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Cannabis has been gaining popularity as a neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and mood stabilization herb in neurodiverse communities on a global scale in the past decade.
On the flip side, we are no strangers to seeing a number of cannabis users in the community experience adverse symptoms or their overall motivations slowly decline after consuming cannabis for a long period of time.To understand how cannabis (and most plants) work, pharmacological work plays a role.
In pharmacology, it utilizes different modern scientific methods to understand how each single molecule works from the plant, such as how phytocannabinoids such as CBD, THC, CBN, CBG, CBDA, THCV, terpenoids, flavonoids, or enzymes work with certain receptors in the body.
Pharmacology is the study on how both natural and synthetic chemical agents affect biological systems, is broken into two main branches: pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. These branches of science have spent decades studying how the body assimilates and processes drug molecules (Pharmacokinetics: Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism, and Excretion) and how drug molecules affect the body’s physiology (Pharmacodynamics: the effects a medicinal compound has on the body).
By design, the scientific model within both of these branches of pharmacology requires a focus on isolated singular chemical molecules in order to connect a specific molecule to a specific pathway through the body and/or physiological outcome
- Pengelly, 2004.
However, purely using modern models might not be relevant to a portion of people as plant molecules don’t work alone, they are naturally engineered to synergies with each other in the same plant as well as with other food nutrition, herbs, medications, and external influences in order to bring therapeutic or adverse effects. In this case, combining the knowledge of Pharmacognosy, Organoleptic evaluation, and traditonal medical principles can eventually fill the gaps. (Pharmacognosy : Food-Drug-Herb Interactions)
As cannabis is known to be one of the ancient sacred plants from the East, from Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicines, and Euroasian spiritual ceremonies wich slowly spread out across Europe and the Americas. It’s crucial and beneficial to understand the traditional medical principles on incorporating cannabis as well as the shamanic healing system in order to help support our mind-body-spirit efficiently.
In this Article, I’m going to cover :
1. A super brief history
2. Types of cannabis
3. The use of cannabis in TCM practice
4. Effects on liver
5. Cannabis on Three Treasures : Jing (Essence), Qi (Vitality), And Shen (Spirit)
6. Moving forward
7. Final thoughts
1. A SUPER BRIEF HISTORY
Cannabis history can be traced back to 10,000 years ago and the earliest should’ve been around 8000 BC in Taiwan, Ancient Mesopotamia, and Northern China. There are at least 32 Classical and Traditional Chinese Medicine manuals that have mentioned cannabis use since as early as 4000 BC. In the ancient times, cannabis was regarded among “five grains” and farmed as a major food crop, producing textiles, ropes, paper, and oil.
2. TYPES OF CANNABIS
The most known cannabis documented in the manuals were Shen Nung’s Divine Farmer’s Classic of Pharmacopoeia/ Materia Medica (Original name as “神農草本經”）and Li Shi Zhen’s Compendium of Materia Medica (Original name as “本草綱目”).
However, from what we’ve gathered in present times, the cannabis that was used in Classical Chinese Medicines were mostly hemp (Cannabis Sativa L.), whereas Marijuana (such as Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Ruderalis) was used in medical, shamanic, spiritual, and burial ceremonies in the north and northwest areas of China, Tibet, Xinjiang, Russia, Central Asia (including India, where they were the early users as well), and Eurasia (along the silk road route from the east to west)
3. THE USE OF CANNABIS IN TCM PRACTICE
In Classical Chinese Medicines, hemp’s nature is neutral and its main meridian affinity is entering the Spleen, Stomach, and Large intestine areas, supplements the “center” and boosts the qi. Hemp flowers and kernels/fruits（Cannabis Fructus & Semen Cannabis Sativae Cannibis Seeds）were used as an anesthesia and helped support cognitive, digestive, urinary, menstrual (blood clotting) conditions, and induced labor at late pregnancy.
In today’s society, Classical Chinese Medicines are slowly being replaced by Traditional Chinese Medicines; its herbal practices only incorporate hemp kernels in herbal formulas which can easily be found in herbal tea shops anywhere in China (including Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) due to its medical values.
4. EFFECTS ON LIVER
In Shen Nung’s the Divine Farmer's Classic of Materia Medica has mentioned: “Flavor: acrid; balanced. Governs the five taxations and seven damages, benefits the five viscera, and descends blood and cold qi; excessive consumption causes one to see ghosts and run about frantically. Prolonged consumption frees the spirit light and lightens the body.”
In modern context, seeing ghosts means hallucination or effects from psychotropic substances. However, due to the unknown strain, it’s difficult to know if Shen Nung was using marijuana from North West & central asia or used too much hemp (more than 30mg of CBD dominant strains each day may also cause adverse effects).
The euphoria and relaxation experiences are due to the movement of qi via coursing through the Liver. It starts from the eyes responding by changing the color, the shapes; then it comes with laughter and relaxation which are the typical responses to the flow of qi of the Heart; and lastly, the increased appetite happens due to the unrestrained Liver harmonizing and rectifying the Spleen and Stomach.
According to Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine, cannabis is known as a "cold" herb. Over consumption leads to draining the yang energy from the Liver which is related to physical performance and mental energy. It can also lower the resources of the already depleted heart qi and gallbladder meridians (as well as the organ systems which are susceptible to acrid herbs and cause stagnation).
5. CANNABIS ON THREE TREASURES : JING (ESSENCE), QI (VITALITY), AND SHEN (SPIRIT)
The foundation of Classical Traditional Medicines were built upon Taoism Three Treasures. These treasures are the main components of the internal arts. They are cultivated for health, vitality, and expansion of our consciousness. A Candle is a great analogy on looking at Three Treasures anatomy.
Jing is the wax;
Qi is the fire or glow that arounds the flame;
Shen is the fire.
When using cannabis recreationally (except microdosing or medical use as they should be under professional supervision), it can lead to overconsumption which turns Jing into Qi and Shen, that means the users can lose a lot of essence over time while over amplifying vitality and spirit, especially our bodies release Jing faster than the bodies can assimilate it.
1. On Wood element :
The Liver is the General and Force of Direction, it impacts on yang energy in the Liver in the short term by bursting creativity and expanding visionary processes. Excess usage of cannabis is associated with emotions, red eyes, irritability, and depression.
2. On Fire element :
Heart is used to denote mind. The Shen lives in the heart. While using cannabis, we can feel awakening, openness, and refreshed at first, but when it’s over consumed, it can lead to feeling lost, restless, disturbed, and heart palpitations.
3. On Earth element :
When the fire burns the earth, the yin of earth gets depleted, blood sugar drops and constantly in a larger appetite. If the users choose to eat junk food or foods that are high in sugar, they’d tend to be more prone to have yeast overgrowth or bladder/ urinary infections due to the dampness from sugar.
4. On Water element :
Water is associated with kidneys, it’s where Jing resides. But due to Jing being turned into Qi and Spirit, it ends up causing too much fire in the Heart and visionary in the Liver, yet nothing gets done from a massive reduction of essence. It is often seen in research of low productivity.
5. On Metal element :
It’s linked with lungs, skin, and immunity. Some cannabis users may experience dry lungs (dry cough) and skin, as well as deep red-hot pimples on the large intestine meridians on the face (around the mouth) and lung meridians on the chest and upper back. Long term excess consumption can lead to flare up with eczema, asthma, rosacea, or staph infections. While cannabis smokers may also experience qi deficiency with heat (like yellow phlegm in the mornings or at night).
6. MOVING FORWARD
After multiple drug wars in Asia locally as well as globally, cannabis (medicinal use) and related research have been banned in China. Most male hemp could only be used for industrial materials or the kernels, seeds, and oil to be put under the health food category whereas the female flower buds would not be used. Classical Chinese Medicines have also started to be replaced by Traditional Chinese Medicines (combined with the studies of biochemistry). The medicinal cannabis studies can only be found in ancient records and rely on mass studies from Israel where its scientific research has been less influenced by politics.
As our world keeps moving forward, decriminalising cannabis use and having a better understanding of the benefits of cannabis will allow Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine practitioners to have more opportunities to collaborate with research entities for integrating eastern and western medical principles on cannabis use.
7. FINAL THOUGHTS
In my personal and professional experiences, hemp tends to be neutral and marijuana tends to be more “cold” and “drying” which can sometimes be diuretic. However, the delivery systems should also be taken into consideration. While tincture and tea are “cooling”, vaporizing and smoking can drive more “heat” in the body.
And at the end, we’re all bio-individuals. Each of us not only have different genetic profiles, amounts of cannabinoid receptors, enzymes, stress levels, and different environments, but we also have different statuses on five elements of homeostasis and jing-qi-shen depletions.
In many cases, neurodivergents, especially those who experience epilepsy, are in need to get efficient help from medical cannabis. It’s always best to consult with experienced medical practitioners, experts, herbalists, traditional medicine practitioners, as well as shamans who have the wealth of knowledge on neurodivergents with cannabis use and pharmacognosy about this herb.