THC is a peculiar chemical. Scientifically known as tetrahydocannabinol, it can have a variety of effects on the human body. In recent years, studies and clinical trials to better understand THC’s properties have succeeded in demystifying the chemical byproduct and the plant from which it is produced.
What 50 years ago was seen as a drug of hippies and lazy people, cannabis is now a drug being recommended to even grandparents to help relieve aches and pains, including the side effects of chemotherapy. The perception of the general populace is shifting as people are receiving benefits in their health and quality of life.
THC is well-known as the psychoactive ingredient it is just one of the cannabinoids in cannabis that when ingested are processed by the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which regulates mood, memory, appetite and pain. The system is a network of various receptors across the body, the most relevant being the CB1 receptors found in the brain. These CB1 receptors are located throughout the brain. They can be found in the hypothalamus (controls appetite), the hippocampus (controls memory and stress), and the cerebral cortex (controls higher cognitive function).
“The perception of the general populace is shifting as people are receiving benefits in their health and quality of life.”
CB1 is a receptor triggered by the neuro-transmitter anandamide, which controls such reactions as pleasure, motivation and appetite, among others. THC is very similar in structure to anandamide and fits snugly into the CB1 receptor. When joined, the CB1 receptor is activated and THC’s psychoactive effects can be felt.
Because of the parts of the brain and ECS that THC interacts with, it can be beneficial in addressing pain, insomnia, and nausea (just to name a few). In fact, it is so beneficial to a wide range of health problems that synthetic versions have been approved for treatment of nausea and appetite issues associated with chemotherapy and AIDS treatments.1 Just imagine how much more effective the natural remedy in its original form can be!
Trials conducted by the University of California’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research to test the short-term effectiveness of cannabis to help neuropathic pain featured a group of qualifying participants smoking cannabis cigarettes, one group smoking with 1-8% THC and another smoking a placebo with no THC at all.
The results found that the cannabis with THC greatly reduced the pain intensity, “with patients reporting 34-40% decrease on cannabis compared to 17-20% on placebo.”2 Patients were also asked if they had experienced a 30% pain decrease, “which is relevant since 30% decrease in pain intensity is generally associated with reports of improved quality of life.”2 The patients who had taken cannabis with THC said they had seen a pain decrease at a rate of 46-52% as opposed to the 18-24% of placebo-taking participants.2
Every patient and situation are different and require personalized treatments based on diagnosis and tolerance. There is no strict formula to follow for cannabis treatment— especially in its current medicinal infancy. Experimentation is key, and learning how your body reacts to different levels of THC is vital.
“learning how your body reacts to different levels of THC is vital”
Over the past 50 years, marijuana has been cultivated in a way that has increased THC levels in present-day versions of the plant. Breeders were growing marijuana to respond to the demand for higher THC. At the same time, other breeders were breeding plants with high CBD, or for the terpenes they produce. With increased awareness of the medicinal benefits of cannabis, breeders are working to adjust ratios of THC/CBD/Terpenes based on the needs of the medical consumer.
We have had a long, tumultuous history with the cannabis plant. It was one of the earliest plants to be cultivated, and its uses in clothing, food, and medicine date back thousands of years.
As the public is made increasingly aware of cannabis as a medicine, patients are telling their friends and families that they are using cannabis to help a multitude of ailments.
THC is psychoactive, and it can get you high—but when used correctly for medical purposes and in the correct ratios, it can help.
1 https://selfhacked.com/blog/tetrahydrocannabinol-thc/ – 2 Grant, Igor, J. Hampton Atkinson, Ben Gouaux, and Barth Wilsey. “Medical Marijuana: Clearing Away the Smoke.” PubMed Central. 4 May 2012. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. 26 Apr. 2019 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3358713/>
Herbal Medicine + Parkinson’s Disease
This issue of GRAM discusses the ways cannabis can help with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and its symptoms. There are also a number of other alternative treatments that can be used, oftentimes in conjunction with anti-PD medication. Plants and treatments that are neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant have all had positive effects on the symptoms and pathogenesis of PD either in animal studies or through historical use that has not been clinically studied. Continue reading to discover various plant medicines that have been used to improve the quality of life for PD patients and even fight the progression of the disease.
Herbal medicine (HM) has been used to treat PD and its symptoms in China and other Asian countries. The key ingredients in herbal medicine combinations can include up to 52 to different herbs with 59 different combinations.1,2 A study published in 2018, listed the top 11 herbs found in traditional Chinese herbal medicine used to treat PD: danshen root, debark peony root, gambir plant nod, rehmannia root, desertliving cistanche, fleeceflower root, sichuan lovage rhizome, Asiatic cornelian cherry fruit, Chinese angelica, grassleaf sweetflag rhizome, and milkvetch root.1 Many studies have highlighted the various ways that HMs are combined and used in Asian countries. The way these ingredients are combined and the levels of combination are probably based on individual treatment plans, and it is likely that one specific combination of herbs is not going to work for every patient. Our bodies react differently to herbs and the way they interact with each other.
A study published in 2012 identified the wide range of variation in the preparation of HMs; it also identified that when used with conventional drug therapy such as levodopa, led to decreased symptoms and adverse events and a reduction in the dosage of anti-PD drugs.2 This study did point out that in order to get a better understanding of HM’s effect on PD, there needs to be standardization of ingredients and further studies over a longer period of time to study any adverse effects.2
One such standardization of Chinese HM is a combination of 8 herbs referred to as Optimized Yinxieling Formula (OYF). It has been used to treat psoriasis because of its anti-inflammatory properties. These same properties were found to be neuroprotective and prevent neuroinflammation in mice.3 In fact, they stopped the activation of the immune cells in the brain that cause cell death in dopamine nerve cells.
Another Asian tradition that has been used to treat PD is Ayurveda, an ancient Indian medicine practice. Ancient Ayurvedic texts appear to refer to body tremors or “kampavata.” Plant medicines used in Ayurveda to treat PD include Ashwaganda and Mucuna Pruriens (MP).4 In fact, a recent study showed that powdered seeds of MP delivers a naturally occurring form of the anti-PD drug levodopa and provides the same efficacy as synthetic levodopa with fewer adverse effects.5
Oxidative stress has been found to contribute to the loss of dopamine-producing cells in a specific part of the brain called the substantia nigra.6,7 Specifically, ginkgo biloba has been studied in animals to treat PD symptoms and was found to have neuroprotective effects, prevent oxidative stress, and reduce the toxicity of the anti-PD drug, levodopa.8
It is important to note that antioxidants such as ginkgo biloba, vitamin E, creatine, CoQ10, and others have not been found to be extremely effective in treating PD in humans. The reason for this might be that the oxidative stress has already caused the deterioration and/or death of the dopamine-producing nerve cells by the time PD is diagnosed.6 This does not discount the neuroprotective effects of antioxidants for potentially preventing PD in the first place.
Due to the worsening effects of PD on patients, the quality of life usually declines as the disease worsens. Using plant medicines; focusing on an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant diet; and cannabis use, in conjunction with modern anti-PD drugs could improve the quality of life and delay the death of the dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Ensure you are discussing any alternative treatments with your physician.
1. Chan, C.S., et al. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 10:349. 2018. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2018.00349
2. Kim, T.H., et al. PLoS One, 7(5): e35695. 2012. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035695
3. Wei, R.R., et al. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2018. doi: 10.1155/2018/6142065
4. Gourie-Devi, M. et al. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 84(8): 491-491. 1991.
5. Cilia, R. et al. Neurology, 89(5). 2017. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000004175
6. Amro, M.S., et al. La Clinica Terapeutica, 169(1). 2018. doi: 10.7417/T.2018.2050.
7. Filograna, R. et al. Current Neuropharmacology, 14(3). 2016. doi: 10.2174/1570159X13666151030102718
8. Tanaka, K. et al. Current Neuropharmacology, 11(4). 2013. doi: 10.2174/1570159X11311040006
Powerful Plants for MS
Cannabis is a powerful plant medicine that has been shown to help MS patients, but it’s not the only tool in the toolbox. There are several plants shown to produce anti-inflammatory effects, which can be beneficial to help reduce symptoms like fatigue, muscle pain and stiffness, spasms, improve sleep quality, and improve depression. Obtaining phytonutrients from plants can help improve the quality of life for those living with MS. Most strategies for the treatment of MS focus on reducing inflammation within the central nervous system.
Many plants offer benefits without the side effects associated with synthetic treatment options and can effectively help patients. Ginkgo is among the oldest living tree species in the world and has been found to reduce fatigue in some MS patients.1 Vitamin D has sufficient evidence to support its use with patients living with MS.2 Vitamin D is a nutrient found in some foods, it helps nerves to transmit messages between the brain and the entire body.3 Another powerful plant is green tea. Green tea polyphenols are antioxidants and contain both anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects.4 Saffron has been shown to reduce oxidative stress in MS patients and has pharmacological effects such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.5
Many patients living with MS develop depression. Studies have shown herbal remedies, such as saffron, have positive effects on relieving depressive symptoms and may be an alternative to synthetic antidepressants.6 Another plant medicine is psilocybin, which a growing number of cities in the U.S. are decriminalizing, and it’s being studied at John’s Hopkins. In January, a UK pharmaceutical company announced it received a U.S. patent for a “preparation of psilocybin” in the treatment of depression.7
Another plant medicine shown to improve the quality of life in MS patients is evening primrose oil. The oil contains the fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and has been shown to improve cognitive function, vitally and overall life satisfaction. MS patients who have used evening primrose oil have shown improved quality of life and reduced fatigue, although it did not prevent the progression of the disease. One study indicated that MS patients may find relief from fatigue and positively improve their quality of life with ginseng as well.8
Utilizing plant medicines may provide less undesirable side effects and produce more therapeutic benefits to patients with MS. Many patients are finding relief when they reduce processed foods and incorporate more plant-based foods which offer anti-inflammatory benefits, like fruits and vegetables. The potential benefits of natural antioxidants found in food, on neurodegenerative diseases, and the roles they perform have been evaluated and may be effective at reducing oxidative stress in individuals.9 Many individuals experience symptoms that may be treated and prevented by utilizing plant medicines and plant foods to obtain these nutrients. With most strategies of treatment focusing on reducing inflammation, plants may provide relief without the list of negative side effects from synthetic medication.
1. Johnson, S.K., Et al. Explore (NY). 2006 Jan;2(1):19-24.
2. Evans E. Et al. JAMA Neurology. 2018 Aug 1;75(8):1013-1021. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2018.0611.
3. “Vitamin D.” https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-Consumer/
4. Yang, F. Et al. The Journal of Nutrition. 1998 Dec;128(12):2334-40.
5. Alavi, M.S., Et al. Drug Research. 2019 Jun;69(6):323-329. doi: 10.1055/a-0790-8200.
6. Dai, L. Et al. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 2020 Jan 7. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000001118.
7. Majdinasab N., Et al. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2018 Jun 12;14:1505-1512. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S149403
8. Etemadifar M., Et al. International Journal of Neuroscience. 2013 Jul;123(7):480-6. doi: 10.3109/00207454.2013.764499.
Powerful Plants for Pain
Plant medicines continue their progressive path as a potential solution to the opioid epidemic and providing relief to people across the world. The psychedelic renaissance continues with the FDA granting a Breakthrough Therapy designation to a program to study psilocybin. The Usona Institute is a non-profit, medical research organization looking beyond the traditional treatments for depression. Their goal is to enable and support research with the FDA by registering psilocybin as an approved medicine which would have the ability to treat over 300 million people affected by depression worldwide.1 More states are pushing for decriminalization for plant medicines, and some are pushing for statewide initiatives later this year.
Curcumin has been studied widely for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer, and antiandrogenic effects.
In addition to psychedelic plants providing relief for depression and inflammation, other plants, such as turmeric, have powerful properties to reduce inflammation and provide other benefits. Turmeric is a plant related to ginger that is grown throughout India, other parts of Asia, and Central America. It has been used in one of the world’s oldest medical systems, Ayurvedic medicine, for thousands of years and is described as a powerful pain reliever. Ayurvedic medicine applies a natural and holistic approach to physical and mental health and remains one of India’s traditional health care systems.2 Turmeric contains curcuminoids, which studies have found may reduce the number of heart attacks, bypass patients have after surgery, control knee pain from osteoarthritis as well or better than ibuprofen, and reduce the skin irritation that often occurs after radiation treatments for breast cancer patients.3
“Curcumin has been studied widely for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer, and antiandrogenic effects. Curcumin has shown considerable anticancer effects against several different types of cancer, including prostate cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and head and neck cancer.”4 It is believed to produce its anticancer activity throughout several mechanisms within the body. More studies need to be conducted to evaluate methods of delivery for optimal pain reduction. However, a study found curcumin to be effective and safe in alleviating symptoms in patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis.5
Similar to tumeric, ginger is another plant that has been found to provide powerful pain relief. A study looked at applying topical ginger treatments. It concluded, “Ginger has the potential to relieve symptoms, improve the overall health, and increase independence of people with chronic osteoarthritis.”6
There are so many natural plant medicines available we can use without a prescription and side effects. Another study looked at using aromatherapy. It found that the inhalation of essential oils, such as damask rose and lavender, reduced the severity of pain and anxiety after a c-section.7 There are almost 400,000 plant species around the world that humans have coexisted with; the possibilities of their potential are abundant to help provide natural healing options for our world, and these are just a few that help with pain.