Humans have been medicating themselves for thousands of years, our relationship with drugs is as old as our being itself. But what is a drug? Simply put: A drug is any exogenous substance that when applied, ingested, or swallowed into the body brings about a physiological change. Typically, when we develop a drug to medicate certain symptoms, the drug is made to be as specific as possible. Off-target effects of a drug are what cause side-effects, this is why some muscle relaxers stimulate nausea. This is the opposite case for Cannabis, its chemical constituents(THC and CBD) bind globally as compared to specific targets. However, people still medicate with cannabis in lieu of common drugs. Here we will compare the differences between Cannabis treatments and common drugs and dissect the pros and cons.
It is well known that Cannabis can be used to modulate pain through inhibiting neuronal transmission of pain pathways. Most people use Over the Counter (OTC) drugs such as NSAIDs and Acetaminophen to treat pain; both of these drugs work differently. NSAIDs work by down-regulating production of prostaglandins, hormones that cause pain, while Acetaminophen acts on the parietal lobe of the brain to modulate the pain reaction. Numerous studies have shown mild relief in fever from cannabis treatment as well (1,2)
Many neurological disorders have been quasi-treated with Cannabis. Parkinson’s Disorder is caused by a degradation of dopamine in the basal ganglia, limiting movement movement initiation. Huntington’s Disorder, a disease characterized by sporadic movements, is due to deterioration of the caudate nucleus, leading to a decreased inhibition of motor signals from the brain. Essentially, these two caused by two imbalances in different directions. Treatments for Parkinson’s include anti-depressants and dopamine promoters to aid in movement initiation. Huntington’s Disease ultimately results in death, however medications such as benzodiazepines will essentially slow down the motor control areas of the brain, and speech therapy’s can help with handling symptoms.
Affective Mood Disorders
Affective mood disorders, aka mood disorders, are mental-health disorders such as anxiety disorder, bipolar, and depression. Although largely anecdotal, many people report using cannabis to treat both mania and depression bipolar and depression disorders (2). The psychological effects of Cannabis are brought about by THC, a chemical that mimics endogenous cannabinoids in the brain used in neurotransmission. Essentially, THC acts on different brain areas such as the Nucleus Accumbens which is associated with risk and reward, leading to prolonged satisfaction. Cannabis is also associated with creativity, due to the increased connectivity of brain regions (3).
As responsible consumers, it’s important to understand that using any exogenous substance can lead to “side-effects” that have serious ramifications in our day to day lives. Although cannabis provides some relief from the symptoms listed above, there is empirical evidence illustrating that acute cannabis use affects a person’s decision making, concept forming, and planning skills. The brain regions associated with kind of thinking are associated with abstract-thoughts (4). Understanding this, we can safely say that cannabis itself has undesirable side-effects that place it on a similar plane to the drugs we discussed before. Therefore, consultation with your primary care doctor is extremely necessary if you plan on taking a new medicine or using cannabis to treat yourself.
(3) Laviolette SR., Grace AA. The roles of cannabinoid and dopamine receptor systems in neural emotional learning circuits: implications for schizophrenia and addiction. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2006;63:1597–1613