What is Medical Cannabis and How Does it Work?

Article by Ljubica Kostovic, GrowWise Health

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What is Medical Cannabis?
Medical cannabis is a term commonly used to refer to the cannabis sativa plant, also known as marijuana. Cannabis sativa is a plant with many medicinal properties that has been used for thousands of years. Cannabis is made up of over 500 compounds and contains 104 active cannabinoids, with the most well-researched cannabinoids being delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Along with other cannabinoids and terpenes, THC and CBD are believed to be the main compounds responsible for the therapeutic benefits offered by the plant. THC is the main psychoactive ingredient most often associated with pain relief, anti-nausea and sedation. CBD is the one of the many non-psychoactive cannabinoids and is also responsible for providing the analgesic, anti-spastic and anti-inflammatory effects. The cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant affect the body through our body’s natural cannabinoid receptors found in our endocannabinoid system.

The Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a mechanism in the body where naturally occurring cannabinoids are released. This system plays an active role in our body’s regulation of inflammation, appetite, metabolism, digestion, synaptic plasticity, pain, memory, sleep, stress regulation and mood, among other things. The ECS helps to regulate the natural balance of the body and ward off stressors and infection.

Cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant mimic our body’s own cannabinoids in order to stimulate this important system. The endocannabinoid system is found throughout our entire body, including the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS). It is made up of numerous receptors, with the most notable being CB1 and CB2 receptors to which THC and CBD bind. However, cannabinoid receptors are not found in the brain stem; cannabinoids, therefore, do not lead to lethal overdose the way that some other prescription drugs, such as opioids, do.

The Healing Power of Terpenes
The range and extent of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis are dependent on what Ethan Russo has called the “Entourage Effect“. Part of the reason why naturally occurring cannabinoids provide patients with greater therapeutic effects is because of the synergy between active cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, terpenes and other compounds found in the plant.

Terpenes are the compounds responsible for the flavour and fragrance in multiple food and drink items found in the human diet. Terpenes are potent compounds that have the potential to affect animal and human behaviour. It is the terpenes found in the cannabis plant that are responsible for the beautiful aroma of cannabis. The common terpenes found in cannabis are: limonene, myrcene, α – pinene, linalool, β – caryophyllene, nerolidol and phytol. Terpenes are extremely pharmacologically versatile as they interact with cell membranes, neuronal and muscle ion channels and neurotransmitter receptors, among other things. In addition to the 104 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, terpene content above 0.05% has the potential to provide patients with added therapeutic benefits such as pain relief, anti-anxiety effects, and relaxation.

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