I remember reaching mile 26 of The Western Hemisphere Marathon and thinking blissfully “this feels great!” For some runners, it might have even felt familiar. Sure enough, researchers throughout the world are illuminating the important role of the cannabinoid system in our experience of altered states like joy and the “runner’s high.”
As a recent NY Times article mentions, a strenuous run on a treadmill increases the body’s own natural cannabinoids. Rodents with an impaired cannabinoid system don’t seem to hike around the cage as much as those with a normal system. Other work in the past decade has received less press, but shows that cannabinoids can protect brain cells against certain forms of injury, play an important role in sleep, and alter inflammation and pain.
This is all good news. I can’t help wonder, however, if we wouldn’t be much further along in this research under other circumstances.
How much has prohibition against cannabis stymied research? The world may never know. International treaties have made the plant illegal everywhere, but attitudes vary across nations. The U.S. has been at the forefront of scientific research in many areas, but not always with cannabis. In fact, federal obstruction of research has made the U.S. lag far behind many countries in the field of cannabinoid medicine.
The THC molecule and the cannabinoid receptor were first identified in Israel. Links between cannabinoids and Alzheimer’s were established in Spain. Work on THC’s inhibition of atherosclerosis appeared in Switzerland. We certainly do interesting work on this topic in the U.S., too, but I think we’ve fallen down dreadfully in the study of medical marijuana in real live people. What’s the best strain for headache? Nausea? Insomnia? We don’t know.
Despite American ingenuity and a huge underground market with thousands of strains, anyone who wants to give cannabis to people in a U.S. laboratory is essentially stuck with the one type available through the National Institute of Drug Abuse. We’re only now learning the import of cannabidiol and the host of cannabinoids other than THC, in part because of the quick jump to the study of a synthetic version that developed out of fear of stems and leaves.
International research has revealed that cannabinoids are key to an astounding number of bodily functions. They show promise for battling cancer and preserving our hearts and minds. An end to prohibition could free up so much work. The potential for discoveries is truly staggering. But time waits for none of us.
The sickest of the sick need this work done as quickly as possible. We can’t let old laws developed in another era impair the research of today.
No one should go to jail for owning a green weed. No one should suffer from illness because a government fears a plant.