(Cannabis sativa)

Hemp is a variety of cannabis with very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound that gets you high. Legally, in order to be grown and sold across state lines, hemp must contain less than 0.3% of THC. Hemp can be bred for higher levels of cannabidiol (CBD), one of many therapeutic compounds found in the cannabis plant, as well as for fiber and seed.  Hemp-derived CBD products are saturating the market, as CBD has received a lot of attention from the medical community in recent years. Keep in mind, however, that while CBD is indeed a powerful constituent in hemp, and the most researched, it is not the only one. It is simply the most common phytocannabinoid in hemp. Hemp as a whole plant has thousands of years of use. The actions and uses listed here are for hemp as a whole plant. Please visit this article to learn more about the benefits and risks of CBD specifically. 

Family: Cannabaceae

Parts Used: aerial parts. This materia medica focuses on the use of the flower

Energetics: Hot and Dry

Description: Cannabis sativa is an annual plant growing 3-9′ tall. The lower leaves are often opposite, while the upper leaves are alternate. These leaves are palmately compound with 3-9 leaflets (usually there are 5-7 leaflets). On large plants, these leaves can span up to 10″ long and across.  Each leaflet is narrowly ovate and coarsely serrated along the margins; the middle leaflets are larger in size than the lateral leaflets. The upper surface of each leaflet is dark green and sparsely covered with hair.

Constituents: Cannabinoids (including CBD,* cannabigerol (CBG),* cannabichromene (CBC),* cannabidivarin (CBDV) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)).Terpenes, Flavonoids, Fatty Acids, chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals

Actions: nervine, sedative, analgesic, anticonvulsant, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, antibacterial, immunomodulator, antioxidant, neuroprotectant, neurogenic, antipsychotic

Indications: anxiety, depression, sleep issues, adjunct therapy for chemotherapy, pain (including neuropathic, inflammatory and physiologic forms of pain), opiate addiction, PTSD, anxiety, nausea, cancer, nerve damage/degeneration (M.S., Parkinson’s Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, traumatic injury), epilepsy, seizures, hypertension, eye degeneration (macular degeneration, glaucoma), Diabetes, metabolic disorders.

Ethnobotanical Uses: In Traditional Chinese Medicine, hemp flower is considered acrid in taste, a sign that the plant will have a relaxing effect on the viscera. It is said that frequent consumption “frees the spirit and lightens the body” (Tao, 1999). It is said to break up and disperse stagnation in the body, suggesting that hemp has a blood-moving quality. Hemp is also used to dispel wind (wind is associated with spasm and tension, which correlates to its Western use as an antispasmodic and relaxing nervine), and to relieve pain. It is indicated for pain accompanied by restricted movement, as well as gout, withdrawal, mania, insomnia, cough, headache, and menstrual irregularities (3)

Modern Research: The phyto-cannabinoids found in hemp bind with various receptor sites throughout our bodies. This system is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS), and it underlies and regulates our nervous system, promoting homeostasis, and balancing mood, appetite, body temperature and our inflammatory response. Essentially, the ECS keeps us in the “rest and digest” mode (as opposed to the “fight or flight” mode), which encourages good sleep, digestion and memory.

Our bodies produce our own (endogenous) cannabinoids. The most prominent endo-cannabinoid that is discussed is called Anandamide (AEA), also known as the bliss hormone, whose main function is promoting a feeling of safety and well-being. AEA decreases pain, nausea, inflammation, nerve damage and anxiety while increasing exploratory behavior and learning.

Ideally, we produce enough AEA to keep our nervous systems running smoothly, and keep inflammation in check. However, chronic stress, exposure to pesticides, and chronic use of opiates and alcohol as well as certain medications reduce our body’s production of AEA. We can supplement with cannabis to help get us through periods of endocannabinoid deficiency. Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CED) is a theory formed around the idea that deficient endocannabinoid It purports that many disorders such as depression, anxiety, even neurogenerative disorders and chronic inflammatory conditions, are caused by a deficiency in endogenous cannabinoids, and that cannabinoids are not “curative” but rather essential nutrients.

The terpenes found in hemp are found in many aromatic plants, and are the basis of aromatherapy. Terpenes also interact with neurotransmitters and bind with our cannabinoid receptors. Generally speaking, terpenes have a positive effect on neurotransmitters including GABA, serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. They can have anti-cancer, antibacterial, antifungal, antidepressant, antispasmodic, anxiolytic, analgesic, antipsychotic, anti-mutagenic, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. There is a lot of information being discovered about the specific actions of specific terpenes. Beta-carophyllene, for example, has strong anti-inflammatory and relaxing properties. It binds with endocannabinoid receptors, specifically with CB2 receptors, which modulate inflammation. Terpenes and cannabinoids have a synergistic interaction. They both increase blood flow, enhance cortical activity, and have antimicrobial action against antibiotic resistant bacteria.

This synergistic effect is why it is important to use whole plant medicine, or full-spectrum extracts of cannabis instead of isolated constituents. And the synergistic relationships extend beyond just terpenes and cannabinoids. There are hundreds of other phytochemicals present in every plant, each one created to support homeostasis in the plant. The effect of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The scientific community is starting to realize this ancient truth. This is whole plant medicine, and is how  herbalism has been practiced for thousands of years.

Homeopathic/Plant Spirit: Hemp has been used in European homeopathy for hundreds of years. Its indications include psychological disorders, headaches, infections of the urinary tract, and spasms/paralysis of the legs and lower limbs (often combined with backache).

As a flower essence, cannabis is said to bring playfulness and lightness to the heart. It can be used in shamanic journeys and vision quests as an ally to assist you in your journey between realms.


Energetics– Cannabis is hot and drying, which means that long-term use of cannabis in any form can exacerbate conditions of heat or dryness in the body. This can be balanced with cooling, moistening herbs such as marshmallow root for people with hot/dry (i.e. Vata or Pitta) constitutions. If you notice symptoms of dry skin, dry tongue, dry hair, dry, cracking joints, you might want to use in combination with Solomon’s Seal.

Pregnancy/Lactation– mothers should be aware that cannabinoids are excreted in breastmilk (our endogenous cannabinoids help our babies feel safe & secure), and through the placenta (our endocannabinoids play a role in implantation to the uterus and in communication between mother & fetus), which means that a growing fetus or a nursing infant will get some amount of cannabinoids from their mother if she is consuming hemp extracts. The exact amount that is transferred isn’t clear, as little research has been done in this area. I can speak from experience as a nursing mother who occasionally uses moderate doses of CBD (15 mg/day) that I have not noticed any changes in my daughter’s mood, energy levels, sleep patterns, appetite, etc. after taking it.

Master Plant- Cannabis is not a tonic herb like oats or nettles. Cannabis is a master plant, and has traditionally been used as a shamanic herb to induce altered states of consciousness and help people connect with their intuition, explore subconscious realms and mature spiritually. Usually this purpose is supported by plants with higher amounts of THC than what is found in industrial hemp, but even without the psychoactive properties of THC, hemp is still a powerful plant and should be used with respect and intention, just like any species or strain of cannabis. Since it is a master plant, it is not meant to be consumed daily in perpetuity. One should always offer gratitude for the plant and be aware that misuse/abuse of the plant can lead to unwanted effects, including depletion of the body’s vital energy.

Preparation & Dosage:

To extract the resinous material from hemp with traditional methods, high-proof alcohol and oil-based methods are best. Hemp can also be infused into honey. And it can be smoked.

Making a tincture is the best way that I know of to extract the broadest range of constituents, but this can be a little complicated. If you are intending to extract CBD, you will need to first “decarboxylate” the plant material to convert the inactive CBDA to the active form CBD. By applying heat, however, you will damage many of the terpenes, which degrade at temperatures above 100 F.

Then you will need to do some math to figure out the potency. In order to determine this, you will need to first have an idea of how much CBD is present in your plant material, which can only be determined through a lab test. But knowing the strain will give you a ballpark estimate of what you are working with.

The specifics on how to make a full-plant hemp tincture are beyond the scope of this article. I do hope to write an article on this at a later time, and when that happens I will post the link here.  For now, I encourage those of you with medicine-making experience to experiment with fresh or dried plant tinctures. There is a window of time where the CBDA will convert to CBD naturally and without heat, but the exact length of time is unknown. Perhaps the traditional time frame of 6-8 weeks is sufficient. Let us know by commenting to this post if you have tried this!

A more concentrated and efficient way to use hemp is to source a full-spectrum resin extract from a reputable company. Read about the importance of full-spectrum extracts, how they differ from isolates, what dosage to use, and how to make sure that you are buying from a reputable company here.

Appropriate dosage very much depends on the person, preparation and the intention behind its use. As a holistic herbal practitioner who advocates minimum effective dosing, I always recommend starting small and working your way up until you find a dose that feels good to you.

Works Consulted:

(1) Endocannabinoid System- Online Course by Tammi Sweet: https://heartstone-online.teachable.com/

(2) “Hemp – THC – CBD – Cannabis Endocannabinoids – What’s all the BUZZ?” PPT by Dr. Ellen Kamhi, PhD, RN, AHG-RH, AHN-BC: file:///C:/Users/tonic/Desktop/Hemp%20Slideshow-%20Gaia%20Herbs.pdf

(3) Brand & Zhao. “Cannabis in Chinese Medicine: Are Some Traditional Indications Referenced in Ancient Literature Related to Cannabinoids?” ( 2017) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5345167/

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**