The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has recently published its review of more than 10,000 marijuana research studies, which were conducted since 1999. Here we offer a brief recap of the review's findings on the health benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids.
The report called The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research analyzed the therapeutic effects and risks of cannabis when treating debilitating diseases, injuries, mental health illnesses, and certain cancers. The researchers also proposed measures on how to raise the quality of pot-related studies, collect data for conducting further studies, and overcome the existing legal barriers of marijuana research studies.
According to Marie McCormick, chair of the authoring Committee of the Health Effects of Marijuana, an increasing number of states is allowing marijuana for medical use, but the lack of studies on health effects of the herb casts doubt over the potential cannabis use for medical purposes. In this profound review, the researchers tried to collect all the findings on health benefits of cannabis as well as on its downsides and determine the areas where further investigation is required.
In 2015, a national drug poll found that more than 22.2 million people aged 12 and over consumed pot in the last month in the U.S. Currently, marijuana is the most demanded illicit substance in America, where nearly 90 percent of its consumers used the herb for recreational purposes and only 10 percent for improving their health. The percentage of last-month weed users has steadily increased from 6.2 percent to 8.3 percent from 2002 till 2015, the poll showed.
Analyzing marijuana research studies, the survey researchers divided them into categories according to the diseases treated with cannabis and the effects of such treatment.
Unlike tobacco smoking, cannabis use does not increase the risk of lung cancer or other cancers associated with smoking tobacco, the committee concluded. However, the researchers found some evidence that using pot during pregnancy increases the risk of cancers in the child; there are some indications that weed consumption may correlate with to a type of testicular cancer.
The researchers also discovered a link between marijuana consumption and impairment of attention, learning, and memory. In addition, limited findings show an impairment of cognitive abilities in people who given up using weed. Some studies suggest that marijuana use can be linked to impairment of academic achievement and negatively impact social relationships. The committee also suggested that cannabis consumption can be associated with low income and unemployment.
The studies analyzed by the committee found that cannabis consumption likely increases the risk of developing psychoses, schizophrenia, or social anxiety disorder. In contrast, patients suffering from schizophrenia or other mental disorders reported an improvement of their learning and memory abilities after cannabis treatment. Moreover, constant pot smokers are more likely to report suicide thoughts in comparison to non-smokers, another study discovered.
Evidence suggests that pot use increases the risk of traffic fatalities. Other evidence shows that in states where marijuana is legal, children are less protected from unintentional swallowing of cannabis products. Children most commonly overdose with cannabis by ingesting cannabis edibles (78 percent of cases), another study found. Another article also states that children under 6 years of age were 2.82 times more susceptible to cannabis exposure in states with legal weed than in states where the drug was still prohibited during the period between 2000 and 2013.
The studies examined did not provide a clear answer if cannabis use increases the risk of diabetes, stroke, or heart attack, so further research is recommended. However, some findings show that weed smoking may trigger a heart attack.
Some studies link regular cannabis use with an increased frequency of chronic bronchitis and development of respiratory problems like phlegm production or a chronic cough. However, these conditions are reduced after patients stop smoking marijuana. The committee recommended further research into the relationship between cannabis use and different respiratory conditions.
Severe chronic pain is the most common reason for the therapeutic use of pot and its derivatives. The studies examined provide evidence of significant relief of pain symptoms in patients treated with medical cannabis and cannabinoids. Moreover, the use of oral cannabinoids helped adults with multiple sclerosis reduce the muscle spasms in frequency and severity. The cannabinoid treatment also prevented vomiting and nausea in patients with chemotherapy side effects.
The committee made their recommendations on further investigation on health benefits of cannabis and its harmful effects. Besides, they underlined the existing barriers in carrying out medical research studies. The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug is a significant obstacle to research. Moreover, scientists meet difficulties in gaining access to marijuana of certain type, quantity, and quality necessary for their research. Further cannabis-related studies also require additional financial support.