5 Life-Changing Health Benefits of Marijuana Use


Recreational weed has stolen the spotlight lately, but let’s not forget that the vast majority of cannabis legalization and decriminalization progress has been due to the medical attributes of this incredible plant. Stories of killing cancer and other life-changing medical improvements are becoming hard for governments to ignore, and in an effort to further that cause, we’ve laid out five of the many possible medical benefits of cannabis use.

Flickr/Charles Williams

1. Cannabis reduces pain and inflammation

Though there are only a handful of studies available, cannabis and its many chemical compounds have shown major benefits in reducing inflammation and pain, especially for individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS), arthritis, and even internal inflammation-related gastrointestinal issues including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Like much of the medical lore surrounding cannabis, it is made up mostly of anecdotal stories of major life improvements, even in non-clinical usage -- this only stresses the need for further studies, which are hampered by cannabis’ federally illegal status.

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2. Cannabis helps keep you slim

Despite the cultural stereotype of stoners binging on midnight munchies, the facts seem to back up the idea that cannabis users are actually thinner and healthier (on average) than non-users. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology made waves when it said that regular cannabis users had approximately 37% lower rates of obesity.

Though a variety of lifestyle differences may be at play here, a recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine also showed that cannabis users had lower levels of insulin to complement their smaller waistbands -- a significant finding when nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes, and an estimated 86 million are considered pre-diabetic.

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3. Cannabis reduces seizures

This is probably the most visible medical benefit of cannabis, thanks to the plethora of videos online showing children and adults suffering from Dravet’s Syndrome and other epileptic disorders thriving after finally seeing reduced seizures thanks to cannabis treatments (primarily using CBD only, which we'll touch on later). The terpenes present in cannabis also have anticonvulsant properties, and linalool in particular has been shown to possess this trait.

Flickr/Alana Holmberg

4. Cannabis improves lung function

Unlike tobacco smoke, cannabis smoke seems to counteract much of the negative effects of inhaling smoke in general thanks to its anti-inflammatory and expectorant (mucous thinning) properties. Moderate marijuana use appears to have no adverse effect on pulmonary function, and in fact seems to improve lung function at low doses in most users. What's more, THC has been shown to ease bronchial restriction -- which, if you're an asthma sufferer, could be huge.

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5. Cannabis can help fight cancer

Many cancer patients struggle with the decision to take radiation or chemotherapy, in large part because the treatments are almost as bad as the disease in terms of quality of life. Luckily, the cannabis plant comes loaded with THC, CBD, and a host of other cannabinoids (there are hundreds), as well as terpenoids and flavonoids, all of which have medical properties of their own. These elements work together harmoniously to give natural cannabis its unique properties, while synthetic alternatives like Marinol only replicate one piece of the puzzle (THC).

Aside from literally killing cancer cells and shrinking the blood vessels that supply tumors, cannabis has also been shown to work in tandem with chemotherapy to more effectively fight cancer growth and preserve healthy cells. It also aids in stimulating appetite with its classic “munchies” effect and calming nausea, which may help the nutritional issues of many chemotherapy and radiation patients who struggle to eat at all because of the severe nausea and general malaise.

Wikimedia Commons/O'Dea

Addendum: it’s not all about CBD

The recent spate of medically-focused documentaries, which started to become mainstream thanks in large part to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, have mostly focused on the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive component of marijuana known mostly for the anti-seizure properties we mentioned earlier. This almost singular medical focus has made many people mistakenly think that CBD is the only medical component of cannabis, when actually delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been shown to have equally impressive benefits of its own.

Ultimately, more research is needed

Though all these developments are incredibly promising, they clearly underscore the need for further research. The anecdotes and video evidence are certainly compelling, but until large-scale, longitudinal studies on all these issues are allowed to take place, there will always be more questions than answers from a medical perspective.

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Ry Prichard is a freelance cannabis photographer and researcher who really hopes this article helped someone feel better. Let him know about it on Twitter @cannabisencyclopedia.