Nearly all the discussions surrounding medical cannabis these days are focused on legalization efforts in the remaining prohibitionist states. Every now and again websites that specialize in marijuana news will talk about the latest studies and their findings. But oddly, there isn’t a whole lot of discussion about the human endocannabinoid system. The same goes for research into how it works.
The cannabinoid that everyone is after in medical cannabis, THC, interacts with human biology through the endocannabinoid system. We know enough to say that the endocannabinoid system helps to regulate countless functions within the body. But beyond that, we don’t know much else. We don’t know the details of exactly what the endocannabinoid system does or how it does it.
a Guessing Game
Cannabis is believed to have numerous properties that could be harnessed for better health. In addition, there is a slowly growing body of evidence suggesting that THC is a useful drug for treating numerous conditions. PTSD, chronic pain, and seizure disorders come to mind. What we don’t know is why or how. This is not ideal for patients.
A medical cannabis patient in Utah could walk into the Beehive Farmacy cannabis dispensary in Utah and select from a wide range of medical products. They could speak to the on-staff pharmacist to get answers to all sorts of questions. But ultimately, there is no knowing whether the cannabis will be effective in treating that person’s condition.
The inability to know for sure what cannabis can do for a patient goes back to the endocannabinoid system. It is so extensive and so pervasive in its regulatory capabilities that science barely knows even the basics. So using cannabis as a medicine is more or less a guessing game.
Patients Need More Than Mere Advice
Patients can ask their medical providers and pharmacists for advice about using cannabis. In fact, they should. But they need more than mere advice. They need the assurance that research backs up what their doctors and pharmacists are telling them. Any such research is meaningless if it is not rooted in an understanding of how the endocannabinoid system works.
More research into the endocannabinoid system would help us understand how cannabis relieves pain. If there is an actual biological mechanism behind it, knowing that mechanism would make it possible to produce cannabis-based medicines specifically for pain relief. On the other hand, it could be that medical cannabis relieves pain through the placebo effect. Scientific evidence proving it would change how cannabis is utilized as a pain treatment.
Understanding How Prevents Complications
Yet another aspect of studying the human endocannabinoid system involves preventing complications. When science doesn’t know how a drug works, there is little medical providers can do to prevent the complications that might arise from using that drug. Not understanding how drugs work puts us in a precarious position. We play the equivalent of medical Russian roulette and hope the loaded chamber doesn’t come up.
Certainly, research into specific conditions is necessary. We need to know if medical cannabis is appropriate as a treatment for cancer, autism, cardiovascular disease, et al. But while all that research is being conducted, we also need to dig into the details of the endocannabinoid system.
Only when we understand how the system works will we be able to approach medical cannabis research with confidence. Knowing the how’s of the system allows us to understand the why’s when cannabis is studied for particular conditions. That sort of knowledge is critical to moving forward with cannabis as a globally accepted medicine.