Cannabis has been used in various preparations as a medicinal herb for thousands of years, with the first written records coming from the ancient Sumerians. Although today we mostly think of the cannabis flower as the most important part of the plant, in fact the stalks, seeds, and leaves have also been used in various ways throughout history as food, textiles, and medicine. Probably the most overlooked, and literally unseen, components of the plant are its roots, which we are going to explore more about in this article. As it turns out, the roots hold many secrets that herbalists have long known about but scientific researchers are only starting to understand and explore.
According to a 2017 review in the Journal of Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, the first written record of the use of cannabis roots in the western world comes from the ancient Roman historian, Pliny the Elder. In his book Natural Histories, he wrote that “a decoction of the root in water relaxes contractions of the joints and cures gout and similar maladies.” So, we know that the root was in use in the region for long before that time, to be included in his written works. By the 17th century, we find more herbalists and physicians recommending the root for a wide variety of ailments, including inflammation, gout, arthritis, joint pain, skin burns, hard tumors, fever, malaria, postpartum hemorrhage, difficult child labor, sexually transmitted diseases, gastrointestinal activity, and infections. It would appear that in the 17th and 18th centuries physicians identified that the cannabis root was an important herb in their tool kit of remedies, and used it with a broad application for many ailments. But since that time the roots has been largely abandoned and forgotten about or simply ignored. So, what does modern day science have to say about the cannabis root, and which of the above diseases or symptoms is their actually scientific evidence to support?
What compounds have been found in cannabis roots?
One of the first things to note about the cannabis plant’s roots is that they contain little to no cannabinoids such as THC or CBD. Interestingly though, some are now exploring ways to use the liquid culture of cannabis plant hairy root growth as a new source of cannabinoids. What cannabis roots do however contain is terpenes, alkaloids, sterols, and other compounds. The pharmacological effects of all these compounds has not yet been thoroughly evaluated, but science is beginning to understand their effects on animal and human health.
The 4 main terpenes thus far found in the cannabis roots are Friedelin, Epifriedelanol, Carvone, and Dihydrocarvone. These can also be found in other plants, but are especially abundant in the roots of the cannabis plant. The terpene Friedelin has been studied in rats and mice, and has shown analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antipyretic (fever suppressant) effects. The terpene Epifriedelanol has been shown to inhibit cellular senescence, or the process through which aging cells die off and are not replaced, as such, it is currently being studied for its potential to decrease the diseases of aging and to possibly extend human lifespans. It is also being studied for its ability to fight cancer cells, including ovarian cancer.
Carvone, and Dihydrocarvone are monoterpenes, very simple terpenes found throughout nature, and also have many interesting properties. Carvone is being explored for its anti-microbial activities as well as its ability to improve the desired effects while also mitigating the side effects of chemotherapy with cancer patients. Dihydrocarvone currently has no known medical applications, however it is used in many products to provide scent, and is also a reagent in the synthesis of other drugs, including some for malaria, which may in part explain why herbalists use cannabis root to help treat malaria.
Alkaloids are a group of plant based compounds which have been found to have pronounced physiological effects on humans, such as morphine, quinine, and strychnine. The alkaloids so far isolated from cannabis roots include Cannabisativine and anhydrocannabisativine. However, since these alkaloids were only first classified in 2005, no pharmacological effects have been identified. However, the search has only just begun.
Sterols are naturally occurring plant steroid alcohols. The sterols thus far identified in cannabis roots include sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol. Sitosterol has been claimed to help a wide range of ailments, from heart disease, modulating the immune system, prevention of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, cervical cancer, hair loss, and even as an anti-venom for snake bits. However, science as yet to confirm all these applications, and the most well studied properties include its anti-inflammatory effects, as well as its ability to induce cell apoptosis, but their at least one or two studies to support evidence for all the other conditions listed above, even the snake bites. Campesterol has been explored for its ability to improve cardiovascular health by regulating levels of LDL cholesterol. And, lastly, stigmasterol has been explored for its beneficial effects against osteoarthritis, heart disease, inflammation, and tumors, as well as its anti-oxidant effects.
As you can see, the science behind the use of cannabis root consumption is still in its infancy, however it does show a lot of promise. If better, safer drugs can be made from these naturally occurring plant compounds than many of the diseases which plague our society may be relieved to some degree, especially those brought about by aging. At the moment however, many of these drugs are still years away, but that does not mean you cannot start enjoying the health benefits of cannabis roots right now.
How to use cannabis roots?
Cannabis roots can be consumed in a variety of ways. Because they contain sugars, carbohydrates, and the essential nutrient choline, they can be shredded and added to salads or other foods to boost nutrient levels. However, today the easiest and most common way to consume cannabis roots is exactly as it was in the past, which is to make concoctions by boiling it in water. The easiest way to do this is to make cannabis root tea by first cleaning the roots thoroughly and then drying them out completely. After drying, the roots may be ground up using a spice or coffee grinder to create a course powder. This powder can then be added to other herbal teas, or used alone. Many recipies recommend putting the powder and water into a slow cooker and simmering for about 12 hours, then straining out the plant matter. However, users do report that the taste can be quite bitter, and that add other spices like cinnamon or cloves will make it more palatable, and adding lipid sources (such as coconut oil, butter, or cream) will assist in bioavailability.
Other popular methods of use include consuming the powder, using it topically, or making tinctures. To use the powdered root, simply add a small amount to any foods as a health supplement. But again, fatty foods or those containing omega acids tend to be preferable for better absorption into the body. Topical applications have been used for centuries in the case of skin burns, gout. and pain or arthritis. This can be made in a variety of ways, but the easiest is to mix the finely ground powdered roots into a carrier oil such as coconut oil or olive oil to create a thick paste. To make tinctures, the easiest way is to soak the coarse ground root powder in ethanol (such as Everclear®) in a slow cooker for 4-6 hours and then carefully boil off most of the ethanol as you would do with any other herbal tincture.
Generally, cannabis roots are seen as a waste product, and so can be obtained very economically. By utilizing this waste resource as a medicine, health supplement, and therapeutic, the cannabis industry could become more valuable and have fewer waste streams. It will be interesting to watch over the next several years as more and more research is completed in this field and the value of these roots is truly realized.