Kristin Henriksen is a holistic health and wellness practitioner. She’s the owner of Reindeer Bridge Holistics, a retail shop for herbal medicinal plants in Vineyard Haven.
Who would have ever thought that marijuana would be legalized for medicinal use in our lifetime, let alone for recreational use? Well, the time has come, and we’ve reached a point where cannabis is available in our medicine cabinet, but there’s not a lot of information out there on how to use it.
The ABCs of ECS
The first key to understanding the body’s relationship to cannabis is understanding the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Let’s start with the word cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds found in all cannabis plants. The ones you’ve probably heard of are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). They are the two best-studied cannabinoids.
Inside every animal is an endocannabinoid system (endo, meaning within), which means we make cannabinoids in our bodies. A properly functioning ECS is important for essential operations in the body, especially homeostasis. Homeostasis is our state of steady internal conditions. The ECS regulates neurotransmitters in our central nervous system, and also regulates immune function in the rest of the body.
Without getting into an anatomy lesson, let me reassure you, neurotransmitters and the immune system are associated with just about every function within the body, and it is vital that they are performing adequately. If neurotransmitters are out of whack, we can have anxiety, sleep, and mood disorders that can lead to physical illness. Same with our immune function. If it’s out of whack, we can get every cold and illness that comes down the pike, be riddled with inflammation, or develop an autoimmune disorder.
Why use cannabis if our bodies already make it?
So, if endocannabinoids are the regulators of neurotransmitters and immunity, yet we make these in our bodies, why would we need the cannabis plant? The answer is because the body does not store endocannabinoids the way bile is stored in the gallbladder — rather, they are produced on demand. This means if you have a chronic illness, a stressful lifestyle or job, or a challenging genetic mutation, your body is asking for more endocannabinoids than the typical person can produce. Even a relatively healthy person, exposed to the stresses and challenges of modern life, might need more endocannabinoids than the body can supply.
For the body to function well enough for homeostasis, many of us need to add phytocannabinoids (phyto, meaning plant) to our medicine cabinets, either temporarily or long-term. The best place to get them is from cannabis.
The cannabis plant, especially hemp, can be eaten as a green vegetable or made into oil. It can be ingested every day. It is perfectly balanced in omega-3, -6, and -9, and is non-psychoactive, meaning it won’t get you high.
So you have an endocannabinoid deficiency. Now what?
One of the challenging aspects of endocannabinoid deficiency is that the medical establishment does not yet have a test for determining it. The only way to find out if cannabis might be helpful is to take it and see if you feel better. The other challenge is dosing. It is different for everyone, depending on the health challenges they are experiencing. What I’ve seen at my office is numerous diseases and disorders that benefit from the addition of hemp oil. For example, sensitivity to the environment, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, ADD/ADHD, mood disorders, PTSD, addiction, autism spectum disorder, depression, gastrointestinal disorders, arthritis, autoimmunity, fibromyalgia, migraines, and inflammatory diseases. In all of these cases, endocannabinoids are most likely deficient either at the onset, or from long-term challenges derived from these disorders.
In medicine, it’s not always just one thing causing these symptoms, nor can these illnesses be simplified into endocannabinoid deficiency, but it should be considered as part of one’s healing process.
The argument for THC — a vital cannabinoid
The 1970s’ “reefer madness” campaign demonized marijuana, as well as THC. THC is the cannabinoid with the psychoactive properties that can get you high. Cannabis’ classification as a schedule 1 drug has made it nearly impossible for researchers to study THC and its medicinal potential. Now that the hysteria seems to have subsided, it makes sense to consider how THC works, and why it can help.
There is a significant difference between whole-plant medicine and isolates. Whole plant is the whole plant, meaning roots, stalks, stems, leaves, flowers, and seeds. Isolates is just stalks, or just the stems, or other variations of parts of the plant. In cannabis, research shows that it is most effective overall when used as a whole plant — THC included.
THC has a way of amplifying how CBD works. The combination of all the cannabinoids is called the “entourage effect,” and it is vital when trying to use cannabis as a healing agent.
Since whole-plant hemp oil does not contain enough THC to cause psychoactive effects, it is an excellent choice for health and wellness. I’ve seen many products on the market made from just stalks, stems, and hemp seed oil that do not contain the cannabinoid profile that the rest of the plant includes.
From what I have seen in my holistic health practice, these isolate CBD products (without the THC) can be useful in helping the body resolve initial endocannabinoid deficiency in a two- to three-week use of oils. But beyond that, especially when dealing with chronic issues, isolate CBD products do not perform well.
Isolates might be a good option for those new in their recovery from addiction, when they psychologically want to refrain from anything that was a trigger. However, when the isolated oil stops working, stop taking it, because it has reached its peak of efficacy.
If people are in need to continue due to a chronic condition, and able to move into full-spectrum hemp oil, they usually find the relief they need. I’ve seen this time and again, further proving whole-plant oil is superior to isolates.
Microdosing is taking minimal doses of a substance so that you don’t experience psychoactive effects, but the treatment still provides medicinal benefit.
Hemp oil is a great example. Hemp is mostly CBD with a little THC. That tiny, non-psychoactive amount of THC supports the action of CBD, and also performs its duty of pain relief, all while supporting the endocannabinoid system. One of the most effective ways to use THC is by topical application. It works wonders, and you don’t get high from topical use.
A number of my clients who have medical marijuana cards and access to dispensaries are reporting that THC products support them in reducing the use of prescription cortisone creams and injections, and other pain medications.
Also, a few milligrams of THC goes a long way for a good night’s sleep, especially for those who are not helped by sleep medications. Taking cannabis instead of various pharmaceuticals reduces irritation to the gastrointestinal system, and gives the liver and kidneys a break from having to metabolize these strong medicines.
Dosing with cannabis medicine is challenging because everyone is different. Until an accurate test for measuring endocannabinoids is available, it comes down to starting with small doses, and increasing until the desired effect is achieved.
If you are taking pharmaceutical prescriptions along with cannabis, I recommend taking them an hour apart.
Remember, endocannabinoid deficiency can lead to anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression. That’s why it’s very important to tell your prescribing physician that you are taking cannabis in case your medications need to be adjusted. Experiencing side effects is an indicator that an adjustment is needed.
There are CBD and THC ratios. Some people benefit from a 20:1, or a 10:2, or a 4:1, or 1:1, and so on. Some people are even sensitive to CBD, and only need a 3 mg dose, whereas, for example, someone with fibromyalgia might need 100 mg CBD with 5 mg of THC added, because the CBD couldn’t quite reduce the pain enough. Five mg THC is still considered a microdose, especially with that much CBD, and can reduce pain quite a bit, without getting the patient high.
This is new territory for most practitioners and patients. My hope is that the schedule 1 status of cannabis can be changed so that cannabis research and science can move forward in America.
Fortunately, practitioners and physicians see the undeniable truth of cannabis as medicine and are beginning to collect a good amount of anecdotal evidence. They are pioneers, and they should be commended for putting their patients first. We’ve seen the evidence, we know the truth about cannabis as medicine, and it’s here to stay.
For more information on Kristin Henriksen and Reindeer Bridge Holistics, visit reindeerbridgeholistics.com.