Cannabis (C. sativa, C. indica, C. ruderalis) – Cannabis family
a.k.a.: marijuana, hemp, ganja, charas, quinbu, koaba, q’neh bosm, kannabos, chanvre, hanf, caanvas, weed, pot, hash, countless more…
For roughly 8000 years, mankind has cultivated cannabis. Unlike the wars we’ve waged over medicinal and recreational cannabis in the past century, our history has often been replete with fighting over cannabis as a source of fiber. In fact, until more recent years, the world’s primary use for cannabis was as a fiber used to make paper, rope, sails, clothing, and linens, and its secondary use was as a medicine with spirituality close behind.
Our needs changed, and so did cannabis. Today, this hardy plant is cultivated primarily for its medicine, often illegally and in secret. It’s taken for physical, mental, and spiritual conditions as often as for fun. In the United States of America, prohibition on cannabis is lifting. Scientists and medical professionals among others have fought long and hard to lift the ban, and they’re being rewarded with some of the many secrets cannabis has to offer. Today, we’re finally beginning to understand why this powerful plant was used faithfully for hundreds of years to ease and cure such a wide variety of conditions. We know now that, despite the dubious title of “panacea,” cannabis truly is potent and versatile medicine.
Although research is still quite thin on cannabis, the cannabinoid family shows a lot of promise in helping heal a myriad of conditions. Our ancestors called cannabis a panacea with good cause. Researchers are discovering the human body is filled with cannabinoid receptors, and many of the chemical structures of the cannabinoid family are identical or incredibly similar to those found naturally in the human body as well as the bodies of most of the animal kingdom.
The cannabinoid receptors in our bodies come in two primary types, the ones that primarily regulate brain function called CB1 receptors and the ones through out the body that primarily help regulate the immune system called CB2 receptors. Cannabis’s constituents are shaped to perfectly fit those receptors. The astounding part is scientists have determined the animal cannabinoid receptors came first; cannabis developed its chemical structures to mimic our own.
Cannabis is primarily known for its strongly reactive terpenes, generally called cannabinoids. These are carbon and hydrogen compounds that leave a sticky residue. The plant manufactures them to defend itself from grazers. The strong reaction from the terpenes cause the grazing animal to get confused and wander off. Once the animal is out of the area, other chemicals in cannabis stimulate the digestive system (the munchies) and the animal starts grazing on other plants, thus the cannabis patch is saved from grazing.
Cannabis contains hundreds of constituents in its natural form. Of those, over a hundred are cannabinoids only found in cannabis. Of those cannabinoids, a handful have been studied by modern science in part because they seem to best fit our CB1 and CB2 receptors. The ones that get the most press are the tetrahydrocannabinoids (THC), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabidiol (CBD). The main psychoactive constituent is THC due to its affinity for our CB1 receptors, which is why that one is most often discussed in both scientific and popular articles on cannabis.
Cannabinol (CBN) is occasionally mentioned in part because it contributes at least a little to the psychoactive effects of cannabis and in part because scientists are unsure whether it’s a byproduct of THC’s oxidation process or a natural constituent on its own. Cannabidiol (CBD) with its affinity for our CB2 receptors offers a balance to the psychoactive aspects of THC and CBN. It’s the constituent primarily responsible for cannabis’s anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety effects.
Cannabidiol has gathered a great deal of interest in the medical community for its antispasmodic and anticonvulsant properties. Other antispasmodic or anticonvulsant medication tends to have side effects including but not limited to: Numbness, lethargy, lack of gastrointestinal control as expressed through either diarrhea or constipation, hair loss, and nervous ticks. The CBD in cannabis is noted as reducing seizures and spasms while exhibiting minimal side effects. Those usually noted were dryness of mouth, eyes, and other body orifices, which is also common for anticonvulsants such as Dilantin.
Dryness of the mouth (xenostomia), eyes, and other orifices is also a common symptom for the conditions cannabis treats. This double whammy can be a real problem for women already experiencing vaginal dryness due to menopause. Fennel is a good herbal companion to mitigate this side effect. Adding fennel tincture to the medication schedule will keep body moisture at a healthy level. A suggested dose is as few as 3 drops to a tablespoon of water or 3 drops under the tongue. Even chewing a few fennel seeds when xenostomia hits is a helpful habit. Fennel also encourages more complete digestion, which is a boon for those with the conditions cannabis treats.
It’s important to note cannabis has been tested and hybridized to vary these cannabinoids to the point where some varieties have strikingly different properties. For example, some varieties are designed to decrease anxiety and can be used regularly but others are known to cause anxiety when used daily. As with all herbs, do your research.
Used topically, cannabis bud has little to none of its psychoactive effects and metabolizes such that it doesn’t remain in your system as does cannabis bud taken internally. For those who want to get the analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and other properties without the side effects, topical application may well do it. Topically, cannabis bud has been used to treat the pain of arthritis and other localized pain conditions including neuropathy. It’s also been used to treat cancerous and non-cancerous topical tumors. Headaches can also be eased and prevented using cannabis bud preparations applied to the neck, temples, and forehead.
Conditions Best Helped by Cannabis
Due to the legal challenges surrounding this herb, there is a limited but growing amount of clinical evidence in using cannabis for herbal healing. The information in this section is based on current scientific research and historical data.
Muscle and Muscle Spasm conditions including:
- Spinal injuries
- Mmyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease)
- Cerebral palsy
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Neurologica damage
Epilepsy and seizure conditions including
- Grand mal epilepsy
- Dravet syndrome
- Lennox-Gastaut syndrome
Other conditions including:
- Pain Relief
- Inflammatory bowl disease (IBS)
- Neurodegenerative Diseases
- Sleeping disorders, Insomnia
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other neurological disorders
- and more.
For More Information on Cannabis
For more information on Cannabis, purchase a copy of The Practical Herbalist’s Advanced Herbal Folio: Cannabis: An Herbalist’s Guide to Using Medicinal Marijuana. In this Advanced Herbal Folio, you’ll find all the well-organized, researched information you’ve come to expect:
- Medicinal Properties, including Medicinal Processing and Advanced Medicinal Application
- Gardening and Gathering, including identification tips
- Animal Husbandry
- Household Formulas and Non-medicinal uses
- History, Folklore, Myth, and Magic, including tips for incorporating Cannabis into your Spiritual Practices Safely
Proceeds from sales of The Practical Herbalist’s Herbal Folio series go toward supporting The Practical Herbalist website and Real Herbalism Radio. Support this terrific reference site and podcast by buying your copy of Cannabis: An Herbalist’s Guide to Using Medicinal Marijuana today.