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What Are the Benefits, Side Effects, and Risks of Cannabis?


Cannabis, aka marijuana, weed, pot, grass, or Mary Jane, no longer belongs only to the counterculture. As this misunderstood plant hits the mainstream, many people (maybe even your grandma!) are starting to experience the healing benefits of this medicinal plant. This is an age-old remedy, with its use by humans dating back thousands of years. 

With emerging research and changes in legality in certain locations there is a shift in how people view this plant which has had a negative reputation in recent history. At Live Conscious®, we are all about weaving together ancient wisdom with modern science and it is becoming clear that cannabis holds much potential for physical and mental well-being.

What Is Cannabis?

Cannabis belongs to the Cannabaceae family, also known as the hemp family. It is a vigorous and weedy plant (hence the nickname “weed”) that is believed to have originated on the Tibetan Plateau. It has spread across the world where it now often grows wild in a variety of different climates. It is closely related to another relaxation-inducing plant that you will find at your local brewery—hops, a key ingredient in beer. Cannabis has been cultivated throughout human history and hemp, a cannabis variety which has low psychoactive properties, has many uses that make it a valuable crop for fiber, fuel, food, and much more. 

There are hundreds of naturally-occurring plant chemicals in cannabis, but the most widely known are THC and CBD. Although a great deal of attention is paid to these individual compounds, and they are important, the entire plant has healing and nutritive properties. 

♦ THC (tetrahydrocannabinol): This is the compound responsible for much of the psychoactive effects of cannabis that may alter perception, mood, and other sensations. This compound has complex actions on the body and has been found to protect the brain and may even help to grow new neurons

♦ CBD (cannabidiol): CBD is considered to be one of the most therapeutic compounds in cannabis. As it does not have psychoactive properties, many people prefer it for a variety of health-enhancing purposes.

♦ Terpenes: Aromatic molecules that have a variety of therapeutic properties. These compounds give different strains of cannabis their unique flavor and scent, as well as contributing to the different effects cannabis can provide.

♦ Omega-3s: Found in the seeds of the hemp plant along with vitamin E, magnesium, iron and zinc. 

♦ Protein: Hemp protein is incredibly nutritious and contains all 9 essential amino acids.

As more research unfolds, it can be easy to get caught up in the particular benefits or downsides of different compounds in this once-maligned plant, but many of these molecules actually work together to create a cascade of health benefits greater than what you would get from the individual compounds. 

skeletal molecular representation of anandamine

The Endocannabinoid System

While it is not necessary to understand the processes in the body that respond to cannabis to take advantage of the health benefits, there is exciting research that is emerging around the intricate functioning of the endocannabinoid system. This system is essential to the health of the immune system, nervous system, relates to hormonal balance, relaxation and sleep, and can even help stabilize mood and mental health. Cannabis interacts with this system. When our body doesn’t produce enough endocannabinoids, supplementing with plant cannabinoids (such as THC, CBD, and others found in cannabis) can enhance the functioning of the body in a myriad of ways.

Different Methods of Using Cannabis for Health Purposes

Now that cannabis is becoming more accessible, there are a lot of options to choose from if you are considering using it for health purposes. One thing to remember is that quality matters. Just because you can find CBD at your local gas station doesn’t mean it will be effective. There is little to no regulation on many of these products in states where recreational use is legal. If you are new to the cannabis scene, find a friend or someone at a local shop that can be your guide. Dispensary “budtenders” can provide a great deal of help in selecting the right products for you.

You can use cannabis buds/flowers, hemp leaves, purchase or make edibles, find it in liquid extracts, capsules (common with CBD products) and topical preparations such as lotions or salves. Vaporizers can be used with a variety of different extracts and cartridges or designed for the flower buds.  Be sure to pay attention to what kind of extracts you are purchasing and look for the most natural forms available. 

A rising trend is the use of unnaturally-potent preparations known as dabs, wax, and “shatter” which are the result of chemical extraction. The concentrated amounts of THC are above and beyond what you would find in the plant itself or other forms of extraction. Beware of contaminants and residues from the solvents used to make these products. High amounts of THC  in these kinds of extracts can lead to overwhelming effects and these products have been linked to cases of THC psychosis. 

medicinal cannabis jars in a licensed store

What Are Some of the Benefits of Cannabis?

Because of the wide range of  different strains and preparations available—and the variations in how people respond to them—there may be differing experiences when it comes to the benefits that cannabis can provide. 

Pain Relief

As millions of people around the world are in chronic pain, a non-addictive option with minimal side effects is incredibly appealing. Cannabis provides a naturally-sourced choice that gives people an alternative to prescription drugs. While not every kind of pain will be remedied by this powerful plant, many people are able to find relief from eating, smoking, or applying topical pain relief creams made with cannabis or CBD extracts. 

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

With inflammation being at the root of so many disorders, people are always on the lookout for solutions to bring down excessive inflammatory responses. Autoimmune disorders are becoming more common and cannabis compounds, especially CBD and certain terpenes, are becoming a prime subject of research in attempts to understand how the body’s endocannabinoid system relates to different kinds of inflammation

Helps Reduce Anxiety

Although many people have heard about marijuana-induced paranoia, there are in fact benefits for people using it to reduce feelings of anxiety. It has relaxing effects and can shift thought patterns to help people calm their mind. Terpenes and CBD greatly contribute to the calming effects and certain strains will enhance feelings of tranquility. 

High THC strains and extracts can contribute to feelings of paranoia and anxiety, so if you are interested in using it for this purpose, seek out lower THC strains that have a higher CBD content and stay away from super potent extracts that have high THC levels.

Improved Sleep

While many people use cannabis to help them relax so they can drift off to dreamland a little easier, this effect will be reliant on the particular strain. The THC to CBD ratio and the different kinds of terpenes in the strain will determine whether it will help with sleep or possibly have the opposite effect. As everyone reacts differently, it may take a little trial and error to find not only the right strain but the right dose as well.  Many people see sleep benefits when taking CBD on a regular basis, as an ongoing supplement, which helps them to feel more relaxed, sleep deeper, and feel more rested when they awaken. 

man pouring over cannabis tea

Increased Appetite

While this might not be a welcome benefit for some people, it is a wonderful solution for those who live with a lack of appetite or symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Certain conditions, medications, and treatments such as chemotherapy can make it difficult to eat and cannabis is able to calm feelings of queasiness and increase appetite. THC is largely responsible for these effects as it alters hypothalamic function in the brain and shifts the neurons into sending signals of hunger. Cannabis also heightens our perception of smell and taste which can make us enjoy food to a greater degree. 

Side Effects 

Even though cannabis is a form of natural medicine, there are still side effects to be aware of. The changes in perception can be disorienting, even hallucinogenic, especially if someone is not used to it. Cannabis can also lead to having a dry mouth and eye redness. Some strains will have stimulating effects while others may make it difficult to stay motivated and can even have a depressant-like effect. Research is showing that adolescents should avoid cannabis (CBD being an exception) until they are older, as developing brains may be negatively affected by the use of cannabis that contains THC.

Legal Issues

Even though people are becoming much more accepting of cannabis, it is still illegal in certain areas of the United States, and in some countries there can be severe consequences of being caught with it. Different states in the U.S. have differing levels of legality. CBD extracts have more relaxed regulations and are widely available; however, some states still have specific restrictions on CBD products. Be sure to check on local laws and be aware of any regulations related to any form of cannabis, especially if you are traveling.

Waking up to Wellness

While cannabis is not for everyone, it is helping people every day with physical and mental health challenges. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the secrets this plant holds. As research continues, it is sure to reveal more astounding ways that cannabis can support our health. Live Conscious® was founded with the idea that wellness is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing and you’ve got to find what works for you. Cannabis is no exception, and with so many options it may take some time to find what helps you on your healing journey.

Learning about where your medicine comes from, how it is grown, and how it is prepared is just as important with cannabis as it is with food and supplements. We strive to be transparent about our products and believe that others should do the same, so that you can make the right choices for your health and find what will make the biggest impact on your ongoing wellness.