I apologize for the brief hiatus. My absence wasn’t due to anything extravagant or glamorous, just quotidian tasks and responsibilities one is often mired in. I offer the following post in recompense.
Marijuana: it’s just a plant, right?
Yes, and so much more. But, I mean, where does one start with such a divisive herb? Marijuana (or cannabis) has such a rich history and is currently one of most hotly debated topics, particularly when it comes to recreational use. Proponents of marijuana often cite potential medicinal applications and its benign nature relative to alcohol and tobacco, while opponents decry it as a gateway drug which threatens to vitiate the moral fabric of society. Historically, intelligent and sober discussions about marijuana have generally been stifled by an oppressive stigmatization that has, in part, successfully equated marijuana with immorality, corruption, debauchery, and licentiousness. (Politicians claimed legalizing marijuana in Colorado would increase adolescent marijuana usage… so much for that, eh?) It’s this condemnation that led to stern legal prohibitions and a poverty of knowledge of marijuana’s true benefits.
In writing this post, I wanted to briefly touch upon the relationship marijuana has had in human history, as well as discuss the opposition to it, the medical research that has been conducted, and what the future holds for this herb. (I may decide to explore these topics more in-depth at a later time.)
This is my longest blog post to date. You have been warned.
The Brief History of Marijuana
Cannabis has been known to humanity for millennia. The earliest recordings of cannabis cultivation date back more than five thousand years. I do wonder how the discovery of cannabis played out. Perhaps someone sauntered into a field of lush greens, hungry and curious, deciding to fend off starvation by eating a fragrant herb. Did that individual perceive the stupifying effects as modern humans now perceive it? Was that person initially frightened by that experience? Did the plant look as grotesque and colorful as our contemporary strains appear? Maybe our ancestors tried cooking it first and that’s how its psychoactive properties were discovered. Did they smoke it and cough ad nauseam?
So many questions.
Since it’s discovery, especially of its psychoactive and intoxicating effects, it has been used for all sort medical and spiritual purposes. Yes, believe it or not. Not so long ago, cannabis was a legitimate remedy, a part of humanity’s medical armamentarium. Emperor Shen-Nung, the ‘divine farmer‘ of ancient China (in the neighborhood of about 5,000 years ago), is said to have taught the Chinese people the way of herbs and plowshares. And he supposedly prescribed many herbs, including marijuana, for a variety of ailments like gout and malaria. Hemp was used to make rope, clothing, sails, canvas and the like. (We’ll explore the differences below.)
An ancient tomb unearthed along the Silk Road in northern China contained intact cannabis plants dating back some 2,800 years. Some suggest that cannabis use predates even the aforementioned emperor, going as far back as 12,000 years. For the sake of redundancy, cannabis has been with us for a long time.
Spiritual healers and various types of ceremonial leaders utilized marijuana to commune with animals and supernatural entities. This function of marijuana classifies it as an entheogen—derived from the Greek meaning ‘to generate the divine within’—and is defined thusly:
A chemical substance, typically of plant origin, that is ingested to produce a nonordinary state of consciousness for religious or spiritual purposes.
(There are various other entheogens of greater potency that we shan’t discuss here.)
Ayurveda, the alternative medicine tradition that originated in India, depended on a strong relationship with cannabis, the earliest reference of which dates back to approximately 1500 BCE. Ancient users lauded the plant for its rejuvenating qualities, a story of which appears in the sacred Hindu texts regarding Shiva, and for invigorating the mind, intellectually and spiritually. Ayurvedic medicine, alongside the diverse therapeutic properties of cannabis—purported to assuage nausea, gonorrhea, anorexia, among other things—also recommended it as an aphrodisiac. Not unsurprisingly, documents were found chronicling the explosive mix of cannabis and tantric sex; the ancient peoples of India were certainly enthusiastic about exploring both mind and body. [Bow chicka wow wow, indeed. Gotta put that one on the bucket list, no?]
Everyone should google Ethan Russo’s chapter about cannabis in India, where he quotes a fifteenth-century Indian author that had described cannabis thusly:
“Indra’s food (i.e., ganja) is acid, produces infatuation, and destroys leprosy. It creates vital energy, the mental powers and internal heat, corrects irregularities of the phlegmatic humour, and is an elixir vitae… [t]o those who regularly use it, it begets joy and destroys every anxiety.”
Reading further, one is met with more familiar effects of cannabis like stimulation of the appetite and unconsciousness.
Some may also be familiar with bhang, a beverage containing the leaves and flowers of cannabis, which is integral to Hindu celebrations like Holi, the festival of colors. The former ingredients are ground into a paste using a mortar and pestle and are typically combined with almonds, various spices, and milk to yield an inspirational elixir of supernatural proportions. (Naturally, many bhang recipes exist. Google can help one glimpse the varieties there are.) Bhang may also be used to create a panoply of edibles from the iconic brownies to bhang fritters and even bhang cocktails.
Moving forward in time…
In 1619, the Virginia Assembly enjoined all Americans to grow hemp, the first law in America concerning the herb. Later on in American history, many of the Founding Fathers supposedly grew hemp on their estates.
The medicinal utility of cannabis was introduced to Western medicine by the Irish physician, Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, during the early nineteenth century. O’Shaughnessy was employed by the British East India Company and traveled to India where he became fascinated with the therapeutic effects of cannabis. Prior to O’Shaughnessy, there was a dearth of scientific research on the topic as O’Shaughnessy’s predecessors and contemporaries had typically focused on the supposed “evils” of cannabis. Objections to cannabis notwithstanding, between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the British East India Company levied extortionate taxes on cannabis and had no scruples about bloating the imperial coffers.
After consulting various classical Sanskrit sources about cannabis, O’Shaughnessy published his 1839 treatise where he described cannabis preparations and case studies in which diseases like cholera, rheumatism, and delirium tremens had been successfully treated; in truth, none of the diseases were cured, but the cannabis elixirs he administered brought about noteworthy salutary effects. As a result of this research, it is rumored that Queen Victoria was prescribed cannabis for her menstrual pains.
In an interesting turn of events, hemp may have helped the United States win World War II. In 1942, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released “Hemp for Victory,” a war effort propaganda film—which can be downloaded from the National Archives—that encouraged patriotic farmers to increase hemp production to aid in the fight against Nazism. In the short film, one can hear lines like:
“For the sailor, no less for the hangman, hemp was indispensible.”
In the five thousand years that have passed since Emperor Shen-Nung’s teachings, cannabis has enjoyed widespread geographic distribution and has been artificially selected for those fascinating psychoactive compounds known aptly as cannabinoids.
The Genus Cannabis & Cannabinoids
What’s the difference between hemp and marijuana (or cannabis), you ask? Well, the differences are subtle and oftentimes arbitrary. Confusion often arises because all these names are used interchangeably. Hemp and marijuana share the same genus and species, Cannabis sativa (hereafter, C. sativa). Traditionally, varieties of C. sativa which have a substantially diminished capacity to synthesize cannabinoids are designated hemp, whereas varieties that prodigiously synthesize cannabinoids are designated marijuana. Historically, this is the reason hemp was and continues to be principally used for its fibers.
Researchers looking into the genetic history of marijuana and hemp found the following:
“[T]he primary axis of genetic variation in Cannabis differentiates hemp from marijuana… similar to the degree of genetic differentiation in humans between Europeans and East Asians. Our results indicate that the genetic differences between the two are distributed across the genome and are not restricted to loci involved in cannabinoid production. Thus, while cannabis breeding has resulted in a clear genetic differentiation according to use, hemp and marijuana still largely share a common pool of genetic variation.”
The takeaway message is that cannabis and hemp are the same species with subtle differences that aren’t exclusively tied to their capacity to synthesize cannabinoids. Humans are, at least in part, responsible for this. But the plot thickens.
Cannabis indica (C. indica) is the sister species of C. sativa. These plants are physically different from one another and with ostensibly different effects on the mind. C. indica varieties are short, bushy plants bearing wide leaves and dense buds, whereas C. sativa grows tall (Christmas tree-like) bearing long, pointed leaves and loose buds. The high from an indica varietal may be a semi-paralytic psychoactive episode, leaving one wholly incapable of even the most mundane tasks. A sativa high, on the other hand, tends to be a spirited and zestful episode.
Here’s the thing about these two popular species in the Cannabis family:
“C. sativa and C. indica may represent distinguishable pools of genetic diversity but that breeding has resulted in considerable admixture between the two. While there appears to be a genetic basis for the reported ancestry of many marijuana strains, in some cases the assignment of ancestry strongly disagrees with our genotype data. For example we found that Jamaican Lambs Bread (100% reported C. sativa) was nearly identical to a reported 100% C. indica strain from Afghanistan…. Thus, a marijuana strain name does not necessarily represent a genetically unique variety…”
(Food for thought for those in the marijuana community.)
Humans, not just cannabis, produce cannabinoids. Our brain utilizes them for things like memory, thinking, pleasure, and coordination, among other things. Receptors in our brains bind to ingested cannabinoids, producing a different effect depending two factors: the receptor and the cannabinoid. Approximately 113 different cannabinoids have been isolated from marijuana.
One can find these compounds being secreted by the cannabis flowers, oftentimes collating into dense crystals. The cannabinoids in marijuana are responsible for mind-altering properties of the plant, specifically tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC (delta-9-THC if one wishes to be fancy). THC is the one every user and paranoid policymaker thinks they are talking about when discussing marijuana. The other compound is cannabidiol or CBD. Indica varietals generally produce more THC and sativa varietals produce more CBD. Both compounds have therapeutic effects, treating the same array of ailments, however, CBD does not warp the consciousness like THC.
The Opposition to Cannabis
Barney Warf gives a brief account of the history of cannabis in his High Points: An Historical Geography of Cannabis, adumbrating some of the ancient opposition to its use. One of the first skirmishes between cannabis and society came when the former conflicted with the moral values of a spreading Confucianism around the second-century BCE. Confucianism placed an emphasis on family, social propriety, benevolence, and worldly awareness, among other things; cannabis was seen as socially disruptive, inimical to the moral excellence espoused by Confucianism and was promptly suppressed as a result.
Religious opposition mounted against cannabis during the late fifteenth-century CE, with the then-Pope equating cannabis use to witchcraft. It would seem that witchcraft was the religious scapegoat for all sorts of improprieties. I’m surprised no one has claimed climate change to be the product of witchcraft and wizardry.
Mr. Warf notes that critics in British India pilloried marijuana following the Sepoy Rebellion, placing the blame on marijuana and further claiming that its use led to criminality and insanity. (The Sepoy Rebellion, of course, had nothing to do with the ethnic and sectarian differences greatly deepened and fostered by British dominion over India and its resources. How could it? It was all marijuana!) In the late nineteenth century, the British authorities ordered a commission to thoroughly examine marijuana. About the physical, mental, and moral consequences (in that order) of marijuana use, the commission had this to say:
“Speaking generally, the Commission are of opinion that the moderate use of hemp drugs appears to cause no appreciable physical injury of any kind. The excessive use does cause injury. As in the case of other intoxicants [e.g. alcohol, tobacco, and opium], excessive use tends to weaken the constitution and to render the consumer more susceptible to disease.”
“In respect to the alleged mental effects of the drugs, the Commission have come to the conclusion that the moderate use of hemp drugs produces no injurious effects on the mind… It is otherwise with the excessive use.”
“In regard to the moral effects of the drugs, the Commission are of opinion that their moderate use produces no moral injury whatever. There is no adequate ground for believing that it injuriously affects the character of the consumer. Excessive consumption, on the other hand, both indicates and intensifies moral weakness or depravity.”
It is bizarre—or perhaps not—that all marijuana usage was condemned in the face of underwhelming evidence in favor of its capacity to deform mind, body, and moral sensibilities. In fact, in their concluding remarks, the commission had to not only admit that excessive use only harmed the consumer with “the effect on society [being] rarely appreciable,” but also that their findings had indeed been so unexpected despite witnesses to the alleged moral degradation of society by marijuana users. Ethan Russo notes that the commission “advocated against governmental suppression of cannabis drugs,” noting its importance in religious contexts and possible medical applications. The commission’s advice was not heeded and heavy sanctions were placed on cannabis cultivation, sale, and use which persist to this day.
Like the divine farmer and herbal doctors of yore, physicians in the United States prescribed marijuana from a variety of afflictions such as headaches, generalized pain, insomnia, and anorexia, among others. (Sound a bit familiar.) That was, of course, until the Federal Bureau of Narcotics—which eventually became the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)—criminalized cannabis with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, despite the protestations of the American Medical Association (AMA).
Opposition to marijuana was culled, in part, by vulgar propaganda like Reefer Madness. Released in 1936, the film employed massive exaggerations to scare and warn parents about the “dangers” of marijuana use; some of those dangers included murder and rape. Reefer Madness sired multiple spin-offs and imitations (e.g. Marijuana: Assassin of Youth) which denigrated marijuana users by associating them with moral corruption, social impropriety, and criminality. Sound familiar? (Incidentally, many of the marijuana users people complained about were Mexican immigrants. Sound familiar?) Take a look as some of the posters of the era here.
Back to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. The passage of this act was naturally plagued with invidious pecuniary and business motivations. For one, the emerging hemp industry had demonstrated that it could produce a cheaper substitute for paper pulp; hemp was dubbed the “New Billion-Dollar Crop.” This obviously would have upset those already invested in the paper and lumber industries. I’m sure we are all familiar with stories of people (and businesses) sabotaged and, frankly, fucked over during the early twentieth century.
Nevertheless, Dr. David F. Musto, published an article where he asserted a more loathsome motivation for the growing anti-cannabis sentiment:
“The anti-marihuana law of 1937 was largely the federal government’s response to political pressure from enforcement agencies and other alarmed groups who feared the use and spread of marihuana by “Mexicans.”
It is true that racism played a significant role in the stigmatization of marijuana.
The Marijuana Tax Act didn’t last too long. It was soon to be replaced by a more restrictive piece of legislation. In a landmark Supreme Court case in 1969, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was deemed unconstitutional, being in violation of the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment. In a most vindictive move, perhaps symptomatic of the magnitude of congressional butthurt, Congress—with the aid of then-President Richard Nixon—quickly scrambled and passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970. (I daresay I’ve never seen Congress move so quickly.)
Among other things, the CSA defined which chemicals and drugs were controlled substances—including precursor ingredients—and categorized them based on “potential for abuse.” Cannabis was and is categorized as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, the worst classification a drug could occupy. Per the statute, a Schedule I Controlled Substance must satisfy the following:
- The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse. [Hmmm….]
- The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. [What about O’Shaughnessy, the British government’s report, and the American Medical Association?]
- There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
Interestingly enough, marijuana had not been considered for inclusion into such a high schedule at first. It was added at the behest of Richard Nixon. Nixon’s detestation for marijuana—and the counterculture movement that adopted it—has come into sharp relief in a series of declassified tapes of Oval Office conversations. He even preposterously claimed Communists and Jews championed marijuana in order to destroy the United States.
Since the passage of the CSA, the scientific community has limped along, making millimetric progress towards demonstrating the medical efficacy of marijuana. Who knows how robust marijuana research would be today had it been allowed to flourish decades ago?
Marijuana encountered more trouble just a few years later. In 1975, Denise Kandel published an article in Science attempting to give an account of the declensions of youths and adolescents. She theorized that experimentation with alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana inexorably led to more illicit drug use (e.g. cocaine or heroin). By the 1980s, this theory had gained traction and, thanks to Robert DuPont, was colloquially known as the Gateway Drug Theory. We’ve all heard of this, I’m sure. To this day, DuPont clings to this theory regardless of ambiguous evidence (which shall be explored below).
Heated debates continue well into the present. The current Vicar of Christ on earth has opposed the legalization of marijuana (and all drugs) stating, “[a]ttempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs,’ are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce desired effects…. a reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use.” Scientologists don’t look kindly upon marijuana either. In April 2016, the Church of Scientology Sacramento espoused a gateway drug narrative in their presentation called the Truth About Marijuana. The film screened during the presentation featured a person—possibly brainwashed with Gateway Drug Theory malarkey—who said the following:
“I ended up being addicted to heroin, coke, meth … I’ve done it all. And it all started with pot…”
Pharmaceutical companies have also been known to campaign against marijuana legalization, typically from financial standpoints. Insys Therapeutics, an Arizona-based pharmaceutical company which specializes in synthetic drugs, donated $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a group that helped defeat Proposition 205. An aside: Proposition 205 would have legalized—within expressed limits—the possession and cultivation of personal marijuana. I think the only legitimate objection the Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy brought forward was the volatility of marijuana extraction labs; one such explosion occurred in New York City and claimed the life of veteran firefighter Michael Fahy.
The donation would have been unexceptional were it not for the recent approval of Insys’ synthetic THC, Syndros. As Insys has no stake in conventional marijuana, it makes sense they would be keen to remove any competition to its synthetic formulation. Shady endorsements of this kind are made slightly more grotesque as former Insys executives were recently indicted on racketeering charges by federal prosecutors. The former employees allegedly proffered bribes and inducements for the overprescription of Subsys, a synthetic opioid. These arrests do not help the already sordid picture one has about the pharmaceutical industry.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the current administration and their stance on marijuana. Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, has expressed concerns about marijuana and its possible appearance the shelves of supermarkets everywhere. (I can imagine the horror on Sessions’ face should the day come when, strolling down the cereal aisle, he sees a jumbo-size box of Froot Loops strategically placed next to an ounce of Kellogg’s Stickiest-of-the-Icky. I would pay to work at that supermarket.) White House press secretary Sean Spicer has stated federal laws would be strictly enforced and he, more egregiously, conflated marijuana with opiates. Babble, like the latter, is unhelpful. But it does make the green pastures of the future a bit more untenable.
The Research Behind Cannabis
Let’s debunk one thing first.
The Gateway Drug Theory is bullshit. Don’t take my word for it. In 2014, the Preventative Medicine Reports published a study which sought to evaluate the “impact of early substance use on later illicit drug use…” In their lengthy introduction, the paper highlighted the substantial uncertainty that has surrounded the theory since its inception and the erroneous assumption that adolescent behaviors are immutable. By the latter, the researchers meant the prevailing assumption suggested just one episode of illicit drug use would tend to always escalate. No one could escape the clutches of drugs after just one try! The researchers concluded that alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana did not increase one’s later use of marijuana and other illicit drugs.
One of the primary objection of medical marijuana legalization is its seemingly unavoidable link with the criminal element. Pundits and policymakers often appeal to emotion, claiming legalization would lead to further crime, anathematizing marijuana as the destroyer of civil society as we know it. A 2014 study looked at the relationship between medical marijuana and crime in the United States. The offenses evaluated were homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft in states that had legalized medical marijuana; during the time period the study examined (1990-2006), those states were Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The researchers concluded that medical marijuana was “not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault… [t]o be sure, medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types.”
Also in 2014, the American Journal of Public Health released a study which showed a drop in the suicide rate among men between the ages of twenty and thirty-nine following medical marijuana legalization. “The current study found a strong negative relationship between the legalization of medical marijuana and suicides among young men… consistent with the often-voiced, but controversial claim that marijuana can be used to cope with depression and anxiety caused by stressful life events.”
(In the aforementioned examples, I would like to stress that no causal link was established between the relationships examined. It’s not like everything becomes instantly better the moment the law changes. Just ask minorities, women, and homosexuals.)
As time passes, the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids—and their derivatives—have shown promising results. Before we continue, there is one truly massive report that must be mentioned. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently conducted and published a comprehensive review to “establish what is known and what needs to be known about the health effects of cannabis use.” They came up with approximately one hundred useful conclusions, most of which were in favor of marijuana and cannabinoids.
For those thinking this is going to drone on as sickly encomium, allow me to dispel that now. Cannabis is not without drawbacks. One only needs to turn on the news for a few moments to know that many more drivers are driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In 2012, the BMJ published a systematic review and meta-analysis which found that driving under the influence of cannabis—or using cannabis beforehand—doubled one’s chances of getting into a fatal motor vehicle accident, a conclusion shared by the National Academies.
Children should not be carelessly exposed to marijuana. Although no overdoses have ever been reported, cannabinoid toxicity in children has not been fully explored, which is of serious concern as the rates of unintentional pediatric exposure have risen in recent years. In 2010, there was approximately 1.2 million unintentional exposures (primarily as an edible) in the United States in children younger than 5 years; “[w]hile none of these exposures resulted in permanent morbidity or mortality, they caused significant clinical effects.” I’m not a parent but were I to have children, I’d want to know more about how exposure to marijuana could affect them.
Advocating for our heart health, the American College of Cardiology warns that marijuana elevates blood pressure, causes tachycardia (increased heart rate), and is associated with an almost fivefold increased risk for myocardial infarction (heart attack) within one hour of marijuana use—a similar conclusion is shared by the National Academies. In spite of the possibility of an acute event, the ACC rightfully admits “long-term, large sample size studies have failed to show an increase in cardiovascular mortality related to marijuana use.”
Smoking marijuana has also been implicated in cases of chronic bronchitis, a fact the American Lung Association won’t allow us to forget. The National Academies also cautions against smoking marijuana as it can exacerbate respiratory symptoms. I’m certain many smokers will be sad to learn many of the same compounds found in tobacco smoke are also found in marijuana smoke, many of them carcinogenic. (See below for a plot twist.) In 2012, the Journal of the American Medical Association published its findings of a 20-year longitudinal pulmonary function study. The researchers found that moderate marijuana use was not associated with poor lung functioning. However, detrimental effects were noted in heavy marijuana users. A few of the reasons given for this discrepancy were humorous. It was speculated marijuana smoking techniques required deeper breaths which could have expanded the lungs and/or those deep inspirations strengthened the muscles used in breathing.
In an ironic twist, the National Cancer Institute acknowledges the medical utility of THC and CBD for cancer-related symptoms but advises against using cannabis. (WTF, mate!)
Information regarding how innocuous marijuana is has been floating around for many years. In 1997, the American Journal of Public Health published a study examining 65,171 people, aged 15 to 49, and established marijuana had little effect on male and female mortality.
Here are some of the positive findings of the National Academies:
“[P]atients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids were more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms. For adults with multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms… ‘oral cannabinoids’… improved their symptoms. Furthermore, in adults with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, there was conclusive evidence that certain oral cannabinoids were effective in preventing and treating those ailments.
“[E]vidence that suggests smoking cannabis does not increase the risk for cancers often associated with tobacco use. [Plot twist!]
In spite of all the evidence for and against marijuana, as the National Academies stresses that more research, in all fields, needs to be done.
Is cannabis truly the devil’s lettuce? If so, I have a few questions. Where would the devil grow it? Earth? (Convenient for some religious opponents of marijuana, no?) Being evolved for slightly acidic soils in subtropical and temperate environments, hell would seem a poor locale for cultivation due to extreme temperatures, in spite of the abundance of nutrients like brimstone. And where does he get his water from? Earth, too? I think the charming environs of eternal damnation leave little room for liquid water.
One poignant question was asked by Eric Schlosser in his 1994 article, Reefer Madness: “How does a society come to punish a person more harshly for selling marijuana than for killing someone with a gun?” I would go one step further and ask: with all that we now know, should marijuana still be associated with criminality and punishable by law? When compared to alcohol and tobacco, quite damaging substances in their own right, marijuana seems rather benign. What gives? (See above.) And does it truly benefit our society—and our tax dollars—to incarcerate non-violent drug users?
In 2014, the Home Office of Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom released a study admitting that harsh drug enforcement policies had failed to curb illicit drug use. The Home Office acknowledged drug decriminalization did not necessarily increase drug use. Furthermore, it promised to reevaluate drug policies in the UK citing the relative successes experienced in the United States, Uruguay, Portugal, and elsewhere. It would be progress if the United States admitted the war on drugs had been and continues to be a misbegotten endeavor.
I think some of the important conversations that could be had regarding marijuana usage, both recreationally and medically, are stifled ab initio (from the beginning) because of the ridiculous language that surrounds it, not to mention the cultural and societal bias (and conflations) marijuana has endured, some of which I mentioned above. Terms like “reefer,” “grass,” “dope,” and “blazed” seem to trivialize marijuana in the public’s mind, particularly among older individuals, conservatives, and other remnants of the temperance movement. Furthermore, not all drugs are equally bad. How many times has one heard marijuana, cocaine, and heroin uttered in the same sentence, as if all three carried the same health risks or similar medical utility?
These problems are being combated by the cogent and professional writing of groups like Leafly in its News sections. Leafly was initially created for medical marijuana services and, therefore, providing high-quality news and information about marijuana may not have been their goal, despite the implication that came with its prime objective. (It now purports to be the “World’s Cannabis Information Resource.”) But the feel of their website starkly contrasts with the fatuousness of High Times, which can’t seem to detach itself from the stoner subculture. Ignoring the fact that their coverage of the legal and political aspects of marijuana are somewhat admirable, High Times reads like a conspiracy theorist website and any collision with reason and science seems incidental. It also doesn’t help that cocaine was a part of their early editorial topics, marketed by them as a beneficial drug.
A fairly new organization that is attempting to sever the inextricable link between marijuana and the pernicious yet popular stereotypes (e.g. social outcasts, high school dropouts, and other social deviants) is Beboe. It is admittedly highfalutin, especially with its opening:
“THE FINEST CANNABIS TREATS MADE WITH THE UTMOST CARE AND RESPECT FOR NATURE’S IMPERCEPTIBLE SUBTLETIES”
(I can only read that sentence in a British accent.)
This rebranding of marijuana falls into a formulaic pastiche of gourmet cuisine, outfitted with a generous portion of superlatives and hipster undertones. However, it’s not entirely without merit. It helps to elevate marijuana culture by demonstrating that marijuana-derived products can be refined, complex, and classy, to be enjoyed by all echelons of society rather than as a clandestine juvenile activity reminiscent of a That ’70’s Show roundtable.
If we are to discover the potential health benefits or harms of marijuana to their fullest extent, we need to be able to conduct studies unfettered by retrograde ideologies, draconian legal restraints, and unhelpful rhetoric. Public perceptions of marijuana have become increasingly positive and have driven more states to endorse medical and recreational usage. In fact, as of October 2016, a Pew Research Survey found that 57% of adults in the United States support marijuana legalization, Millenials being in the vanguard of this change in public opinion.
It is interesting to note that for a society which places a great emphasis on personal freedoms and individual autonomy, inherently hazardous substances like alcohol and tobacco are offered wholesale while marijuana is verboten. Numerous studies have shown that this clandestinely used herb has promising pharmacological potential. Yet, those potentials cannot be fully investigated with the federal law as it currently stands. Things need to change. The general democratic consensus seems to indicate that smoking marijuana, and research regarding its therapeutic nature, is a worthwhile pursuit. Living in a democratic nation, the laws should reflect those values. (At least, that’s what I think. I could be wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time.) If salutary effects can be derived from cannabis, are we not ethically obligated to explore those avenues of research before dismissing cannabis altogether?