using marijuana from a farm called Tikkun Olam -- a reference to the Jewish concept of healing the world -- Klein and his fellow researchers tested the impact of the treatment on 19 residents of the Hadarim nursing home in Israel. The results, Klein says, have been outstanding. Not only did participants experience dramatic physical results, including healthy weight gain and the reduction of pain and tremors, but Hadarim staff saw an immediate improvement in the participants’ moods and communication skills. The use of chronic medications was also significantly reduced, he reports.
Cutting down on chronic medications
Israel is a world leader in medical cannabis research, Klein says. The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, was first discovered there by Profs. Raphael Mechoulam and Yechiel Gaoni. Prof. Mechoulam is also credited for having defined the endocannabinoid system, which mimics the effects of cannabis and plays a role in appetite, pain sensation, mood and memory.
Marijuana also effects a neurological aspect of Alzheimer’s called acetylcholinesterase inflammation, which is the over acceleration of synaptic activity killing nerve endings in the brain. The inflammation is a major cause of decreased function with Alzheimer’s disease. Cannabis interacts with the CB1 receptors in the brain to inhibit the inflammation, much like oil inhibits car engines from overheating. The endocannabinoid system when activated bonds with the nerve endings in the brain and provide a coating that protects from the “burn out” effect caused by the inflammation and preventing the decreased brain activity that is associated with memory loss and confusion.
In the Hadarim nursing home, 19 patients between the ages of 69 and 101 were treated with medical cannabis in the form of powder, oil, vapor, or smoke three times daily over the course of a year for conditions such as pain, lack of appetite, and muscle spasms and tremors. Researchers and nursing home staff monitored participants for signs of improvement, as well as improvement in overall life quality, such as mood and ease in completing daily living activities.
During the study, 17 patients achieved a healthy weight, gaining or losing pounds as needed. Muscle spasms, stiffness, tremors and pain reduced significantly. Almost all patients reported an increase in sleeping hours and a decrease in nightmares and PTSD-related flashbacks.
There was a notable decline in the amount of prescribed medications taken by patients, such as antipsychotics, Parkinson’s treatment, mood stabilizers, and pain relievers, Klein found, noting that these drugs have severe side effects. By the end of the study, 72 percent of participants were able to reduce their drug intake by an average of 1.7 medications a day.
Connecting cannabis and swallowing
This year, Klein is beginning a new study at Israel’s Reuth Medical Center with Drs. Jean-Jacques Vatine and Aviah Gvion, in which he hopes to establish a connection between medical cannabis and improved swallowing. One of the biggest concerns with chronically ill patients is food intake, says Klein. Dysphagia, or difficulty in swallowing, can lead to a decline in nutrition and even death. He believes that cannabis, which has been found to stimulate regions of the brain associated with swallowing reflexes, will have a positive impact.
Overall, Klein believes that the healing powers of cannabis are close to miraculous, and has long supported an overhaul in governmental policy surrounding the drug. Since his film was released in 2009, the number of permits for medical cannabis in Israel has increased from 400 to 11,000. His research is about improving the quality of life, he concludes, especially for those who have no other hope.
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.