by Stephanie Boucher
Cannabis sativa. The plant seems to be everywhere these days, from CBD shops to medical dispensaries to laws shifting in favor of greater legalization left and right (and sometimes taking a step back, such as recently with the ban of CBD products in several states). And with that comes a flood of information, some good and some questionable, about this ubiquitous herb.
There is certainly propaganda on both sides, and it can feel difficult to sift through it to discover what cannabis actually has to offer us. Is it really the panacea it’s made out to be? Is there truth to the claims that it’s harmful and actually poses a public health risk? We probably have these questions whether we are consumers or health practitioners, and knowing how best to incorporate this plant into our wellness practices (or our clients’) can feel a bit daunting.
The good news is that cannabis use is extremely safe (no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose) and that due to the unique way it interacts with our physiology, it can benefit a wide range of conditions and imbalances. With a little guidance and mindfulness, it can be an effective tool for working with anxiety, chronic pain, nervous system issues, immune system dysregulation, sleep, and a whole slew of other bodily systems and functions. (This is because our endocannabinoid system spans practically our whole body.)
The tricky part is figuring out a cannabis protocol that works for you, because it’s most likely going to be different than what works for your neighbor, your mom, or your friend Diane. Cannabis recognizes your uniqueness and resists standardization, and while we’re trying to find our sweet spots, this can sometimes result in some pretty uncomfortable side effects and/or feeling like it’s not doing much of anything and we’re throwing our money away. It breaks my heart to see how many folks have given up on cannabis simply because they couldn’t find the right dose and product, when we know the immense gift it has to offer.
As practitioners, we need to have a good understanding of the plant ourselves so that we’re able to educate our clients. For example, to assuage a client’s fear of taking too much, it’s important that we understand that there are few to no cannabinoid receptors on our brain stem – the part of our brain that controls heart rate and breathing – thereby eliminating the possibility of fatal overdose (unlike with opioids). We need to know that edibles can come on a lot stronger, and last a lot longer than inhaled cannabis, so that we make sure we don’t advise our clients down a road riddled with unpleasant side effects. We need to understand the power and the energetic nature of cannabis, so that we can help our clients balance it with other herbs and practices if need be. And we need to be able to read analytical test results if we have access to them, so that we can help our client’s decode the numbers into something meaningful and useful for them.
As consumers, it’s important to acknowledge that working with cannabis is really an invitation to get to know your own body better. In fact, that’s one of it’s healing gifts. Rather than permitting you to pop a pill mindlessly, cannabis asks that you really tune in to what you’re experiencing and feel into your body – a practice that isn’t super valued, and definitely not taught, in the dominant culture. This can be done with or without a testing lab, and to some degree makes testing labs unnecessary. It’s super helpful to know what 10 mg of THC or CBD feels like in your body, but we can also achieve success by learning how to make our own products, having a consistent source, learning what the scent of cannabis can tell us about its effects, and by valuing an embodied experience of plant medicine. In fact, that’s how people used cannabis for thousands of years before we had the language of milligrams and constituents, and we all turned out just fine.
Cannabis is a powerful tool of transformation, and when used mindfully can be a fantastic ally on our wellness journey. What this means in practice is discovering individually what our minimum effective dose is, having ritual or or at least mindfulness around its consumption, and incorporating other complimentary herbs and wellness practices to support our health goals. In other words: be respectful, be grateful, and don’t expect cannabis to do everything for you. Taking a few milligrams as you sit down for every meal, and making sure you’re eating nourishing food and moving your body is going to be a lot more helpful than getting stoned out of your gourd every day and expecting miracles while you continue to engage in other harmful practices.
Is this plant a panacea? No, in fact it does have a dark side. But it also has some powerful medicine for this day and age. As rates of anxiety and chronic pain continue to rise, cannabis legalization is spreading to meet the need. As disconnection from our bodies and from the earth continue to wreak havoc on both our personal health and the health of the planet, it is fitting that a highly individualized plant medicine is gaining more traction in our collective consciousness. As healers and as people who need to be healed, cannabis is calling to us and asking to be heard. Are you listening?
Stephanie Boucher is a certified Clinical Herbalist, having graduated from the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism’s 3-year Clinical Herbalist Training Program. In addition to her traditional herbal training, she also holds a Professional Certificate in Cannabis Science and Medicine from the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. She is the owner and head herbalist at CannaBotanicals, a clinical practice on the therapeutic use of cannabis. Find her online at www.cannabotanicals.net.