Most people are familiar with the healing potential of medical cannabis for people who are already ill. In states where its medicinal use has been legalized, cannabis is prescribed to help with things like relieving the side effects of chemo, reducing chronic pain, and treating anxiety. Some even go as far as to say they’ve cured themselves from cancer or turned around autoimmune diseases.
But what if taking small amounts of cannabis on a regular basis, as if it were just another health supplement, could actually prevent illnesses before they happen? Sounds far fetched, right? But studies show that it might just be true.
Endocannabinoid System Keeps Us in Balance
The reason cannabis is effective for so many conditions is because it interacts with a physiological system called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) — a complex network of receptors that acts like a dimmer switch to all other activity in the body. This means when there is too much or too little activity going on somewhere, the ECS kicks in and brings it back into equilibrium. Our bodies are filled with ECS receptors that are perfect fits both for our own natural chemicals called endocannabinoids and also for the ones coming from plants such as cannabis.
If our ECS is weakened and not functioning properly, introducing plant cannabinoids into our system gives it a helping hand to get on with the job of keeping our system functioning optimally. So if we are in balance, we are less likely to develop disease.
Let’s take a look at some more specific ways that cannabis could prevent us from getting sick.
- Reducing Chronic Inflammation Lessens Our Chances of Getting Age Related Illnesses
One of the compounds in cannabis, CBD, has been shown by scientists to reduce chronic inflammation in the body. Why is this important? Studies show that chronic, systemic inflammation is potentially the root of many of the illnesses associated with ageing, including everything from autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and MS, neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, heart disease, and even cancer.
CBD decreases the production and release of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body as well as reduces the amount of the fatty acid amidohydrolase — the enzyme that breaks down the body’s own anti-inflammatory endocannabinoid Anandamide. So taking CBD equals less chronic inflammation in the body and better longterm health.
- A Powerful Antioxidant
Life in the modern age puts our bodies under oxidative stress as we are constantly bombarded by free radicals that can, when out of balance, interfere with cell components and ultimately lead to many conditions such as neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, and heart disease, amongst others.
Turns out that CBD, along with other plant compounds within cannabis, is a powerful antioxidant, so much so that it has even been patented by the US government.
- A Healthy Endocannabinoid System Means a Healthy You
Ok, so you remember the Endocannabinoid System and how it keeps things working in balance? A theory has been developed by Dr. Ethan Russo suggesting that many of the difficult to explain illnesses such as IBS, fibromyalgia, and migraines could be explained by a deficient ECS. He says, “If you don’t have enough endocannabinoids you have pain where there shouldn’t be pain. You would be sick, meaning nauseated. You would have a lowered seizure threshold. And just a whole litany of other problems.” And what’s the best way of topping up the endocannabinoid gas in your tank? You guessed it, taking cannabis.
- CBD Reduces Chronic Anxiety
Having chronic anxiety is a surefire way to weaken the immune system, and sufferers are more prone to health problems such as high blood pressure in later life. Studies show that CBD reduces anxiety levels due to its interplay with the 5HT1-A receptor, a serotonin receptor found throughout the brain and in high densities in the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala — all heavily involved in mood and anxiety disorders. Human trials have shown it to be particularly effective for social anxiety disorder.
- Regulates Blood Sugar Levels
Most people have heard of cannabis causing the ‘munchies,’ but counterintuitively in regular cannabis users, pigging out doesn’t generally result in wider waistlines. One theory is that cannabis positively affects the body’s metabolism.
Scientists also believe it may potentially regulate blood sugar levels. According to one study published in the American Journal of Medicine, “current marijuana use was associated with 16% lower fasting insulin levels and 17% lower HOMA-IR (insulin resistance).” More research is currently underway to see if cannabis can be used to treat diabetes, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that it could help to prevent it.
- Now for the Controversial One — Prevent Cancer?
At any one time an average person will find some cancer cells in their body. THC, the cannabinoid that gets you high, increases the manufacturing of Ceramide (a metabolite that encourages the death of cancer cells), leaving the healthy ones intact.
CBD has also been shown to be anti-proliferative, so it could prevent cancer cells from spreading. It also strengthens the immune system, thus helping to fight cancer cells off.
So it is possible that both cannabinoids could potentially nip cancer cells in the bud before they get to form into something malignant.
- Youthful Skin
Cannabis based beauty products are huge right now due to their powerful antioxidant and inflammatory properties combined with purported anti-ageing powers.
The stimulation of endocannabinoid receptors through topical use of cannabis creams could explain their ability to heal and smooth damaged skin. Plus cannabis plants are packed full of the essential fatty acid Omega 3, which helps to keep skin hydrated and protected from sun damage.
- Protect Your Joints
A three year Canadian study funded by the Arthritis Society has shown that cannabinoids don’t just dampen pain, but can actually repair damaged joints. And let’s not forget those Omega 3s. Found in abundance in hemp oil, they make the perfect lubricant to keep us well-oiled and mobilized.
So taking cannabis could be as much about protecting our joints as reducing the pain and inflammation once the damage is done.
- Strengthen Those Bones
Endocannabinoid receptors are involved in bone formation and protecting against age related bone loss conditions such as osteoporosis. Both THC and CBD facilitate the process of bone metabolism, in which old bone is replaced with new, and CBD has even been shown to enhance the healing process after a bone fracture.
- Reduce Hardcore Prescription Meds
In the U.S. approximately 12 million people currently take opioid based prescription medicines, with prescription painkiller related deaths rising steadily. Many people find taking cannabinoids alongside their prescription painkillers an effective means to gradually wean themselves off their medication, which can only have health benefits in the long term.
- Protect Your Brain
There’s so much we don’t know about those 3lbs of jelly-like tissue between our ears. But what we do know is that the ECS is integrally linked to the process of neurogenesis in which new neurons are generated and integrated into the developed brain.
Dr Gary Wenk, PhD, a professor of neuroscience, immunology and medical genetics at Ohio State University, recommends consuming small amounts of cannabis daily to protect against brain inflammation and restore neurogenesis. He’s coined the catchy phrase “a puff is enough” because, as he says, “it appears as though only a single puff each day is necessary to produce significant benefit.”
Dr. Wenk’s suggestion is all fine and good if you happen to live in a part of the world where consuming cannabis is legal (although the jury’s out on whether smoking is the best form of ingestion), but for most people, this isn’t the case. So then what? Luckily the non psychoactive cannabinoid CBD is also found in industrial hemp which, due to having next to no traces of THC, is legal in most countries and has been shown by scientists to also have neuroprotective potential.
It all makes for a pretty convincing case that regular, low level cannabis consumption could prevent many of the diseases that threaten our health as we get older. And who knows, one day we may indeed just take it like any other health boosting supplement or vitamin.
By: MARY BILES