So, what do vegetables and cannabis have to do with one another? Well, a vegetable is typically defined as "an edible part of a cultivated herbaceous plant” and is generally consumed as a food (or drink). It usually refers to the root, stem, leaf, or even flower of a plant. Some vegetables can be eaten raw, whilst others need to be cooked to make them edible. However, it is a known fact that when certain fruits and vegetables are heated, they lose a lot of useful enzymes and nutrients in the process. Cannabis also shares this trait with traditional vegetables.
Techniques for making cannabis-based preparations are based on what benefits are sought from the plant. In recent years, some have begun to promote the use of raw cannabis for medicinal purposes, arguing that the active compounds found in its raw form also have unique effects.
In the case of cannabis extraction, vaporisation, medications, creams, and high-concentration oils, a process called decarboxylation usually takes place, which means that the plant materials are exposed to heat. As the temperature rises, a carbon atom leaves the carbon chain, releasing carbon dioxide (CO2). This is necessary for cannabis-derived compounds to be able to “fit” into the CB1 and CB2 cell receptors in the endocannabinoid system of the brain and body.
Because the stomach does not produce enough heat for the carbon atom to separate from the cannabinoid molecules, the crude form of THC ( tetrahydrocannabinol, one of the primary ingredients in cannabis ) cannot bind to the CB1 receptors in the brain that are responsible for the intoxicating effects of cannabis. Although research on raw cannabis is still in its infancy, some believe that acidic cannabinoids (raw, unheated) actually work via a different route.
THCA in raw cannabis is not psychotropic, so raw cannabis is not mind-altering and elicits no high whatsoever.
The raw cannabis movement
One of the most well-known proponents of raw cannabis use is California based Dr William Courtney, whose own work was initially demonstrated through the enormous success that his wife — who suffered from systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other illnesses — experienced, namely significant health improvements after starting to consume juiced cannabis leaves and buds. According to his findings, consuming fresh cannabis in this way allows the patient to increase their daily intake of cannabinoids significantly, all whilst avoiding any psychotropic / high-inducing effects.
This is important when raising the issue of cannabis use and assumed intoxication, especially with regards to children, the seriously infirm and the elderly. Raw cannabis use mitigates this, and can thus be seen as one of the perfect ways to avoid any unwanted effects, whilst still experiencing the plant’s innumerable possible benefits.
Raw cannabis: mechanism of action
Proponents, such as Dr Courtney, report that crude cannabinoid acids offer more long-term benefits, being generally incapable of immediate symptom relief, although some effects can be detected relatively quickly. Cannabinoid acids are stored in adipose tissue (body fat) and it can take up to several weeks (possibly four to eight) for the body's adipose tissue to become completely saturated. Once the adipose tissue has completely absorbed the cannabinoid acids, the effect of the raw cannabis begins.
Exciting research, like that of Dr Ruth Ross, Chair at the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology at University of Toronto, who co-headed a research team, found that CBDA and CBGA cannabinoid acid both have an antagonistic (blocking) effect on receptors in the body that contribute to the rapid multiplying of cancer cells, as well as to the perception of pain and inflammation. By inhibiting signalling from these receptors, cannabinoid acids are said to have possible beneficial anti-cancer properties, as well as potentially reducing perceived pain levels and inflammation within the body. More research is needed in this area to explore the full potential of cannabis in this arena.
What are THCA and CBDA?
Although much research focuses on THC and CBD, comparatively little is known about acidic precursors — THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) and CBDA (cannabidiol acid). A fact that may surprise many, is that raw cannabis — especially when fresh — actually contains very little THC and CBD, rather a much larger amount of those acids (THCA and CBDA). The cannabis plant actually only produces cannabinoids in acidic form that are then converted to THC and CBD after being heating or matured. Decarboxylation is the chemical reaction responsible for this transformation. When left in their natural form, THCA and CBDA have no psychotropic effects, but have been suggested to have some similar health effects to their better-known counterparts.
THCA is a potent TRPA1 and TRPM8 receptor antagonist, which may explain its analgesic effect and prominent role in the treatment of prostate cancer. THCA also has antiemetic properties and protects dopamine neurons from degeneration, which may be of great help in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.
Studies have shown that THCA may also be able to inhibit the production of tumour necrosis factor (TNF) in the blood.
TNF is a protein within the body that contributes to inflammation. In those that are healthy, it plays a key role within the immune system, helping the body to put up its own defences and attack invading bacteria and viruses, as well as heal damaged tissues. In people with autoimmune diseases, however, excess levels of TNF in the blood can result in the onset of acute inflammation and cause fever, cell death, and atrophy syndrome. Inadequate regulation is also associated with a wide range of diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, depression, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and some cancers.
THCA is a great anti-inflammatory because it also inhibits cyclooxygenase 1 and 2
(COX-1 and COX-2). Reducing COX is the mechanism by which many common analgesics (such as ibuprofen and aspirin) work, thereby alleviating inflammation and pain.
CBD has the same properties as THC in TRPA1 and TRPM8 receptors, and can promote an enzyme within the body that plays a very important role in fighting inflammation. CBDA also has the potential ability to fight mutated tumour cells that are highly invasive in some breast cancer cells. It also has an effect on serotonin receptors, which may partly explain its anti-nausea properties. Some researchers cite their anti-inflammatory properties as being 2 to 4 times stronger than the better known THC and CBD.
There is another interesting property of acidic cannabinoids: they are hydrophilic, which means that they are partially water-soluble, unlike decarboxylated cannabinoids — THC, CBD — which do not.
Possible disadvantages of raw cannabis
The fact that THCA does not have any psychoactive effects can be seen as a major drawback for certain medical users, as it does not activate the endocannabinoid system in the traditional sense. At the heart of much medical cannabis research is the activity of this unique biological system, which most experts, including Dr Courtney, say is responsible for relieving the symptoms for which cannabis is known.
For example, the symptoms of pain and neurological problems are directly regulated by cannabinoid activity in the brain. Treatment with raw cannabis may not be as effective in these cases, but no one knows for sure.
Therefore, further research is needed into the effects of raw cannabis, and in the meantime, patients will have to experience for themselves what is most effective for them.
In fact, recent research has suggested that cannabinoid acids may affect previously unidentified parts of the endocannabinoid system, but more work is needed in this area..
How to make raw cannabis juice?
Putting entire dried cannabis flower heads into a blender isn’t going to create the desired outcome — either in taste, or in effect. Only raw, freshly picked and properly grown cannabis is suitable for effective juicing. As ever, it is important to take special care to avoid any plant materials that may have come into contact with pesticides or other toxic microbiological contaminants.
Here are some key suggestions to keep in mind when making raw cannabis juice:
- As with other vegetable juices: the fresher the better
- As mentioned above, dried cannabis is not suitable for making cannabis juice
- General recommendations seem to favour an approximate blend of around 15 leaves and 2 large raw buds a day
- Raw buds are flowers that are harvested when the THC glands are translucent ( not amber in colour )
- It is recommended to mix other vegetables or fruits in as well, in order to reduce the inherent bitterness that raw cannabis has. A popular choice is carrot juice, and a 1 part cannabis juice to 10 parts carrot juice ratio is a good start
- Divide the juice into 3 portions and consume with each meal or store in a well-sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.