A recent estimate suggests that up to 80% of the global population relies on herbal medicine. This can be via specialized herbalists or informal community networks. For some people, cannabis falls under the “herbal medicine” banner. It is another means of helping the body without the use of lab-developed pharmaceuticals.
This article compares marijuana to five of the most popular herbal remedies on the market. We compare and contrast the substances, so you can decide which one best suits your needs.
What Is an Herbal Remedy?
Simply put, an herbal remedy is a plant used as a medicine. People use them in the belief that these plants can prevent or cure a disease. Unlike the medicines you get from the pharmacy, herbal remedies are not rigorously tested. They are also unregulated.
Most medical communities have respect for herbal remedies, but they will be quick to point out they are not medicines. They’ll also point out that just because something comes from nature, doesn’t mean it’s safe! For example, kava could cause severe liver damage, while St John’s Wort could interact with antidepressants and other drugs.
Still, there is ample research looking into why people use herbal medicine. One example is this study, wherein researchers found that the main reason for using herbals is to treat illnesses. Individuals who tried herbal forms of treatment did so mainly because of dissatisfaction with conventional medicine, and/or positive experiences with herbs in the past.
Another study looked at herbal remedy usage in Jordan. Over 80% of the invited participants used herbal medicine. Of those who didn’t use them, over 52% said they believed herbal remedies were ineffective.
In general, an herbalist uses plant extracts via teas and distillations. The suggestion is that this form of herbal remedy is effective for moderate illnesses, and also poses fewer side effects than other forms of preparation.
Even in many Western nations, herbal medicine was the main form of healthcare for all but the last 50-100 years. Approximately 25% of all pharmaceutical medicines are plant-derived.
How Cannabis Compares to an Herbal Remedy
The cannabis plant grows in nature, and people use it for medical reasons. Therefore, we can technically refer to marijuana as an herbal remedy.
What is potentially different is that there’s more research on cannabis than practically any other herbal remedy. Eventually, MMJ could become an herbal medicine if it hasn’t already done so. An herbal medicine must follow the regulations for medicines when presented to prevent or treat diseases in humans.
Sativex is a cannabis-based medicine that ticks these boxes and has received FDA approval. Epidiolex contains CBD and has also received the coveted approval of the FDA.
In contrast, sellers can’t claim that an herbal health product has a medicinal effect. Instead, they can only make general claims such as ‘helping to feel better’ or ‘managing the symptoms of chronic pain.’
While MMJ isn’t federally legal in the United States, it is legal in Canada and Uruguay. Therefore, one could argue that cannabis has already achieved herbal medicine status in these countries.
Now, let’s check out how a handful of popular remedies compare to marijuana.
Five of the Most Popular Herbal Remedies
Ginger or Gingerols is a flowering plant that has been used for thousands of years as both an herbal remedy and a cooking ingredient. Originating from South East Asia, ginger is linked with many health benefits.
Benefits of Ginger
- Ginger has an oily resin from the root that acts as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. A study published in 2001 revealed that ginger extract consumption could reduce pain in patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee.
- Packed full of nutrients and bioactive compounds.
- Linked with the ability to help with pain, particularly menstrual pain.
- Could improve brain function.
- Supports healthy digestion.
Ginseng is a tonic from the plant of the same name, which is native to Asia and North America. Famed for its ability to relax the mind and improve various bodily functions, Ginseng usage goes back centuries. Below are some of the key benefits of this herbal remedy.
Benefits of Ginseng
- Often used for its aphrodisiac properties.
- Said to reduce stress levels.
- Possibly boosts the immune system.
- Linked with a reduction in inflammation.
- Antioxidant qualities. One test-tube study found that a particular type of ginseng extract reduced inflammation and improved antioxidant activity in the skin cells of people with eczema.
- Helps with weight loss.
- Improves lung function.
- Increases energy levels.
Turmeric is the vibrant, aromatic spice used in Asian cooking for years before making its way worldwide. Thanks to its key compound, curcumin, turmeric is considered one of the most beneficial spices.
Benefits of Turmeric
- Curcumin is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
- Linked to increased brain function and lower risk of brain diseases. Many brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease are linked to decreased growth hormone brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. Research suggests that curcumin could decrease the production of this hormone.
- Could lower the risk of heart disease.
- Potentially helps with arthritis.
- Helpful in relieving depression
Chamomile has been used as an herbal infusion and medicinal product for a very long time. It is from the Asteraceae plant family and offers a wide range of benefits.
Benefits of Chamomile
- Perhaps most famously, chamomile can promote restful sleep and combat insomnia.
- Boosts immunity.
- Helpful in the treatment of colds and flu.
- Helps with menstrual pain.
- Reduces muscle spasms.
- Good for mild-to-moderate pains.
- Helpful in reducing stress.
- Its anti-inflammatory properties are helpful in skin conditions.
5. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo Biloba is a Chinese tree that has been used in the West for centuries. Proponents say it is excellent for helping with concentration, memory, and various other mental and physical conditions.
Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba
- Improved memory and focus.
- Contains powerful antioxidants.
- Can help fight inflammation.
- Could reduce the pain caused by headaches and migraines.
- Reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Improves eye health and helps maintain vision.
- Helps relieve symptoms of ADHD.
- Aphrodisiac properties.
- Helpful in fighting anxiety and depression.
How Does Cannabis Compare in Providing Possible Health Benefits?
The enormous level of marijuana research has revealed a host of important and exciting findings. The thousands of studies conducted to date suggest that cannabis could provide similar benefits to all of the herbal remedies mentioned. Let’s analyze a few of the most pertinent.
Inflammation & Pain
Many people opt for cannabis to help with a variety of pains, including headache and migraine pain. A study published in 2010 looked at the effect of cannabis on our endocannabinoid system regarding migraine pain. It found that the ECS is peripherally and centrally involved in processing pain, and cannabinoid usage could help manage pain.
Cannabis has possible anti-inflammatory properties. There are dozens of studies that outline how marijuana has helped patients with inflammation and pain.
A study published in 2010 looked at cannabis and dementia. The researchers found that there were a variety of therapeutic benefits to the plant in neurodegenerative diseases. Another study, published in 2020, concluded that non-intoxicating cannabinoids like CBD could help treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s conditions.
Many people have claimed that cannabis has improved their sex lives. Certain strains could reduce anxiety around sex, decrease pain and improve sensitivity and overall enjoyment. Studies also suggest that marijuana could result in better orgasms and increased sex drive.
A study published in 2013 looked at how cannabis impacted memory. The researchers found that particular strains of cannabis could impair OR improve memory. Those seeking improved focus and memory would benefit from cannabis with a high CBD and low THC content.
- We know that cannabis is beneficial to glaucoma sufferers, as the plant can lower ocular eye pressure. There are studies that show cannabis has other eye health benefits, too.
- Cannabis could also boost our immune system. It suggests it has possible use as an everyday supplement.
- Studies suggest cannabis has possible benefits for cardiovascular disorders.
- Indica strains, in particular, are great for helping combat insomnia and pain-related sleep issues. There are studies that show CBD’s ability to modulate sleep.
- As a potent anti-spasmodic, cannabis has gained prominence for its ability to help muscle spasms. The FDA has approved a CBD-based drug called Epidiolex to treat rare epilepsy in children.
Is Cannabis an Effective Herbal Remedy or Not?
The evidence to date suggests that marijuana has a huge array of possible benefits. Indeed, it seems to have the combined abilities of several well-known herbal remedies. However, at present, it is only fully legal in two countries around the world. In the United States, it is used in dozens of states with medical marijuana programs. However, dispensaries are not permitted to say it treats, cures, or prevents any disease.
Related Article: 172 Conditions that Medical Cannabis Can Help With