Marijuana is one of the hot-button issues right now. The question whether to legalize or not is as ever present as legalizing gay marriage, what to do about abortion, and how constitutional the health care bill may be. Unlike some of these issues, marijuana has some pretty black and white facts that support its legalization, and they’re being discussed in Marijuana Gateway to Health: How Cannabis Protects Us from Cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease by Clint Werner.

Werner agrees that marijuana is a gateway drug, but not to harder narcotics. In his book he suggests that the drug is actually a gateway to better health, especially if you’re at risk for cancer or Alzheimer’s.

With a background in library science, Werner put to use his research skills to review the medical marijuana research from around the world. “The research is so new, and yet so frustratingly restricted. It is almost impossible to conduct research on human subjects with marijuana because of ‘concerns’ about its ‘safety,’ he told us. “That’s why I presented the preclinical data from lab animals and cell cultures and supported the data with epidemiological evidence [in my book].”

That research lead him to some interesting findings. For one, he found that THC (the active chemical in marijuana) may be very effective at improving thought transmission and even producing new brain cells. Quite the opposite of the common conception of marijuana side effects.

“There is a growing body of data that suggests that using [marijuana] could reverse some of the pathology associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative illnesses,” Werner explained. “Researchers at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, California discovered that THC is the most effective, available compound for breaking up the plaque that interferes with thought transmission in Alzheimer’s disease. Other scientists were surprised to find that THC triggers a process known as adult hippocampal neurogenesis—the production of healthy, functional, new brain cells.”

Alzheimer’s isn’t the only disease being fended off by marijuana use – Werner points out known benefits for cancer, too. The popularity of medical marijuana is first associated with eliminating many of the side effects from chemotherapy in cancer patients, help to eliminate or reduce the nausea and pain. “The recent research that has uncovered the powerful and multifaceted anti-cancer activity of cannabinoids indicates that they might actually serve as natural and nontoxic chemotherapeutic agents,” he said.

Marijuana may not just be a valid treatment plan for such chronic diseases, it may help prevent them from ever starting.

“The evidence is building that the cannabinoids from marijuana work by supplementing the disease-prevention and disease-fighting activity of our bodies’ own cannabinoids—the endocannabinoids. With regard to cancer, the cannabinoids fight inflammation which contributes to the rise of many if no all cancers. They also have a mind-boggling range of tumor fighting actions,” said Werner.

And he also points out that “Using marijuana helps to prevent Alzheimer’s disease in the same way that it seems to treat it; by ameliorating inflammation, by breaking up plaque outside the cells and the scar tissue known as tau inside the cells and by triggering the brain repair mechanism known as neurogenesis.”

In reference to a study from the University of Washington that looked at another neurodegenerative illness known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, he said, “using a small and minimally-psychoactive amount of marijuana daily could be your best protection from dementia associated with either aging or injury.”

The most intriguing part of Werner’s research isn’t that marijuana use can reduce or prevent Alzheimer’s or cancer, but it’s anti-inflammatory effects expand its reach to heart health. Inflammation is a prime contributor to many diseases, including heart disease, stroke, dementia, arthritis, glaucoma, and more.

While smoking marijuana may have some toxic effects on the heart from the carbon monoxide inhalation, Werner said, “it does look like regularly ingesting marijuana could reduce the risk for stroke and heart attack. There is a doctor suggesting that his patients try to eat a raw bud—which has no psychoactivity—each day to obtain this beneficial activity.”

Diabetics may get in on the benefits, too. Again, the cannabinoid CBD found in marijuana reduces inflammation, and for diabetics, that can mean protection for the pancreas where insulin is produced. CBD may even protect the optic nerves which often deteriorate and lead to blindness in diabetics.

There are currently 17 states where medical marijuana is legal, and highly regulated. These businesses do very well, and with all of the research that Werner has mined in support of medical marijuana it’s unlikely that business will slow down any time soon. In a society that is so dependent on prescription drugs for treatment, not curing, our epidemic-like illnesses, the fight to legalize this drug across the board may only grow a louder voice as time goes on.

“I think that, given the evidence we now have concerning how marijuana actually affects the body; it would be cultural mental illness not to move rapidly toward legalization,” stated Werner. He sees state-by-state legalization happening quickly once the general public becomes more aware of the disease-fighting benefits of marijuana.

“The most important step at this time is to remove the irrational and unscientific barriers to conducting solid scientific research on the benefits of marijuana and cannabinoid medicines which will undoubtedly reveal even more startling health benefits from this much-maligned plant,” said Werner.