The Science of Marijuana: Insights into its Effects on Pain, Sleep, Anxiety, and Beyond


Are you using or considering using marijuana to treat anxiety, pain, muscle spasms, morning sickness during pregnancy, insomnia, and other conditions? According to a new analysis of more than 100 clinical trials and meta-analyses, you may be startled to learn there is little high-quality evidence on the benefits of marijuana.

“After applying very strict quantitative criteria and accounting for both observational studies and experimental trials, the majority of the associations between cannabis and health outcomes were supported by very low or low credibility,” said Dr. Marco Solmi, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Ottawa and researcher at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Canada.

In fact, the majority of the most convincing evidence in the study pointed to the potential dangers of marijuana use, particularly for expectant women, individuals with mental health disorders, and adolescents and young adults who presently make up the majority of cannabis users.

“The most concerning findings are the multifaceted negative effects of cannabis on brain function, as evidenced by associations with poor cognition (and) mental disorders,” Solmi said.

“Given these findings and the fact that nearly two-thirds of those with mental disorders develop symptoms before the age of 25, it seems reasonable to recommend that cannabis be avoided by younger segments of the population,” he said.

The review did find some benefits of cannabis use, particularly with “seizure reduction, chronic pain, and muscle spasms,” according to Carol Boyd, founding director of the Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking & Health at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The majority of studies on seizures, vertigo, and pain, according to clinical pharmacologist Robert Page II, who convened the medical writing group for the American Heart Association’s 2020 scientific statement on marijuana, examined the effects of synthetic cannabis or cannabis extracts. Page was also excluded from the investigation.

Such lab-made cannabis-based medicines have extremely high standards and may even be regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration, which is not the case for the vast majority of products available for purchase at local cannabis dispensaries, according to Page.

“Therefore, from a public health perspective, I don’t want people to read this and think, ‘Oh, I can go to my dispensary and treat my pain.'” The answer is no, because the products that patients actually use are rarely evaluated in these studies.”

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Where cannabis may cause injury

Mental health: The analysis found no benefit for alleviating the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. In actuality, the opposite is true, stated Solmi.

The review found that cannabis has a significant effect on mental health. The drug increased the risk of psychotic or mental health disorder onset, and its use after the onset of a mental disorder worsened clinical outcomes, according to the study.

“For instance, cannabis increases the risk of relapse and impairs cognition in people with psychosis,” explained Solmi.

Psychosis, which is typically defined as emotional distress so severe that a person loses touch with reality, can occur in individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it can also be precipitated by “sleep deprivation, certain prescription medications, and alcohol or drug abuse.”

Studies indicate that pregnant women frequently use cannabis to alleviate nausea, particularly during the first trimester. However, the assessment discovered “convincing” evidence of a link between cannabis use and the danger of having a baby with a low birth weight.

“The majority of the literature on nausea during pregnancy focuses on prescription-grade cannabis, which is synthesized and strictly regulated in terms of dose, quality, and THC levels,” Page said.

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the component of the cannabis plant that generates the “high” — a significant reason why marijuana is effective for treating nausea and pain, he added.

“It alters perception, which can affect the experience of pain,” Page explained. Cannabis is linked to low birth weight and, based on animal data, may have effects on the fetal brain. I do not recommend it to expectant women. Cannabis can also be transmitted to a nursing infant; why take the risk when there are safer alternatives?”

Altering perception and reality while the brain is still developing, as is the case during adolescence and the early 20s, is detrimental to cognition and mental health, according to the review.

“Adolescents and young adults in particular should be aware that cannabis can have detrimental effects on their mental health, should receive adequate information on the effects of cannabis, should not use cannabis, or should monitor their mental health if they decide to use it,” he added.

Beyond psychiatric symptoms, clinical investigations have established a link between cannabis and negative effects on memory, verbal cognition, and visual recall, according to the study. Cannabis impairs multiple cognitive domains, according to Solmi. Additional research should be conducted on this topic, as our findings cannot determine whether the effects are enduring. He added that young people should cease using cannabis if they observe a decline in their academic performance, social relationships, mental health, or general functioning.

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Where cannabis can assist

Seizure disorders, muscle spasms, chronic pain, and sleep have all been shown to be helped by marijuana, but only in certain individuals, according to the study.

Solmi stated, “Cannabidiol (CBD) is beneficial for epilepsy, and cannabis-based medications can improve spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis, pain in chronic pain conditions, and sleep in cancer patients.”

“Overall, cannabis was effective at alleviating pain across a variety of pain measures and population types,” he said. There is, however, “no evidence that cannabis improves sleep in the general population.”

Solmi emphasized that no one suffering from any of these conditions should self-medicate with cannabis.

“Patients with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, or chronic pain should seek medical advice and not self-treat their symptoms with cannabis, as it can be associated with adverse events, just like other commonly prescribed substances and medications,” Solmi said.

Conclusions with high certainty in either direction — positive or negative — were uncommon, according to Cinnamon Bidwell, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder who was not involved in the study.

“This research has been severely constrained by regulatory barriers,” she stated. The most important takeaway from this summary is the need for researchers to conduct many more rigorous and valid trials on the risks and benefits of cannabis forms available on legal markets.


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Source: CNN

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