Cannabis as a powerful plant-based nutrient source.
The Nutritional Value of Raw Cannabis — What Research Indicates.
Does cannabis deserve a place among the staples of plant-based nutrition?
Cannabis is finally receiving the attention it deserves as a potent plant-based medicine, and now, as a powerful plant-based nutrient source. Whilst home cultivation is still illegal in new Zealand, many countries now have medicinal and recreational laws in place that allow for the home cultivation of cannabis, which gives patients and consumers an increased opportunity to access all parts of the plant.
Traditionally, consumers have been most familiar with dried, cured cannabis flower buds. Today, more and more people have access to raw cannabis in the form of living plants, fan leaves, sugar leaves, raw flower buds, fresh leaf trim, seeds, stems, stalks, and more. This increased access to fresh plant matter and the widespread acceptance of the cannabis plant as a whole has provided us with the opportunity to consider cannabis not only as a plant-based medicine but also as a plant-based superfood. While the dietary use of the raw cannabis plant can be traced back thousands of years, researchers are just beginning to explore the powerful health benefits of cannabis in its raw form and understand how it may play a pivotal role in the realm of plant-based nutrition.
William L. Courtney, MD, the leading expert in raw cannabis, believes that cannabis arguably may be one of the most nutrient-dense plants to exist and that raw cannabis leaves and buds provide many of the nutrients believed to be vital for a healthy life. In addition to having many nutritional benefits that are typically associated with dark green leafy vegetables, the cannabis plant also contains unique phytocannabinoids. It’s believed that these phytocannabinoids provide invaluable contributions to health maintenance and restoration.
Courtney speculates that the raw version of cannabis activates the endocannabinoid system more effectively than does dried, cured, and combusted cannabis.1 Many believe consuming raw cannabis is significantly less harmful and more beneficial than smoking, and many enjoy the plant’s nutrient-dense properties. Another reason patients and clinicians alike prefer cannabis in its raw form is that it presents a low chance of inducing an intoxicating experience. This allows for greater dosages to be administered without causing the patient unwanted side effects.
Following is a discussion about research pertaining to the nutritional value of raw cannabis, various ways to prepare and consume raw cannabis, and what clinicians should know when discussing raw cannabis consumption with their patients.
Nutritional Value of Raw Cannabis
Outside of the frequently studied hemp seed, raw cannabis leaves and flowers could be considered one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. The raw plant material contains essential fatty acids, nine essential amino acids, dietary fiber, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, carotenoids, terpenes, and phytocannabinoid acids, all of which have the potential to benefit health.1,2
Raw cannabis leaves, stems, stalks, and seeds can provide the body with almost all of the essential nutrients including carbohydrates, protein, fat, water, vitamins, minerals, trace amounts of calcium, sodium, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids.2 Compounds in raw cannabis, particularly the phytocannabinoid acids, could be looked at as essential nutrients, rather than merely as therapeutic drugs. This takes raw cannabis out of the medical domain and transports it into the nutrition domain, where it’s then viewed as a nutrient source similar to a dark green leafy vegetable.
Different strains of the cannabis plant can contain greatly varying quantities of phytocannabinoid acids and phytonutrients. The flowering tops and leaves of the female cannabis plant contain significantly greater quantities of phytocannabinoid acids than do the stalks or stems, and the seeds of the hemp plant contain significantly more protein and omega-3 fatty acids than the stalks or stems. This makes accurate assessment and analysis difficult.
Beyond Essential Nutrients
Raw cannabis contains not only important phytonutrients but also phytochemicals and other compounds that may promote good health. Many of these compounds, eg, chlorophyll and terpenes, can also be found in other fruits and vegetables, but phytocannabinoid-derived acids are unique to the cannabis plant and are not found in other nutritive vegetation.3
All plants contain volatile organic compounds or aromatic essential oils called terpenes. Terpenes not only determine the aroma and taste of the plant material but also have their own medicinal properties, including powerful anti-inflammatory activity.4 Different chemotypes, or strains, of cannabis can have a distinctive composition and concentration of terpenoids. Compared with traditional dried forms of cannabis, raw cannabis retains most of its terpenes, lending to the potential health benefits of consuming raw cannabis.
Chlorophyll, the most abundant pigment in plants, is responsible for the bright green color associated with juiced greens such as kale, celery, and cannabis. Chlorophyll has been studied for years for its role in health promotion. With its structure similar to that of hemoglobin in the blood, chlorophyll has plenty of other benefits including preventing DNA damage, promoting detoxification within the body, treating inflammation, and possibly helping prevent certain types of cancer.5 Compared with traditionally dried and cured cannabis flower, raw cannabis leaves and flower buds retain the most chlorophyll.
Raw cannabis plant material contains select powerful disease-fighting compounds known as phytocannabinoid-derived acids that aren’t found in other nutritive vegetation. The only other phytocannabinoid that’s been discovered to also exist in plants other than cannabis is beta-caryophyllene.3 Phytocannabinoids can come in neutral (also known as activated) forms of THC or CBD or as acid precursors, called tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) or cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). The acidic precursors THCA and CBDA are naturally abundant in raw cannabis.
Raw cannabis contains THCA, a nonintoxicating substance that can be converted into the intoxicating substance THC through the decarboxylation process.6 This process also converts CBDA into CBD, although both forms remain nonintoxicating in their respective states. While the cannabinoids CBD and THC have been the focus of evidence-based research in recent years, their phytocannabinoid acidic forms CBDA and THCA are beginning to gain attention for their biological activities and significant potential as a therapeutic agent.
Source: By Emily Kyle, MS, RDN, CDN, CLT, HCP
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