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Plant Power

Aug 17, 2017 12:23PM ● By Robyn Lawrence
In the 1940s, when the Soviet Union was vying to dominate the universe, more than 1,200 scientists were tasked with studying how plants like ginseng and schisandra—staples in traditional Chinese, Native American, and AyurvedIC medicine—could help workers, soldiers, athletes, ballerinas, chess players, and cosmonauts adapt to physical and emotional stress for enhanced performance and speedier recovery. 

In 1947, pharmacologist Nikolai Lazarev rebranded the plants, all but forgotten in Western medicine, as “adaptogens” and defined them as nontoxic herbs that protect the body from damaging physical and emotional stress while improving many of its systems and functions. The Soviets kept their research top secret for many years because of the advantage the plants gave their soldiers and citizens in worldwide competition. Soviet scientists continued to tweak adaptogen regimens, and by 1976, the nation’s athletes were dominating the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. 

Adaptogens are pretty miraculous. They create and maintain homeostasis in the body, continually restoring its natural balance by slowing systems down when they’re overheating and speeding them up when they’re sluggish. (They can even do both things—calm and energize—at the same time.) The plants fight fatigue and reduce stress—in an age when stress is rampant and linked to the six leading causes of death. 

Dr. Joseph Cohen, an osteopathic physician who integrates cannabis into his functional medicine practice in Boulder and Denver, says adaptogens do far more than most people realize because bringing the body to homeostasis protects the entire neuroendocrine system and the adrenal glands, where valuable hormones such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine are produced. 

Is Cannabis an Adaptogen? 
Does Maca Make You Horny?
In his upcoming book, The Cannabis-Friendly Guide to Wellness, Cohen writes about how cannabis works as an adaptogen. He calls the cannabinoid CBD “an adaptogen within an adaptogen” because of its ability to mitigate some of THC’s unwanted side effects. “Cannabinoids do a multitude of things we’re just beginning to understand,” he says.

Cannabis is not officially an adaptogen (according to people who think officially), but it meets all the requirements: nontoxic, stress-reducing, balancing. “It does act like an adaptogenic herb because the cannabinoid system is all about homeostasis,” says integrative clinical nutritionist Laura Lagano, cofounder of the Holistic Cannabis Network, a training and education platform for holistic health practitioners. 

More and more scholars and experts are agreeing with her—which is pretty amazing for a plant the federal government still considers a Schedule I drug. Medicine hunter and ethnobotanist Chris Kilham, who has been studying and advocating for adaptogens since the 1970s, is among them. “Cannabinoids regulate the cannabinoid system, and the cannabinoid system is a master regulating system of systems,” he says. “That implies all the balancing and harmonizing activities of an adaptogen.” 

Kilham often drinks extracts of the adaptogens rhodiola and golden ginseng mixed with water when he consumes cannabis because he likes how they all work with each other to make him feel. “Rhodiola and ginseng in conjunction with cannabis is mental Windex,” he says. “It sharpens up everything.” 

Kilham is also a longtime promoter of maca, a root plant from the Peruvian Andes that can increase energy, strength, and stamina and is especially good for women’s reproductive systems. Kilham’s wife, Zoe Helene, founder of progressive feminist advocacy group Cosmic Sister, has taken maca supplements several times over the years but would always stop because it made her so horny—an effect many people welcome. 

“After about a week of taking maca, I feel like a 14- year-old dealing with her first lustful crush, and my husband travels a lot!” says Helene, who recently began taking maca again because nothing else works as well to relieve her perimenopause symptoms. 

It’s worth it, she says. “I’ve just had to embrace the increased libido boost.” 

Adaptogens such as maca, ashwagandha, rhodiola rosea, and matcha are the new star ingredients on Instagram and Pinterest and in beverages, bars, powders, and chewables on shelves in natural food sections everywhere. BevNET, a media company that covers the non-alcoholic beverage industry, reports that Natural Products Expo West 2017 will be remembered as the year ashwagandha arrived and suggests the adaptogen plant category could become an entire new beverage category.

If you want to avoid shelling out the high prices these hot new products command, it’s easy enough to incorporate adaptogens into your home cooking. You can find edible forms, from fresh to powdered, of most adaptogenic herbs in natural products stores, Asian markets, and online. 

The following recipes call for cannabis-infused coconut milk, which is great to have around for stirring into tea and coffee or splashing over fresh berries. 

Maca, Cannabis & Coconut Milk Frappe (Serves 1)
1/2 cup maca powder (available in natural products stores and online)
1/2 cup cannabis-infused coconut milk
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 cups ice
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Green and Golden Coconut Milk Nightcap (Serves 1)
You’ll use only a teaspoon of the herb and spice blend in this recipe, so you can store 
the rest in an airtight container and combine it with cannabis-infused coconut milk for a healthy warm drink. You can also make this with nut milk.

1/4 cup powdered ashwagandha root
1/4 cup powdered schisandra berries
1 cup rose petal powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup cannabis-infused coconut milk
Maple syrup or honey, to taste

Blend together ashwagandha, schisandra, rose petal powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  In small saucepan, gently heat coconut milk until warm but not boiling. Pour into a mug and stir in 1 teaspoon of herb mixture. (Store the rest in an airtight container.)  Add sweetener and enjoy.