2018 delivered some of the biggest cannabis research headlines seen over the last months. The list is by no means exhaustive and only represents peer-reviewed research articles. Many studies are currently in flux and much more news will be steadily entering the media as new and current studies conclude.
Current Research at a Glance:
Cannabis proved safe and effective at treating pain in the elderly
CBD protecting against the damage of iron in aging brain diseases
Balanced THC and CBD in colorectal cancer prevention
CBD protects from Endometrial cancer by activating TRPV1 receptors
THC enhances the pain-relieving effects of opioids in double-blind, placebo-controlled study
Cannabis is safe and effective at treating pain in the elderly
The elderly (+65 years of age) comprise a rapidly growing group of medical cannabis consumers. Understanding cannabis’ efficacy and safety in these patients is mandatory. A recent survey was conducted in over 900 elderly Israeli patients. These patients used medicinal cannabis for at least six months.
93.7 percent of patients reported that cannabis improved their symptoms after six months of use.
75 percent of elderly patients in this study had no prior history with cannabis consumption. Each participant began using cannabis for pain-related conditions including: cancer pain, chemo-related nausea, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and Crohn’s disease. While THC-forward strains were the most consumed, CBD-rich strains were especially common in patients suffering from pain, chemotherapy side effects, Parkinson’s disease and inflammatory diseases.
Regardless of strain preference, 93.7 percent of patients reported that cannabis improved their symptoms after six months of use. It was particularly helpful in reducing pain, on average reducing pain from an 8 (on a scale to 10) to a 4. This reduction in pain led 15 percent of participants to entirely stop their opioid pain medications.
Is Cannabis better for chronic pain than Opioids?
Cannabis use is reported to have improved quality-of-life from “bad” to “good” with very few side effects. The most common side-effects, dizziness and dry mouth, were reported in only ten percent and seven percent of patients, respectively. Two percent or less reported confusion, disorientation, or weakness. The findings strongly support the safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis, especially for elderly populations needing treatment for pain-related conditions.
CBD protects the brain from damaging effects of iron
Throughout life, we build up mineral levels in the body and brain. Excessive amounts of certain minerals can cause health problems. The accumulation of iron in certain brain regions is thought to contribute to aging diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Protecting against the damaging effects of iron overload is a new approach to protecting the brain from neurodegenerative aging diseases. Iron overload impairs the function of the cell’s primary energy producers, the mitochondria. It will also disrupt the DNA. This impairs brain cell function. This can also lead to overloads of free radicals - which increases brain inflammation and causes further damage. A study published in “Brain Research Bulletin,” found that CBD protected against the damaging effects of iron overload on mitochondrial function in rats. CBD didn’t get rid of the excess iron, but instead, enabled the mitochondria to better handle the iron so that it was less disruptive. CBD also prevented iron’s damaging effects on the mitochondrial DNA.
How does Cannabis consumption affect neurodegenerative diseases?
It has been proposed that CBD’s potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities could help protect against the damage to the mitochondria and their DNA. The results from this study support the use of CBD as a preventative tool in aging brain diseases.
This idea that CBD may be prophylactic is gaining increasing support. CBD has also been found to protect against brain damage caused by cardiovascular events, brain injury and alcohol damage.
Balanced THC and CBD in colorectal cancer prevention
Many patients currently utilize cannabis for treatment of cancer-related symptoms, like pain and nausea. There is building evidence from laboratory studies that certain cannabinoids may have anti-cancer effects.
A study by Austrian scientists determined that:
CB1 receptor activation has tumor-suppressing effects in colon cancer, while GPR55 receptor activation has tumor-promoting effects.
CB1 receptors are major targets of the high-inducing cannabinoid, THC. By activating CB1 receptors, THC can have tumor-suppressing effects. GPR55 is a more recently identified target of CBD.
CBD has been shown to block the activity of GPR55 receptors, and therefore, could protect against colorectal cancer by blocking GPR55 activity and suppressing tumor growth.
These findings suggest a combination of THC and CBD can protect against colon cancer by activating the tumor-suppressing CB1 receptors, while blocking the tumor-promoting GPR55 receptors. CBD also protects against the development of tolerance to THC’s effects on CB1 receptors, which is the weakening of its effects over time. Therefore, a combination of THC and CBD can potentially prevent colorectal cancer and protect against tolerance to the treatment.
The study only supports the mechanistic theory behind the benefits of THC and CBD in colorectal cancer. Further studies are still needed before this is a clinical treatment strategy.
Can Cannabis cure cancer?
CBD protects against endometrial cancer by activating TRPV1 receptors. In another cancer-related study, scientists working in Portugal investigated the effects of THC and CBD on endometrial (uterine) cancer.
CBD caused many of these cancerous cells to die by activating TRPV1 receptors.
Endometrial cancer can result from consistently high estrogen levels. This happens with genetics or supplementation during menopause. Scientists used cell lines in the lab that become cancerous when exposed to high levels of estrogen. They discovered CBD caused many of these cancerous cells to die, while THC had no effect.
CB1 and CB2 receptors were not involved in this protective benefit, but instead, CBD was killing cancer cells by activating TRPV1 receptors. TRPV1 receptors are known to be one of CBD’s many targets and are not activated by THC, which explains its lack of effect in this specific type of cancer.
For some, endometrial cancer responds well to treatment. Still, substantial numbers of patients remain unresponsive, causing about 90,000 deaths a year. CBD represents a promising therapeutic option for those who have become unresponsive to other treatment approaches.
THC enhances the pain-relieving effects of opioids in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study
One-way cannabis helps combat the opioid epidemic is by reducing the amount of opioid medication needed for pain relief. THC seems to synergize with opioids. This gives it stronger pain-relieving effects when in combination, rather than using these drugs on their own.
This synergizing affect makes it possible for THC to enhance the results of low-dose opioids which reduces opioid consumption. The idea that cannabis reduces opioid use is well-supported, but has never been subjected to a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial - the gold standard of clinical research.
A recent study published in Neuropsychopharmacology provided this double-blind, placebo-controlled test dsigned to research the effect of smoked cannabis (zero percent or 5.3 percent THC) in combination with oxycodone at either the lowest pain relieving dose (5 mg) or sub-threshold (2.5 mg).
The scientists found that neither cannabis, nor the sub-threshold dose of oxycodone was effective at increasing pain thresholds in humans. However, in combination, 5.3 percent THC cannabis and sub-threshold oxycodone caused substantial pain reduction.
Can high-CBD Cannabis combat pain and reduce addiction rates?
Neither drug was effective at reducing pain on their own. The findings suggest that there’s an interaction between THC and opioids through CB1 (activated by THC) and µ-opioid receptors (activated by the opioid chemical in oxycodone). There is also evidence that CB1 receptors and µ-opioid receptors can couple. This means that activation of one enhances the effects of the other. This could explain why activation with low doses of THC or opioids on their own is insufficient, but together, relieves pain.
This study builds on an increasing body of evidence. Cannabis can either replace opioids or serves to decrease their use. Even if cannabis merely prevents the escalation of opioid consumption, it would have relevant and impactful consequences.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.