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Not Just for Getting High – The Underreported Medical Uses of THC

Written by Alexandra Hicks

THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, has a pretty bad reputation and it’s the reason why cannabis continues to be illegal in most of the world to this day.

Contrary to popular belief, however, THC does a lot more for the body and mind than just getting us stoned (although that’s certainly another plus side). It actually has numerous therapeutic uses – including benefits for the brain, digestive system, and more. Benefits that are often hard to come by with other natural remedies.

Cannabis use dates back thousands of years and has been used both recreationally and medicinally throughout the course of its history. As far as the modern, Western world goes, cannabis has been on its way to the mainstream for the last few decades. Beginning in 1970s when some cultural and spiritual changes were going on, then moving forward to 1996 when California became the first state to legalize cannabis use for medicinal reasons.

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What is THC?

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the most abundant cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, and it’s also the only known psychoactive one. In a way, THC has become synonymous with cannabis itself, as when most people refer to cannabis, pot, weed, etc., they’re usually talking about the THC-dominant variety. Due to the intoxicating effects it creates, it’s illegal in most countries, including the United States where it continues to be listed as a Schedule 1 narcotic – despite the fact that its safety profile is great and the risk of addiction and subsequent issues is minimal.

Regardless of the high and the politics though, THC does a lot more than just get people “stoned”. It has some very real and incredibly powerful medical benefits including pain relief, brain regeneration, and treatment for PTSD and depression – but we’ll cover this more in-depth a couple sections down.

Although controversial, studies on the therapeutic power of THC have been going on for decades. In 1964, THC was isolated for the first time by Israeli chemist and Professor, Raphael Mechoulam. It was the very first cannabinoid to be extracted from the plant and studied. This breakthrough marked the beginning of an era of cannabis research, leading to the discovery of other cannabinoids and compounds, as well as the human endocannabinoid system.

THC and the Endocannabinoid System

The reason cannabinoids are so effective and are able to target such a varied range of conditions is because of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS is a network of receptors that can be found throughout the bodies of all mammals. We naturally create cannabinoids in our bodies – called endocannabinoids – which bond to these receptors to regulate different processes in our bodies and maintain internal balance and harmony.

So far, researchers have been able to identify two separate endocannabinoids: 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and anandamide (AEA), as well as two main receptors: CB1 and CB2. 2-AG is a full agonist of both the CB1 and CB2 receptors but it has a more direct association with the CB2 receptor. Because of this, 2-AG is thought to have a substantial influence over the immune system.

Anandamide – The “Bliss” Molecule of the Endocannabinoid System

Anandamide – or AEA – is frequently referred to as the “bliss molecule” and it has a major impact on our state of homeostasis. AEA can help manage things such as appetite, sleep wake cycles, pain response, and then some. Our bodies continuously cycle through anandamide. It breaks down very easily, so it doesn’t stay in the body for long. However, our bodies create it on-demand to maintain homeostasis.

There is a condition referred to as ‘cannabinoid deficiency’, characterized by a body’s inability to produce endocannabinoids. Some experts theorize that many illnesses we suffer from, stem from this shortage of endocannabinoids.

THC is the only major cannabinoid that directly activates both the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain – even CBD (cannabidiol) does not. Other compounds can actually interfere with the way THC impacts the CB receptors, which is precisely why dosing and ratios (THC:CBD), as well as the option to use different cannabinoids, are important factors when it comes to successfully using cannabis-based therapies.

Pain Management

One of the most common, non-recreational uses of cannabis has always been to treat pain. Whether that pain stems from inflammation, headaches, injury, chemotherapy, menstrual cramps, injury, or neuropathic pain – cannabis seems to be able to offer relief in every scenario. Due to the increase in opioid-related deaths, people are turning to cannabis as a way to safely treat their symptoms.

More than 1.5 billion people worldwide live with chronic pain, defined as persistent pain lasting longer than 6 months. Many of these individuals suffer from neuropathic pain or nerve-related pain. Many prescription medications are available to manage pain, but they are dangerous, addictive, and become increasingly less effective over time.

Studies show that THC activates pathways in the central nervous system that block pain signals from reaching the brain. Even an FDA-approved trial in 2013 confirmed THC’s effectiveness for curbing pain. Individuals experiencing neuropathic pain were given low doses of THC (1.29%) in the form of vaporized cannabis. The results, according to the documents, were that “A low dose of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol provided statistically significant 30% reductions in pain intensity when compared to placebo.”

Nausea, Wasting Syndrome, and other Digestive Issues

Anecdotal evidence, or personal accounts, will tell you that THC is actually one of the best remedies on earth for treating digestive issues. However, that’s unfortunately not enough to be considered evidence for most people. Luckily, there are a few emerging studies that back up these sentiments.

How Cannabis Can Provide Quick Relief For Nausea

For example, this study looked at the effects of using THC to treat children suffering from chemotherapy-induced nausea. According to the research, “vomiting was completely prevented and the side effects observed were negligible”.

Further proving its effectiveness, a synthetic version of THC has been used in a prescription drug – Marinol – since the 1980s; although Marinol pales in comparison to real THC and the entourage effect of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids all working together. Additionally, THC can effectively increase appetites and in those who need it most. It’s basically a one and done solution to many issues relating to the stomach and digestive system.

Brain Regeneration and Growth

Did you THC is actually good for the brain? Despite its reputation for causing forgetfulness and “killing brain cells”, when used by elderly patients, it can actually help them focus better and improve their memory. That’s the conclusion of a study conducted by a German-Israeli research team who ran a series of THC tests on elderly mice. Not only did the older mice perform as well as the young, sober mice, but their brain tissue physically changed and showed traits of cognitive youth following THC administration.

THC regenerates non-functioning brain cells and promotes growth of new ones via the activation of the CB1 receptor. More specifically, THC causes brain cells in the hippocampus to grow. THC can also stimulate long-term potentiation, which is a process that helps improve the brain’s ability to learn and store new information, and it can even help protect spacial memories. It’s for this reason that small doses of cannabis can be helpful in treating diseases like Alzheimer’s.  

And just to round out the list of reason why THC is good for the brain, we also have a study that suggests people with THC in their systems are 80% more likely to survive and recover from serious head trauma.

Natural Sleep Aid

According to The Sleep Foundation and the National Institute of Health, “roughly 30 percent of the general population complains of sleep disruption, and approximately 10 percent have associated symptoms of daytime functional impairment consistent with the diagnosis of insomnia.”

Insomnia can come and go, and for many people it goes away naturally and never returns. But for others, it’s there to stay, and when sleep is disrupted, every single organ, system, and function within the body will suffer. In the short term, inadequate sleep can affect mood and judgement, the ability to learn and retain information, and it can increase the possibility of an accident or injury. Over a longer period, lack of sleep can lead to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early death.

Cannabinoids vs Melatonin – What’s the Best Sleep Aid?

Many will attest to the use of THC as a sleep aid, as it can make you feel quite tired, especially when you’re using an indica strain with high levels of THC, and particularly when you are coming down from a “high”. Scientific research on this topic also has the same implications.

This study found that THC can “significantly decrease the time it takes to fall asleep in physically healthy insomniacs.” A small 2008 study indicated that THC can reduce the amount of REM sleep a patient gets which leads to less dreams, but that’s not the case for everyone and a lack of dreaming doesn’t necessarily correlate with poor sleep.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

An estimated  8 percent of Americans currently live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); that’s around 24.4 million people. PTSD is a mental and emotional disorder that can occur after someone has experienced a traumatic event. It’s common in war veterans, rape victims, and other people who have been exposed to violence and trauma.

Symptoms of PTSD can include but are not limited to: agitation, anger, rage, severe anxiety, depression, insomnia, nightmares, social isolation, visual and auditory hallucinations, flashbacks, and the list goes on. It can be an extremely debilitating and crippling condition.  

THC has been proven to be a safe, consistent, and effective treatment option for PTSD. As a matter of fact, some psychiatrists say that cannabis rich in THC is the only worthwhile treatment for PTSD, which is a powerful sentiment. Numerous studies confirm that THC provides relief for many of the PTSD-related symptoms mentioned above.

Antibacterial Against Resistant Microbes

Antibiotic resistance is growing to alarmingly high levels all over the world, in both developed and developing nations. Overtime, bacteria mutates and develops various mechanisms that make it less susceptible to antibiotic treatments. Numerous different infections – including tuberculosis, pneumonia, blood poisoning, gonorrhea, foodborne pathogens, and others – are becoming more difficult, and sometimes impossible to treat.

In a world plagued with antibiotic resistance, look to cannabis as a natural alternative

One of lesser known benefits of using cannabinoids, and THC in particular, is to fight microbes. A small study conducted on rodents showed that THC can change their gut microbes, which is not only a sign that THC can impact bacteria, but that it can also be used for weight management.

A more elaborate study published in the Journal of Natural Products indicated that cannabinoids are indeed effective at fighting various bacteria. So effective in fact, that researchers at MIT were able to use cannabis-based creams to kill antibiotic-resistant pathogens that no other medication could destroy.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there is much more to THC than meets the eye. It’s not just a fun cannabinoid (although yes, it is oh so fun), it’s also a powerhouse of therapeutic benefits. It needs to be studied more, but the fact that it’s still illegal and not being researched, when it can be used to help so many people, is unconscionable. We all have the right to medicate with products that are safe, natural, non-addictive, and that work for us and our individual needs.

Thank you for tuning in to CBD Testers, your source for all things relating to cannabis and hemp. Check back frequently and make sure to subscribe to the Medical Cannabis Business Newsletter for more articles like this one.

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  • I have been in chronic pain for over 40 years and attend the pain clinic of my national health hospital in Tenerife. I have been used the lawful CBD oil under .2% THC for over 2 years starting at 5% and now 20%, although it is helping is there anywhere you can recommend I can obtain a CBD oil containing more THC please.

About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.