Why Don't We Consider Cannabis Part of the American Herbal RenaissanceBreaking News
tags: medicine, marijuana, Cannabis, medicinal history
Nick Johnson is the author of Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West and associate editor of the Colorado Encyclopedia.
Given the daily barrage of distressing headlines, you will be forgiven for not noticing that the United States is in the midst of an herbal renaissance. Concurrent with a rising distrust of mainstream medicineand the popularity of organic or “natural” foods, about 20 percent of the American public now report using herbal products. Over the past two decades, sales of herbal supplements have doubled, raising the value of the herbal products market above $8 billion. Also concurrent with this herbal reawakening is the widespread re-legalization of perhaps the country’s most controversial herb, cannabis.
But despite its long history as an herbal remedy in the United States, cannabis is rarely considered to be a part of this new herbal trend. For those familiar with cannabis culture, this might seem like a bizarre statement — after all, one of marijuana’s most popular nicknames is “the herb.” And yet a search for “cannabis” in the database of the Journal of Herbal Medicine turns up no specific articles on the plant. Similarly, the US National Library of Medicine’s “MedlinePlus” site lists only “cannabidiol” in its “Herbs and Supplements” database, despite the fact that the entire cannabis plant is and has been used medicinally for millennia. Cannabis is also conspicuously absent from back issues of the Journal of the American Herbalists Guild, even though one issue is devoted to inflammation, a condition that cannabis is known to help. A recent news article from Ohio documents a nationwide “resurgence” in “plants that once served as the original form of medication,” yet fails to identify the multi-billion-dollar cannabis market as part of this new “trend.”
So it seems that, aside from the occasional connection made by a cannabis CEO or cannabis-centric publications, herbal medicine and cannabis are considered to be somewhat mutually exclusive spheres. This perspective is not entirely unfounded; while most herbs have medical properties, cannabis sets itself apart from basil or ginseng by producing a substance that alters human consciousness. Yet not all cannabis plants produce the “high,” and the preoccupation with psychoactive effects has obscured the plant’s identity and functionality as an herb. A medical article from 2017, for instance, correctly observes that the “use of botanical cannabis for medicinal purposes represents the revival of a plant with historical significance reemerging in present day health care.” Even the burgeoning market in cannabidiol (CBD) — a cannabis compound that does not produce the marijuana “high” — is not generally discussed as part of the broader herbal movement.
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