Cannabis is complex.
It is composed of hundreds of compounds: cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, and quite a few others. These compounds alter their composition, and their effects, when heat is applied through a process called decarboxylation. Other chemical and reactive changes take place depending on how the cannabis is delivered.
Cannabis may be inhaled via the lungs to the brain, ingested and then processed by the liver, applied topically and absorbed through the skin, or even administered as a suppository. Despite all the research that has been done—and there is far more out there than they'd have us believe—we are still only scratching the surface in our understanding of this remarkable plant and its properties. In addition, there are also hundreds of different strains available, each with its own unique compound profile.
Despite these complexities, we can summarize the currently accepted uses of cannabis into two broad categories with respect to why it is consumed in any of the above mentioned ways. 1) As an intoxicant and 2) as a medicine.
I would like to suggest a third category, to consider cannabis as an essential nutrient for human health.
The idea is not as farfetched as it sounds. We know that our bodies contain naturally occurring cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, which regulate many of the systems in our bodies (sleep, appetite, reproduction, temperature, mood, etc) but perhaps most importantly, our immune system. Through a variety of specialized receptors, these endocannabinoids assist the body in dealing with infection, inflammation, and a wide range of diseases. They have even been implicated in helping to fight tumours and cancers.
Therefore, if our bodies are naturally producing cannabinoids, might it be a good idea from time to time to supplement with additional compounds when we are not producing enough on our own?
Nutritionists claim that it is important to eat the correct types and ratios of food so that our bodies can obtain the naturally occurring nutrients and fats we require to keep our bodies healthy. We also know that when our bodies lack a particular nutrient, a variety of unhealthy conditions may occur, and we are encouraged to support our intake with supplements to create the balance that is needed. Is it that far a stretch to think that our bodies might require the compounds that cannabis provides when we don’t have enough cannabinoids within us? We are exposed to toxins every day, in the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, etc... Our immune systems are working overtime to try and deal with these poisons. If cannabinoids play a role in regulating the immune system, perhaps an extra dose when required would help us stay balanced and healthier.
We already know that mother’s breast milk is rich in endocannabinoids, and there are suggestions that it is these endocannabinoids that help trigger vital parts of the infant’s immune system. Does it not stand to reason, then, that if the infant does not get enough of these endocannabinoids through its mother’s milk that the child’s immune system might not be functioning at its peak? Furthermore, is it therefore probable that formula fed infants are at a disadvantage because they are not obtaining the essential compounds that are required to put their immune systems in good working order? Could this be the reason we have seen so many cancers, allergies, etc, in young children?
Already some researchers have suggested something called Cannabis Deficit Disorder. This describes situations when there are simply not enough cannabinoids in the body to properly deal with the variety of toxins we humans are exposed to in our environments. Is it possible that by supplementing our diets with phytocannabinoids (i.e. plant based cannabinoids) that we would be providing our bodies with the essential nutrient that is required to keep us healthy?
Some might suggest that this is simply not possible since most people don’t want to walk around intoxicated (i.e. stoned or high) all the time. But there is no need for that concern. Firstly, by switching from high-THC cannabis strains to ones that balance CBD and THC, it is possible to remove virtually all the psychoactive effect. Further, there is a growing movement suggesting that consuming raw cannabis may provide us with all the compounds we need to stay healthy without the associated high.
For too long the medical community has resisted the idea that cannabis is a medicine. In a sense, perhaps they are right. Would you consider an orange to be medicine? Probably not. Yet, way back in time many sailors suffered from scurvy, a disease brought about by a deficiency of vitamin C. By consuming citrus fruits like oranges, the disease was curtailed and eventually eliminated. But we still don’t think of oranges as medicine.
Maybe it is time to think the same way about cannabis, the most essential nutrient required for human health.