Medical Marijuana and TCM
One of the more frequently asked questions I am asked is “what is Chinese medicine’s take on the use of medical cannabis or marijuana?” Over the course of the next few blogs I will share my thoughts on the subject and will begin with the Chinese medical understanding of the drugs.
Cannabis sativa or Hou ma jen was one of three hundred and sixty five herbs, animal parts and mineralsoriginally listed in the “Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica” (Shen Nong Ben Cao). The Ben Cao is one of Chinese medicines oldest books and was cited by authors and scholars as early as the Qin Dynasty period around 221 BCE. Even by then however, the original manuscripts had been lost to history. In the Materia Medica the plant part of particular interest of cannabis sativa was the seed and it was listed as a “superior class cereal”.
The cannabis seed or Huo ma ren has a sweet and balanced nature, enters the spleen, stomach and large intestine, supplements the “center” and boosts the qi. Prolonged consumption of the seed may “make one fat (a good thing in ancient China), strong and never senile”. Contraindications are that overconsumption causes dizziness and vertigo. With women there was also a contraindication during pregnancy.
Hemp seeds are still widely used as medicine in both China and the west, they function to dredge wind, relax the spleen, moisten dryness, promote lactation and hasten delivery, disinhibit urination and defecation. We use them mostly for their effect of moistening the intestines to unblock the bowels and are the go to herb for any kind of constipation.
Cannabis seeds, like other herbs in the Moist Laxative category are various seeds and nuts. The major known ingredients in the seeds are unsaturated fats in the form of lipids and, what little cannabinol is in the seeds is inconsequential, and the seeds are processed so that they cannot germinate and are thus not a controlled substance. Having said that, the sesame seed Hu ma ren is as effective as cannabis seed in this capacity and has none of the stigma of being related to a schedule I drug.
The leafy and flowering or folium and flos parts of Hou Ma Jen are acrid, windy and balanced in nature and mainly treated the “seven damages” which are injuries to the spleen, liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, ‘storms and extreme climate’ injuries of the body, and ‘fear and indulgence’ injury to the will. Hou Ma Jen also disinhibited the five viscera, i.e. heart, spleen, lung, kidney and liver.
Hou Ma Jen precipitated blood and cold qi but are cautioned that consuming too much of the folium causes one to ‘behold ghosts and frenetically run about’. Protracted consumption of the folium may also encourage one to ‘communicate with spirits’.
Due to the mind altering properties of Cannabis, the leaves, buds and flowers were not used much at all mostly because there were many other plant medicines to choose from with the same positive effects but none of the negative side effects. It is interesting to note that in ancient China, cannabis, when used at all, was taken as a liquid decoction or tea and never smoked.
From the point of view of Chinese Medical Psychiatry, the use of cannabis generally elicits one of two responses. In the first case many people experience a pleasant euphoria and sense of relaxation. Other common effects in this first scenario, which may vary dramatically among different people, include heightened sensory perception (e.g., brighter colors), laughter, altered perception of time, and increased appetite.
The euphoria and relaxation are due to the movement of qi via coursing the liver, changes in the intensity of light and color are the eyes responding to the relaxing quality of the drug on the liver. Laughter and giddiness are the typical response to the free flow of qi of the heart and the increased appetite is due to the unrestrained liver harmonizing and rectifying the spleen and stomach.
All of the above responses indicate an underlying mild condition of liver qi stagnation and some degree of spleen qi vacuity. Cannabis clearly helps alleviate these two conditions but only for a short period of time, 1-3 hours. Because the effects are short lived we can conclude two things, one is that cannabis is not an appropriate drug for liver qi stagnation because it does nothing to fortify the qi while releasing constrain. And that over consumption will eventually result in qi vacuity which will cause greater qi constraint and the drug will have to be taken more frequently and or at greater strength to achieve the same euphoric effect.
The above is one of the definitions of addiction, and with this understanding there is no relevant argument for cannabis being non-addictive.
Pleasant experiences with marijuana are by no means universal. Instead of relaxation and euphoria, many people experience anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic. People who have taken large doses of marijuana may experience an acute psychosis, which includes hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of the sense of personal identity. These unpleasant but temporary reactions are distinct from longer-lasting psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, that may be associated with the use of marijuana in vulnerable individuals.
This second scenario occurs in people who are already suffering from, for instance, heart timidity and gall bladder qi vacuity. The consumption of qi through the action of the acrid natured cannabis quickly lowers the resources of the already depleted heart qi and gall bladder meridians and organ systems which are very susceptible to acrid herbs. The consumption of qi and blood through cannabis use can affect other organ system conditions as well such as; spleen qi vacuity, spleen qi and heart blood vacuity, liver qi stagnation with blood vacuity and about twenty other commonly seen conditions.
Persons with any of those conditions are considered vulnerable and are at risk, over time and prolonged use, to longer lasting psychotic disorders.
As with the primary scenario, the substance is addictive by nature so the probability and risk factor is increased.
So, from a traditional Chinese medical and psychiatric perspective, the use of medical cannabis or marijuana for indications of pain management, addiction withdrawal, constipation and lack of appetite is not advised given the historical understanding and the negative side effects involved.
Next time I will explore conventional medical science regarding medicinal marijuana and cannabis.
In modern chinese medicine cannabis seeds have little medicinal value
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Many people are drawn to cannabis for its effects physically, mentally and emotionally. Medically, cannabis has some legitimate uses, however the scope of this article is limited to the recreational use of cannabis. The following is distilled from a lecture given by Marco Lam of Boulder, Colo.
In Chinese medicine, there are the Three Treasures that constitute our life. These are known as Jing, Qi and Shen. The goal of practitioners of the healing arts is to harmonize the Three Treasures. They are generally translated as essence (Jing), vitality (Qi) and spirit (Shen).
Let’s take a look at how cannabis affects the elements of the body. Using cannabis takes Jing and rapidly turns it into Qi and Shen, thus you lose a lot of essence over time, since you’re body is releasing Jing faster than the body can assimilate it. This would be similar to going to college with a large trust fund only to overspend it and find yourself pennyless after a mere two years into your four-year degree. Over spending your allotted Jing makes one understand why people who consume a lot of drugs might look like they are aging faster than is normal.
Cannabis users are many times the deepest visionaries of society. They want to be in deep alignment with their spirit and shine bright into the world. The liver is the General and Force of Direction. The impact on liver yang is that in the short term, there is a creativity and expanded visionary process. Longer term, there is a weakened visionary process and inability to take action. When the liver, an emotional organ, gets upset, red eyes, irritability and depression set in. Women have a disruption in menses with worsened PMS symptoms.
In Chinese, the word for “heart” (hsin) is also used to denote “mind.” The Shen resides in the heart, and as one sleeps, blood goes into the heart and calms the Shen. Upon awakening, they feel refreshed. When cannabis goes into fire of the heart, it might seem innocuous at first. While awake, sudden flashes of anger arise and paranoia sets in. Without a strong Shen, one seems “lost” and sleep becomes restless and disturbed with nightmares and heart palpitations.
When fire scorches the earth, the yin of earth gets depleted, and the body has similar symptoms of hypoglycaemia; blood sugar drops and the appetite is constantly hungry. If one is not in touch with what nourishes them, then they will eat random things, and might gain weight. Women will be prone to yeast and bladder infections because of the dampness from accumulated sugars eaten.
Metal, Too Weak To Cut
Cannabis affects the lungs, skin and immunity. Specific symptomology are: the lungs and skin get dry and there will be deep red-hot pimples on the large intestine meridians on the face (around the mouth) and chest/upper back area surrounding the lungs. There is typically a chronic cough with mucus. Long term, there might be asthma/eczema or random staph infections. Regular cannabis smokers have respiratory issues such as lung qi deficiency with a heat (sometimes producing little yellow phlegm nuggets in the mornings).
By tapping into the water of the kidneys, the Jing is depleted. There is fire from the heart meridian and vision from the liver, but not enough energy to produce a result. Long-term users might suffer from lower back achiness, which is a sign that reserves are being tapped heavily. The continuous depletion of the Jing and kidney energy diminishes sex-drive in both men and women. In some cases of over consumption, erectile dysfunction (ED) has been noted in men as early as their twenties.
Cialis – best resana to treat the disease with a great name for Erectile Dysfunction. It creates psychological problems inside worsening nervous condition and internal imbalances. Problem with potatoe can often be a cause of erectile dysfunction. Cialis not only treats erectile dysfunction but also cures prostate problems. Why is it so often in the US people are searching for how to buy Cialis? As Cialis is the market leader and has long surpassed such a drug as Viagra. What are the advantages Cialis before Viagra. Salesrelated 36 hours and viagra 7 hours. Also Cialis can be taken in conjunction with alcohol and regardless of the meal. With minimal side effects.
Lastly, vaporizers are gaining much momentum, but are just as bad as it takes Jing and uses it the same way that regular cannabis smoke does.
Cannabis has a cooling effect over time; it stimulates the liver yang in the beginning, but it depletes it in the long run, so the net effect is cooling, which the body counteracts by producing heat. Thus, women who overuse cannabis might find themselves suffering from hot flashes, similar to that of a pre-menopausal woman. A combination of birth control pills and cannabis has created one of the worst female reproductive health issues of all time with a surge of ovarian cysts, fibroids and dysmenorrhea. Additionally, as stated above, the continuous depletion of the Jing, or kidney energy, diminishes sex-drive.
If you find yourself attracting a lot of patients who regularly use cannabis, whether inhaled or eaten, you might have a gift for attracting people who are seeking enlightenment and transformation. Cannabis use, especially when used recreationally, can lead directly to that feeling of going inward to seek enlightenment and opening up channels of creativity. Many are addicted to this feeling, and therefore continue to use it, despite the fact that the enlightenment that they felt was only fleetingly attainable, but not sustainable. In order to attain the enlightenment that we seek, we must integrate and assimilate the information more than once to be able to transform, not just access it once or twice artificially.
When at the peak of health, many have experienced “highs” practicing yoga, tai qi and meditation, leading to longer-lasting positive insights and energy. In fact, the goal of Transcendental Meditation is enlightenment. The difference between these natural ways to seek enlightenment and recreational drug use is that the latter is the lazy way to find enlightenment because no work was involved, along with the negative side effects from the body trying to re-balance.
I was recently told by a patient, “If I don’t smoke weed, then I can’t shut off my brain. I do calculus problems as I’m trying to sleep, and I never get any rest!” This reminds me of all the genius peers I saw from middle school to college who smoked in order to get some peace of mind. The woman above is a chemical engineering student and mother of three. She was forced to stop smoking when she got pregnant with her third child, and came to me for a cure to stop smoking for the sake of her baby. She was a patient even before getting pregnant. I would watch with interest as she would tell me a story, but as the ending got near, her temper would flare: she would raise her voice (volume, tempo and pitch), as she couldn’t control her emotions since her liver fire was out of control. Sometimes she would end shaking and crying, only to move on to another subject almost immediately. As was normal, she would have a reddish hue on her cheeks, and red-hot pimples around her mouth in the large intestine region. I knew she was a regular cannabis user even before she told me.
For herbs, I recommend formulas to calm the Shen or one to raise GABA. GABA is the neurotransmitter in the brain that inhibits panic and anxiety (and quiets the brain). Modern day stress has – for many people – causes a deficiency in GABA. Most people do not get better simply by taking GABA which is available over the counter at most health food stores. Formulas with Magnesium, L-Taurine, Valerian and Lithium, will calm the nervous system. As with the patient above, when I gave her a formula to naturally induce her own stores of GABA, she was helped tremendously. As her body was detoxing from cannabis, she would sporadically experience extremely calm moments similar to feeling “stoned.” I have also given these formulas to patients with diagnosed bipolar disorder during their manic phases and patients with extreme anxiety, which also causes a similar feeling that the brain is over-stimulated and cannot power off.
Recovering from Each Cannabis Session
For all the creative vision cannabis provides, it uses a tremendous amount of resources. We must guard the Jing like the treasure that it is. Encourage your patients to have awareness and consciousness around the usage in order to know how many resources it consumes. It seems innocuous at first, but it takes a toll, and it’s a heavy price to pay. Depending on frequency of consumption, reducing or eliminating cannabis will yield similar results to any type of detox, such as cravings and irritability. Therefore, it is best to help your patients find a ritual during the transition process. For patients that refuse to quit smoking, herbal remedies such as Sha Shen Mai Men Dong will help to protect their yin and kidney organs.
Understanding the psychological reasons why someone would want to use cannabis will go a long way in gaining compassion for the patient. There is no harm in kindly asking a patient if the price is worth paying. If the patient feels it is part of their journey, then work with the patient on how to respect the herb (rather than abuse it). Ask instead how to evolve and appreciate the herb for deeper growth.
The goal is to create an environment of supporting the righteous qi, or zheng qi. Ask them why they are trying to self-medicate and what they are trying to escape or accomplish. The answer might be a little distorted when they’re using drugs. Our struggle as practitioners is trying to figure out how to speak to the being inside of them that wants to get better. After all, it might seem odd (or even wrong) to many people that we choose to use ancient Chinese herbal formulas or homeopathy rather than Western medicine, but it is our right to do so, even if some do not agree with it.
Does cannabis have a place in traditional Chinese medicine?
Hello! Welcome to the first *PAID SUBSCRIBER-ONLY CONTENT* for Cannabitch!
This is a super-exclusive club and I am so deeply grateful that you’re all here. If you like what you see, please spread the word. Your contributions so far have allowed me to hire another writer—in this case, Lara McCaffrey, who is another San Diego-based journalist covering cannabis and other topics. Now, without further ado…
Does cannabis have a place in traditional Chinese medicine?
by Lara McCaffrey
Long before your aunt began telling you about her “CBD trips” [editor’s note: we all know at least one person like this] or your roommate took one too many THC-infused gummy bears, Cannabis sativa L, as it is scientifically known, had a storied history in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Being one of 50 fundamental herbs in Chinese medicine, there’s evidence of the plant being used for anesthesia, as a laxative, a treatment for mental illness, and more, thousands of years ago.
Today, cannabis is basically flat out illegal in China. However, more and more modern-day American TCM practitioners utilize cannabis in their practice now that medicinal use is legal in 33 states.
Dr. Jenelle Kim, founder and lead formulator of San Diego, California-based JBK Wellness Labs, has been hip to cannabis in TCM longer than a lot of her peers. She’s been using CBD (aka cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating chemical in cannabis) derived from hemp (a variety of Cannabis sativa) since 2012 in the products she conducts.
“I have seen CBD come from a place where no one even knew about it,” says Kim. “I’m really grateful and proud of the fact that this industry has started to take off and is leading down a path where people understand this incredibly powerful herb properly.”
Kim started her training at Pacific College of Health and Science’s (formerly Pacific College of Oriental Medicine) San Diego campus. Although a study abroad program allowed her to study alongside practitioners in China and Korea, Kim’s familiarity with Eastern medicine comes from her Korean lineage of doctors and herbalists.
Kim started making CBD products for clients when a company (she’s coy about specifying who) approached her about it. Because of her knowledge of Eastern medicine, using hemp-derived CBD wasn’t a far fetched concept to Kim.
“CBD contains some very powerful properties, most importantly for the skin,” says Kim. “You have your anti-inflammatory, you have your antibacterial properties, you have so many omega fatty acids, all of which really helps the function of the skin.”
She eventually created what’s said to be the world’s first CBD skincare line, Cannabis Beauty Defined.
Chad Connor, professor and clinical supervisor at Pacific College of Health and Science, says that practitioners who have been combining TCM with cannabis Sativa as long as Kim has are rare despite the plant’s long history.
Connor says that cannabis as medicine slowly stopped in China but hemp continued to be used for products like paper, rope, and food.
“Over time in the literature in Chinese medicine, you slowly start seeing that cannabis [had] stopped being used,” says Connor. “They didn’t have access to the cannabinoid producing flowers because there [were] no certificates of analysis like we have today where you can get a lab test on what’s in the flower.”
There’s nearly 2,000 years worth of cannabis (called dà má in Chinese) usage recorded in traditional Chinese medical literature, says a 2017 study in Frontiers of Pharmacology. Authors E. Joseph Brand and Zhongzhen Zhao write that there have been several applications of cannabis in ancient Chinese literature in treating mental illness and pain.
Before cannabis’ legality in some states, the fundamental herb wasn’t really discussed in TCM educational programs because practitioners couldn’t legally do anything with it.
Dr. Tom Ingegno, TCM practitioner and operator of Charm City Integrative Health in Baltimore, Maryland, says Cannabis sativa was glossed over during his classes. Cannabis seeds used as laxatives in traditional Chinese medicine were covered, but the seeds procured for classes were irradiated so they couldn’t be grown into full-fledged cannabis plants.
Now that medicinal cannabis is legal in Maryland (recreational, or adult-use, isn’t) Ingegno can incorporate cannabis into his TCM practice. Charm City Integrative Health uses CBD oil in cupping and massages and has a nurse practitioner on staff to do cannabis certifications. Mostly, however, Ingegno recommends patients purchase medicinal products at dispensaries to treat their various ailments.
“More and more practitioners are turning to [cannabis] as an accessory to what they’re doing in clinic,” says Ingegno. “While they can’t write the certification themselves — just like my office—they’re partnering with people that have prescriptive rights and then they’re acting as a coach.”
Now, both Eastern and Western healthcare providers have become keener on learning about medicinal cannabis, just like ancient TCM doctors. To fulfill that need, medicinal cannabis programs are popping up worldwide. For example, Pacific College has its own program Medicinal Cannabis Certificate for Health Practitioners and so does Centre of Excellence based in the U.K.
“They see the writing on the wall,” Ingegno says of Pacific College. “Eventually [cannabis] is going to be fully legal everywhere.”
As mentioned, I haven’t been pitching out all that much, though I do have a few interesting pieces in the works at various publications. However, my alma mater, Connecticut College, asked me to talk to our alumni network about working as a freelance writer, my newsletter, and how I stay nimble in the most fickle economy the planet has possibly ever seen. Here’s the video.
“Black Lives Matter in Cannabis” By Amber Senter on Medium: “I’ve been feeling like there are two kinds of white people in cannabis: those who have been engaging with racial issues for a long time, and those who haven’t, but know they have to do and say the right things right now so they don’t get cancelled [sic].”
For The Kitchn and HuffPost: Easily in my top five favorite people in the whole wide world, my friend Naomi Tomky (for some reason I’m saying this in Borat “my wife” voice?) wrote these two pieces, which I really enjoyed, about reconnecting with Shabbat (good lessons on the comfort of rituals, Jewish or not) and CABBAGE and how it became the most popular vegetable of lockdown.
“It’s Time to Decolonize Wine” by Miguel De Leon for Punch. A much-needed and sober reflection on racism in restaurants and the wine industry.
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