Today I’m taking on a mammoth in the living room so to speak. Based on the emails I’ve received and the string of developments around the issue, it’s maybe a long time coming.
As of November 11, marijuana is legal for recreational or medical use in 26 states. Recreational use is even legal in the nation’s capital, Washington DC. Despite the DEA declining to recognize the therapeutic potential of marijuana, formal medical research proceeds in labs and clinics, while millions of consumers in states like California, Oregon, and Colorado are running informal n=1 personal experiments. Usage has doubled in the last ten years. A recent Gallup poll found that 1 in 8 American adults “say they smoke marijuana.” Pretty much anytime legalization is up for a vote, it passes.
It seems there’s more weed out there than ever before and more people willing to consume it. They’re eating it, applying it sublingually, vaporizing it, and smoking it. Meanwhile, “pro” and “con” claims mount on both sides.
And while hippies, burnouts, and trustafarians might be the popular face of marijuana culture, the modern cannabis consumer will surprise you. A few stats:
PTSD: Medical marijuana shows great promise in PTSD therapy, with one study seeing a 75% reduction in symptoms.
Cancer: Most research into cannabis and cancer has focused on its ability to ameliorate chemotherapy-induced nausea. And in vitro and animal studies do show some interesting effects on cancer cells and cancer, but lots of plant compounds do that. We have a ways to go before oncologists are handing out joints.
Type 1 diabetes: There’s limited (read: animal/in vitro) evidence suggestive of a protective or therapeutic role for cannabis in type 1 diabetes (CBD reduces pancreatic inflammation and slows down T1D progression).
What about the negatives?
Filling your lungs with hot smoke: While it probably isn’t “good” for the lungs, the “accumulated weight of evidence” shows that “even regular heavy use” of cannabis smoke confers “far lower risks for pulmonary complications” than the “grave pulmonary consequences of tobacco.”
Dependency: Addiction recovery counselors claim cannabis addiction rates of 10%, which pale in comparison to cocaine, heroin, alcohol, and tobacco addiction rates but exceed the 0% addiction rates weed enthusiasts commonly tout.
And I’ll head off the inevitable cries of “it’s just psychological dependence, not physiological!” before they arrive. Psychological is physiological. The brain is the body. It’s physical and tangible. Cannabis may not create physical withdrawal symptoms, but heavy use can create dependencies via the brain reward systems just the same.
Causation hasn’t quite been established here. Put another way, people with psychosis and schizophrenia may be more likely to be heavy cannabis users. But if your brain is still developing, whether in the womb or during adolescence, avoid cannabis. You really don’t need it, and you’ll be better equipped to handle it as a full-fledged adult.
Sleep: Many people use cannabis to sleep. It certainly can make you sleepy, but it also affects REM sleep, even going so far as to reduce dreaming. Heavy users show evidence of sleep disturbances. You all know how important sleep is.
Plus, an older study shows that smoking cannabis increases melatonin secretion. That’s a good thing at night. This could be trouble if you smoke during the day, however, as melatonin isn’t supposed to be elevated when the sun is up.
Now some things to keep in mind when deciding to try cannabis or not…
Whole plant is safer than isolated cannabinoids.
Whether you’re talking about medical benefits or recreational use, using the whole plant has better effects than using an isolated component. There is no one active component. There are many, and isolation is going to miss them.
Foremost are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). If THC provides the “high,” CBD smooths it out. THC targets the CB1 receptor, CBD gets in the way and blunts some of the effects. Why is this important, and why shouldn’t I just get the stuff with the most THC?
A human study tested the cannabinoid content of hair plucked from a group of regular smokers. Those with more THC in their hair were more depressed and anxious than those with CBD in their hair. They also performed more poorly on tests of visual and verbal recall, while those with higher hair CBD were better at recall and had fewer psychosis-like symptoms.
Normally, THC impairs short term memory. It’s famous for it. This is why people (like me) stumble over their words after consuming cannabis. In one study, giving CBD alongside high-THC weed mitigates this THC-induced memory impairment.
CBD may even show efficacy against schizophrenia, which makes me wonder if higher CBD/THC cannabis strains have the same relationship to mental health issues as the strains higher in THC and lower in CBD.
The superiority of the whole plant could explain why observational studies find improved metabolic health and body weight in users versus non-users and animal studies using the isolated cannabinoids find the opposite.
Whole plant cannabis isn’t perfect, though. The THC/CBD ratio has been increasing over the years as consumers chase ever more “potent” strains. The average sample of street cannabis was 4% THC in 1995. In 2014, it was 14%. In the same time frame, CBD content dropped from 0.28% to 0.15%.
What’s great about the legalization push is that you no longer have to buy an unlabeled baggie of random cannabis from a seedy dealer. You can enter a clean, well-lighted place, chat with an expert, and choose from dozens of strains labeled with THC, CBD, and other cannabinoid levels to obtain the desired effects and thus bypass the lopsided ratios of street marijuana.
Don’t take cannabis lightly.
It’s a powerful plant, technically a psychedelic. Many ancient cultures used cannabis as a sacrament and spiritual ally. You don’t have to chant or burn incense or anything, but pay it the respect it deserves if you plan on using it.
It can have paradoxical effects.
To some, it’s the best way to take the edge off a bad day or a stressful situation. You light up and the stress melts away.
To others, it increases anxiety. You light up and get sucked into a paranoid thought loop. You might even have a panic attack.
Some people can’t focus on anything after consuming cannabis. It scatters their mind and makes following a plot or conversation impossible.
Others use cannabis as a focus aid. They’ll create art, read books, consume film and music, and generally be more productive.
Use others’ experiences as a rough guide, but know that it’s not the final word.
Don’t use it to defeat boredom.
It’s often said that cannabis is a mood-enhancer. It won’t “make you happy.” But if you’re in a good mood, it will likely enhance it. The same goes for a bad mood.
Don’t do it if you’re bored. Don’t do it because there’s nothing else to do. Perhaps you’ll make life mildly more interesting for a couple hours, but man, what a waste.
It shouldn’t be a habit or crutch—or an excuse to not go out and grab a life you want to live….
Careful with the edibles.
Widespread legalization has ushered in an incredible range of edible cannabis products, from olive oil to butter to coconut oil to caramels to baked goods to lollipops to spaghetti sauce to entire restaurant menus. Since cannabinoids are fat-soluble, anything with fat is fair game.
Eating cannabis is very different from inhaling it. Smoking it provides delta-9 THC, which hits fast and dissipates relatively quickly. When you eat it, your liver converts the delta-9 THC into 11-hydroxy THC and you feel the effects of both compounds. It lasts longer, too—5-6 hours compared to 1-2—and feels stronger and more psychedelic. Edible cannabis can get downright overwhelming, especially since most people don’t expect it.
Oh, and that pot brownie better be gluten-free or you’re excommunicated.
That’s about it folks. As I said earlier, I recognize the therapeutic effects and medical potential of cannabis all while acknowledging the apparent risks and cautions.
Now I’d like to hear from you, especially those who use cannabis. How does it affect your Primal way of life? Does it help or hinder your pursuit of health?
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.