Does Cannabis help Neuropsychiatric Disorders?

For most states with medical cannabis laws, patients are required to go through a screening process once a year to allow access to cannabis. On the one hand, this screening process is not designed to be severe, and realistically, few people are turned away from help with cannabis. On the other hand, this process is intended to serve as a boiler-plate to keep cannabis out of the hands of individuals for whom it might not be appropriate. Seeing that cannabis does not have harmful side-effects and is physically very safe, the real concern is whether patients who are already in an altered state of mind should be taking a psychoactive substance. Studies have linked early cannabis use to hastening the onset of serious psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia. This is not unique to cannabis and also true of any psychoactive substance. If someone is having a hard time navigating reality, taking a medicine or recreational drug that alters his/her mind-state even further may push him/her over the edge. Despite this well-established fact, there are also many psychiatric patients that receive relief from cannabis and tend to do worse without it. The medical field has also shown increased interest in treating psychiatric illness with cannabis. So what’s the deal? Does cannabis contribute to or relieve schizophrenia? Or is there no effect? The difficulty in answering this lies partly in the fact that schizophrenia is not well understood and could actually be multiple illnesses that have been lumped into one category due…

Do Women and Men Experience Cannabis Differently?

One of the reasons we encourage cannabis patients to experiment with various strains for their ailment is because we have seen different strains work for different people. Perhaps you have a potent strain you like to medicate with that your friend feels no effect from at all. What makes one person paranoid could relax another simply because each person has different brain chemistry and body fat distribution. Taking this further, we might ask the question: “In general, is the experience of medicating with cannabis different for men than for women?” After all, men and women have different hormone profiles and different fat distribution patterns as well, right? This is exactly the question we hope to tackle today, although we’d like to remind readers that when we say “male” and “female, we are talking about at-birth medical identification of sex as opposed to “gender”, which obviously cannot be reduced down to stereotypes. After digging through the relevant research we’ve seen a slight disagreement in animal vs. human studies. Animal studies show less of a sexual differentiation or one in which females have higher THC concentrations in the brain. Human studies mostly appear to be the opposite, with males and females exhibiting different sensitivities in various areas. A good deal of this could be social, but a large part has to do with gonadal hormones. As we discussed in the last article, estrogen is capable of regulating cannabinoid receptor density and signal transduction. How much estrogen you have in your body at…

Sex, Hormones, and Cannabinoids

When I was growing up, one of the ‘reefer madness’ propaganda claims that used to scare teens away from cannabis was that it could make male users develop extra fatty breast tissue (yes, you read that correctly: man boobs) and lose sexual interest. Over the years, I can’t say that I’ve noticed a “body-type” that belongs to cannabis users and I’ve met plenty of daily smokers with strong sexual appetites. This has gone a long way to decreasing my fears about chemically castrating myself, but I continue to wonder: what was the basis for that claim? Perhaps it was the result of a drastic oversimplification of a study that anti-cannabis activists had latched onto and distorted… if so, what was that original study? Are cannabinoids involved with sexual expression or motivation? The answer to that question appears to be yes, with several large hints given to the interaction between cannabinoids and sex hormones. First, receptors and metabolic enzymes of the endocannabinoid system are located all throughout the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis that is responsible for sexual behavior and expression. Secondly, researchers have established that changes in sex hormones can alter endocannabinoid production, which means that the relationship between cannabinoids and sex hormones is occurring in at least in one direction. Lastly, the endocannabinoid system is known to be involved in behaviors that are also regulated in part by gonadal hormones (sex organ hormones). The real question, however, is not whether effects are produced but what effects are produced. This question is not…

Using Cannabis to Reduce Opioid Use for Chronic Pain

The last time we spoke of opioids and cannabis, it was in reference to whether cannabis could interfere with opioid withdrawal recovery (spoiler alert: not observed). However, equally worth considering is the opposite end of the spectrum of opioid users: legitimate use of prescribed opioids to treat chronic pain. Noting the tendency for opioids to be abused and to elicit addiction in patients, doctors must be very careful about prescribing opioids and must gauge a variety of factors such as age and tolerance to pain. However in almost all cases, patients receiving opioids have tried other less potent painkillers, from over the counter to prescribed medications, and have not had success with these medicines. Unfortunately, while opioids represent one of the strongest painkillers known at this time, they have not been shown to be effective in managing chronic pain. Furthermore, our current medical understanding of pain is that it cannot simply be reduced to one factor or one area of the brain. As a result it is unlikely that one substance will contain the entire mechanism of action for eliminating pain. This dovetails nicely into cannabis use because as we’ve discussed on the blog previously, cannabis is capable of activating pain attenuation circuits through the endocannabinoid system. Specifically, cannabis can activate some of the same opioid pathways without actually supplying extraneous opioids to the body. Those that read the blog know that a pet peeve of Cornerstone is seeing small studies. We like to see large studies upwards of a…

Treating Sleep Apnea with THC

Sleep Apnea is a sleep breathing disorder that is identified by pauses in breathing during sleep. These pauses range from seconds to minutes long and are usually accompanied by shallow, inefficient breathing, resulting in a night’s worth of poor respiration. As the body fights to get air, less and less oxygen reaches the blood stream. When that level becomes too low, the brain’s protective mechanism finally jolts the body awake long enough to restore breathing. A person with Sleep Apnea is actually waking up over and over throughout the night, interrupting their own rest. Think that’s scary? Here’s the worst part: you might already have Sleep Apnea. Many individuals go for years without recognizing this condition, in part because the interruptions in sleep are too brief to remember. The resulting lack of quality sleep leads to general sleepiness and irritability that many become accustomed to after forgetting what a good night’s rest can feel like. Unfortunately, Sleep Apnea is common in adults. Close to 15% of the general population has Sleep Apnea or apnea-like breathing patterns. Even professional athletes, such as Boston Red Sox player, Mike Napoli, have had problems so serious that corrective surgery is required. In some cases, Sleep Apnea is caused by a lack of strength in breathing. Oftentimes, however, it is caused by an obstructed airway, where any part of the upper respiratory system has become kinked and closed-off. In that case the most common treatment has been the use of positive pressure devices that artificially…

Waking Up with CBD

In the last two articles we discussed the role in which THC and the CB1 cannabinoid receptors present in your body can extend sleep and solve certain sleep disorders. You may have noticed that so far the discussion of CBD has been absent. That is because CBD is thought to have virtually the opposite effect of THC, in that it is thought to increase wakefulness. Although some conditions only require medication at night, many conditions benefit from dosing throughout the day, such as chronic pain and neurological imbalances. As a result, Cornerstone members often pose the question of which strain to medicate with in situations where they need to feel alert and awake. For this reason, discovering the exact effect of CBD is important to the future of medical cannabis. Unfortunately, at this point in time, the evidence is not quite as resounding as that of THC and sleep, and while the basic hypothesis that CBD increases wakefulness has been supported numerous times, the issue has not been fully proved from a scientific standpoint. Today, we’ll dive in to a series of reports on CBD in regards to sleep and wakefulness. These come courtesy of the University of Campeche and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, which teamed with well-known Israeli cannabis researcher Raphael Mechoulam. In the first study, researchers began by implanting EEG monitors in the brains of rodents. These allowed them to use electrical signals to know what phases of sleep rodents were in, as well as make…

Getting to Sleep with Cannabis Part II: PTSD

Imagine having to re-live the worst moment of your life every time you sleep. Imagine that rather than being able to rest, you’re forced to experience that moment in slow motion over and over, feeling horribly trapped in a world you did not ask to be in. For some individuals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), this is literally the situation they face. In the last article about cannabis and sleep, one of the major points we hoped to communicate is that sleep disorders are caused by a variety of reasons, each with its own special set of circumstances. Individuals with sleep disorders resulting from PTSD comprise one of those sub-groups and can be one of the hardest groups to treat. As we’ve discussed in previous articles, PTSD can be thought of as the brain’s attempt to help itself or to protect the individual from further harm. After experiencing something deeply disturbing and traumatic, the brain becomes overly focused on the event, constantly re-hashing, re-living, and re-dicing the situation as if it were to glean some special knowledge or produce some behavior that will prevent the event from ever happening again. Unfortunately, that’s just not how life works. Sometimes terrible things happen for no reason at all. While fully processing serious events is important and necessary in the short term, true long-term healing means the ability to leave it in the past and to avoid letting it define one’s identity. Individuals with PTSD have difficulty doing this due to brain changes…

Getting to Sleep with Cannabis, Part I

I’ll declare bias early: I use cannabis to help me sleep. There is nothing more relaxing to me than medicating with a strong indica before bed, winding down, and feeling content over a hard day’s work. Many readers will be able to identify with that experience. In fact, trouble getting to sleep may be what led many of you to cannabis in the first place. Insomnia is listed as a qualifying pre-condition for prescription in many medical cannabis states. Cornerstone patients often specifically request strains that will help with this condition. So how, why, and what is cannabis doing? Why is this a phenomenon? The short answer is… there is no short answer. Insomnia can be caused by a lot of different factors. In some cases it can be genetic, with patients that are simply pre-disposed to more waking hours. In other cases, it can be environmental. As numerous blogs and movies seem to be pointing out, we live in a fast-paced, high stress society where one can’t truly “clock out” from work anymore. You might be reading emails and thinking about work literally right up until bedtime. In this case, insomnia is being caused by the inability to disengage with the struggles or challenges you are currently facing. On the other hand, insomnia may also be caused by chronic pain, whether from disease or injury. Patients may be woken up by sharp pains and may be unable to fall back to sleep. Likewise, PTSD patients may not be able…

How Cannabis Might Be Used to Target Melanoma

After years of negative propaganda from uninformed politicians, it is tempting to jump at evidence indicating cannabis could miraculously cure cancer. In fact, even well educated members of the cannabis community may tout this point as a reason for legalization. This mistake is understandable; the person may have read a report showing cannabinoids capable of killing tumor cells. The problem is that saying “CANNABIS CURES CANCER” without additional information is like saying, “MONEY CURES POVERTY”. Either statement could technically be argued to be true, but both statements are such reductive, simplistic views that they are entirely misleading on their own and actually very unhelpful to genuine progress. The truth is that smoking cannabis or using topical cannabis extract almost certainly has no impact on preventing or curing cancer. Where the real progress is happening involving cannabis and cancer actually rests in the consideration of the endocannabinoid (eCB) system as a chemotherapy target. Currently, many different types of drugs are used as chemotherapy agents. Unfortunately, a lot of these drugs also exhibit friendly fire and kill non-cancerous cells or deplete other body resources to the extent that the process of chemotherapy is arduous and difficult for the patient. As a result, doctors must carefully aim to give patients as much chemotherapy as they can safely accommodate and no more. The eCB system and cannabinoids show promise as new chemo drugs, because they exhibit anti-tumor properties while at the same time are very gentle and natural to the human body. Currently, many…

The Endocannabinoid System Part II

In the last article we guided you through the history of modern medicine’s understanding of the endocannabinoid system. We were met with a rather strange surprise ending for both the scientific and medical cannabis communities. Put simply, the focus of the entire medical cannabis movement had been cannabis itself; the plant and medicines produced via refining that plant. Yet, the underlying reason that cannabis is such an effective medicine is found in the body’s own endocannabinoid system. This system is activated not only through externally applied exocannabinoids, such as those in smoked or vaporized cannabis, but also the body’s own naturally-produced endocannabinoids, and finally by artificially produced cannabinoid receptor activators. The star of the show is not cannabis at all but the endocannabinoid system, which is activated through numerous pathways. Cannabis just happens to have been mankind’s first interaction with being able to affect, manipulate, and repair the body’s own endocannabinoid system. In that way, humans are very lucky for this unlikely intersection of evolution, where a chemical group a plant produces for its own benefit coincides with a chemical group that the human body uses to regulate itself. The cannabis plant still remains one of the cheapest and most energy efficient ways to produce cannabinoids that would require more complex and costly resources to produce in a laboratory setting. Because of this efficiency, the cannabis plant will likely continue to play a large role in the medical community even after more direct, more controllable means of directing the endocannabinoid…