The cannabis species of plants have and will resolve many of the problems we have today. Our ancestors have utilised this plant for over 10,000 years as a food crop, for fuel, material, rope, paper, animal feed and medicine. The main focus of this document is the remarkable health benefits with which we can utilise from this plant for both humans and animals.
The Discovery of Cannabinoids:
The most important discovery in the biology of all vertebrates in the past 50 years was the discovery of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS).
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, PhD at Hebrew University in Jerusalem was the first person to isolate Tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) which is the commonly known psychoactive compound in cannabis.
Three decades later, in 1992, Dr. Mechoulam and his team made another important discovery, they identified anandamide (Ananda being Sanskrit for bliss), a naturally occurring human neurotransmitter. This neurotransmitter is an endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter (endogenous means that it is produced in the body).
This discovery led to the subsequent discovery of the Endocannabinoid system. The ECS is composed of receptor sites and endocannabinoids throughout the body. The primary purpose of this system revolves around maintaining balance in the body; this is known as homeostasis. This widespread system is found in the brain, organs, glands, connective tissue and immune cells and it helps to regulate every physiological system such as our nervous system, digestive system, reproductive system, immune system, endocrine system and our muscular system. Cannabinoid receptor sites are found throughout the entire body, embedded in the membrane of the cell. They act like lock and key chemical receptors. When our systems are out of homeostatic balance, we are open to illnesses and disease.
The ECS is estimated to be over 600 million years old and has been described as: ‘The supercomputer that regulates homeostasis in all mammals.’
Mother’s milk has been found to contain endo-cannabinoids which are thought to aid infants with their early development. We continue to produce these throughout our lives to keep us healthy.
Unfortunately, numerous factors such as poor nutrition, chemicals in food and water, pollution, lack of exercise and stress can lead to our bodies being unable to produce endo-cannabinoids and the ECS can become deficient. This can lead to a multitude of health problems.
Omega essential fatty acids, found in many foods, which we do not produce ourselves, are precursors to being able to produce our own endo-cannabinoids. These are of course abundant in hemp seeds.
Phyto-cannabinoids (cannabinoids from plants) are available from nature’s larder and can be found in a range of plants, most commonly from the Cannabis species, hence the name ‘cannabinoid’. They are also present in other plants such as echinacea and hops.
Industrial hemp is part of the cannabis family of plants. Its Latin name is Cannabis Sativa L. Strains of this plant have been bred for industrial use so as to contain less than 0.2% THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis) and is currently grown in the UK under license from DEFRA and the Home Office. There are estimated to be more than 25,000 commercial uses for hemp, however, more recently, it is being grown for its health benefits. Industrial hemp contains approximately 500 compounds consisting of around 112 phyto-cannabinoids (primarily Cannabidiol (CBD) which is safe and non psychoactive), 120 terpenoids and many flavonoids. It has been shown that these compounds work together synergistically to create what is now termed, the ‘Entourage Effect’.
The other cannabis plants, which are more commonly used as recreational drugs and which are currently illegal in the UK commonly contain anywhere between 5 and 20% or more THC.
Unfortunately, over the past 30 years, these cannabis strains have been bred to contain higher percentages of THC for the psychoactive effect and this reduces the amount of CBD present. Currently around 80 – 90% of cannabis strains available on the black market in the UK are ‘skunk’ strains. These strains contain very high levels of THC and virtually no CBD. These strains are so far removed from the original plant that they have little health benefit and can cause psychological problems, especially with young people whose brains are not fully developed. It is interesting to note that CBD has anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety properties. Prior to the development of these skunk strains, when ratios of CBD/THC were more naturally balanced, there was little evidence of cannabis causing psychological issues. These skunk strains are mostly responsible for the current health concerns related to cannabis use.
The other concern related to the use of cannabis is the concept of cannabis being a ‘Gateway Drug’, leading to the use of harder drugs. There is no valid evidence to support this statement, however the Schedule 1 classification of cannabis, placing it in the same category as drugs such as cocaine and LSD is likely to place cannabis users in close proximity to drug dealers with access to these harder drugs.
Varying levels of THC is also beneficial medicinally for a range of conditions including Cancers, Multiple Sclerosis and Epilepsy and new strains are now being bred with differing levels of THC/CBD ratios for medicinal cannabis. Although THC can have undesirable psychoactive side effects, these greatly outweigh the benefits for certain treatments compared to pharmaceutical drugs. CBD counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC so the higher the ratio of CBD; the side effects are dramatically reduced. CBD is very safe, legal and has been tested in trials of up to 1500mg per day without any toxicity or serious side effects.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded their assessment of CBD in November 2017 and found that it is safe for both humans and animals and that it has no psychoactive effect.
We are the first generation of Humans to know about the ECS and as research escalates, knowledge around how the ECS functions, promises to revolutionise the food and health industry. It is most likely, the most important field of biology ever discovered. For a more in-depth understanding of the Endocannabinoid System, there are many websites on the subject but you will not find any mention of it within the Biology curricula at any level of academia even though this was discovered a quarter of a century ago. In fact, the majority of Doctors have never heard of the ECS.
Researchers are finding out that by modulating the ECS, using varying ratios of phyto-cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids, a number of diseases and pathological conditions may be prevented and alleviated. Conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cancers, stroke, obesity/metabolic syndrome, personality disorders (anxiety, depression, psychosis, bipolar and schizophrenia), neuropathic pain, Huntington’s disease, myocardial infarction, movement disorders (arthritis, fibromyalgia), hypertension, glaucoma, seizure disorders, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Crone’s and osteoporosis are a sampling of the diseases helped and there are many more.
Records show that cannabis was used as a medicine by Emperor Shen Neng of China in 2,737 BCE however it is widely believed that the health benefits have been known for much longer. Cannabis was used as an agricultural crop, in what is now Taiwan, 10,000 years ago. This indicates that cannabis may have been the world's first agricultural crop, leading to the development of civilization itself. It would be naïve to think that other parts of the plant were not utilised during this period.
There are also records of medicinal use of cannabis in ancient Egypt, Greece, India, Netherlands and across the Islamic world.
In England during the 18th century, full British citizenship was bestowed by a decree of the crown on foreigners who would grow cannabis and fines were often levied against those who refused.
Cannabis is one of the 50 fundamental herbs in traditional Chinese medicine and the flowers are recommended in the 120 different forms of disease, in menstrual disorders, and in wounds.
Prior to the introduction of the American ‘Marijuana Tax Act’ of 1937, there were at least 2000 medicinal cannabis preparations in circulation throughout the Western world from over 280 manufacturers. The US pharmacopoeia in 1851 showed cannabis was the primary treatment for over 100 separate illnesses and diseases. This was deleted from the US pharmacopoeia in 1937.
Cannabis was by far the most commonly used medicine across the globe, throughout the history of human civilisation prior to 1937. It is cheap to grow and prepare and has the best history of non clinical human trials compared to any medicine to date.
Following the US prohibition, the health benefits of both hemp and cannabis were forgotten and the propaganda led to the global belief that cannabis was a dangerous narcotic.
There has not been one recorded death from toxicity through consumption of cannabis during the 10,000 years of use, nor have there been any instances of brain receptor damage through its use (unlike alcohol). It is virtually impossible to overdose on cannabis.
If the cannabis plant had been discovered in the Amazonian rainforest by research scientists, it would be hailed as the miracle plant that it is.
The reputation of THC has been tarred over the years of prohibition as it is associated with an illegal drug for recreational use. The NHS is struggling to cope with the awful side effects from alcohol and tobacco, which cause more deaths than all of the illegal drugs combined.
A responsible, fully regulated use of cannabis as a medicine will save more lives than the discovery of sterile surgical procedure.
A range of strains of THC containing cannabis is required for different diseases:
- Clinical research has shown that high amounts of CBD combined with low amounts of THC are beneficial for some forms of Epilepsy.
- Around a 1/1 ratio of THC/CBD is beneficial for Multiple Sclerosis.
- High levels of THC are beneficial for certain types of cancers.
There are thousands of published studies available and clinical peer reviewed research is ongoing around the globe. This has been a slow and arduous process due to the legal restrictions placed on this plant as this creates red tape and issues with funding for researchers.
There are estimated to be around 5,000,000 people within the UK who use cannabis for medical reasons. These people risk imprisonment as many find cannabis to be preferable to prescription drugs and their side effects:
- There are around 107,000 MS sufferers in the UK, many who cannot access Sativex due to the extremely high costs of this medicine.
- There are around 600,000 people in the UK with some form of epilepsy.
- Cancer is diagnosed in the UK every 2 seconds.
These statistics are just the tip of the iceberg as to the many illnesses and diseases which preliminary studies are showing promising results. Access to low cost, regulated, high quality medicinal cannabis would relieve a great amount of unnecessary pain and suffering to a great percentage of residents in the UK. Legislative changes should be implemented to allow access to these medicines.
Of course, preventative action is always the best way forward.
Cannabinoid rich hemp products are widely available throughout the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. Commonly referred to as CBD products, which include oils, edibles, tinctures, vapes and cosmetics, these products are growing in popularity as knowledge around the ECS and the wide health benefits become common knowledge. CBD products are legally sold as food supplements and cosmetics and as the industry grows, so does the range of products.
The addition of both hemp seed products and extracts from the hemp plant (CBD products) to a varied diet and healthy lifestyle will help to restore overall health as these supplements help the Endocannabinoid system to create a homeostatic balance.
The CBD industry in the UK (the largest in Europe) is self regulated by the Cannabis Trades Association UK. During 2017, over 90% of the industry self regulated to ensure that CBD products are of high quality, meet legislative requirements as set out by the Food Standards Agency and each batch is lab tested to ensure safety for consumers. It is estimated that over 250,000 people in the UK currently use CBD products.
“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”
Constitution of the World Health Organisation, drawn up in 1946, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.