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Exploring Cannabis's Role in Treating Brain Disorders

Updated: Mar 31

For centuries, the psychotropic effects of the cannabis plant have been widely recognized. In recent years, a more scientific approach has been taken to explore the medicinal properties of cannabinoids. These compounds, present in cannabis, influence cannabinoid receptors in the human body. Although their role in plant biology remains unclear, it's hypothesized that they help in plant defense and seedling development. Similar compounds are also produced by humans and other animals, playing a crucial role in stem cell growth.

The human body contains receptors specifically binding to cannabinoids. Intriguingly, these receptors appear to have evolved before the cannabinoids themselves. Studies have found that certain plant cannabinoids affecting adenylyl cyclase in the brain are psychoactive. Interestingly, many cannabinoids, including AM404 (a metabolite of Tylenol), show neuroprotective qualities. They can also inhibit the growth of harmful amoebae like Acanthamoeba culbertsoni, responsible for amoebic encephalitis. Continued research may reveal more medical benefits of cannabis.

The next sections summarize recent findings from human clinical trials on the potential therapeutic use of plant- and human-derived cannabinoids.

Epilepsy Treatment

Cannabidiol (CBD) has shown anticonvulsant effects in animal epilepsy models, but its effectiveness varies in human trials. This variability might be attributed to genetic differences. CBD has reduced seizures in patients with tuberous sclerosis complex. Another synthetic cannabinoid, HU-211, also demonstrated significant seizure reduction.

Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

Oral tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has improved muscle spasticity and reduced neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. The endocannabinoid system might play a role in MS, as suggested by reduced cannabis receptor expression in MS patients' brains. THC has been observed to promote oligodendrocyte regeneration and improve motor functions in animal studies.

Pain Management

Cannabinoids, particularly THC and CBD, have been studied for their effects on various pain conditions. THC showed promise in treating fibromyalgia pain but was ineffective for chronic pain in sickle cell disease. Intravenous THC did not exhibit analgesic effects in a controlled study. CBD, working through different mechanisms than THC, showed modest benefits in treating neuropathic and inflammatory pain. However, its effectiveness in clinical trials was inconsistent and often short-lived.

Neuropsychiatric Disorder Treatment

Studies indicate that high THC doses can worsen anxiety, while CBD tends to reduce it. CBD added to antidepressants reduced anxiety and depression scores over several weeks. CBD also showed potential in reducing psychotic symptoms. Interestingly, schizophrenic patients who never used cannabis had higher brain levels of anandamide, which correlated negatively with psychotic symptoms. This finding suggests a role for endogenous cannabinoids in schizophrenia symptoms, and cannabis as a potential therapeutic avenue.

Future research is challenged to develop synthetic cannabinoids that provide clinical benefits in specific brain regions without cognitive impairments. CBD, a non-psychotropic cannabinoid, shows promise as a therapeutic agent for neurodegenerative diseases.


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