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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cannabis and Karate-Do

Cannabis and Karate: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know.

The question: Should karate practitioners smoke cannabis (i.e. marijuana) generates as many arguments in martial arts as does the discussion "What style of karate is 'best'?"

I cannot answer this question unequivocally to the satisfaction of the hundreds of individuals who read these posts. So, I won't try. The purpose of this post is to educate you about cannabis and identify potential applications associated with it's use other than the psychotropic effects, i.e. getting high.

Disclaimer: I do not ingest chemicals. Not because I fear the effects, but because my grasp on reality is tenuous at best, I do not need chemicals threatening to further lessen my grasp on that reality.

That said, I have taught, and continue to teach, graduate courses in psychopharmacology, drug education and rehabilitation as well as having being a critical care/emergency/flight nurse for, well for more years than I care to share with you.

Lets look at cannabis.

An Abbreviated History of Cannbis:

- Cannabis (Marijuana) grows easily in every continent in the world except Antarctica.

- There is written documentation of the medicinal use of cannabis from China dating back to 2737 BCE. More than one Egyptian mummy have been found to have traces of 9-THC, the active psychotropic compound found in cannabis.

- Use, sale and possession of cannabis in the United States was completely legal until the 1930's.

- The Bureau of Narcotics (predecessor of the Drug Enforcement Agency) used the term "gateway drug" to describe cannabis when they were seeking to have the drug outlawed nationally also in the 1930's. A "gateway drug" means the use of cannabis invariably lead to the use of "harder" drugs such as LSD, heroin, methamphetamine, etc.. Peer reviewed research has failed to prove any drug is a true "gateway drug" (some will argue the point).

- The AIDS epidemic in the 1980's brought a resurgence in interest in the medical applications of cannabis (e.g. anti-nausea, appetite stimulant, immune system booster, etc.)

- In the 1970's the majority of Americans were against legalization of cannabis for any reason. Today cannabis is "legal" for medical uses or recreationally in 29 states and the District of Columbia.


- Cannabis is NOT completely legal in any state or territory of the United States. I'm sure you're saying "You're wrong! In Colorado, Washington state, the District of Columbia, etc. 'recreational cannabis' is legal and for sale."

This statement is both correct and incorrect. While 29 states have "legalized" one form of cannabis or another, it remains illegal under federal law in every inch of the United States. You could imbibe in cannabis in Colorado while a county Sherriff watches you but cannot arrest you. However the DEA, or any federal Law Enforcement officer can arrest you for cannabis use, possession, cultivation or sale anywhere in the United States.

Cannabis Chemistry:

- Cannabis is actually two different types of chemical producing plants; cannabis sativa and cannabis indicia. All of the current "strains" of cannabis (n = >1000) are actually cannabis with differing percentages of c. sativa and c. indicia.

- Cannabis sativa is a stimulating drug whereas cannabis indica is more of a sedative.

- The actual psychotropic chemical found in cannabis (i.e the chemical that gets users "high") is Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or delta 9-THC, more commonly simply referred to "THC"

- Today's cannabis can be much, much more potent than the cannabis available in the 1980's. In the 80's cannabis had 3-7% THC. Today cannabis can have THC levels in the 20-28% range.

- Hashish is basically purified cannabis, same chemicals just in higher percentages. Hashish can vary in potency from 25% THC to greater than 90% THC (i.e. Butane Hash Oil)

- More importantly than delta 9-THC (at least in medical cannabis) is a vast family of chemicals found in cannabis known as the cannabioids. There are > 400 separate types of cannabioids.

-- Cannabioids do NOT have psychotropic effects, i.e. they are not intoxicating.

-- Cannabioids are further broken down into six major chemical subcategories: CBD, CBDV, delta 9-THCA, CBC, CBG, & delta 9-THCV. The categories are further broken down into subcategories representing the medical effects they produce.

--- Application examples include (but are not limited to):

  • 1) CBD - neuro-protective, antiemetic, analgesic, and more.
  • 2) CBDV - bone growth stimulant, and more.
  • 3) delta 9-THCA - antispasmodic, and more.
  • 4) CBC - anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and more.
  • 5) CBG - anti-bacterial, and more.
  • 6) delta 9-THCV - anti-seizures, bone growth stimulant, and more.
  • Purported Medical Uses:

    One must be cautious. Purported medical uses of cannabis are primarily confined to anecdotal stories. This is not due to the paucity of evidence but rather to the lack of controlled research studies. When the DEA and FDA designated cannabis as a Schedule 1 Narcotic, research was prohibited. Remember Schedule 1 drugs are designated "No medical use, high potential for abuse." In spite of this designation, in the 1980's the U.S. government provided 23 individuals free government cannabis specifically for the treatments of medical ailments (12 remain alive and continue to receive free government cannabis every month.)

    Best available science indicates probable medical uses of cannabis with the following disorders: ADHD, anxiety, arthritis, back pain, cancer, Chron’s disease, depression, epilepsy/seizures, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS-D & IBS-C), Meniere's disease, multiple sclerosis, nausea/vomiting, neuropathic pain, Parkinson’s disease, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, rheumatism, sleep disorders, and more.

    As scientific research progresses hopefully so will this list of uses.

    Myths Associated With Cannabis:

    - Cannabis is addicting. - An on going argument; cannabis is not addicting. The chemicals in cannabis does not produce a characteristic withdrawal syndrome. However, that said, cannabis CAN be psychologically habituating but so can Cinnabons, bagels, television, etc. So you can develop a dependency on the drug but not an addiction.

    - Use of cannabis leads to addiction of "harder drugs" - The gateway drug myth again.

    - Cannabis is used more by people of color than whites. - Whites actually use cannabis more, on a per capita basis, than people of color but due to the inequities associated with "the drug war", people of color tend to be incarcerated more than whites.

    - Cannabis isn't really a drug. - Sort of true, cannabis is a plant, the THC, CBD, etc. are the actual drugs. Sort of like tobacco is not a drug but the nicotine in it is.

    Application to Martial Arts?

    If cannabis is a neuro-protective, i.e. protects the brain from trauma, then it should protect the brain from damage and aid recovery following a concussion. Currently studies are in place at multiple sites in the U.S. focusing on post-concussion recovery in football and hockey. The neurobiology of concussion trauma would be the same whether football or karate.

    As a bone growth stimulant cannabis should aid healing fractures.

    The analgesic properties should help deal with pain from any source but without the side effects associated with prescription opioid narcotics.

    The chemicals in cannabis can be used to improve the quality of sleep. Sleep allows the body to regenerate and recover from work-outs, kumite, injury, etc. The higher the quality of sleep, the higher the quality of the recovery and healing process.

    It is said the mouth of a dog is cleaner than a human mouth. That should tell you how nasty even the cleanest student is. All of us have caught colds from a student trying to prove their manhood by coming to class sick or pushed there by well meaning but misguided instructors. The anti-viral, antibiotic, antifungal, anti-infective properties of cannabis are particularly attractive to all us "germ-a-phobs".

    Guidelines for Use of Cannabis in the Martial Arts:

    Disclaimer: This section is not encouraging anyone to use cannabis, it is merely meant to present the safest manner of utilizing cannabis.

    1) If cannabis is not legal is some form where you live do not use the drug. This is not due to the danger of the drug (i.e. no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose, ever). I say do not use the drug because it is illegal. A drug conviction can have a dramatic negative impact on your life. A drug conviction means you can never receive a Federal Student Loan. That's "NEVER" and there is not provision for a waiver of this rule.

    2) Never ingest THC laden cannabis prior to training. delta 9-THC can result in unnecessary injury in the dojo or when driving to or from the dojo.

    That said, ingesting high CBD cannabis with minimal levels of delta 9-THC or derived from hemp (i.e. not containing delta 9-THC) may serve as a neuro-protective especially when headgear is not worn.

    3) Smoking is bad. Not because of the drug but because of the particulates inhaled via smoking along with other chemicals, e.g. pesticides, contaminants etc.

    Individuals preferring to smoke cannabis should utilize a vaporizer designed specifically for cannabis inhalation. A vaporizer heats the plant material without combusting it. The chemicals, i.e. delta 9-THC, CBDs, etc., are vaporized and allowed to be inhaled without the smoke of products of combustion. It's similar to the principle of an electronic cigarette.

    When using a vaporizer do your research. Google "temperature guides in vaporization of cannabis". When vaporizing at one temperature setting will liberate a specific chemical, e.g. CBG but raising the temperature 10 degrees with free up a different chemical, e.g. CBDV while lowering it will affect another.

    4) Consuming (i.e. eating) the drug avoids all the potential harms associated with combusting it. However, edibles (food items with delta 9-THC, CBDs etc) may contain much higher levels so they must be obtained from a legal source where chemical analysis is required before purchase. Another huge issue with edibles is while smoking can get the chemicals into your system in minutes, eating them may take ups to two hours to get the effects. One must be careful not to wait 15 minutes, then say to one's self: "I don't feel anything I must need more" and then prematurely re-dose only to be overwhelmed 2 hours later with the "sudden" effects of 4 or 5 doses.

    5) Adolescent martial arts students should NEVER ingest cannabis before, during or after training. This is not because of the evils of the drug but because the brain is not fully mature until after adolescence. The effects of cannabis on the underdeveloped adolescent brain are also not fully understood due to the limitations of research. Why take the chance?

    6) If you are going to use cannabis, ingesting delta9-THC / CBDs post-training is probably the "best" use of these drugs, where legal, but DO YOUR RESEARCH before you ingest this or any drug.

    When using cannabis (or any other drug) your mantra should be "JUST SAY KNOW!"


    Cox Hakase


    Block, A. (2000). Waiting to inhale - The politics of medical marijuana, Newport Beach, CA: Seven Locks Press

    Booth, M. (2005). Cannabis: A history, New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.

    Mack, A. & Joy, J. (2000). Marijuana as medicine: The science beyond the controversy, Washington D. C., National Academies Press.

    Mathre, M. L. (1997). Cannabis in medical practice: A legal, historical and pharmacological overview of the therapeutic use of marijuana, Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Company Inc.

    Rosenthal, E., Gieringer, D., & Carter, G. T. (2008). Marijuana medical handbook: Practical guide to therapeutic uses of Marijuana, Oakland, CA: Quick American Publishing.

    Russo, E. & Grotenhermen, F. (2006). The handbook of cannabis therapeutics: From bench to bedside, Binghampton, NY: Haworth Press, Inc.

    Weil, A. & Backes, M. (2014). Cannabis pharmacy: The practical guide to medical Marijuana, New York, NY: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishing.

    Wolf, L. & Wolf, M. (2016). The medical marijuana dispensary: Understanding, medicating, and cooking with cannabis, Berkley, CA: Althea Press.


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