Updated on January 21, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
In today’s health-conscious world, we throw around a lot of buzzwords that indicate something is good for us. Antioxidant is one such term. Even if you are pretty sure they have positive benefits for your overall health, most people aren’t sure what antioxidants actually do. We’re told to include foods with a healthy dose of antioxidants into our diet or to try skincare products jampacked with them, but do they really help? The simple answer is yes.
Antioxidants ward off cell death and the damage this can produce in your body. And it turns out marijuana is brimming with them. But what are antioxidants? And why would you benefit from including antioxidant-rich cannabis into your health regimen? Here we will discuss how these compounds may fight against oxidative stress and free radicals, including why that’s important to our overall health.
The Silent Cell Killers: Oxidative Stress and Free Radicals
Before we can dive into the many antioxidant benefits of marijuana, we need to understand why these compounds are essential. Oxidative stress is a natural process that occurs on a cellular level as we get older. As cells create energy, they also release a by-product called free radicals.
Free radicals are incomplete molecules looking for a new home — you could call them molecular thieves. They roam the body looking for electrons they can steal from other proteins. However, this process leads to damage to both DNA and other essential cell structures.
Oxidative stress can be a good thing. It allows your body to do a little housecleaning, getting rid of damaged cells and proteins and allowing for newer molecules to take their place. However, oxidative stress and the production of free radicals can cause a snowball effect. Free radicals steal from a molecule that creates another free radical, which then takes from another molecule — and so on — until the body reaches an unhealthy tipping point. Oxidative stress eventually signals certain cells to commit suicide.
All this biological carnage creates too much oxygen in our tissue. This causes our bodily functions to perform poorly and can even contribute to a variety of age-related health conditions, like:
Antioxidants are electron donors that prevent free radicals thieving from other molecules. Our body naturally produces antioxidants, but sometimes aren’t enough to combat the effects of free radical damage — oxidative stress is no longer an internal cleanup. A variety of external forces cause oxidative stress, such as:
Chemicals in our food
Among other things
Since we don’t produce enough antioxidants to protect against these external factors that cause oxidative stress, it has become necessary to seek out other sources of this essential substance. These foods and nutrients allow us to have an antioxidant shield.
Cannabis is Antioxidant-Rich
Many antioxidant-rich foods will provide you with a healthy dose of this much-needed substance — carrots, blueberries, nuts, apples and the list goes on. These are excellent sources of vitamins C and E, giving your body the antioxidant boost it needs. You can add cannabis to that list.
Diets rich in this essential substance lower the risk of severe conditions such as cancer, heart disease and arthritis.
The Neuroprotective Antioxidants in Marijuana
We’re all familiar with the age-related decline that occurs among our elderly loved ones. This can lead to a loss of neural function, resulting in neurogenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s believed that potential causes for these disorders could be oxidative damage and something called excitotoxicity, both affected by oxidative stress.
The antioxidants present in cannabis show potential to stave off age-related toxicity, even more so than other antioxidant-rich foods. Aside from that, the cannabinoid CBD can reduce neural inflammation, and THC has shown the potential to enhance brain function in patients with Alzheimer’s.
Protecting the Skin With Cannabis
Many ingestion methods will give you cannabis’ antioxidant effects internally. You can vaporize, take capsules or apply drops of marijuana oil under your tongue. All this will ensure you’re benefiting from the antioxidant properties of the plant.
However, marijuana-infused creams and balms allow you to enjoy the many benefits antioxidant topicals can provide for your skin. The same free radicals that cause internal cell death can cause skin cells to die, as well. This is what brings about some of the signs of aging that appear on our skin, including wrinkles. These free radicals are mostly produced by skin-exposure to pollution and UV rays. You can enjoy your own anti-aging serum by purchasing a cannabis topical that’s rich in antioxidants.
Cannabis for Recreational and Medical Users
Although only a few states allow the recreational use of marijuana, more than half the country has approved it for medical purposes. To gain access to a local dispensary, you need to be a part of your state’s medical marijuana program. Each state has their own list of qualifying conditions, and you need to meet with a local physician to see if you meet the set criteria.
Once you’re a medical marijuana patient, not only will you enjoy effective relief from debilitating symptoms, but you’ll also have the bonus of experiencing the antioxidant effects that cannabis provides. Meanwhile, users in states like Colorado, California, Washington and a few others can purchase cannabis products recreationally without the approval of a doctor.
If you feel that you would benefit from the therapeutic properties of marijuana, contact a marijuana doctor near you to see if you qualify.