The pot leaf made a pleasing snap as I grabbed it by its stem and ripped it off a cannabis plant. I threw that leaf in my bag and grabbed another, then another, then another. I was going to need a lot of leaves.
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The pot plant I was pulling leaves off of was more than 12 feet tall and full of plump flowers reaching toward the sky. But I wasn't after those nuggets. What I was making required only the leaves, and a lot of them. After filling the paper bag, I returned home and started pushing the fan-like leaves through a juicer.
The machine jumped and jerked, but eventually out came a stream of deep-green juice that was so thick and viscous, it looked oily and almost not potable. This is the juice of the pot plant, and it might be the next big thing in medical pot. Its effectiveness is still being researched, but there's one thing we know: There's no way it will get you high.
Pot plants don't actually create THC, the compound responsible for getting us high. They produce a compound called THCA, what scientists refer to as the acid form of THC. THCA turns into THC when it's heated—which is why we smoke cannabis flowers instead of eating them. So that green juice I squeezed out of those pot leaves won't get me high, but that might be where its therapeutic potential lies.
THCA doesn't engage the same receptors that THC does (that's why we don't get high from THCA), but it does engage other receptors that have medical potential. For example, THCA engages a receptor called PPAR gamma, which is involved in a lot of autoimmune diseases. Sunil Kumar Aggarwal, an MD and PhD who works as a cannabis doctor at Bellevue's SageMED clinic, said with more research, raw cannabinoids like THCA could turn out to be transformative medicines.
"Juicing is very promising, but I don't have human clinical data like I have in other indications like pain, spasticity, and nausea. We just don't have it there yet, but I am very interested in it for autoimmune diseases," Aggarwal said.
Aggarwal also pointed to CBDA, the raw version of CBD, pot's second most famous compound. CBDA has been shown to inhibit a receptor called COX-2, which might be a gold mine of medicinal uses. Pharmaceutical COX-2 inhibitors are widely prescribed for inflammatory conditions like menstrual cramps, arthritis, and muscle injuries, but the pharmaceutical versions also have punishing side effects. Two widely prescribed COX-2 inhibitors were banned by the FDA in the mid-2000s after they were found to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Raw pot might be able to replicate these drugs without their crazy side effects.
But how does it taste? The thick, concentrated juice that came out of my machine was terrible. It had some vegetal green flavor, but it was overwhelmingly bitter and tannic. It actually left me with a stinging feeling in the back of my throat. After that initial sip, I mixed the juice with water and it became tolerable. It didn't sting and was less bitter, and the green flavor was just as apparent.
Then I mixed that watered-down version with orange juice, and it went from tolerable to enjoyable. The sweetness of the orange juice rounded out the bitter astringency into something pleasurable, and the orange notes didn't cover up the strong green flavor.
Was it the medicine of the future? I'm not sure, but I'd drink more pot.