What are the health benefits of cannabis?

Alex Moore investigates the benefits and risks of marijuana.

Alex Moore
6th May 2018
Photo by Paige Filler, Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Does ganja a day keep the doctor away? No. Let’s be honest. Whilst it certainly may keep you from ever making it out of the door to get to your GP, smoking a large amount of anything is not a great idea. Smoking gives you cancer. Cancer makes you dead. Lungs are sadly not designed for inhaling the fumes of cremated plant matter. Luckily, we all have a much hardier pit of bubbling acid inside our bellies, and with the legalisation of marijuana becoming more widespread the market for cannabis-infused ‘edibles’ seems more popular than ever. When your granny told you to eat your greens, this was probably not what she had in mind.

Remember, despite being highly illegal, at the end of the day cannabis is just a vegetable. A highly nutritious one too, second only to the soy plant if the internet is to be believed. As with any plant, different parts provide different benefits.

Containing many essential fatty acids, the seeds seem to rank as the healthiest, yet other parts of the plant are rich in other anti-oxidants and proteins needed to support the immune system. It is also the only source of cannabinoid acid.

Despite being a highly controversial topic, cannabis also has some highly medicinal properties – it may or may not cure cancer, but it certainly has useful sedative and analgesic effects. Hemp itself is one of the most versatile natural products in the world, able to be made into anything from a rope to a burger.

If the passing of 4/20 has left you eager to begin your own gastronomic ganja extravaganza, remember that the healthiest way to ingest marijuana is by juicing it. However, before you run off to create your very own cup o’ cannabis, be warned that the only high you’ll get out of this is knowing that you’ve just ticked off one of your five-a-day (and you’d better savour that taste of victory as apparently the juice tastes awful and bitter). This is because the THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), the most abundant cannabinoid found in the marijuana plant, has not yet been decarboxylated, meaning your healthy glass of hippie-nectar is completely THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) free – this is the psychoactive stuff which gets you stoned.

[pullquote]Add in the risk of a £90 on the spot fine (or a five-year prison sentence) for possession of a class-B and you’re probably safer sticking with a nice ‘Innocent’ smoothie.[/pullquote]

Juicing cannabis is not the most practical approach either, as it is the moist raw buds that are needed as opposed to the usual dried product, and the sheer amount needed is likely to seriously damage your bank account. Add in the risk of a £90 on the spot fine (or a five-year prison sentence) for possession of a class-B and you’re probably safer sticking with a nice ‘Innocent’ smoothie.

If you want to get high from your edibles, a further health issue arises, as the traditional ways of ingesting cannabis tend to be high in sugars and fats (think brownies or 'space-cakes'), potentially undermining any nutritional benefits the plant provides. Whilst on the topic of munching, let’s talk about ‘the munchies’. Even the most dedicated of dieters and hipsters are at risk, as what seems at first like an innocent ‘Quinoa and Kale Salad with Cannabis Lemon Vinaigrette’ (amazingly a real recipe) could easily end up as a midnight recreation of that scene from Matilda.

From the lungs, smoke can easily travel through to areas responsible for controlling appetite which contain cannabinoid receptors for the THC to target, heightening your sense of smell and stopping you from feeling full. Cannabis has also been proven to stimulate the brain to increase circulating levels of dopamine and endorphins, meaning the food seems to be even more enjoyable.

In short, if you’re thinking of using edibles as a way to spend an afternoon sinking deeper into a sofa than you ever knew was possible, just don't trick yourself into thinking you'll come out with a six-pack and a 'get out of cancer free' card.

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