This is a continuation of my post on the war on drugs - part one.
How did we get here? ... a history of cannabis.
I'm actually not going to spend a lot of time here. Cannabis use has a long history with medical use dating to at least around 2700 B.C. (I'll return to this later) according to the journal article History of cannabis as a medicine: a review.
Instead, I'm going to focus more on the legal history of cannabis, more specifically the beginning of cannabis prohibition.
First, why is cannabis illegal?
In short, cannabis was made illegal largely through the efforts of one man - Harry J Anslinger - who, needing to ensure the continuation of available work for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, swung from the position that "cannabis was not a problem, did not harm people, and 'there is no more absurd fallacy' than the idea it makes people violent" (Wikipedia) to it turning young people into "slaves to this narcotic, continuing addiction until they deteriorate mentally, becoming insane, [and] turn to violent crime and murder", as described in Chasing the Scream, The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. Promoting the story of Victor Lacata,
a twenty-one-year-old Florida boy known in his neighborhood as "a sane, rather quiet young man" until - the story went - the day he smoked cannabis. He then entered a "marijuana dream" in which he believed he was being attacked by men who would cut off his arms, so he struck back, seizing an axe and hacking his mother, father, two brothers, and sister to pieces.
regardless of the fact that Lacata had a long history of mental illness and there was no evidence he'd used cannabis. It was a sensational story that Anslinger could use to vilify cannabis against existing evidence.
He contacted 30 scientists, according to Hari, and 29 told him cannabis was not a dangerous drug. But it was the theory of the single expert who agreed with him that he presented to the public — cannabis was an evil that should be banned — and the press ran with this sensationalized version.
Anslinger also used racism to help popularize anti-cannabis efforts.
Most marijuana smokers are colored people, jazz musicians, and entertainers. Their satanic music is driven by marijuana, and marijuana smoking by white women makes them want to seek sexual relations with Negroes
In short, Anslinger was a self-righteous thug who exploited his power to the detriment of others.
This thuggish behavior was later continued by then president Richard Nixon (here we are, back at Nixon. According to John Ehrlichman (counsel and assistant to the President for domestic affairs for Nixon) in a 1994 interview:
The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
Adam Ruins Everything did a short segment which covers cannabis prohibition pretty well
Additionally, here's a handy link to Adam's sources for this episode.
Next, I would like to point you to a local news segment with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition's Peter Christ. Note: LEAP is now know as Law Enforcement Action Partnership.
Second, why is cannabis [still] illegal.
Much of this information has been known for quite a while; my first exposure to some of this was learning about Jack Herer's 1985 book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes around 1996. However, as time goes by, more of it becomes available (and more easily obtainable, with the help of the internet), and there seems to be more penetration into the public at large and the mainstream media. So, why do we persist in keeping cannabis illegal when its prohibition was based on lies, and much of the population supports legalization (as of an April 2017 CBS News poll, 60% of Americans think cannabis should be legal - up from 40% in 2011 and 27% in 1979)?
I can't definitively answer the question; sorry. My theory is that it's been illegal for so long that we've got inertia, a resistance to change, against us. Additionally, many people have grown up thinking that cannabis is as dangerous as we've been told; there is resistance to changing people's ideas. Further, we've got politicians who cannot admit the failure of policies (even those that predate them) and are so entrenched in their positions of power that standing up for the right cause here is deemed political suicide - it would destroy their careers. This last bit is interesting considering the polls now showing 60% support of legalization - perhaps we'll see more politicians coming out in support.
Unfortunately, I also think that prohibition is profitable. As we’ve seen, there is a lot of money going into anti drug efforts. We (the taxpayers) are spending it, but someone is receiving it. As long as they can keep making money from cannabis prohibition, they’ll keep fighting to keep it illegal. As we know, the more money you have, the more influence you can buy.
Uses of cannabis.
So far I haven't addressed why cannabis is used. There are two main uses for cannabis, plus the many uses of the hemp plant (I won't touch on those here), recreational and medicinal (there are religious (and likely other) uses as well, but again, I'll not touch on those here). Recreational use is an obvious and accepted use in society (not as in approving, but known); this is analogous to the use of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and other drugs.
Medicinal use, on the other hand, seems to be more contentious. The U.S. government claims that there are no accepted medical uses of cannabis, despite the fact that Dronabinol (brand name: Marinol) is an FDA approved drug prescribed for the treatment of nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss by cancer and HIV patients.
Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are:
heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote
Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous. Some examples of Schedule II drugs are:
Combination products with less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage unit (Vicodin), cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin
While we're talking about drug scheduling, in 2010, David Nutt produced a study ranking the harm caused by various drugs, showing cannabis producing less harm than both alcohol, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, cocaine, tobacco, and amphetamine. He was subsequently asked to resign his position as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs because his views (based on scientific research) were counter to the British government's official policy. This harm information wasn't entirely new however; a report by the Shafer Commission (appointed by President Nixon) in 1972 recommended that marijuana be decriminalized and removed from its Schedule 1 listing. This report was shelved because its results didn't agree with the beliefs of those in power.
Among other things, cannabis' listing as a schedule 1 drug presents difficulties in even studying its properties and the effects that is has - medical research. Now, I'd like you to think about the following fact for a moment in light of cannabis' listing as a schedule 1 drug.
Cannabis Sativa (cannabis) is among the earliest plants cultivated by man. The first evidence of the use of cannabis was found in China, where archeological and historical findings indicate that that plant was cultivated for fibers since 4.000 B.C.1 With the fibers obtained from the cannabis stems, the Chinese manufactured strings, ropes, textiles, and even paper. Textiles and paper made from cannabis were found in the tomb of Emperor Wu (104-87 B.C.), of the Han dynasty.1
The use of cannabis as a medicine by ancient Chinese was reported in the world's oldest pharmacopoeia, the pen-ts'ao ching which was compiled in the first century of this Era, but based on oral traditions passed down from the time of Emperor Shen-Nung, who lived during the years 2.700 B.C. Indications for the use of cannabis included: rheumatic pain, intestinal constipation, disorders of the female reproductive system, malaria, and others.2 In the beginning of the Christian Era, Hua T'o, the founder of Chinese surgery (A.D. 110 – 207), used a compound of the plant, taken with wine, to anesthetize patients during surgical operations.1
For longer than America has been a country, the cannabis plant has been used for medicinal purposes. Then we come along and decide, against evidence that it is unsafe, and make it illegal, and make it difficult to study … for reasons which are racist and political, rather than scientifically backed.
One of the claims I've heard is that "more research is needed to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of marijuana and its active ingredients" before we can move toward greater acceptance of medical use. I say that I've heard this claim; that quote is one I received via email from Senator Johnny Isakson in reply to an email of mine in support of legalization and medical use.
Despite the research difficulties in the U.S., here is a short list of studies which have been published in the last several years:
- 2015 - Inhaled Cannabis for Chronic Neuropathic Pain: A Meta-analysis of Individual Patient Data
- 2012 - Association Between Marijuana Exposure and Pulmonary Function Over 20 Years - shows a potential protective effect of cannabis use compared to tobacco use (smoked).
- 2004 - Cannabinoids inhibit the vascular endothelial growth factor pathway in gliomas.
- 2003 - Anti-proliferative and apoptotic effects of anandamide in human prostatic cancer cell lines: implication of epidermal growth factor receptor down-regulation and ceramide production.
- 2012 - Cannabidiol inhibits lung cancer cell invasion and metastasis via intercellular adhesion molecule-1.
- 2001 - Inhibition of glioma growth in vivo by selective activation of the CB(2) cannabinoid receptor.
- 2014 - Histone Modifications Are Associated with Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol-mediated Alterations in Antigen-specific T Cell Responses - shows anti-inflammatory properties which can potentially help treat autoimmune disorders.
- 2017 - Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature. - Indicates that there could be benefits for insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea.
- 2014 - Chronic Stress Impairs α1-Adrenoceptor-Induced Endocannabinoid-Dependent Synaptic Plasticity in the Dorsal Raphe Nucleus - Indicates that cannabinoids can be used to help treat depression.
- 2014 - Cannabis effects on PTSD: Can smoking medical marijuana reduce symptoms?
A quick search of articles at the Journal of the American Medical Association yields 809 results for 'marijuana' and 425 results for 'cannabis' (there is likely some overlap in these articles). Checking with other journals and research institutions would undoubtedly return additional results. What is the qualifying point for 'enough' research? How much historical evidence of medicinal use do we need?
It is time to stop hiding behind the excuse of "not enough research", and "no accepted medical use". These things are clear and established.
That is not to say that we should legalize and then stop studying. I absolutely believe that more research should be undertaken, both on the potential benefits and harms associated with cannabis use. However, I don't think that the existing research should be ignored because it doesn't align with one's beliefs or the inertia of the political system. Hindering additional studies because there aren't enough studies is a utterly illogical; keeping cannabis listed as schedule 1, with no recognized medicinal use, hinders further study.
There are many chemical components in the cannabis flower which are released when heated (at least 85 cannabinoids, plus various terpenes - a PDF showing some of the associated benefits of the cannabinoids and terpenes can be found here, from SteepHill.com). The two major ones are Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the primary psychoactive component), and Cannabidiol (CBD). Combinations of these compounds exist in varying amounts in each strain.
Among the research results are findings that cannabis may provide protective effects against cancer (such as the second link in the above listing). They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Shouldn’t we at least give people that option if they choose?
In Isakson's reply, he does indicate support for exploring CBD.
In particular, I fully support Governor Deal's decision to fund clinical trials to explore the efficacy of cannabinoid oil (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of marijuana. I understand that there is evidence that shows promising improvement for the use of CBD, particularly to prevent or mitigate seizures in children. I sympathize with those parents and children suffering through these symptoms, and I am disappointed to see any parent of a sick child forced to move to another state to access promising treatments. I will continue to support the efforts of Rep. Allen Peake to make CBD available to qualified children suffering from seizures.
Each of the compounds produces a unique effect, some psychoactive and others not, some available after processing/heating, others raw. Also, as we know from other drugs and medications, the effect produced can vary among individuals. I feel it is important that all compounds be explored and available; with many possible conditions that cannabis seems to have a positive effect on (pain, cancer, sleep, stress, P.T.S.D., etc.), we shouldn't focus purely on one piece of the puzzle.
I also believe that the best option is legalization; where a person can purchase a product where the strains are known and controlled by the grower and compounds levels are verified by lab tests, in a clean, professional, and safe setting. Limiting patients to synthesized or isolated compounds which may not be as effective, when a naturally occurring and easy to cultivate plant provides a greater, and less costly, benefit is a crime against those who are sick and in pain, especially given the cost of commercial pharmaceuticals.
Making it personal
First, I’d like to point out that I come from a history of recreational use and I’ve long thought that it should be legalized. I, personally, much prefer the effects of cannabis to that of alcohol, both in the short term and longer - I find that I’m a more patient and happy person for some time after the intoxicating effects have worn off. I bring this up because I want to allay suspicion that my only goal is to legalize for recreational use by bringing my preference to the fore. I do think that it should be legalized for recreational use; however, I also see great potential in treating a number of other conditions and ailments and we should strive to help those who are in need.
As you may be aware, I've suffered from back-pain issues for a couple of years now. I had a major issue which kept me housebound for about two weeks (the first week of which was on the floor, barely able to crawl to get around); it was miserable. Since then, I've had a number of less severe relapses. These will keep me in near constant pain for weeks or months, but I'll still be able to get around. However, I’m still dealing with these issues and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to get back to a pre-injury state.
I can personally attest to cannabis' pain relieving and muscle relaxing properties. As with previous instances (surgeries) of being prescribed opioid painkillers, I've had mixed luck with their efficacy. The unfortunate thing is that I can't even remember now which worked and which didn't (hydrocodone, oxycodone, etc.). One had a minor positive effect, and the other did nothing for the pain, but made me nauseous (let me tell you, that was helpful ...).
In dealing with relapses, I found that if I took a muscle relaxer the night of an occurrence (the event which triggered a relapse - a bad bend, or some unexpected movement), the recovery was a bit quicker, staving off weeks or months of more severe pain (the initial pain causes seizing and severe muscle tightening which can last many weeks). Taking a muscle relaxer beyond the first day or two tends to yield no further results. Additionally (and unsurprisingly), the muscle relaxers do nothing for the pain.
One evening, I had the opportunity to try cannabis after a relapse event and two things happened. First, the pain was gone within five minutes - I still moved guardedly, as I didn't expect it to fix the problem - and when I did push a little too far, any pain I felt was much less severe. Second, the next day showed great improvement, on the level of the muscle-relaxer on the first day. This was an amazing find - if only there was better and more reliable access.
I can also say that not all cannabis strains are equal, and every person reacts a bit differently to its compounds, as mentioned previously. My mother-in-law, luckily, lives in a state with medical access. Her pain has been better treated by higher CBD strains. While visiting with her earlier this year, I had a back flare-up and I used some of her high CBD (low THC) medicine. It didn't blunt the pain as effectively as what I’d tried previously and I fought with the seized back for at least a month afterward. The combination of compounds was not what I'd experienced previously, and wasn't the formulation that best suited what I needed to address the pain at the time.
With a regulated and robust system, it would be trivial to find a strain which worked well for me and to know what I was getting. States with either medical or recreational access have this benefit. I believe that this access should be extended nationwide.
How do we fix the problem?
We've taken a long journey so far ... the war on drugs and its costs, a brief history on the reasons for prohibition, and some information on medical uses of cannabis. My hope is that you’ve seen something here that is new to you and piqued your curiosity, that you’ve read or watched at least some of the linked material, that you've seen that the war on cannabis has been both a failure and an unnecessary entry in our history, and a malignancy which should be excised.
The path forward is to stand up and make our voices heard, tell our stories - make it personal. Support organizations who are actively working toward ending prohibition and providing medical access, to contact our representatives to compel them to support legalization and/or medical access, to stop destroying the lives of millions in this misguided policy.
Be vocal; demand change. Not just on this topic, but in all areas where our voices are being ignored. We must fight for the change we wish to see in the world.
There are currently two House bills (that I'm aware of) which support our goals of cannabis policy reform:
- H.R. 1227: Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017
- H.R. 1841: Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act
This helps to fix the problem going forward, but what can be done to help those who have been harmed by the past actions of these policies? First, I think we need to pardon all those who have been sentenced for nonviolent offenses and clean the offence from their record; they should be able to live normal lives going forward without the stigma of of being an ex-convict. These were bad laws that hurt many people. I also believe that these people should compensated for the injustice that has been done. They have lost jobs, property, lives due to these malignant ideas, we should give something back to them.
Write to your representatives and urge them to support ending cannabis prohibition. Find out who your representatives.