420 Magazine Background




Pamela was idly strolling through the shopping arcade of her conservative
small town when she realized she had seen signs in not one but several store
windows advertising hemp products. Hemp? Isn't that cannabis--marijuana?
Wasn't Paul McCartney arrested, handcuffed, interrogated for more than a
week, and ultimately deported from Japan for bringing a small supply of
marijuana into the country? Is marijuana now legal in Japan?

Marijuana is most definitely not legal in Japan today. Importing, possessing
or selling marijuana still leads to unpleasant close encounters with the
police and justice system.

"Industrial" hemp and marijuana both belong to the "cannabis sativa" family
of plants. Cannabis is an annual plant (must be started from seed every
year), but can reach an amazing height of five meters. All varieties are
hemp, but only plants with a high amount of the active ingredient
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are marijuana.

Hemp is believed to have originated in central Asia and to have spread both
east and west throughout temperate climates around the world. By 2800 B.C.,
it was cultivated in China, and it is from China that most historians
believe hemp came to Japan. The seeds were eaten, while the fibers were used
for clothing and making baskets. The technique of making paper from hemp
apparently arrived in Japan in the 7th century along with Buddhism and the
Chinese writing system (kanji). Hemp's durability allows for multiple
recycling--clothing to rags to paper.

Japanese associate hemp with purity and fertility. Indeed, "taima," one of
most significant rituals at the holiest Shinto shrine at Ise, means "big
cannabis." When the Emperor ascended the throne, he ceremonially planted
both rice and hemp. At Buddhist temples, the bell rope in front of the altar
is made of hemp, and the reigning sumo champion wears a hemp rope for the
entrance ceremony before each competition. "Asako" (containing the kanji for
hemp) remains a popular name for Japanese girls, whose parents presumably
wish them to remain pure.

Nevertheless, hemp production faces severe constraints in Japan today
because of restrictions imposed by the U.S. occupation forces after World
War II. Fearing that his soldiers would be overwhelmed by the mind-altering
temptations of hemp, Gen. Douglas MacArthur issued a widespread edict
against its cultivation. This caused a large problem decades later since by
Shinto tradition the Emperor was required to wear hemp clothing at his
accession to the throne in 1989. A gift by a clandestine farmer solved the
problem, but obtaining a license to grow hemp in Japan remains difficult to
this day.

Medical use of cannabis goes back at least until 2300 B.C. in China, when it
was used to treat constipation, gout, malaria, rheumatism, asthma, and an
assortment of other problems. It has also been widely used for millennia in
Indian Ayurvedic medical practice. In medieval Europe, textbooks of herbal
medicine recommended cannabis for everything from toothache to arthritis to
the pain of childbirth, and even into the early 20th century European
physicians prescribed marijuana to relieve migraine headaches and anxiety.

Is marijuana actually useful as a medicine? There is considerable evidence
that it does relieve nausea, help control chronic pain, reduce muscle
spasms, and increase the appetite. Persons with AIDS and cancer are among
those likely to benefit if marijuana were available to them.

However--aside from legal issues--there are several problems with taking
marijuana as medication.

The well known mental effects of euphoria and distortions of time, space,
vision, and judgment are no doubt what the "recreational" user is seeking,
but not necessarily what someone trying to cope with chemotherapy or AIDS
needs. For anyone, an overdose or a bad reaction due to sensitivity may
cause anxiety, depression, wild mood swings, and occasionally psychosis
lasting several hours.

Getting the dose right is extremely tricky. The THC content of the dried
leaves and flowers of marijuana hemp vary from plant to plant, and even on
the same plant THC is concentrated at the top. The concentration range is
0.5 percent to 5 percent, a 10-fold variation that is unacceptable in
ordinary medication.

There is also the question of consumption--marijuana can be smoked or eaten.
If smoked, the mental effects are felt almost immediately, and similarly
diminish rapidly when one stops. If eaten (as in the proverbial
marijuana-laced brownies), effects are not felt for 30 to 60 minutes and
persist for a long time. If the "trip" turns bad, there is little recourse.
Smoking marijuana also causes respiratory problems. Although an occasional
joint may act as a bronchodilator to ease breathing, the long-term effects
on heavy users are thought to be worse than tobacco (according to the Mayo
Clinic). The marijuana smoker inhales three times as much tar as the tobacco
smoker and accumulates more carbon monoxide in his or her blood.

In an effort to avoid these problems, researchers developed dronabinol, a
capsule containing synthetic cannabinoids dissolved in sesame oil. Most
people find it alleviates nausea and loss of appetite without the
psychological side effects. Others insist that it is impossible to reproduce
the hundreds of chemicals in marijuana, any one of which may contribute to
better relief. Dronabinol is unavailable in Japan.

As of now, the laws of nine states in the United States permit doctors to
prescribe marijuana for those with conditions such as cancer and AIDS. On
the other hand, the Supreme Court ruled in May 2001 that federal law
prohibits medical use of marijuana. If the U.S. laws are confusing, the
Japanese laws are not--don't try bringing marijuana into Japan.

While medical research continues, hemp is enjoying a revival for non-
pharmaceutical use. As Pamela found on her shopping street, there is a wide
range of cool, lightweight, durable hemp clothing. The Body Shop chain also
offers a number of potent skin moisturizers based on hemp oil.

For more information, see taima.org -&nbspThis website is for sale! -&nbsptaima Resources and Information. for the history of hemp in
Japan. Material about marijuana is abundant on the Internet, but for
straight facts on this and other health matters, search MayoClinic.com.

* * *

Readers are advised to consult a physician about any serious health

Pubdate: Sat, 21 Sep 2002
Source: Daily Yomiuri (Japan)
Copyright: 2002 The Yomiuri Shimbun
Contact: daily@tokyo.yomiuri.co.jp
Website: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/main/main-e.htm
Details: MAP: Media Directory
Author: Ann Endo Special to The Daily Yomiuri
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