In the 1980s, it was butter and eggs and the occasional diet soda that were out to get us. In the 1990s, we avoided all fat – the saturated, the unsaturated. Now, in modern times, many people stick to diets that are entirely gluten-free. Part of this is the result of necessity and survival – some people have Celiac Disease or other types of gluten sensitivity that cause them to grow ill (perhaps severely) whenever it’s consumed. But part of this is also fad – we hear that gluten is bad for a friend and we assume it’s bad for us too. And, so, we wonder where it’s lurking. Is it hiding in things we eat? Is it hiding in things we smoke? Is it in cannabis? The answer to the latter question is no, but...
What is Gluten, Exactly?
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, Gluten is the name given to proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid). Gluten helps food keep their shape and, true to the “glue” it sounds like, it helps hold food together.
Gluten is found in all sort of things, some you’d expect and some that are surprising. It’s in bread, soups, baked goods, pasta, cereals, salad dressings, sauces, food coloring, brewer’s yeast, malt, and, tragically, beer. Some grains don’t have gluten. Brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, corn, sorghum, and millet don’t have it and neither do oats. Still, oats are sometimes contaminated with it during processing.
Why Gluten is Bad
As mentioned above, gluten isn’t truly bad for everyone. Some people don’t need to avoid it, some people might choose to avoid it as a means to optimize wellness, and some people have no choice but to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle. Per Web MD, one in five people reduce or eliminate gluten altogether, but only around one percent of the population has Celiac Disease, an autoimmune and digestive disorder. For people with this disease, eating gluten causes damage to the intestines. This not only prevents nutrients from being absorbed, but it also causes pain, bloating, weight loss, diarrhea, and constipation. Some people may have such severe Celiac Disease that altering their diet isn’t enough; they may need to purchase gluten-free shampoos, lotions, and other toiletries. Irritable Bowel Syndrome may also be influenced by gluten and IBS is much more common that Celiac’s: according to Live Science, it affects up to 20 percent of US adults. This is due to gluten grains having a high sugar and starch content, two things that can inflame intestinal bacteria. People whose IBS is piqued may experience bloating, cramping, and loose stools.
Of course, you can have a sensitivity to gluten without having Celiacs or IBS. People with this sensitivity have similar symptoms but don’t possess the actual disease. Allergies are another reason people may go gluten-free. If you are allergic to wheat, for instance, you’ll eliminate it from your diet and, as a result, much of the gluten too.
Diets void of gluten (or those that minimize it) are popular: in 2015 alone, Americans spent more than 4 billion dollars on gluten-free snacks and meals. For those involved in the cannabis industry, this offers a potential cash cow: merge the weed industry with the food industry and create gluten-free cannabis. Cha-ching! However, this has already been done: cannabis is naturally gluten-free. But, that’s only when you’re speaking of the plant in its true form: if you take an edible, it might have gluten depending on its ingredients.
Thus, if you have a disease exacerbated by gluten or you have a sensitivity, take caution when entering a bakery or dispensary. Tell the budtender about your dietary restrictions so that they can point you towards products that won’t make you sick.
Marijuana and Celiac Disease
Since it contains no gluten, cannabis won’t hurt people with Celiac Disease. In fact, it may do the opposite – a study conducted in 2013 at the University of Teramo in Italy found that cannabinoid receptors located in the intestines were more numerous in people with Celiac’s who’d gone untreated. Hence, the theory is that marijuana can target these receptors, providing people with relief. There is anecdotal evidence that speaks to this as well – throughout history, weed has been used as a way to help ease the discomfort of gastrointestinal disorders. It’s well-known for being an antiemetic (something that reduces nausea and vomiting) as well as an analgesic (something that numbs pain). It’s also a potent anti-inflammatory, making it beneficial to everyone, regardless of their ability to digest gluten.
This evidence appears to be good enough for the Institute of Medicine as they, upon concluding government-sponsored reviews, reported, “For patients who suffer simultaneously from severe pain, nausea, and appetite loss, cannabinoid drugs might offer broad-spectrum relief not found in any other single medication.” Indica strains like Girl Scout Cookies are usually the strain of choice for patients dealing with Celiac Disease. Doctors recommend these strains over sativas because of their ability to relax the muscles.
If the muscles are relaxed, muscle contractions slow down and make digestion easier. This relieves discomfort in the process.
Marijuana may also help patients who suffer from weight loss – we all know that pot helps our hunger. And it may help with anxiety and depression too – stress is common in people with gluten-free diets as they’re forced to watch what they eat constantly. Going out to lunch or to someone’s house for dinner is challenging. Even grocery shopping is full of angst and apprehension.
People who can’t eat gluten can rest assured that their ganja is good to go. Edibles may contain gluten because of their supplemental ingredients, but cannabis itself is your BFF, regardless of dietary restrictions. If you’re using it as a way to manage the symptoms of a disease, ask your budtender for strains that they recommend and then celebrate your new bud with a gluten-free beer. Some of it is not too bad.