Medical marijuana laws are on the books in over half of the United States, and the all-natural remedy is used by countless more Americans in spite of prohibition. Because marijuana is still a federally illicit narcotic, though, extrapolating the drug’s effects on specific ailments has been difficult to say the least.

In two new studies published in the journals Frontiers in Pharmacology and Medicines respectively, researchers in the University of New Mexico’s Department of Psychology sought out to fill that vacuum of data, combing through statistics from the Releaf App — a personal tracking tool for cannabis use — to gain insight into how viable the controversial plant is in treating different conditions.

Developed by a number of the University of New Mexico (UNM) researchers themselves, the Releaf App allows users to input the specific reason for their medical marijuana use, the type of cannabis they use — be it flower, concentrates, or topicals — and finally, any subsequent symptom relief, measured on a 1-10 improvement scale.

The first study, published in late August in Frontiers In Pharmacology, examined Releaf data covering a wide range of ailments, from anxiety and depression to nausea and muscle spasms, from 13,638 individual user entries. Digging through tens of thousands of smoke sessions and infused topical applications, UNM researchers found that cannabis use of any kind, for any condition, was met with an average symptom decrease of 3.7 points. 

For the second study, made public in the July issue of the journal Medicines, the same authors looked specifically at the effects of smoking or vaping whole flower cannabis buds on insomnia, consulting data from 1,056 entries on the Releaf App. On average, those users reported a 4.5 point decrease in symptom severity, with pipes and vaporizers credited as the most effective sleep aid method.

By consulting low-pressure, user-generated data, the studies’ authors say that they were more effectively able to explore the way that marijuana is used in real world settings, instead of relying on often uncomfortable lab settings that could alter results.

“Observational studies are more appropriate than experimental research designs for measuring how patients choose to consume cannabis and the effects of those choices,” UNM Department of Psychology Associate Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil said in a press release announcing the research. “By collecting massive amounts of patient-entered information on actual cannabis used under real-life circumstances we are able to measure why patients consume cannabis, the types of products that patients use, and the immediate and longer-term effects of such use. In other words, many of the important and practical research questions that randomized controlled trials fail to address.”

In addition to effective treatment of 27 medical ailments, UNM researchers reported a lack of any significant negative side effects from cannabis, with Releaf users most frequently noting positive side effects like relaxation and peacefulness, as opposed to traditionally negative outcomes like foggy and forgetful.

As cannabis reform continues to be debated in state legislatures and by voters, with public polls consistently reporting overwhelming support for medical marijuana legalization, Vigil and his co-authors were confident that their data would push the cause further, especially considering the deadly nature of America’s current prescription pill epidemic.

“If the results found in our studies can be extrapolated to the general population, cannabis could systematically replace multi-billion dollar medication industries around the world,” Vigil said. “It is likely already beginning to do so.”