Cannabis and traditional Chinese medicine

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You don’t hear much about the use of cannabis in traditional Chinese medicine, but the plant has a long history with the practice. Known as da ma in Chinese medicine, cannabis is considered one of the 50 “fundamental” herbs of TCM.

Chinese goddess Ma Gu, a name which literally means “daughter of hemp,” is associated with longevity and the elixir of life, and the Chinese term for anesthesia is made up of the Chinese character which means hemp.

Hua Tuo, a Han Dynasty physician, is believed to be the first person to use cannabis as an anesthetic, mixing the dried, powdered plant with wine for internal and external use. Using this preparation (called my fei san) in conjunction with acupuncture, he was able to perform surgeries and control the pain of his patients.

It is also believed that moxibuxtion – the burning of dried plants near the skin to stimulate circulation – originally used both mugwort and cannabis.

In modern TCM, cannabis or hemp seeds are often used to treat constipation. Additional uses include relief from menstrual cramps, anxiety, dry cough, asthma, and spasms.

Cannabis is said to strengthen Yin, but it is rarely used on its own as consuming cannabis alone is considered unhealthy and toxic in TCM as it can cause imbalances in the body.

TCM practitioners believe, however, that excessive cannabis use can lead to lack of vitality, over-straining the liver, and costing the body its Yin energy.

Recent studies show that acupuncture also manipulates the endocannabinoid system, increasing endogenous CB2 cannabinoid receptors to upregulate opioids in inflamed skin tissue. A 2009 study showed that inflamed skin tissue treated for pain relief with electro-acupuncture exhibited a statistically significant increase in anandamide, a neurotransmitter produced in the human body that binds to the same cell receptors as THC. These studies suggest that combining the therapies found in TCM with cannabis use may be successful in treating imbalances in the endocannabinoid system.

A century of humiliation

You may be wondering, “If TCM uses cannabis in its practice, why is cannabis use illegal in China?” The answer is colonization and the opium wars.

In the middle of the 19e century after the defeat of the Qing Dynasty, the British forced China to legalize opium, creating a generation of drug addicts and weakening the country’s strength. The British government deliberately encouraged opium addiction in order to force trade in Chinese ports and weaken the country’s economic position in the world – and to make money from opium sales. After Britain gained influence in the country, the United States and France used China’s weakened state to leverage their power and demand access to its ports for trade.

After decades of recovery from the Opium War, today’s TCM practitioners are increasingly willing to partner with their patients and have informed conversations about cannabis use in life. daily. One example is the fact that the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine at CIIS in San Francisco hosted a symposium last year to help better educate practitioners about the medical applications of cannabis and how it might fit into them. therapies with their patients. This course, open to acupuncturists, shows that with a resurgence of the incorporation of cannabis into TCM, curiosity, inquiry and enthusiasm to learn more about this plant have never been so evident.

Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE


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