Before I get into the nitty-gritty of all that cannabis has to offer as far as health benefits (from here on out when I speak of “cannabis,” I’m referring to the THC-containing kind that people smoke), I want to delve into the health benefits of non-psychoactive industrial hemp. This plant is used to make food products like hemp seeds and hemp seed oil that are legally sold nationwide.
Not to be confused with cannabidiol (CBD) oil derived from cannabis, which I’ll discuss later on, hemp seed oil and the seeds from which they’re derived are widely available at most grocery and health food stores. They’re considered food products because they contain only trace amounts of THC. Many people consume them in smoothies, on salads, or as dietary supplements.
Hemp seeds and hemp seed oil are among the richest plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids – including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – which has been shown to protect the heart, brain, and cardiovascular systems. Hemp seed oil is also a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory food product that aids in boosting immune function.
Hemp Oil Soothes the Skin & Improves Blood Flow
People with skin problems may also benefit from consuming hemp oil. One study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment found that individuals with atopic dermatitis showed significant changes in their plasma fatty acid profiles and experienced improved clinical symptoms as a result of consuming hemp oil.
Hemp seeds are an excellent source of both fat and protein – roughly 25% of each seed is made up of “complete” protein, while another 30% is made up of high-quality fat. Plus there’s all the vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, and sulfur contained in hemp seeds.
Healthy blood flow is a crucial part of human health, and hemp seeds serve an important role in this area as well. Rich in arginine (an amino acid that promotes vasodilation), hemp seeds fuel the body’s production of nitric oxide, which helps relax and expand blood vessels to reduce blood pressure and increase blood flow. In fact, hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids, which is why they’re considered to be a complete protein. Hypothetically speaking, one could consume nothing but hemp seeds and still maintain pristine health due to the full-spectrum nutrients packed into every kernel.
Shelled hemp seeds are also an excellent source of fiber, both soluble and insoluble, which means smoother sailing for your digestive tract. With colon cancer rates on the rise, adding more hemp seeds to your diet is a great way to help prevent fecal buildup and keep your intestines in tip-top shape.
As I mentioned earlier, industrial hemp is legal in all 50 states
, so you’re free to purchase it locally or order it online. I’m partial to the Nutiva brand
of both hemp seeds and hemp seed oil because Nutiva products are certified organic; they’re available practically everywhere; and the company is a certified B corporation, meaning it maintains rigorous operations standards that include protecting workers, promoting environmental sustainability, and working towards a zero-waste production model.
Cannabis, the All-in-One Miracle Medicine
There’s also an array of health benefits to be derived from full-spectrum, female-plant cannabis, which is still outlawed federally. Because it’s been demonized for so long, psychoactive THC (which is abundant in cannabis), remains a bogeyman in many people’s minds. But this key compound holds its own special place in natural healing that you simply can’t get from non-psychoactive industrial hemp.
A little background may be relevant here. Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds that act on the so-called “cannabinoid receptor proteins” in our body and brain. These receptor proteins can bind to and get activated by the “endocannabinoids.”
Endocannabinoids come from three sources:
- They are produced naturally in the brain and nervous system (interestingly, they are also found in breast milk)
- From phytocannabinoids, including THC, which are found in cannabis and some other plants
- Synthetic cannabinoids that are manufactured artificially.
Like the many other cannabinoids found in cannabis, THC binds to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body – particularly in the brain – where it helps alleviate pain. THC feeds the body’s innate endocannabinoid system while either stimulating or sedating the brain and body. Cannabis strains of the sativa variety are typically associated with brain “highs,” while indica cannabis is most often associated with body relaxation.
There are also quite a few variations within these two categories, including sativa-indica hybrid strains that exert both body and brain effects. There are literally hundreds of different cannabis strains offering a wide variety of health benefits, and with suitability for both daytime and nighttime use so patients can focus, sleep, or do whatever it is they need to do at a particular moment in time.
Cannabis in general is packed with an array of special healing phytocannabinoids, of which there are over 85 different types depending on the strain. Each phytocannabinoid offers its own unique therapeutic benefit, with the two most well-known being THC and CBD. But there are also many others like CBC, CBG, and CBN – as well as the “acid” forms of both THC and CBD, known as THCa and CBDa, respectively, which are found in raw cannabis leaves and buds.
“When cannabis is consumed, cannabinoids bind to receptor sites throughout our brain (receptors called CB-1) and body (CB-2),” explains the cannabis information resource Leafly. “Different cannabinoids have different effects depending on which receptors they bind to. For example, THC binds to receptors in the brain whereas CBN (cannabinol) has a strong affinity for CB-2 receptors located throughout the body. By aiming the right cannabinoid at the right receptors, different types of relief are achievable.”
In fact, Leafly has created a “Cannabis Wheel” infographic that offers a visual depiction of the various cannabinoids found in cannabis – and what each one does in the areas of chronic pain, sleep, gastrointestinal health, mood, behavior, and neurological balance.
What is CBD?
CBD is another cannabinoid that, unlike THC, produces no psychoactive effects. This is because CBD binds to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body, rather than only in the brain. This means CBD is able to effectively alleviate symptoms like nausea and vomiting, seizure activity, inflammation, neurodegenerative disorders, anxiety, depression, and psychosis, while also combating tumor and cancer cells.
CBD is just one of over 60 active cannabinoid compounds that feed the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is made up of endogenous (originating within the body) cannabinoid receptors designed specifically for the cannabinoids found in cannabis. These receptors are found throughout the human brain, as well as in the central and peripheral nervous systems – and each receptor site is specifically suited for a certain type of cannabinoid.
Cannabis also contains aromatic oil compounds known as terpenes that, like cannabinoids, bind to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body and brain. Terpenes are the pungent oils secreted by cannabis trichomes, those crystal-like “hairs” that give cannabis buds their snow-covered gleam.
Terpenes are what furnish each cannabis strain with its own unique scent and flavor profile, and are similar in nature to those found in common plant-based essential oils that you might use in a diffuser to make your home smell pleasant. There are more than 100 different terpenes that have thus far been identified in cannabis, generating all sorts of pungent flavors and smells ranging from pine and citrus to berry and mint.
Terpenes interact synergistically with cannabinoids to produce what is called an “entourage effect,” enhancing the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids. Terpenes bind to the same receptor sites throughout the body and brain that cannabinoids do, regulating and altering their respective chemical outputs. Terpenes also help modulate how much THC passes through the blood-brain barrier, along with helping to mitigate brain neurotransmitter production, including both dopamine and serotonin.
Cannabis strains rich in the terpene beta-myrcene, for instance, tend to have a musky, earthy aroma and are commonly used to help induce sleep. Strains containing limonene tend to have a distinct citrus aroma, with this particular terpene helping to elevate mood and relieve stress. Other common terpenes found in cannabis include linalool, beta-caryophyllene, alpha-pinene, and humulene.
Leafly has produced another helpful “Terpene Wheel” infographic that offers a full breakdown of six of the most common cannabis terpenes, including their scent characteristics, biological function, other plants in which they’re found – and most importantly, the cannabis strains in which they’re most commonly present.
Don’t Be Misled: Full-Spectrum CBD Oil Comes from Cannabis, Not Hemp
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of young Charlotte Figi, the Colorado girl whose nightmarish epileptic condition was effectively cured with a CBD-rich strain of cannabis known as “Charlotte’s Web.” Ever since her amazing story went public, people across the country have been seeking out CBD oil for their own conditions which – because of inconsistent, patchwork cannabis laws – has created a market for hemp-derived CBD oils that are legal in all 50 states.
While hemp does contain some CBD, CBD oils derived from hemp are not the same as CBD oils derived from full-spectrum cannabis, as the two plants have variant cannabinoid profiles. True CBD oil derived from full-spectrum cannabis (which is not yet legal in all 50 states), is much more potent and healing than the hemp-derived kind. Hence the dire need for major cannabis reform both at the state and federal levels.
If you currently live in a state or country where cannabis is still illegal, either medically or recreationally, you may wish to contact your legislators and urge them to introduce or support reform initiatives to end cannabis prohibition.
Building the Biblical Case for Cannabis
As a Christian myself, I recognize that some readers may be wondering whether or not cannabis use is congruent with their religious convictions. I’m excited to tell you that from a Biblical perspective I’m fully convinced that cannabis is safe, beneficial, and good for humanity. Here are a few Biblical passages that help make the case…
In Genesis 1:29, God offered up an edict to Adam in the Garden of Eden, declaring, “I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” Cannabis is a seed-bearing plant that freely grows like a weed, so it falls into the category of plants given to mankind by God.
In Hebrew and Aramaic translations of the bible (Exodus 30:22-24), God instructs Moses about how to produce the holy anointing oil, one of the ingredients of which is “Q’aneh-Bosm” (also translated as “Kaneh-Bosem”) which many Biblical scholars believe refers to cannabis. Phonetically speaking, this would appear to be accurate.
The Book of Revelation also speaks of a “tree of life” that “yield[s] her fruit every month” and whose leaves “were for the healing of the nations.” There’s been much debate over the identity of this mystical tree, with compelling arguments to suggest that this verse might just be talking about cannabis.
On the flip side, just a few chapters earlier in Revelation 18:23, the book’s writer, John, speaks of all nations being deceived by the “sorceries” of Babylon. The Greek word for sorceries, in this context, is pharmakeia, the root word from which we’ve derived the words pharmacy and pharmaceuticals. Now there’s some food for thought!
Considering the diversity of health benefits to be gained from cannabis – and the fact that it’s a seed-bearing plant blessed by God and the Biblical proof texts that suggest cannabis was one of the ingredients God mandated for use in the holy anointing oil, I’m fully convinced that cannabis is a true gift from God.
I hope you feel the same way, or at the very least now recognize that there’s so much more to this sacred plant than you’ve likely been told.
This article first appeared in the February 2016 edition of TTAC’s Heroes Against Cancer newsletter. Each month in Heroes Against Cancer we share the best ways you can use to get and stay healthy – including delicious recipes and the best in supplements, herbs and spices. Find out more about our member newsletter here.