4 Ways Cannabis Can Save a Life
The federal law classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that it has a high possibility of abuse and has no medical applications — but increasingly, that designation is being proved false. Knowledge about how cannabis affects the human body is improving thanks to state regulations that permit cannabis cultivation and study, and more and more research points to vast medical applications for the drug.
Since the 1970s, doctors and nurses have been clandestinely using cannabis to make patients more comfortable and save lives, and today, we know that the drug has an important place as a life-saving treatment. Here are just a few known cases where cannabis can keep users alive and thriving:
Epilepsy is a category of neurological disorders that causes seizures, or an uncontrolled burst of electrical activity in the brain. The fourth most common neurological disorder, epilepsy can be caused by all manner of issues, like congenital malformations of neurological tissue, physical injury, infection and more. Some forms of epilepsy result in infrequent seizure events that are easy to manage with medication or lifestyle changes, but other forms of epilepsy are incredibly severe, resulting in many seizures every day and preventing sufferers from achieving any sense of well-being. Forms of epilepsy that develop in childhood can be particularly devastating, preventing proper neurological, physiological or behavioral development.
Enter: CBD. Cannabidiol is the second-most prevalent unique compound in the cannabis plant. Though it is not psychoactive, it appears to have some influence on neurological processes. Though research on CBD is difficult, early laboratory studies, clinical studies and anecdotal reports have all shown that CBD has the potential to reduce the frequency of seizure events in those with epilepsy that is otherwise unmanageable with traditional treatments. Already, the FDA has approved a CBD-based medication for childhood epilepsy, like Dravet syndrome and Sturge-Weber syndrome.
Cannabis consumption does not cure cancer. Some studies have found that applying certain cannabinoids onto tumors can help slow or reverse the growth of those tumors, suggesting that compounds within cannabis do have some anti-tumorigenic properties. However, those same cannabinoids, when applied to other types of tumors, can in fact enhance growth. Scientists aren’t yet sure how or if cannabis will ever be a useful tool in fighting cancer directly.
Instead, cannabis is remarkably beneficial in mitigating the negative side effects of existing cancer treatments. In particular, chemotherapy tends to disrupt digestion severely, causing nausea and vomiting and resulting in a dangerously low appetite. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the dominant compound within cannabis, most famously responsible for getting users high. However, THC binds in great numbers to receptors in users’ digestive systems, helping to eliminate nausea and improve appetite in one. Thus, cancer patients can obtain the comfort and nutrients they need to survive their disease.
Anorexia is a common disease among lists of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana programs, it is one of a handful of conditions that allow patients to visit a medical marijuana dispensary in Bethesda, Maryland. What many don’t realize is that anorexia is the deadliest psychiatric disorder, four times more likely to result in mortality than major depression. This is primarily because the disease actively harms the physical body; unlike many mental disorders which indirectly result in bodily harm, anorexia depletes the body of energy stores and forces it to metabolize organs like the heart, liver and kidneys. Eventually, these organs fail, resulting in death.
Cannabis can help sufferers of anorexia regain a sense of hunger. Using the same compound beneficial to cancer treatment, cannabis stimulates the appetite and allows anorexia sufferers to gain healthy weight to keep them alive. As a bonus, the psychoactive elements of the drug can also help distract or repair the disordered mental state that results in the disease.
To some, it seems counterintuitive to fight one substance capable of abuse with another substance capable of abuse, but the truth is that states with legalized medical and recreational cancer programs have seen a dramatic decline in opioid-related overdoses. The reasons for this are manifold, but primarily, those with chronic conditions can seek treatment through cannabis instead of opioids. Because cannabis is all but impossible to overdose on — at least in the conventional sense of the word “overdose” — disease and death as a result of this medical treatment are much less likely to occur.
It is easy to look at all the benefits of cannabis proven by medical research today and call that green herb a “miracle,” but the truth is that it is merely a previously untapped resource. As Western medicine adopts cannabis as a treatment, weed will become more commonplace for patients to seek, and it will save even more lives as time goes on.