A large part of alternative medicine revolves around using the entire plant for medicinal purposes rather than isolating or producing the active ingredient in a laboratory.
Herbalists excel at matching holistic, plant-based treatments to a variety of ailments, which, in practice, is known as whole-plant medicine. Whole-plant medicine has been in use for thousands of years in ancient healing arts such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
We live in a world of pills and quick fixes; and this alternative and holistic approach may seem old-fashioned, but there is change in the air and the isolated chemicals so many of us are consuming may be quickly going out of style.
Mounting evidence suggests that medical substances may be more effective in their whole and natural state.
This phenomenon, called the entourage effect, results when the many components within the cannabis plant interact with the human body to produce a stronger influence than any one of those components alone – it’s a synergistic effect.
To understand the concept, think of it in terms of human interactions. We all have gifts and abilities that can carry us to a certain point in life. Sometimes, we’ll meet another person who has different gifts and abilities. When partnerships are formed between two people, and abilities are combined, achievements can be made that were otherwise unimaginable.
When we combine multiple compounds in their natural state, we don’t end up with the sum of each part; instead, we get a multiplying effect. The different compounds can amplify each other’s chemistry, making the overall plant more effective in addressing unwanted symptoms.
The entourage effect becomes especially evident when comparing the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant) with the effects of using the whole plant.
When pure, synthetic THC became available (as the drug Marinol) in the mid-1980s, scientists expected it to work just as well as using the entire cannabis plant. However, they quickly discovered that patients preferred to use the whole plant instead of Marinol.
As it turns out, cannabis contains more active compounds than just THC. Over 85 cannabinoids have been found to work in conjunction with THC to produce the relief that is often reported by cannabis users.
Scientific and clinical experimentation has revealed that a cannabis plant which contains far more THC than CBD makes the user feel intoxicated or “high.” Hemp, which contains the inverse ratio (more CBD than THC) can relieve symptoms without the psychoactive effect of marijuana.
However, specially bred cannabis that contains roughly equal amounts of THC and CBD were shown to be the most effective in terms of symptom relief and pain. These findings indicate that the ratio of THC to CBD plays a crucial role in determining the efficacy of the cannabis plant for therapeutic applications.
If using the entire plant (or plant extract) is so much more useful than lab-produced drugs, why don’t we use the whole plant more often?
Well, there are several obstacles to overcome before the holistic approach can become feasible on a widespread scale in the U.S. These obstacles include:
In the next several years, ongoing research should shed more light on whole-plant medicine, giving us increased insight into plants like cannabis, how they interact with the human body, and how these plants can be harnessed for medicinal purposes.
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