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Cannabis Basics

The Sunshine State is moving in the right direction and is working to provide regulated and safe access to this remarkably beneficial plant. Read on for an overview of cannabis basics for new patients just like you.

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A Brief History

Cannabis has been used for thousands of years, dating back to Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2727 B.C.1 Before Nixon’s war on drugs, cannabis was grown for the use of rope, clothing and fiber in North America. It’s been over 80 years since the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed, which made possession or transfer of marijuana illegal throughout the United States under federal law. There are now over 30 states with cannabis legalization and a recently passed Farm Bill that allows the growth of hemp for industrial use.

In 1992, Raphael Mechoulam discovered the Endocannabinoid System (ECS—a complex receptor system found in humans and animals designed to respond to the active compounds found in the cannabis plant. The ECS has been recently recognized as possibly the most important modulatory system in the body that regulates the functioning of the brain, endocrine, and immune tissues, as well as creating and supporting homeostasis of the body’s cells. Because the ECS is designed to regulate the body’s functions, it comes as no surprise cannabis helps with so many conditions. Since its discovery, research continues to enlighten us on how and why cannabis has played such a pivotal role in the health and well-being of humans for such a long period of time.

Cannabinoids, the Entourage Effect, and Full Spectrum medicine

Though hemp and marijuana have very different properties, both come from the cannabis plant. The terms hemp and marijuana are typically used to describe the difference in THC content. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is one of hundreds of known cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. It is most commonly recognized as the psychoactive compound in cannabis that causes the “high” affect.

Hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC. Marijuana, on the other hand, is any plant that contains more than 0.3 percent THC. But despite THC’s popularity and prevalence, it is not the only beneficial cannabinoid present in cannabis.

CBD (cannabidiol) is another cannabinoid found within the plant and does not produce a psychoactive effect. CBD can be extracted from both hemp and marijuana, and it exists in some products in its isolated form. Other cannabinoids, including CBN, CBG, THCa, and others are being researched and found to contain their own unique therapeutic properties. In Florida, however, the most commonly-used cannabinoids in retail products are THC and CBD.

When isolated, CBD and THC can have wonderful healing properties, they work even better used together in their whole-plant forms. Products that utilize all of the naturally-occurring cannabinoids and other properties of the plant are called Full Spectrum products. In the same way that eating an orange is healthier for you than drinking only the juice, full spectrum products offer a broader range of healing benefits by way of a natural phenomenon called the Entourage Effect. This means that CBD and THC are excellent on their own—but when combined, they work even better.

Full spectrum products also include other compounds in the cannabis plant: all cannabinoids, essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, chlorophyll, flavonoids, and terpenes, for example. Just like with nutrition, the less processed and more natural the plant medicine is, the more effectively it can provide benefits.

Florida Law

While dispensaries in other legal states offer hundreds of different strains, concentrates, edibles, topicals, tinctures, patches, sublingual products and more, Florida residents are still limited in their offerings due to restrictive laws and controversial politics.

After integrating the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, Florida allowed qualified patients in the state to obtain “low-THC cannabis.” In order to qualify as low-THC, the flowers, seeds, resin and any other product derived from the cannabis plant had to contain 0.8 percent or less of THC and more than 10 percent CBD by weight.

The statute was amended in 2016 to include all levels of THC marijuana, termed “medical cannabis.”

With the increasing growth of knowledge and education, the beneficial impact patients could see when allowed to utilize the important cannabinoid THC without restrictions is crucial. Growth is constant and progression is visible, which gives hope to those affected by the limitation of the laws.

Common Consumption Methods

One of the most commonly-asked questions about cannabis is how and where to begin comfortably. Fear of feeling “too high” or experiencing no relief are common amongst patients. Knowing how different products affect the body is important to understand where to begin. Remember: each individual endocannabinoid system is unique. Different cannabis products will affect each individual differently based on absorption, bioavailability, and countless other variables.

Take edibles, for instance. Edibles often have a stronger perceived effect because the body converts the cannabinoid THC into 11-hydroxy-THC when metabolized by the liver—in simpler terms, this means your body absorbs orally-ingested medicine differently than it absorbs inhaled medicine, and the effects of each delivery method will therefore be different. Edibles may take up to an hour or more to absorb and the effects to be felt, and it may last longer than inhaled cannabis.

There are variations in potency, up to 15 percent in some products, which is something to keep in mind when consuming. Liquid products, such as tinctures, are measured in milliliters and will have a ml serving size and its cannabinoid equivalent for consumers to correctly dose. Tinctures are best to drop sublingually, or under the tongue to infuse the herb directly into the bloodstream. These can also be used to infuse drinks or smoothies, depending on the consumers’ preferences.

For many, vaporized cannabis flower is the preferred consumption method. Inhalation of cannabis provides a fast-acting effect and is popular amongst patients who need immediate relief. Cannabis flower is available in hundreds of different cultivars, or strains, in other legal states—and Florida is beginning to boast some of its own unique strains from local cultivators as its medical industry grows.

Each strain of cannabis has its own unique cannabinoid and terpene profile, and each profile offers a subtly different medicinal effect. Research on terpenes (the essential oils found in cannabis that house therapeutic benefits) suggests that our natural attraction to certain terpene profiles in the scent of cannabis can provide us with information on what strain may be best for our condition. As the saying goes, “Your nose knows.” Smelling your cannabis in its whole flower form is one of the best ways to choose your medicine. Since our sense of smell is so unique and different and cannabis has a huge array of profile combinations, you’ll know when you smell the terpenes if you’re into the particular flower. If you smell a strain and are drawn to it, chances are that your body will respond positively to its effects. Alternatively, if you are turned off by the scent of a product, steering clear may be the best option.

In most medical and recreational states, as well as some Florida dispensaries, patients are presented will “smell jars,” or small containers of sample products to view and smell to make sure that the product is free of pests, pesticides, and other contaminants. Smelling also provides the body with the knowledge it needs to choose strains effectively. Without this access, it is very difficult for a patient to determine the quality of what is going into their medicine.

Because not all dispensaries offer the opportunity for a patient to view and smell their product before purchase, deciding which strain to consume can be a daunting and overwhelming task for new patients. If your dispensary does not offer this option, ask the manager to consider providing this beneficial service to patients.

Thankfully, Florida is moving towards more reasonable access laws for patients, and it is important that patients lend their voice to protect their right to transparency around the production of their medicine. In the meantime, it is beneficial for patients to educate themselves on the basics of cannabinoid and terpene science to help determine which strains and terpene profiles may be best for them.

Vaporizers are another growing choice for health-conscious consumers due to their discretion in delivery. Small size and lack of odor make them popular amongst those who need fast-acting relief and anonymity. Concentrates, however, come with their own set of challenges.

It is important to remember that concentrates are concentrated forms of cannabis. There are several extraction methods used to create concentrates, each with its own set of health hazards. The use of solvents or CO2 in extraction practices are controversial—many of the products used to create solvents contain thinning agents and additives with proven health risks attached. It is important to remember that the state of Florida has no regulation or testing requirements around the use of many of these hazardous chemicals in the production of cannabis concentrate products.

In addition, concentrates are typically much more potent than flower products. Flower potency usually ranges between 10-25 percent THC. A concentrate, however, may have 50-80 percent THC or more. Knowing your tolerance and desired effects can help you decide which product is best for you.

Dosing

One of the most common answers everyone wants to know is how much should be consumed for a dose. Unfortunately, dosing with cannabis is a process that requires individual attention, experimentation, and time. However, a good cannabis physician can help you determine where a good starting point is for you.

The best advice for cannabis patients is to follow your marijuana doctor’s recommendation. However, the old adage still applies: “Start low, go slow.” Monitoring the effects and dosage of each product through journaling will also help you find your ideal dose. By slowing self-titrating (or adjusting your dose as necessary) and keeping track in your journal of what products have the desired effect, you’ll be able to effectively dose based on your comfort levels. Remember: each Endocannabinoid system is different, and each individual will respond to different doses and delivery methods in their own unique way. Until research offers us more insight on how to approach dosing in a more streamlined manner, it is up to the patient and their doctor or educator to spend the time getting to know which dosing procedures are best suited to the ailment.

References

  1. https://www.deamuseum.org/ccp/cannabis/history.html

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Turmeric

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Turmeric is a root vegetable commonly used as a spice in various Indian and other cultures’ dishes. Turmeric is in the zingiberaceae family, as is ginger. The turmeric plant is native to the southeastern region of Asia and commonly harvested in places like India, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, and Taiwan. It is responsible for curry’s signature orange color, and its vibrant pigment will give essentially any meal an orange hue. 

Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin, and curcumin has been shown through research to offer anti-inflammatory and other therapeutic benefits. The scientific name for the turmeric plant is Curcuma Longa, and likely where the name curcumin comes from. When people are talking about the health benefits of turmeric, they are referencing curcumin so you may hear the two names used interchangeably. Curcumin is part of a group called curcuminoids, with curcumin being the most active and the most beneficial for health. Flavonoids are another substance found in various plants and give these plants their color. Curcumin is a flavonoid and is responsible for providing that bright orange color to turmeric. In addition to providing aesthetic value, flavonoids are also strong antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties.

The Journal of Biological Chemistry published a study done by Sanjaya Singh and Bharat B. Aggarwal of the Cytokine Research Laboratory at the world-renowned cancer hospital, M.D. Anderson. The study found that curcumin suppressed NF-κB, a protein complex responsible for controlling inflammatory responses. In other words, turmeric shuts off the body’s inflammatory response. Anti-inflammatories can be beneficial for many different ailments, including chronic pain and digestive disorders. A lot of CBD companies even put curcumin in their products because of its benefits. It is believed to be a synergistic pair with complementary therapeutic properties. The thought is that the two plant medicines are powerful on their own; as a combination, they can deliver even more anti-inflammatory and medicinal benefits. 

Many people simply add turmeric to their dishes as a way to easily incorporate it into their daily routine. It is pretty mild in flavor and can be added to many dishes without changing the overall taste too drastically. Some say that turmeric isn’t strong enough on its own to receive the anti-inflammatory properties that curcumin provides, and therefore recommend a curcumin supplement. Research varies on that, so in the end it is just up to personal preference and your doctor’s approval. Curcumin supplements come most available in capsules. Pregnant women can safely use turmeric as an addition to their food, but should avoid taking high-dosage supplements. Those who are interested in supplementing with curcumin products should talk with their doctor first. 

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center did another study in 2007 exploring curcumin for cancer treatment. The study found that curcumin inhibits ovarian cancer growth and angiogenesis (the development of new blood vessels). It does this by targeting and manipulating the NF-κB pathway, the same protein complex responsible for controlling inflammatory response. According to a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “The nuclear factor NF-κB pathway has long been considered a prototypical proinflammatory signaling pathway, largely based on the role of NF-κB in the expression of proinflammatory genes including cytokines, chemokines, and adhesion molecules.”  

The trend with curcumin seems to be it’s ability to control inflammatory responses in the body. It does this by multiple pathways, but a commonly researched one is the NF-κB protein complex. Because this pathway is able to be manipulated by curcumin to encourage anti-inflammatory expressions, its potential for successfully treating various ailments is there.

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Psilocybin + Magic Mushrooms

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When many think of plant medicine, specifically those plants with psychoactive effects, they think of “magic mushrooms,” or fungi containing psilocybin and psilocin that can cause hallucinations depending on the dosage consumed. In many states, there are active efforts to decriminalize these otherwise scheduled substances, lowering penalties for their use and possession. But what value do psilocybin-containing mushrooms offer? New research suggests a range of therapeutic and psychological value ranging from the treatment of substance abuse to anxiety and depression management.  

What are Magic Mushrooms?

Magic Mushroom use dates back to 10,000 BCE and references continue throughout the era. Their modern popularity began when the term “magic mushroom” was coined by two etnomycologists who learned of a Harvard study on local doctors in Mexico using these substances, noting the substance’s ability to affect the nervous system. These findings were eventually published in Life magazine in 1957, and the term became the universal reference for psychoactive fungi and truffles, specifically those containing high concentrations of psilocybin and psilocin.

Psilocybin & Psilocin: The “Magic” in Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybin and psilocin are part of a family of psychedelic compounds found in magic mushrooms. Psilocin is pharmacologically active, and psilocybin is converted into psilocin when consumed or activated. Similar in structure to serotonin, there are more than 50 species of mushrooms and a variety of truffles that produce both the precursor, psilocybin, and the psychoactive compound, psilocin. Unlike LSD, magic mushrooms do not affect dopamine receptors, solely targeting serotonin sites

How are Magic Mushrooms used?

Magic mushrooms are often used for recreational, therapeutic and medicinal reasons. “Effects range from mild feelings of relaxation, giddiness, euphoria, visual enhancement (seeing colors brighter), visual disturbances (moving surfaces, waves), to delusions, altered perception of real events, images and faces, or real hallucinations.” Recreationally, this is often known as “tripping.” As an alternative health option, these fungi are being used for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and trauma, as well as psychological disorders such as substance abuse disorders, and science is beginning to back the potential for these applications.

Research on Mushrooms

Evaluations of currently available scientific studies suggest a growing number of therapeutic benefits and treatment options. “In the past few years, a growing number of studies using human volunteers have begun to explore the possible therapeutic benefits of drugs such as psilocybin…looking at psilocybin and other hallucinogens to treat a number of otherwise intractable psychiatric disorders, including chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug or alcohol dependency.”

Magic mushrooms have been respected as a “safe & natural healing sacrament for millennia throughout Mexico, Central America and the world,” and are known to be beneficial for depression, recidivism (the tendency to repeat past transgressions), and encourages openness, creativity, as well as personal and spiritual growth. UCLA and NYC have done studies on the applications of magic mushrooms in the treatment of end-of-life anxiety and other studies have backed up the use of psilocybin and psilocin in the treatment of substance use disorders, depression (especially in cases of terminal conditions like cancer as well as treatment-resistant depression), and reducing depression and anxiety overall.

Best way for people to consume?

When it comes to the consumption of mushrooms, advice on dosage is about as specific as it was with cannabis under prohibition. Consumers must purchase on the black market and are subject to whatever may be available. 

“Recreational doses range from 1–5 grams of dry mushrooms depending on the species and individual strength of the specimens… After ingestion, the psilocybin is enzymatically converted to psilocin. Absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract, hallucinogenic effects usually occur within 30 minutes of ingestion with a duration of effect of 4–6 hours.” 

My recommendation as someone who has used magic mushrooms both for recreational and therapeutic purposes, is to grind the mushrooms into a fine powder and either encapsulate them in small increments and/or combine with lemon juice. Capsules will allow you to titrate your dosage as needed with a recognizable increment, while lemon juice will expedite onset time.  

The Legality of Magic Mushrooms

In the United States, psilocybin is a Schedule I controlled substance, with no accepted medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. In contrast, the Drug Policy Alliance states that “Physically, psilocybin mushrooms are considered to be one of the least toxic drugs known.” With that being said, local efforts such as Decriminalize Nature – Oakland and Decriminalize Denver have pushed for and successfully passed initiatives and legislation to reduce penalties and make enforcement a low priority, as was done in the early days of cannabis activism. This has spurred multiple local and international efforts to “Decriminalize Nature,” efforts that we learn more about in this month’s feature.

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Ginkgo Biloba

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Ginkgo biloba is an ancient tree; its roots originate in China. The ginkgo biloba tree is also sometimes known as the maidenhair tree or the Japanese silver apricot, and it produces a foul-smelling fruit commonly harvested for its seeds known as “ginkgo nuts”. Ginkgo nuts are popularly used in Asian cuisine. 

The ginkgo biloba tree’s fan-shaped leaves are used to make ginkgo biloba extract, a supplement traditionally used in Chinese medicine, but has since garnered the attention of cultures worldwide. The supplement comes in liquid extracts, capsules, and tablets. The leaves can also be dried to make tea. The type of ginkgo biloba extract supplement someone takes is all a matter of personal preference, and depends on the user’s already existing regimen. If you do not already drink tea, a ginkgo biloba tea may not implement easily into your lifestyle, thus a greater chance for inconsistency or erratic results. But if you take vitamins or other supplements regularly, after a doctor’s approval you can easily incorporate an additional capsule or tablet into your daily routine. 

The 16th-century Compendium of Materia Medica or Ben Cao Gang Mu is revered as the most comprehensive text ever written in the history of traditional Chinese medicine. This text reveals that ginkgo biloba seeds were used as a topical extract for antimicrobial purposes on the skin. Traditional Chinese Medicine also uses the leaves for tea and attributes it to soothing coughs and activating blood circulation, as well as other benefits like respiratory and digestive ailments. 

A common use for ginkgo biloba is to preserve memory and prevent cognitive decline. Dr. Hiroko Dodge of Oregon State University at Corvallis and his research team followed 118 people for three years aged 85 years and older, in good health, and showing no signs of dementia or memory loss at the beginning of the study. Half took ginkgo biloba and half took a placebo over three years. The patients taking it regularly had a 70% lower risk of developing dementia. According to the study, the other variables included considered “basic demographic variables including age, sex, years of education, and living arrangement (living alone vs living with someone).” 

The National Center for Biotechnology and Information published a study exploring ginkgo as a potential remedy for anxiety and, “The authors reported a significant improvement in psychopathological symptoms. Response rates were 44% in the high-dose group, 31% in the low-dose group, and 22% with placebo. Additionally, the percentages of clinically significant responses were 81%, 67%, and 38% for the high-dose, the low-dose, and the placebo groups, respectively.”2

A 2008 study reinforced the idea behind Traditional Chinese Medicine that ginkgo biloba improves blood circulation. The study shows ginkgo biloba extract to improve coronary artery circulation in patients with coronary artery disease. The study notes, “GBE (ginkgo biloba extract) treatment demonstrated a significant improvement in maximal diastolic peak velocity (MDPV), maximal systolic peak velocity (MSPV) and diastolic time velocity integral (DTVI) compared with controls.”3 In other words, ginkgo biloba extract is a great contender as a treatment to improve blood flow. 

Like cannabis and other medicinal plants, ginkgo has terpenes and flavonoids. Both of these compounds have therapeutic properties, and can provide anti-inflammatory benefits as well as being packed with antioxidants. Anti-inflammatory effects can serve many different ailments, especially relieving pain of various kinds. Antioxidants are thought to protect our bodies from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause harm to the body. Terpenes are also responsible for giving plants their unique and flavorful smell. Flavonoids are the compounds that give plants their vibrant and diverse colors, and are the largest group of phytonutrients. There are approximately 6,00 different types of flavonoids. 

A few years back, the National Toxicology Program released a detailed report on ginkgo biloba extract. It dissects the toxicity and carcinogenic properties of ginkgo biloba using rodent test subjects. The report made its rounds as proof that ginkgo biloba causes cancer, because the rodents developed cancer at high-rates over two year periods. Per the American Botanical Council, “Adjusted for bodyweight, dosage levels given to the animals were up to 55 to 108 times higher than levels of ginkgo normally ingested by human beings taking ginkgo supplements.” Many people have been using this report to warn against the supplement, but Bill J. Gurley, Ph.D., a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Arkansas School for Medical Sciences, Little Rock said, “Almost anything will create cancer in rats and mice when it’s fed to them at high doses for two years.” The American Botanical Council also claims the ginkgo biloba extract used in the rodent experiment was of lesser quality, and not meeting European standards. 

Though this seemingly negative research on ginkgo can be explained, it is still important to discuss any kind of supplement addition with your doctor, especially if you are on other supplements or pharmaceutical prescriptions.

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