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The established health effects of cannabis

Updated: Feb 22

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) conducted a comprehensive review on “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids”.



In Early March 2018, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine conducted a comprehensive review on “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids”. This paper was co-written by a committee of 16 members from the various academic disciplines who conducted an extensive review of over 10,000 recent systematic reviews and primary research studies to determine the medical value of cannabis in the United States. The committee analysed these papers for therapeutic effects and prioritized 11 major conditions; therapeutic effects; cancer incidence; cardiometabolic risk; respiratory disease; immune function; injury and death; prenatal, perinatal and postnatal outcomes; psychosocial outcomes; mental health; problem Cannabis use; and Cannabis use and abuse of other substances. The research studies were categorized according to whether cannabis or cannabinoids were concluded to be therapeutically effective or ineffective. The report demonstrated that there was conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids were an effective treatment for pain in adults; chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. The evidence supporting improvement in appetite, Tourette syndrome, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy and a variety of neurodegenerative disorders was described as limited, insufficient or absent.


“The report demonstrated that there was conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids were an effective treatment for pain in adults; chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.”

Following this somewhat expected finding the NASEM report highlighted a variety of barriers to conducting research on Cannabis in the US that may explain the lack of positive therapeutic benefits in the published research to date. This suggests that there may indeed be a greater benefit in conditions were cannabis benefit was statistically deemed insufficient that first expected. Much of the evidence in these studies was based on pharmaceutically produced cannabis-based medicines such as dronabinol, nabilone and nabiximols (synthetic). This was mainly due to the difficulty in sourcing medical grade cannabis to use in this studies, pharmaceutical brands were utilised as they could be sourced reliably. The paper summarised that the absence of evidence is not evidence that cannabis is not effective and this gap in knowledge with continue to develop as a growing number of cannabis trials are published.



References


Abrams, D. I. (2018) ‘The therapeutic effects of Cannabis and cannabinoids: An update from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report’, European Journal of Internal Medicine, 49, pp. 7–11. doi: 10.1016/j.ejim.2018.01.003.

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