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23 Health Benefits Of Marijuana

States around the country — more than 20 in total — have legalized medical marijuana.

Experts have been changing their minds too — recently, CNN's chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta reversed his opinion on medical marijuana.

While recreational pot usage is controversial, many people agree with Gupta's new stance, and believe that the drug should be legal for medical uses.

And even though the benefits of smoking pot may be overstated by advocates of marijuana legalization, new laws will help researchers study the drug's medicinal uses and better understand how it impacts the body.

Currently only 6% of studies on marijuana analyze its medicinal properties.

Keep in mind, though, that there are negative effects of smoking too much pot or using it for non-medicinal purposes. When overused or abused, pot can lead to dependency and mess with your memory and emotions.

There are at least two active chemicals in marijuana that researchers think have medicinal applications. Those are cannabidiol (CBD) — which seems to impact the brain without a high— and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which has pain relieving (and other) properties.

Also keep in mind that some of these health benefits can potentially be gained by taking THC pills like Dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC, which in some ways might be more effective than smoked marijuana.

Randy Astaiza contributed to an earlier version of this story.

It can be used to treat Glaucoma.
It can be used to treat Glaucoma.

thematthewknot via Flickr

Marijuana use can be used to treat and prevent the eye disease glaucoma, which increases pressure in the eyeball, damaging the optic nerve and causing loss of vision.

Marijuana decreases the pressure inside the eye, according to the National Eye Institute: "Studies in the early 1970s showed that marijuana, when smoked, lowered intraocular pressure (IOP) in people with normal pressure and those with glaucoma."

These effects of the drug may slow the progression of the disease, preventing blindness.

It may help reverse the carcinogenic effects of tobacco and improve lung health.
It may help reverse the carcinogenic effects of tobacco and improve lung health.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

According to a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2012, marijuana does not impair lung function and can even increase lung capacity.

Researchers looking for risk factors of heart disease tested the lung function of 5,115 young adults over the course of 20 years. Tobacco smokers lost lung function over time, but pot users actually showed an increase in lung capacity.

It's possible that the increased lung capacity maybe due to taking a deep breaths while inhaling the drug and not from a therapeutic chemical in the drug.

It can help control epileptic seizures.

It can help control epileptic seizures.

AP/Damian Dovarganes

Marijuana use can prevent epileptic seizures, a 2003 study showed.

Robert J. DeLorenzo, of Virginia Commonwealth University, gave marijuana extract and synthetic marijuana to epileptic rats. The drugs rid the rats of the seizures for about 10 hours. Cannabinoids like the active ingredients in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (also known as THC), control seizures by binding to the brain cells responsible for controlling excitability and regulating relaxation.

The findings were published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

It also decreases the symptoms of a severe seizure disorder known as Dravet's Syndrome.
It also decreases the symptoms of a severe seizure disorder known as Dravet's Syndrome.

CNN/WEED

Charlotte Figi has Dravet's Syndrome, and her parents are giving her marijuana to treat her seizures.

During the research for his documentary "Weed," Gupta interviewed the Figi family, who treats their 5-year-old daughter using a medical marijuana strain high in cannabidiol and low in THC.

Their daughter, Charlotte, has Dravet Syndrome, which causes seizures and severe developmental delays.

According to the film, the drug has decreased her seizures from 300 a week to just one every seven days. Forty other children in the state are using the same strain of marijuana to treat their seizures — and it seems to be working.

The doctors who recommended this treatment say that the cannabidiol in the plant interacts with the brain cells to quiet the excessive activity in the brain that causes these seizures.

As Gutpa notes, a Florida hospital that specializes in the disorder, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Drug Enforcement agency don't endorse marijuana as a treatment for Dravet or other seizure disorders.

A chemical found in marijuana stops cancer from spreading.
A chemical found in marijuana stops cancer from spreading.
crafty_dame via flickr

CBD may help prevent cancer from spreading, researchers at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco reported in 2007.

Cannabidiol stops cancer by turning off a gene called Id-1, the study, published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, found. Cancer cells make more copies of this gene than non-cancerous cells, and it helps them spread through the body.

The researchers studied breast cancer cells in the lab that had high expression levels of Id-1 and treated them with cannabidiol. After treatment the cells had decreased Id-1 expression and were less aggressive spreaders.

In "WEED," Gupta also mentioned a few studies in the U.S., Spain, and Israel that suggest the compounds in cannabis could even kill cancer cells.

It may decrease anxiety.
It may decrease anxiety.
Flickr/sergeant killjoy

Medical marijuana users claim the drug helps relieve pain and suppress nausea — the two main reasons it's often used to relieve the side effects of chemotherapy.

In 2010, researchers at Harvard Medical School suggested that that some of the drug's benefits may actually be from reduced anxiety, which would improve the smoker's mood and act as a sedative in low doses.

Beware, though, higher doses may increase anxiety and make you paranoid.

THC slows the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
THC slows the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Marijuana may be able to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease, a study led by Kim Janda of the Scripps Research Institute suggests.

The 2006 study, published in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics, found that THC, the active chemical in marijuana, slows the formation of amyloid plaques by blocking the enzyme in the brain that makes them. These plaques are what kill brain cells and cause Alzheimer's.

The drug eases the pain of multiple sclerosis.
The drug eases the pain of multiple sclerosis.
AP/Matilde Campodonico

Marijuana may ease painful symptoms of multiple sclerosis, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in May suggests.

Jody Corey-Bloom studied 30 multiple sclerosis patients with painful contractions in their muscles. These patients didn't respond to other treatments, but after smoking marijuana for a few days they were in less pain.

The THC in the pot binds to receptors in the nerves and muscles to relieve pain. Other studies suggest that the chemical also helps control the muscle spasms.

Other types of muscle spasms could be helped too.
Other types of muscle spasms could be helped too.

CNN/WEED

Other types of muscle spasms respond to marijuana as well. Gupta also found a teenager named Chaz who was using medical marijuana to treat diaphragm spasms that were untreatable by other, prescribed and very strong, medications.

His condition is called myoclonus diaphragmatic flutter (also known as Leeuwenhoek's Disease) and causes non stop spasming in the abdominal muscles which are not only painful, but interfere with breathing and speaking.

Smoking marijuana is able to calm the attacks almost immediately, as it calms the muscles of the diaphragm.

It lessens side effects from treating hepatitis C and increases treatment effectiveness.
It lessens side effects from treating hepatitis C and increases treatment effectiveness.

Reuters

California dispensaries have been the subject of federal raids

Treatment for hepatitis C infection is harsh — negative side effects include fatigue, nausea, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and depression — and lasts for months. Many people aren't able to finish their treatment course because of the side effects.

But, pot to the rescue: A 2006 study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that 86% of patients using marijuana successfully completed their Hep C therapy, while only 29% of non-smokers completed their treatment, possibly because the marijuana helps lessens the treatments side effects.

Marijuana also seems to improve the treatment's effectiveness: 54% of hep C patients smoking marijuana got their viral levels low and kept them low, in comparison to only 8% of nonsmokers.

Marijuana treats inflammatory bowel diseases.
Marijuana treats inflammatory bowel diseases.
another sergio via Flickr

Patients with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis could benefit from marijuana use, studies suggest.

University of Nottingham researchers found in 2010 that chemicals in marijuana, including THC and cannabidiol, interact with cells in the body that play an important role in gut function and immune responses. The study was published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

THC-like compounds made by the body increase the permeability of the intestines, allowing bacteria in. The plant-derived cannabinoids in marijuana block these body-cannabinoids, preventing this permeability and making the intestinal cells bond together tighter.

It relieves arthritis discomfort.


It relieves arthritis discomfort.
AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli

Marijuana alleviates pain, reduces inflammation, and promotes sleep, which may help relieve pain and discomfort for people with rheumatoid arthritis, researchers announced in 2011.



Researchers from rheumatology units at several hospitals gave their patients Sativex, a cannabinoid-based pain-relieving medicine. After a two-week period, people on Sativex had a significant reduction in pain and improved sleep quality compared to placebo users.

It keeps you skinny and helps your metabolism.
It keeps you skinny and helps your metabolism.

Flickr

A study published in the American Journal Of Medicine on April 15 of last year suggested that pot smokers are skinnier than the average person and have healthier metabolism and reaction to sugars, even though they do end up eating more calories because of the munchies.

The study analyzed data from more than 4,500 adult Americans — 579 of whom were current marijuana smokers, meaning they had smoked in the last month. About 2,000 had used marijuana in the past, while another 2,000 had never used the drug.

They studied their body's response to eating sugars: their levels of the hormone insulin and their blood sugar levels while they hadn't eaten in nine hours, and after eating sugar.

Not only are pot users skinnier, but their body has a healthier response to sugar.

It improves the symptoms of Lupus, an autoimmune disorder.
it-improves-the-symptoms-of-lupus-an-autoimmune-disorder

Leonard C. Sperling, M.D., COL, MC, USA, Department of Dermatology, Uniformed Services University

Medical marijuana is being used to treat the autoimmune disease Systemic Lupus Ertyhematosus, which is when the body starts attacking itself for some unknown reason.

Some chemicals in marijuana seem to have a calming effect on the immune system, which may be how it helps deal with symptoms of Lupus. The rest of the positive impact of the marijuana is probably from the effects on pain and nausea.

While not really a health benefit, marijuana spurs creativity in the brain.
While not really a health benefit, marijuana spurs creativity in the brain.

Getty Images / Marc Piscotty

Contrary to stoner stereotypes, marijuana usage has actually been shown to have some positive mental effects, particularly in terms of increasing creativity. Even though people's short-term memories tend to function worse when high, people get better at tests requiring them to come up with new ideas.

One study tested participants on their ability to come up with different words related to a concept, and found that using cannabis allowed people to come up with a greater range of related concepts, seeming "to make the brain better at detecting those remote associations that lead to radically new ideas," according to Wired.

Other researchers have found that some participants improve their "verbal fluency," their ability to come up with different words, while using marijuana.

Part of this increased creative ability may come from the release of dopamine in the brain, lessening inhibitions and allowing people to feel more relaxed, giving the brain the ability to perceive things differently.

Marijuana might be able to help with Crohn's disease.
Marijuana might be able to help with Crohn's disease.

Getty Images/David McNew

Pot soothes tremors for people with Parkinson's disease.

Pot soothes tremors for people with Parkinson's disease.