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CBD and mental health: What does the research say?

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Many people have turned to CBD to ease their mental health symptoms

Over the past decade, society has become increasingly aware of the importance of looking after our mental, not just physical, health.

Poor mental health can manifest itself in a variety of ways, from anxiety and depression to obsessive thoughts and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

With waiting lists for talking therapies prohibitive, and traditional medication carrying a number of unwelcome side effects, many people have turned to CBD to ease their symptoms – but what does the science say?

Anxiety

This is one of the most common mental health issues users report taking CBD for, and recent research has found they may be onto something.

A two-year study has shown the compound to have a significant positive impact on anxiety and stress, after reviewing 76 articles spanning the past two years.

The report, which was produced by Florida-based Nutrition Formulators and published in the peer-reviewed Innovare Journal of Medical Science, found that more than 70 percent of the research on CBD’s effects on anxiety and stress showed positive outcomes.

Depression

In a similar vein, the use of CBD is often hailed by those using it to treat depression, especially those for whom more conventional treatments have failed.

The above study also looked at reports for CBD’s effect on symptoms of depression, and found that there was a 66.6 per cent positive improvement for clinicians using CBD as an alternative treatment.

Furthermore, researchers believe that CBD relieves symptoms of depression by binding to the CB1 receptor within the endocannabinoid system.

The CB1 receptor is believed to reduce nervous system inflammation and regulate the body’s response to serotonin, or the ‘happy hormone’.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD manifests itself in a number of ways, such as having to perform certain rituals or becoming obsessed with cleanliness.

Its cause is not yet fully understood, yet there is growing evidence that the body’s endocannabinoid system plays a role in regulating these repetitive behaviours.

In a 2020 study, researchers examined the effects of CBD on 87 people with OCD, and found that patients reported a 60 per cent reduction in compulsions and a 49 per cent reduction in intrusive thoughts. 

PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a long-term anxiety-related condition that follows a frightening or distressing life event. Sufferers will often have flashbacks, as well as feeling isolated, guilty and unable to concentrate.

In the US, the use of CBD is an approved treatment for PTSD in most of those states that permit medical cannabis, and many patients both there and the UK are convinced of its benefits.

Earlier this year, a report from University College London found that CBD may reduce symptoms, particularly with regards to nightmares and insomnia, but more research is needed.

The study’s lead author, Dr Chandni Hindocha, said: “Unfortunately, medicinal uses of cannabis have historically been difficult to study due to legal restrictions, so it could take a long time before there is enough evidence to support clinical recommendations. 

“New approaches are needed to make the most of existing evidence in the meantime.”

Dr Hindocha’s words reflect the reality for many CBD treatments; while there is anecdotal evidence that it works for mental health conditions, due to its relatively recent status as a treatment, more research is needed.

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Fibromyalgia

What is fibromyalgia – and can cannabis help?

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One treatment which is growing significantly in terms of both research and usage is cannabis.

With around one in 20 people in the UK and an estimated three to six per cent of the world’s population diagnosed, fibromyalgia is one of the most common pain conditions in the world. 

Anyone can develop fibromyalgia – it affects around seven times as many women as men but can develop in either gender at any age – though its wide-ranging symptoms can make it a difficult condition to diagnose.

Alongside chronic pain, those affected may suffer with extreme tiredness, muscle stiffness, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and problems with mental processes such as memory and concentration – all of which can be attributed to a number of other ailments. 

While the exact cause of the condition is unknown, it’s thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain messages carried around the body. In many cases, it can be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event such as injury, giving birth or the death of a loved one. 

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for fibromyalgia and no remedy to get rid of pain entirely. Instead, patients search for methods to alleviate symptoms, with many opting for a combination of treatments.

One which is growing significantly in terms of both research and usage is cannabis.

The remedy has long been associated with pain relief and as evidence of its benefits mounts, many fibromyalgia patients are choosing to give products such as gels and capsules a try. 

In 2019, a study of 367 patients found that pain intensity decreased when treated with CBD. This was supported by Chaves, Bittencourt and Pelegrini in 2020, with the team finding that phytocannabinoids can serve as an ‘affordable yet well-tolerated therapy’ for symptom relief and quality of life improvements.  

As usage rises, professionals are coming round to the idea of CBD as a prescribed treatment in fibromyalgia, and in 2018 Carly Barton of Brighton became the UK’s first fibromyalgia patient to receive a prescription for medical cannabis. Prior to that, she, along with thousands of others, had been paying up to £2,500 for three months’ treatment. 

Despite many sufferers being reluctant to exercise for fear of aggravating symptoms, it’s another effective way to alleviate pain. Aerobic, resistance and stretching exercises have all been known to relieve pain and stiffness, increase strength and improve mobility in patients, while relaxation exercises such as yoga and t’ai chi can help with difficulty sleeping. 

Research has repeatedly backed up these claims and shown that regular aerobic exercise can improve pain, function and overall quality of life, with a 2017 study stating that “aerobic and muscle strengthening exercises are the most effective way of reducing pain and improving global wellbeing in people with fibromyalgia and that stretching and aerobic exercises increase health-related quality of life”.

While regular painkillers may provide some benefits to fibromyalgia symptoms, one of the most commonly prescribed medications for the condition is antidepressants. The medication is known to boost the levels of certain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that carry messages to and from the brain, and with low levels of neurotransmitters thought to be a factor in fibromyalgia, it’s believed that this boost may ease the widespread pain associated with the condition. 

Many professionals also believe that talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling, are an effective way to manage symptoms and improve low mood associated with fibromyalgia.  

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Endometriosis

How you can take part in a worldwide survey on cannabis and endometriosis

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The study will help create a clinical trial for how medical cannabis can help endometriosis

Do you have endometriosis and use cannabis to manage your symptoms? Here’s how you could take part in new research.

Researchers from Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales are keen to find out more about the potential use of cannabis to manage endometriosis pain.

They are looking for participants from across the world, who have been told by their doctor they have the condition and who consume cannabis – either through a prescription or illegally –  to manage symptoms. 

Results of this survey will help design an upcoming clinical trial to explore the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis for endometriosis.

Endometriosis is the second most common gynecological condition in the UK, affecting around one in 10 UK women – although frequent misdiagnosis and a lack of understanding means this figure may be higher.

Despite its prevalence, according to Endometriosis UK, it takes an average of seven and a half years from onset of symptoms to get a diagnosis.

It happens when tissue similar to the lining of the womb starting to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes, causing inflammation, pain and the formation of scar tissue. A wide range of debilitating symptoms include pain in the lower abdomen and back, nausea and intense fatigue.

There is currently no cure for the chronic condition and treatment is limited to painkillers, hormonal contraception, or surgery. 

However, there is a growing amount of anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of cannabis in managing some symptoms such as pain and nausea, with some early suggesting cannabinoids can help with stopping the endometrial cells from multiplying, regulate nerve growth and reduce inflammation. 

Researchers in Australia hope to continue to increase the information on cannabis use for endometriosis, and to plan a clinical trial to investigate the safety, tolerability, and effectiveness of a standardised and quality assured medicinal cannabis product for pain and associated symptoms.

This survey is open to patients worldwide who must fulfil the following criteria:

  • Aged between 18-55 years of age
  • Been told by your medical doctor that you have endometriosis 
  • And you must have used cannabis or cannabinoid-based products (eg CBD, cannabis oils, dried bud (flower) with known levels of THC and/or CBD, or non-legal cannabis) in the past three months specifically for the purpose of managing your endometriosis pain or related symptoms.

The survey expires on 31 March 2021, find out more here

Click here to participate

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Health

Integro Medical Clinics: Living with and managing MS

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In the latest of their ‘Medical Case Book’ series, the team at Integro Medical Clinics explore living with and managing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis with cannabis medicines. 

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition, which has several different forms and levels of severity. 

It occurs when the body’s immune system malfunctions and attacks a healthy part of the body, in the case of MS, the brain or spinal cord of the nervous system. 

The attacked layer that surrounds and protects the nerves is called the myelin sheath. This damage to the sheath and underlying nerves, means that messages travelling along the nerves become slowed or disrupted. 

Exactly what causes the immune system to act in this way is unclear, but most experts think a combination of genetic and environmental factors is involved.

MS can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, speech, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance. It’s a lifelong condition that can sometimes cause serious disability, although it can occasionally be mild. In many cases, it’s possible to treat symptoms. 

It’s most commonly diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s, although it can develop at any age. It’s about two to three times more common in women than men and is one of the most common causes of disability in younger adults.

The symptoms of MS vary widely from person to person and can affect any part of the body. 

The main ones include fatigue, back and neck pain, difficulty walking, vision problems, problems controlling the bladder, numbness or tingling in different parts of the body, muscle stiffness and spasm, issues with balance and coordination and problems with thinking, learning and planning.

Depending on the type of MS you have, your symptoms may come and go in phases or get steadily worse over time. MS starts in one of two general ways: with individual relapses (attacks or exacerbations) or with gradual progression.

Relapsing remitting MS

More than eight out of every 10 people with MS are diagnosed with the relapsing remitting type. 

Someone with relapsing remitting MS will have episodes of new or worsening symptoms, known as relapses.

These typically worsen over a few days and these relapses can last from as little as a week to many months, then slowly improve over a similar time period. 

Relapses often occur without warning but are sometimes associated with a period of illness or stress. The symptoms of a relapse may disappear altogether, with or without treatment, although some symptoms often persist, with repeated attacks happening over several years.

Periods between attacks are known as periods of remission – these can last for years at a time.

After many years (usually decades), many, but not all, people with relapsing remitting MS go on to develop secondary progressive MS.

In this type of MS, symptoms gradually worsen over time without obvious attacks. Some people continue to have infrequent relapses during this stage.

Around half of people with relapsing remitting MS will develop secondary progressive MS within 15 to 20 years, and the risk of this happening increases the longer you have the condition.

Primary progressive MS

Just over one in 10 people with the condition start their MS with a gradual worsening of symptoms.

In primary progressive MS, symptoms gradually worsen and accumulate over several years, and there are no periods of remission, though people often have periods where their condition appears to stabilise.

There’s currently no cure for MS, but a number of traditional treatments can help control the condition including steroids, specific treatments for individual MS symptoms and disease-modifying therapies and medicines. 

Cannabis medicines & MS symptom control 

Many patients have found that using Cannabis medicines to control their MS symptoms can be incredibly helpful.

Dr Anthony Ordman, senior clinical adviser and hon. clinical director at Integro Medical Cannabis Clinics said: “Over the years I have treated many MS patients in my clinics. Whilst they  generally receive excellent care for their MS, the secondary conditions such as chronic back pain can be neglected.

“Traditional pharmaceutical pain medicines often have unpleasant side effects such as brain fog and constipation and frequently stop working after a few weeks. Cannabis medicines can prove extremely helpful in the pain management of MS patients pain  because they reduce muscle spasm and inflammation.”

The wholistic approach 

In the overall management and improvement in quality of life for a patient, many elements need to be assessed and different approaches tried to see if they work for the individual. 

Emotional support and being monitored and listened to by a trusted healthcare professional are absolutely vital. At Integro Medical Clinics specialist cannabis practise nurse, Sophie Hayes, is very experienced in dealing with MS patients and on call to support and deal with any questions they may have.

“Managing the symptoms of MS often requires a multi-disciplinary approach.  Every individual’s presentation is different and benefits from a combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological methods,” said Sophie.

“These can include physiotherapy exercises, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), cooling and/or heat therapy, supportive braces, alternative therapies and CBT. 

“In addition to this, cannabis medicines can be a useful prescription to help manage the pain and relax the muscles.  This can enable individuals living with MS to engage with these methods and regain a greater sense of control over their symptom management.

There are several organisations in the UK that MS patients can turn to including the National Back Pain Association – BackCare, the MS Society and the MS Trust (see contact details below).

Denice Logan Rose, executive director, BackCare, commented: “BackCare can offer practical and emotional support to MS patients living with back pain through education, information, advice and a small network of UK based branches. 

“Even though it can be one of many side effects of MS it should not be underestimated the distress back pain can cause. Turning to an organisation like BackCare for support can help alleviate the stress, anxiety and discomfort that arises from the added complication of back pain.”

She continued: “Back and neck pain can affect MS patients for a number of  different reasons. For example, spasticity, sitting in one position for too long, incorrect use of mobility aids, struggling with mobility, or possibly the same type of wear and tear that many people without MS experience. 

“These pains can often get neglected within the overall larger framework of an MS diagnosis.

“At BackCare we are constantly investigating new approaches to back pain management to try to help people living with MS to  have an improved quality of life and less discomfort.”

The patient’s story

Sarah Martin is a seasoned cannabis advocate and activist for Project 21.  She is 51-years-old and first began to manifest symptoms of MS in 2002. 

However, it was misdiagnosed for a couple of years as Dion Beret syndrome.

“As time passed the symptoms spread from numb feet and mood swings with depression, to an absolute physical inability to get out of bed or make a cup of tea. Even swallowing and speech became a challenge,” Sarah said.

She was then correctly diagnosed with relapsing and remitting MS but refused to be treated in hospital and struggled on at home.

Sarah was at her lowest ebb, when a friend suggested to her that she try cannabis, as she had heard it could have a positive effect on MS symptoms.  

“At once my leg spasms reduced and the constant ache, I felt in my body decreased,” she added.

“I was finally able to get a good night’s sleep and relax, leading to a huge elevation in my mood.”

Sarah has become a dedicated cannabis proponent and continues to use medical cannabis to improve the quality of her life and control her MS symptoms. 

Dr Anthony Ordman added: “Integro Clinics Ltd always recommend remaining under the care and treatment of your GP and specialist for your condition, while using cannabis-based medicines, and the Integro clinical team would always prefer to work in collaboration with them.”

 

If you would like further information, or to make an appointment for a medical consultation, please contact us at Integro Clinics:  

Website: www.integroclinics.com

Email: Contact@integroclinics.com

Twitter: @clinicsintegro

To contact BackCare: +44 (0) 208 977 5474

Info@backcare.org.uk

Website: www.backcare.org.uk

 

Additional support

https://www.mssociety.org.uk/care-and-support/local-support – @mssocietyuk

https://www.ms-uk.org/ – @MSUK6

https://mstrust.org.uk/about-ms – @MSTrust

https://shift.ms/ – @shiftms

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