While dried cannabis has become widely accepted as a treatment for various illnesses, many are not aware that its raw counterpart also likely holds properties capable of preventing health issues before they arise.
Regardless of the strain or phenotype, cannabis contains more than 400 chemical compounds, including numerous vitamins, essential oils, and acids. The plant is also a complete protein.
“Cannabis is the poster child for raw food when eaten raw as a salad or blended juice,” says Dr. William Courtney, the founder of Cannabis International and a leading proponent of raw cannabis consumption.
When the plant is dried and consumed via traditional methods like smoking, much of its nutritional and therapeutic value is lost or altered into a different chemical compound. When heated, Tetrahydrocannabinolic-acid (THC-A) and Cannabidiolic-acid (CBD-A) are converted into THC and CBD and become psychoactive.
“Cannabis is a vegetable, it’s not psychoactive until humans alter it chemically,” says Courtney. “The whole psychoactive thing is a human aspect of the plant and has nothing to do with 34 million years of evolution of the plant.”
The advantage to consuming raw, non-psychoactive cannabis is the ability to ingest a higher level of cannabinoids, according to Courtney. When cannabis is consumed via smoking, vaping, or cooking, the body is capable of absorbing up to 10 milligrams of cannabinoids at a time. However, consuming raw cannabis allows the body to comfortably absorb up to 1,000 milligrams of THC-A and CBD-A.
The idea of avoiding the associated high with cannabis is a tough sell, but the benefits of eating the plant raw may be unparalleled.
Cannabis has been found to hold impressive antioxidant properties on par with blueberries, green tea, and kale. In several studies, THC and CBD have outperformed vitamins C and E as a way to combat free radicals, which are responsible for damaging cells within the body.
Antioxidants play a critical role in preserving health and have been found to boost the immune system, reduce the risk of developing heart disease, control complications from diabetes, fight off dementia, and lower the risk of developing cancer.
“I don’t refer to it as medicine anymore. It’s a dietary essential,” says Courtney, who recommends that anyone older than 40 years old includes raw cannabis in their diet.
For most cannabis cultivators, removing chlorophyll is an important element of the drying and curing process to yield buds that are smooth when smoked. However, the chlorophyll in a fresh flower holds numerous dietary benefits.
Chlorophyll works at the cellular level to regenerate our body. It helps restore and replenish red blood cells that enhance blood's ability to carry more oxygen. It's ability to battle bacteria and other impurities also aids in fighting inflammation and detoxification of the liver.
Chlorophyll, as well as high levels of iron, fibre, and calcium, are not exclusive properties of cannabis. What makes cannabis a unique superfood is the presence of numerous cannabinoids.
In a similar fashion to vitamins, optimal health is actually dependant on cannabinoids. The human body contains its own endocannabinoid system, which is a series of cannabinoid receptors that basically help the cells in the brain, organs, and tissue communicate with one another. The system is key to regulating appetite, sleep, pain, and temperature regulation.
The body creates cannabinoids with the help of fatty acids. While consuming cannabis provides its own cannabinoids, it is also rich in essential acids. According to Courtney, cannabis contributes the most balanced spectrum of essential fatty and amino acids, in addition to cannabinoid acids that the body is unable to synthesize on its own.
“When you include essential nutritional elements in your diet you benefit tremendously,” he says.
In 2004, Dr. Ethan Russo, senior medical advisor for GW Pharmaceuticals, published a paper investigating the relationship between cannabinoid deficiencies and several common ailments.
He found migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome display common patterns that suggest an endocannabinoid deficiency, which could be treated with medical cannabinoids. His study also outlined that cannabinoids demonstrate dopamine-blocking and anti-inflammatory effects.
“Clinical cannabis has become a therapeutic compass to what modern medicine fails to cure,” Russo wrote.
So how much raw cannabis should you consume? Courtney recommends 15 leaves and two large buds per day.
Like other vegetables, the fresher the plant material, the better. All plant matter begins to lose beneficial enzymes and nutritional value the moment it is harvested. Cannabis treated with pesticides or fungicides is not an option for raw consumption.
The prevalent method for consuming cannabis raw is juicing the flowers and leaves. Juicing vegetables has been gaining popularity throughout the last decade as it removes the fibre from the plant, allowing your body to quickly absorb nutrients from a large amount of veggies.
The process is fairly straightforward, and as simple as putting your material in a household wheatgrass juicer. Make sure you remove any stems that could clog the machine.
If you're juicing flowers, select buds with clear trichomes, as opposed to cloudy or amber, to ensure a maximum amount of THC-A and CBD-A. After the juicing process is complete, use a strainer to remove any remaining solids that may have found its way into your elixir.
You’re also able to salvage a little more liquid from plant material left in the juicer's pulp container by running it through the machine a second time.
Using a high-powered blender is another option. Combine about 10 leaves with a cup of water and blend on the highest setting until the liquid reaches an even consistency. The liquid should then be poured through a strainer to remove plant material. Although both methods generally include straining, leaving the plant material in the juice will serve as a boost of dietary fibre.
If you plan on preparing cannabis juice in bulk, immediately freeze the liquid in 50 milliliter portions to avoid the breakdown of enzymes and nutrients.
Like many health foods, cannabis juice isn’t all that palatable for many consumers. To make the liquid more appetizing, add it to a fruit or vegetable juice or as an additive in a smoothie. A smoothie recipe that includes fat, like yogurt or coconut milk, will absorb the beneficial cannabinoids, ensuring they're not left stuck to the side of your blender.
While juicing is a popular option, consider using the leaves in a salad or finely dice the plant material to add to a pesto sauce. The options for consuming raw cannabis are only hindered by your skills in the kitchen, just don't apply heat to ensure you're getting the plant's maximum benefit.