From health food stores to corner markets, everywhere we look these days products are appearing on shelves with the hip new ingredient CBD or "hemp extract" on the label — along with a higher price tag. You'll see everything from CBD tinctures and balms, to CBD sex lube and ice cream. Companies tout all kinds of health benefits, but it can feel like there's a ton of hype and also not much guidance.
So what’s the deal? Should you take CBD? How much? And how do you distinguish between the hype and the real health benefits?
Having studied Nutrition, Integrative and Functional Medicine for over a dozen years with leading doctors, researchers, and institutions, I’m amazed that I hadn't encountered CBD earlier in my career. It wasn’t until I connected with Foria and saw the profound testimonials from women benefitted by their CBD-rich menstrual suppository (Foria Relief) and their CBD-rich sexual pre-lube (Foria Awaken) that I shed my negative assumptions about cannabis and was hungry to know more. After further research, I left the ignorance of 'cannabis as a drug' and entered the world of cannabis education, reverence and collaboration.
History of Cannabis
Documented medicinal uses of cannabis sativa go back thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, cannabis leaves are found depicted as medicine on ancient scrolls and in royal tombs. Greek texts dating back to 200 B.C. depict medicinal uses of cannabis for various ailments. Its uses are illustrated in German, Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Persian societies across the centuries, and even Queen Victoria was known to take a monthly prescribed dose of cannabis to relieve menstrual cramps.
It wasn’t until the 20th century, around the time of alcohol Prohibition, that cannabis became demonized as a dangerous drug. As the so-called war on drugs escalated, cannabis went way underground, and it was grown under high-intensity lights, dosed with synthetic compounds, and bred to increase the psychoactive THC content for greater profit per pound.
Yet in its natural, original state, we see this beautiful plant has coevolved with humanity as a powerful ally for thousands of years. Dr. Ethan Russo published a fascinating paper on the 10,000-year history of obstetric and gynecological uses of cannabis, anywhere from menstrual cramps to childbirth.
We've only recently begun to understand how profoundly synergistic this plant is with our human physiology, particularly the female body. Just fifty years ago Raphael Mechoulam, researching why cannabis affects the human body, discovered the the Endo-Cannabinoid System (ECS), consisting of cell receptors and corresponding molecules produced in the body ("endogenous cannabinoids"), that interact on the surface of various cells. These receptors are also affected by exogenous (originating outside the body) cannabinoids — which is why cannabis has the effects that it does.
What purpose does the ECS serve? The ECS is a communication system that interlinks our organs and body systems in order to regulate homeostasis and cellular healing in the body. The ECS also holds remarkable promise for holistic health, immune modulation, and understanding the body-mind connection. Dr Mechoulam writes:
"The endogenous cannabinoid system—named for the plant that led to its discovery—is one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. With its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and virtually all of the body’s organs, the endocannabinoids are literally a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system, we begin to see a mechanism that could connect brain activity and states of physical health and disease."~Raphael Mechoulam
In Functional Medicine, we see the body as a whole woven system, seek to find the root-causes of imbalance unique to each individual, and support the healing power of the body using ancient and modern modalities, to improve the whole terrain of body and being. So it's quite profound to find a plant that is so potently synergistic with a system in our body that regulates overall homeostasis and healing.
Even more fascinating is that one of the highest concentrations of endocannabinoids is found in mother’s breast milk; it helps support the baby’s immune and nervous systems, releases the bliss hormone Anandamide, induces hunger (aka "the munchies") and deep restful sleep. Intelligent system, eh?
Phyto-Cannabinoids are cannabinoids common in many plants, herbs and spices, with the highest known concentrations in cannabis and hemp. Phytocannabinoids mimic naturally occurring cannabinoids in our body, and are responsible for regulating healing and homeostasis in the body. There are many, but the most famous are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinol (CBD).
THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid, and demonstrated to be anti-pain, anti-nausea, anti-tumor, stimulates appetite, induces sleep, and benefits PTSD, Asthma, Glaucoma. This is found in much higher quantities in cannabis, and thus will be found in dispensaries.
CBD is non-psychoactive, as well as anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, somewhat anti-pain, anti-psychotic, anti-tumor, and antispasmodic, and without the lethargy or ‘high’ of THC. This is found in higher quantities in hemp, which is legal, and can be found in stores and online.
Should I take CBD?
In our fast-paced lives — filled with stress, processed foods, pharmaceuticals, environmental toxins, and disconnection from nature — we are increasingly deficient in many vital nutrients; phytocannabinoids are no exception.
Researchers are beginning to link many conditions (Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Autoimmune conditions, Alzheimers, and others) with what they call 'Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome' (EDS). While EDS is a fascinating theory, I am personally always wary of new conditions or diagnoses that are often a setup for a prescribed magic pill solution.
So while all the emerging research and product testimonials are fascinating and exciting, I also urge us to not so easily fall into the trap of using cannabis or hemp as the primary solution to our ills — while ignoring potent body signs that something may be out of balance. As with any symptom-mediating substance, it is easy for us to stop at the bandaid-relief of symptoms, and not go further to the actual roots of WHY we're anxious, overwhelmed, in pain, sick, etc.
So first, there are some key foundational factors that will, alone or in conjunction with CBD supplementation, support the long-term vitality of our Endocannabinoid System.
- The foundation of the ECS is essential fatty acids. Therefore a balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids in our diet is required for the synthesis of endocannabinoids and other vital body processes. So consuming raw nuts and seeds, wild fatty fish, pasture-raised eggs and meat, and high-quality omega 3 supplementation is vital.
- Consuming a diet mostly of whole foods from nature, rich in dark leafy greens, herbs and spices, will help deliver the diversity of phytocannabinoids and other nutrients we need from our food.
- Exercise and movement in nature also increase natural endocannabinoids, as well as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, orgasm and massage. So making non-negotiable time each day for your self-care in any of these ways is key — and no single product can do all that.
Many of the factors for overall health and wellbeing also support our ECS and quality of life. So once we're already eating, sleeping, and living a balanced lifestyle — or if we're experiencing a particular health crisis or concern and we need some further support — then there are various ways to consciously consume this potent plant ally.
How to Consume CBD
There are seemingly endless ways to enjoy and find what works best for your needs and body: in tea or juice, as a topical, as an edible or tincture, as a suppository, or in a vaporizer.
In this rapidly expanding product space, where purity and ethics are often compromised for profit, it is ever more important to choose brands we trust and products that are of the purest and highest quality. Look for brands using organic or pesticide-free, sun-grown cannabis or hemp. CBD oil or distillate comes in several varieties: "full-spectrum" (containing multiple cannabinoids, including some THC) or broad-spectrum (multiple cannabinoids but no THC).
Try to avoid CBD isolates, or anything that isn't tested for solvents. Don't fall for products with fillers and other chemical ingredients, or a multi-level marketing business model — since potency and quality are often compromised to cut costs.
In future articles we'll discuss further aspects of cannabis and hemp, as well as other trusted brands and resources.
Cannabis & the Future of Medicine
The research and scientific validation is quickly spreading in the spheres of popular media, medical journals, and political debate — expanding our perspectives, policies, and access to healing options.
In parallel to this societal shift around cannabis and hemp, there is a cultural shift around reclaiming our relationship with plants and nature. Taking ownership of the health and happiness of our body and mind, and how we show up in the world, is paramount to our freedom and quality of life. These things aren't found in a bottle or box, but in tuning into ourselves and finding what foods, practices, medicine, or space really nourishes us — and CBD may be a part of that picture.
So while, cannabis or hemp can be incredible allies for us in our healing journeys, with chronic pain, anxiety, gastrointestinal issues, autoimmune conditions, cancer, stress, etc., we urge you to take a wholistic approach. If you're stuck or need support, find a Naturopathic or Functional Medicine practitioner that will spend time truly listening to you, teaming up with you in getting to the deeper roots for more effective and lasting relief and wellbeing. Feel free to contact us for resources or practitioners we work with.
If you have any insights to share on how cannabis or hemp has been of benefit to you, or which brands and products you know and love, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colleen Gerson is a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach (FMCHC), National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC), and Certified Lifestyle Educator (LE). She utilizes a body, mind, spirit approach, to get to the deeper roots of chronic issues and imbalances, to help clients achieve more lasting health, purpose, and vitality. She works with clients abroad and in Los Angeles, and leads monthly wellness workshops and women's circles. Contact her at VesselandSoul.com
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