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Take a Sip Out of Summer — Matcha

One of the many reasons I look forward to waking up every morning: matcha. 

Researchers agree that finely ground green tea leaves (Camellia sinensis), known as matcha, can provide a state of calm alertness, meaning that it can improve concentration to accomplish your list of things to do while calming the mind from anxiety-inducing, racing thoughts. But, which parts of the plant do we have to thank for these benefits?

As a wonderful coffee alternative, matcha is filled with a host of nutrients including the amino acid, l-theanine, and the dietary phytochemical, epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG for short. These two along with countless other compounds have an array of therapeutic advantages (not to mention, it’s really tasty!).

Harvested in late spring-early summer, matcha has been traditionally associated with Japanese tea ceremonies and Zen Buddhism spirituality. The spectrum of “grades” available determine not only the quality of the matcha, but also the price tag; “ceremonial” and “premium” are considered the best options with the most depth of flavor quality derived from the young tea leaves at the top of the plant. When selecting which matcha brand to purchase, it can seem daunting given the number of companies and flavor profiles. Like coffee, everyone has a preferred flavor; flavors of matcha can range from subtle sweetness to noticeably bitter. However, unlike coffee, it is considered a moderate caffeine option as ½ tsp of matcha has approximately 30-35 mg per cup (compared to 90-95 mg in a cup of coffee). Matcha also has a marked longer effect in the body, meaning that it can provide sustained energy throughout the day without the coffee jitters, or the immediate spike followed by crash.

Results of chemical composition studies indicate that there are higher concentrations of total amino acids, including l-theanine, in higher “grade” formulations, however, the amount of other compounds, such as EGCG, do not change. Regardless of the quality of the matcha, rest assured that nearly all matcha powders will retain a favorable amount of l-theanine. 

The impact of this unparalleled amino acid and catechin combination is two-fold: their influence on taste and their influence on physiological and psychological state. Specifically, they have been shown to be involved with the biomarkers, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF), known for improving brain health and neuronal growth. 

In particular, l-theanine binds to the glutamatergic AMPA receptor which is known for its inhibitory signaling for relaxation and focus; its relationship with glutamate also speaks to its relationship with BDNF and NGF, both linked to their roles in the prevention and slowing progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson Disease.

It would be impossible for me to write an article about matcha and not discuss the incredible nature of the polyphenol and catechin, EGCG. It is associated with the promotion of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and cardiometabolic effects, and it has been thought that when ingested daily, it can work synergistically with other organ systems to modulate cholesterol levels, increase metabolism and induce anti-tumor pathways. Beyond the few benefits mentioned, long-term regular consumption of matcha has been demonstrated to have a multifaceted impact throughout the body.

As an Integrative Health Pharmacist, the topic of caffeine consumption comes up frequently. While some believe that caffeine should not be consumed at all and others believe moderation is key, I believe matcha can be a beautifully peaceful part of a balanced routine that also incorporates lifestyle elements such as restful sleep, meditation, colorful diet and frequent activity. 

Next time at your local coffee shop when you have the choice between coffee and matcha, try a matcha latte; whether warm and comforting, or iced and refreshing, take a sip and marvel at the history and nutritional value packed inside your seemingly tiny to-go cup.

The History of Hemp | Part 2

The Challenging Path to Legalization

The propaganda around cannabis began to surface in the early 1900’s as a product of Americans’ growing prejudice towards the influx of Mexican immigrants after the Mexican Revolution. The Mexican immigrants had their own use for cannabis and referred to it as “marihuana.” Not only did they use it for medicinal purposes, but they smoked it recreationally, which was a new concept for Americans. Politicians quickly jumped on the opportunity to label cannabis “marihuana” in order to give it a bad rap by making it sound more authentically Mexican at a time of extreme prejudice.

During this time many anti-marijuana campaigns were conducted to raise awareness about the many harmful effects the drug caused, including statements that marijuana turned users into killers and drug addicts. These false statements were made up in an attempt to get rid of Mexican immigrants.

The war on cannabis

The all-out war against marijuana started when Harry J. Anslinger was named director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.  He created a narrative that the plant was something foreign that was invading the United States, rather than accurately portraying it as something that had been used within the country for hundreds of years. As he began to build his new agency, he realized that opiates and cocaine would not be enough, so he turned towards marijuana. He worked relentlessly to make it illegal. Here are some of his quotes he used to propel white Americans to start turning against Cannabis:

“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”

“Reefer makes darkies think they are as good as white men.”

”Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashin”

”Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”

This started fueling films and propaganda pieces like the infamous Reefer Madness, continuing to impact the public’s opinion of cannabis.

To further make hemp and cannabis  perceived as something bad, William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper owner who had a significant stake in the timber industry and disliked the Mexican immigrants, encouraged advertising and articles in his newspapers citing the dangers of cannabis. Hemp was a potential threat to Hearst’s timber business for paper production. Plus telling outright lies about Mexicans and the violence marijuana was causing sold newspapers, bringing him significant profits. Some of these articles were later used by Congress in their decision to ban hemp.

Additionally, Anslinger and Hearst were then supported by various pharmaceutical companies to try to outlaw cannabis because people could grow it themselves. They knew how versatile the plant was in treating a wide range of medical conditions and that meant a loss of profits.

So they all teamed up to form The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which banned both hemp and cannabis from being sold in the United States. Cannabis was made illegal in an attempt to illicit racism against the Mexican immigrants, to help corporations with competing industries, and to help boost the profits of large pharmaceutical companies. The impacts of these false campaigns are still felt today. 

Things just continued to spiral downwards. The first detention for the sale of cannabis occurred on October 2, 1937. In 1942, cannabis was excluded from the American Pharmacopoeia and the medical use of marijuana was no longer recognized throughout the the United States. From here, the number of countries in which this plant was outlawed skyrocketed, in proportion to the requests of many companies related to health and medicine to stop these policies.

The History of Hemp | Part 1

While decades of cannabis prohibition may lead you to believe that hemp and the therapeutic benefits of CBD are a more recent discovery, that is far from the truth. For thousands of years, hemp and cannabis were used as medicine, for textiles and fabrics, and were a major part of everyday life.

Did you know the United States in the even had a military video, Hemp for Victory?

 

Used For Over 10,000 Decades

Hemp and CBD has a long, rich history with mankind.  Evidence of hemp cultivation was discovered in an ancient village in Taiwan dating back over 12,000 years. Historical experts suggest that cannabis was one of the first plant species to be grown in a controlled manner by humans initiated around 10,000-12,000 B.C. and recognize hemps seeds as one of the critical pieces in early human diet. It’s first uses were primarily as food, although ancient people also took advantage of both its fibers for the production of cloth and its medicinal properties to alleviate their ailments.

There is evidence of the different uses of hemp in China during the period between 6,000-8,000 B.C.. Researchers have also found indicators of the use of cannabis oil and seeds as food in the year 6000 B.C., and of its use as fiber to make textile products. The first recorded use of cannabis-derived medicine occurred around 2727 B.C., when Chinese Emperor Sheng Neng used a cannabis-infused tea to help with a variety of health ailments that included poor memory, malaria, and even gout. He was considered by many to be the father of Chinese medicine and believed that hemp had medicinal properties and could be used for a wide variety of ailments. Yeng authored a text known as the Pen Ts’u which is still used by practitioners of Chinese medicine. This was one of the first medical texts to make reference to the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. 

The cultivation and usage of cannabis spread to the middle East around 2,000 B.C. and continued spreading into Russia.  Zoroaster, who was an important religious figure in ancient Persia, classified it as one of the most important medicinal plants of 10,000 plants he studied in the year 700 B.C..  It continued to spread into Africa and from there into Europe as cultures realized the vast benefits and usage of this plant.

A Greek physician, Pedacius Dioscorides, would accompany the Romans on many of their military campaigns and would gather many of the plants he discovered in these foreign lands. He would study these plants for their potential therapeutic properties and complied his findings of over 600 different plants in a book known as the MATERIA MEDICA. This book referenced cannabis as one of the plants that held medical potential. In 563 A.D. a Portuguese physician, Garcia da Orta, made the first official reports of the medicinal benefits of cannabis/hemp/CBD.

The many uses of hemp

For the next thousand years the use of hemp and cannabis continued to be an integral part of life. As geographic cultures began to emerge; different types of people used cannabis for different types of things –  both functional and medicinal. Viking explorers kept large stocks of hemp rope and hemp seeds wherever they went. Early Arabic cultures used hemp and cannabis to make paper and paper based products. The Italian military used hemp for the sails and ropes on their ships. The plant was used recreationally by Indians and Muslims as well. In 1150, the Muslims built the first paper mill in Europe; most of the paper manufactured over the next 850 years was made of cannabis.

In the 1500s, growing hemp was actually required by all farmers in England and was also a requirement for the developing colonies in the Americas. In fact, the first ships to make the voyage to the Americas had sails made from hemp. The cultivation of hemp became part of everyday life in the developing nation. In colonial America hemp was used for creating rope, clothing, and other materials.

With the continued use of Cannabis, physicians and scientists around the world continued to study this plant and its vast therapeutic properties.  In 1565 Chinese physician, Li Shih-Chen, created the first report to document Cannabis in relation to antibiotic and anti-nausea effects.

In 1753, a Swedish Scientist gave hemp its scientific name, cannabis sativa, when he used it as an ingredient in a medicine to treat gastrointestinal issues. Throughout the 1800’s the use of cannabis in medicine was very common. Queen Victoria used CBD-rich cannabis for menstrual cramps. As more people discovered and supported the medicinal benefits of CBD and hemp, cannabis was added to the United States Pharmacopoeia list in 1850. 

The beginning of the end

So you may be asking, how did we get to Prohibition when for thousand of years the many uses of Cannabis, Hemp and CBD was recognized? Unfortunately, things started to get really political in regards to cannabis/hemp/CBD. Corporations began to see cannabis as a threat to their profits. Politicians and lawmakers saw cannabis as an opportunity to use it as a tool for creating racism and injustice.

Continue reading Part 2: The Challenging Path to Legalization

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