In 1986, President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse act. Suddenly, people caught possessing 100 cannabis plants could receive the same sentence as people caught possessing 100 grams of heroin.
Today, things are different, and yet according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), along with heroin, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug. A Schedule 1 drug is defined as having a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. Other Schedule 1 drugs are:
- Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or ecstasy)
- Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
- Methaqualone (Quaalude and Sopor)
Confusingly, however, although the DEA considers cannabis to have no currently accepted medical use, medical cannabis is legal in 37 states. Recreational cannabis is legal in 19 states, as well as Guam. Clearly, although cannabis is becoming increasingly socially acceptable, it still holds a dubious place in contemporary life.
So, what exactly is cannabis, and how does it affect people who use it? Like any other substance, including caffeine, consuming cannabis in large amounts can be dangerous. When used responsibly, however, cannabis has many positive benefits. Far from a sketchy drug, cannabis can be a medicine.
Here are 3 major benefits of using medical and recreational cannabis.
#1 Cannabis Relieves Pain
Cannabis is a source of analgesic medication. It provides a milder alternative to heavy-duty analgesic medications, like pharmaceutical opioids, that can effectively treat pain but often come with severe, even debilitating, side effects, as well as the risk of abuse and addiction. Common pharmaceutical opioids include
Doctors tend to prescribe patients these and other pharmaceutical opioids to treat acute pain resulting from, for instance, surgery or car accidents. They can help a great deal in the short term, but people can quickly develop a tolerance for them, and the long-term cons of pharmaceutical opioid use often outweigh the pros.
Cannabis, by contrast, can help with chronic pain in both the short and long term. Cannabis helps relieve pain because it contains cannabinoids, which resemble the chemicals our bodies naturally produce to cope with pain. Doctors prescribe medical cannabis to help chronic pain, as well as:
- Nerve pain
- Spasticity due to multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Muscle spasms
- Pain caused by childbirth
In many states (and all of Canada,) you don’t need to go through a doctor to obtain cannabis. You can, for instance, purchase cannabis in the form of oil, buds, and weed edibles.
#2 Cannabis Reduces Anxiety
In addition to relieving physical pain, cannabis can have positive effects on mental health and anxiety disorders. Cannabis has two main active ingredients. Each can help our mental health in its own way. The two active ingredients of cannabis are:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis. It produces the sensation of being “high.” It does this by activating the brain’s reward system, causing the brain to release dopamine. Our brains also produce dopamine when we get enough sleep, exercise regularly, get plenty of sunlight, meditate, listen to music, and eat lots of protein.
CBD is a non-psychoactive, anti-inflammatory compound in cannabis that works by interacting with receptors in the central nervous system, producing a calming effect, relieving pain, and improving sleep.
Both CBD and THC can help relieve psychological symptoms of anxiety such as:
- Trouble concentrating
- A sense of being on edge
Cannabis can also help reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety such as:
- Excessive sweating
- Trouble breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Chest tightness
- Hot flashes
- Upset stomach
Cannabis can be especially helpful for people with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD). Cannabis can also help reduce symptoms of anxiety caused by:
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
#3 Cannabis Boosts Creativity
Cannabis not only relieves pain and anxiety but also boosts creativity, especially in people who don’t tend to be highly creative. Non-creative people who consume small amounts of cannabis can become more creative, while highly creative people—like professional writers, artists, and musicians—remain as creative as they usually are. So, a professional painter might not become more creative after having consumed cannabis, but a regular Joe who paints now and then for fun might very well come up with some new ideas.
On a biological level, cannabis boosts creativity by increasing blood flow to regions of the brain associated with creativity: the frontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, and amygdala.
People who’d like to take cannabis to be more creative should be warned, however, that in addition to dosage, set and setting play a huge role in determining how the substance will affect their creativity. Cannabis can also increase blood flow to areas of the brain associated with paranoia, so it’s important to consume cannabis when you’re in a calm state of mind and a safe place to be.