Gereon Janzing, geobotánico y etnobotánico
Gereon Janzing, geobotánico y etnobotánico

Hemp as a Medicinal Plant

(It began with an article of mine in German in the local magazine "Freizeit & Kultur" with an interview of mine with a doctor who made a research about the effects of a hemp preparate on cancer patients,
then I wrote one also in German for the magazine "Kritische Ökologie", that's the one I present here with modifications.)

If we had a field of hemp, we would run a high risk that lots of plants would be stolen for psychoactive purposes. Besides, we had to fear the police because its growing is illegal, what is a great scandal if we take its several medicinal proper­ties into account. It is not, however, the only plant to suffer from prohibition for being a competi­tion for chemical products. Hemp, a native to Central Asia, likes lime and so actually finds good conditions on Ibiza.

It is true that a regular hemp consumption has quite negative effects on some people's psyches. However, negative side effects of many legal remedies are also threatening. People with a psychosis must avoid hemp consumption completely (except of the seeds).

Once someone told me that what I write about hemp is only theoretical if I do not smoke marihuana. True. I cannot test on myself the effects of a medicinal plant against sufferings I don't have. And I do not take just any medicinal plant as long as I am of good health. At least I see some effects on other people.

The hemp seeds contain an oil with gamma-linolenic acid, which is rare in other plants. Due to this substance the oil is efficient–among others–against atopic dermitis (atopic eczema–20 g of hemp oil per day). Due to alpha-linolenic acid it is preventive against heart and circulation diseases. In traditional medicine the seeds are used against gout, rheuma and bronchitis.

The most widespread form of consuming hemp (most often for psychoactive purposes) is smoking: either of dried plant matter (marihuana) or of resin or pollen (hashish). Since we are used to associate smoking with hedonistic consumption or (from tobacco) addiction, for cultural reasons we have certain psychical inhibitions to accept smoking as a medicinal therapy.

In the case of cancer a chemotherapy often has unpleasant side effects like strong nausea. With this it is often reported about  positive effects of smoking hemp. Tablets or other oral remedies are often more difficult to deal with by patients who feel like vomiting, than smoking.

AIDS patients often suffer from lack of appetite and consequently from loss of weight. By smoking hemp the appetite can be stimulated. Moreover hemp can alleviate some side effects of remedies. These effects can lengthen the patient's life. Refusing this remedy to people bound to die, certainly is rather cynical.

Marihuana reduces an exceeded intraocular pressure and thus is effective against glaucoma. In some cases it is considered the only efficient remedy to retain the possibility of seeing.

Smoking hemp can have strong healing effects in case of asthma. In the South East Asian medicina a mixture with tobacco (relation: 1:1) is used. Of course it is important to pull the air deep into the lungs.

In case of multiple sclerosis almost incredible effects have been reported. Often hemp is the only known possibility to reduce or do away with the patient's suffering.

Statements that hemp has been used within shamistic rituals lack any evidence, at least we can say, there are no hints (contrary for example to tobacco).

In China the stalks are used as a diuretic, the male flowers against menstruation disorders. A Chinese remedy book from 2700 BC recommends hemp as a remedy for beriberi, gout, malaria, rheuma and constipation.

In traditional Japanese medicine, the dried hemp seeds are used for spleen, stomach and intestines and against constipation.

Hemp is often smoked (sometimes eaten) for its hallucinogenic effects. In Tibetan medicine these are associated with cheerfulness and talkativeness. Among the North African Berbers the hemp intoxication is considered a transcendental experience.

In Morocco hemp is smoked as an aphrodisiac, also against depressions. Women are usually forbidden to smoke it.

Other reports about healing effects of hemp include migrane, hepatitis, cold and bronchitis.

To be added: Some people become paranoid and passive from regular marihuana consumption. A frequent motive among regular consumers is that one believes the environmental pollution and other problems on Earth not to be consequences of our own behaviour but of a global conspiracy. That shows an unablitiy to take over responsibility for one's own actions, and moreover an unability to perceive the complexity of the Earth, which in that drugged state is perceived as being so simple that a dozen of people can have it under control. If you've got such a tendency to feel a victim, handle marihuana with respect, a potent plant is not a toy.

In the hippie movement it is often said that marihuana widens the consciousness, that means, there is no need to take any effort, a plant does it all for you. If you are really into widening your consciousness, there is no plant that can take the efforts for you.

Moreover, hemp is a good fibre plant, also for paper with no wood involved. Since it can be grown without chemicals whereas cotton usually needs a lot of pesticides, there are industrial interests to avoid the cultivation of hemp, what resulted in a prohibition of hemp growing in many countries. There are different varieties with different amounts of the active principle tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Those with most THC are generally the most efficient ones and are the least infected by pests. Sometimes they are considered a species apart (Indian hemp, Cannabis indica, better as a variety: Cannabis sativa var. indica).

Also in veterinary medicine hemp is used. The Swiss newspaper "La Quotidiana" reported about a peasant who had to call for the vet fairly often due to udder problems of his cows. These problems vanished after he fed hemp to his cows. Switzerland forbade feeding hemp after an experiment with a single cow that had been fed a highly concentrated dosis of THC.

Let us hope that there will soon be a time when we can grow hemp with no fear of either thieves or the police!


Cadruvi, Claudia: Vatgas n'obtengan nagin chonv pli. En: La Quotidiana 18/2/2005: p. 2.

Grinspoon, Lester & James Bakalar: Marihuana. The forbidden Medicine. New Haven and Londres 1993.

Grotenhermen, Franjo & Michael Karus: Cannabis als Heilmittel. Ein medizinischer Ratgeber. Göttingen 1998.

Janzing, Gereon: Psychoaktive Drogen weltweit. Löhrbach 2000.

Janzing, Gereon: (2000): Hanf. Ein altbekanntes Heilmittel. In: Freizeit & Kultur (Merzhausen bei Freiburg i. Br.) 11/2000: 14.

Janzing, Gereon: Kannibalen und Schamanen. Verbreitete Irrtümer über fremde Völker und Kultu­ren. Löhrbach 2007.

Rätsch, Christian: Hanf als Heilmittel. Eine ethnomedizinische Bestandsaufnahme. Solothurn u. Löhrbach 1992.