Medical and recreational marijuana is growing in popularity across the United States and many other western countries, but there are plenty of states that don't allow marijuana possession. Although numerous studies have shown marijuana to improve chronic pain, reduce nausea, and even reduce certain cancer risks, there is a significant risk of using marijuana for these purposes.
Interestingly, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have published findings in the National Academy of Sciences that fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids specifically) can help combat inflammation via similar mechanisms as marijuana.
Their research shows that our internal mechanisms convert omega-3 fatty acids into endocannabinoids (cannabinoids that our body produces naturally). Both the endocannabinoids and the cannabinoids derived from other sources (such as marijuana) have a positive effect on inflammation and chronic pain.
In the study, Dr. Aditi Das and her colleagues tested animal tissue to reveal this internal mechanism, which has implications for both the medical marijuana world, but also our diets.
Could Fish Oil Be the Great Alternative?
For many people, the value of marijuana as a pain reliever is countered by a feeling of euphoria and a psychotropic effect, which can make it challenging to work and function normally. This is a product of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main reason marijuana is the most popular recreational drug in the world.
“This finding demonstrates how omega-3 fatty acids can produce some of the same medical qualities as marijuana, but without the psychotropic effect.” said Dr. Das.
Numerous fish oil studies note anti-inflammatory benefits. DHA (a major constituent of fish oil and important omega-3 fatty acid) is a precursor for NPD1, which is a neuroprotective agent. Although the research in favor of omega-3 fatty acids is strong, it's never been correlated directly with the benefits of marijuana.
Now risk averse individuals (or those who prefer to avoid the high) can take fish oil instead and it's possible they'll see many of the same benefits.
Ironically, most people are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids consumed via diet should be 1:1. Foods like eggs, grass-fed meat, and fish are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but the standard American diet is more like 15:1 in favor of omega-6s.
This imbalance is one of the main causes of inflammation, which makes this finding yet more evidence in favor of fish oil supplementation.
Save the High
The benefits of marijuana go beyond the anti-inflammatory cannabinoids, but the risks of being incarcerated in many regions of the world do not always outweigh the benefits. Instead of using marijuana to combat chronic pain and inflammation, it might be possible to save the high and head straight to the omega-3 fatty acids.