Hemp: cultivated plant, intoxicant, also drug?

Hemp was cultivated as a crop in China as early as the fourth millennium BC, and not only because of the potential for intoxicants, but mainly because the fibrous plant is well-suited for the manufacture of paper, textiles and ropes. In this capacity, it flourished in Europe in the 17th century, when large quantities of hemp were needed for shipping the necessary ropes and sails. Also, the first Levis jeans consisted of this very resistant material.

Hemp seeds in Chinese medicine

Hemp seeds have been used as a medicine in ancient Chinese medicine, and for some decades it has been suggested that the ingredients of hemp may bring relief or cure to sufferers.

In the list of possible indications for the use of hemp medicines are the treatment of:

  • Pain
  • migraine
  • nausea
  • Cramps in multiple sclerosis
  • spinal injuries

Hemp drugs can also be used in the treatment of glaucoma, neuropathy, epilepsy, asthma and Parkinson's disease as well as appetite stimulation in HIV and cancer patients.

Main active ingredient THC

Hemp (scientifically known as Cannabis sativa) has around 60 active substances (that is, an effect on the human body). In summary, these mostly chemically related substances are referred to as cannabinoids ("cannabis-like").

As the main active ingredient in this arsenal, the so-called THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol) has been identified, which is mainly responsible for the intoxicating effect of hemp, but perhaps also embodies the hoped for beneficial effects attributed to hemp. This "natural" active ingredient of hemp is approved as a regular drug in the United States and South Africa, where it is named dronabinol as a solution in sesame oil (this improves the uptake of THC into the body).

Furthermore, there are some synthetic THCs and one of them (called nabilone) is on the UK market.

What do the active ingredients in the body do?

How the ingredients of hemp affect the human body has long been unexplained. At the beginning of the 1990s, however, two THC receptors (biomolecules that bind THC and confer an effect in the body) have been identified in humans, with one particularly abundant in the brain, the other in immune cells, and in the peripheral nervous system.

In addition, several endogenous substances ("endocannabinoids") have been found that seem to bind and excite these receptors. Together, the receptors with the ligands in the body form an "inner cannabinoid system, " which seems to influence such diverse functions as pain processing, recognition and memory, motor skills, appetite, nausea, and the immune system.

If cannabinoids are added, there is an externally generated excitation of this system with the corresponding effects.

Are hemp products suitable as medicines?

Numerous reports on the use of hemp and cannabinoids in the treatment of disease have been published since the 1970's, and the scientific interest in hemp as a drug has been greatly increased since the discovery of THC receptors and its ligands.

Unfortunately, many reports of the effects of cannabis on diseases are either anecdotal or the studies have not been conducted according to modern criteria. Often, the effect of smoked hemp products has also been reported, but this form of application is of course not acceptable from a pharmaceutical point of view.

Studies on the effect of cannabis products

Two papers published in recent years have compiled the research results of previous studies and re-evaluated them according to modern criteria. One studied the effect of cannabinoids in pain management, the other the benefit of treating the nausea that is triggered by many chemotherapies and is a serious side effect requiring treatment (Campbell et al., And Tramer et al., Both British Medical Journal 323 ( 2001)).

Both conclude that while cannabinoids may actually relieve pain and reduce nausea. However, the advantage over the reference substances (codeine and the modern serotonin receptor antagonists) used for the same complaints was not sufficiently high. In addition, the cannabinoids showed relatively strong unwanted side effects.

However, both studies highlighted only two of the potential uses for cannabinoids, and only a few cannabinoids (of the many synthetic and hemp known) were used here. In order to arrive at a definitive assessment of the efficacy and therapeutic possibilities in these and other diseases, further clinical studies must be followed.

The authors themselves point out the orientation aspect of their work and stress that their findings should be used as the basis for further research on cannabinoids.

Legalization of hemp as a medicine

The use of hemp and its ingredients as pharmaceuticals is complicated by the fact that the plant is used illegally as a drug and therefore falls under the sharp controls of the Narcotics Act.

It should not be forgotten in the discussion about the "legalization" of hemp that on the one hand it is about the approval of drugs and on the other hand the demand for the general legalization of hemp products also for intoxication purposes, ie two completely different circumstances often overwritten with the same keyword become.

Hemp drugs from the German pharmacy?

It is often ignored that there is already the possibility to obtain cannabis medicines quite legally from the pharmacy - after all, there are drugs authorized abroad which, in compliance with the provisions of narcotics law, are prescribed by a doctor and regulated by the Pharmacy may be imported.

In addition, in Germany since mid-2011, the first approved drug with cannabis extract, which is available as a spray and is intended to help patients with multiple sclerosis. In exceptional cases, seriously ill patients were also allowed by the Federal Opium Office to smoke marijuana or obtain standardized cannabis extract.

In addition, it is considered by many researchers to be likely that the cannabinoids will soon show sufficient benefits in therapy. Then in Germany, the approval of appropriate drugs would be more likely.

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