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The Weed Of Controversy

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
Marijuana, marihuana, hemp (Cannabis sativa)


Cannabis is one of the few generic names that has become a common name in our culture, either as a subject of praise or damnation, because the plant produces hallucinogenic compounds. However, the original use of this plant in China was as a fiber plant, hemp. That usage now is documented back to 10,000 BP in Taiwan, where archaeologists have unearthed broken pieces of pottery having hemp fiber patterns and rod-shaped tools for retting the stems to obtain net fiber. The Chinese invented retting stems, thereby to obtain the soft fibers, which were used for fishing nets, clothing, shoes, sails, and, eventually, writing materials (oldest known rag paper 180 B.C.). Also, the fruits (achenes) were eaten, being rich in triglycerides (oils). Ethnobotanists have suggested that Cannabis grew as a robust weed on rich, nitrogenous dump heaps, where villagers put the remains of fishes, and it grows well in alluvial soils with low clay content. This presumably led to the discovery of hemp as a fiber and a food plant, and to its deliberate cultivation by 4000 B.C. Oldest Chinese reference to hemp (ma) occurs in Shu King (2350 B.C.) and Rh-Ya on oldest shamanistic uses (15th Century B.C.), whereas the oldest fragments of spun and woven hemp fabric are only from burial sites of the Chou dynasty (1122-249 B.C.), appearing with jade and bronze. Ancient China was labeled "the land of mulberry and hemp" because people wore silk imprinted with mulberry (Morus) leaves and hemp. However, silk was very expensive and worn only by the wealthy. People in eastern Asia adopted this as a medicinal plant (2737 B.C. reference in a Chinese herbal written by Pen T'sao Ching during the reign of Emperor Shen Nung; about 100 herbal remedies were presented there), and hemp was cultivated in Turkestan by 3000 B.C. Until the 6th Century A.D., cannabis fruits ("seeds") were a major pseudocereal in China. At times during Chinese history, wars were waged between land barons over the crop, fought by warriors with bows strung with hemp string. At least one author called this the "first agricultural war crop," and land barons devoted large parcels to grow hemp, so that each canton could be economically independent.

In Japan, hemp (asa) was used to make fishing nets, clothing, and mats. Hemp cloth was worn during religious and formal ceremonies to signify purity, and hemp was give to brides as a symbol of the wife's obedience to her husband.

Cannabis was brought into cultivation in southwestern Asia for its intoxicating properties, perhaps independently from its medical uses by the Chinese. In fact, some botanists classify the northern plants, used for fiber and oil, as C. sativa, a plant that can grow very tall, versus southern types, including C. indica, the densely branched plant about one meter tall and high resin content, or C. ruderalis, a shorter form with few or no branches. Other botanists treat this a one unstabilized species that has been under intense artificial selection for many centuries. Hemp, or marijuana, is a wind-pollinated annual or short-lived perennial with palmately compound leaves, and the height record for this plant is about 12 meters. Plants are usually dioecious, but sometimes the male plants will also bear some female flowers. Female plants are usually taller and stockier than male plants. The resin is produced around female flowers until the fruit is nearly mature.

The narcotic uses of Cannabis apparently developed in ancient India, where Cannabis was brought by Siva (god) from the Himalayas for use and enjoyment. In India, there are three standards of potency: bhang, mostly the U.S. equivalent of marijuana, which includes leaves, fruits, and stems; ganja, prepared from flowering tips (female flowers and upper leaves); and charas, pure, golden resin. The resin was formerly collected by charas, runners with leather clothes, from which the resin could be scraped off with a curved spatula (e.g., in Hindustan). Siva, Lord of Bhang, drank bhang, a mild, boiled liquid refreshment from leaves of Cannabis mixed with almonds, eight spices, rosebuds, milk, poppy seeds, and sugar. Bhang was used like alcohol. Ganja or hashish is sometimes collected by thrashing flowering tops against smooth rock or concrete walls, where the resin and plant particles will stick and can be scraped into bricks. Both bhang and ganja were used during war. Especially famous was the use of Cannabis by Gobind Singh, founder of the Sikh religion; his soldiers became intoxicated with bhang and opium, and were so stoned and frenzied that they killed attacking elephants and overpowered a superior enemy. Anniversaries of Singh's victory are commemorated with bhang. In the Hindu texts, the Veda, volume four (Atharvededa), the mind-altering effects of this plant were discussed. References to Cannabis often appeared in old Indian literature.

From Herodotus we learned about the Scythians (7th or 6th Century B.C.) of central Siberia. These were expert horsemen and warriors who practiced cannabis intoxication using vapor baths as well as cures for sickness and burial rituals. Their descendants spread to eastern Europe, especially the Baltic states, and are believed to have taken the plant with them. On Christmas Eve, Lithuanians may serve a hemp fruit soup (semienjatka) "for souls of the death," and in the Ukraine and Latvia similar rituals are observed on Three Kings Day.

Some scholars earlier concluded that the "nepenthe" of Homer was Cannabis, but other investigators feel that this is too early and that ancient Greeks knew nothing about the medicinal or intoxicating properties of Cannabis, although they used hemp cloth (450 B.C., the Thracians). Theophrastus (d. 287 B.C.) did not list Cannabis, but later Dioscorides (d. 90 A.D.), in De materia medica, discussed use of Cannabis for rope, sexual disorders, and earaches. Even as late as Rome, physicians Galen (130-200 A.D.) and Pliny the Elder (43-79 A.D.; he died on the beach at Stabiae, a victim of the eruption of Vesuvius, which destroyed Pompeii) said little about its medicinal uses. Sails and ropes for European ships were made from hemp throughout the long history of Mediterranean states (5th Century B.C.) and the entire period of European exploration and colonization.

Legends once stated that hashish was discovered by Haydar, founder of Persian Sufis, in 1155 A.D. when he ventured from the monastery on a hot summer day and returned with a happy, whimsical air. His Sufis monks were sworn to secrecy, and Haydar apparently remained stoned the rest of his life (d. 1221), hence the title "the wine of Haydar." This legend conflicts with records of hashish use at least from the 10th Century and others reports from Iran in 650 B.C. Use of Cannabis as an intoxicant became firmly ingrained in the Near Eastern and Turkish, as well as Indian, cultures. "Marijuana" is the form that comes from smoked dried and crushed leaves, whereas hashish, which is smoked or eaten, comes from the resin produced by the female flowers.

The word sufis comes from suf, or wool. This sect wore clothes made more of wool than cotton and was condemned for imitating Jesus, not Mohammed (cotton). Sufis were a contrast to orthodox Islam and had a mystical approach, including intoxication by drugs. These believers were a counterculture, like "hippies," comprised mostly of lower and middle class disciples, living a bleak existence and physically withdrawn from society into their own communes. Sufis were blamed for the downfall of Islamic society and for spreading drug use. That sect attracted social outcasts and those looking for a cheap high relative to the costly high of alcohol.

Cannabis was also involved in the schisms occurring within Islam, following the death of Mohammed. Mohammed died without designating a religious heir (caliph). Perhaps you know that Islam split into Sunnis of Semitic origin and who wanted to elect the caliph, and Shiites, who insisted that only legitimate successors came from Ali, the husband of Mohammed's surviving daughter Fatima and of Persian Aryan heritage. Shiite Caliph Jafar-I-Sadiq caught his eldest son Ismail drinking wine, and from anger instead chose younger son Musa to become the caliph. A small group of Ismail's loyalists went underground and started a new movement. Disciples of Ismail converted the Persian Al-Hasan ibn al-Sabbah, who ruled a mountain stronghold fighting the Persian sultan. To show his resolve, Hasan had a guard jump 1000 feet to his death before the sultan's army. He had 12,000 soldiers equally loyal. Legend has that this loyalty was obtained by offering recruits drugs and beautiful women "to minister to every need." One legend states that the word "hashish" has another sinister side; according to this legend, Al-Hasan got his army of robbers to murder Christian crusaders and then rewarded them with hashish, hence, "hashishins," the murderers, became the origin of the word assassin. Islamic historians disclaim parts of this story.

Egypt was eventually another site of Cannabis history. Although "hashish user" became a derogatory term throughout Islam, signifying low class, problems developed by the 13th Century. In Cairo (1253), Egyptian Muslims ordered plants of Cannabis to be burned, but farmers simply moved outside the city to grow the crop. In 1324, the Egyptian army was used to destroy the crop in the countryside, but the hashish production survived. In 1378 the farmers fought troops to protect their crop and revenues; marshal law was instituted and traffickers were killed, but by 1393 a business of Cannabis was again thriving there. Hashish was eaten, and leaves were rolled into a ball and swallowed like a pill.

Arab traders were also responsible for spreading marijuana to other parts of Africa, where the plant was used by women during childbirth (an ancient custom) and to feed babies after weaning. Kafirs referred to this plant as dagga, which was used in beverages or chewed, but the colonial Dutch adapted this plant for smoking. Laws forbidding the use of Cannabis were on the books in South Africa in 1870.

Hashish was introduced into France by Napoleon's army from Egypt (1800), and was first used for treating the mentally ill before becoming popular with Parisians. Frenchmen, including a psychiatrist named Moreau de Tours and the artists Gautier and Boissard, experimented with hashish and started the Le Club des Haschichins, which lured others (Dumas, Delacroix, and Hugo) to try pot. Many felt that the drug improved artistic creativity, but Moreau concluded finally that it was injurious to mental health.

In North America, use of Cannabis the drug was first adopted by African slaves and only became popular in white culture when investigated by intellectuals and artists.

The principal active compound is 3,4-trans-delta-1-tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or most commonly as THC, but in this plant there are 360 known compounds, of which more than 60 have the 21-carbon cannabinoid structure. Of these the cannabidiols are mildly active and believed to be the metabolic precursors of the tetrahydrocannabinols, and the cannabinols are thought to be deactivated forms of the THCs. The "ol" ending on these compounds tells you that these are alcohols, present on the leaves and in resin when produced mostly from special glandular hairs on the plant surface. The fruits, roots, and stems, have none of the psychoactive compounds. Aside from its intoxicating human uses, THC was formerly used as a human and cow tranquilizer, and there are several synthetics, including Synhexyl, Nabilone, and Levonatradol. Marinol is the pharmaceutical name for THC. Recent research by neuroscientists has suggested that there are special receptors in the brain cerebral cortex that are stimulated by THC, although neural substrates are still not firmly established. As an hallucinogen, THC produces euphoria and highly modified sensual perceptions.

The concentration of THC can range from 1-5%, and plants grown in North America from stock coming from Panama, Mexico, and, especially, Thailand frequently yield the highest values. A one-gram cigarette containing 10 mg of THC (1%) is considered psychoactive. Hashish resin may have up to 60% THC by weight. The fiber type of plants do not have THC concentrations that are effective enough to produce psychoactive responses (greater than 0.25%).

Marijuana was intentionally introduced to North America in Jamestown (1611) as a fiber plant, used primarily for ropes and canvas sails and for paper to print Bibles (the Gutenberg Bible and many others were published on hemp paper; what would Rev. Falwell say about marijuana Bibles?), and in many states marijuana occasionally grows as a weed, spread by birds. Many famous documents, including early drafts of the Declaration of Independence and writings of Thomas Paine, were scribed on cannabis paper. Hemp farming was done by Thomas Jefferson and many other famous individuals of colonial times, our domestic hemp industry helped our ancestors become economically independent of Mother England, and hemp was at the center of debate between the North and the South in fights by Webster and Clay over tariffs. Regardless of that legacy, in the United States the first marijuana laws were enacted in 1900, presumably because the liquor lobby did not want competition, even though from 1840-1900 more than 100 papers had been published in Western medical literature for using marijuana to treat various illnesses and discomforts. The League of Nations opposed the drug in 1925. The great blow to U.S. use of marijuana as a medicine came with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which became law following a massive campaign by Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who accused marijuana to be an addictive drug, causing violent crimes, psychosis, and mental deterioration. The film Reefer Madness was part of that campaign. That law levied a tax of $1 per ounce for industrial or medical purposes and $100 per ounce for other uses, and tax evasion was punishable by stiff fines or prison terms. That legislation made marijuana a major financial liability for anyone dealing with the plant, and all legitimate uses of marijuana and hemp were essentially stopped economically.

Several books have chronicled the legal and political actions that followed passage of the 1937 law against the use of marijuana. Early on Major LaGuardia of New York City established a commission of physicians to investigate claims made by Anslinger against marijuana; in 1944, that commission published its findings that there is no proof of links between marijuana and crime, antisocial behavior, sexual overstimulation, etc., but the U.S.F.B.N. denounced that report. The U.S. government staunchly defended its policy while later secretly giving contracts to companies to identify military uses of cannabis. In 1970, under President Nixon the Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which assigned psychoactive drugs to five schedules, and cannabis was assigned to the most restrictive one, Schedule I, meaning that it has no medical use, a high potential for abuse, and cannot be used safely even under doctor's supervision. Remarkably, drugs like cocaine and many opiates were placed on schedules with less restrictions, even though many of those are both deadly and highly addictive. Beginning in 1972, legal challenges began against the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, basically to reclassify Cannabis as a Schedule II drug, so that marijuana could be used for some medical uses. To date, the U.S. government through its agencies has blocked and avoided hearings and sidestepped judgments favoring the reclassification of marijuana, while many states, beginning in 1978 with New Mexico, have attempted to decriminalize possession for medical or personal use.

The one window of opportunity has been a legislated program whereby individuals could apply for medical use, a permission called Compassionate IND, Investigation New Drug, so that a person, through a physician would be allowed to petition the government for variance. The first person to receive a Compassionate IND was Robert Randall (1976), a glaucoma victim. The paperwork to accomplish that was loaded on the physician, the pharmacy, and so forth, and the standard so high that until 1989 only seven had been granted. In 1992, only 12 CINDs had been activated in the United States, and the thousands of frustrated applicants turned instead to illegal procurement rather than fight the battle of swimming upstream against government and public who want the program suspended because it would presumably undercut programs to stop illegal drugs. Passage of California Prop 215 in November 1996 (and another in Arizona) was an attempt to give power to physicians to approve cannabis for medical use, and, of course, the federal government threatened physicians with criminal penalties and loss of a license to practice medicine if they participated in the movement, in violation of federal anti-drug laws.

The medical use of smoked marijuana and orally taken THC or other cannabinoids must be accepted by the United States on its merits. Toward this goal, there is mounting evidence that, for a portion of victims of horrible diseases and pain, smoked marijuana helps alleviate symptoms, reduces or eliminates side effects of traditional medications, permits reduction in dosage of other medications, or even retards the progress of the disease, all this at a fraction of the cost for contemporary methods.

1. Glaucoma results where there is a buildup of aqueous humor in the eye, creating a pressure imbalance that damages the optic nerve and often leads to blindness. Strong drugs are required to reduce aqueous humor production, and these medications produce terrible side effects, especially nausea, headaches, depression, loss of appetite, serious fatigue, kidney stones, even fatal blood disorders. UCLA researchers (1971) accidentally found that marijuana smoke or THC taken orally reduces intraocular pressure, and especially smoke is the most efficient and rapid absorption vehicle.
2. Cancers are treated by strong radiation procedures or chemotherapy or both. Chemicals used have troublesome and dangerous side effects, usually with extreme nausea and vomiting (hours of dry heaves), and intolerance for food, hence patients lose weight and strength and the ability to help fight the disease. Many patients stop treatments altogether because of the side effects, or plead with the physicians to lower dosages. Some antiemetic drugs can be effective in preventing nausea and vomiting, but these can be impossible to swallow and keep down or otherwise are difficult to administer. Many testimonials have been recorded wherein chemotherapy patients plagued with nausea have been able to totally overcome the horrors of the treatment protocol by smoking marijuana 20 minutes before treatment begins. Harvard's Stephen Jay Gould, one of the most widely recognized professors in biology, resorted to marijuana during chemotherapy for abdominal mesotheliosma cancer after all other options had failed him.
3. AIDS patients must fight severe nausea and weight loss, essentially leading to starvation, with the onset of bouts of this disease, and the pain is described as awful. There are long lists of testimonials that smoking marijuana offers better relief, eliminates side effects, and is more inexpensive to use that potent, addictive, and sometimes debilitating Schedule II narcotics and barbiturates.
4. Multiple sclerosis is a loathsome human disease of adulthood that causes the destruction of patches of brain and spinal cord myelin (cover on nerve fibers), as if the myelin is a foreign invader. Demyelination produces many problems, so that victims eventually cannot walk, sit up, read (due to blurred vision), and become crippled and bedridden. There is no effective treatment for MS, but there are medications that provide some relief from muscle spasms; however, the drugs are relaxants, and hence cause drowsiness, while leading to addiction. Individuals using smoked marijuana have testified that sight and walking have been regained and spasms reduced or eliminated, and there is some evidence that the 30-year progress of MS has been retarded.
5. Individuals who are paraplegic or quadriplegic experience very painful muscle sparms. Smoking marijuana has been found to relieve pain and reduce muscle spasms, and do so more safely than expensive and addictive opioids.
6. There are a number of categories of epileptic seizures, and many of them are very controllable when treated with anticonvulsant drugs-about in 75% of the cases. However, some forms are hard to treat, and drugs used can have very serious side effects. A number of victims of epilepsy have smoked marijuana to help block a seizure before it happens, in forms of epilepsy where the onset of the seizure can be detected, and under marijuana individuals have been able to reduce dosage of other medications.
7. Migraine and cluster headaches are experienced by a substantial number of adults. During an episode, which can last from one hour to several days, there is severe pain to the right side of the head, due to dilation of blood vessels in the brain. Vomiting and nausea are common occurrences, vision is greatly impaired, and there often is a sharp right-eye and jaw pain. Migraines and cluster headaches can be triggered by foods and salt, hormone cycles, head positions, lack of sleep, and stress. There are treatments either to prevent onset of attacks or stop the attack once it starts, including ergotamine, steroids, opioids, beta-blockers, and so forth, but 10-20% of the patients have nothing that really works, or not without unacceptable side effects. For some migraine sufferers, smoking marijuana has been effective.

The United States government has refused to accept testimonials and anecdotal evidence for cannabis, insisting that none have been scientific studies, done with large samples and acceptable placebos, while the government has during the same period broadly blocked attempts by researchers to conduct the necessary research that undoubtedly would show that many claims are authentic. One group of individuals fights any legitimate use of marijuana from the standpoint of stopping use of all psychoactive drugs, which is, in general, deleterious to modern society. List here many millions of frustrated or angry adults whose children or relatives have been forever changed by the drug culture. One foe to marijuana is the pharmaceutical industry, which stands to lose billions of dollars in annual income if cheaper alternatives are prescribed, on the hemp plant which cannot be patented. Other foes to marijuana are those who insist that patients should not be taking a medicine that creates a high and is addictive, suggesting that the medical use of marijuana is a veil covering attempts by victims to have a good time. The simple fact is that most patients who use marijuana or other narcotics to relieve chronic pain or sickness do so without ever experiencing hallucinations, those associated with recreational drug use. It is not true that marijuana is fatal, there being only a couple cases of death by ingestion in the world (India), none in the United States, unless you include vehicular manslaughter and suicide committed under the influence of marijuana (a minute fraction as compared with alcohol).

Actually the case for medical value of Cannabis is quite convincing, and the substance should be a common part of our country's pharmacopeia. That is not to say that there are not some drawbacks of permitting wider use of marijuana (pot, weed, bud) in U.S. society. First, marijuana, as with cigarettes or alcohol, for youth can be a "gateway" drug, leading to experimentation with other, more dangerous psychoactive substances. Second, although THC and marijuana smoke have few proven long-term physical effects on humans, lung (pulmonary) problems, as with cigarettes, are a potential health hazard. Excessive use can lead to a condition known as "amotivational syndrome," an undesirable attitude toward life, permanent memory loss, and add to emotional problems. There are demonstrated negative effects on schizophrenia. Marijuana has immediate negative effects on cardiac rate (increase in limb flow), reaction time, visual functioning, motor tracking and motor skills, short-term memory, and, by certain studies, oligospermia (lowered sperm count). As with ethyl alcohol, THC is an alcohol, hence the same cautions about driving under the influence and being under the influence in the work place; for driving sobriety tests, individuals under marijuana intoxication showed high failure rates after 90 minutes (94% fail) and 150 minutes (60% fail). Like tobacco, marijuana creates second-hand smoke and, in the case of marijuana, physiologically can affect people around the smoker, so that nobody should want marijuana use to include innocent victims. Unlike alcohol intoxication, general health is apparently not compromised with marijuana. Penalties for driving or working under the influence of marijuana should be, and now are, those applied to ethanol.

If you want some recent statistics on marijuana use, consider the following. In France, there are an estimated 3.5 million heavy abusers of marijuana. In the United States, approximately 70% of adults have admitted to at least once having used marijuana, approximately 20% have abused within the year, and 2-3% have a daily habit. Use among teenagers and young adults is much higher than adult rates, but current numbers are difficult to trust. It is estimated that there are 860,000 daily users in the United States, equal to five million monthly. True that marijuana smoking today is high among young Americans, but so also it was high during the 1960s and 1970s. Knowing that there was peak use around 1970, it is worth noting that, a quarter of a century later, there have not been epidemics of health hazards, meaning that marijuana probably has minimal or no long-term physical effects on the vast majority of users. The political resistance to marijuana use therefore should not be supported with charges that marijuana is a major health risk, which it is not, or that users are a disenchanted minority, which they are not. In reality, health dangers of cigarette smoking and alcoholism are far more serious than marijuana, and the consequences much more sinister. An enlightened national policy should be to remove the profit from dealing in marijuana, release prisoners serving sentences on marijuana to open jail cells for more serious crimes, impose substantial economic penalties for improper use of marijuana during driving, school, and work, and concentrate enforcement funding and education efforts on halting use of physiological addictive uppers (cocaine and amphetamines) and downers (opiates and sedatives) for non-medical uses. Of course, all that is easier said than done. "Just say no" (Nancy Reagan) or "Just don't do it" (Bob Dole) are not effective campaigns, and recent evidence has shown that even educational programs like D.A.R.E are having little long-term impact on teaching children to find ways to enjoy life or get through stress without using chemical substances.
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