CBD and the Herbal Apothecary
I spent my first summer in Vermont going to school to study herbalism. Every Wednesday we wandered through the forest, helped steward a perennial herb garden, and escaped the heat in a straw bale earthen classroom where we studied phytochemistry and pharmacology, learned how to make spagyric tinctures, and processed herbs for the school apothecary. It was a dreamy, idyllic time that I remember fondly. I learned about many herbs through direct experience: watching them grow, tasting and smelling them, learning their character. It was within this context, during that summer over a decade ago, that I really experienced cannabis for the first time.
It wasn’t the first time I had consumed it, but the first time I had the opportunity to get to know the plant as a living being and as an herbal medicine. The cannabis I worked with was one of many medicines in the garden. I quickly came to see cannabis as one tool within a vast and complex toolbox of herbal medicine. Over the years, my relationship with cannabis has evolved. I developed a relationship with cannabis within the broader framework of herbal medicine. In my work at Kria, I now see high CBD cannabis as a way to create value and opportunity for innovation both within the world of CBD and the broader context of herbalism. My role at Kria is to work with our customers – retail CBD wellness brands – to unlock this value by creating the highest quality CBD botanical blends available, anywhere.
Cannabis in the Body
One of the most fascinating and compelling aspects of cannabis as medicine is how it interacts with our physiology. Our bodies contain an endocannabinoid system. This means we have receptors in our body that cannabinoids bind to, and we actually make cannabinoids ourselves. This system is responsible for elevating and regulating mood, reducing inflammation, and even fighting cancer. When someone takes a medicine high in CBD, the CBD and other cannabinoids in the plant bind to our receptors, which keeps our own endocannabinoids in our bloodstream longer. The result is a feeling of well-being, calm, and reduced pain and inflammation. These general effects make CBD a useful and safe antidote for so many common ailments.
Herbal Medicine: An Evolutionary Story
The endocannabinoid system is just one example of co-evolutionary history of plants and people. The very fact that we can digest plants at all is living proof of this. For example, without livers that metabolize chemicals in plants, they would poison us. Because our livers and digestive tracts have evolved to metabolize phytochemicals, we now require them for our livers to stay healthy. This is why taking bitter herbs is a common traditional approach to digestive issues. The bitter flavor itself triggers our livers to produce bile, which then binds to fiber in plants we eat and allows us to eliminate toxins safely and keep our digestive system happy. Another example can be found in the way our physiology interacts with aromatic compounds (often referred to as terpenes or volatile oils) in plants. The aromatic scent of many herbs like lavender, chamomile, thyme, and basil are produced by the plant in order to ward off predators and communicate with one another. These aromatic compounds tend to have a few common effects on humans: they are calming to the mind, relax smooth muscles, and act as gentle antimicrobials in the body. Cannabis also contains aromatic compounds, commonly referred to as terpenes, which have similar effects.
Here’s one more: we evolved color vision in order to see the pigmentation in fruits and vegetables. Key nutrients that we need to be healthy are found within these pigments, such as flavonoids (antioxidants) in the purple hues of berries, and beta-carotene in herbs like calendula and veggies like carrots and sweet potatoes. Herbs aren’t just substances that humans “discovered” that we can use similarly to pharmaceuticals. Rather, we have a rich co-evolutionary history with herbs, and we truly require them for our bodies to function optimally. We see this clearly in how our physiology interacts with cannabis as well as many other herbs. We can use this knowledge to our benefit when thinking about CBD and herbal medicine.
The Entourage Effect
The entourage effect is a term specific to the cannabis industry that describes the synergy of diverse phytochemistry within the cannabis plant. Herbalists have known about this phenomenon more broadly for a long time. The synergistic effects of complex chemistry within all herbs are broad reaching, and cannabis can also be combined with a wide variety of botanicals to increase potency and target specific effects. When people talk about the entourage effect in cannabis, they are referring to the synergy between all cannabinoids, THC, and terpenes which together produce an effect that is greater than the effect of any single isolated constituent.
We see this with other herbs, too. For example, meadowsweet is a traditional herbal remedy for digestive inflammation and pain. It contains salicylates which reduce pain. In fact, acetylsalicylic acid, commonly known as aspirin, is derived from plants containing similar compounds to meadowsweet. One of the main side effects of regular aspirin usage is stomach ulcers. But in its whole plant form, meadowsweet is actually healing to the stomach lining. This is but one example of how plants in their whole form provide more balanced healing.
Medicinal mushrooms provide another example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. There are various biochemicals in mushrooms like reishi, chaga, and turkey tail that all work together to provide an immune supportive effect. Beta Glucans and polyphenols are the most well known. They have totally different pharmacological effects on the body, working in tandem to support immune health. Or look at tulsi, a mint-family plant related to basil that has the ability to reduce stress and reverse oxidative stress. There isn’t just one compound responsible for these effects, but many dozen including eugenol, rosmarinic acid, as well as other phenols and terpenes.
Synergy Across Herbal Medicine
Not only do these synergistic effects occur within a single herb, they also happen when herbs are combined. Herbs can have an additive effect: one herb can make another easier to metabolize. And, certain herbs can be added to a blend to produce a more targeted effect. Herbs are often classified by particular effects (called “herbal actions”) as well as body system affinities. This allows herbalists to get really specific and individualized with the herbs they use in formulas. For example, if I were to make a digestive blend, I would consider whether the person also had anxiety which was causing stomach discomfort, if they needed a bitter to help them digest their food more thoroughly, and if there was any inflammation happening in the gut, and where. From there, I would select herbs that addressed these concerns. I might choose a bitter herb that also worked to soothe anxiety, like blue vervain or chamomile, combined with the aforementioned meadowsweet to heal the tissue of the digestive tract.
This approach to herbalism can be applied to working with cannabis as well. High CBD cannabis is truly wonderful for many different ailments because its effects are so broad-reaching. When we combine full spectrum cannabis with other herbs, we can achieve more targeted and potent effects. Some of the most common ailments that CBD is used for, such as joint pain, anxiety, and sleep, also respond very well to other herbs. The resulting formulations are more effective and require a lower dose than using CBD alone.
At Kria, when I work with brands to develop new products, I use my experience as an herbal formulator to guide the process. We first identify the needs of their customers. We can develop formulas that address a variety of concerns, including supporting immune health, mood, digestive health, healthy skin and joints, and restful sleep. Formulas can have very specific effects, such as a topical formulation for joint health, or more general effects like a relaxing formulation for stress. The companies we work with can also choose flavor and scent profiles that suit their brand. The entire process is tailored to reflect brand identity and provide value to customers. The end result is a unique product that is potent, effective, and unique. The companies who work with us have products that stand out in the market.
Our goal at Kria Botanicals is to expand the industry’s understanding of the entourage effect and take advantage of this phenomenon to its full potential by combining high quality organic CBD extracts with organic herbs to create medicines that are safe, potent, and give our customers the results they’re looking for.