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Effects of Marijuana According to Chinese Medicine

A Note to Readers

People often ask me how Chinese medicine sees marijuana use; and it for this reason I include this article on my blog. I am neither endorsing or challenging drug use with this article; I am simply sharing a viewpoint of how it affects the body.

Article on Marijuana and Chinese Medicine

Marijuana, Apathy and Chinese Medicine, Part 1 by Chinese medicine practitioner, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Leon Hammer, MD.

Author’s Key Points

  • Marijuana in Chinese medicine is considered cold in nature, and clears yang from the Liver. [This is the Chinese medicine “Liver,” an umbrella term for multiple physiological functions in the body, not necessarily the Western medicine organ.]
  • By draining Liver yang, marijuana renders “the Liver relatively unable to perform its functions of moving physical and mental energy and containing it for when it is needed. The result is that while there is no problem making plans, when it is time to move on these plans, there is no coherent energy to do it.”
  • In addition to Liver qi-yang deficiency, substance abuse can manifest as the separation of Liver yin and yang.
  • Western medical research points to dose-dependent decline in executive cognitive functions (e.g. attention, concentration, decision-making, impulsivity, self-control of responses, reaction time, risk taking, verbal fluency and working memory).

Chinese Herbs to Support the Liver

The author goes on to outline certain Chinese herbs that help recover Liver qi-yang and to yin-yang’s separation:

  • Individual Herbs: Huang Qi and Dan Shen.
  • Modified Formulas: Gui Pi Tang, Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, and Yi Guan Jian.

Marijuana and Depression

Dr. Hammer cites a study highlighting “[h]igh doses of cannabis in humans appear to increase the risk of depression, especially in the young.” I wondered is this the chicken or the egg? Cannabinoid receptor sites in the brain include the basal ganglia, hippocampus and cerebellum. As I’ve written before, damage to the cerebellum has been demonstrated in cases of depression and schizophrenia. A 2011 study found “long-term heavy cannabis use in healthy individuals is associated with smaller cerebellar white-matter volume similar to that observed in schizophrenia.” Another study found, “heavy cannabis use can disrupt timing-related synaptic plasticity within the cerebellum, even after the cessation of cannabis use.” I was surprised to find what constituted “heavy use” — just a single joint per week, for at least one month of use.

The good news is “acupuncture works by neuromodulation, which may raise or flatten physiologic reactions, based on the direction needed for homeostasis. The latest functional brain imaging studies on acupuncture illustrate such modulatory neural and autonomic responses in various parts of the brain, including the limbic, paralimbic, and subcortical gray areas, as well as the cerebellum.” So, if you’re looking to balance out side effects of marijuana use or work on harm reduction, you might consider adding acupuncture and herbs into your treatment plan.

Leon Hammer, MD outlines the effects of marijuana according to Chinese medicine in his article, "Marijuana, Apathy and Chinese Medicine, Part 1."