The Truth About Cannabis
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As most folks know, the status of medical cannabis at the federal level is different from its status at the state level. With the introduction of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug, the strictest classification, on a par with heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy; and as such, it was outlawed.
However, cannabis is deemed a prescription medication in nearly a third of the United States, where it is recommended for the treatment of nausea, pain, diminished appetite, muscle spasms, insomnia…the list goes on. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. California, Colorado, New Mexico, Maine, Rhode Island, and Montana now allow dispensaries to sell medical cannabis.
Cannabis is one of humankind's oldest cultivated crops. We have coevolved on this planet with cannabis and other intoxicating plants for thousands of years. Comprised of specific receptors in our brains for our own internal cannabis, the endocannabinoid system is capable of altering mood, anxiety level, and more intriguing, inflammation and immune response.
The very basic idea of plant-as-medicine dates back to before recorded history. In the past few decades, we have seen a return to herbal remedies and treatments. Despite the pharmaceutical industry's attempts at taking over, synthesizing, and standardizing a plant's chemical components, plant-based medications are the cornerstone of the practice of medicine.
Cannabis has been a medicine since at least 2800 BCE, and until the 1940s, it was actually listed in America's pharmacopeia. Remains of a ritual object that contained charred hemp seeds, dating back at least 5,000 years, have been excavated in Romania. In America, cannabis was a patent medicine--an ingredient in numerous tinctures and extracts throughout the 1800s and early 1900s.
In the 1930s, Harry Anslinger (the man who almost single-handedly smeared cannabis and is largely responsible for its illegality) opted for a new name for the plant, one that would be unfamiliar to Americans: marijuana. Mexican migrant workers who smoked it were demonized by Anslinger's tirades against the "loco weed," which he insisted would make them insane and dangerous, raping our white women and wreaking violent havoc on us all. Add to that the Southern black jazz musicians who were known to smoke their mezz, and you have a recipe for xenophobia and racism dictating drug policy. In 1937, with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Stamp Act, this medicine-cannabis-was turned into an illegal drug-marijuana.
Fear should not trump knowledge. Data from international studies as well as the few government-sponsored American studies show that cannabis is remarkably safe and has many potential therapeutic applications.
Oncologists and pain specialists readily agree that cannabinoids can reduce chronic pain, eliminate nausea, and stimulate appetite. A big problem in patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer or AIDS is nausea induced by their life-saving medications. Nausea is difficult to treat and dreadful to live with. The medications available to treat nausea are quite expensive and often are not covered by prescription plans, while just a puff or two of cannabis will not only eliminate the patient's nausea for hours, but help build appetite to maintain weight and nutrition.
These are key factors in maintaining some quality of life in patents with cancer, AIDS, and other debilitating illnesses. When patients begin to use cannabis to treat their pain, they are able to markedly decrease or stop their other pain medications, which can cause uncomfortable side effects like constipation, nausea, vomiting, and sedation.
Cannabis is also a potent and immediate-acting muscle relaxant, unclenching spasms and relaxing the smooth muscle of bladders of people suffering from spinal cord injuries, MS, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Although inhaled smoke can act as an irritant to lung tissue, cannabis acts as a bronchodilator, helping open the airways of patients with asthma.
Many don't know that cannabis is an anti-inflammatory and an immunomodulator. Because of the CB2 receptors on immune helper cells in the spleen and in the blood stream, cannabis has the capacity to alter the course of autoimmune illnesses and inflammation responses. This means it can help reduce the damage done by strokes, arthritis, MS, ulcerative colitis, and many other autoimmune diseases.
The cannabis plant has thousands of uses. Even if you discount the flowering tops that can be ingested as medicine or relaxant, there is still the stalk of the plant, better known as hemp, which is the potential answer to many of our ecological problems. Hemp is a renewable energy source that grows easily and naturally all over America, without pesticides or soil erosion. It has the potential to replace fossil fuels. It is the raw material for paper that could help end deforestation. Instead of plastic bags made from petroleum products that end up in our treetops and at sea, we could be using hemp-based cellophane that is biodegradable. Instead of styrofoam that sits in our landfills for generations, we could be using compostable hemp-based cellulose.
Cannabis seeds (delicious toasted) are a complete protein, vegetarian food. They also make good feed for livestock and poultry. Hempseed oil, unlike flaxseed oil, has the exact ratio (3:1) of the essential fatty acids Omega 6 to Omega 3, required by our bodies. It tastes better than flaxseed oil and won't create essential fatty acid deficiencies over time if used continuously as flaxseed oil can.
Besides being a nutritious food, hempseed oil, once used to light Lincoln's oil lamp, is a biodiesel fuel that could help end our dependence on foreign oil. Any one of these indications (medicine, food, fuel) would be enough to earn cannabis the respect and attention it deserves, yet our society continues to demonize and vilify it, outlawing it primarily because it makes people giddy.
Cannabis is the most popular illicit drug in the word. An estimated 162 million adults worldwide are regular users, including 11 to 20 million Americans. (And 43% of Americans have tried it.) It is illogical that the most harmful consequence of cannabis use is a blow delivered by our legal system. As Jimmy Carter once famously said: "Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself."
Adapted with permission from The Pot Book, ©2010 by Julie Holland, M.D., published by Park Street Press, Rochester, VT. Available in stores or visit www.parkstpress.com
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