The Importance of Cannabis Roots: Medical Potential, History, and Current Uses

Most growers give little thought to the roots of cannabis plants beyond ensuring that they’re healthy and supplied with water, nutrients, oxygen and drainage—before discarding them at harvest time. But the roots have been used in folk medicine for millennia, and contain several compounds that may be of medicinal value.

To get to the roots of it, let’s first investigate how these roots have been used in the past:

Use of cannabis roots as medicine through history

Cannabis roots have a long-documented history of being used for medicinal purposes. The oft-cited Chinese herbal Shennong pên Ts’ao ching, dated to around 2700 BCE, mentions that cannabis root was dried and ground to form the basis of a paste used to reduce pain caused by broken bones or surgery.

It was also crushed to extract the fresh juice, or boiled to make a decoction, and in this manner used in many ways, including:

  • As a diuretic
  • As an anti-haemorrhagic to stop post-partum bleeding in childbirth (as well as other forms of bleeding)
  • To ease difficult childbirth
  • To reduce pain and swelling from bruises and scrapes

The Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote in his Naturalis Historia in around 79 CE that cannabis root could be boiled in water to make a preparation that relieved joint cramps, gout and acute pain. He also stated that the raw root could be applied directly to burns to reduce pain and blistering, but must be changed frequently to prevent drying-out.

The Roman physician Dioscorides also attested to the use of boiled cannabis root poultices to treat inflammation, gout and ‘twisted sinews’. The Greek medical writer Oribasius wrote that the ‘dry’ root could also be applied to eruptions of the skin such as subcutaneous cysts, when mixed in equal quantities with pigeon droppings—although no other source apparently makes this claim.

The English physician, William Salmon wrote in the early 18th century that hemp root could be mixed with barley flower and applied as a poultice to treat sciatica and hip joint pain. From the late 18th century up to the turn of the 20th century, American physicians would recommend decoctions of hemp root and seeds to treat inflammation, incontinence and venereal disease.

Modern-day use of cannabis roots

Traditional use of cannabis root is known to have persisted up to at least the 1960s in Argentina, where it was used to reduce fever, dysentery, and gastric complaints and to improve overall health and well-being. There’s  also a hemp-root tea known as ma cha that is still consumed in Korea, although it’s not exactly clear what its medicinal benefits are supposed to be.

Many modern-day growers, as well as dispensaries and patients in the USA, utilise preparations made from cannabis root to provide subjective relief from a range of ailments. Some home-brew cannabis root ‘tea’, usually by slowly simmering the dried, powdered root (often with cinnamon bark, anise, or other aromatics) in a crock pot for twelve hours or more before straining and drinking.

If it’s put back on to boil after straining, it can also be reduced down to a gummy, tarry extract to form the basis of tinctures or liniments. Others will simmer the root in oil and water, before separating out the residual oil from the water and plant matter and using as the basis for topical medications.

Some even use the root in its dry, powdered form to make dry poultices that can help to soothe and heal burns, cuts and skin complaints such as dermatitis. There’s even one report of dried, powdered root being used to ‘draw out’ the venom from a scorpion sting—this may have some validity, as fresh cannabis juice was apparently used for this purpose in ancient China.

Today, some dispensaries also reportedly stock preparations made from hemp and cannabis root, that can be found in body lotions, salves, lip balms, massage oils and many other products.  

Cannabinoids in the roots

There is evidence to suggest that cannabis roots contain some trace quantity of cannabinoids (particularly CBD), and that the concentration depends on the strain, as well as being affected to some extent by environmental factors. Apparently on this basis, there are now various outlets in the USA selling powdered, ‘activated’ cannabis root ostensibly for its high CBD concentrations. However, it appears that the concentration of CBD in cannabis root is very low, and it’s doubtful that it would have any medical efficacy at such levels.

A Canadian study published in 2012 analysed Finola hemp and found that the flowers contained CBDA (the acidic precursor to CBD) at an approximately 2.4% concentration, while the leaves, stems and roots contained 0.5%, 0.04% and 0.004% respectively. The parts also contained the precursor to CBDA, a substance known as hexanoyl-CoA, in concentrations of 15.5%, 4.0%, 2.2% and 1.5% respectively. Studies into high-THC varieties are apparently not available, but it’s likely that the roots would also exhibit much lower concentrations than the flowers and leaves.

Other substances of medical interest in cannabis roots

Although the roots are primarily composed of sugars and lipids, low levels of terpenes, alkaloids and various other compounds have been isolated. In 1971, it was determined that ethanol extract of hemp roots contained the terpenes friedelin, pentacyclic triterpene ketones, and epifriedelanol

Friedelin is thought to have hepatoprotective (liver-protecting) and antioxidant effects,  epifriedelanol has been demonstrated to have antitumour effects, and several pentacyclic triterpene ketones are thought to cause apoptosis in cancer cells, as well as reduce inflammation, pain and bacterial infection and possess diuretic and immunomodulatory properties.

Several alkaloids that may be of medicinal value have been identified in cannabis roots, as well. The alkaloids piperidine and pyrrolidine have both been found in the roots, as well as in the stems, seeds, pollen and leaves. These alkaloids can be highly toxic in high doses, but in smaller doses have been found to have various medical benefits.

Piperidine is used as a chemical ‘building block’ for various pharmaceuticals, particularly those involved in psychiatric medicine such as paroxetine and haloperidol. Pyrrolidine is also used as a building block for a class of stimulant drugs known as racetams.

The roots of cannabis have also been noted to contain choline and atropine in small quantities. Choline is an essential dietary nutrient that is the precursor to the predominant neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and is thought to be crucial to the maintenance of healthy cell membranes.

It’s thought that postmenopausal women are extremely likely to be deficient in choline, meaning that hemp-root tea consumed orally could provide important benefits. Atropine is well-known as a means to dilate the pupil and relax the eye muscles. It also has bronchodilatory properties, and is used to increase heart rate during medical resuscitation.

Cannabis roots and sex determination

It appears that cannabis roots grow differently according to their gender, and that a complex set of genetic interactions determines them both. A study into hemp varieties in Russia seems to clearly demonstrate this. It showed young cannabis plants would develop into male plants 80-90% of the time if they:

  • Were cut off above the root
  • Were processed as cuttings and kept in an aerated nutrient solution
  • Had all new roots cut off as soon as they appeared

However, if roots were allowed to regenerate then 80-90% would develop as females.

The researchers also treated the de-rooted cuttings with 6-benzylaminopurine, a synthetic cytokinin (plant hormones that facilitate cytokinesis, or cell division) that is known to be involved in cell division and differentiation, as well as overall growth and development. Treated cuttings developed in 80% female plants. This strongly suggests that cytokinin production in the roots plays a strong role in sex determination in cannabis.

Making sure your roots are healthy

If cultivating with the intention of using the roots, hydroponic and aeroponic techniques are preferable as they allow for a finer degree of precision when administering nutrients, enable the grower to regularly inspect for progress and signs of ill-health, and ensure that the roots will be clean and free from soil.

Plant breeders have developed specialised systems to maximise root health and growth; the best-known technique involves integrated air-pruning of roots to encourage dense growth within a specified volume.

Air-pruning of roots refers to the natural die-off of roots when exposed to low humidity and air. There are many pots and trays designed with perforated sides available, which helps this to occur naturally.

As the roots die off, the plant continually regenerates new roots, and the root ball itself becomes thick and dense. It’s preferable to air-prune rather than allow roots to hit the sides of pots and then continue to grow around the container, as this leads to twisted, strangulated roots that exhibit reduced nutrient uptake. As well as ensuring the good health of the roots themselves, air-pruning also improves the plant’s overall health and eventual yield.

Keeping roots fed with a mister or dripper system is generally advisable. Some growers will switch the pumps on 2-8 times per day (with increasing frequency as the root mass increases in size), allowing the medium to dry out slightly between feeds.

During the vegetative period, which of course is the period which undergoes the most extensive root growth, the roots should be directly supplied with light vegetative-stage nutrient solution and root boosting solution. Ensure that adequate airflow is provided to the outside of the pots or trays, so the roots will be exposed to the maximum fresh air and will dry out rapidly—it’s also a good idea to direct a fan (or multiple fans!) towards the roots to boost airflow.

What to do with cannabis roots, and how to clean them

Now, with plenty of healthy roots to work with, they should be cleaned before using them for anything. Carefully remove the roots from the soil, keeping as much of it intact as possible. This is best done when the soil is still moist, as dry soil will try to cling to the roots even more.

Gently knock the roots on the ground or the side of the pot to try to let most of the soil fall off. Then cut the roots from the plant stalk (leaving a little wiggle room to work with) and remove any leaves.

Using water, rinse the roots well until (hopefully) no soil at all remains (especially if there are plans to consume them in any way). This may take a while. Don’t use hot water. Room temperature water is best, but if needed, lukewarm water can be used too. A soft toothbrush may help.

How to make your own cannabis root balm

At this point, there several things that can be done with the roots, all with their own benefits. With a little effort and perseverance, and some trial and error, it’s even possible to select a variety of strains to be used alone or in combination, to make balms and salves with a range of potency and potential uses.

Typically, the roots of cannabis are dried prior to being processed into balm. Then, the dried root mass is broken up into small chunks, or ground into powder with a pestle and mortar or a blender.

Once the dried root is broken down into a rough powder, it’s added to a slow cooker along with oil and water and gently heated for up to 12 hours, allowing the volatile compounds (including terpenoids and potentially even cannabinoids) to dissolve in the oil. The addition of water prevents the mixture from drying out and the oil from ‘frying’ the roots; the mixture should be checked every hour or so and fresh water added if necessary.

Once the heating stage is complete, the liquid is strained off and the residual root pulp is separated out and either discarded or frozen (to be processed a second time if deemed necessary). The liquid is placed in a freezer, and after some time the water will freeze while the volatile oils rise to the surface and can be scraped cleanly off. At this temperature, the oils will usually have a semi-solid, waxy consistency. At room temperature though, they will be much more liquid, and should have a smooth, translucent appearance.

Once the oil has been separated from the ice, it can be reheated and beeswax can be added to achieve a less runny, more spreadable consistency at room temperature. Trial and error is the best way to establish the desired consistency.

At this time, aromatic essential oils can be added to the mixture to improve fragrance and possibly even enhance medicinal properties.

Potential risks of using cannabis roots

While cannabis roots no doubt possess various useful and important medicinal properties, it’s  important to note that in high doses it can cause hepatotoxicity, due to the presence of the alkaloids pyrrolidine and piperidine. It’s also reported that the alkaloid content can irritate the stomach lining; thus, oral consumption of hemp-root tea is potentially riskier than topical application.

Pyrrolidine and piperidine can also act as irritants of the skin, mucous membranes and lungs. It’s  unlikely that the compounds are present in high enough concentrations to present serious risk, but care should be taken to avoid prolonged or heavy use.

Certainly, hemp root extract should not be consumed in its undiluted, extract form. As a tea, light to moderate long-term usage should not present any serious risk, and as a topical, any reaction should present itself rapidly and use can be discontinued with no known long-term ill effects.

Our knowledge of the properties of cannabis root is still in its infancy, and as the industry continues to develop, it is likely that even more uses for them will be discovered.

  • Disclaimer:
    Laws and regulations regarding cannabis cultivation differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.

Comments

34 thoughts on “The Importance of Cannabis Roots: Medical Potential, History, and Current Uses”

  1. Thanks so much for this article! I try and use every part of the plant & was wondering about the root. This was helpful & informative .. Many thanks!

    1. Do you produce CBD oil?

      If you make CBD oil What do you make out of the by-product? Thank you Mindy

      1. John J Arredondo

        I have been making an old family recipe out full dried hemp flower, leafe, and stems with isopropyl alcohol, It gets very dark green almost looks like “Miracle Grow” has anyone just evaporated off the alchohol and done somthing with just the resado. As it gets Greener does that the CBD and trace THC gets stronger. I have let the hemp smoke for up to a month and it only gets darker. I have strand the liqued and have a very brittle plant mater that is left fully intact and a with a very dark Green color to it. Qustion, what is the left over good for as far as product formulation.

      2. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

        Hi John,

        Thanks for sharing your recipe with us! I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “product formulation” but if you are asking what you can use the liquid for, perhaps tinctures, balms and creams? Or for cooking with?

        Have any of our other readers tried anything similar?

        With best wishes,

        Scarlet

  2. Thx for the info.it’s nice to see others in society are practicing medicinal
    Med.well as for me .we just started a club .it’s called the theropidic herb club or main goal is to grow harvest educate the community on how to live grow and become wise on the beneficials of or herbs of all kinds.plz be patient with use we are just starting this non profit org.we will have a web site soon I’ll send u site info.i guess what we are getting at is ur inside and ambition interests use.plz support the T.H.C thank u.

    From use thc

    1. Richard Rambharose

      That is very admirable what you are about to be doing and I hope we can coloborate and do something positive to help others that either can’t afford to or don’t know how ,my organization is registered in the UNITED STATES called Tricia’s Wish LLC .it’s a foundation based on helping and teaching, many different things, from Science, to Technologies empower people I wish you well .

  3. Billy Mckee

    Hi thank you for that extremely well researched and well written article it is very very helpful to me and many other people.

  4. what do you think about making a tincture from a whole plant; roots, stem, leaves and some flowers? This is the method I use for making my other herbal tinctures. I cut the plant/s up fresh and are and put them in a jar with alcohol.

    Sometimes a plant works best when used all together. I am just wondering about your thoughts on this?

    1. You dig the whole plant, cut up the stems, the big stocks, the root, ECT… Do u wash them? Do you dry them. I only have roots, and the larger stems. Main stalk of the plant? Thanks

      1. Any and all parts of this wonder plant are useful. The roots I’d not heard about, but will begin my own root education.
        Washing is not necessary unless it’s dirty. Drying works best for extracting of any purposes.
        I’ve made a tincture (glycerin based) using only stems from bud smoked. The CO2 hash from stems is also excellent. The water leaves can be dried, crushed and cooked (dbl boiler) in glycerin 4-6 hours. My elderly dog survives on accounta this glycerin. Now i must try roots!

  5. Thank you so much for this article. I made a tincture with everclear and wondering if you have any information on this method?

  6. Very informative the root should be pulled on a new moon as all the goodness is in the root in higher quantities this was told to me by a Berber whilst I was in Morocco last year the Berber people use the root a lot as do the Chinese
    This amazing plant needs far more scientific examination as the Berber man said to me we only look at the top

  7. Very informative article! Could you please tell me how to prep through root? I drink tea from a dispensarie, I have just ordered the Magic Butter Machine, I need to make my own edibles. Any information you can offer me for useing the root would be greatly appreciated. Thank you Jackie

  8. Can you turn a root in to a seed?Is there a way to do so? I have an idea of something that the whole world would want to get there hands on.

    1. No You can not turn roots into seeds. You need the female flower and the male pollen to pollenate the female, then you will get seed growing in the bud as it matures.

  9. Patrick Monk RN

    PREPARATION.
    Personal medicinal use by home grower.
    A couple of years ago I tried this. I dried it whole first. It was incredibly difficult to cut up. I finally pounded it with a 10lb hammer, even then I was afraid it would damage my blender so I gave up. Would it work to cut into small pieces while it is still fresh and soft before drying. Would like to add a little to my salves.

    1. I have harvested dandelion roots for years and they also get hard when dry. They’re fairly easy to cut when fresh so I chop them roughly then use a food processor to chop them very fine. I make sure to stir them twice a day while drying. I’ve tried powdering them in a coffee grinder after they’re dry, and it worked, but I didn’t think it was worth the trouble. I’m going to try this with my plants this year. I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t work.

  10. Hi, does anyone has information in regards to the best practical way of destruction of root ball in medical marihuana industry?

  11. Great article. I grew a plant out in the back yard most of the summer. Dang it is like a tree! Do you think an outdoor plant root is going to be viable for all you suggested? We just harvested the buds have yet to claim the prize below the soil. Thanks for your hard work and research.

  12. Thank you for sharing all this information. I unfortunately cant grow in my state but im trying to learn all i can so someday my state may be legal. My question is if the roots are so large and solid like a rock how do you break them up. Do you use just the stringy part or do you crush up the solid base too and how ? Thank you for sharing your knowledge !

  13. Todd Burgess

    What the…? Obviously cannabis root is dangerous…
    That idea immediately dismissed all of this article’s credibility with me.
    I do not subscribe to the reefer madness that continues to infect information, as a legal disclaimer to future litigation, should their views ever come back to haunt them.
    BALDERDASH

  14. James Colquhoun

    I just harvested a few DWC plants and am keeping the nice clean roots. Also going to get my roots out of my 14 soil buckets I got going to right now. Very good article come check me out on YT im Growing With James or on CannabisSavesLives as well. Come check out my plants, my garden, and how I cured my 11 year old dog of bone cancer and years of chronic hip dyplasia

  15. great article… spotted it posted on facebook today
    I have 5 rootballs from my recent harvest…
    I been growing for much of the last 1/2 century & throwing the rootballs out
    Imagine how much medicine that would have made
    but now I know & will spread the word on my results
    it was a big job to clean all the dirt off just one root… like an hour of rinsing
    here come time for patience as they dry
    Thanks again Swan

    1. Swan I was thinking about taking them out back and hosing them clean.Been thinking this was possible for a long time. Glad to see others curious also.

  16. I use the Magic Butter Machine to make Obviously Butter for making edibles, tincture as a base extract for whole plant Rick Simpson oil that I have shared with and gotten great results from patients with: Epilepsy, MS, Brain Cancer, Parkinson’s, Skin Cancer, Fibromyalgia, Cronic Pain etc
    All Patients only Micro dose with between 1/2 a grain of rice and a grain of rice worth to start and once they are aware of their pain levels, stress levels, and the stoned feeling that will come from decarboxilated cannabis they adjust their daily requirements accordingly. I supply all for free as all the material that I Make it out of is donated to the cause. I will not profit from someone’s illness!
    I Do It because I know how to and want to help these People that can’t.
    I have been charged with such as well but feel the need to fill a gap that Big Pharma can’t. So I can’t see myself stopping to soon in the future.

  17. Pls delete my first comment as I made a typo At ‘Rick Simpson Oil and rectified it in the second. My apologies.

  18. Thank you for all the information you share on this page I’m also trying to learn more about cannabis roots and oils god bless you

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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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    Sanjai Sinha

    Dr Sanjai Sinha is an academic faculty member at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. He spends his time seeing patients, teaching residents and medical students, and doing health services research. He enjoys patient education and practicing evidence-based medicine. His strong interest in medical review comes from these passions.
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