by Christine Ruggeri, CHHC
Concern about the dangers of marijuana abuse led to the banning of cannabinoids for medicinal use in the U.S. and many other countries in the 1930s and 1940s. It took decades until they came to be considered again as compounds of therapeutic value, and even now their uses are highly restricted yet more and more states have now legalized medical marijuana.
According to a scientific review published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, scientists concur that despite the mild addiction to cannabis and the possible enhancement of addiction to other substances of abuse, when combined with cannabis, the therapeutic value of cannabinoids is too high to be put aside. (1)
Numerous diseases — such as anorexia, emesis, pain, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, osteoporosis, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, obesity and metabolic syndrome-related disorders — are being treated or have the potential to be treated by cannabis oils and other cannabinoid compounds.
What Is Cannabis?
Cannabis is a naturally growing herb that has been used for thousands of years to treat health conditions. It’s also used in perfumes, soaps, candles and some foods. Cannabis originated in Central Asia, but today it’s grown worldwide.
In the U.S., it’s a controlled substance and is classified as a Schedule I agent, which means that it’s a drug with increased potential for abuse. However, it is now approved for recreational and/or medicinal use in many states around the country.
The term cannabis (popularly known as marijuana) is used to describe a product of the Cannabis Sativa plant that is bred for its potent, sticky glands that are known as trichomes. These trichomes contain high amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (called THC), which is the cannabinoid most known for its psychoactive properties.
Cannabinoids are a group of 21-carbon–containing terpenophenolic compounds produced uniquely by cannabis species. These plant-derived compounds may be referred to as phytocannabinoids.
Although delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (known as THC) is the primary psychoactive ingredient, other known compounds with biologic activity are cannabinol, cannabidiol, cannabichromene, cannabigerol, tetrahydrocannabivarin and delta-8-THC. Cannabidiol (CBD) is thought to have significant pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory activity without the psychoactive effect of delta-9-THC. (2)
Cannabis vs. Hemp
Hemp oil — obtained by pressing benefit-rich hemp seeds — is slightly different than cannabis oil, although they both come from the same genus, Cannabis, and the same species, Cannabis Sativa. The term hemp is used to describe a Cannabis Sativa plant that contains only trace amounts of THC. Hemp is a high-growing plant that’s commonly grown for industrial uses, such as oils and topical ointments, as well as fiber for clothing, construction, paper and more.
Cannabis Oil vs CBD Oil
Cannabis oils and CBD oils are not the same thing. So what is CBD oil? Cannabidiol (CBD) oil has a high concentration of cannabidiol, while cannabis oil contains both CBD and THC. CBD oil is created by extracting CBD from either the cannabis or hemp plant and then diluting it with a carrier oil like coconut or hemp seed oil. CBD does not produce a euphoric “high” or psychoactive effect because it doesn’t affect the same receptors as THC.
CBD cannabis oil or CBD hemp oil are both said to be non-psychoactive. However, it gets confusing because any oil that is CBD-dominant is considered a CBD oil, and it produces different effects from THC-dominant cannabis oils.
Most CBD oil comes from industrial hemp, which typically contains more CBD than marijuana. CBD oil is now a legalized option in many states for people who are interested in the possible benefits of cannabis oil. (3)
Guide to cannabis oil – Dr. Axe
6 Cannabis Oil Benefits
1. Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Chronic stress can kill your quality of life, so stressed-out folks are always looking for proven ways to change this reality. Cannabis oil has the ability to both release pleasure hormones and relax the mind. It reduces stress and allows a calming and peaceful feeling to take over the body. Chemical components of cannabis, called cannabinoids, activate specific receptors found throughout the body to produce pharmacologic effects, particularly in the central nervous system and the immune system.
A 2013 study conducted at the University of Haifa in Israel found that cannabinoid treatment after a traumatic experience may regulate the emotional response to the trauma and prevent stress-induced impairment. Cannabinoid treatment minimized the stress receptors in the basolateral amygdala (the nuclei that receives that majority of sensory information) and hippocampus (the part of the brain that is thought to be the center of emotion). (4)
Can’t sleep? Cannabis oil also works for people with insomnia. The calming effects of the oil help people to sleep calmly, relieving issues of anxiety and restlessness. A 2015 scientific review published in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy found that cannabis treatment is effective for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research suggests that cannabinoids, the psychoactive components of unrefined cannabis, regulates neurotransmitter release and produces a wide range of central nervous system effects, including increased pleasure and alteration of memory processes.
Cross-sectional studies have found a direct correlation between more severe PTSD symptomatology and increased motivation to use cannabis for coping purposes, especially among patients with difficulties in emotional regulation or stress tolerance. When using cannabis treatment, military veterans with PTSD reported reduced anxiety and insomnia and improved coping ability. (5)
2. Alters Appetite
For people who are looking to gain weight, possibly after an illness or injury recovery, cannabis oil is known to increase appetite. The oil also induces hunger and stimulates the digestive system — this is possible because of the hormones that are triggered by cannabis inhalation and consumption.
According to the International Weekly Journal of Science, cannabis can prompt the release of hunger-promoting hormones or it can help to suppress these hormones. Nerve cells play a key role in this process, as the neurons in the brain release a hunger-suppressing hormone or one that promotes appetite.
Depending on which hormone is stimulated, cannabis can boost or suppress appetite. For this reason, cannabis oil can help patients with eating disorders or be a natural way to treat obesity. This manipulation of the cannabinoid system is becoming popular, and more research is being done to determine its efficacy for patients with weight concerns. (6)
3. Reduces Pain
Cannabis has been used for millennia as a pain-relieving substance. Evidence suggests that cannabinoids may prove useful in pain modulation by inhibiting neuronal transmission in pain pathways. There is evidence that medical cannabis reduces chronic and neuropathic pain in advanced cancer patients. (7)
Symptoms of fibromyalgia include chronic musculoskeletal pain. The use of cannabis oil for pain can also be a part of natural fibromyalgia treatment. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology looked at the effects of medical cannabis on 26 fibromyalgia patients. The researchers found that after an average of about 11 months of medical cannabis use, all of the patients reported a significant improvement in every parameter on the questionnaire, and 13 patients (50 percent) stopped taking any other medications for fibromyalgia.
Overall, the medical cannabis treatment had a “a significant favorable effect” with eight patients (30 percent) experiencing very mild adverse effects. (8)
4. Boosts Heart Health
Animal studies suggest that 2-AG, an endocannabinoid, can reduce in tension of the blood vessel walls, which is a positive effect when it comes to many cardiovascular conditions, including hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis and heart attacks.
In 2014, for the first time, the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham conducted a study suggesting that 2-AG affects blood vessels by causing them to relax and widen. 2-AG is one of the body’s own endocannabinoids created to control communication between cells and mediating your body’s functions. (9)
5. Help for Skin Problems
Applying cannabis oil to the skin may help to improve skin conditions such as eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis (AD) and other forms of dermatitis. Cannabis oil contains THC and topical THC has been shown to suppress allergic contact dermatitis in mice by activating CB1 receptors.
Other molecules, similar to those present in cannabis, have also demonstrated significant anti-pain properties in research studies. Another reason why cannabis oil may help skin problem is its a cannabinoid content.
According to the National Eczema Association, “Cannabinoids represent an exciting prospect for the future of AD therapy. With measurable anti-itch, anti-pain, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties, the effect of cannabinoids in patients with AD has already begun to be demonstrated.” (10) Cannabinoids can be found in both cannabis oil and CBD oil.
6. May Prevent Cancer
Although the science is still unclear on the subject, cannabis oil is being considered as a natural cancer treatment as well as cancer preventer option because it may decrease the size of tumors and alleviate nausea, pain, lack of appetite and weakness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved alternative cannabis oil cancer treatment or use of cannabis oil for any other medical condition, but research shows that it has some anti-cancer properties.
The National Cancer Institute also points out, “Chemical components of Cannabis, called cannabinoids, activate specific receptors throughout the body to produce pharmacologic effects, particularly in the central nervous system and the immune system.” (11)
A 2013 case report conducted in Canada evaluated the beneficial effects of cannabis oil on a 14-year-old female patient diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, also known as ALL. For this particular patient, a standard bone marrow transplant, aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy were revoked, with treatment being deemed a failure after 34 months. She was extremely ill and severely underweight at this time.
Without any other solutions provided by conventional approaches, the family began administering cannabinoid extracts orally to the young girl.
According to the case report, it was charted by the girl’s oncologist that the patient “suffers from terminal malignant disease. She has been treated to the limits of available therapy … no further active intervention will be undertaken.” She was then placed in a palliative home care and told to prepare for her disease to overwhelm her body. She was expected to suffer a stroke within the next two months.
After this devastating news, the family researched cannabinoids and found that they have been shown to inhibit the growth of tumor cells in culture and in animal models by modulating key cell-signaling pathways. Her family read that cannabinoids are usually well-tolerated and do not produce the generalized toxic effects of conventional chemotherapies. The family found promise in an organization that treated several cancers with cannabis oil.
To deal with the bitter taste and viscous nature of the hemp oil, it was mixed with honey, a known natural digestive aid, and then administered to the patient in daily doses. The objective was to quickly increase the frequency and amount of the dose and to hopefully build up the patient’s tolerance to cannabis oil. In the beginning stages of cannabis treatment, the girl experienced periods of panic, increased appetite and fatigue.
The cannabis oil was given initially once per day, and by day 15, the treatment was given three times per day. As a result of the cannabis oil treatment, the girl decreased her morphine use for pain, showed an increase in euphoria symptoms, had disoriented memory and an increase in alertness (all consistent with cannabis usage).
The patient continued to use cannabis oil for 65 days. The family changed strains of the oil repeatedly, and some were more effective in increasing appetite and alleviating pain than others. The author of the case report suggests that cannabis oil needs to be explored further because there is potential that cannabinoids might show selectivity when attacking cancer cells, thereby reducing the widespread cytotoxic effects of conventional chemotherapeutic agents. Sadly, the young girl with ALL passed away due to gastrointestinal bleeding and a bowel perforation.
The case study notes that advanced chemotherapeutic agents had failed to control the blast counts (cells in the blood and bone marrow) in the patient and had devastating side effects that ultimately resulted in death. The cannabinoid therapy, on the other hand, had no toxic side effects and only psychosomatic properties, with an increase in the patient’s vitality.
It’s also noted that the possibility of bypassing the psychoactive properties of cannabis oil exists; this can be done by administering nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol, that have demonstrated anti-proliferative properties. (12)
Cannabis Oil History & Interesting Facts
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, cannabis use for medicinal purposes dates back at least 3,000 years. It was introduced into Western medicine in the 1840s by W.B. O’Shaughnessy, a surgeon who learned of its medicinal properties while working in India for the British East Indies Co. It became useful because of its analgesic, sedative, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and anti-convulsant effects.
In 1937, the U.S. Treasury Department introduced the Marijuana Tax Act, which imposed a levy of $1 per ounce for medicinal use of cannabis and $100 per ounce for recreational use. This was opposed by physicians who were not required to pay a special tax for prescribing cannabis, use special order forms to obtain it and keep records detailing its professional use. The American Medical Association believed that evidence of cannabis’ harmful effects was limited and the act would prevent further research into its medicinal worth.
By 1942, cannabis was removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia because of persistent concerns about its potential to cause harm. In 1951, Congress passed the Boggs Act, which included cannabis with narcotic drugs for the first time. In 1970, with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis was classified as a Schedule I drug, giving it no accepted medicinal use.
Under the Compassionate Use Investigational New Drug program, established in 1978, cannabis distribution was distributed to patients on a case-by-case basis, but this program ended in 1992. Now (see below), it’s legal to obtain for medical usage in over 30 states and as well as the District of Columbia.
How to Obtain and Use Cannabis
People who use cannabis oil as a means of treatment ingest it with an oral syringe or by adding it to a liquid that masks its potency. The dose measurement and frequency depend of the condition being treated and the patient’s cannabis tolerance. Most patients start with a very small amount and increase treatment doses over a long period of time.
Wondering where to buy cannabis oil? Look for a reputable company that sells its products legally (according to your specific state laws) with full transparency and accountability. It’s very important to make sure any cannabis oil you purchase has been tested by accredited laboratories to ensure that is is free of pesticides, residual solvents (from the extraction process), bacteria, fungus, foreign matter and heavy metals.
Some states offer cannabis for medical conditions, and this may require a medical note or proof of injury and illness. You can also join a collective, which is a group of patients who grow and share medical cannabis with each other. If you are using cannabis oil, it’s so important to make sure it’s purchased through a reputable company that sells pure and lab-tested oils. If you’re wondering how to make cannabis oil, you should first make sure this is legal in your state. Some people also like to make cannabis coconut oil, which is basically cannabis-infused coconut oil.
The following states currently allow the use of cannabis for medical conditions: (13)
District of Columbia
It’s important to note that each state has its own individual laws on possession limits. Many states now have their own laws on the books for CBD oil specifically. Tennessee, for example, has made cannabis oil legal if it’s derived from hemp rather than marijuana. As Professor Elliot Altman of the Botanical Medical Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University, explains, “The legal definition is hemp is less than point three percent THC which is the psychotropic agent. Marijuana is point three percent or greater.” (14)
CBD from a hemp plant is often legally available in Tennessee and around the country without a prescription. However, as of 2018, the laws around CBD oil are still a bit unclear to say the least, and it’s a good idea to check your specific state laws. (15)
Possible Cannabis Oil Side Effects, Caution & Interactions
Cannabis oil use may cause a decrease in concentration, memory, and the ability to learn and think. According to scientific research, harms of cannabis use include increased risk for motor vehicle accidents, psychotic symptoms and short-term cognitive impairment. (16)
It is not safe to mix cannabis oil with other medications — such as antidepressants, anxiety medications, pain relievers, seizure medications and muscle relaxers — because it may cause drowsiness and fatigue.
Do not use cannabis oil, or any cannabis product, if you are pregnant or could become pregnant. There is some evidence that women who use cannabis during the time of conception or while pregnant may increase the risk of their child being born with birth defects or at a very low weight. Also, do not use cannabis if you are breastfeeding.
It’s also important to note for parents that concerning cannabis oil vape stories are arising, including kids vaping cannabis oils with concentrated THC levels. According to The California Department of Public Health, researchers do not fully understand how using cannabis oils and waxes with vapes affects health. What is known is that vaporized cannabis can contain a lot more THC, the cannabis ingredient that can cause psychoactive effects including paranoia and anxiety. (17)
Final Thoughts on Cannabis Oil
While studies have certainly shown the benefits of cannabis used for medicinal purposes, there are many strains of cannabis, and they are not all equal.
If you are using cannabis oil, make sure it is purchased through a reputable and lab-tested company. Go through the legal and safe means of obtaining cannabis oil in order to ensure its health benefits and limited side effects.
It’s also a good idea to check your state laws before before purchasing cannabis oil.
Last but not least, remember that cannabis is a very powerful oil, and only small amounts are needed for it to have a powerful effect on the body and mind.