Written by Maggie Ward, MS, RD, LDN
Cannabis Sativa: Old Medicine with New Popularity

Cannabis Sativa: Old Medicine with New Popularity

I love when medicine comes full circle and natural therapies that were used hundreds of years ago, or even thousands, become popular again. There is a wisdom in nature that stands the test of time. Cannabis sativa is a good example of this. There is now a large body of research that shows cannabis and the various phytocannabinoids it contains to be very effective in improving a long list of health conditions. Could it really be the cure-all that so many are claiming? How can that be? This requires a very long answer but I will break it down to the basics.

We all have an inner endocannabinoid system (ECS) that regulates inflammation and balances the various pathways in our body. Our body makes our own endocannabinoids named anandamide and 2-AG, also known as our “bliss” molecules that bind to ECS receptors (CB1 and CB2). CB1 receptors are mostly in the brain and spinal cord and CB2 receptors are mainly throughout the rest of the body. These molecules tend to exert regulatory functions on the various systems in the body. For example, they are very helpful in our nervous system because they inhibit the pain pathway and can prevent overstimulation in the brain. CBD (cannabidiol), the most dominant phytocannabinoid in the hemp plant, helps to lower an enzyme that breaks down our endogenous cannabinoids and therefore increase their effects. Other phytocannabinoids bind to our ECS receptors and behave similarly to our own cannabinoids. This explains how cannabis can impact so many areas in the body and has shown to be an analgesic (lower pain), anti-epileptic, anti-inflammatory, antiemetic, antipsychotic, and now research is emerging that it may help slow the growth of tumor cells. It has been shown in mice to increase the neurotransmitter oxytocin which helps to lower anxiety, pain, and even improve social interactions!

Cannabis has received a bad rap in recent history. Both the marijuana and hemp plants are classified under Cannabis sativa but they are very different. They are not just visually distinct but they also contain different amounts of cannabinoids. Marijuana was bred to have more THC, which does have health benefits, but is also the cannabinoid that can cause intoxication or a “high.” And when smoked it often increases that effect. Because of this, all Cannabis sativa (including hemp) had been listed as a controlled substance in the US from 1937 until the recent 2018 Farm Bill removed it. Now we are able to enjoy the full benefits of hemp once again!

As mentioned above, there are many (hundreds) of phytocannabinoids, only about 10 of which have been more closely studied but seem to have synergist effects. Mother Nature knows best and as often is the case in using herbs and food as medicine, the healing power of the whole plant has shown to be greater than the individual parts like CBD. The plant also has compounds known as terpenes that have benefits. When you use a full spectrum hemp product with several of these compounds the outcomes are better and at lower doses. There are many forms and dosing options for full spectrum hemp oil. They include sublingual (under the tongue), oral, and topical. We have receptors in our skin too!

Here at The UltraWellness Center, we have found it most helpful in improving pain, anxiety, and insomnia. It is important to work with a healthcare professional that has training in botanical medicine or familiar with cannabis research. The key guidelines are to start low and go slow until you find the most effective dose for you and your symptoms. This is especially true for children where the dosing is based on weight. Again, full spectrum products are generally best and pose less concern for the liver or possible drug interactions. If you are getting products labeled as hemp, they should be <0.3 % THC which poses no risk for feeling a high, except in rare conditions. You should ask hemp product companies for a COA (Certificate of Analysis) which will verify the label claim. It should also be third-party tested and free of pesticides, microbes, or other chemicals.

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