Can You Smoke Mugwort?

a field of mugwort

When thinking of the “dream herb,” some may immediately point to cannabis or hemp. Though the nickname actually refers to mugwort, which has a long history of spiritual and medicinal use alongside its myriad applications in cooking and flavoring foods and beverages.

A number of consumers are turning to smokable herbs as an alternative to other commonly smoked substances or to enhance their typical routines. Herbs can add a number of unique flavors to your blend, and many also carry a number of their own potential benefits.

So where does that leave mugwort? If you’ve ever been curious about smoking the herb, get informed as we dive into the ins and outs!

Key Takeaways

● Mugwort has been used throughout history in a variety of cultures as a spiritual and medicinal herb.
● Mugwort contains the terpene thujone, which can work alongside a number of its other compounds to produce mild psychoactive effects.
● Mugwort is legal in the U.S., though some regions have made it against the law in regard to human consumption.
● It’s a smokable herb, but like any other, it’s important to approach with care and use in moderation, as overuse can lead to some unwanted side effects. With mild to moderate use, anecdotal and scientific evidence also shows that mugwort can come with a number of unique benefits.

What is Mugwort?

Mugwort is known by a number of different names like Felon herb, Chrysanthemum weed, Riverside Wormwood, old Uncle Henry, and sailor's tobacco. The herb is known by its scientific name, Artemisia vulgaris, and is a perennial, polyonymous weed in the dairy family originating in Europe, Asia, and North Africa (though it currently grows throughout the United States too, after European settlers introduced it as a medicinal herb).

Chinese poems and songs mentioned the herb as far back as 3 B.C. There are a number of traditional superstitions surrounding the herb, with beliefs that mugwort could protect from fatigue, sunstroke, wild animals, and evil spirits. The flowers, leaves, roots, and stems of the herb have been used in folk medicine throughout history to create a number of preparations like tinctures, extracts, tonics, teas, powders, and essential oils.

Its smell and taste is easily identifiable, with a sage-like aroma complimented by a sharp and spicy flavor, thanks largely to its unique and varied terpene profile.

Is Mugwort Psychoactive?

Unlike many smokable herbs, mugwort’s variety of compounds can produce psychoactive effects. The herb contains thujone, a GABAergic compound that can produce slight hallucinogenic and psychotropic effects. The terpene also provides a gentle, relaxing buzz and can stimulate the heart and central nervous system.

A number of additional terpenes found in mugwort can also promote psychoactive effects. These include camphor, a minty terpene that can cause mild hallucinations; α-pinene, another piney terpene that’s both uplighting and sedating; and linalool, a floral terpene often found in lavender (and related wellness products) that can work to slow down the brain and induce sedative, sleepy effects.

The mix of compounds can lead to sedating and mild hallucinogenic effects, potentially even inspiring vivid, psychedelic dreams — it is called the dream herb, after all. With mild and moderate doses of mugwort, users can expect fairly mellow psychoactive effects, but higher doses can lead to more profound results.

Is Mugwort Legal?

Mugwort is federally uncontrolled in the U.S., so citizens are able to buy parts of the plants and its extracts legally. Cultivation, buying, possessing, and distributing mugwort is also legal without a license or prescription.

However, it’s important to check on your local laws before getting down on some mugwort. A number of U.S. cities and states have outlawed the herb when it comes to human consumption, and planting mugwort in some states can lead to hefty fines.

Can Mugwort Be Smoked?

Mugwort has been smoked for centuries as part of rituals, ceremonies, and to promote lucid dreaming. So yes, smoking mugwort is nothing new!

Like a number of other smokable herbs, mugwort can be smoked on its own as part of a blend with other herbs, like rosemary, chamomile, and sage, or added to cannabis or tobacco to enhance the flavor and embrace its unique effects. Many also use herbal blends including mugwort to reduce or quit tobacco smoking.

Is Smoking Mugwort Safe?

Smoking herbs like mugwort is notably safer than consuming cigarettes or other chemically processed substances, but it’s not without its risks. Smoking anything can harm the lungs, and like any other substance it’s ideal to smoke mugwort in moderation to see how your body responds and limit strain on your respiratory system.

It’s best to go with organic, food-grade herbs for smoking whenever possible. Additionally, people with specific allergies or asthma may need to steer clear of mugwort to avoid adverse reactions.

Research on mugwort’s psychoactive effects is still limited as well, specifically what dose can inspire such outcomes. In this vein, it’s also recommended to approach mugwort in moderation. You can always use more, but you can’t take it back after the fact!

Potential Benefits of Smoking Mugwort

A number of cultures around the world have used mugwort for a number of applications and for good reason. Anecdotal evidence shows mugwort’s potential to aid in stress management, digestion, muscle and joint point, migraines, and menstruation. The herb was also used to boost energy, relieve stress, promote blood circulation, and support liver health throughout China and Europe.

Modern science has now helped to support some of these assertions:

Arthritis Reduction

Research has shown that using mugwort through moxibustion, a therapeutic practice using mugwort smoke, can effectively reduce arthritis pain. Additional studies have also shown that the effects of moxibustion can work to assist with symptoms of related conditions, including those with knee osteoarthritis.

Digestive Aid

Orally consuming mugwort can stimulate the secretion of gastric juices and relax the gastrointestinal tract and bile ducts. The herb is often used to assist with digestive issues, like poor appetite, stomach pain, acid reflux, intestinal colic, flatulence, indigestion, constipation, and diarrhea.

However, many of these claims are anecdotal and studies on mugwort’s effects on digestion are still limited.

Menstrual Relief

Mugwort has the potential to combat menstrual cramping and promote the overall health of the female reproductive system. A number of texts have outlined the herb’s use not only in the absence of menstrual cycles but to stimulate and regulate health menstruation.

Research shows that the thujone present in the herb can help to stimulate uterus muscles and ease pain, due to its anesthetic properties. Eucalyptol, another terpene found in mugwort also called cineole, also acts as an analgesic, sedative, and muscle relaxant.

Stress Relief

Researchers have explored mugwort as an alternative to treat conditions like epilepsy, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. One mice study found that mugwort promoted anticonvulsant and anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects, but research on the topic is still limited.

Historically, mugwort has been understood to offer a sense of wellbeing and peace; this could be, in part, because of the linalool in the herb, which is found in a number of indica cannabis strains and is utilized in a number of wellness products (think lotions, bath bombs, essential oils, and beyond) for its relaxing qualities.

Moxibustion

Mugwort is often used through moxibustion, which burns the herb over a specific body part based on the overarching goals of the individual in need. Moxibustion is also often used during acupuncture to increase efficacy — acupuncture points are stimulated through heat and moxa smoke, which is believed to have antibacterial, antitumor, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and air purification functions.

Research suggests that moxibustion could help assist in breech births and could present an alternative option to reduce the need for cesarean sections. A clinical trial also suggests that moxibustion could be useful to reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes associated with menopause.

It’s best to visit a professional practitioner if you’re considering mugwort moxibustion, and it’s not a perfect practice, either. Research has found that moxibustion smoke may contain toxins that can cause adverse effects on organs like the kidneys, liver, and heart.

Side Effects of Mugwort

Once again, mugwort is considered a safe and smokable herb when used responsibly.

However, anyone allergic to ragweed, celery, carrot, apples, peaches, sunflowers, or birch should approach the herb with caution, as these can all translate to a mugwort allergy. Those coming into physical contact with mugwort with an allergy could be left with hives or rash, sneezing, nasal congestion, swollen lips, itchy throat, irritated eyes, or asthmatic symptoms.

Consuming thujone in high doses can also be risky as the terpene can turn into neurotoxins, resulting in vomiting and seizures. Therefore, it’s best to stick to low or moderate doses.

Mugwort should also be avoided during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

More research is still needed to fully uncover what side effects are associated with mugwort use.

Final Thoughts

Embracing smokable herbs is a great way to amp up your typical smoking experience or simply branch out to a new world of options. Unlike a number of other smokable herbs, mugwort actually has a number of mild psychoactive effects, which can be great on their own or work to amp up your cannabis and hemp consumption routines.

Like trying any new substance, it’s important to start slow and use mugwort in moderation. Research surrounding the benefits of mugwort is still limited, though the anecdotal evidence throughout history and prevailing today shows there’s definitely something to the dream herb!

References

Albert-Puleo, M. (1978). Mythobotany, pharmacology, and chemistry of thujone-containing plants and derivatives. Economic Botany, 32(1), 65–74. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02906731

Choi, T.-Y., Lee, M. S., Kim, J. I., & Zaslawski, C. (2017). Moxibustion for the treatment of osteoarthritis: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Maturitas, 100, 33–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.03.314

Linghu, K., Lin, D., Yang, H., Xu, Y., Zhang, Y., Tao, L., Chen, Y., & Shen, X. (2016). Ameliorating effects of 1,8-cineole on LPS-induced human umbilical vein endothelial cell injury by suppressing NF-κB signaling in vitro. European Journal of Pharmacology, 789, 195–201. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejphar.2016.07.039

Park, J.-E., Lee, M. S., Jung, S., Kim, A., Kang, K., Choi, J., Park, J., & Choi, S.-M. (2009). Moxibustion for treating menopausal hot flashes. Menopause, 16(4), 660–665. https://doi.org/10.1097/gme.0b013e318198cdf7

Song, G.-M., Tian, X., Jin, Y.-H., Deng, Y.-H., Zhang, H., Pang, X.-L., & Zhou, J.-G. (2016). Moxibustion is an Alternative in Treating Knee Osteoarthritis. Medicine, 95(6). https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000002790

Wichtl, M., Franz-Christian Czygan, Dietrich Frohne, Hiller, K., Christoph Höltzel, Nagell, A., Pachaly, P., Hans Jürgen Pfänder, Günter Willuhn, & Wolfram Buff. (2004). Herbal drugs and phytopharmaceuticals a handbook for practice on a scientific basis. Boca Raton, Fla Crc Press.

Xu, X., Shan, S., Wang, W., & Liu, H. (2020). Analysis of the Components in Moxa Smoke by GC-MS and Preliminary Discussion on Its Toxicity and Side Effects. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2020, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/2648759

Zhang, Q., Yue, J., Liu, M., Sun, Z., Sun, Q., Han, C., & Wang, D. (2013). Moxibustion for the Correction of Nonvertex Presentation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/241027

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