By Nevin Martell
For several years Joel Mehr was in pain every day. His joints were inflamed and he had soreness throughout his body, brought on by a combination of being overweight and spending most of the day on his feet as co-owner of Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza. Further complicating matters were regular back spasms, thelingering effects of a years-old yoga injury. At 48, he was willing to do anything for relief, but when he read an article online about the potential ameliorative benefits of eating raw cannabis leaves, he was—no pun intended—highly skeptical.
That’s because this methodology is a far cry from smoking or vaporizing cannabis, or eating cannabis-infused edibles. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive component found in the flowers (also known as the buds) of cannabis. THC is the best known of the plant’s more than 60 known cannabinoids, the chemical components that interact with the brain’s cannabinoid receptors to get users stoned and potentially help them deal with variety of ailments and symptoms. Cannabis has been used for fighting the nausea associated with chemotherapy, stopping migraine headaches, minimizing muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis, helping patients sleep and other issues.
In order to unlock the power of THC, the flowers of the plant need to be dried and exposed to heat. But medical cannabis proponents, including Dr. Chanda Macias of the National Holistic Healing Center (holistichealingdc.com), a medical marijuana dispensary in Dupont Circle, believe you can skip those steps and eat the plant’s raw leaves to access the plant’s other organic compounds, including terpenes. These aromatic oils—such as limonene, myrcene and linalool—are found in a variety of plants. They contribute the namesake scents and flavors to various cannabis strains like Sour Diesel and Blueberry Kush. Additionally, they are purported to possess various health benefits—from working as muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories to being sedatives and antidepressants.
Scientific evidence on the ameliorative effects of terpenes and the overall benefits of eating raw cannabis is limited, but there’s growing interest in the medical cannabis community.
There’s one catch: “Eating raw cannabis doesn’t have a euphoric effect,” says Macias.
This appealed to Mehr, who wanted to be clear-headed for work. He decided to give the treatment a try, so he placed four cannabis plants in his large outdoor garden in the 16th Street Heights neighborhood last spring.
Soon enough the plants were prospering, eventually towering six feet in the air and spreading just as wide. “It really does grow like a weed,” says Mehr. “And you could smell it for a three-house radius.”
Every morning, he would cut off a handful of leaves and blend them into his breakfast smoothie—they’re too fibrous to simply chew—which would be filled out with a banana, whatever fruit was in season, a little water, vegetarian protein powder and fresh ginger or turmeric, if he was in the mood. (Other adherents simply juice the leaves.)
“The leaves don’t have any resemblance to the taste of a cannabis-infused edible,” he clarifies. “They taste leafy and vegetal. A little like dandelion greens, but without the bitterness.”
Over the ensuing weeks, Mehr noticed his pain subsiding. “Now I’m rarely sore,” he says, additionally crediting a 30-pound weight loss to his newfound feeling of wellness. “I have no scientific evidence to back anything up, but I know how I feel.”
He plans on adding four new cannabis plants to his garden this year, though he is going to shield them from passersby this time. At the end of last summer, someone stole his best cannabis plant.
Grow Your Own Way
Medical cannabis dispensaries don’t sell raw leaves, so those interested in exploring the potential benefits should seriously consider growing cannabis. Thanks to Initiative 71, District residents aged 21 and older—as long as they don’t live in federally subsidized housing, where cannabis possession and growth is illegal—can possess six mature, flowering plants per household, as well as another six immature plants.
However, cultivating cannabis isn’t easy. The plant is notoriously finicky. Without the proper watering, light, ventilation, nutrition and pruning, it can easily become distressed, diseased or die. Even if it does survive, its yield potential and the amount of THC in the buds can vary greatly depending on its treatment. That’s why Natalie Carver co-founded Buds Organic (budsorganic.com), a DC–based consulting firm that helps home growers install and maintain cannabis gardens.
The self-proclaimed chief cannabis coach starts off with an initial consultation with clients, which covers “everything you need to know before you grow,” she says.
Depending on the sophistication and resources of the grower, Carver can simply coach a client as they use their own growing setup or she can build a garden from scratch and provide as much hands-on help as the customer needs. No matter what route green thumbs take, they should be able to start trimming off raw cannabis leaves after a month of growth.