Cannabis’ medicinal benefits come as a surprise to fewer and fewer people these days. Even those who always cautioned their children against the dangers of smoking weed, and proudly steered clear of it for much of their adult lives, are beginning to ask questions, do research, and think about how marijuana could help them, or their aging parents, or even their grown children.

It’s a pretty incredible development, this long-avoided plant creeping into the light of acceptance from even its most staunch former detractors. But that certainly doesn’t mean the work is done. There is still a long road ahead when it comes to breaking the cannabis stigma and to finding out exactly what really is safe, and what’s not. 

Here is some of the latest cannabis research and results of the hard work done by thousands of scientists all over North America and the world.

The Science of Cannabis Post-Secondary Program

Before we dive into some of the latest studies on marijuana, I wanted to mention this fascinating program recently put in place at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The program is a collaboration between the school, the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, and the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research. According to the website, it aims to “provide a substantive grounding in the scientific study of cannabis and the evidence base pertaining to its therapeutic applications as well as potential risks and harms.” That sounds like a pretty fantastic educational goal, to us!

Students enrolled in the program receive a Certificate of Completion, which counts toward their degree, and it’s recommended for everyone from doctors and nurses, to social workers, to first responders. Pretty cool stuff.

Cannabis’ Effect on White Blood Cell Counts

A survey conducted from 2005 to 2016 investigated the number of white blood cells in people who use cannabis, compared to those who don’t. Apparently, many studies look at this comparison in cigarette smokers, but wondering about weed was new.

The survery placed subjects in four categories: never used cannabis, former user, occasional (1-7 days in the past month) and heavy (more than 7 days in the past month). The results showed heavy cannabis users have more white blood cells than people who do not use pot, but the other two categories had no signficant variations. 

What does this all mean? It suggests heavy cannabis use could be correlated pro-inflammatory compounds in the body, which isn’t great. However, the article does not specify whether they investigated cannabis users in general, or specifically those who smoke cannabis. Also, there doesn’t seem to much to control for other factors. Still, it’s interesting!

Should Doctors Recommend Cannabis Instead of Opioids?

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) determined that it is safe for doctors to replace opioids with marijuana when prescribing pain treatments. The study involved the hunt for existing studies to show that efficacy of the natural option, its ability to treat neuropathic pain and opioid use disorders. Apparently, they found “low strength” evidence that cannabis may alleviate pain.

There are no randomized clinical trials swapping marijuana for opioids, at this point, and a relatonship between cannabis use and reduced opioid overdoses “cannot be inferred” despite some evidence.

It’s hard to read studies like this and not get angry when you think of all the roadblocks. Cannabis isn’t legal enough for there to be widespread studies into its usefulness in treating pain. And though few studies support this, millions of anecdotal reports certainly do, but these are not scientific enough to be taken into consideration. All medicines need to be subjected to rigorous study before being accepted as prescribable, but cannabis undeniably faces much more stigma and many more roadblocks than well-funded pharmaceuticals.

Here’s hoping there will be more research into this in the future!

How Do Genetics Play Into Cannabis Effects?

A study undertaken to try to learn more about the side effects of cannabis led to some interesting discoveries about the role genetics play in how cannabis affects different people. Unfortunately, though the study investigates the role of various receptors, enzymes, endocannabinoids, and “cannabinoid-related cellular processes,” current research is too small to allow the drawing of any firm conclusions.

What this study of studies does highlight is the need for more research in this area, so that when doctors become more comfortable with the idea of prescribing cannabis or cannabis-derived medications, they can make their recommendations based on more than just the supposed effects of certain strains (which, admittedly, are quite varied). Instead, they can choose strains and dosages based on the genetic makeup of their patients.

This is far from an exhaustive list of recent cannabis research, but it shows that interest in the subject and its effects and uses is far from “last year.” Researchers and the general public alike are more interested in ever to know everything they can about what some people call a miracle plant, and others just strongly believe has more potential than we currently know. If a natural compound not shown to cause overdose or even overly worrying symptoms in many cases is out there, we all deserve more solid information about it!