The Effects of Medical Marijuana on Diabetes, Arthritis, and More

Medical marijuana uses the marijuana plant or its chemicals to treat certain conditions or diseases. The plant contains over 100 chemicals, which are known as cannabinoids. Some of the most commonly used cannabinoids are cannabidiol, also called CBD, and Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. The cannabinoid called THC produces the high feeling associated with marijuana, while CDB does not.

Medical marijuana is legal in a number of states across the nation. Some of these states allow for restricted use of the plant or chemicals, while others have fewer restrictions placed on the use of medical marijuana. It can treat a number of mental and physical health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, appetite loss, cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, muscle spasms, multiple sclerosis, nausea, and pain.

Cannabinoids are similar to the chemicals produced naturally by the body that help with managing pain, memories, appetite, and movement. Using these chemicals can treat certain symptoms associated with many medical conditions. It can also help reduce anxiety, relieve pain, lessen inflammation, control vomiting and nausea, kill cancer cells, relax tight muscles, improve weight gain, and stimulate the appetite. Depending on the medical condition being treated by medical marijuana, the effects may vary.

Medical Marijuana and Dementia

Although medical marijuana is not known to stop, reverse, slow, or prevent dementia, using it may manage some of the behavioral symptoms associated with this medical condition. Some of the research studies that have been performed involved patients with Alzheimer’s disease. One of the key markers of this disease is clumps of protein built up in the brain. These proteins, called amyloid, have appeared to have been removed from nerve cells by components found within cannabis, according to studies performed in a lab.

Another study involved providing CBD oil and THC to mice that had symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Providing these cannabinoids to the mice showed improvements in learning, as well as a reduction of amyloid clumps found in their bodies. CBD oil may also reduce brain inflammation, as well as manage the symptoms associated with dementia, including anxiety and agitation. These symptoms are extremely difficult to manage in patients who suffer from dementia because they often do not understand why they are experiencing them and may lash out at caregivers, family members, or others around them.

The majority of studies that have been performed on humans with dementia have focused on treating the symptoms of dementia. Other medications that can treat agitation, a common and frustrating side effect of dementia, often have concerning side effects, such as stroke or even death. Cannabinoids react to the body differently than these medications, so they could be a more effective and safer treatment alternative to treat agitation and anxiety.

Further brain study is necessary to determine the full effect of medical marijuana on patients with dementia. The use of these chemicals may not have the same effect on a patient suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease as would occur in a patient with a healthy brain. A research study conducted at Sunnybrook Research Institute focused on adult patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease, providing them a synthetic cannabinoid for a 14-week period.

In this study, the synthetic cannabinoid reduced agitation in the patients who took it. It also reduced behavioral symptoms in general. The next steps involve an emphasis on safety and efficacy, although many of the results so far have been favorable for those suffering the effects of dementia.

Medical Marijuana and Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes widespread pain, often along with fatigue, sleep disturbance, urinary symptoms, depression, cognitive impairment, and digestive symptoms. This disorder is not very well understood, although the pain signals that the brain processes appear exaggerated. As a result, patients with this disorder have an amplified sensation of pain in the soft tissues and muscles.

Scientific evidence continues to show that medical marijuana is an effective and safe treatment for the pain and side effects associated with fibromyalgia. Within the human body is the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in several major processes. These include pain processing, stress response, memory, immune function, temperature regulation, energy metabolism, and the autonomic nervous system.

Since many of the side effects associated with fibromyalgia involve the processes handled by the endocannabinoid system, introducing more cannabinoids through the ingestion or smoking of medical marijuana may improve these functions. A review of research conducted in 2014 looked at how marijuana is used to treat fibromyalgia, along with related conditions like migraines and irritable bowel syndrome. This review suggested that marijuana has the capability to block gastrointestinal, peripheral, and spinal pain.

In patients with fibromyalgia, using medical marijuana can reduce pain and stiffness, enhance relaxation, lessen inflammation, increase feelings of well-being, and help with sleepiness. Another study reported that users of medical marijuana had higher mental health scores than patients who did not use it. A synthetic cannabinoid called nabilone may improve sleep for fibromyalgia patients and can be an alternative to antidepressants prescribed to these individuals.

The side effects of medical marijuana are generally well tolerated, although they may include dry mouth, nausea, dizziness, and reduced control of bodily movements. More long-term studies are needed to know the potential risks of addiction and misuse, as well as the impacts of these side effects on patients over a longer period of time.

Medical Marijuana and Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a condition of the eye in which the optic nerve becomes damaged. As a result, peripheral vision is reduced, although total blindness can occur as well. One of the causes of damage to the optic nerve associated with glaucoma is higher pressure in the eye, also known as intraocular pressure. Research conducted between 1970 and 1990 showed a measurable decrease in intraocular pressure following the use of medical marijuana, although the decrease didn’t occur for several hours after use.

In other studies, using medical marijuana lowered intraocular pressure in about 65 percent of the subjects, with a mean reduction of 25 percent. The action duration is about 3-4 hours, which means patients would have to use marijuana quite often throughout the day to continue to lower the intraocular pressure. Using THC topically as a drop in the eye does not lower intraocular pressure. In fact, studies have shown an increase in ocular irritation among those who used a THC-based eye drop.

Some of the side effects associated with medical marijuana may be of concern to patients with glaucoma. One of the greatest concerns is decreased blood pressure and tachycardia, which can reduce the blood flow to the optic nerve. Since the nerve is already compromised, lessening blood flow could have concerning effects.

Glaucoma is one of the medical conditions for which marijuana is most commonly prescribed. The federal government allowed for the use of marijuana in glaucoma patients following the early research findings from the 1970s. Since more than 60 million people suffer from glaucoma, many are looking for treatment options when traditional therapies haven’t worked to lower intraocular pressure.

Those with end-stage glaucoma may also suffer from other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Since end-stage glaucoma often includes total blindness, it is difficult to treat these symptoms without strong prescription anxiety medications. Using medical marijuana can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression more effectively than other treatment options.

Research hasn’t yet shown exactly how medical marijuana lowers intraocular pressure, so patients may be waiting to better understand how it works before using it. Certain cannabinoids may also produce psychological effects, which patients do not tolerate well. Using cannabinoids that do not produce these psychological effects, such as CBD, may be a better option for patients who do not wish to experience these side effects. However, no current research shows that CBD is more effective at lowering intraocular pressure than other glaucoma treatment options. In fact, the THC in marijuana is what is believed to have an effect on eye pressure.

Medical Marijuana and ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder that impacts millions of people across the United States. It is extremely common in children, although those diagnosed in childhood are likely to experience the side effects for many years and through adulthood. Symptoms of ADHD include daydreaming, fidgeting, trouble getting along with others, squirming, and talking too much.

Those with ADHD often find it extremely difficult to finish a task, organize their thoughts and focus on a specific topic, pay attention to details, and follow instructions. Becoming easily distracted is another sign of ADHD, which makes it difficult to focus.

Researchers don’t know exactly what causes this disorder, although it may be related to inherited genetic traits. A general misconception exists that certain behavioral factors are to blame for ADHD, such as excessive sugar or candy, poor living conditions, a lack of physical exercise, or poor parental discipline. However, no evidence supports these misconceptions about ADHD, although these factors may exacerbate an existing case of ADHD.

Untreated ADHD can cause practical and developmental problems. Some of these include isolation and social stigmatization, lowered performance at school or work, and an inability to reach important milestones. Those suffering from ADHD may also report feelings of depression, anger, and frustration, which make it difficult to live a fulfilling and productive life.

Patients suffering from ADHD have several treatment options, including stimulants, non-stimulants, and behavioral therapy. Stimulants act quickly to rapidly decrease symptoms of ADHD, while non-stimulants are slow-release medications that can exist in the body for up to 24 hours.

Behavior therapy is designed to help ADHD patients overcome behavioral problems that may cause disruptions. The goals of therapy include identifying unwanted behaviors and reinforce desired behaviors instead. In children who are diagnosed with ADHD, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting with behavioral therapy rather than stimulant or non-stimulant medication.  

Some of the commonly used medications for ADHD have concerning side effects, including insomnia, stunted growth, hallucinations, nausea, and tics. Additionally, patients can build up a resistance to the medications over time, causing the effectiveness to decrease.

Medical marijuana has also been used to treat symptoms of ADHD in patients. In order to understand how this option works, it is important to first understand the regulatory system found in the body known as the endocannabinoid system. This system produced endocannabinoids to maintain bodily functions, which are known as CB1 and CB2. Using the cannabinoids found in cannabis can alter the functions of the endocannabinoid system. When using cannabis for anxiety, the introduction of new cannabinoids can activate the body’s serotonin receptors, reducing the symptoms of this mental disorder.

Although marijuana is not a magic solution for ADHD, it may help to ease some of the symptoms associated with this disorder. A study published in Substance & Misuse, a medical journal, analyzed the use of cannabis among more than 2,800 patients with ADHD. A higher proportion of those not using cannabis daily met the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis. Adult patients who suffer the side effects of ADHD and are not well controlled with standard treatment options may experience better results from the use of medical cannabis.

Medical marijuana does not cure ADHD but may offer a different way to approach the treatment and manage symptoms.

Medical Marijuana and Diabetes

Diabetes is a medical condition in which the body cannot process food for use as energy. Much of what we eat turns into glucose, which is used for energy. The pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that allows glucose to enter into the cells. When a patient suffers from diabetes, their pancreas either can’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t use it properly, resulting in a buildup of sugar in the blood. This condition can also lead to serious health complications, including lower-extremity amputations, heart disease, kidney failure, and blindness.

Two types of diabetes exist, called Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes is also called juvenile-onset diabetes, while Type 2 diabetes is known as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Type 2 diabetes is impacted by certain risk factors, including age, obesity, prior history of gestational diabetes, physical inactivity, and a family history of diabetes. This type of diabetes may be controlled with diet, exercise, and/or oral medication, while Type 1 diabetes requires the use of insulin.

According to a research paper published by the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, medical marijuana may offer a number of benefits to patients with diabetes. These benefits include stabilizing of blood sugars, reduction of neuropathy pain and nerve inflammation, anti-inflammatory properties, reduction of muscle cramps and gastrointestinal discomfort, improved circulation, lower blood pressure, and improved arterial and cardiac health. Neuropathy pain is extremely difficult to manage, but some medical marijuana producers offer topical creams that can reduce this type of pain in the hands and feet.

In 2013, a study found in the American Journal of Medicine concluded that compounds of cannabis can help diabetics control their blood pressure, lower their cholesterol, and even reduce the size of their waistlines. This study also showed that marijuana users have lower body mass index (BMI) measurements than non-users and are less likely to be obese.

Using medical marijuana impacts the endocannabinoid system in the body, as previously mentioned, which is why this option can work for diabetics. Cannabinoids, whether introduced to the body or produced naturally, promote homeostasis, or a stable internal environment. Medical marijuana advocates believe that regular, small doses of cannabis can help to mitigate the side effects of diabetes.

Medical Marijuana and Arthritis

Arthritis is a medical condition that causes severe inflammation and pain in the joints. Although many people believe this to be a condition that only impacts older people, juvenile arthritis is a common problem affecting more than 300,000 children across the U.S. Many ointments and medications exist to manage arthritis pain, but some patients are not able to control their symptoms through traditional treatment options. Medical marijuana is also available to treat arthritis.

The diagnosis of arthritis includes more than 200 potential conditions and diseases, such as gout, osteoarthritis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and many more. Nearly a quarter of Americans suffer from arthritis in some form. Initially, you may experience stiffness, swelling, and pain around your joints.

Medical marijuana can help with arthritis pain because it is a known anti-inflammatory agent. The two main cannabinoids that offer anti-inflammatory properties are CBD and THC. These substances can trigger the activation of receptors in the body that reduce pain and inflammation. THC was also shown to change molecules in another study, which suppressed inflammation in patients. CBD can be used topically to relieve inflammation without the psychological side effects associated with THC.

Although medical marijuana isn’t legal in every state yet, it is in consideration among state legislatures across the country. Since this option can treat the symptoms associated with a number of physical and mental health conditions, more patients are looking into medical marijuana as an alternative treatment. Additional research is needed to continue to understand any potential side effects associated with medical marijuana. However, millions of people have already experienced the benefits of medical marijuana, with more people trying this treatment option every day.

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