Why the raw cannabis juicing trend may not be all it's juiced up to be

Earlier today, I posted a quick link to an LA Weekly item about a new round of media attention devoted to Dr. William Courtney, and his research on juicing cannabis for health benefits.

The tl;dr of his idea: with raw cannabis juice, you don't get high, but you do get various health benefits.

Hmmm. I was curious about the largely uncritical internet coverage I was seeing, and wondered about the science—so I asked Michael Backes and Amy Robertson of Abatin Wellness Center of Sacramento what they thought. Abatin is a medical marijuana collective you may have heard of because of its link to MS sufferer and med-can advocate Montel Williams; they're also very legit and science-oriented, and Backes has a long history in technology and the sciences. The tl;dr of their response is: it's not quite that simple, and cannabis juicing could even pose some risks for certain patients. "The raw plants have substances to discourage critters from eating them that can cause allergic reactions in some," explains Robertson, "And can you imagine how unpleasant this would taste?"

"The throat irritation is based on the fact that the stems of cannabis have sharp little hairs," explains Backes. "Typically, this wouldn't be a problem for those juicing the plant, but make chewing on a cannabis stems a no-no."

More below.

And, a disclosure: the topic is of personal interest to me because I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and I'm undergoing chemotherapy. Chemo sucks, and I have learned that medical cannabis is a very effective aid for related side effects—but not all delivery methods are equally helpful.

From Michael Backes of Abatin Wellness Center:

Dr. William Courtney has been researching juicing cannabis for several years. The young woman in the video, Kristen, is his wife. Courtney makes some very plausible points, but his claims really do need to be subjected to randomized, controlled clinical trials.

Courtney's claim that raw cannabis is not psychoactive is true, but only for pristine, fresh cannabis. Disturb the gland heads on a living cannabis plant of a strain that contains THC and the process of converting its non-psychoactive THCA to psychoactive THC begins, albeit slowly.

There are a few cannabis strains that contain another cannabinoid called cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is not psychoactive, whether in its raw acidic state (CBDA) or its neutral state (CBD). But CBDA strains often contain THCA, too. Around twenty strains of cannabis produced in California have been found to contain CBD, while the number of THC strains is believed to exceed three hundred.

CBD is of great research interest, since it exhibits dozens of very promising medicinal effects ranging from anti-tumor activity to its potential to control some forms of diabetes. And CBD exhibits almost zero toxicity.

The primary advantage of raw fresh cannabis is found in its predominance of THCA and its lack of psychoactive THC.

But... the medical benefits of large doses of acidic cannabinoids have not been subjected to controlled clinical trials. The evidence at this point is anecdotal. And if someone is not harvesting the cannabis fresh and consuming it immediately, then there is a risk of significant THC intoxication.

And one more point. As with any cultivated plant, cannabis can harbor a wide range of microbes and some can be pathogenic. The risk of pathogen exposure from raw fresh cannabis is small, but anyone with a compromised immune system should be very careful.


    1. Hey thanks.

      Yeah, I’ve looked into it extensively… short version, from the best-informed sources I’ve contacted, is that there is some promise, but WAY not enough science to prove anything reliable yet. Certainly not enough to, say, ditch chemo as some have told me I should do! And the “phoenix tears” guy makes quack klaxons go off in my head.

      1. If someone says straight out “ditch chemo” it probably is an ideological position. But I think there is no harm to also taking in loads of raw vegetables and fruits. Aw man…

      2. Good deal, certainly there is no proof yet of efficacy so rejecting mainstream treatments would be foolish. Whether or not trying hemp oil makes sense is probably largely dependent on the type of tumor you have. You can look up the research on different individual cancer types via these links:

        1) http://www.letfreedomgrow.com/cmu/GrannysList-Jan2011.pdf
        2) http://www.cannabis-med.org/studies/study.php
        3) http://www.cannabis-med.org/index.php?lng=en

        (These were also on my squidoo page, but there are dozens of links there so I just wanted to make sure you saw them.)

        In any event, you might also be interested in checking out this MAPS video on ayahuasca as a cancer cure:


        The evidence for this is basically purely anecdotal, unlike with cannabis where not only are the mechanisms of action understood, but there is also loads of in vitro research for various cancer types. That said, apparently there are a bunch of stories about people going down there and having their cancer get better. I don’t think there’s enough evidence yet that it would be a good investment of time or money if you were going to go down to peru in hopes of curing your own cancer, but for me personally it’s something I’ve always wanted to do anyway so I might do so just for the hell of it if I ever got diagnosed.

      3. The quack klaxons might go off in your head, but what do you possibly have to risk trying his method?

        Trying it for a month seems like an obvious choice to me…

        1. What is there to risk?

          1) Losing lots of money for something that may not be helpful, when having cancer in America can bankrupt you as it is
          2) Even worse, possible adverse effect on chemo effectiveness.

          When you’re going through chemotherapy, everything you eat and all the drugs or herbs or supplements you take has an effect on the process. You can’t just go off and try stuff without your oncologist’s okay and assume it won’t have an effect on the chemo. Even something as innocuous as vitamin C supplements or common over-the-counter medications can reduce the effectiveness of certain chemotherapy regimens!

          There is, in fact, a very high range of risk associated with consuming *extraordinarily* high quantities of cannabis oil, which is the program the klaxon-triggering huckster fellow sells. That’s not the only way to use cannabis medically, by any means. Many oncologists, including my own, recommend using medical cannabis to ease symptoms. But not that specific program, which isn’t the outcome of peer-reviewed science and legit clinical trials.

          There’s a lot to risk.

      4. “And the “phoenix tears” guy makes quack klaxons go off in my head”

        Only by way of corporate sponsored mass-media brainwashing…. follow the money.

        You might also look into a ‘quack’ cure that cured my uncle of cancer over 25 years ago, known as laetrile. It is found in most all seeds except citrus.Or you can go down to Tijuana, Mexico like my uncle did for injections of the stuff. Cheaper than chemo; on your pocket, as well as your body.

        1. That’s fantastic that your uncle is in remission. I’m very happy for him. I mean that sincerely.

          Cancer is a very hetereogeneous thing; not all are created equal, not all respond equally in different people to the same treatments.

          To suggest as a non-medical professional that laetrile is a cure-all for a completely different disease with completely different pathology in a completely different person does not hold up. Not well enough for me to ditch a proven course of action that may be brutal, but yields the proven result of life for people with my particular problem, my particular receptors, and so on.

  1. It’s always disgusting to see people selling bogus cures to sick people.

    As for LA Weekly and it’s sister Village Voice publications, they love to run articles on marijuana-related products.  After all, medical marijuana ads are what pays for alt-weeklies in many states.

  2. Sheet… musta missed your Dec 9 post Xeni – best wishes for your recovery.

    It breaks my heart to know that people are consuming weed in ways which decrease its pleasant high. That’s like growing a pumpkin to use as a door stop. Why not vape the green, put on some tunes and enjoy your medicine? It is incredibly easy to remain high-functioning while on weed, and it makes life’s tedious moments (traffic, supermarkets) more tolerable.

    MrEricSir: So you’ve conducted research into the effectiveness of cannabis for cancer treatment, then? I’m guessing you must have, based on your confidence that it is a ‘bogus’ cure. Just because a treatment’s effectiveness is not researched doesn’t mean it can automatically be put in the pseudo-science category with other homeopathic treatments – many of which are documented to have no better effectiveness than placebo.

  3. From someone up to his ears in respiratory therapist school: bake/cook or vape your green, don’t smoke. Use a water cooling attachment with your vaporizer; the more inexpensive pocket vaporizers (especially the Magic Flight Launch Box) are wonderful for portability and convenience (vaping lying down = awesome) but the heated vapor will strip away your first line of defense against infection by drying out your oronasal and pulmonary membranes, and make you even more susceptible (being immunocompromised already) to every cold and sinus infection that bops past you. The water pipe/bong attachments won’t add a significant amount of humidity (as long as you’re shopping online, you might pick up a humidifier), but will at least cool the vapor down. I haven’t used them, but I hear good things about the Vapir line, and there’s a waterpipe attachment available that’s built to work with all of its models. The pricing on the 5.0 model is relatively modest.

    Also: take a jacket, it’s cold outside.

    1. Yup. Edibles or sublinguals seem to be the most recommended method for chemo patients, in part because of the difference in effect from liver-metabolized compounds vs. inhaled compounds. If the point is to knock out nausea and vomiting, I’m told this is really best. 

      1. My complaint about edibles is that they take so long to kick in, which can be frustrating when you just want pain or nausea relief. (For that matter, there’s a learning curve for effective vaping, although it’s quicker.) But the first pass effect doesn’t knock out near as much THC as the amount you lose by inhaling – 90% of any inhaled meds get lost on the way to your lungs, leaving a mere wimpy 10% behind to do its job. And effects from edibles do seem to stick around longer, without vaping side effects.

        1. It’s true; the delay in action can be hard if you don’t, like, plan ahead as it were.

          If you start eating when the symptoms appear, then, yeah. It’s really hard to catch up with edibles/sublinguals. But multiple chemo veterans have told me that starting *before* the symptoms start is the way to get ahead of the curve. YMMV, but that did it for me. So far that’s the longest-lasting and most potent way to cope with the nausea/vomiting.  There was one day when the nausea horse ran out of the barn and I couldn’t keep even the medicine cookie bits down.

          The first round I went through was pure fucking hell and I puked my guts out, because we didn’t have the meds calibrated right (pharmaceuticals and otherwise).

          1. Damn. I had hoped that your absence from BB was because of an Xmas vacation, not … this. Chemo was described to me as “getting the worst case of food poisoning you’ve ever had … and then a week later, going back and being force-fed that same damn meal again.”

            I hope that whatever meds you’re getting somehow manage the pain you’re going through. Is there some special “Fatten Xeni Up” fund that we can send cupcakes or whatever to?

          2. Bless your heart! I watched family members go through the med-adjusting phase and it was awful. Every time I have the flu or a stomach virus now, I think, “chemo patients feel like this CONSTANTLY”, and don’t bitch.

            Glad to see you’re well taken care of by a reputable provider. I begged my father and brother-in-law to try cannabis when they began chemo, and they wouldn’t even entertain the idea; it makes me sad to think how much relief they could’ve had during that time. Hang tough and God bless.

  4. Sometimes smoking is the only method of ingestion that will work. I wake up several times a night and have to smoke myself back to sleep, and vaporizing changes the effect so that it just gets me mildly high and doesn’t put me back to sleep. Waking up 5-10 times a night doesn’t quite give one the time to assimilate edibles, one needs immediate effect.
    OTOH, I read link after link about how “cannabis oil” cures skin cancer when topically applied and cures everything under the sun if ingested but nobody is actually selling the stuff, or if they are they’re being awfully quiet about it.

    1. Interesting. I can see how having a “fallback” method for immediate relief would be helpful. I’m learning as I go along, and hope to get ahead of the symptoms by timing things right when I go in for my second (and subsequent) rounds of chemo. Hope you’re well, Jo.

  5. Medicinal attributes real or otherwise, aside-I highly recommend it.  However, I would hope for and expect a trifecta:antiemetic, chemotherapeutic, and an increase in appetite.  Of course there is also the increased desire to watch and enjoy AbFab reruns, a decrease of bitching while in queues, writing rambling blog comments, etc

    Or its evil twin:Freaking that the cab driver you told to fuck off has given your credit card number that you used to pay your fare to an identity theft ring, and oh yeah….writing rambling blog comments ; )

    btw-I find, I mean, I’ve heard that the sublingual gels that fit nicely into listerine strip boxes when air traveling, are quite amenable and can be torn into fractions for titering up.  I have also heard that it is always very wise to titer up with ingestables and sublinguals.

                    Good to see you back.

  6. So what’s supposed to be the global advantage of pot juice? Is it a matter of acidity alone? If a person is after something to fight free radicals and briefly boost immunity, oregano juice is the stuff. I’m a skeptical, hateful bastard who doesn’t believe in most of that hippie herbal-remedy crap, but I’ll admit that the oregano extract saved my butt a couple of times when I had the flu.

    I don’t know much about cancer treatment, but if something like Oreganol will help, it’s worth looking into. I think it’s about $30 for a little dropper bottle of the stuff.

  7. There’s a new book out called “Marijuana: Gateway to Health” by Clint Werner that details the research that’s been done so far on marijuana and cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc. It’s really helpful for anyone hoping to understand the science of cannabis.

    I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis. If you are located in California, check out wamm.org, they are a great collective that provides cannabis oil to patients.

    I have used the cannabis juice myself and seen some people really benefit from it. When mixed with lemons and apples, it tastes good. I’ve read a lot about Kristen Peskuski and Dr. William Courtney, and it’s a very interesting story. I hope that we will soon live in a world where NIDA and the DEA won’t block promising research for political reasons, and that eventually, clinical trials of marijuana on human subjects will provide definitive evidence of its medicinal value.

    1. I strongly agree that the block against research is stupid, and that there is so much good science to be done!

      wamm looks wonderful. it’s so funny how the language of legitimate medical marijuana collectives like this has been co-opted by businesses that really have nothing to do with providing care for the seriously ill. Anyway, I’m in good hands with a medical cannabis care provider in my area, thanks.

  8. Xeni,  You have my profound sympathy, and my best wishes for an effective and rapid recovery.  I can’t speak to the effectiveness of cannabis as a remedy whether as juice or oil or whatever,  although I am always deeply skeptical of fantastic claims of cures, whatever the source.  As I am sure you know there are any number of heartless hucksters out there, ready to grab the money of the desperate, and sometimes harm them deeply by steering them away from legitimate treatment.  Perhaps there is some truth to this, perhaps not, but it seems like there might be adverse effects, and I would be very careful (as you obviously are) about anything added to your diet. 

    I believe that the use of cannabis to control nausea and pain is legitimate, and I have experience with someone close who uses a ‘prescription’ version of it in pill form (‘Sesamet’ is the name of the product) with very little effect but the desired pain control.

    I can only wish that you were with us here in Canada.  I know it is cold comfort, but as Michael Moore observed, the number of people who went bankrupt here due to medical care last year was ….. zero.  You are like our brothers and sisters there, and we hate to see you suffer. 

    By the way, if in your travels, you run into one of the many claiming cures, and offering expensive bunkum.  Please give them a swift kick where it will do the most good – from all of us who hate them with a passion.

  9. Hmm.. i chewed on a LOT cannabis stems (mostly smaller ones), never had any throat irritations. I think it tastes kinda good.
    I had very good expercience with tea (mostly twigs and leaves in a pot, hot water (~60-70°C) and leaving it for 2-3 hours). But that’s only an option if one knows the right people… Might have some (awesome) side effects though… :)

    A friend of mine had the same diagnose some time ago, she said cannabis really helped her, she felt much better then. Though i still think smoking is not very good during chemo.

  10. Let me address the different claims made here:  First, the fact that plants create toxins to stop grazers from eating them.  If we are worried about toxins in fresh greens then why not worry about kale and arugula?  We know that there are some amounts of poisons in spinach and other common plants like sorrel, but our bodies seem to be able to deal with these, and benefit from the vitamins and minerals available in the leaves.  Cooking also helps. 

    Moreover, animals that eat a wide variety of plants and seeds also know this, which is why it is so common that jungle-eating animals also eat clay, which binds to toxins and removes them safely from the body.  These animals, birds and mammals alike, eat plants that are far more poisonous than cannabis or spinach, but they do not get poisoned.  (their poison is the encroachment of industrial capitalism, but that is another related story)  
           Anyone eating large amounts of cannabis or other green medicines for cancer or cancer prevention could, and should also drink or eat clay as part of their lifestyle.  It’s what the smart animals do, and besides, clays and charcoal has been shown to  remove radioactive isotopes from the body as well,  so clay may be the real wonder medicine that is older than any of the other herbal ones, and one we would do well to revive in these toxic industrial and radioactive days.   Let us not forget that our wise ancestors watched animals religiously, as attested by earliest cave paintings.   Who are we watching?  The super-rich and their media-outlets?
          Now to juicing.   Susan Weed, wise-woman herbalist, does not recommend juicing as a daily practice in her book about breast cancer because she believes that without the fiber, things go through the gut too quickly, and therefor cannot be absorbed completely as opposed to if taken as traditional chew-food.   Based on this probable hypothesis, an alternative to juicing would be the green-smoothie, which includes the pulp of the plant.    I don’t know the answer here, but juicing may be popular because of how it makes one feel immediately, like a fast-acting drug, and green-smootheeing less popular cause the blenders are so expensive.
            As to the ‘hairs’ on the plant.  I have eaten fresh cannabis leaves and made green-smoothies out of them and have never found it irritating.  It’s not like they are barbs.   Maybe we are dealing with people who just don’t like to eat vegetables in general.
             As for the ‘problem’ of getting ‘high’ from incidental THC in fresh cannabis leaf and flower which has been bruised: highly unlikely to get you ‘f@cked up’, but why would it be a bad thing to feel uplifted also in spirit?
              Bottom line:  Ganja is good:   smoked it protects us from the spiritual illnesses, eaten it protects us from the physical illneses.  It’s all one, it’s all good.    Go clay-lickers go!

  11. Xeni, have you read anything on fasting prior to chemotherapy?  There seems to be fairly solid evidence that fasting reduces the metabolism in healthy cells, thereby sparing people some of the side effects of chemo treatment.  I’d point you to specific articles, but googling: fasting chemotherapy       seems to turn up plenty of hits from reputable sites.

  12. That is terrible to hear Xeni.  I wish you the best of luck getting through the treatment and recovery!

  13. Anyone who doubts the fact that cannabis is arguably the most medicinally enriched plant, start with Granny Storm Crow’s list. Then check out the latest research with CBD and Crohn’s, especially that coming out of Israel. Then on to O’Shaughnessy’s. Then look into Simpson Oil (yeah, the claims are pretty extravagant, but there are folks getting REAL results). If I had the beginnings of skin cancer, I would probably first try cannabis topically.

    Apropos to raw cannabis juice, what Courtney says makes so much intuitive sense.  It’s VERY hard to find high CBD strains, but this way you are almost guaranteed of  ingesting large amounts. Yeah, you have to be aware of THCA conversion to THC.  Don’t use the buds (make Simpson Oil from that!) and you’ll eliminate a lot of the psychoactive potential. And in general, take the same safety precautions that you’d make with any food product.  If you don’t grow your own, you’ll still probably have an easier time finding an organic grower than not.

    GET CANNABIS OFF OF SCHEDULE 1 so that lots more research can be done on this amazing plant.

  14. All this means is that there are no big pharma funded double-blind studies on this, and why would there be? The word “anecdotal” gets a bad rap. I think something like 10,000 anecdotes equal the same margin of error of a double-blind study. Low-dose naltrexone suffers the same dismissive attitude by the western medicine community. It’s still more effective for a huge number of auto-immune, cancer, and other patients than any other drug or combination of treatments they’ve been prescribed by traditional doctors. I know from experience.

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