In terms of crops, hemp stands as one of the earliest plants to be domesticated. For thousands of years, humans have cultivated hemp to turn it into everything from cordage to paper to textiles and even food items—there’s even scraps of hemp fabric that have been dated to 8,000 BCE. Aside from these industrial uses for hemp, researchers are discovering more and more medicinal uses of the hemp plant.
The problem with a discussion on medical hemp and medicinal hemp oil is you’ll not find a definition of “medical hemp” anywhere because hemp is traditionally not thought of as being therapeutic.
What is Hemp Anyway?
Hemp is a variant of the plant cannabis Sativa L (the same plant that produces medical marijuana). It is described as containing very low amounts of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (more commonly known as THC). This THC threshold provides the biggest differentiation between the hemp and marijuana. Additionally, hemp grows narrow and tall, whereas marijuana grows closer to the ground and is bushy.
Historical Use of Medicinal Hemp
Just as hemp has been used for centuries for industrial purposes, hemp (and cannabis) have been used for almost as long for medicinal purposes. However, historical records do not differentiate between hemp and cannabis, therefore it’s practically impossible to know which species of the plant they’re referring to.
Chinese herbalists—Shennong pên Ts’ao ching, specifically—dating back to 2700 BCE were known to use the dried roots of the cannabis plant for reducing pain. This paste was used to alleviate pain from surgery and broken bones. Additionally, the roots were also juiced or boiled to make diuretics, anti- hemorrhagics (used to top bleeding during/after childbirth) and pain/swelling from bruises.
The ancient Romans also used cannabis roots for medicinal purposes. Like the Chinese, they would boil the roots and use the liquid for various conditions. In the Naturalis Historia in 79 CE, Pliny the Elder noted this boiled liquid was used to treat acute pain, gout and joint relief (cramps). They also used raw roots for direct application for burns—specifically to reduce blistering and pain. Additionally, Dioscorides, a Roman physician, used cannabis poultices for gout, inflammation and a condition they called “twisted sinews.”
More recently, 18th century English physician, William Salmon, noted a cannabis root poultice worked to treat pelvic joint pain and sciatica. From this time on, until the turn of the 20th century, physicians would use hemp root for various conditions, including venereal disease, inflammation and incontinence.
For more information about historical hemp uses, please read “Western Medicine’s 19th Century Introduction to Cannabis.”
What’s in Medical Hemp Oil?
As the federal and state laws surrounding the cannabis plant become less constrictive, this is allowing researchers to study therapeutic uses for the hemp plant. One such Canadian study took place in 2012 and focused specifically on the CBD properties of the Finola hemp strain.
Other studies on hemp oil have shed light on the properties of hemp roots specifically. Hemp roots, for the most part, are made up of alkaloids, lipids and sugars, terpenes (the oils that give cannabis its smell) and other compounds.
As far back as 1971, researchers discovered that ethanol extracted from hemp root contains several kinds of terpenes: epifriedelanol, friedelin and pentacyclic triterpene ketones. These three terpenes have shown to perform actions aside from creating odors. For instance, epifriedelanol has been shown to produce antitumor effects, friedelin has shown antioxidant and liver-protecting (hepatoprotective) effects, and pentacyclic triterpene ketones has been shown to kill cancer cells, relieve pain and infection, reduce inflammation and act as a diuretic.
Terpenoids are not the only beneficial components found within cannabis roots. Two other important components are alkaloids, particularly piperidine and pyrrolidine. Piperidine is a chemical used to build many pharmaceuticals, specifically those used for psychiatric drugs. Pyrrolidine, which is an essential component of racetams, is a type of stimulant drug.
Additionally, cannabis roots have also been found to contain atropine and choline in small doses. Atropine is used to dilate pupils and relax eye muscles. Atropine also has bronchodilatory (respiratory enhancing) properties and has the ability to increase heart rate during resuscitation. Choline is a dietary nutrient responsible for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and helps keep cells membranes healthy.
More information about the modern uses of hemp for medical purposes can be found by reading: “Chronic Pain: Pain Killers vs Medical hemp.”