My notes from the Plant Medicine Summit
An Interview with Jessica Baker LAc, RH, (AUG)
web page jessicabakerlac.com
Our Co-Evolution with Cannabis
It’s really interesting if we think about how we evolved with cannabis. Some postulate that the most relevant site for cannabis to originally grow without the use of humans is around the area of Central Asia. There are other theories that people keep coming back to this area once they look at the different chemovars of cannabis, which we won’t get into because it’s way too big of a subject. Whether we’re talking about broad leaf or narrow leaf cannabis, that some people might call sativa or indigo, but that’s a very generic way to say it. We actually have more refined methods of placing cannabis into it’s different species. Going back to early cultivation they believe that in Central Asia cannabis grew wild and then as we began to have a shift in our weather patterns instead of having to migrate we could stay in one area. Probably by a river or some body of water where we could start having habitat.
These early hunters and gatherers would go and if they saw something growing like cannabis, which would be heavily seeded, they would imagine what they already knew about gathering food. If they taste it and it doesn’t taste toxic or smell toxic it’s probably safe for ingestion. Bringing these cannabis plants back to their habitat, because seeds would become loose and blown by the wind over time, the cannabis would start growing closer and closer to their habitat. They would realize they were now growing in their habitat and started separating them for a food source, we’re talking about the seeds. They also started using the fiber. Whether by accidental fire by lightning or man made fire it would be pretty evident that the burning cannabis plant would have some psychoactive effect. When we talk about cannabis being one of our first agricultural crops we’re also going to think if we were eating the plants we were also getting some of the resin on our fingers and in our mouth. That would also illicit some sort of euphoric response. Then potential cultures have also evolved from these psychoactive plants and maybe that is where some of these spiritual practices have come from, is from the ingestion and burning of the cannabis plant. To me it’s pretty evident that culture has been shaped by agriculture. The myriad effects of cannabis use of at least 10,000 years makes it relevant to think every aspect of our societies have been shaped by the cannabis plant.
When we think about our endogenous cannabinoid system or ECS for short, it is a network of neuro-modulating receptors within our brain, immune system, skin and other parts of the body. What’s really cool thinking about our ECS is that in our brain, especially the limbic system, which as an aroma therapist we know all about the limbic system, and also within the skin. If we’re going to talk about the brain we’re going to talk about our CB1 receptors or our cannabinoid CB1 receptors. These are the receptors that illicit the psychoactive response within our body. They are also very important for key processes like pain, appetite, memory, mood, and pain regulation. They also play a huge roll in regulating mitochondrial activity and stimulating the growth of nerve tissue.
We talk about how we have been cultivating cannabis for 10,000 years. If we think about our physiology it seems pretty obvious that if we have an endocannabinoid system and really know other plants have been found to have cannabinoids in them, there are a couple of other examples but in very small amounts. When it comes to me, I think if we have an ECS for cannabinoids and cannabis is one of the few plants that contain cannabinoids, then we definitely evolved along side this plant or we wouldn’t have such large receptor sites for cannabinoids in our brain. We also have something called endocannabinoids which are the most significant that we have all heard about is anandamide, or the bliss molecule, because it has euphoric effects. The other cool thing about anandamide that no one talks about, because we all want to talk about how we get this feeling of being high, but anandamide has also been shown to inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation by inhibiting DNA synthesis. We are talking about something that can work on the level of our DNA to help stop the growth of a deadly disease like breast cancer. It just shows to me we have been co-evolving with this plant for potentially millennia. We know from at least 27,000 years ago, in the area around Siberia, we have proof of using cordage plants. Whether it was cannabis, giant nettle or something else. They are not sure what kind of cordage it is but potentially that could have been hemp.
In terms of Chinese Medicine we have this legendary figure Shen Nong the divine farmer. Around the 28th century BC was said to have taught the people about the cultivation of cannabis along with agriculture and animal husbandry. What I find pretty fascinating is they say agriculture and cannabis both, it seems like the two go hand in hand with one another. We have a book written in 200 CE called Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, or The Divine Farmers Materia Medica. In that book it talks about cannabis and how it was one of our superior grains. In terms of taste and temperature because in Chinese Medicine we always talk about the taste and temperature of specific herbs. They say the taste is spicy but balanced, which means balanced in terms of a neutral temperature. It’s not going to throw someone’s body into too much heat or too much cold, it was considered a balanced plant. It was said that cannabis treats the seven damages, and the seven damages are joy, anger, anxiety, overthinking, grace, fear, and fright.
In terms of spiritual plants that are going to promote good Chi and blood flow cannabis is one of the plants that can do all of those things. It also says that it will open up the five viscera, which means it will help keep our five yen organs into balance. It says protracted taking, conscious taking maybe not too much, maybe on a daily basis, depending on your constitution. It says taking the cannabis plant might actually enable one to communicate with the spirit light and make the body light. Different people have translated this different ways but when I think about communicating with the spirit light I’m thinking about communicating with in my respect of the Dow. You’re back to being the essence of being of one thing, you can call this creator or anything you want. But when I think about the spirit light I think about communicating with the spirit light that’s in all of us and in all of nature. Some people have translated may make the body light as in it won’t make you fat, it will help you loose weight. But again this is talking about the light within our own body and within our own spirit that’s going to make it lighter and brighter.
This ancient text does talk about if you take too much cannabis it can make you behold ghosts and phonetically run about. I translated this to mean it can make you a little manic, which I have experienced myself with certain chemovars with cannabis. You see those people speeding around the house washing dishes, cleaning floors, that’s what I think about phonetically running about. It’s causing a little bit of anxiety and maybe for some people even a little bit of panic, out of sorts, out of your realm of consciousness. This ancient text also talks about the hemp seed and it says that flavor is sweet and also very balanced. It can supplement the center and boost the Chi. This means it can strengthen the digestion and can also make one fat, strong and never senile. Now that we have all this information about essential fatty acids being really good for health and longevity. Also good for the brain and the marrow so we don’t loose our memory with Alzheimer’s and things like that. 2,000 years ago they understood that hemp seeds were rich in essential fatty acids, they just didn’t say it in those words. In Modern Chinese Medicine they still use the hemp seed, they don’t talk about the plant but they say they take the seed a lot to strengthen digestion. To moisten dryness of the intestines for constipation, help with lactation, and hasten delivery in childbirth.
Living in Colorado now from California the cannabis industry is more sophisticated in understanding the chemistry of this plant. I am hoping that our interest in cannabis is a bridge to us becoming interested and learning about all herbs and plants. In terms of the way we are breeding the cannabis plant we have this false idea that THC is the most important part of the plant with growers having their plants tested for THC levels. It’s an arbitrary importance. If we study the plants chemistry and what is going on with THC, CBD and the terpene profiles, we start seeing there is a synergy happening between all these constituents and there is a checks and balances in place. CBD actually reduces some of the effects of the THC and same with some of the terpenes that are within the plant. I hope that we start to have varieties that are specific to the entire profile and not just the THC. As we know with studies done with pure THC there is a lot of negative side effects. People get too anxious, too high, and a lot of these extracts are 99% THC, and the other scenario is we are having just pure CBD. For children I understand the importance of super high CBD or pure CBD. We need to remember that plants have a synergistic effect with all of their constituents and for all of our future. I think it’s important to know this and to keep it in mind and don’t be THC is the most important component or CBD, but understand it’s the entire plant.
The HCA, Holistic Cannabis Academy, was started and still is run by two nutritionists. We have a couple of programs, one is just for lay people who just want to know a little bit about cannabis. Then we work with the medical practitioners and people like that, I teach aromatherapy and terpenes. I teach how important it is when you smell and what effects the terpene is going to have along with the plant. If someone has a client with IBS we can start educating them on what type of cannabis varieties may be the best for someone with IBS based on their terpene profile. A lot of times people don’t care, the extractors care about the high THC level but the lay people they really don’t know those words. If we can give them basic things like limonene can help them with basic peristalsis. And can help potentially with, lets say they have a tumor in their esophagus, as a generic example, just how we can work with specific terpene profiles instead of just worrying about THC or CBD. We also have several modules on nutrition, how to juice the leaves for someone who doesn’t want to smoke. We have topics on how to keep yourself safe as a practitioner so you don’t get in trouble if you work in a state where it’s not legal but you’re just giving general advice about cannabis without breaking the law. The modules are really diverse, everything from nutrition to love, Chinese medicine, aromatherapy. I do know that the people who have completed the modules are blown away on how much information there is on cannabis even though it has just become legal. It even astounds me how much information is out there, and was out there, we just didn’t have access to it before.
In my practice I have integrated cannabis and aromatherapy, an yes smoking it is a form of aromatherapy. I encourage people to crush it up and smell it before you burn it, give yourself a little aromatherapy bath with the plant matter. That’s not the only way, traditionally If you’re talking about hash, not the new hash oil with the butane extractions, but the old school hash. Burning you can literally, if you have a nice chunk of hash, you can burn that like incense. Let it diffuse through your home like frankincense or myrrh to help you with your meditation practice. I also use a hemp essential oil, steam distillation of the whole plant. I use that topically for all sorts of skin conditions but I will also use it in a diffuser, it smells great. It doesn’t smell skunky like most of our cannabis does today it’s almost like fresh cut grass. I will use that in a diffusion if someone has anxiety. I will have them diffuse it with lavender and if they need to ground a little bit more also a touch of vetiver. We also use it for depression because a lot of people sometimes are anxious and then depressed, they’re bipolar. Severe depression can be quite debilitating for their lives so I’ll do a hemp essential oil and mandarin, and for some people add a little rose or rose-geranium.
Jessica Baker works extensively with veterans and others with PTSD, co-founded the Humboldt Acupuncture Project to provide free acupuncture to military persons with PTSD.
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M. Scherker medical researcher