For many years, Chinese medicine has integrated the use of both cannabis and acupuncture.

What is becoming more and more evident to modern day scientists is that, when used synergistically together, they offer one of the most effective ways of improving the human health.  Both acupuncture and cannabis have been used in therapeutic healing regimes for literally thousands of years by Chinese health practitioners. Interestingly, it appears that it is not just acupuncture that kindles the endocannabinoid system (ECS), but cannabis does that as well.

What is an endocannabinoid system?

In spite of the important role this stem plays, until lately it remained a mysterious part of the human body’s functions. The ECS comprises of CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors occur mostly in the brain of almost all mammals while CB2 is present in the body tissues, organs and throughout the central nervous system.

Basically, the ECS is known to regulate everything from immune system responses, pain sensations and inflammation to appetite, mood, memory, as well as overall metabolism.

Here is just a handful of other references to cannabis and TCM through the ages:

  • 2737 B.C.: Emperor Shen Nung, a pharmacologist, wrote a book on TCM treatment methods and supposedly was the first to mention the benefits of cannabis to the human body;
  • 2698-2205 B.C.: Huang Ti, also known as “The Yellow Emperor,” was considered to be a spiritual master who lived to be over 400 years old. According to historians, he was the inventor of the wheel, ships, armor, writing and acupuncture needles (interestingly, his wife, Leizu, has been credited as the first person to raise silkworms and the developer of the silk-making process). The Yellow Emperor’s greatest accomplishment, however, was the creation of the Nei Ching, the Chinese Canon of Medicine, in which the various uses of cannabis are outlined in addition to countless other herbs and modalities used in Chinese Medicine at the time. One part of Huang Ti’s Canon, the Ling Shu, is required reading for many acupuncture students even today;
  • 2350 B.C.: The “Book of Odes” or the “She King” is a collection of Chinese poetry from that time that contains numerous references to Industrial Hemp. The idea of hemp as a crop was said to originate at around this time period;
  • 1 A.D.: “Pen Ts’ao Ching” compiled another book, the oldest pharmacopoeia (herbal book) on record. It was largely based on Nung’s work and included the medical benefits of marijuana;
  • 140-208 A.D.: Hua Tuo is credited with being the first person on record to use cannabis as an analgesic. It is hypothesized that the concoction utilized strong CBD-heavy strains of both leaf and flower ground to a pulp and mixed with wine for local and systemic administration. Tuo reportedly used cannabis in conjunction with acupuncture to numb pain during surgery;
  • 700 A.D.: According to a 2008 reporting the Journal of Experimental Botany, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences discovered what could be the world’s oldest stash of marijuana “cultivated for psychoactive purposes,” in a remote part of China. The stash was inside a tomb of a man who appeared to be a shaman.

Cannabis and Acupuncture Together

Acupuncture is the use of needle insertions along key point of energy flow (called Meridians) in the body. The point of the insertions just below the skin’s surface is to unblock energy (called “chi” or “qi”). The build-up, sluggishness and blockage of one’s chi can lead to pain, imbalance and disease.

Recent research shows that, like cannabis, acupuncture actually works to regulate, heal and optimize the endocannabinoid system as well as the other systems of the body. If you are treating inflammation and pain with cannabis, adding acupuncture to your protocol just might be the one-two punch that your body needs for deep healing.

In fact, cannabis played a part in the development of acupuncture. A common practice for many acupuncturists still today is called moxabustion. This healing practice predates acupuncture itself and was the precursor to the use of needles. It uses the smoke from the herb mugwort that is burned close to the skin (but not touching it) in a small cup or in a mugwort “cigar.” The smoke creates suction and the two elements of pressure and heat allow blocks in chi to be released. Interestingly, some scholars believe that ancient acupuncturists used cannabis instead of mugwort to create the smoke for moxabustion; the mugwort was used primarily to wrap up the cigar-like cocoon that housed the cannabis.

Today, only mugwort is used for moxabustion. However, research that began in the 1970’s into the science behind acupuncture has found that the analgesic, pain-relieving effects of acupuncture are regulated in large part by what are called “endogenous opioids” and the opioid system in the human body. When opioid compounds are released, inflammation and pain is reduced. Furthermore, there is a directrelationship between opioids and endocannabinoids. Through chemical signaling between the two, evidence suggests that endocannabinoid binding can increase opiate output and vice versa to create pain reduction as well as a reduction in inflammatory response.

Did the ancient Chinese healers and acupuncturists of the past somehow know of the relationship between chi flow, opiate levels and the health of the endocannabinoid system long before the technology of modern medicine was able to see and prove the connection? We may never know for sure but one thing is certain: the ancients knew that cannabis was a powerful healing plant that can be used in many ways and for many different ailments, including as a powerful analgesic for surgery and as perhaps one of the basic elements of early acupuncture.

Ancient Chinese culture was an agricultural one that learned about healing the body through observing the patterns in nature. Today we can benefit from the proven healing effects of both cannabis and acupuncture by using them together in a healthy way. It has long been observed, even in Western medicine, that both acupuncture and marijuana can effectively treat conditions like addiction, as well as mood disorders like depression. If the body, in other words, is sending “feel good” signals and its own natural (and nontoxic) form of both opioids and cannabinoids to places where internal systems are damaged, the implications for a range of conditions, starting with opioid addiction, are large.

What this could mean, particularly in the West, is that acupuncture will become a far more accepted part of medical systems – and be combined with cannabis use, which is rapidly legalizing across western economies and countries.

What this could also mean for long term preventive wellness is another issue. At a time when governments and insurance companies are struggling with an aging population and exploding healthcare costs, the mainstreaming of ancient Chinese techniques such as acupuncture in combination with the medical use of marijuana into “Western” medicine (including its coverage under health insurance) has the potential to be at least one curative to the overall issue of rapidly increasing healthcare costs and the lack of political capital to cover the same.

If you are considering giving acupuncture a try in conjunction with cannabis for general pain or a specific condition, consider these 3 questions to ask when looking for an acupuncture professional:

  • What kind of acupuncture do you practice?
  • What sterilization process do you use for your needles?
  • What is your position on the use of cannabis for this ailment or for pain in general? Have you been trained in cannabinoid therapy in some way?

Be sure to pick an acupuncturist that is at least open to cannabinoid therapy if you wish to combine the two; ideally, if you are living in a state where medical cannabis is legal, your acupuncturists should be knowledgeable about and may even be trained in cannabinoid therapy and how to use it in conjunction with acupuncture.

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