Hemp roots have agricultural value in that they improve soil health and improve crop rotation, but this understudied part of the hemp plant may have medical value. While very low in THC and CBD, the roots do contain potentially beneficial terpenes like friedelin, epifriedelanol and pentacyclic triterpene ketones and alkaloids like piperidine and pyrrolidine. Moreover, the medical use of hemp roots dates back thousands of years, as noted in this 2017 study co-authored by Dr. Ethan Russo, a leading cannabis researcher who ran Phase III clinical trials for GW Pharmaceuticals.
Pliny the Elder, a famous first-century Roman naturalist, suggested a liquid root concentrate in Natural Histories for treating gout, joint stiffness and other conditions. In the 16th century, physicians like Germany’s Leonhart Fuchs and France’s François Rabelais also used the root to treat gout, as did British botanist John Parkinson in 1640, while 17th-century Polish botanist Szymon Syrenski made the curious claim that hemp roots help with “curved and shrunken body parts.” Hundreds of years earlier, 12th-century Persian philosopher Ibn Sina suggested the roots help “decrease fever,” a recommendation also found in Argentina, while the ancient Chinese pharmacopoeia Pen Ts’ao Ching said cannabis-root juice could help with postpartum hemorrhage.
By the late 1600s, physicians and botanists around the world applied hemp roots to a wide range of conditions that also included arthritis, skin burns, gastrointestinal issues, infection, “tumors” (i.e., abscess, sores, ulcers) and even sexually transmitted disease. For those who must know, a 17th-century German botanist in what is now Indonesia prepared an edible root formula for gonorrhea.
Now before shoving hemp roots down your cheatin’ boyfriend’s throat, many of these claims remain unproven. One particular use, however, seems to have the most potential: treating inflammation.
Dr. Nicholas Culpeper wrote “the decoction of the root allays inflammations of the head or any other parts” in 1653’s Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. Several other physicians made similar claims, from Brits like John Parkinson to Persians like M. Husain Khan. As noted by in the 2017 study, “There are several compounds in cannabis root with potential anti-inflammatory activity.”
Referencing several other studies, the authors listed potential medical applications for the root components that include anti-inflammatory, fever-reducing, pain-relieving, antioxidant and analgesic effects. This led them to conclude, “The current available data on the pharmacology of cannabis root components provide significant support to the historical and ethnobotanical claims of clinical efficacy. This suggests the need for reexamination of whole root preparations on inflammatory and malignant conditions employing modern scientific techniques.”
Dr. Russo & Co. then listed several traditional ways that physicians and botanists applied the roots in centuries past. They included extracting the juice, boiling the roots in water, mixing the ground root juice into oil or butter and applying the root juice topically. One account even described “mixing pulverized cannabis root with wine.”
“Despite a long history of therapeutic use,” the researchers concluded, “the roots of cannabis plants have been largely ignored in modern medical research and practice.” The study then argued in favor of renewed research, specifically singling out its potential anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.