Once maligned by governments and the press, attitudes about cannabis health benefits have taken a turn in recent years. With an increasing number of US states approving the use of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes, it’s impossible to deny its relevance.
After the US election in November, 28 states and Washington, DC, have now approved cannabis for medical use; and 8 states plus DC are approved for recreational use. While impressive, this reach doesn’t even begin to consider the growth implications of medical and recreational cannabis globally.
With all the attention surrounding both the benefits and challenges of these approvals, one fact remains: Scientifically, there is still a great deal to learn about cannabis.
Need for more research
The recent release of a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine offers one of the most comprehensive reviews available of cannabis health benefits. The committee shared what they know about the health of cannabis and its derivatives, compiled from over 10,000 scientific abstracts dating back to 1999.
The report did reveal nearly 100 conclusions, as well as propose ways to expand and improve the quality of cannabis research. It also did more than highlight the fact that, well, we still need more research.
“Cannabis has been around for thousands of years; it’s not like we just made it up in a lab,” Staci Gruber, associate professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery program at McLean Hospital told Business Insider in a recent interview. “As a scientist, I think the goal is always to try very hard to get to the findings and to be able to disseminate those findings so that we can make good decisions grounded in science.”
The lack of conclusive evidence about the positive and negative medical effects of cannabis has also created problems for researchers. This is due, at least in part, to the DEA’s designation of cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance. This designation also creates restrictions that make it difficult for researchers to research what they need. Even in states with legalized cannabis, research limits exist.
Some evidence of cannabis health benefits
Despite the challenges to research, the report did offer evidence of cannabis’ effectiveness in improving the following areas:
– Treatment for chronic pain in adults
– Treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
– Patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms
– Short-term sleep outcomes in individuals with sleep disturbance associated with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis
– Increasing appetite and decreasing weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS
– Clinician-measured Multiple Sclerosis spasticity symptoms
– Symptoms of Tourette’s Syndrome
– Anxiety symptoms in individuals with social anxiety disorders
– Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD
The bottom line is more research is necessary. The expressed need for more research remains as possibly the least ambiguous aspect of the report.
There’s an increasing number of states legalizing medical and recreational marijuana. Furthermore, the most effective way to regulate, educate and medicate stems from research.
The report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is the most detailed scientific study about cannabis we have seen to date. It does a great job showing how much we now know about the effects of cannabis. In the same regard, it shows us just how far we still have to go towards true understanding.