Cannabis certainly made its mark upon the medical world within the past few decades. Historically shunned, and dismissed as a cheap drug, weed now bears its own therapeutic prowess. Researchers, healthcare experts and experienced users alike all testify to its claimed health benefits and properties. Even when it comes to the terrible COVID-19 pandemic, cannabis gets talked about and undergoes consideration fairly frequently.
However, scientists admit the matter of just how useful cannabis is for use in COVID-19 patients stumps them. Unlike the concept of gravity or climate change, there exists no consensus. Some argue the drug holds several positive health effects, while others that it may worsen symptoms. So, all in all, cannabis still comprises of widely-polarizing evidence that only serves to increase mistrust in it.
Recent studies highlight marked benefits to cannabis when used to treat COVID-19
One of the most exciting, and high-profile, studies that showcase cannabis’s therapeutic potential is this Israeli one. Eybna and CannaSoul, two collaborating cannabis companies, recently launched a joint study into cannabis terpenes and coronavirus. Terpenes, small molecules of organic nature naturally present in the cannabis plant, create the distinct scent of weed. This study found that terpenes proved an effective treatment for COVID-19 patients with ‘cytokine storm’.
Cytokine storm refers to a serious feared complication seen in some younger patients infected with COVID-19. Normally, the body releases cytokines as mediators of immune response. Thus, moderate levels of cytokines play a vital role in immunity. However, in some patients the immune system flares up so severely that excess cytokines release into the blood. This phenomenon leads to inflammation, fever, gastrointestinal disturbances, respiratory issues and even death. Hence, the study’s findings proved game-changing, and even seemed more effective than dexamethasone.
However, evidence also shows cannabis intake may severely hinder essential immune responses
Despite the previous study, scientists also investigate the side-effects of cannabis use and links to COVID-19. They found recently that cannabis may hinder immune responses even in uninfected patients. This is best explained by the way weed works on the body’s endocannabinoid system, which regulates sleep, immunity and other functions. Because combating infections requires an initial surge in immune response, cannabis users may make themselves more open to coronavirus infections.
Furthermore, a recent study that called into question cannabis’s negative effects in immunotherapy patients. To treat certain cancers, immunotherapy seeks to destroy cancerous cells. And ideally, the body’s innate immune cells should take as little damage as possible. Unfortunately, given marijuana’s tendency to reduce immunity, users on immunotherapy get weakened results. Hence, researchers now suggest users with suspected COVID-19 symptoms hold off on the pot.
Despite mixed results with treating COVID-19, medicinal cannabis still holds a wide array of therapeutic benefits
Let’s face it, cannabis still doesn’t get the attention and respect it deserves. In the medical field, however, it gets harder to ignore weed’s influence and popularity. Dentists and surgeons now use it for post-operation recoveries due to its painkilling effects. Its ability to smooth out brain waves makes it ideal for juvenile seizure patients. And lastly, what better drug to ease anxiety and depression patients?
So therefore, it seems a minor side effect of COVID-19 may leave users unsafe. As experts recommend, abstaining just until the COVID-19 vaccine comes out might prove safe. In the meantime, let’s hope more and more healthcare providers turn to prescribing cannabis where appropriate.
Medical Cannabis the cure for UK’s chronic pain issue
One of the major issues of NHS right now is dealing with chronic pain patients. A recent study done by The British Pain Society disclosed that about 40 percent of the UK’s population suffers from chronic pain. This translates to about 26 million people that have been suffering from a pain that has lasted for longer than three months. It is about time the UK looks into its policy on Medical Cannabis.
Studies suggest that this percentage will only rise in the future. NHS is looking at about 60 percent of people suffering from chronic pain above the age of 75. The majority of the patients suffering from these issues just go from one prescription drug to the other with no favorable benefits. There are approximately 4.6 million appointments each year for this issue only. This issue also uses some of the major resources at NHS with about £69m in yearly cost.
The common treatment often directs patients to opioid painkillers. This is also an important issue. According to Public Health England, the UK has a dangerous growth rate in opioid use. The prescriptions are rising by 22% over the past decade. There are about 40 million prescriptions a year which shows how serious this issue is getting. NHS does prohibit patients from the consumption of opioid drugs as they can be addictive. In addition, they are looking for alternatives to opioid drugs.
One such alternative is the medical use of cannabis. UK law was amended in November 2018 to allow specialist doctors to prescribe a range of cannabis-based medicines to patients. Besides the law, there are very few instances of the use of medicinal treatments using cannabis. This is probably because of the complexities that exist in the process as well as the lack of study on the topic. A 2019 metric suggested that about 1.4 million people in the UK regularly use cannabis illegally for medicinal purposes. If the UK does legalize the treatment it can help a lot of people around the country.
Medical Cannabis, the alternative:
The UK’s pain problem has about 540,000 people nationwide addicted to opioids. With the percentage rising every year there is a dire need for THC-based alternatives. We currently need analgesics that are non-addictive and non-toxic at the same time. Interestingly, evidence from clinical trials showed the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis. The cannabinoids have shown reducing effects on the neuropathic pain intensity in various studies until now
Take the US for example, the US government has made the medicinal use of cannabis legal for a while now. Consequently, the prescriptions for opioids and anti-depressants have dropped by around 30% in the country. Not only that the medical cannabis legalization and prescription have helped in reducing about 31% of deaths linked to opioids each year. Further analysis also shows that with the new laws in place the opioid prescriptions fell by 2.21 million daily doses filled per year.
All these metrics provide one simple piece of information, Cannabis-based alternatives have far more advantages when compared to conventional drugs. We have seen from the example of how America benefited from the legalization. Since it is a major issue in the UK as well, the government can’t put it aside for long.
The UK currently exports cannabis-based medicines to 48 countries worldwide where medical cannabis is legal. The country itself has only three cannabis medicines that are licensed for use after extensive clinical trials. Uk is still falling behind on Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) in the country which is an important step in legalization. However, those are expected to happen by 2021.
Consequently, as the chronic pain problem grows in the UK, we can expect NHS doctors to call for a change sooner or later. They can not just continue to deny the patients proper cure because of the missing legal framework in the country. Hopefully, we will see a change in the system after proper research in the field.
Is it time for Japan to legalize cannabis?
Cannabis has been illegal in Japan since 1948.
Under the current legislations defined by the Cannabis Control Law, its use and possession can be punished with five years of imprisonment on top of heavy financial penalties. In addition, anyone found involved in the cultivation, sale or transport of the drug can land in jail for about 7 to 10 years and made liable to pay a hefty fine to authorities.
These stringent policies have led to a lot of stigmatization of cannabis in Japan. According to some legalization advocates in the country, this stigma is so strong that it can be analogous to pillory surrounding criminals.
This criminalization of the plant has led to a complete shift in social attitudes towards it. Therefore, in order to bring about policy reforms in the industry, many advocates consider raising public awareness about the drug as the most vital course of action.
History of cannabis use in Japan
A historical review of cannabis use in Japan reveals that it was cultivated in the region since the pre-Neolithic period. This means that it was associated with the culture of the region since thousands of years.
If that period seems too ancient to consider, data from 1954 can be far more convincing. According to statistics reported in Medical Cannabis Network Quarterly, there were about 37,313 hemp farmers in Japan in 1954, compared to barely 37 in 2016.
Therefore, it can be established that cannabis was a popular agricultural product in the country back in the day.
Before its US influenced legal ban in 1948, the plant was widely used in the country. It was also considered sacred. The followers of the Shinto religious tradition believed that cannabis had the power of purification. They also respected it as a symbol of the sun, the inspiration for the Japanese flag.
In addition to this, cannabis was widely used in producing fiber and various other products. According to Junichiro Takayasu, director of Japan’s only cannabis museum, “The cannabis-fiber weaving technique used by Japanese craftsmen is very conscientious handwork, and I think it is important to carry on the tradition. The clothes from genuine cannabis fiber are cool in summer and warm in the winter, which is perfect for the Japanese climate.”
Struggling for cannabis acceptance and legalization
Despite of the strict laws surrounding the cannabis industry, groups of legalization advocates are emerging in the country. Green Zone Japan and Japanese Clinical Association of Cannabinoids are among the most prominent names that are striving to secure a legal status for cannabis in the country.
Aim of Green Zone Japan
Green Zone Japan is a medical cannabis advocacy group that came into being in 2017. The main aim of the founders Naoko Miki and Yuji Masakata is to bring up to date medical cannabis information to Japanese medical professionals and the general public in order to educate them on the subject.
In a recent move towards its legalizing efforts, Green Zone is adding subtitles to a documentary called CBD Nation. The documentary will be virtually screened for members all year long for maximum viewership.
Aim of Japanese Clinical Association of Cannabinoids
Japanese Clinical Association of Cannabinoids is the official partner of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines. It was established in 2015 to aid healthcare workers in conducting cannabinoid researches in Japan.
They are working to analyze and evaluate CBD clinical researches and the effects of foods infused with it.
Businesses using cannabis derivative, CBD
The lack of awareness about therapeutic benefits of CBD and the stringent laws have negatively affected businesses in the country.
It was among the most important agricultural crops when a complete ban was placed on it. The resulting outrage and disapproval by the most hard hit farmers forced the government to revise the laws. What we see today is the “revised” version due to the retaliation.
Today, cultivation of hemp is still possible, but under the strict control of the government. Growers have to obtain a cultivation license and permission before they can begin plantation. The bureaucratic process for obtaining and maintaining a license is so long and tiresome that agricultures are discouraged.
Despite of this, Japan is advancing small steps towards cannabis normalization. Entrepreneurs like Kota Shimomura, owner of CBD Coffee in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward, are giving new business ideas and clientele to the cannabis industry. Due to the increasing demand, he believes that the CBD market will surpass tobacco in the nest five years. He is also planning to open a second location in Shinjuku by the end of this year.
Then there is another line of beauty products launched by Priyanka Yoshikawa, a model and former Miss World Japan. “I wanted to have my own skin care line for a long time. And I saw that no one was really doing a good, CBD-based skin care line.” She also believes that CBD will provide the much needed relief to the workaholic population of Japan. It will allow them some “relaxation and one-on-one time”.
This industry is expected to bring in a lot of job opportunities for it agricultural revival. According to Masakata, a neurologist by profession and volunteer at Green Zone, this revival will bring young people to come back to the countryside.
Looking at Hemp and Marijuana through a law maker’s lens
Hemp and marijuana (cannabis) are cousins that belong to the same plant family. Although they are often mistaken as two distinct species, reality is that both of them stem from the same Cannabis plant.
Their key difference emanates from their varied THC concentration levels. Both hemp and marijuana can produce high levels of CBD, but THC levels can be distinctive, giving each plant its unique set of therapeutic qualities.
The uniqueness of properties also differentiates them in the eyes of law-makers. While hemp and its derivatives are largely legal throughout the United States, marijuana still has a long way to go. Its tendency to intoxicate has categorized it as a Schedule 1 drug. Whether or not this is fair is a separate debate which you can read here.
So why does marijuana intoxicate users, while hemp does not? Lets dig in to the reasons.
THC – The psychoactive compound
THC is a psychoactive compound that is found in cannabis, meaning that it is present in both hemp and marijuana. The key difference – it is more abundant in marijuana and sparse in hemp.
It can bind directly with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain, allowing it to react efficiently with the endocannabinoid system of the body.
According to research THC’s chemical structure is very similar to anandamide, a brain chemical that influences pleasure, memory, movement, coordination and perception.
Having a similar structure with a chemical that already exists in the brain allows THC to be easily recognized by the body. This gives it an edge in acting through the cannabinoid receptors, allowing it to activate the brain’s reward system.
These reward stimuli lead to the expression of dopamine – a neurotransmitter and feel good hormone of the body. THC not only stimulates its production, but the levels it expresses are notably higher than what the body would naturally produce in response to a similar stimuli.
As a result of this over-expression, THC leads to the euphoric high in its users. Due to this, THC poses a substantial likelihood of addiction among its users.
Hemp VS Marijuana – who has a higher THC concentration?
Having understood the psychological impact of THC, it will now be easier to contemplate the difference in the legal statuses of hemp and marijuana.
Hemp and Hemp Seeds
The hemp plant is capable of producing a wide range of cannabinoids including THC and CBD. What’s unique about THC produced by hemp is that the concentration levels of the compound are not high enough for inflicting intoxicating effects. Due to this hemp and its derivatives are legally accepted in all 50 states of USA.
By definition, hemp is classified as a cannabis plant that does not contain more than 0.3% THC in the United States. This threshold for legality varies between countries. For instance it is 0.2% in the European Union and zero in Great Britain.
Hemp seeds have been used for a number of purposes for the past many years. Due to their nutritional properties, hemp infused products are found in alternative health clinics as well as health food stores. They have been in use particularly due their anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and calming properties.
In addition to this, hemp seeds and oil also improve heart health and aid in rejuvenation of skin, bones and muscles by providing protein. Moreover, they help with hormones, boost brain health, relieve pain and improve digestion.
Marijuana and marijuana seeds
The marijuana plant is classified as a cannabis strain that contains more than 0.3% THC. The seeds of these plants are generally more expensive and the plants require some exclusive care measures.
Not only do marijuana seeds need to be grown in controlled settings, but their growth cycle is significantly shorter. While it is 108-120 days for hemp, marijuana seeds take about 60-90 days. Medical marijuana has to be grown with extra caution with proper spacing between each plant.
While hemp is used in a number of industries, marijuana is solely grown for medicinal and recreational uses.
Can they be grown together?
Although hemp and marijuana look very similar to each other, they cannot be grown together. It is highly possible for the pollen from hemp to dilute marijuana’s psychoactivity, ruining both crops.
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