Cannabis has been used therapeutically (and ritualistically) for nearly 5,000 years. According to historical record, the founding father of Chinese agriculture and herbal medicine, Chinese Emperor Chen Nung (circa 2700 B.C.E.), studied and assessed the medicinal value of hundreds of herbs. After discovering cannabis, amazed by the plant’s therapeutic versatility, he introduced the plant to his people and it found its place in Chinese pharmacopoeia — to this day it is considered one of 50 essential herbs by Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Cannabis was used to treat a wide array of conditions (nearly 100), including rheumatism, gout, malaria, constipation, menstrual fatigue (sidenote: Queen Victoria of England was a fan of cannabis to treat cramps) — and, even absent-mindedness! However, even back then, medical practitioners recognized the importance of moderate dosing. The earliest published volume on Chinese pharmacopoeia — the Pen Ts’ao (The Herbal) — warned consuming too many Ma (marijuana) seeds could cause a person to see demons. But, when used in moderately over a long period of time, it would enable one to communicate with the spirits.
While the veracity of those two claims have since been disputed — you probably won’t see demons if you use too much, nor will you convene with spirits if you consume just the right amount — the point is, not only has cannabis been used as medicine throughout most of history, we’ve known throughout that time, that moderate dosing provides superior results to high dosing.
Despite cannabis having been used medicinally for thousands of years, prohibitionist policies supported by the U.S. and mandated globally by the United Nations under the auspices of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, made conducting clinical research on botanical cannabis nearly impossible for nearly half a century. While the tide has shifted in recent years, with many governments relaxing some of the restrictions on research, we still have depressingly few clinical studies on botanical cannabis. The first clinical trial on whole-plant cannabis was only recently approved by the FDA and DEA, where researchers (led by Dr. Sue Sisley) will assess and compare the efficacy and safety of three different ratios of cannabis (high THC:CBD, high CBD:THC and a 1:1).
Despite the federal government’s lethargy in thoughtfully addressing medical marijuana’s role in the health of its citizenry, we’ve witnessed a renaissance in research over the last decade. In the late 1980s, scientists discovered the human body has its own cannabinoid system called the endocannabinoid system, or eCS. The magnitude of this discovery has been immense; as it turns out, the eCS is quite possibly the most important physiological system in our bodies. It plays an vital role in virtually every aspect of our health. Italian scientist, Dr. Vincenzo Di Marzo, summarized the eCB’s role as: “relax, eat, sleep, forget, and protect.”
Given how important the eCS is to our health, it makes sense that cannabis consumption behaviors could exert a powerful influence — for better or worse — on one’s physical and emotional health. And, why optimal dosing is so important. Cannabis is a complex plant consisting of hundreds of different cannabinoids, terpenoids, flavonoids, and other compounds. The two most prominent cannabinoids are THC and cannabidiol (CBD). When consumed by humans, these plant-derived cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) mimic the body’s naturally occurring cannabinoids (endocannabinoids).
Botanists John McPartland and Geoffrey Guy of GW Pharmaceuticals proposed that cannabinoids may help issues related to endocannabinoid deficiencies by “kick-starting” the eCB. However, evidence suggests cannabis in moderate doses is beneficial, while chronic consumption of high doses can produce deleterious effects.
As humans, we’re conditioned to think, “if a little bit is good, then more is better.” Right? Rarely is this the case. Cannabis, like most substances, produces biphasic effects. What is “biphasic?”
Nonetheless, scientists have found that acute administration of a moderate amount of THC increases sensitivity of one’s cannabinoid receptors and stimulates the biosynthesis of THC’s mimetic naturally occurring twin: anandamide, also known as the “bliss molecule”. (Anandamide influences appetite, memory, pleasure and reward, hormonal balance, and the reproductive system.)
However, chronic high dosing downregulates CB1, desensitizing the receptors, potentially causing (or exacerbating) an endocannabinoid deficiency. Considering the eCB’s vital role in our health, you can see why it’s important to keep it happy! To summarize: low to moderate dosing helps the eCS; high chronic dosing hurts the eCS.
Now it’s important to keep in mind, that everyone is different. Physiologically, what may be considered moderate dosing to one person, could be problematic use in another. A medicinal may medicate with cannabis throughout the day and see no adverse effects, while if a recreational user consumed a similar amount, it might be considered a use disorder. It’s not an exact science.