The cannabis industry is a rapidly evolving beast with plenty of room for growth. Recently, a new marketplace is presenting itself: dietary supplements and nutritional products. But, how long will this new market last? Does cannabinoid therapy belong in the realm of nutrition products or should it be regulated as a pharmaceutical drug? Is cannabis the nutrient everyone is missing?
Cannabis: A missing nutrient?
The hemp plant has a long history of human cultivation and co-habitation. Earlier this year , Chinese archeologists uncovered a cannabis burial shroud in a 2,500-year-old grave on the silk road.
The researchers determined that the cannabis was locally harvested, and the flowering tops of the plants had been removed.
In an even older grave near the area, cannabis seeds and powdered leaves were found, leaving the researchers to conclude that the herb was used for it’s medicinal and psychoactive properties. Cannabis seeds are thought to provide a valuable source of nutrition for some ancient societies.
The herb’s reputation as a medically useless drug is a modern invention. Humans have relied on cannabis for millennia, yet that historical connection has been lost for decades.
Now, the herb is making one hell of a comeback.
Most recently, compounds in cannabis have been breaking into the natural supplement market. Thanks to the handy internet, more individuals are turned onto the herb for dietary purposes.
Microdosing with small amounts of cannabis oil for preventative purposes is also popular in some circles. But, why? What’s all the fuss about?
Nutrients for the endocannabinoid system
Cannabis has a beneficial impact on the body for one primary reason: it engages the endocannabinoid system. According to Dr. Michele Ross, a neuroscientist and founder and CEO of the IMPACT Network, endocannabinoid deficiency is a “disease you probably have and have never even heard of.”
In a video promoting the launch of her most recent book, “Vitamin Weed: A 4-Step Plan to Prevent and Reverse Endocannabinoid Deficiency“, she continues,
The endocannabinoid system is the largest neurotransmitter system in the body. It’s bigger than the dopamine system, serotonin system, GABA, glutemate, all of these other neurotransmitters you might have heard of.
The endocannabinoid system is pretty much present in every single cell in the body, every single organ. It regulates the immune system, the nervous system, everything.
Compounds in cannabis engage the endocannabinoid system, giving them their psychoactive and/or medicinal effects.
Scientists Allyn Howlett and William Devane first discovered cannabinoid receptors in 1988. In the time since, researchers have discovered that the endocannabinoid system is vital.
The initial list included irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and migraine. It has since expanded to include a few more suspects, such as cystic fibrosis, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and many other diseases.
In an interview with Project CBD, he explains why endocannabinoid deficiency matters, stating,
If you don’t have enough endocannabinoids you have pain where there shouldn’t be pain. You would be sick, meaning nauseated. You would have a lowered seizure threshold. And just a whole litany of other problems.
So, is endocannabinoid deficiency something similar to any other vitamin or mineral deficiency? Some health professionals and hemp producers think so.
Currently, Russo is the medical research director for Phyecs, a company which seeks to develop supplements and products for endocannabinoid support. Other businesses have supplements on the mind as well.
Nutritional supplements are a major new market for the cannabis industry. Thanks to the Agricultural Act of 2014, U.S. farmers can cultivate and market hemp-derived CBD products.
The masterminds behind Charlotte’s Web Hemp Oil have done just that, selling extracted CBD as a dietary supplement.
I think we are definitely going to see that this [cannabidiol] should be a part of everyone’s diet just like vitamin C, just like your B vitamins, just like your omegas.
We have endocannabinoids system. Why wouldn’t we have cannabinoids to supplement daily? It’s just been locked out by prohibition. – Stanley
Raw, dietary cannabis
In addition to supplementation, juicing and using raw cannabis products in smoothies and on foods are becoming increasingly more popular.
The effects of smoked cannabis are well-known, but it comes as a surprise to many that the raw herb alone can have a positive impact on health.
Raw cannabis is fresh from the plant, without having been heated or dried. Fresh cannabis is nonpsychoactive and does not contain large amounts of THC. Rather, it contains an abundance of a precursor to THC, called tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA).
Unfortunately, extensive research into the nutritional qualities of cannabis is lacking. However, the available scientific literature points toward dietary factors as key influencers for endocannabinoid system.
Early entrepreneurs like CW Hemp and Phytecs have broken into what may be the next major frontier of the cannabis world: dietary products.
Why isn’t cannabis viewed as nutritious?
Cannabis has been through the ringer since the 1930s when the Marihuana Tax Act smothered hemp production. The herb’s mind-warping nature is an unwanted side effect for many and is perhaps what earned it entry to controlled substance list.
But, hemp-derived CBD products contain 0.3% THC, offering consumers a way to engage their endocannabinoid system without any change in cognition.
Though industry progressives are moving into uncharted territory, there is still much debate on how to categorize cannabis products.
Should cannabis products be considered pharmaceutical drugs, or are cannabinoids phytonutrients that should be a part of our daily diet?
At this point, things are highly theoretical. Much of the conversation on dietary cannabis has yet to be put to any sort quality clinical trial. With the exception of a few studies, such as one published in 2005 which shows that daily hemp oil supplementation can improve symptoms of eczema.
Scientists in the United States still face legal barriers to cannabis research, making it difficult to figure out how compounds in the herb fully engage with the body.
This is particularly about cannabis in its raw form. Much of the research focuses on activated THC, CBD, or smoked cannabis. when they are left in their raw form.
A hard time for hemp
According to the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration, cannabis and its derivatives have no medical value and present a public safety hazard. Cannabis is listed in the same category as many dangerous drugs, including heroin.
While hemp foods are exempt from Schedule 1 status, hemp products and extracts must come only from parts of the plant the DEA has not included under the definition of “marihuana” in the Controlled Substances Act.
Which basically leaves cannabis stalks, inviable seeds, and products made from these two things.
Producers of hemp foods face marketing restrictions and are unable to make direct health claims about their products.
This year, the Food and Drug Administration sent letters to eight hemp-derived CBD distributors and informed them that they were engaging in illegal commerce.
The companies had reportedly claimed that their products could be used as a treatment for medical conditions. They did the same thing last year.
In response to the 2015 letters, an FDA spokesperson, Jeff Ventura, told US News,
FDA has grown concerned at the proliferation of therapeutic claims being made about an increasing number of products, for sale in all 50 states, purporting to contain cannabidiol.
The marketing and promotional materials for many of these products indicate they are intended for the use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of diseases, including, for example: cancer, various infections, psychiatric disorders, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and diabetes.
Though many of these ailments have been associated with disruptions in the endocannabinoid system, cannabis still exists in a weird Twilight Zone between a common household good, street drug, and pharmaceutical medication.
As the cannabis industry grows, this tension between these definitions will need to be addressed.
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