Smoking Cannabis Can Combat Fatigue, Study Finds
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It might fly in the face of every common stereotype, but according to new research from scientists at the University of New Mexico, smoking cannabis may actually improve feelings of fatigue.
After studying data from more than 3,900 cannabis use sessions, the researchers found that nearly 92 percent of participants reported decreased fatigue following cannabis consumption. Around 37 percent also reported an additional positive side effect relating to energy, such as feeling more active or productive.
Interestingly, those who smoked their cannabis tended to report greater symptom relief than those who vaporized it. This may reflect the importance of terpenes and other similar phytochemicals in this process, the researchers say, as the difference in combustion temperatures could greatly affect these volatile compounds.
Smoking cannabis improves fatigue more than vaping
The study looked at anonymized data gathered by the Releaf App, a mobile app designed to help medical cannabis users record information about the cannabis they are using, their initial symptoms, and any real-time changes in symptom intensity or side effects.
In total, the University of New Mexico researchers examined 3,922 self-administered cannabis use sessions recorded by the Releaf App, submitted by 1,224 unique users between June 2016 and August 2019. All of the sessions involved cannabis flower, not CBD products or other cannabis derivatives, and included fatigue as one of the initial symptoms reported by the user.
Analysis of these records revealed that 91.9 percent of participants experienced an overall reduction in their fatigue following cannabis use, by an average of around 3.5 points on a 10-point symptom severity scale.
In terms of side effects, less than 24 percent of users reported negative side effects relating to fatigue, such as feeling unmotivated or “couch-locked”. A slightly larger fraction of users (around 34 percent) reported a positive side effect corresponding to increased energy, including feeling more active, energetic, productive, or frisky.
“Despite the conventional beliefs that frequent cannabis use may result in decreased behavioral activity, goal-pursuit, and competitiveness, or what academics have called ‘amotivational syndrome,’ people tend to actually experience an immediate boost in their energy levels immediately after consuming cannabis,” co-author Jacob Miguel Vigil, an associate professor at the university’s Department of Psychology, said in a statement.
Interestingly, there was no significant difference in results between strains labeled as C. indica, C. sativa, or “hybrid” strains. However, the cannabis users who smoked their cannabis broadly reported greater symptom relief than those who used vaporizers or a pipe.
Terpenes may be key to symptom relief
Across the cannabis flower strains studied, higher levels of THC or CBD did not appear to have any significant association with improvements in fatigue, although higher amounts of CBD were associated with fewer reports of negative side effects.
“One of the most surprising outcomes of this study is that cannabis in general yielded improvements in symptoms of fatigue, rather than just a subset of products, such as those with higher THC or CBD levels or products characterized as Sativa rather than Indica,” co-author Sarah Stith, an associate professor at the university’s Economics Department, said in a statement.
“[...] our observation that the major cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) were largely uncorrelated with changes in feelings of fatigue suggest that other minor cannabinoids and phytochemicals such as terpenes may be more influential on the effects of using cannabis than previously believed,” Vigil added.
This would also track with the finding that cannabis smokers experienced greater relief than those who used vaporizers, as these terpenes and minor cannabinoids are often very volatile compounds. The higher temperatures involved in vaporization could be altering or decomposing some of the compounds involved in this anti-fatigue effect, making this method of consumption less effective.
The researchers do note a number of limitations with their study, primarily concerning the lack of a control group, such as a group of people who did not use cannabis to treat fatigue. Alternatively, a control group of users who consumed cannabis independently of using the Releaf App could help to nullify any biases resulting from app use. Given the nature of the data, it was also not possible to study the occurrence of other potentially confounding factors, such as the concomitant use of other substances.
Using cannabis to address fatigue
Fatigue is a core symptom of many high-prevalence health conditions, including chronic pain, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. Many patients with these conditions are already beginning to self-medicate with medical cannabis in order to improve their quality of life and relieve symptoms such as pain and fatigue.
Additionally, in some states with legal medical cannabis programs, medical cannabis is already being given to treat fatigue in patients with HIV/AIDS or the “wasting syndrome” cachexia.
While this latest study does support the use of cannabis for treating severe fatigue, the University of New Mexico researchers say that future research should also focus on investigating the real-time effects of cannabis on physical and mental fatigue and more closely examine how different concentrations of phytochemicals interact with this effect.
“In the near future, I anticipate that patients will have the opportunity to access more individualized cannabis products, with distinct and known combinations of chemical profiles for treating their specific health needs and lifestyles,” commented Virgil.