Medicinal Benefits of Cannabis: Current Research and Future Prospects

The idea of cannabis being used medicinally is not new. For centuries, cultures across the world have revered this plant for its therapeutic properties. Yet, it is only in recent times that science has begun to systematically unravel its true potential as a medicine. Let’s delve deeper into the evolving narrative of marijuana in healthcare and explore the current medicinal benefits of cannabis and its future prospects.

I. Introduction

The story of medicinal cannabis is as old as that of traditional medicine itself. From ancient China to Egypt and Greece, references to the therapeutic use of this herb dot our historical tapestry. Its controversial reputation, however, means that it’s taken centuries for modern science to catch up and for public perception to evolve. Today, we stand at an exciting crossroads of pioneering research and significant medical breakthroughs.

The first documented case of the use of cannabis dates back to 2800 BC, when it was listed in the Emperor Shen Nung’s (regarded as the father of Chinese medicine) pharmacopoeia.

The University of Sydney

II. The Basics of Cannabis and Its Compounds

The cannabis plant is an intricate mosaic of compounds. Central to its medical narrative are cannabinoids – chemical compounds known to interact with the human endocannabinoid system. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most studied, with the former being psychoactive and the latter non-psychoactive. But there’s more to cannabis than just cannabinoids. The plant also contains terpenes and flavonoids, compounds believed to offer therapeutic benefits, from anti-inflammatory effects to potential neuroprotective roles.

The cannabis plant contains more than 100 compounds (or cannabinoids). These compounds include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is impairing or mind-altering, as well as other active compounds, such as cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is not impairing, meaning it does not cause a “high”.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

III. Current Medicinal Applications & Benefits of Cannabis

With growing endorsements for the medicinal benefits of cannabis, it’s vital to grasp both federal and state stances on the legalization of marijuana. As of 2023, 38 states have given the green light to medical marijuana. However, the availability of this potential chronic pain remedy differs across states, with regulations affecting the density and location of dispensaries. Even though over half of the U.S. acknowledges its medicinal value, it remains labeled as a Schedule 1 drug.

A. Pain Management

Cannabis has long been acknowledged in the medical community for its potential for pain alleviation. It has emerged as a versatile remedy for various types of pain, addressing everything from the persistent discomfort characteristic of fibromyalgia to the nerve-related pain experienced with conditions like multiple sclerosis. Furthermore, patients suffering from inflammatory pain tied to ailments such as arthritis have often cited significant improvements after turning to cannabis treatments.

So, how does cannabis work for pain control? Several mechanisms come into play:

  1. Interacting with Pain Receptors: The human body contains a system known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which plays a crucial role in regulating a variety of physiological processes, including pain sensation. Cannabis compounds, especially THC and CBD, interact with the ECS, modulating the way we perceive pain and offering relief.
  2. Modulating Inflammatory Response: Inflammation is a leading cause of pain in many conditions. Cannabinoids, particularly CBD, have displayed anti-inflammatory properties. By reducing inflammation, cannabis can effectively decrease pain at the source.
  3. Altering Pain Perception: THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, has been shown to alter the psychological perception of pain. Instead of blocking the pain signals, it might change the way the brain processes them, making the pain less distressing for the individual.

Historically, opioids have been the mainstay of pain management. However, the rising concerns over their addictive nature, coupled with the escalating cases of overdose, have spotlighted the pressing need for safer, more effective alternatives. In this evolving landscape of pain management, cannabis emerges as a promising candidate, as the benefits of cannabis offer relief without the severe risks associated with opioids. As research continues to unfold, it is anticipated that the role of cannabis in pain management will become more defined, giving hope to many who seek a less harmful path to pain relief.

B. Neurological and Mental Health Conditions

The neuroprotective effects of cannabis, particularly CBD, have found applications in conditions like epilepsy. Significant reductions in seizure frequencies in drug-resistant epilepsy have brought CBD into the limelight.

Additionally, multiple sclerosis patients have reported fewer muscle spasms and less pain when using cannabis-based treatments. Furthermore, while research is in the preliminary stages, some studies suggest the potential benefits of cannabis for anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

However, cannabis’s role in conditions like schizophrenia remains contentious, with concerns about THC exacerbating symptoms, particularly in young men.

C. Gastrointestinal and Metabolic Disorders

The complex interaction between cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system found within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract has opened avenues for the potential therapeutic use of cannabis in various GI and metabolic disorders. Here’s a deeper dive into the benefits of cannabis in some of the promising areas:

  1. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are part of a group of inflammatory bowel diseases that cause chronic inflammation in the GI tract. Preliminary studies suggest that cannabinoids, particularly CBD and THC, can help reduce this inflammation. This is because cannabinoids can increase the production of regulatory cells in the gut, thus reducing the inflammatory response. Additionally, cannabis can help alleviate the pain and discomfort often associated with these conditions.
  2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): While IBS doesn’t cause inflammation like IBD, it does cause significant discomfort, pain, and irregular bowel movements. Anecdotal evidence and some research suggest that cannabinoids can help regulate gut motility, reducing the symptoms of IBS. The anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of cannabis can also help soothe the GI tract and reduce pain.
  3. Appetite Stimulation and Cachexia: In conditions like cancer, HIV/AIDS, and certain metabolic disorders, patients can experience severe weight loss, muscle wasting, and lack of appetite, collectively known as cachexia. THC, one of the primary psychoactive compounds in cannabis, has been known to stimulate appetite. Medications containing synthetic THC are already FDA-approved for treating weight loss and anorexia in AIDS patients.
  4. Diabetes: Preliminary studies have shown that cannabis can play a role in insulin regulation and blood sugar control. Some research suggests that regular cannabis users have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Additionally, cannabinoids have shown promise in reducing diabetic neuropathy pain, one of the primary complications of the disease.
  5. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): While direct research on cannabis’s effect on GERD is limited, its ability to reduce inflammation and promote healing in the esophagus could theoretically help manage GERD symptoms. However, caution is advised, as some methods of cannabis consumption, like smoking, might exacerbate GERD symptoms.
  6. Liver Diseases: The anti-inflammatory properties of cannabinoids have been researched in the context of liver diseases, such as hepatitis and liver fibrosis. While results are preliminary, there’s potential for cannabis compounds to mitigate liver damage in some conditions.

It’s crucial to understand that, despite the fact that cannabis’s potential therapeutic applications and advantages in GI and metabolic disorders are promising, not all of these applications have received support from in-depth clinical trials. More research is needed to understand the long-term effects, ideal dosages, and potential interactions with other medications. Patients considering cannabis for these conditions should consult with their healthcare providers for tailored advice.

D. Other Therapeutic Applications

Beyond its known applications in chronic pain and certain neurological conditions, cannabis has shown promise in several other therapeutic areas:

  1. Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a medical condition characterized by increased pressure within the eye, leading to potential vision loss. One of the most researched therapeutic effects of cannabis has been its ability to lower intraocular pressure. When consumed, certain compounds in cannabis, predominantly THC, help reduce this pressure. However, the duration of this effect is relatively short-lived, typically a few hours. Because of this limitation and other potential side effects, it’s not usually the first line of treatment. Still, for those who don’t respond to conventional treatments, it offers an additional therapeutic option. Ongoing research is aiming to create longer-lasting formulations or methods of delivery to prolong this beneficial effect.
  2. Sleep Disorders: Insomnia and other sleep-related issues are a growing concern in modern society. With the advent of technology and increased screen time, quality sleep has become elusive for many. Anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabis, especially strains rich in the cannabinoid CBD, might help regulate sleep cycles. Several users have reported deeper and more restful sleep after cannabis consumption. Additionally, the relaxing effects of cannabis can help those with anxiety-induced insomnia find ease before bedtime. However, it’s worth noting that while the short-term benefits of cannabis are evident, the long-term implications of using cannabis for sleep disorders remain under-researched. As with any medication or remedy, it’s crucial for individuals to consult with healthcare professionals before turning to cannabis as a sleep aid.

Both of these applications underline the diverse therapeutic potential of cannabis, warranting further exploration and clinical trials to establish comprehensive guidelines for usage and dosage.

IV. The Safety and Side Effects of Medicinal Cannabis

Like all therapeutic agents, cannabis isn’t without its side effects. Users might experience dry mouth, dizziness, or altered cognitive functions, especially with high THC strains. Long-term concerns include potential cognitive effects, dependency, and impacts on mental health.

Moreover, cannabis can interact with drugs, either enhancing or inhibiting their effects. Hence, consulting with healthcare professionals before using cannabis, especially with other medications, is crucial.

V. Delivery Methods and Dosage

The method of delivery can significantly influence cannabis’s therapeutic effect. While smoking provides immediate relief, concerns about lung health have made vaping a popular alternative. Edibles offer prolonged effects but come with challenges related to dosage and delayed onset. Tinctures, oils, and topicals provide more dosing accuracy. Regardless of the method, individualized dosing and regular physician consultations are imperative.

VI. Future Prospects and Ongoing Research


The realm of research is brimming with possibilities about the medicinal benefits of cannabis. Preliminary studies hint at its potential for conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Early research also suggests that certain cannabinoids might have anti-tumor effects.

With the dawn of personalized medicine, tailoring cannabis treatments based on individual genetics may soon be possible. This, coupled with advances in cultivating strains for specific medical conditions, paints a promising picture of the benefits of cannabis and its future in healthcare.

VII. Public and Patient Perspectives

Despite the scientific progress, the story of medicinal cannabis remains deeply personal. Anecdotal accounts about the benefits of cannabis from patients often fill the gaps that current research hasn’t addressed. Patient advocacy groups have been instrumental in pushing for research and acceptance. Yet, the lingering stigma around cannabis use underscores the importance of an informed and empathetic dialogue around its medicinal use.

VIII. Conclusion

Cannabis’s journey from an ancient remedy to a modern medicine has been tumultuous yet inspiring. As research deepens our understanding of the medicinal benefits of cannabis, it’s clear that this plant could revolutionize therapeutic interventions across a spectrum of diseases. But as with all medicines, the key lies in continued research, prioritizing patient safety, and ensuring informed usage.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions related to your health or medication.