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."
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.
Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.