Replacing Prescription Drugs with Cannabis

One of the recurring themes in Cornerstone Blog articles is the idea that cannabis can achieve some of the results of pharmaceutical drugs with less risk to health and financial cost. Opioids, for instance, are often seen as the last line of defense in treating pain, since they represent the strongest chemical family of pain-killers known to medicine. However, opioids are also incredibly addictive. Even legally prescribed opioids, in fact, often lead to long-term drug addiction. This development occurs so often in fact, that doctors are required a special license (in addition to their medical license) to administer them. As we’ve explored in numerous articles, cannabis and specifically CBD can reduce perception of pain, especially if it is caused by swelling and inflammation. It would be foolish to think that cannabis could entirely replace all painkillers, of course, and certainly there are cases where short-term effect outweighs long-term risk of addiction, as in the case of terminally ill patients. However, the idea being put forth by the scientific and medical community is that if a significant portion of the pain is reduced, the corresponding amount of necessary opioid could also be significantly reduced. The same line of reasoning could be used for a variety of other treatment indications beyond pain, such as anxiety and depression, for instance. As readers know, anti-depressants can occasionally have unintended side-effects and increase suicidal ideation. Some anti-depressants can also reduce energy that is vital to personality expression, which is why many patients do not comply…

Cannabis And “Creativity”

Cannabis in North America, since its earliest roots with Jazz musicians, has always had an association with artists and musicians. Louie Armstrong, for instance, used cannabis extensively and spoke about the use during interviews. However, despite being anecdotally known as a creativity enhancer, cannabis’ creative effects have not been formally studied.  Aside from the normal limitations on cannabis research due to legality in the latter 1900’s, part of the difficulty stems from the problem that we still have a difficult time defining creative thinking scientifically. What makes a song or a work of art creative? One measure of creative thinking is called “schizotypy”. Schizotypy is not directly “creativity” and is actually defined as a measure of dissociative thinking. In this model, truly dissociative thinking, or the ability to have unrelated cognitive thought, which allows the creation of previously un-thought ideas, is schizophrenic. In this sense, dissociative thinking is not necessarily healthy. However, studies do confirm that artistic individuals and creative individuals are more likely to show schizophrenic symptoms. This indicates that schizotypy might be one indication of raw creativity. According to this theory, everyone displays traits of a general spectrum of schizotypic behavior. One group, from University College London, tested 160 cannabis users both under the influence of cannabis and abstinent either seven days before or after use, to measure schizotypy in both situations. To cover all bases, researchers ran multiple tests on test subjects, including: Psychotomimetic States Inventory (PSI) – a psychological inventory that measures symptoms of psychosis or…

Does the Endocannabinoid System hold the Secret to Ending Migraine Headaches?

The endocannabinoid system, which is the body’s system of natural cannabinoids, receptors that metabolize cannabinoids of any source, and enzymes that control that interaction, is one of the few body-wide systems that has direct interaction with both neurological and physiological disorders. A quick review of the Cornerstone blog yields a wealth of evidence of the endocannabinoid system influencing everything from general pain, to sleep, to neurological malfunction, to immune system regulation, psychological health, and much more. In February 2016, specifically, we wrote about the possibility of cannabinoids/cannabis being used to treat migraine headaches: Soothing Migraine Headaches with Cannabis Anecdotally, this study confirmed that medical cannabis patients experience relief from migraines in a large sample (121 people). However, at the time, little was understood about the potential cause of relief, as well as the ramifications of cannabinoid signaling on other body functions and systems. In July, the International Cannabis Research Symposium Journal published more information shedding light on additional research surrounding cannabinoids and migraines, as well as on the potential interaction with kynurenine, a receptor antagonist (blocker) related to glutamate, one of the main neurotransmitters in the central nervous system, which includes the brain. To review, migraine headaches affect roughly 16% of the population at different stages of life! This has yielded an estimated 18.4 billion euro cost to European healthcare a year, not to mention extreme decrease in quality of life for patients suffering from migraines. While researchers are still trying to pin down what exactly causes migraines, we can…

Debunking Previous CBD -> THC Conversion Research

Earlier in the year, we published an article about CBD converting to small amounts of THC in the stomach, based on a 2016 study lead by John Merrick, “Identification of Psychoactive Degradants of Cannabidiol in Simulated Gastric and Physiological Fluid”. This study found that cannabidiol, when immersed in a bath of acid similar to stomach acid, produces a significant amount of THC in the same acid bath. Researchers hypothesized that this was because THC and CBD, despite having wildly different effects, actually start as the same pre-cursor chemical (cannabigerolic acid). Different enzymes then convert this chemical to destination chemicals THC or CBD, depending on plant genetics and environmental factors. However, strangely enough, in the year following the study, we have not seen the results confirmed. Were this a less significant finding, we might expect such delay. However, the finding is especially relevant to cannabis/cannabinoid research because it undermines CBD as a therapeutic drug. If part of the drug is converting to THC in stomach acid, this effect might preclude its use in situations where THC must be avoided. However, despite the lack of confirmation, outstanding questions loom, such as, if edible CBD converts to THC, why are CBD users not noticing psychedelic effects? How did such a large, obvious conclusion fly below the radar? Apparently because it’s false. As far as we can determine at this point in time, there is no reason to believe CBD converts to THC in the human stomach. Spearheading the commentary refuting this article, Franjo…

Genetics Modify Response to Cannabis: A Look at the COMT Gene

Last week we talked about the need for genetic testing of both the cannabis plant itself and of patients. Speaking in broad terms, we noted that slight alterations in human DNA can lead to noticeable differences in reactions to cannabis. This is something medical cannabis patients can attest to when comparing strains with other medical users. A strain that makes one person feel tired may have little impact on the energy level of another. Today we can introduce one specific mechanism that seems to influence genetic variation in response to cannabis. Interestingly enough, researchers at Warneford Hospital in the UK actually approached this discovery while searching for causes of psychosis (when thought and emotions are so impaired, patients suffer a disconnect from reality). One of the most debated questions in the scientific community is whether cannabis contributes to the development of psychosis. Believers cite that while many people consume cannabis with no lingering health issue, some develop psychotic symptoms immediately after first exposure. Critics do not necessarily disagree with this observation but believe that many different substances and environmental factors can trigger psychotic illness. Regardless, the data would suggest that if only some patients develop symptoms, the cause might be genetic. What gene is causing this? Researchers have identified catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT) as a gene that regulates dopamine in the cortex of the brain. Studies show that cognitive function is improved in animals “with reduced COMT activity”. This pattern implies that the gene is some sort of limiter, perhaps designed to…

Soothing the Stomach: Controlling Intestinal Inflammation with Cannabis

As readers know, we’ve written about IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) multiple times, specifically in response to its high prevalence. IBS occurs more than 200,000 times in the US each year. Partially spurred by processed foods, IBS is naturally more common in developed nations and as readers can guess, continues to grow in incidence. By the numbers, many of our readers will identify with the intestinal pain, gas, diarrhea, and constipation brought on by IBS. Unfortunately, the cause of IBS is not well understood, and likewise, no single cure exists; treatment can sometimes ease symptoms. As we’ve reported previously, cannabidiol (CBD), one of the most discussed molecules produced by the cannabis plant, has shown promise at healing inflammation and restoring normal intestinal motility, which is the ability of the intestine to move along/process food. Most studies have utilized rodents with CBD administered via body cavity injections. Currently researchers are seeking to establish whether these results can be duplicated in human subjects, as supported by anecdotal evidence. However, duplication poses an obvious practical issue in humans due to method of administration. Injecting CBD into the stomach each day? Yikes. Toward the goal of transitioning studies to humans, the next logical step is to test oral CBD on mice. Should this method prove to be as effective as injection, researchers will possess a stronger indication of oral CBD as a plausible treatment of IBS in humans. One research group, from Naples, Italy, set out to conduct such research. However, rather than only test…

Cannabis Use and Executive Function

In pop culture, perhaps because cannabis is often placed in the same group as other recreational substances, stoners get a bad rap for being slow, under-performers. In the now-famous film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, one of the main characters, Jeff Spicoli, typifies the surfer/stoner as perceived by a large swath of society; he’s essentially an airhead. This type of media portrayal has given the population at large the idea that cannabis is not beneficial for long term mental health. To this degree, almost every medical cannabis user may experience the concern of a well-meaning friend who asks, “That can’t be good for you over time, right?” This is a good question for someone first exposed to any new medicine. Patients should be aware that even the most documented pharmaceutical medicines can be dangerous and misprescribed. As a result, everyone should be vigilant about the effect of taking a new medicine. However, as we’ve covered in previous articles, we’re seeing no long-term irreversible effects statistically. The idea that cannabis is somehow destroying the machinery of the brain long-term is patently false. A more plausible argument might be that cannabis re-directs mental traffic. Sadly, anti-cannabis proponents have latched onto studies that give incomplete results. For instance, it may be true in one test that cannabis users on average perform more slowly. Researchers may then go on to find that when the same test population is weeded of heroin users, the negative effects disappear and all groups perform equally. In other words,…

How Adolescent Social Experiences Affect The Endcocannabinoid System

Lately movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and TV shows like Narcos have managed a difficult task: making villains likable. In some cases, despite all morality, we find ourselves rooting against the clear “good guys” and hoping the “bad guys” will continue to cleverly outfox all authority. How can the writers create such a shift in audience support? Back-story. By taking us along the personal development of the character, we understand what the character dreams for himself/herself and what the character is running from. We see fear and hope in the same troubled character, and this gives us a foothold into understanding his/her decision-making. In absolute contrast, in most Disney movies, villains seem to spontaneously show up bad. We have no mixed feelings, because we have nothing to feel that is good. Likewise until recent advances in neuroscience and psychology, we’ve had little explanation for a variety of illnesses and shifts in behavior. Most scientists of the early 1900’s would not have believed that a poor social interaction during adolescence could physically affect brain development. In fact, to suggest that anything non-physical could have a physical consequence years later would have seemed far-fetched. However, as we now know, the brain is very plastic and responds to environmental challenges. In childhood and adolescence, the brain is creating a structure in response to the environment in an attempt to best prepare itself for future needs. However, as we’ve seen in other illnesses, the brain does not always develop ideally. Harmful socialization…

A Lot To “Digest”: Cannabinoids in the Gastrointestinal System

As a society, we are indebted to researchers who’ve dedicated entire lives to investigating less popular subjects. Early on, medical researchers heightened interest in cannabis miffed a lot of the scientific community as a whole, who thought of cannabis as a recreational drug unworthy of study. However, the study of cannabis and its active ingredients lead directly to the discovery of the mammalian endocannabinoid system. While we initially saw this system as an unessential group of cannabinoid receptors, cannabinoids, and enzymes involved in regulating that system, we now understand just how vital it is to the body. Likewise, while we initially thought cannabinoid receptors only played a direct role in bowel inflammation, we now understand that the entire endocannabinoid system plays a major role in the digestive process. Recently, researchers at UC Riverside released an aggregate review of studies involving the endocannabinoid system in relation to the gastrointestinal system. We found this review especially helpful and have summarized important highlights for readers. The full article is free to the public at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940133/   Gut Motility To function, the intestine must absorb nutrients but also send food onward. The ability to move food onward is called “motility” and is driven by timed contraction of the intestinal muscle. The gut interacts with the brain to determine the pace of contraction and therefore, food motility. Unfortunately, sometimes the timing of contractions can go haywire. Cannabinoids, whether naturally occurring endocannabinoids or externally administered cannabinoids, have been shown to reduce motility in a dose-dependent matter.…

Opioid Withdrawal Treatment: Finding New Roads

Opioids/opiates have provided significant and sometimes life-saving relief to countless patients. They remain some of the strongest painkillers available and can be especially helpful in rendering comfort in otherwise extremely painful terminal illnesses. Opioids work by activating opioid receptors located in the brain, which are densely located in emotion-controlling areas that process pain. Unfortunately, prolonged or extreme use of opioids can lead to dependence, or the body adjusting by limiting natural opioid production and therefore resulting in the body physiologically needing increasing amounts of external opioids to function properly. However, aside from practical issues, high doses of opioids can lead to respiratory failure, death, and other serious health consequences, which means that for all but terminally ill users, opioid withdrawal will eventually occur. Withdrawal is not only unpleasant physically and psychologically (depression, lack of appetite, diarrhea), but potentially life-threatening. In fact, withdrawal is so severe that it can sometimes prevent patients from ending opiate use, causing a downward spiral. As a result, modern doctors are cautious to prescribe opioids and usually seek to wean patients off opioids through slowly decreasing prescriptions. Perhaps more concerning though, aside from medical patients, roughly 4.3 million people in the US alone are currently non-medical users of narcotic pain relievers. Drugs like heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, etc. are all opiate-based drugs that are frequently abused for the recreational high. Meanwhile, even drugs intended to wean opiate use, such as buprenorphine, are commonly sold and traded. To date, only compounds that directly activate opioid receptors have been…