Emerging Clinical Applications For Cannabis & Cannabinoids
A Review of the Recent Scientific Literature, 2000 — 2008
Despite continued political debates regarding the legality of medicinal marijuana, clinical investigations of the therapeutic use of cannabinoids are now more prevalent than at any time in history. A search of the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed website quantifies this fact. A keyword search using the terms “cannabinoids, 1996” reveals just 258 scientific journal articles published on the subject for that year. Perform this same search for the year 2007, and one will find over 3,400 published scientific studies.
While much of the renewed interest in cannabinoid therapeutics is a result of the discovery of the endocannabinoid regulatory system, some of this increased attention is also due to the growing body of testimonials from medicinal cannabis patients and their physicians. Nevertheless, despite this influx of anecdotal reports, much of the modern investigation of medicinal cannabis remains limited to preclinical (animal) studies of individual cannabinoids (e.g. THC or cannabidiol) and/or synthetic cannabinoid agonists (e.g., dronabinol or WIN 55,212-2) rather than clinical trial investigations involving whole plant material. Predictably, because of the US government’s strong public policy stance against any use of cannabis, the bulk of this modern cannabinoid research is taking place outside the United States.
As clinical research into the therapeutic value of cannabinoids has proliferated exponentially, so too has investigators’ understanding of cannabis’ remarkable capability to combat disease. Whereas researchers in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s primarily assessed cannabis’ ability to temporarily alleviate various disease symptoms — such as the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy — scientists today are exploring the potential role of cannabinoids to alter disease progression. Of particular interest, scientists are investigating cannabinoids’ capacity to moderate autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as their role in the treatment of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease.)
Investigators are also studying the anti-cancer activities of cannabis, as a growing body of preclinical and clinical data concludes that cannabinoids can reduce the spread of specific cancer cells via apoptosis (programmed cell death) and by the inhibition of angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels). Arguably, these latter trends represent far broader and more significant applications for cannabinoid therapeutics than researchers could have imagined some thirty or even twenty years ago.
HOW TO USE THIS REPORT
As states continue to approve legislation enabling the physician-supervised use of medicinal marijuana, more patients with varying disease types are exploring the use of therapeutic cannabis. Many of these patients and their physicians are now discussing this issue for the first time, and are seeking guidance on whether the therapeutic use of cannabis may or may not be appropriate. This report seeks to provide this guidance by summarizing the most recently published scientific research (2000-2008) on the therapeutic use of cannabis and cannabinoids for 17 separate clinical indications:
* Alzheimer’s disease
* Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
* Diabetes mellitus
* Gastrointestinal disorders
* Hepatitis C
* Human Immunodeficiency Virus
* Multiple sclerosis
* Rheumatoid arthritis
* Sleep apnea
* Tourette’s syndrome
In some of these cases, modern science is now affirming longtime anecdotal reports of medicinal cannabis users (e.g., the use of cannabis to alleviate GI disorders). In other cases, this research is highlighting entirely new potential clinical utilities for cannabinoids (e.g., the use of cannabinoids to modify the progression of diabetes.)
The diseases profiled in this report were chosen because patients frequently inquire about the therapeutic use of cannabis to treat these disorders. In addition, many of the indications included in this report may be moderated by cannabis therapy. In several cases, preclinical data indicates that cannabinoids may halt the progression of these diseases in a more efficacious manner than available pharmaceuticals. In virtually all cases, this report is the most thorough and comprehensive review of the recent scientific literature regarding the therapeutic use of cannabis and cannabinoids.
For patients and their physicians, let this report serve as a primer for those who are considering using or recommending medicinal cannabis. For others, let this report serve as an introduction to the broad range of emerging clinical applications for cannabis and its various compounds.
NORML | NORML Foundation
January 24, 2008
* The author would like to acknowledge Drs. Dale Gieringer, Gregory Carter, Steven Karch, and Mitch Earleywine, as well as NORML interns John Lucy, Christopher Rasmussen, and Rita Bowles, for providing research assistance for this report. The NORML Foundation would also like to acknowledge Dale Gieringer, Paul Kuhn, and Richard Wolfe for their financial contributions toward the publication of this report.
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