Every health guru loves to spout the word “balance” when talking about wellness and while some find it to be cliché, balance plays an instrumental and pivotal role in wellness. To be healthy, the body must be in balance or homeostasis. This fundamental need is at the root of our most ancient models of medicine and more recently seen in functional, holistic and naturopathic medicine. To find where balance lies in using cannabis, what better place to look than the millennia-old gold standard of balancing — Chinese medicine.
Chinese medicine is founded on the belief that when balance falls out of harmony, disease develops. The five elements of the material world (water, earth, metal, wood and fire) give rise to yin and yang qualities in the body. These are further managed by the four bodily humors: qi, blood, body fluid, and essence. Qi is the energy that allows us to live and think, blood is needed for tissue generation and giving balance to the psyche, body fluids keep the body lubricated and protected and essence encompasses the body’s reproductive and regenerative qualities. Chinese medicine determines the state of this precarious, multifaceted teeter totter and uses therapies, especially herbs and food, to bring the body back into balance, into health.
Cannabis use has been a part of this balance and documented in Chinese medicine since 2700 BCE. It was used for over 100 conditions like gout, rheumatism, and headaches. However, with any nutrient no matter how beneficial, too much can be toxic. Certified in AOBTA and Amma Practitioner, Delaney Willey states, “Simply put, anything and everything out of moderation causes an imbalance.
According to Willey, in traditional Chinese medicine, cannabis opens and heats the body, affecting the liver, gallbladder, lungs, heart, spleen, kidneys and lymphatic system. It also has a direct effect on the immune, nervous, and hormonal systems, furthermore affecting sleep. With so much of the body involved, the use or misuse is profound. If any of these areas are already suffering from excess heat, then opening and heating this organ may exacerbate the issue. For example, treating “liver fire invading the lung” with cannabis may be especially detrimental since cannabis is further heating these important organs.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, “cannabis promises ‘creativity’,” explains Willey. “It opens and promotes vision and sight of how one wishes to interact with the world.” The mind is opened in the beginning stages of use, but there seems to be a threshold where benefits taper. Ancient texts note that the herb could benefit the five elements and descend blood pressure and cold qi (with its opening and heating qualities).
While the mind is initially opened, long-term use can cause loss of direction and gall to make things happen, resulting in boredom. According to Chinese medicine, long-term use may also cause a clogged lymphatic system and the burning up of fluids in the body, drying out the respiratory system (lungs) and digestive system (spleen/stomach). Since cannabis heats so many organs, someone with excess heat (think inflammation, acid reflux, acne) may want to balance their cannabis use.
Willey explains that “[cannabis] is beneficial for those who understand their relationship towards the medicine with every use. Are you using it in excess? Are you using it to limit stress? If so, understanding where stress comes from would be beneficial while using the medicine.” She further notes that, “with any medicine, there should be an understanding of why you are using it.” By making an honest assessment of the body’s current state and understanding your “why,” you can determine if cannabis will bring you closer to or away from balance.