*Updated July 14, 2017
Smoke it or not, it’s time to talk about pot.
Kristin Henriksen is a holistic health practitioner and a master herbalist on Martha’s Vineyard. “When I see a system out of whack, I have to fix it,” she said to a group gathered at the Vineyard Haven library recently. They were there to talk about hemp.
Man and hemp have traveled together for 40,000 years, but Ms. Henriksen briefed the group on the past two hundred or so. Dating back to 1841, doctors in Kolkata, India were using cannabis to treat a wide variety of medical problems such as rabies, cholera, tetanus, and epilepsy. From there, the use spread rapidly through European and American pharmacopoeia, and by the late 19th century, most of America’s largest pharmaceutical companies were manufacturing cannabis extract.
Prohibition hit the U.S., and government officials quickly figured out the alcohol ban wasn’t going to work from a revenue standpoint. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics was established in its place, which criminalized cannabis. Racism was a serious issue during this time, and politicians were using fear to bump up their campaign rhetoric. Keeping white kids white meant controlling Mexican and African American immigration, and marijuana laws would contribute to that social control.
By 1961, the Convention on Narcotic Drugs was passed, which put a stop to production, supply, medical treatment uses, and research of narcotic drugs. This is when the country stopped seeing any sort of research on cannabis. In 1972, President Nixon set up a drug schedule from 1 to 5, one being the most prone to abuse and having no medical use. The Shafer Commission was established by Nixon to find evidence and further demonize cannabis as Schedule 1. This plan backfired, as the commission couldn’t find cannabis particularly dangerous. Nixon disregarded the verdict, and cannabis has been a Schedule 1 drug ever since.
Reefer madness, man.
According to Ms. Henriksen, a lot of misconceptions come from the illogical comparisons made between hemp and medical-grade marijuana. The science is heavy. Ready?
Hemp, also known as cannabis, is just a plant. It has three subspecies, Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. And then there are the hybrids. All these plants come in different shapes and sizes, grow in different climates, and have varying THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) profiles, according to Ms. Henriksen. THC is psychoactive, and responsible for the euphoric high, and CBD is nonpsychoactive, and holds the highest medicinal value. THC and CBD are the two best-studied chemical compounds, or cannabinoids, found in all cannabis plants. According to Ms. Henriksen, there are 113 cannabinoids that we know of in the plant. In its pure state, it contains 99.7 percent CBD and *0.3 percent THC. As it is tinkered with and decarboxylated, which is the drying and heating process that activates THC, cannabis takes on different properties, which makes some strains more or less potent than others.
Man has made thousands of cannabis strains, customizing THC and CBD to their liking. There are ways to use hemp, and reap its medicinal benefits, without being high. It’s up to the person, and in the past five years, some interesting stuff has been happening.
According to Ms. Henriksen, CBD is strong on its own as an anti-inflammatory, and good for pain relief, sleep disorders, anxiety, and neurotransmitter regulation.
Fifty years ago, scientists discovered the body has an endocannabinoid system, which is a system of cell receptors located throughout the brain and body that help maintain physiological health and balance. When cannabinoids enter the body, they bind to these receptors and help regulate the system.
“We have an entire system that’s just waiting for this,” Ms. Henricksen said. “It’s no wonder hemp helps so many disorders.”
The endocannabinoid system has CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. CB1 is primarily found in the brain, and CB2 is primarily found in the body.
We can even have endocannabinoid deficiencies, which can be related to a poor diet, stress, environmental toxins, or nutritional deficiencies.
“You can take cannabinoids, just like you would take vitamin D or vitamin B, for deficiencies,” Ms. Henriksen said.
There still isn’t a test for endocannabinoid deficiency, but the best way to figure out if someone needs it is to take it, and see if it makes them feel better. Again, no one needs to be high.
There are other plants that contain cannabinoids like turmeric and Theobroma cacao (chocolate), but hemp contains the most. It is the premier cannabinoid-carrying plant. You can also be prescribed cannabinoids, in the form of Marinol or Sativex.
“So we know that because the endocannabinoid system is the global homeostatic regulator, it is involved in many chronic, stubborn diseases,” she said. “We’re seeing a number of diseases that drugs can’t fix, like Crohn’s disease. They’re actually using the word cure. They’re curing Crohn’s with full-plant hemp extract.”
According to Ms. Henrikson, full-plant medicine proves to be a better therapy than synthetically derived and synthetic pharmaceutical extracts.
The conversation continued like a town hall meeting. Community members asked questions on how to get medicinal cards, websites to order oil extracts, and how to locate a physician that can make recommendations. It’s a tougher topic on Martha’s Vineyard, for there are few doctors, if any, that are licensed to prescribe medicinal marijuana.
“There can be a lot of stigma surrounding the doctor,” Ms. Henrikson said. That’s especially true on a small Island.
The topic of cannabis being a gateway drug also came up, and Ms. Henrikson doesn’t believe it is. She believes choice is the gateway.
“I walked through the gate and stayed in the marijuana garden,” she said. But she agrees that individuals under 25, before the brain fully develops, should avoid it, although she understands why the younger crowd reaches for it.
“Adolescents are dealing with puberty, hormones, anxiety, and sometimes they just gotta get away from it,” she said. “But instead of reprimanding a kid for smoking pot, maybe we should ask what’s going on.”
Ms. Henrikson recommended different marijuana advocacy groups, as well as leafly.com, as resources for any and all marijuana information.
“It’s the new gold rush,” one community member said. “It’s the hottest thing. People are sick of pills. We need what’s been around forever.”
“I’m coining this now,” Ms. Henrikson said. “Step aside, kale. Hemp is the new leafy green.”
*Hemp contains 0.3% THC, not 3% as originally reported. Ms. Henrikson notes that she, as well as many who study the medicinal uses of marijuana, prefer the word ‘pot’ not be used, because of the associated stigma surrounding the term.