A 2016 study from Duke University and the University of Arizona found that long-term marijuana use didn’t lead to a decline in health. In this study, 1,000 participants from New Zealand were tracked over a 40-year period, each with a minimum of 20 years of consistent cannabis consumption—smoking, specifically—to determine both the detriments and health benefits of marijuana.
The study found no decline in lung function as well as no increase in high blood pressure or diabetes, nor did it detect any other deterioration in physical health. The one caveat to the study was that the researchers found high levels of gum disease among the study participants. That said, this issue that could decrease in incidence as people move away from smoking marijuana and towards vaping, consuming edibles or trying other concentrates.
In addition, no similarities were found between those who engaged in long-term tobacco smoking versus long-term marijuana smoking. Avshalom Capsi, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and the co-author of the study, said that “overall damage to physical health is not apparent in this study.”
This study adds new scientific evidence to the thousands of years of anecdotal evidence that show that cannabis isn’t bad for your health, nor can it kill you. Meanwhile, 595,690 deaths a year in the U.S. alone are attributed to tobacco. What we’re now finding there are a variety of health benefits of marijuana for both healthy individuals and those struggling with various illnesses.
Here are 10 key—and sometimes surprising—benefits of cannabis:
1. Cannabis Regulates Metabolism & Weight Loss
A survey conducted at Nunavik Inuit Health in 2004 found that the 57.4 percent of people surveyed who said they used cannabis had a lower average percentage of fat mass, body mass index and fasting insulin levels. There were statistically significant differences between the groups of people who self-reported as smoking cannabis compared to those who didn’t.
Smoking cannabis in the last year was associated with a 56 percent lower likelihood of obesity. This is just one of the many studies that ties lower rates of obesity to cannabis consumers. Cannabis is believed to help regulate your metabolism, also making it a factor in lowering the risk of diabetes.
In addition, for a number of folks, cannabis can get people off the couch and moving—whether it’s feet on the road or in the gym. In fact, some claim that marijuana increases athletic performance, for long-distance runners and swimmers in particular. Some athletes claim that it improves focus and the ability to push past previous limitations.
2. Marijuana Helps Alleviate Depression
Depression is one of the most common medical conditions in the world. In a 2015 study from the University of Buffalo, RIA senior research scientist Samir Haj-Dahmane, Ph.D., said, “In the animal models we studied, we saw that chronic stress reduced the production of endocannabinoids, leading to depression-like behavior.”
This means that cannabis can be used to supplement endocannabinoids lacking within our system, helping the body return to homeostasis and in turn reducing levels of depression. Cannabis also aids in relieving stress, which is one of the biggest risk factors for depression.
3. Cannabis Slows the Development of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in September 2014 found that, “THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) could be a potential therapeutic treatment option for Alzheimer’s disease through multiple functions and pathways.” This is believed to be due to the neuroprotective and antioxidant qualities of cannabis.
4. Cannabis Relieves Arthritis
Arthritis is one of the leading causes of physical disability in the world. It’s also one of the most common kinds of chronic pain that people experience. The first recorded use of cannabis to help treat arthritis was in China nearly 4,000 years ago.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active compound in most strains of marijuana, has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties (one of the well-known health benefits of marijuana). In addition, cannabidiol (CBD), which is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, helps regulate autoimmune conditions like arthritis.
5. Marijuana Eases Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons people miss work and experience a decreased quality of life. From PMS cramps to headaches to back pain, many people are affected by pain daily, in varying degrees of severity. Due to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, cannabis can help reduce pain, whether it’s applied in the form of a topical or consumed orally. Cannabis consumption can also help greatly decrease the need for harsh, addictive opioids.
6. Marijuana Lowers Blood Pressure
One-third of adults in the United States have high blood pressure or hypertension. This can lead to cardiovascular disease as well as strokes or heart attacks. Tobacco is one of the most common causes for high blood pressure, along with poor diet and lack of exercise.
There are a wide range of scientific and anecdotal studies to support how cannabis decreases blood pressure. Some researchers also believe that cannabinoids may have a protective role within the body, also leading to a decrease in blood pressure.
7. Cannabis Provides Relief to PTSD Sufferers
Veterans have become one of the most vocal supporters of cannabis legalization due to the incredible relief that cannabis can provide to people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Consuming cannabis can help reduce the stress and anxiety that PTSD sufferers struggle with every day. It also reduces the need for harder opioids and medications that can often worsen the symptoms of PTSD.
8. Cannabis Reduces Nausea
Many people experience nausea on a regular basis, whether it’s due to digestive problems, migraines or intense medical treatments like chemotherapy. Marijuana reacts with brain receptors to help regulate the feelings that are often associated with nausea.
It can also help decrease stomach pain and regulate your body’s digestive processes—as digestive issues often go hand in hand with feelings of nausea.
9. CBD Can Reduce Seizure Activity
CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana, can greatly reduce the frequency and severity of seizures. Medical marijuana legalization has been pushed through in many states due to the incredible effects that cannabis has on seizures.
A study from the American Academy of Neurology published in 2015 found that there was, on average, a 51 percent decrease in the amount of seizures people experienced while using medical cannabis, as well as a 63 percent decrease in seizures for patients who had Dravet’s syndrome.
A specific marijuana strain, Charlotte’s Web, was created particularly for a young girl who experienced extreme seizures. The strain is still widely used due to its effectiveness and lack of psychoactive side effects.
10. Cannabis Makes You Happy
Lastly, for the vast majority of people, marijuana induces a sense of euphoria and calm. Happiness, or a general sense of well-being, is something that everyone wants. Scientific studies show a connection between happiness, optimism and overall life satisfaction.
Cannabis activates a neurotransmitter in our brain called anandamide—also called the bliss molecule. This molecule, among other things, is responsible for making us feel happy. THC is responsible for stimulating anandamide, which is found both within our body as well as within cannabis itself.