A comprehensive, 400-page review was released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine as a federal advisory on what can and can’t be expected of cannabis in the health arena. How much do we really understand cannabis health benefits?
The in-depth and broad review of recent scientific studies aims to firmly establish cannabis health benefits
PBS News Hour looked into the advisory released. Laws have changed; 28 states have legalized medical marijuana. Over the last two decades since medical marijuana was first legalized, how much of the clinical benefit of the substance was researched and is understood?
What needs to be researched?
Marie McCormick, a Harvard pediatrician, chaired the review panel of 15 scientists who took a year to review 10,000 studies to determine where the medical field stands on cannabis health benefits and what research is needed.
The review covered diseases from cancer and Parkinson’s to eating disorders such as anorexia, not excluding studies on social impact, including car crashes. 100 conclusions were reached on the health impacts of cannabis.
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Each condition got rated by a standard terminology developed to categorize the weight of the evidence presented as: “limited,” “moderate,” or either “conclusive or substantial.”
Two further categories were distinguished. Cannabis or cannabinoids used for therapeutic purposes were evaluated as an effective treatment or not. If cannabis or cannabinoids were used recreationally, statistic association was linked to detrimental health conditions usually assumed to be caused by cannabis. For instance, the report didn’t just ask whether cannabis or cannabinoids cure cancer, but also whether cannabis or cannabinoids might cause cancer.
The review concluded that there was strong evidence that cannabis can manage chronic pain and subdue symptoms of multiple sclerosis, as well as help with nausea during chemotherapy programs.
The team concluded that evidence showing that cannabis can cure cancers including glioma and be of benefit in cases of traumatic brain injury is lacking. At the same time, it found that there was no real evidence of cannabis causing lung cancer. In a lot of conditions, evidence was lacking, and the researchers felt that further trials were needed.
Although literature reviews such as this occasionally turn up new perspectives, there were no unique insights in the report. It merely reiterated what we already know: many of the supposed benefits of cannabinoids will require further research if they are to be proved.
The CBS report seems to be rather superficial. For example, it points to THC as being of no help to people suffering from anxiety, but makes no mention of CBD.
As one comment reads: “This is somewhat misleading with regard to anxiety. Yes, Cannabis sativa can exacerbate anxiety issues. Cannabis indica, OTOH, relieves those symptoms and helps bring relaxation.”
Cannabis health benefits: decades of fodder for researchers
The report can be found at http://nationalacademies.org/cannabishealtheffects and confirms what everyone has been saying for ages, more research is needed. How the research will be structured and by whom it will be done is the obvious next big question. As for getting conclusive results, we shouldn’t hold our breath. Some of the necessary research could take decades, even lifetimes.