The Super Green: Hemp, CBD, and the Wisdom of Plants

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The Founding Fathers understood that the hemp plant was a genuine national resource. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp on their farms. Jefferson reportedly referred to hemp as the “first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.” It is unlikely that Jefferson or Washington smoked hemp on their veranda for recreational enjoyment. The hemp they were growing was so low in THC that it would have taken a bale or more to catch a buzz. For them, hemp was a crop that dated back to the early English days in Colonial America when it was used to make rope and canvas products for ships, cloth for fabric, and pulp for paper.

If only our current leadership could escape the spell of reefer madness. Cannabis is still illegal in much of the world, even with a burgeoning market for hemp in the United States as a medicinal plant with numerous health benefits, including pain management and heart health. Most Americans want pot to be legal, and as many as 70 percent of Americans want to legalize it for medical use. Nonetheless, the war on pot rages on. The Obama administration actually increased raids on state-sanctioned medical pot programs, prosecuting both patients and their providers. The war on drugs does not appear to be going away any time soon, despite the growing movement among numerous states to legalize marijuana.

Hemp vs. Marijuana

The hemp plant, however, is not in the same league as the cannabis plant we call pot, even though they are both varieties of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa. Cannabis contains over 400 chemical compounds. Roughly one-quarter of these compounds have a direct effect on the human body’s cannabinoid receptors in human cells. The body itself naturally produces endocannabinoids—a fascinating study on its own–whereas the cannabinoids in cannabis are called phytocannabinoids. Of the 100 or more phytocannabinoids found in cannabis, the most infamous is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is well-known for its psychotropic properties, triggering a range of effects, from euphoria to deep relaxation. THC’s effects reach much further than the brain, however. The interactions with the body’s endocannabinoid system can treat glaucoma, PTSD, seizures, and Crohn’s disease, among other ailments.

Hemp’s healing properties are connected to another cannabinoid, known as cannabidiol, or CBD. Unlike THC, cannabidiol’s psychotropic properties are nearly nonexistent. Yet, CBD’s physical effects on the body outweigh those of THC, and this is why CBD oil is getting so much attention among medical research and the retail marketplace, for people who would rather bypass medical marijuana regulations. The quantities of these two plant compounds—THC and CBD—is what primarily differentiates hemp and marijuana. Hemp is high in CBD and low in THC, while marijuana is just the opposite. Ideally, patients would take a combination of the two compounds to optimize healing, but because THC products are tightly regulated from state to state, CBD oils are a far more realistic option.

Benefits of Hemp and CBD

CBD packs a heavy punch on all sorts of medical conditions, including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy—and the list is growing. The most promising direction is in treating cancer. Unlike chemotherapy, which obliterates cancerous cells and surrounding healthy cells in the body, CBD compounds have the uncanny ability to scan different cells as they make their way to a tumor site. Once the CBD surrounds unhealthy cells, the cancer growth commits suicide, for lack of a better term, in a process known in the biology world as apoptosis. As a point of (herbal) comparison, consider how adaptogens work in our systems, e.g., ginseng, Holy Basil, or ashwaghanda. Similar to the compounds in CBD, adaptogen herbal remedies ‘read’ your internal physiology in order to address imbalances. They can both calm you down and increase your cellular energy. What other substance can do that, safely, with no toxic side-effects? There isn’t one. Adaptogens act as thermostats, instructing some cells to “get going” and be more productive, while telling others to cool down and relax.

Does this make CBD a panacea, especially for conditions as lethal as cancer? Probably not. CBD is often recommended to cancer patients to address the side effects of cancer treatments, such as nausea and vomiting, not as a cure for cancer. If a CBD therapeutic approach were an actual panacea, the medical community would witness a much higher rate of survival among patients. To date, CBD testing has been limited to test tubes and studies in animals, not human beings. Perhaps the best that can be said about what we know about the CBD and cancer cure connection is that it is something between “impressive” and “promising.”

CBD oil is available for purchase, and can be found in the Wellness Department as well as through other retailers with a solid foundation in organic products, health and wellness, as a liquid extract, in capsule form and in some skin creams, elixirs, and salves.

Even if you remove CBD from the hemp plant’s equation, its highly beneficial nutritional properties are impressive. It is one of the few crops that carries a perfect omega 6-to-omega-3 ratio, critical in the battle against inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Hemp is also loaded with essential minerals, including vitamin E, potassium, and zinc. Hemp seeds are edible, and are sold either unhulled or hulled (i.e., with or without the external seed coating), toasted or raw. You can eat them raw (e.g., with an apple), on salads, add them to a smoothie, or turn them into flour. The HWFC Bulk Department carries hemp seeds and hemp oil, as well as products containing hemp, such as granola, energy bites, and protein powder.

It is still difficult to believe that hemp, with its numerous benefits in medicine and agriculture (a foundation of American agriculture, in fact!) is still illegal in much of the world—but times are changing. Some states have legalized hemp’s cultivation, and more are continuing on the same path. In some ways, the history of hemp parallels the 20th century argument over healthy fats in our diets—maligned and ridiculed for decades before (once again) being recognized as a critical component to our health and well-being.

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Thomas Washington is Head Librarian at the Albany Academy for Girls. He has been a Co-op member since relocating to Albany from Washington, DC in 2015.