A review published in 2017 in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology described how CBD may work to protect the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for several important functions, such as learning, memory and navigation — during times of stress, and may also help prevent brain-cell destruction that results from schizophrenia. Another 2017 review published in the journal Annals of Palliative Medicine summarized a handful of studies that suggest cannabis oils containing THC or CBD, or both, may help with chronic pain management, but the mechanism is unclear.
Two cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs, manufactured in the UK, are licensed for prescription but only for very specific uses. Sativex has been available in the UK since 2010 and uses THC and CBD to treat spasticity in multiple sclerosis. And a new CBD-only drug, Epidiolex, was approved in June in the US to treat rare childhood epilepsies, with a similar decision expected imminently for Europe and the UK.
Despite that, he’s not particularly in favor of legalizing cannabis for recreational use. He doesn’t think anyone should go to jail for possessing it, but he insists that marijuana is “not an innocuous substance”—especially for young people. He cites studies showing that the prolonged use of high-THC strains of marijuana can change the way the developing brain grows. He notes that in some people cannabis can provoke serious and debilitating anxiety attacks. And he points to studies that suggest cannabis may trigger the onset of schizophrenia among those who have a genetic predisposition to the disease.
Typically, pharmaceutical companies making cannabis-based medicines have sought to isolate individual compounds from the plant. But Mechoulam strongly suspects that in some cases those chemicals would work much better in concert with other compounds found in marijuana. He calls this the entourage effect, and it’s just one of the many cannabis mysteries that he says require further study.
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