Is it safe to take St. John’s Wort and Cannabis at the same time?
St. John’s Wort and cannabis are rather deviant plants in our world today. One is totally legal but greatly misunderstood. The other is only legal in some places yet also greatly misunderstood.
When we throw the subject of depression into the scenario, there’s even more confusion.
Some people say that St. John’s Wort inhibits the effects of cannabis. Others say that St. John’s Wort enhances the effects of cannabis. And others (I love this one) say that St. John’s Wort simply interferes with the effects of cannabis.
How wonderfully vague and unhelpful in every way.
There’s a whole mess of conflicting information out there.
After diving into the research, I found that we are really looking at multiple scenarios that appear to be independent of each other… but somehow we’ve mixed them together.
Why are you taking St. John’s Wort to begin with?
Scenario #1: People take St. John’s Wort for depression though St. John’s Wort has a bad rap when it comes to antidepressant medication.
St. John’s Wort has been a known antidepressant throughout herbal history. This is primarily due to its properties as a nervine. A nervine is a plant that aids in nerve related ailments, such as damage to nerve endings. (This is why a salve of St. John’s Wort is in every herbalist’s emergency kit: burns, wounds, general skin trauma, etc.).
Its nervine properties also make the plant beneficial for relaxing the nervous system during all types of muscle spasms including menopause and menstruation. It is these nerve supporting properties that help a person with depression and anxiety issues.
In the prescription drug world, there are two main types of antidepressants:
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
St. John’s Wort used to be considered an MAO inhibitor in the scientific community. This lead to a lot of unease when it came to taking St. John’s Wort in combination with actual MAO drugs – two active MAOs at once would make for some dangerous consequences.
Eventually, upon further research, this claim has been proven to be inaccurate:
“However, further studies determined that hypericin’s (the primary constituent of St. John’s Wort) ability to inhibit MAO was lower than was originally estimated. Moreover, the levels of hypericin necessary to obtain significant MAO inhibition were far greater than those likely to be found in human brain tissue at normal doses.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92750/)
But alas… although it has since been disproven, it appears the feelings of unease still remain.
Taylor Swift was right: haters gonna hate.
Is cannabis a safe antidepressant?
Scenario #2: Cannabis is an antidepressant… sort of.
There’s actually some mixed information out there about using cannabis for depression. It appears that if depression is a side effect of some other ailment, then cannabis is helpful.
For example, if you’re using cannabis to alleviate the side effects of cancer treatment, you will certainly feel less depressed. But, using cannabis solely for depression can be… well, sticky.
When it comes to depression, correct strain and dosage is key to safe cannabis use!
There is not a one-size-fits-all:
- If you’re prone to anxiety, High-CBD strains are supposed to make you feel more euphoric without the effect of anxiety.
- If your down in mood AND energy, sativas are supposed to be more energizing than indicas.
- If your depressed because of insomnia (or vice versa) then an indica could help you get some sleep.
- If you’re depressed because you’re in physical pain, a strain with high amounts of both THC and CBD could treat you nicely.
- Strains high in the terpene limonene are said to promote more happiness.
- Some sources say that lower doses of cannabis alleviate depression, while higher doses actually make depression worse.
Strain and dosage aside, a study at the University of Buffalo found that chronic stress may suppress the brain’s production of endocannabinoids, leading to depression.
Bringing cannabis into the body’s endocannabinoid system may help restore normal levels and function, thus relieving the depression. (https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/medical-marijuana-for-depression#benefits)
So, can cannabis relieve your symptoms of depression? Yes!
Can cannabis make you more depressed? Yes!
The solution: Know thyself, know thy cannabis.
Antidepressant drugs vs. antidepressant herbs
Scenario #3: St. John’s Wort and cannabis are not researched or manufactured as plants.
Here’s where people seem to get confused: St. John’s Wort and cannabis are not drugs.
As plants, they have massive amounts of phytonutrients, trace minerals, and chemical compounds that work in synergy to create a safe and effective medicine.
The majority of these plants’ properties are still largely undiscovered by the scientific community.
The hard part is that our scientific community has a tendency to dissect and examine parts of the whole.
As an example, a research study may extract a part of a plant and study only that extraction. But without the help of some of the plant’s other properties, that single extraction might be considered toxic.
If the plant was studied as a whole, then it may have been considered safe.
Ah, synergy. It’s a beautiful thing.
From the herbalist community, St. John’s Wort has been considered completely safe throughout centuries of use in folk medicine. This is because herbalists know only to use plants in their whole and natural state. This doesn’t mean they take every part of the plant, it just means that they don’t separate or remove any of the chemical components.
A tincture can be made from the leaves of a plant, whereby all the chemical components from those leaves are extracted into the solvent.
What is a “Standardized Extract” and why does it matter?
When it comes to St. John’s Wort, the majority of the known undesirable side effects have likely come from the tendency to extract hypericin from St. John’s Wort. Hypericin is one of the principal active constituents.
Extracting hypericin is how St. John’s Wort is normally tested and, even, manufactured for the desired potency.
This is called a “standardized extract”.
It means that manufacturers guarantee a predetermined percentage of certain plant components in their herbal supplements. While this can be a good thing to ensure quality sourcing and processing of herbs, it can also mean that the herbs have been manipulated in a way that now renders them unsafe.
Better to have whole herbs that have been well-sourced and manufactured.
Cannabis is also being tested in the same way.
Researchers tend to isolate, extract and study only certain components of the cannabis plant.
However, cannabis is usually only consumed in its whole and natural state. So, cannabis hasn’t had many of the same issues that standardized herbal supplements have had.
What happens when I use St. John’s Wort and Cannabis? Is it safe?
In summary, we can make the following claims about using St. John’s Wort and cannabis:
- In general, St. John’s Wort has an outdated prejudice against it due to false claims as a MAO inhibitor (a type of antidepressant)
- St. John’s Wort and cannabis don’t explicitly mingle with each other since they support two different systems in the body:
- St. John’s Wort supports the nervous system,
- Cannabis supports the endocannabinoid system;
- St. John’s Wort has a history of misuse by consumers, researchers and manufacturers by using an isolated compound (hypericin) rather than using the whole plant;
- Cannabis strains and dosage play a huge role in alleviating depression.
Whole herbs + Knowledgeable user = A Safe Combination
If you are taking a whole form of St. John’s Wort for depression, you should be able to safely consume cannabis so long as you are taking the correct strain and dosage based on your needs and tolerance.
Jennifer started studying traditional herbal medicine in 2008 from the School of Natural Healing in Springville, Utah. She went on to receive her Masters in Herbology in 2014 and has since developed an herbal supplement company that sells herbal capsules for motion sickness, aptly called “Funsavers”. While her primary experience is in North American plants, she has also studied Hawaiian herbal medicine (La'au Lapa'au) while living on the island of Kaua'i for 6 years. When teaching people about herbal medicine, her goal is to keep things as simple and as “real” as possible; offering ways to incorporate easy-to-find herbs into one's existing habits and lifestyle. She also keeps an inquisitive eye on the research that has been done on herbal medicine, seeking the truth among the biases. In her spare time, she is a singer/songwriter and a regression hypnotist.