Mental health and plant medicine
Wellness may reside in the body, but it begins in the mind. Like many before us, Medicine Box has noted the salutary effects plants can have on one’s well-being, whether taken as supplements or tended to in a garden.
However, only now are we seeing a movement to fully reintegrate previously stigmatized natural tools into the pharmacopoeia. With this comes the potential for a full-scale healing that is only now possible, but has always been at our fingertips.
And make no mistake — humanity has ALWAYS needed these tools. Those of us up here in western civilization just haven’t used them very well, however. My own journey through recovery revealed the underlying trauma, insecurities and ADHD I had anesthetized through my abuse of drugs and alcohol. And of course, this nation’s opioid epidemic claims approximately 130 people a day and has scattered thousands of its destitute victims across the streets of our cities and towns. However, to quote Jurassic Park, nature finds a way, and more often than not, it’s a far superior alternative to whatever we came up with on our own. Let’s break down the difference.
First thing to understand about turning to nature for mental wellness is recognizing the subtlety of its treatment. You’re never merely cloaking symptoms when working with plants, and it’s never just one isolated compound working upon you. Rather, you’re working to replenish the elements your brain needs in order to function properly, and the whole plant is working with you over time to restore this equilibrium. On the other hand, synthetic isolates mask the initial symptom quite well, but leave the initial deficiencies intact and untreated.
Take, for instance, SSRIs such as Prozac and benzodiazepines, which many use to treat their depression and anxiety. SSRIs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which I eventually learned after overcoming a dependency on them trick the brain by disrupting the reclamation of serotonin, a primary neurotransmitter. Moreover, as herbalist/holistic health practitioner Rachelle Robinett says, “Prozac interferes with the neurotransmitter action that connects the frontal lobes of the brain with the rest of the brain, thus creating a chemical lobotomy effect. The frontal lobe is the seat of higher human functions such as love, connection, empathy, creativity, initiative, autonomy and willpower. By reducing human self-consciousness these drugs may rob us of our spirituality, our very souls.” Meanwhile, benzodiazepines target the GABA neurotransmitter and enhance its effects, which can account for a momentary calm. However, neither of these medications can aid in the creation of these neurotransmitters, and of course, there’s always the side effects as well. Are there alternatives, such as exercise, time in nature, and more nutritious food? Of course, but when you’re in and out of your doctor’s office, no one has the time to drill down and discuss these options. All you get is the pill.
Within nature’s herbs and food sources, all the building blocks for the mind’s neurotransmitters can be found. Lemon balm, an ingredient used in Equanimity, contains rosmarinic acid, which disrupts the degradation of GABA in the brain. Skullcap and valerian can act as effective sedatives as well. While these options may not necessarily work equally for everyone, these options are discussed and taken seriously by even the research medics at Harvard Medical School. However, going this way does require some commitment, because it’s not the “instant relief” Big Pharma offers. Speaking as someone who had to kick SSRIs, however, I’ll take the Comprehensive Relief plant medicine offers any day.
Regaining peace of mind through nature
In late October, the Lancet published a meta-analysis of 83 studies exploring the effects of THC and CBD isolate on several mental health disorders, including ADHD, PTSD, anxiety and depression. I, for one, was not surprised to hear of the lackluster results from these cursory studies. Again, they’re using isolates, not the whole plant, and there’s no indicator of what cannabis can do in tandem with other herbs. But people are suffering NOW from these conditions, and that pain won’t stop for the courtesy of academic researchers. Whether Medicine Box is doing it or if the people end up doing it themselves, the work will be done, whether the powers that be like it or not.
And let’s face it: you don’t have to physically ingest plants in order to get something out of them. For instance, I keep many houseplants in my house, and have found tending to them a great balm for my soul. I’m not the only one — in 2008, elderly residents of a low-income assisted living facility participated in a four-week indoor gardening course, and their outcomes surveyed by researchers from the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. The ensuing assessments of the “class members showed a significant increase in mastery, self-rated health, and self-rated happiness.” Even walks in nature versus a city, it turns out, lowers activity in the prefrontal cortex, dimming the sorts of overthinking common in the depression and anxiety-afflicted.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the extraordinary discoveries — or RE-discoveries, if you will — coming out of psychedelic research. In her book Consciousness Medicine, Francoise Bourzat and Kristina Hunter explore the levels of connection those in psychedelic therapy establish with nature. For many, this connection is literal — they BECOME the trees, the rocks, and the earth. From that, they develop a stronger sense of responsibility for not only their own well-being, but the well-being of every part of the environment. This makes sense — if the world is unwell, how can we be?
That realization cannot come soon enough, for all of us, no matter what shape it takes.