What Are the Secondary Benefits
of Medical Cannabis?
By John Malanca
“. . . what happens in patients that have serious medical conditions to their quality of life . . . that are treated with cannabis . . . less anxiety, less depression, better neurocognitive function, and better overall function.” –Dr. Dustin Sulak
Unlike traditional pharmaceuticals which focus on a specific condition or symptom, the compounds in the cannabis plant serve many healing purposes.
To learn about how different ratios and products affected patients, Dr. Zach Walsh,1 University of British Columbia Department of Psychology, used clinical information from various studies and collected anecdotal (patient accounts) from select medical cannabis dispensaries.
The results from Dr. Walsh's study,2 Medical Cannabis and Mental Health: A Guided Systematic Review, were published in the Clinical Psychology Review.
Below are some secondary benefits of using medical cannabis either in conjunction with, or in place of, traditional medications.
Much time is spent discussing the healing benefits of medical cannabis and all the different conditions it treats, varying from chronic pain3 and gastrointestinal issues4 , to skin conditions such as psoriasis.5 It is important to stress that the sacred plant can do so much more.
Many illnesses come with secondary problems, such as trouble sleeping or staying asleep, depression, anxiety, and impact on cognitive functions.
Whether one or several secondary issues are present, they can reduce the effectiveness of traditional treatment and could require treatment by other medications, all of which can have their own side effects.
Medical Cannabis is a Sleep Aid
Sleep problems are one of the most common reasons people seek medical cannabis. However, painful medical conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, diabetic neuropathy, and many other ailments leave patients unable to fall or stay asleep.
In Dr. Walsh's study, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) patients reported that using THC orally reduced the number of nightmares they were experiencing and improved their overall quality of sleep.
A 20026 research paper found that THC stabilized the respiratory function in rats with sleep-related apnea. Then a study in 20057 discovered comparable results for patients experiencing pain and sleep disturbances from multiple sclerosis (MS.)
Medical Cannabis Can Reduce Depression and Anxiety
Similar to how painful medical conditions can cause sleep disturbances, over time they can lead to depression and even anxiety.8 The stress, stigma, and reduction in quality of life can take a toll on the mind.
Narcotics can reduce pain. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can treat the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, when these medicines are prescribed together, which they often are, it can be a deadly combination.
Patients don't have to take this gamble. Using cannabis for therapeutic purposes is safe, and effective for treating both your condition and any related secondary ailments. In his paper, Walsh explains —
“Relief of negative mood is a prominent motive for cannabis use, and early European accounts of CTP highlight antidepressant effects. We identified 9 cross-sectional studies of CTP and depressed mood, 7 of which noted mood improvement among the salutary effects of CTP…
These effects appear to be consistent across condition and were evident in studies that examined specific patient groups such as pain, HIV, and multiple sclerosis, and in studies that examined CTP use across diverse conditions.”
Research also dispels the myth that cannabis causes depression. A 20129 article in the BMC Psychiatry Journal found no evidence that cannabis use increases the risk of depression for participants ages 18-20 years.
How does medical cannabis treat these secondary conditions?
As you may already know, cannabis products have different ratios of various beneficial compounds, including CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids. Researchers know that different ratios of these compounds have unique healing properties.
For example, a practitioner may recommend that an arthritis patient who is also experiencing secondary symptoms of anxiety take a whole plant medicine with a high CBD10 ratio during the day to reduce inflammation from the arthritis.
At the same time, the practitioner will recommend that, at night, the same patient use a cannabis product with a higher ratio of THC to treat pain, inflammation, and as a sleep aid. The THC will help the patient sleep, and if they increase the CBD at the same ratio, they are less likely to experience the feelings of euphoria (psychoactive effects) from the THC.
Patients may need to work with their physician or medical cannabis professional to find the right cannabis plant formulation that best treats their initial and secondary conditions.
It may take several trips to the dispensary, and different plant compositions to treat different symptoms. However, unlike traditional pharmaceuticals, medicinal cannabis doesn't have severe or potentially deadly side effects.
Researchers and practitioners are still learning about the benefits and role of the minor cannabinoids, and other compounds in cannabis in different treatments. They do know that they work best together rather than as isolates (single compound medications, such as CBD or THC only).
If you live in a state or country with a medical cannabis program, please consider using a whole plant medicine to get the full benefits of the sacred plant.
To recap, studies clearly show that using cannabis for medicinal purposes can do more for your overall health than simply reduce the pain and other symptoms associated with dozens of ailments and diseases.