Move over, kale. Marijuana might give the cruciferous veggie a run for it’s money when it comes to health and wellness benefits.
You read that right. Weed is making a serious comeback—as a superfood. Of course, it didn’t really go anywhere. Archaeological evidence indicates that people were smoking it nearly 3,000 years ago, and our more recently, good ol’ George Washington grew hemp in his backyard. But the U.S. federal government classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug in 1970 because of its psychoactive effects, which in turn made it illegal to use in any form.
But after going “underground” for decades, within the past few years, marijuana has regained legal status in multiple states. There’s also been tons of recent scientific research on the medicinal plant to reveal exactly what health benefits it might be hiding.
Pot includes more than 60 compounds called cannabinoids that have varying effects on the human body. THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the most well known because it’s been heavily studied; it’s the primary ingredient responsible for giving weed users a euphoric high. And as for that old idea that pot “fries your brain”? That might not be true. THC has been closely studied for its neuroprotective abilities, and it may actually protect brain cells from damage caused by factors like stress and inflammation. Superfood expert David Wolfe recommends juicing pot leaves like you would any other plant to reap the benefits of THC without smoking—and to enjoy a more subtle high.
If a weed-flavored green juice doesn’t exactly sound appetizing to you, don’t fret. The MVP of cannabis isn’t actually THC. The thing most likely responsible for pot’s most potent medicinal benefits is a highly concentrated chemical compound called CBD, or cannabidiol. CBD can be extracted from the marijuana plant and ingested on it’s own as an oil or capsule, meaning you can throw a few tablespoons into a morning smoothie or even blend it into your coffee.
Unlike THC, you can have it in the morning, before work, without any worries of heading to the office slack-jawed. CBD has zero psychedelic mind-altering effects—it won’t get you stoned or even give you a buzz, and according to a 2011 scientific review published in Current Drug Safety, it doesn’t impact motor skills or psychological function.
CBD has been studied clinically for years and it’s been found useful for everything from mental health to preventing breast cancer. According to a study completed in Spain in 2013, CBD is an “anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, antioxidant, antiemetic, anxiolytic, and antipsychotic agent, and is therefore a potential medicine for the treatment of neuroinflammation, epilepsy, oxidative injury, vomiting and nausea, anxiety, and schizophrenia.” A separate study published in The British Journal of Pharmacology concluded that supplementing with CBD has powerful anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects.
And the benefits go beyond regulating emotions and promoting healthy brain function. Some professional athletes use weed and CBD to increase performance because of its ability to ease inflammation and increase recovery time—both are effective pain relievers for sore joints and muscles. And for pros concerned with perfecting their game day nutrition, CBD might be beneficial thanks to its blood insulin level stabilizing properties and ability to optimize hormonal function.
Finally, CBD is legal throughout the U.S., non-psychoactive, non-habit forming and completely safe. If you’re thinking, why doesn’t everyone take this stuff?, you’re not alone. One of the main reasons CBD hasn’t reached the masses yet is because it’s difficult to absorb in oil form unless it’s taken with other ingredients, like curcumin. Then there’s the fact that it doesn’t really taste good (or smell good), and it can go bad quickly. And because the recreational CBD oil industry is unregulated by the FDA, some products work very well, and others are flat-out fraudulent.
As marijuana gets legalized in more and more states and its use becomes more widely accepted, more research is likely to be completed on the drug and it’s powerful compounds, including CBD. The FDA recently approved research of the pharmaceutical drug Epidiolex, an antiseizure medication that relies on CBD as it’s active ingredient.
It may take some time for CBD oil to become as widely available and reliable as coconut oil or goji berries, but perhaps the compound will become the new MCT oil in a few years. As always, check with your doctor before starting any diet or supplement regimen—and keep your eyes peeled for more about this surprising superfood as scientists continue their research.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont