The U.S. government removed a major roadblock to cannabis research last year, as it allowed scientists to use cannabis from more than one domestic source. (Since 1968, scientists could only get their hands on cannabis from the University of Mississippi.) With the number of legal states steadily growing, it seems inevitable that research of the under-studied plant will increase as time goes on.
For now, here are five recent studies that, while interesting, show cannabis research is still, in many ways, just getting started.
THC might help your gut
A 2020 study from the University of California, Irvine found THC may have benefits for people with inflammatory bowel disease or colitis — which can cause ulcers, diarrhea, constipation and intense gut discomfort. Researchers gave mice either THC, CBD, both or neither. Then, they rectally inserted a drug that gave them acute colitis (rude). The mice that got THC saw “significantly reduced inflammation and weight loss” compared to the CBD-only and straight-edge mice. The THC reacted with blood, intestinal, and immune cells to reduce the effects of colitis.
A first step to studying weed for severe pain management
Another 2020 UC Irvine study found that while vaporized cannabis wasn’t as good as opioids for relieving sickle cell disease pain, it did help subjects’ mood. Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder that often results in extreme, chronic pain. Normal pain management treatment involves large doses of opioids, which is not ideal for obvious reasons. Patients in the study vaped a 1:1 THC/CBD flower while continuing their normal opioid doses. While the weed didn’t do a ton to help with their pain, it “resulted in a decreased interference of sickle cell symptoms with mood.” Other studies have shown promise in cannabis treating pain, the researchers noted. They recommend more research be conducted since the sample size of twenty-three people was small, the use of cannabis was safe, and it only ran for five days.
A better way to test for high drivers?
Driving high is bad. But a big problem for police is that there’s no breathalyzer equivalent for weed. You can test if someone has THC in their system, but it could be left over from a month ago. A 2022 study from four universities and Massachusetts General Hospital may be onto a better way. Researchers used a portable brain imaging scanner on people who had taken THC and a placebo. They identified impairment with 76.4 percent accuracy, and a 10 percent false-positive rate. That doesn’t sound amazing until you realize the field test method (think: say the alphabet backwards) has 67.8 percent accuracy and a whopping 35.4 percent false-positive rate.
Cannabis could help manage dementia
If you’ve ever had a loved one with dementia, you know it’s incredibly hard. Aside from the forgetfulness, there are also behavioral changes. People can lose inhibitions and obsess over the tiniest things. A case series of studies over the past few years followed three patients with behavior issues caused by one of the most common forms of dementia: frontotemporal dementia (FTD). The patients were prescribed medical marijuana for other symptoms — like insomnia and pain — also saw “significant improvement” in their behaviors. One patient saw mood improvements and less impulsivity after using cannabis twice a day. Another was less irritable and anxious after using CBD three times a day. And the last had less pain and anxiety after using medical marijuana.
Positive signs for cannabis users with HIV
HIV can damage the blood-brain barrier — which refers to the ways blood vessels regulate molecules and cells between the blood and the brain. This can lead to a variety of awful symptoms, including nerve damage, chronic fatigue and migraines. But a 2020 study showed there might be a way to rebuild that barrier. Researchers studied people with HIV and those without who had used cannabis recently. They found that more frequent cannabis use resulted in more normal blood-brain barrier biomarkers in HIV-positive people, but not in people without the disease. That means there’s a chance weed could help rebuild that critical barrier.
These are just a few of the profusion of recent cannabis studies in the U.S. and around the world. The jury’s still out on whether your college roommate was right about it being a wonder drug that can cure all disease. But we should find out sooner rather than later.