The cannabis plant has hundreds of chemical compounds, like flavonoids, terpenes and cannabinoids. You may have heard about THC and CBD, the most commonly known cannabinoids of the plant, but what you may have not heard is that these have an effective health application to treat neurodegenerative diseases.
What are neurodegenerative diseases?
Neurodegenerative diseases refer to a range of conditions that cause progressive damage or death of nerve cells in the brain and nervous system. Examples of these diseases include Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, and ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). All these diseases have in common that they share the same three destructive processes in the brain: excitotoxicity, oxidative stress and inflammation.
Excitotoxicity is a process that occurs when nerve cells are damaged and killed by excessive stimulation by neurotransmitters such as glutamate. Normally, glutamate acts as a crucial messenger in the brain and plays a key role in learning and memory. However, when glutamate levels become too high due to factors such as trauma, stroke, or neurodegenerative diseases, it can lead to overactivation of receptors, and ultimately cause cell death.
Oxidative stress is a process that happens in our body when there are too many harmful molecules called free radicals. When it happens in the brain it can be especially harmful because brain cells, called neurons, don't regenerate like other cells in the body. When neurons are damaged, they can't be replaced, and this can lead to the symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases like memory loss, difficulty with movement, and other cognitive problems.
Inflammation is a natural response of the body to injury or infection, and in normal cases it is a positive effect because it helps the body repair quicker. However, in neurodegenerative diseases, inflammation can become chronic or excessive and can lead to the destruction of brain cells and the progressive decline of brain function.
Why is cannabis more effective than other treatments?
All other current medications used to treat these diseases can only deal with one of these destructive processes at a time, either blocking the receptor of the excitotoxin, or treating the inflammation, or focusing on the oxidative process, but never all three at the same time. Cannabinoids are effective with this treatment because they address these three destructive processes simultaneously: they bind neurotoxins and reduce glutamate release, they suppress inflammation, they scavenge free radicals and reduce oxidation.
Our own cannabinoid system
Our body produces its own endocannabinoids, similar to those of the cannabis plant, and we even have cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) in our brain and our skin for the marijuana to link up with. Research has shown that endocannabinoids are produced by neurons and work as neurotransmitters (messengers that deliver signals in our brain). But just like these cannabinoids leave the cell with a message, they can also work in reverse. The cannabinoids can travel backwards in the nerve fibers and regulate the cell's response to an excitatory signal (such as pain). It explains why cannabinoids are so effective in controlling a wild and violent brain in case of a patient with brain injury or in lowering seizure impulses by downregulating the response of the neurons that are out of control.
Not only cannabis can be used to treat an existing condition or neurodegenerative disorder but may be able to prevent it as well by reducing those three destructive processes mentioned before (oxidation, inflammation and neurotoxicity). Like everything that is health related we advise to always do it under the supervision of a healthcare professional, but having said that if you are consuming or wanting to consume cannabis products in all cases it is in your best interest to get your hands on first quality products.
Find good cannabis products
Luckily here in Barcelona you can do so easily and make sure that you are getting cannabis from an approved provider if you get it from dispensaries or weed clubs. You can become a member of one of these clubs if you apply for an invitation online, and soon you will have access to a broad menu of first quality cannabis products.
In summary, cannabis has proved to have several medicinal properties, but its prohibition back in the early 1900s has set us back many years in terms of research. Thanks to recent changes in the world's policies regarding marijuana, it is becoming easier every time to research and consume cannabis products. We hope that with time the stigma that has been built around weed can disappear and more people can learn and enjoy its benefits.