3. Synthetic cannabinoid antagonists
4. Peripherally restrictedagonists
6. Water-soluble cannabinoids
7. Allosteric cannabinoid receptor modulators
8. Inhibitors of endocannabinoid metabolizing enzymes
9. Endocannabinoid reuptake inhibitors
The possibility that a woman could have painless labor became an idÃ©e fixe of H. L. (“Doc”) Humes, a literary wunderkind and MIT science prodigy who developed some intriguing theories about cannabis. When his wife was giving birth at their home on July 4, 1977, they tried an experiment involving marijuana, breathing exercises, and massage. Humes gave her some marijuana to inhale just before each contraction and this helped her immensely.
Marijuana is “among the most forgiving medicines we know,” said Humes, who described cannabis as a “neurological laxative” that “acts to surface anxiety which the user holds within himself.” Doc touted the weed as the best remedy for stress, “the necessary medicine for the nation’s anxiety-tension problem.” “America is so sick,” he declared, “and cannabis is the specific medicine for the disease that afflicts us.”
Chronic “anxiety-tension,” Humes explained, “is a state of general blockage that shows up most obviously at an individual’s ‘weakest link,’ so it can have a wide variety of physical and emotional symptoms, as well as being generally debilitating … Most of the common elements from which people suffer are really symptoms of anxiety-tension, including headache, backache, insomnia, fatigue, irritability, GI disturbances such as constipation and ulcers, overweight, arthritis, and so on. Anxiety-tension has also been very clearly implicated in more deadly disorders such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer proneness, and premature aging … Depression is frequently a symptom of anxiety-tension.”
Related Story: Stress Can Kill You: Marijuana Can Help Kill Stress
Ganja’s biphasic qualities allowed smokers to “equilibrate” the nervous system, according to Humes. Consumed in appropriate quantities, the herb could calm the hyper or invigorate the sluggish. The medical use of cannabis depends precisely on managing its psychoactive properties,” Doc counseled. “In heavy dosage, it functions like a hypnotic. In a light dosage it functions like an illuminant.”
Humes saw early on that the widespread “recreational use of cannabis is also a form of self-medication,” even if most marijuana smokers did not acknowledge this to themselves. He lamented the fact that hundreds of thousands of young people are arrested each year for using the most efficacious and least harmful medication available to cope with the stress of living in the modern world.
Source: H. L. Humes, “Notes on Painless Detoxification from Narcotics Addiction,” unpublished manuscript.
An excerpt from Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific by Martin A. Lee
It doesn’t get you high, but it’s causing quite a buzz among medical scientists and patients. The past year has seen a surge of interest in marijuana’s CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabis compound with significant therapeutic properties. Numerous commercial start-ups and internet retailers have jumped on the CBD bandwagon, touting CBD derived from industrial hemp as the next big thing, a miracle oil that can shrink tumors, quell seizures, and ease chronic pain — without making people feel “stoned.” But along with a growing awareness of cannabidiol as a potential health aid there has been a proliferation of misconceptions about CBD.
Project CBD receives many inquiries from around the world and oftentimes people say they are seeking “CBD, the medical part” of the plant, “not THC, the recreational part” that gets you high. Actually, THC, “The High Causer,” has awesome therapeutic properties. Scientists at the Scripps Research Center in San Diego reported that THC inhibits an enzyme implicated in the formation of beta-amyloid plaque, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s-related dementia.
Related Story: The Only CBD User’s Manual You Need
The federal government recognizes single-molecule THC (Marinol) as an anti-nausea compound and appetite booster, deeming it a Schedule III drug, a category reserved for medicinal substances with little abuse potential. But whole plant marijuana, the only natural source of THC, continues to be classified as a dangerous Schedule I drug with no medical value.
2. “THC Is The Bad Cannabinoid. CBD Is The Good Cannabinoid.”
The drug warrior’s strategic retreat: Give ground on CBD while continuing to demonize THC. Diehard marijuana prohibitionists are exploiting the good news about CBD to further stigmatize high-THCcannabis, casting tetrahydrocannabinol as the bad cannabinoid, whereas CBD is framed as the good cannabinoid. Why? Because CBD doesn’t make you high like THC does.
Project CBD categorically rejects this moralistic, reefer madness dichotomy in favor of whole plant cannabis therapeutics. (Read the foundational science paper: A Tale of Two Cannabinoids.)
THC and CBD are the power couple of cannabis compounds — they work best together. Scientific studies have established that CBD and THC interact synergistically to enhance each other’s therapeutic effects. British researchers have shown that CBD potentiates THC’s anti-inflammatory properties in an animal model of colitis.
Related Story: How Marijuana’s CBD Works In The Body According To Science
Scientists at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco determined that a combination of CBD and THC has a more potent anti-tumoral effect than either compound alone when tested on brain cancer and breast cancer cell lines. And extensive clinical research has demonstrated that CBDcombined with THC is more beneficial for neuropathic pain than either compound as a single molecule.
4. “Single-Molecule Pharmaceuticals Are Superior To ‘Crude’ Whole-Plant Medicinals.”
According to the federal government, specific components of the marijuana plant (THC, CBD) have medical value, but the plant itself does not have medical value. Uncle Sam’s single-molecule blinders reflect a cultural and political bias that privileges Big Pharma products. Single-molecule medicine is the predominant corporate way, the FDA-approved way, but it’s not the only way, and it’s not necessarily the optimal way to benefit from cannabis therapeutics.
Cannabis contains several hundred compounds, including various flavonoids, aromatic terpenes, and many minor cannabinoids in addition to THC and CBD. Each of these compounds has specific healing attributes, but when combined they create what scientists refer to as a holistic “entourage effect,” so that the therapeutic impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its single-molecule parts. The Food and Drug Administration, however, isn’t in the business of approving plants as medicine. (See the scientific evidence.)
5. “Psychoactivity Is Inherently An Adverse Side Effect.”
According to politically correct drug war catechism, the marijuana high is an unwanted side effect. Big Pharma is keen on synthesizing medically active marijuana-like molecules that don’t make people high — although it’s not obvious why mild euphoric feelings are intrinsically negative for a sick person or a healthy person, for that matter.
In ancient Greece, the word euphoria meant “having health,” a state of well-being. The euphoric qualities of cannabis, far from being an unwholesome side effect, are deeply implicated in the therapeutic value of the plant.
“We should be thinking of cannabis as a medicine first,” said Dr. Tod Mikuriya, “that happens to have some psychoactive properties, as many medicines do, rather than as an intoxicant that happens to have a few therapeutic properties on the side.”
6. “CBD Is Legal In All 50 States.”
Purveyors of imported, CBD-infused hemp oil claim it’s legal to market their wares anywhere in the United States as long as the oil contains less than 0.3 percent THC. Actually, it’s not so simple.
Federal law prohibits U.S. farmers from growing hemp as a commercial crop, but the sale of imported, low-THC, industrial hemp products is permitted in the United States as long as these products are derived from the seed or stalk of the plant, not from the leaves and flowers. Here’s the catch: Cannabidiol can’t be pressed or extracted from hempseed. CBD can be extracted from the flower, leaves, and, only to a very minor extent, from the stalk of the hemp plant. Hemp oil start-ups lack credibility when they say their CBD comes from hempseed and stalk.
7. “CBD-Only’ Laws Adequately Serve The Patient Population.”
Some U.S. state legislatures have passed “CBD only” (or, more accurately, “low THC”) laws, and other states are poised to follow suit. Some states restrict the sources of CBD-rich products and specify the diseases for which CBD can be accessed; others do not. Ostensibly these laws allow the use of CBD-infused oil derived from hemp or cannabis that measures less than 0.3 percent THC.
But a CBD-rich remedy with little THC doesn’t work for everyone. Parents of epileptic children have found that adding some THC (or THCA, the raw unheated version of THC) helps with seizure control in many instances. For some epileptics, THC-dominant strains are more effective than CBD-rich products.
The vast majority of patients are not well served by CBD-only laws. They need access to a broad spectrum of whole plant cannabis remedies, not just the low THC medicine. One size doesn’t fit all with respect to cannabis therapeutics, and neither does one compound or one product or one strain. (Read more: Prohibition’s Last Gasp: “CBD Only.”)
8. “CBD Is CBD—It Doesn’t Matter Where It Comes From.”
Yes it does matter. The flower-tops and leaves of some industrial hemp strains may be a viable source of CBD (legal issues notwithstanding), but hemp is by no means an optimal source of cannabidiol. Industrial hemp typically contains far less cannabidiol than CBD-rich cannabis. Huge amounts of industrial hemp are required to extract a small amount of CBD, thereby raising the risk of toxic contaminants because hemp is a “bio-accumulator” that draws heavy metals from the soil.
Single-molecule CBD synthesized in a lab or extracted and refined from industrial hemp lacks critical medicinal terpenes and secondary cannabinoids found in cannabis strains. These compounds interact with CBD and THC to enhance their therapeutic benefits.
Back to court
Pharma versus farmer
Cannabis has been a friend to humankind since before the written word, providing fiber for cordage and cloth, seeds for nutrition, and roots, leaves and flowers for ritual and healing. During the Neolithic period, our ancestors discovered uses for every part of cannabis, which was one of the first agricultural crops, perhaps the first, ever to be grown and harvested some 12,000 years ago.
Agriculture, strictly speaking, is not a natural phenomenon. It is an expression of human ingenuity, an invention that has been described as the basis – literally the ground – of modern civilization. “The onset of agriculture was probably one of the most dramatic and important developments in human history,” writes Swiss scientist JÃ¼rg Gertsch, who explores the profound consequences of dietary changes brought on by food cultivation in a recent article in the British Journal of Pharmacology, entitled “Cannabimimetic phytochemicals in the diet – an evolutionary link to food selection and metabolic stress adaptation?”
Gertsch’s provocative thesis is that chronic metabolic disorders, currently a worldwide pandemic, are rooted in “a mismatch between ancient genes and high caloric diets” that ensued with the introduction of agriculture. “The multimillion year evolutionary process during which nearly all genetic change reflected the life circumstances of our ancestors [was] suddenly disturbed” when “carbohydrate farming” supplanted the “hunter-gatherer diet rich in animal food,” says Gertsch, who maintains that “the interplay between diet and the endocannabinoid system” is key to understanding today’s obesity/diabetes crisis and its potential remediation.
The endocannabinoid system, an ancient biological signaling network, regulates numerous physiological processes, including intestinal function, glucose metabolism, and the stress response. A dysregulated endocannabinoid system is implicated in metabolic and bowel pathologies and many other diseases. Gertsch discusses the different, yet complementary, roles of the cannabinoid receptors – CB1 and CB2 – pertaining to diet, digestion, and energy metabolism.
Mammalian CB1 receptors are concentrated in the brain and the central nervous system. They are also present in taste buds and the enteric nervous system (the gut-brain axis). Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s main psychoactive component, boosts appetite and food intake by binding to the CB1 receptor – a phenomenon playfully known as “the munchies.” But CB1 receptors, as Gertsch points out, “can exert paradoxical effects on food intake,” facilitating essential nourishment as well as metabolic imbalance.
CB1 receptor signaling triggers a newborn’s suckling instinct. Mother’s milk is well endowed with arachidonic acid, a basic building block of the brain’s own marijuana-like compounds, anandamide and 2AG. These endogenous cannabinoid compounds bind to the same cell receptors – CB1 and CB2 – that mediate many of the effects of marijuana. Found in eggs, meat, and dairy products, arachidonic acid intake increases endocannabinoid levels in different tissues and is crucial for pre- and post-natal brain development.
Early hominids lived a precarious wilderness existence, requiring significant physical exertion (hunting and gathering) for survival. Famine, microbial infection, traumatic encounters with predators, fight or flight – all were hallmarks of a pre-agriculturist, subsistence lifestyle. Given the metabolic demands of their large brains and strenuous daily activities, our ancestors needed to consume energy-dense, nutrient-rich food.
In addition to heightening one’s sense of smell and stimulating appetite, CB1 receptor signaling “may facilitate survival after excessive physical activity, stress and trauma by restoring homeostasis, suppressing negative memories and reducing anxiety at the level of the central nervous system,” writes Gertsch, who explains that “CB1 receptor activation is associated with increased energy intake and decreased energy expenditure by controlling neural pathways.”
And CB1 taketh away
Combined with rigorous, day-to-day aerobics, the hunter-gatherer diet did not engender obesity, metabolic problems or cardiovascular disease. But the high-fat hunter-gatherer diet, which served our ancestors well, changed significantly with the advent of cultivated food. “Carbohydrate farming incited the most important dietary transition, which is still ongoing to the present day,” says Gertsch. There is a continuum, he maintains, between plant carbohydrate cultivation of yore and today’s over-starched, over-sweetened and over-processed Western diet.
Grain, carbs, sugar, alcohol, high fructose corn syrup: What started as the basis of civilization has spiraled into a mass-marketed refined sugar binge. “Dietary carbohydrates once essential for the cognitive and social development of Paleolithic humans gradually turned into a metabolic stress factor as a function of their glycemic indices,” Gertsch explains. “Epidemiological evidence points toward a pandemic diet-induced glucose toxicity due to excess sugar intake.”
The endocannabinoid system is deeply implicated in this unhealthy worldwide trajectory. Linked to both motivation and reward, CB1 receptor signaling encourages sugar consumption by enhancing neural responses to sweet flavors. It has been shown that chronic CB1 receptor activation in mice causes obesity-related insulin resistance. Aberrant CB1 activity reinforces a metabolically skewed feedback loop: In obese humans, high endocannabinoid levels are found in the liver, pancreas, adipose tissue, and skeletal muscle, where they contribute to insulin resistance, decreased glucose uptake, oxygen depletion, and cardiometabolic distress.
“The generation and excess use of sugars could be seen in analogy to the detrimental impact of the first distilled alcohol on humans. The sudden availability of excess sugars in combination with fats in diet may have led to a collision of genes that evolved to cope with high energy demands due to constant physical activity,” says Gertsch. “Excessive consumption of high-energy palatable food without physical activity contributes to obesity.” Which, in turn, leads to metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and other degenerative conditions.
CB2 to the rescue
CB1 receptors and CB2 cannabinoid receptors play different roles with respect to diet and nutrition. In animal studies, CB2 receptor activation generally causes the opposite effects of CB1. Whereas CB1 receptors promote appetite and food consumption, CB2 receptors tend to inhibit food intake.1
Expressed primarily in immune cells, adipose (fatty) tissue, and the peripheral nervous system, CB2 receptors confer broad anti-inflammatory effects in various disease models. Noting that obesity is a low-grade inflammatory condition, Gertsch discusses the “protective role of CB2 receptors in diet-induced metabolic malignancies.” Preclinical research indicates that CB2 receptor activity can prevent or ameliorate diabetes-associated peripheral neuropathy and pro-inflammatory obesity. CB2 signaling is also protective against brain damage from strokes, concussions, and neurodegenerative ailments.
Gertsch suggests that the contemporary “mismatch between ancient genes and high caloric diets” might be reconciled in part by CB2’s ability to mediate the effects of secondary plant metabolites (terpenes, flavonoids and other polyphenolic compounds) that are found in kitchen spices, leafy greens, and other vegetables. “Dietary secondary metabolites from vegetables and spices are able to enhance the activity of CB2 receptors and may provide adaptive metabolic advantages and counteract inflammation,” Gertsch reports.
Beta-caryophyllene (BCP), for example, is a seemingly ubiquitous aromatic terpene present in many spices (black pepper, cloves, rosemary, etc.) and bitter greens, as well as in numerous cannabis varietals. This versatile plant compound conveys significant health benefits by directly activating the CB2 receptor and via other molecular pathways. BCP has been shown to stimulate insulin production and inhibit tumor growth in human cell lines. Mounting evidence suggests that a steady diet of BCP-rich foods could prevent or mitigate non-alcoholic fatty liver disease through CB2-mediated channels. Eating green leafy vegetables and spices rich in essential oils “may counteract metabolic stress induced by excessive carbohydrate intake,” Gertsch advises.
Healthy fats, healthy people
Several scientific studies have explored the link between the intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and the endocannabinoid system. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, is the principal long chain PUFA found in the human brain. (Omega oils are considered “essential” fatty acids because they can’t be produced by the body in sufficient amounts and therefore must be ingested.) Dietary DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), another long chain PUFA, support neurological function, retinal development, and overall health by up-regulating CB1 receptor gene expression.2 Preclinical research has shown that administering DHA and EPA prevented glucose intolerance and low-grade inflammation of white adipose tissue in obese mice.
The manifold health benefits of omega-3 PUFAs – prominent in oily fish, walnuts, flax and hempseeds, for example – include the prevention of heart disease, dementia, cancer cell proliferation, insulin resistance, and depression. Low levels of DHA and EPA can lead to premature aging, as well as mental illness. Nutritional omega-3 dietary deficiency “abolishes endocannabinoid-mediated neuronal functions” and is associated with neuropsychiatric disease, according to a 2011 report in Nature Neuroscience. Alzheimer’s sufferers and children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder tend to be deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.
A healthy balance of omega-3 fatty acids and grain-derived omega-6 fatty acids is fundamental for preventing and managing obesity and metabolic syndrome. But a well-balanced ratio of PUFAs is typically lacking in a carb-heavy Western diet that favors greater omega-6 intake at the expense of omega-3. Gertsch suggests that it is possible “to reprogram energy metabolism” by increasing omega-3 and decreasing the amount of omega-6 in one’s diet: “Generally a lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is desirable in reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in industrial society or societies with high carbohydrate intake.”
A 2014 paper by Japanese scientists reported that the ratio of dietary omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids influences how CB1 cannabinoid receptors regulate fear memory. The upshot is that altering the omega-6/omega-3 ratio in one’s diet could improve treatment regimens for anxiety and PTSD, as well as for metabolic disorders. Human beings have evolved in such a way as to have “an advanced capacity to digest and metabolize higher fat diets,” says Gertsch, who concludes that a “low-carb, high fat diet should be the most effective measure against obesity” – with the caveat that a high fat diet must be combined with regular physical exercise, much like in the hunter-gatherer days before agriculture.
Given what scientists know about how the endocannabinoid system functions, there is a strong basis for adopting a high fat, low carb diet with lots of fresh vegetables and spices, both as a general health practice and a remedy for many maladies.
The placebo effect is a pervasive medical phenomenon. It occurs when someone responds to an inert treatment or an expectation of benefit in the same way that they would respond to an actual treatment. Experts don’t know exactly how or why, but there’s no disputing that a person given a placebo — be it a sugar pill, a saline injection or even sham surgery or sham acupuncture — will often experience a perceived or real improvement in their condition.Placebos with no active drug ingredients can trigger changes in brain chemistry, heart rate, and blood pressure. A placebo can even enhance short-term memory. Brain imaging techniques have shown that placebos have a measurable impact on brain activity.
In 1955, Henry K. Beecher postulated that placebos could have clinically significant effects. Scientists researching the neurobiology of the placebo effect have since determined that placebos and drugs convey effects through common physiological pathways. Placebos reduce pain — a phenomenon known as “placebo analgesia” — by activating the body’s innate painkilling mechanisms.
The Food and Drug Administration, the perennial handmaiden of Big Pharma, recognizes turmeric as a food-coloring agent but not as a therapeutic substance, despite more than 5600 peer-reviewed studies of turmeric and its main polyphenolic component, curcumin, that document numerous healing attributes. There is more evidence-based scientific literature (1500 science articles) supporting the use of curcumin against cancer than any other nutrient, including vitamin D. Much like saffron, curcumin is a potent antioxidant that confers neuroprotective effects through multiple molecular channels. Turmeric protects against alcohol-induced brain damage, improves insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular function, inhibits platelet aggregation, and facilitates the clearing of beta-amyloid plaque associated with Alzheimer’s dementia. It's worth noting that the incidence of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases among people living in the Asian subcontinent, where turmeric is ubiquitous, is significantly lower than in North America.
In 2009, a handful of CBD-rich cannabis strains were discovered serendipitously in Northern California, America’s cannabis breadbasket, where certified patients could access medical marijuana legally. Thus began a great laboratory experiment in democracy involving CBD-rich cannabis therapeutics. The advent of whole plant CBD-rich oil as a grassroots therapeutic option has changed the national conversation about cannabis. It’s no longer a question of whether medical marijuana works; today the key question is how to use cannabis for maximum therapeutic benefit. But most health professionals have little experience in this area. So Project CBD has created a CBD User’s Manual for patients that addresses key questions about cannabidiol and cannabis therapeutics.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol or CBD is a non-intoxicating component of the cannabis plant with enormous therapeutic potential. Although CBD doesn’t make people feel high like THC does, it’s causing quite a buzz among scientists, health professionals and medical marijuana patients who are using CBD-rich products to treat a wide range of conditions including chronic pain, cancer, Crohn’s, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, PTSD, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, antibiotic-resistant infections, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, and more.
Academic research centers in the United States and elsewhere are currently studying the effects of CBD on these and other ailments. Scientists refer to CBD as a “promiscuous” compound because it confers therapeutic benefits in many different ways while tapping into how we function physiologically and biologically on a deep level. Extensive preclinical research and some clinical studies have shown that CBD has strong anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, anti-depressant, anti-psychotic, anti-tumoral, and neuroprotective qualities. Cannabidiol can change gene expression and remove beta amyloid plaque, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s, from brain cells.
Which is better: CBD or THC?
Cannabidiol and THC (the high causer) are the power couple of cannabis therapeutics; they work best together. CBD and THC interact synergistically to potentiate each other’s curative qualities. CBD enhances THC’s painkilling and anticancer properties, while lessening THC’s psychoactivity. CBD can also mitigate adverse effects caused by too much THC, such as anxiety and rapid heartbeat.
When both compounds are present in sufficient amounts in the same cannabis strain or product, CBD will lower the ceiling on the THC high while prolonging its duration. (“Relaxing but not intoxicating” is how one patient described CBD-rich cannabis.) CBD broadens the range of conditions treatable with cannabis, such as liver, cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, which may be less responsive to THC-dominant remedies. CBD and THC both stimulate neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells, in adult mammals.
What’s the best way to take CBD?
The most appropriate delivery system for CBD-rich cannabis is one that provides an optimal dose for a desired duration with few unwanted side effects. CBD-rich cannabis flower varietals for smoking or vaping are available in many medical marijuana dispensaries, but most CBD patients prefer non-inhalable products made with cannabis oil concentrates.
Although banned by federal law, measureable doses of potent CBD-rich cannabis remedies are available in many non-smokable forms and can be used in various ways. The time of onset and duration of effect vary depending on the method of administration. CBD-rich cannabis oil products can be taken sublingually, orally (as edibles, lozenges, beverages, tinctures, and gel caps), or applied topically. Concentrated cannabis oil extracts can also be heated and inhaled with a vape pen. Inhalation is good for treating acute symptoms that require immediate attention; the effects can be felt within a minute or two and typically last for a couple of hours. The effects of orally administered CBD-rich cannabis oil can last for four hours or more, but the onset of effects is much slower (30-90 minutes) than inhalation.
Can CBD cure epilepsy?
Marijuana has a rich history as a medicine for quelling seizures and convulsions going back thousands of years. In the mid-19th century, the U.S. Pharmacopeia listed cannabis tincture as a treatment for pediatric epilepsy, and subsequent scientific studies have documented the anticonvulsant effects of CBD, THC, and whole plant cannabis. CBD-dominant/low-THC cannabis strains and oil extracts can facilitate dramatic improvement in some children with intractable seizure disorders.
Between 10-15 percent of severe childhood epileptics who are given CBD oil products experience a near complete cessation of seizures; most improve (with a decrease but not total elimination of seizures); and some children have worse seizures when they take CBD. Many parents of epileptic children have learned through trial and error that augmenting CBD-rich oil by adding some THC—or better yet, THCA, the unheated, non-psychoactive form of THC that’s present in raw cannabis flowers and leaves—helps with seizure control.
The take-home message: Low-THC cannabis oil products don’t work for everyone. Patients of all ages need access to a wide spectrum of whole plant cannabis remedies, not just high CBD oil.
What is the right CBD:THC ratio for me?
Cannabis therapeutics is personalized medicine. There is no single ratio or strain or product that’s right for everyone. Optimize your therapeutic use of cannabis by finding the proper combination of CBD and THC that works best for you. A person’s sensitivity to THC is a key factor in determining the appropriate ratio and dosage of CBD-rich medicine. Many people enjoy the cannabis high and can consume reasonable amounts of any cannabis product without feeling too high or dysphoric. Others find THC unpleasant. CBD can lessen or neutralize the intoxicating effects of THC.
So a greater ratio of CBD to THC means less of a high. In some states with medical marijuana laws, cannabis oil concentrates and other products with varying ratios of CBD:THC are available so users can adjust or minimize psychoactive effects to suit their needs and sensitivities. Those who don’t like THC have the option of healing without the high by using a CBD-rich remedy with only a small amount of THC. But a low THC remedy, while not intoxicating, is not always the most effective treatment option. In essence, the goal is to administer consistent, measurable doses of a CBD-rich remedy that includes as much THC as a person is comfortable with.
Are specific CBD:THC ratios better for different conditions?
Some patterns are beginning to emerge. For anxiety, depression, spasms, psychosis, and seizure disorders, many people report they do well starting with a small dose of a CBD-rich remedy with little THC. For cancer, autism, and many other diseases, some say they benefit more from a balanced ratio of CBD and THC. Extensive clinical trials conducted outside the United States have shown that a 1:1 CBD:THC ratio can be effective for neuropathic pain.
Some people use cannabis products with different CBD:THC ratios at different times of the day (more THC for sunlight hours, more CBD at night). Almost any cannabis strain or product theoretically could benefit a wide range of autoimmune and inflammatory disorders because THC and other cannabis components activate the CB2 cannabinoid receptor, which regulates immune function. Note: The CBD:THC ratio in not an indication of how much CBD or THC is present in a given cannabis product or strain.
What is the optimal dosage of CBD?
An effective dosage can range from as little as a few milligrams of CBD-enriched cannabis oil to a gram or more. Begin with a small dose of high CBD/low THC oil, especially if you have little or no experience with cannabis. Take a few small doses over the course of the day rather than one big dose. Use the same dose and ratio for several days. Observe the effects and if necessary adjust the ratio or amount. Don’t overdo it. Cannabis compounds have bi-phasic properties, which means that low and high doses of the same substance can produce opposite effects.
Small doses of cannabis tend to stimulate; large doses sedate. Too much THC, while not lethal, can amplify anxiety and mood disorders. CBD has no known adverse side effects, but an excessive amount of CBD could be less effective therapeutically than a moderate dose. Less is more is often the case with respect to cannabis therapy.
What should one look for when choosing a CBD-rich product?
Look for products with clear labels showing the quantity and ratio of CBD and THC per dose, a manufacturing date, and a batch number (for quality control). Select products with quality ingredients: No corn syrup, transfats, GMOs, artificial additives, thinning agents or preservatives CBD-rich products should be lab tested for consistency and verified as being free of mold, bacteria, pesticides, solvent residues, and other contaminants. Best to avoid products extracted with toxic solvents like BHO, propane, hexane or other hydrocarbons. Opt for products that utilize safer extraction methods such as supercritical CO2 or food-grade ethanol.
If CBD is so good, won’t pure CBD be even better?
Single-molecule CBD will inevitably become a federally approved Big Pharma medicine. Products infused with a crystalline CBD isolate, derived and extensively refined from industrial hemp, are already being marketed by unregulated internet storefronts. But single-molecule CBD is less effective therapeutically than whole plant CBD-rich oil extract. Scientific studies have established that synthetic, single-molecule CBD has a very narrow therapeutic window and requires precise, high doses for efficacy, whereas lower dose, whole-plant, CBD-rich treatment regimens are already showing efficacy for many conditions among patients in medical marijuana states.
Whether synthesized in a Big Pharma lab or derived from industrial hemp, single-molecule CBD lacks critical secondary cannabinoids and other medicinal compounds found in high-resin cannabis strains. These compounds interact with CBD and THC to enhance their therapeutic benefits. Scientists call this the entourage effect. Numerous cannabis compounds have medicinal attributes, but the therapeutic impact of whole plant cannabis is greater than the sum of its parts.
Is there a difference between CBD derived from hemp and CBD derived from marijuana?
If you live in a state where medical marijuana is legal and available, look for CBD products made from high-resin cannabis (rather than low resin industrial hemp) that are sold in medical marijuana dispensaries. Hemp-derived CBD-infused products of varying quality are also available via dozens of internet storefronts. Compared to whole plant CBD-rich cannabis, industrial hemp is typically low in cannabinoid content. A huge amount of hemp is required to extract a small amount of CBD, thereby raising the risk of contaminants because hemp, a bioaccumulator, draws toxins from the soil.
That’s a great feature for restoring a poisoned ecosystem, but it’s not recommended for extracting medicinal oil. Heavily refined CBD paste or terpene-free CBD powder is poor starter material for formulating CBD-rich oil products. The FDA has tested dozens of so-called CBD “hemp oil” products and found that in many cases these products contained little or no CBD. CBD-infused nutraceuticals have not been approved by the FDA as food supplements; nor are these products legal in all 50 U.S. states. By and large, however, interstate CBD commerce is tolerated by federal authorities.
Is it safe to inhale hemp CBD oil fumes from a vape pen?
Many cannabis- and hemp-derived CBD vape oil products include a thinning agent, which dilutes the oil that is heated and inhaled by vape pen users. Beware of vape pen oil that contains propylene glycol. When overheated, this chemical additive produces formaldehyde, a carcinogen, as a byproduct, according to a 2015 report in the New England Journal of Medicine. Why do so many vape oil products contain this thinning agent? It’s because of the dubious quality of the extracted material from which these unregulated cannabis oil products are made.
Does CBD have any adverse side effects? What about drug interactions?
CBD is a very safe substance, but patients taking other medications should check with their doctor about drug interactions, which are more likely when consuming high doses of single-molecule CBD products. At sufficient dosages, CBD will temporarily deactivate cytochrome P450 enzymes, thereby altering how we metabolize a wide range of compounds, including THC. Cytochrome P450 enzymes metabolize more than 60 percent of Big Pharma meds. CBD is a more potent inhibitor of cytochrome P450 than the grapefruit compound Bergapten, so ask your doctor if grapefruit interacts with your medication. If grapefruit does, then CBD probably does, too. Patients on a CBD-rich treatment regimen should monitor changes in blood levels of prescription medications and, if need be, adjust dosage.
Will Big Pharmaceutical companies control the CBD market when cannabis is legalized for adult use?
Only if we let them. Cannabis is a medicinal herb and it should be regulated as an herb, not as a pharmaceutical or a street drug.
When solar energy pioneer John Schaeffer sold the first photovoltaic panel to a U.S. retail customer in Mendocino County in 1978, he didn’t realize that he had struck a decisive blow against the war on drugs.
It was an auspicious time for Schaeffer to launch his business, the Real Goods eco-store in Willits, California, which specialized in solar power equipment, organic fertilizer, irrigation systems, and tools for sustainable living (before “sustainable” became a catchword). During the late 1970s, Mendocino farmers in increasing numbers were turning to marijuana to make ends meet, and the solar power technology provided by Real Goods enabled cannabis growers and their families to live off-the-grid in remote, rural areas while raising a lucrative, albeit illegal, cash crop.
“Cannabis was the new and up-and-coming thing,” explained Schaeffer. “Solar power facilitated the emergence of an indigenous cannabis industry in Northern California. And the cannabis growers, in turn, supported the fledgling solar power movement . . . It was a fruitful symbiosis.”
Solar technology was new and expensive back then. “Initially,” Schaeffer recalled, “we sold small, nine-watt panels for $900 -- that’s $100 per watt. [By reference today, solar panels go for about one dollar per watt, so the price has dropped by 99 per cent.] Who could afford a $900 watt panel that would charge a battery to run lights, a TV, a sound system for music? Well, the marijuana growers were the only people who could afford it.”
Within a few years, the region known as the Emerald Triangle -- encompassing Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties -- would become America’s cannabis breadbasket, the heartland of domestic marijuana cultivation. Located two hours north of San Francisco, this lush, 10,000 square mile swath of redwoods and rushing streams was home to a loose-knit underground of fiercely independent farmers who, it turns out, excelled at growing cannabis. These guerrilla ganja growers managed to transform “homegrown” -- an erstwhile put-down for lousy ditch weed -- into some of the best, most expensive, and most sought-after herb in the world.
Back to the Land
John Schaeffer moved to Mendocino County shortly after he graduated from Berkeley in 1971, flush with idealism about “going up the country” and living off the land with like-minded youthful refugees from the city. A back-to-nature movement was underway, and Schaffer joined one of the many hippie homesteader communes that were sprouting in the area. “All of us wanted to come to the woods to learn what real life was about . . . We experimented with all kinds of things from growing our own food to building our first houses, our first water systems, experiencing what it was like to live in community.”
While Schaeffer’s intentional family was learning about life without the creature comforts, outlaw horticulturists in the Emerald Triangle were rediscovering and resurrecting the ancient tradition of cultivating potent, seedless cannabis, otherwise known as sinsemilla. This practice entailed identifying and uprooting all the male plants to prevent the female marijuana plants from being pollinated, thereby causing the sexually frustrated females to produce bigger flower clusters with more gooey, psychoactive resin in a vain attempt to catch pollen that would never arrive.
Homegrown, high-potency sinsemilla was an instant hit among American marijuana smokers when it was introduced in the late 1970s. It was also good medicine for the local economy, thanks to talented, below-the-radar gardeners who transformed marijuana into one of the most phenomenal success stories in the annals of modern horticulture. Farmers in the Emerald Triangle could sell their sinsemilla buds for $2000 a pound or more, a staggering amount of cash compared to any other field crop. Ancillary businesses blossomed in cannabis country. Generous donations from anonymous growers funded volunteer fire departments, community theater productions, and lots more.
Marijuana made possible a quiet rural renaissance in Northern California, where some 30,000 growers took part in the largest illicit agricultural movement in American history, a phenomenon that paralleled the co-evolving solar power movement, which originated in the same region. As the cannabis underground proliferated in the Emerald Triangle, Real Goods expanded and relocated to a 12-acre “permaculture oasis” in Hopland, a nearby Mendocino redoubt, which also served as headquarters of the nonprofit Solar Living Institute, a green technology showcase and educational center. “We called ourselves the solar capital of the world, becuse solar was born here,” said Schaeffer, who noted the synchronous trajectories of cannabis and solar power: “Marijuana growers were supporting the solar movement, but at the same time the solar movement was supporting them because the growers couldn’t live off-the-grid for any lengthy period on kerosene and candles.”
A Source Nation
The DEA was so disturbed by the scale of domestic marijuana cultivation that it designated Northern California as a “source nation” for illegal drugs, as if the Golden State was a foreign country. The federal government proceeded to set its gun sights on the burgeoning cannabis industry in the Emerald Triangle, turning the once-tranquil territory into a combat zone, a key battleground of President Reagan’s newly militarized war on drugs.
Throughout the 1980s, narcs in camouflage fatigues ran roughshod over Emerald Triangle residents, wielding machetes and hacking through pot gardens, large and small, under the auspices of CAMP, the federally funded Campaign Against Marijuana Planting. During harvest season, CAMP officers stood guard at twenty-four-hour checkpoints on country roads, while Huey helicopters buzzed homes and marijuana eradication squads invaded private property without search warrants. It was a time when Northern California “rejoined, operationally speaking, the Third World,” as Thomas Pynchon wrote in Vineland, his novel set in America’s prime pot-growing region during the Reagan years.
But the war on drugs, which Reagan dramatically escalated, was already doomed when the president made “Just Say No” a top law enforcement priority. The emergence of high quality homegrown marijuana in the Emerald Triangle would prove to be a crucial turning point in the drug war, tipping the balance irreversibly in favor of eventual legalization.
As soon as Reagan sent in the posse, the risks for marijuana farmers increased and, consequently, they charged and got more for their product. Cultivating cannabis was simply too profitable to forsake -- and a lot of folks were growing it. No matter what the U.S. government did, marijuana wouldn’t go away. “Once homegrown started,” says Schaeffer, “there was no stopping it.”
In 1996, when California voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in the Golden State, “it became clear,” in Schaeffer’s words, “that the horse was out of the barn.” Prohibition’s days were numbered. It was just a matter of time before the political realities caught up with the pro-cannabis cultural shift that was already well underway. What began as a back-to-the-land rebellion in Northern California would culminate several decades later in the legalization of marijuana in several U.S. states.
With California poised to legalize cannabis for adult use in 2016, Schaeffer’s efforts have come full circle. Real Goods is sponsoring the launch of Emerald Pharms, the world’s first solar-powered medical marijuana dispensary, which will open next month in Hopland, California, the gateway to the Emerald Triangle.
A groundbreaking study from Israel has documented the superior therapeutic properties of whole plant CBD-rich Cannabis extract as compared to synthetic, single-molecule cannabidiol (CBD).
Published in the journal Pharmacology & Pharmacy (Feb. 2015), the article directly challenges one of the sacred cows of Big Pharma and the medical-industrial complex — the notion that “crude” botanical preparations are inherently low grade and less effective than pure, single-molecule compounds.
Marijuana Medicine's Near-Miraculous Healing Powers Require the Whole Plant - Not Just One Oil Extract
A version of this article was originally published on the Pediatric Cannabis Therapy website.
Ever since marijuana was banned by the federal government in the 1930s, proponents of prohibition have insisted that cannabis must remain illegal to protect America’s children. “Protecting the children” continues to be the calculated cornerstone of anti-marijuana propaganda, the cynical centerpiece of the war on drugs.
How ironic, then, that today thousands of families in the United States are desperately seeking cannabis remedies to protect their children from deadly diseases. The erstwhile “Assassin of Youth” has become the savior for kids with catastrophic seizure disorders and other life-threatening conditions.
Drawn by the near-miraculous healing power of oil extracted from the marijuana plant, families have been flocking to Colorado and other cannabis-friendly states, where they hope to find a remedy that helps their children, some of whom suffer a hundred seizures a day.
Parents are reporting a dramatic reduction in seizures — often 50 to 90 percent — when their children are given oral extracts rich in cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive cannabis component; these extracts are low in THC, the compound that causes the high marijuana is famous for.
For every family that has uprooted and moved to Colorado, many more have chosen to stay home and lobby local officials in an effort to change state law so they might access an essential medicine. Their poignant pleas are having an impact. Politicians from both parties have been rushing to approve bills that would legalize marijuana for therapeutic purposes in such unlikely places as Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Nebraska, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Utah.
However, there’s a catch: The bills under consideration will only allow the use of CBD-rich oil extracts with hardly any THC. Apparently marijuana is still the evil weed to many lawmakers, but somehow certain parts of the plant are good — and now they’re claiming the good parts aren’t actually marijuana!
According to this political pretzel logic, marijuana gets you high, but CBD-rich marijuana doesn’t get you high; therefore, CBD-rich marijuana is not marijuana.
“This is not medical marijuana. It’s just an oil derived from that plant,” according to Wisconsin GOP state representative John Spiros, a former police officer who voted to approve CBD-only legislation. Gage Froerer, a Utah state legislator, weighed in with similar rhetorical gimmickry about CBD: “It’s not a drug. It’s not medical marijuana.”
Last week, Alabama became the first state to approve a CBD-only legislation.
During the notorious vote that outlawed cannabis in America in 1937, a befuddled U.S. Congressman asked House Majority Leader Sam Rayburn from Texas, “What is this bill about?” Rayburn replied, “It has something to do with a thing called marijuana. I think it is a narcotic of some kind.” Still clueless more than seven decades later, influential state lawmakers are claiming that the CBD-only legislation they favor has something to do with a thing called “not marijuana.”
Promoted by impassioned parents, do-gooders, and entrepreneurs with a financial interest in seeing such laws pass, CBD-only legislation has triggered a serious controversy within the medical marijuana community. Some see it as a key first step, a viable tactic for cracking open the prohibitionist door in states governed by retro pols and religious zealots.
Others are less sanguine about the prospect of CBD-only laws. “CBD-only legalization is like being half pregnant. It doesn’t make sense,” says Garyn Angel, founder of Magical Butter, a homemaker’s device for extracting cannabis oil. Angel, who is not enamored of efforts to legalize only low THC concentrates, has provided financial assistance to poor families so they could join the CBD children’s crusade to Colorado.
“We need many kinds of cannabis, not just the CBD-dominant strains,” says Arizona Dr. Suzanne Sisley, who recently testified before state lawmakers in Kentucky and Minnesota about medical marijuana’s potential for helping veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Nearly four years earlier, Sisley had gotten FDA approval to investigate whether medical marijuana, including a CBD-rich strain, could be an effective treatment for PTSD. But her research was blocked by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), which would not allow access to cannabis for therapeutic studies. Last week, NIDA finally relented and approved Sisley’s PTSD study, but approval from the DEA is still required.
Apparently no physicians in Minnesota or Kentucky were willing to speak on the record in favor of medicinal cannabis, so Dr. Sisley flew in from Arizona at the behest of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has lobbied for legalizing medical marijuana in several states.
Two competing bills are being considered by Minnesota lawmakers — a broader, more inclusive initiative supported by the MPP and a CBD-only measure that would restrict patient access to non-smokable cannabis oil extracts with negligible amounts of THC. Both bills made it past the first House committee, but no less than nine other committees have to sign off on medical marijuana legislation before it reaches the Minnesota House floor for a full vote.
Polls show huge support for medical marijuana in Minnesota (where selling cannabis to a teenager was once punishable by up to 40 years in prison). Many Minnesota residents are using marijuana, albeit illegally, to assuage chronic pain, stimulate appetite, quell seizures, and offset the awful side effects of chemotherapy. But elected officials in the North Star state seem more attuned to law enforcement opinion, which opposes medical marijuana in its natural, leafy form, than public opinion, which is overwhelmingly pro-choice with respect to cannabis therapeutics.
Sisley could tell which way the wind was blowing as hitherto anti-marijuana politicians lined up to jump on board the CBD-only bandwagon.
“I’m running into this blockade everywhere I go,” said Sisley. “CBD-oil bills are popping up in nearly every state that is examining medical marijuana legislation. And it’s making it much more difficult to pass comprehensive legislation that can address a wide range of conditions. I tried to explain to the legislators that a CBD-only law would benefit a narrow segment of the patient population. The vast majority of patients need access to a broader spectrum of whole plant marijuana remedies. Even pediatric patients need more options.”
The case of Jayden David, a child stricken with Dravet’s Syndrome, is instructive. In 2011, five-year-old Jayden, who had been on 22 pills per day, was given a CBD-infused tincture, which his father obtained from the Harborside Health Center, a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland. The CBD remedy worked wonders. For the next several months the boy with intractable epilepsy was largely seizure-free. Featured on national television, the story of Jayden’s transformation was the first broadcast that drew attention to the remarkable medicinal properties of cannabidiol.
But the story doesn’t end there. In due course, it became evident to Jason David, Jayden’s devoted father, that sometimes his son responded better when more THC was added to the cannabis solution. If Jayden lived in a state with a CBD-only law rather than cutting edge California, he’d be out of luck, unable to legally access the medicine that keeps him alive. Many pediatric epilepsy patients would not be well served by CBD-only legislation. Nor would cancer patients, chronic pain suffers, and people with Alzheimer’s and autoimmune disorders.
Scientific research has established that CBD and THC interact synergistically and potentiate each other’s therapeutic effects. And marijuana contains several hundred other compounds, including flavonoids, terpenes, and dozens of minor cannabinoids in addition to CBD and THC. Each of these compounds has particular healing attributes, but when combined they create what scientists refer to as an “entourage effect,” so that the therapeutic impact of the whole plant exceeds the sum of its parts. Therein lies the basic fallacy of the CBD-only position.
When we launched Project CBD four years ago, I thought the serendipitous rediscovery of CBD-rich cannabis would be the nail in the coffin of marijuana prohibition. I didn’t anticipate that CBD-only laws would serve as a pretext to extend marijuana prohibition — under the guise, once again, of protecting the children.
As the Remarkable Healing Qualities of CBD - a Component of Marijuana - Are Documented, Anti-Pot Drug Warriors Respond With CBDisinformation
SAM’s anti cannabis polemic essentially boils down to this:
- Specific components of the marijuana plant, including CBD, have medical value, but the marijuana plant itself does not have medical value.
- THC, marijuana’s psychoactive component, is a horrible, dangerous substance, and children should not be exposed to it under any circumstances.
- Marijuana-derived products are against federal law and are not adequately tested for safety and efficacy, unlike FDA-approved corporate pharmaceuticals.
- State governments should not legalize marijuana to facilitate access to CBD. Those who need CBD should wait patiently until the federal government decides what CBD-rich medicines we are allowed to consume.
True enough. CBD-rich products should be made from organically grown cannabis, lab-tested for potency, mold and pesticides, and labeled for content and dosage. Certain CBD-products meet these criteria; others do not. Measurable doses of high quality, CBD-rich oil extracts, initially introduced in California, are currently available in some medical marijuana states. But cannabis products, including CBD-rich varieties, can’t be tested by “FDA-registered labs” because of the prohibitionist policies that SAM supports. Marijuana’s illicit status makes it impossible for analytical labs to handle such products with the FDA’s blessing.
In the world according to SAM, a product can’t be a medicine unless the FDA approves it as safe and effective. The FDA, however, is not in the business of approving plants as medicines. And the FDA approval process ensures neither safety nor efficacy. There are numerous examples of the FDA approving lethal Big Pharma meds that cure no better than a placebo. Pharmaceutical companies routinely hide clinical trial data about adverse side effects, falsify studies to win approval, and then rely on bribery, fraud, and deception to market dangerous drugs to unsuspecting patients, including children – all with a wink and a nod from the FDA, which treats corporate criminals like royalty. Big Pharma pays the FDA to fast-track cursory reviews, and the FDA enables widespread corruption within the pharmaceutical industry by routinely accepting drug company claims at face value while ignoring pertinent safety data. FDA scientists and whistleblowers risk retaliation by FDA management when they challenge Big Pharma prerogatives.
SAM is silent about FDA and Big Pharma malfeasance, while perpetually demonizing marijuana and THC. SAM warns that products infused with CBD, the good cannabinoid, are tainted with varying amounts of THC, The Horrible Cannabinoid. SAM alludes to unnamed physicians who “report instances of THC toxicity in children taking ‘high CBD’ preparations” and parents who “are horrified that their children become ‘high.’”
SAM contends that the best course of action “would be to remove THC entirely from a CBD product.” Pure CBD is the only legitimate option, according to the non-medical experts at SAM, which claims there is “no reliable scientific evidence that THC is necessary to synergize the effects of CBD.”
Actually, there is solid scientific evidence that CBD and THC potentiate each other’s therapeutic effects. The California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) in San Francisco studied theeffects of CBD and THC on breast cancer cells and found that both compounds have significant antitumoral properties, but the combination of CBD and THC had a more potent antitumoral effect on human cell lines than either compound when tested alone.
In another experiment, CPMC scientists found that CBD enhances the inhibitory effect of THC on human glioblastoma cells, a deadly form of brain cancer. “THC’s anti-cancer benefits were derived largely from activating cannabinoid receptors, something CBD is not known to do,” explained Dr. Jahan Marcu, lead author of the glioblastoma study. “CBD works through other molecular pathways. It enhances the benefits of THC while reducing side effects.”
The painkilling properties of THC were initially documented in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 1975. Subsequent clinical studies in Europe demonstrated that whole plant THC combined with whole plant CBD work better than THC alone for treating chronic pain.
U.S. government-sponsored research at the National Institute of Mental Health determined thatTHC and CBD both protect brain cells from the effects of stroke and acute head injuries. Drawing upon this research, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secured a patent, titled “Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants,” in 2003. The patent asserted that THC and CBD “are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”
Other scientific findings that SAM prefers to ignore:
- Harvard University researchers found that THC cuts tumor growth in common lung cancer in half and “significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread” – which helps to explain why smoking marijuana doesn’t cause lung cancer.
- Investigators at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, showed that THC inhibits an enzyme responsible for the accumulation of amyloid plaque that disrupts communication between brain cells, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s-related dementia.
- A 2010 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology reported that oral THC improved symptoms of ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome in a teenager.
The notion that high THC marijuana could be anything but terrible for children is anathema to SAM, which maintains that “chronic use of THC can impair IQ in adolescents.” This oft-repeated canard is based on a single study (later repudiated in the same journal) that failed to establish a causal link between juvenile marijuana smoking and lower IQ. Scientists have identified many factors that contribute to impaired IQ – and cannabis isn’t one of them. A junk food diet lowers IQ and damages memory. Children who regularly skip breakfast – poor kids – have lower IQs than other children.
SAM’s chronic fear-mongering about THC and brain damage is at odds with a 2012 study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, which found that a teenager who consumes alcohol is likely to have reduced brain tissue health, but teen marijuana use shows no effect on brain tissue.
Single-molecule THC is classified as a Schedule III drug, a category reserved for medically valuable substances with low abuse potential that are unlikely to lead to physical dependence. Whole plant marijuana, meanwhile, continues to be classified as a dangerous Schedule I drug with no medical utility.
SAM tries to reconcile Uncle Sam’s illogical, incoherent, and unscientific marijuana policy by emphasizing the supposed superiority of single-molecule medicine over “crude” whole plant remedies. SAM’s single-molecule fetish reflects a cultural and political bias that privileges corporate pharmaceuticals. Single-molecule medicine is the predominant corporate way, the Big Pharma way, but it’s not the only way, and it’s not necessarily the best way to benefit from cannabis therapeutics.
Marijuana contains several hundred compounds, including various flavonoids, aromatic terpenes, and dozens of minor cannabinoids in addition to THC and CBD. Each of these compounds has specific healing attributes, but when combined they create what scientists refer to as a synergistic “entourage effect,” so that the therapeutic impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its single-molecule parts.
SAM says it’s working on “a long-term solution to expand and accelerate the current research so that every patient who might benefit from CBD can obtain it.” But SAM’s belated promise to help bring CBD to the masses rings hollow given its ongoing support for cannabis prohibition, a dishonest, venal, and destructive policy that has thwarted clinical research and impeded medical progress for decades to everyone’s detriment. For this SAM owes America an apology.
Since the passage of Proposition 215, California’s landmark 1996 ballot measure that legalized marijuana for therapeutic use, a unique laboratory experiment in democracy has unfolded in the Golden State and elsewhere with positive results. Thanks to the rediscovery of CBD-rich cannabis strains by outlaw plant breeders and growers in Northern California five years ago, cannabis clinicians and medical marijuana patients can avail themselves of additional therapeutic options today.
Successful CBD-rich treatment regimens have extended the lives of advanced cancer patients and others suffering from a wide range of diseases. Most remarkable of all is the dramatic improvement in numerous cases of pediatric epilepsy attributable to CBD-rich oil extracts, which stop seizures when nothing else is effective.
But CBD-rich remedies with little THC don’t always work. Parents of epileptic children have found that adding some THC helps with seizure control in many instances. For some epileptics, THC-dominant strains are more effective than CBD-rich products.
Physicians and patients are finding that different ratios of CBD and THC are optimal for different conditions and individuals. A CBD-rich strain or product with little THC is not necessarily a superior treatment option compared to a balanced CBD-rich remedy with an equal amount of CBD and THC. A CBD-rich extract or strain with little THC might be optimal for treating anxiety and many seizure disorders, whereas pain syndromes, cancers, and neurodegenerative conditions could benefit from an appropriate amount of THC. One size doesn’t fit all with respect to cannabis therapeutics, and neither does one compound or one product or one strain.
On January 10, 1965, the beat poet Allen Ginsberg led a march for marijuana legalization outside the New York Women’s House of Detention in lower Manhattan. A dozen demonstrators waved placards and chanted slogans, resulting in one of the iconic images of the 1960s: a picture of Ginsberg, snowflakes on his beard and thinning hair, wearing a sign that said "Pot Is Fun." Another picket sign read "Pot Is a Reality Kick."
The pro-pot protest was the inaugural event of the New York chapter of the Committee to Legalize Marijuana, a group launched by Ginsberg and fellow poet Ed Sanders at a time when most pot smokers remained in the closet about their recreational substance of choice. The idea, Sanders explained, was “to get people who use marijuana to stand up and agitate for its legalization.” The protest marked the beginning of a grassroots countercultural movement that would develop years later into a widespread populist revolt against conventional medicine and extra-constitutional authority.
Ginsberg sensed that marijuana, a substance essentially banned by the US government since 1937, “was going to be an enormous political catalyst.” Though marijuana prohibition didn’t deter widespread use, the funny stuff did encourage doubts about officialdom in general. It wasn’t the chemical composition of cannabis that fostered skepticism toward authority—it was the contradiction between lived experience and the hoary propaganda of “reefer madness,” enshrined in draconian legislation mandating five years in prison for possession of a nickel bag of grass.
Marijuana’s status as a forbidden substance added to its allure in the 1960s, when cannabis first emerged as a defining force in a culture war that has yet to cease. From the outset, efforts to end pot prohibition were inextricably linked to a broader movement for social justice that encompassed many causes. Marijuana was never a single-issue obsession for Ginsberg or Sanders. Both were high-profile peace activists who protested against nuclear proliferation, racial discrimination and censorship. In October 1967, Sanders and his folk-rock ensemble, the Fugs, stood on a flatbed truck and performed “The Exorcism of the Pentagon” at a huge antiwar rally that bequeathed to the world another iconic image: the stunning picture of flowers sprouting from the rifle barrels of young soldiers guarding the high church of the military-industrial complex.
For good or ill, cannabis was intimately associated with the rising tide of cognitive dissonance that prompted millions of Americans to question, re-evaluate and oppose their nation’s bully-boy foreign policy. “You couldn’t separate laws against drugs from the war,” said Yippie impresario Paul Krassner, who declared at a peace rally that he “wouldn’t stop smoking pot until it was legal.” To many onlookers, however, the widespread consumption of cannabis was a symptom—if not the actual cause—of public disorder and moral decay. Henry Giordano, chief of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the mid-1960s, told Congress that calls to legalize pot were “just another effort to break down our whole American system.” Denigrated by politicians and deified by dissidents, the little flower that millions loved to smoke had become a totem of rebellion, a multivalent symbol of societal conflict.
* * *
President Richard Nixon saw marijuana as a useful wedge issue that he could play for political advantage. His declaration of all-out war against illicit drugs in general, and cannabis in particular, cast aspersions on all the troublesome currents that flowed from the rebellious ’60s. For Nixon, the anti-drug crusade was more than just a formula for padding arrest statistics and appearing tough on crime. It was also a symbolic means of stigmatizing youth protest, antiwar sentiment, Black Power and anyone with a nonregulation haircut—underscoring once again that pot prohibition had little to do with the actual effects of the herb and everything to do with who was using it.
On October 27, 1970, Congress ratified the Controlled Substances Act, which placed all drugs into five different categories or “schedules” according to their safety, medical uses and potential for abuse. There was a political calculus behind Attorney General John Mitchell’s decision to label marijuana a Schedule I narcotic, a designation reserved for dangerous drugs with no therapeutic value. “This country is going so far to the right you won’t recognize it,” Mitchell blithely assured a reporter. His prediction would come to pass, and the drug war would figure prominently in American democracy’s long slide toward oblivion.
The Controlled Substances Act required the president to appoint a national commission to assess the dangers of marijuana and make long-term policy recommendations. Nixon stacked the commission with drug war hawks, who nonetheless confounded expectations by issuing a comprehensive 1,184-page report, Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding, that endorsed the removal of criminal penalties for “possession of marihuana for personal use” and for “casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana.” The commission also asserted that cannabis should be studied for possible medical benefits. Nixon never read the report before dismissing its recommendations.
Nixon’s drug-war saber rattling provoked a pushback by pro-pot partisans. The Washington, DC–based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, formed in 1970 by a young attorney named Keith Stroup, lobbied federal officials and state legislatures and mounted a legal challenge to get marijuana removed from the list of Schedule I substances. NORML positioned itself as a single-issue consumer advocacy group, a Nader’s Raiders for reefer smokers.
NORML drew broad support from an unusual mix of long-haired leftists, suit-and-tie liberals and conservative libertarians. In 1972, William F. Buckley Jr., America’s most prominent right-wing intellectual, came out in favor of marijuana legalization. Buckley’s protÃ©gÃ©, Richard Cowan, co-founder of the student group Young Americans for Freedom, would later serve as NORML’s executive director. Writing in the National Review, Cowan argued that penalizing marijuana consumption made a mockery of conservative principles: “The hysterical myths about marijuana…have led conservatives to condone massive programs of social engineering, interference in the affairs of individuals, [and] monstrous bureaucratic waste.”
With the groundswell for decriminalization building, the American Bar Association, the Consumers Union, the National Council of Churches, the National Education Association, the American Public Health Association and several other influential organizations queued up to support marijuana-law reform. By the late 1970s, several states had ended criminal penalties for small amounts of weed. During the Carter administration, many people assumed that it was only a matter of when—not if—cannabis would be decriminalized by the federal government.
But NORML managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when, in 1978, Stroup disclosed that President Carter’s drug policy adviser, Peter Bourne, was present at a cocaine party on Capitol Hill. The ensuing scandal caused Bourne to resign and derailed the president’s reform agenda. “It was probably the stupidest thing I ever did,” Stroup later acknowledged.
Several more drug-policy reform organizations formed in the years after the Bourne debacle, including the Drug Policy Alliance, the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and, later, the Marijuana Policy Project. But their cogent arguments for harm reduction and marijuana legalization gained little traction inside the Beltway, and the pro-cannabis tide that had been building since the ’60s came to a standstill once Ronald Reagan reached the White House.
Reagan relaunched the “war on drugs” with a vengeance. He granted the Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement agencies extraordinary powers to wage a militarized campaign against marijuana (“the most dangerous drug in America,” according to Reagan) and other illicit substances. Reagan’s attempt to enforce compliance with pot prohibition would entail wiretapping, mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, routine property seizures and forfeitures, and other activities on the part of cops and narcs that were similar to the practices prevalent in police states.
Just when the legalization struggle had reached its nadir, however, there emerged an improbable hero who championed cannabis as a multifaceted sustainable resource, an eco-friendly source of food, fiber, medicine and recreation. Jack Herer, a charismatic, barrel-chested Korean War veteran and former Goldwater Republican, was instrumental in catalyzing a renewed interest in the many forgotten industrial uses of hemp, a plant once prized by America’s founding fathers. In his influential underground bestseller The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Herer maintained that hemp—marijuana’s versatile, nonpsychoactive twin—possessed a near-limitless potential for replacing petrochemical and timber products and phasing out environmentally destructive industries. Herer’s boisterous marijuana evangelism widened the scope of the drug-policy reform movement and inspired a new generation of cannabis activists.
Debby Goldsberry, one of Herer’s young disciples, would play a pivotal role in jump-starting a nationwide grassroots movement for marijuana-law reform. In the fall of 1989, Goldsberry formed the Cannabis Action Network and embarked on a series of cross-country “hemp tours.” Soon there were several CAN caravans on the road at the same time, setting up information booths in town squares and on college campuses, spreading the ganja gospel at rock concerts, engaging in debates, teach-ins, smoke-ins and rallies in forty-eight states. Everywhere they went, they touted the industrial, therapeutic and ecological benefits of hemp. For CAN activists, liberating the weed wasn’t just about smoking pot to get high—it was also about saving the environment and healing the sick.
* * *
More than any other single factor, it was the AIDS epidemic that made medical marijuana an urgent, cutting-edge issue. AIDS patients found that cannabis, an appetite stimulant, was the most effective and least toxic treatment for HIV-associated anorexia and weight loss. Without cannabis, many would not have been able to tolerate the severe nausea and other harsh side effects of the life-saving protease inhibitors that became available in the mid-1990s. For people with AIDS, marijuana was a matter of life or death. With the federal government slow to respond to the escalating public health crisis, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and other pro-pot community activists took matters into their own hands. They built extensive support networks and staged boycotts, demonstrations, “die-ins,” cannabis giveaways and other forms of nonviolent civil disobedience to publicize the disaster that was unfolding.
No city in America was more devastated by this voracious illness than San Francisco. And no one played a more significant role in providing cannabis to AIDS patients than Dennis Peron, the Bay Area’s most effective and controversial marijuana activist. Peron, a gay Vietnam vet, was a close political ally of the late civil rights leader Harvey Milk, who circulated petitions for marijuana-law reform in San Francisco’s Castro District several years before he became the first openly gay person elected to California public office.
Peron broke the law in order to remake it when he opened the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers’ Club, an over-the-counter public storefront that, at its peak in the mid-1990s, supplied marijuana to more than 10,000 members. Situated a stone’s throw from City Hall, Peron’s pot club pioneered what sociologists would later call the “San Francisco model”: a medical marijuana dispensary that allows on-site medication and encourages patients to socialize, smoke reefer, make new friends, and avail themselves of counseling and recreational facilities.
Peron and his battalion of willing and disabled volunteers were responsible for instigating the dynamic social movement that evolved into Proposition 215, the Golden State’s landmark medical marijuana law. The passage of Prop 215 in 1996 was a game-changer: it rocked the law-and-order establishment and put the most populous state in the country on a collision course with the US drug-control behemoth. Much more was at stake than the provision of an herbal remedy to ailing patients. If American society embraced medical marijuana, it could change the national conversation about cannabis and topple the entire drug war edifice.
The backlash was immediate and ugly. Federal officials, working in tandem with state and local law enforcement, reacted to the medical marijuana groundswell by deploying paramilitary units against US citizens, trashing homes, ripping up gardens, raiding hundreds of cannabis clubs, seizing property, threatening doctors and prosecuting suppliers. But nothing could stop the renewed pro-marijuana momentum: pot was either too much fun or too essential a balm for too many folks.
The medical marijuana insurgency on the Left Coast triggered a domino-like chain reaction across the country. Thus far, twenty states, plus the District of Columbia, have opted out of America’s drug war juggernaut by legalizing cannabis for therapeutic use. The big breakthrough that came in 2012, when residents of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, was in many ways the culmination of forces that California had set in motion sixteen years earlier.
* * *
On August 29, 2013, the Justice Department issued new marijuana policy guidelines indicating that Uncle Sam would not interfere in states that had legalized the sale and consumption of reefer if several conditions were met. Even large-scale marijuana businesses would be allowed to operate as long as cannabis commerce was tightly regulated, marijuana didn’t cross state lines, and minors didn’t puff the stuff. There were other caveats as well, but federal law remained unchanged: cannabis was still officially classified as a dangerous Schedule I substance with no medical value, and US agencies continued to mislead the public by overstating marijuana’s alleged harms and denying its benefits.
Time will tell whether the latest missive from the Justice Department represents a significant shift in the “war on drugs.” But this much is certain: the Obama administration would never have budged on marijuana if legions of legalization proponents had not persevered in challenging a venal, destructive and dishonest policy—one that has fostered crime, social discord, racial injustice, police corruption and drug abuse itself.
Over the years, the marijuana issue has galvanized activist energy on the left and the right, from anti-globalization protesters to free-market capitalists. Mainstream civil rights organizations, denouncing law enforcement practices that disproportionately target people of color, also joined the cause. An odd-duck coalition coalesced around cannabis: pro-pot liberals embracing states’ rights, conservative libertarians begging for taxation and government regulation, gangsta hip-hop artists and blue-collar labor organizers, ex-cons and ex-cops—all part of an emerging marijuana majority united in its opposition to the federal government’s hyperbolic crusade against pot, the cheap hippie high that spurred America’s leading illicit growth industry.
No wonder they call it the funny stuff.
For many years, the federal government has subsidized studies designed to prove the negative effects of marijuana, while blocking inquiry into its potential benefits. Ironically, the government’s steadfast search for harm has yielded remarkable scientific insights that explain why cannabis is such a versatile remedy and why it is the most sought-after illicit substance on the planet.
Cannabis and the unique chemical compounds produced by the plant, called cannabinoids, have been at the center of one of the most exciting—and underreported—developments in modern science. Research on marijuana’s effects led directly to the discovery of a molecular signaling system in the human brain and body, the endocannabinoid system, which plays a crucial role in regulating a broad range of physiological processes: hunger, sleep, inflammation, stress, blood pressure, body temperature, glucose metabolism, bone density, intestinal fortitude, reproductive fertility, circadian rhythms, mood and much more.
Within the scientific community, the discovery of the endocannabinoid system is increasingly recognized as a seminal advance in our understanding of human biology. The Rubicon was crossed in 1988, when a government-funded study at the St. Louis University School of Medicine determined that the mammalian brain has an abundance of receptor sites—specialized protein molecules embedded in cell membranes—that respond pharmacologically to compounds in cannabis.
More than 100 unique cannabinoids have been identified in cannabis; of these, the best known is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s principal psychoactive component. In addition to the phytocannabinoids produced only by the marijuana plant, there are endogenous cannabinoids that occur naturally in the human brain and body (our “inner cannabis,” so to speak), as well as potent synthetic cannabinoids created by pharmaceutical researchers.
In October 2003, the federal government awarded the Department of Health and Human Services a patent titled “Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants,” which states: “Cannabinoids…are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”
Some highlights from the exploding field of cannabinoid science:
1. THC and other plant cannabinoids are not only effective for the management of cancer symptoms (pain, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, etc.); they also confer a direct anti-tumoral effect, according to peer-reviewed studies by scientists at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and Complutense University in Madrid, Spain.
2. Investigators at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, found that THC inhibits an enzyme involved in the accumulation of beta amyloid plaque that disrupts communication between brain cells, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s-related dementia.
3. According to researchers at Kings College in London, cannabinoid receptor signaling choreographs neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells) in adult mammals and also regulates the migration and differentiation of stem cells.
4. Chinese scientists have shown that the painkilling effects of acupuncture are mediated by the same cannabinoid receptors that are activated by THC.
5. Pharmaceutical companies are exploring ways to induce therapeutic outcomes by manipulating levels of the body’s own cannabinoids. Animal studies indicate that it’s possible to attenuate a wide range of pathological conditions (including hypertension, colitis, neuropathic pain and opiate withdrawal) by preventing or delaying the enzymatic breakdown of endogenous cannabinoids.
Cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive component of the cannabis plant, is generating quite a buzz among medical scientists and health professionals. Nothing else is able to help treatment-resistant epileptic children with Dravet syndrome and related disorders. On August 11, 2013, Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s nationally televised report on CNN discussed the astonishing transformation of Charlotte Figi, a 7-year-old epileptic who had 300 “tonic-clonic” seizures a week until she ingested a CBD-infused tincture. She has been nearly seizure-free since her parents began giving her a daily dose of CBD. Nor is Charlotte an isolated case: dozens of families with children suffering from intractable epilepsy are reporting dramatic results with cannabidiol.
A gifted compound with a wide spectrum of action, CBD shows promise as a treatment for many pathological conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and psychosis. Preclinical studies indicate that CBD can shrink malignant tumors, alter gene expression, improve insulin sensitivity, normalize irregular heartbeat and protect the brain against alcohol poisoning.
CBD can also counter the psychoactive effects of THC, which makes some people anxious and dysphoric rather than mellow and euphoric. The reduced psychoactivity of CBD-rich cannabis may make it an appealing option for ailing individuals who otherwise would never consider patronizing a medical marijuana dispensary.
As marijuana reforms sweep the nation, and states from coast to coast scramble to join Colorado and Washington in legalization of the notorious herb, it is clear the U.S. has reached a pivotal point in the marijuana dispute. Martin A. Lee's new book Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medical, Recreational and Scientific provides an unprecedented history of the controversial plant.
Smoke Signals is an unmatched illustration of the science behind the cannabis plant. Perhaps the most stunning revelations in Lee's book are those focused on the little-known "Cinderella molecule" in the cannabis plant, called cannabidiol (CBD). CBD gives marijuana some of most wide-ranging healing properties in medicinal history, but doesn't get you stoned like THC.
Lee is also the director of Project CBD. His wealth of knowledge on the underappreciated molecule is vital to understanding our past and future relationship with the marijuana plant. Lee spoke with AlterNet about the miraculous healing potentials of CBD.
Don Hazen: CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta’s about-face on medical marijuana became a national news story. What is the significance of Gupta’s endorsement of therapeutic cannabis after years of toeing the government line and dismissing marijuana’s healing properties?
Martin A. Lee: Like most physicians, Gupta never learned about cannabis in medical school. Until recently, he knew nothing about how cannabis worked on a molecular level, its mechanism of action in the brain and body, its side effects and safety profile. He had not been following the remarkable discoveries of scientists associated with the International Cannabinoid Research Society, which was formed after the first cannabinoid receptor was identified in the brain in 1989. Instead, Dr. Gupta took his cues from federal agencies, which maintain that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no medical value.
But Dr. Gupta changed his mind when he actually delved into the science of cannabis therapeutics and saw firsthand how seriously ill Americans were benefiting from marijuana. He was intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that he was mistaken. He said he had been misled by the federal government. And he apologized for his own role as a physician and media celebrity in misleading the public.
The CNN documentary Weed was not without flaws. Several drug war myths were recycled and given credence. But overall it was a powerful, eye-opening report, a resounding thumbs-up for medical marijuana. Most significantly, Gupta’s show was the first national news program to highlight the remarkable therapeutic potential of cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana.
DH: In Smoke Signals you describe CBD as the "Cinderella molecule.” Why is CBD important?
MAL: CBD is one of over 100 “cannabinoid” compounds that are unique to the marijuana plant. The most well known cannabinoid is THC. It’s what makes people feel stoned when they smoke marijuana. THC has well-documented medical benefits. So does CBD, but CBD doesn’t make people feel stoned. Moreover, CBD can actually counter or minimize the psychoactive effects of THC, depending on how much of each compound is present in a given strain or product.
CBD taps into how we function biologically on a very deep level. It has proven neuroprotective effects and its anti-cancer properties are being studied at academic research centers in the United States and elsewhere. Scientists have shown that CBD can shrink malignant tumors, change gene expression, normalize arrhythmic heartbeat, and stimulate the growth of new brain cells in adult mammals. Scientific and clinical investigations underscore CBD’s potential as a treatment for a wide range of conditions, including chronic pain, schizophrenia, PTSD, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and antibiotic-resistant infections. That’s why I call CBD the Cinderella molecule—so many maladies are responsive to CBD that it’s almost like a fairytale. But the science is very real.
CBD has been turning heads among medical scientists for several years, and now word is getting out to the general public. Dr. Gupta’s nationally televised report focused on the astonishing transformation of Charlotte Figge, a five-year-old epileptic with Dravet’s syndrome who had 300 tonic-clonic seizures a day until she ingested a CBD-dominant cannabis tincture. Then her seizures ceased. She has been nearly seizure-free since her parents began giving her a CBD-rich remedy. Whole plant CBD-rich cannabis saved Charlotte’s life. Many other families with children suffering from intractable epilepsy are reporting dramatic results with CBD.
DH: How has CBD been received within the medical marijuana industry, which, after all, has undeniable stoner roots and caters largely to a THC-oriented clientel?
MAL: I first heard about cannabidiol while writing Smoke Signals and covering the cannabis science beat as a journalist for O’Shaughnessy’s. At the time there were no CBD-rich remedies available for medical patients, even in states that had legalized cannabis for therapeutic use. That’s because CBD had largely been bred out of black-market marijuana by horticulturists who sought to create THC-dominant strains that caused a more pronounced high. Cannabis breeders assumed that marijuana smokers first and foremost wanted a stronger buzz.
The big breakthough came in late 2009 when Oakland's Steep Hill Laboratory found a few CBD-rich strains while testing cannabis samples for the Harborside Health Center. Soon several other analytical labs in medical marijuana states were measuring THC levels and finding the odd CBD-rich strain. But the medical marijuana community as a whole was slow to pick up on CBD. Initially, most dispensary owners were reluctant to stock CBD-rich strains given that their customers were typically seeking THC-dominant products.
The general public, including most medical marijuana patients, didn’t know much about CBD. So in 2010, I cofounded Project CBD, a medical science information service that educates health professionals and the general public about CBD in particular and cannabis therapeutics in general.
DH: Is it easy to get CBD?
MAL: Today, nearly four years after the serendipitous rediscovery of whole plant CBD by a few Northern California growers, CBD-rich remedies are available in many forms—herb, edibles, ointments, tinctures, extracts, and capsules. In some states where medical marijuana is legal, patients can obtain dose-specific CBD-rich oil concentrates with varying ratios of cannabidiol and THC. This is good news, especially for those who don’t like the mild, swimmy-headed feeling that regular pot smokers find enjoyable. Marijuana makes some people anxious and dysphoric rather than mellow and euphoric. Certain CBD-rich strains are not psychoactive at all—it’s pot that doesn’t get you high! The reduced or non-existent psychoactivity of CBD-rich cannabis may make it an appealing option for folks who otherwise would never consider patronizing a medical marijuana dispensary with a Bob Marley poster on the wall.
I believe that CBD is poised to play a major role in the burgeoning medical marijuana industry as the United States edges toward legalizing cannabis for adult use. Increasingly, dispensaries and product-makers are embracing CBD as part of a proactive marketing strategy that caters to non-stoner constituencies in an effort to attract new clientel. Most people who want to smoke marijuana are already doing so, despite the fact that it’s illegal under federal law. A large percentage of those seeking CBD-rich remedies will be newcomers to the medical marijuana community.
DH: What do prohibitionists say about CBD?
MAL: The drug war establishment steadfastly maintains that cannabis is a dangerous drug with no medical value. That’s tantamount to saying the moon is made of green cheese. With public sentiment strongly pro-choice regarding medicinal cannabis, drug warriors are scrambling for new ways to justify marijuana prohibition, a policy that’s built on a mountain of lies. Diehard prohibitionists like Kevin Sabet, President Obama’s former drug policy advisor, are trying to spin the news about CBD to further stigmatize high-THC cannabis, casting the high causer, THC, as the bad recreational cannabinoid, while pegging CBD as the good medical cannabinoid. Project CBD categorically rejects this dichotomy in defense of whole plant cannabis therapeutics.
The science is on our side. Scientific studies indicate that CBD and THC work best in combination and potentiate each other’s therapeutic effects. There are numerous compounds in cannabis, each with specific medicinal attributes, which combine synergistically to create a holistic “entourage effect,” according to leading scientists in the field, so that the therapeutic impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts.
Sabet fixates on isolated cannabinoids. He tactically concedes that pure CBD and single-molecule THC may have therapeutic value, yet he claims preposterously that the plant itself is not medicinal. Sabet heads an astroturf organization called Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). He’s an inveterate anti-marijuana bigot and a drug war careerist who is addicted to stigmatizing the plant and those who use it.
Sabet maintains that anyone who might benefit from CBD must wait until Big Pharma figures out how to monetize marijuana’s components. If Sabet and his flat-earth allies had their way, Charlotte Figge would be dead by now.
DH: It’s been more than 75 years since the Marijuana Tax Act effectively made cannabis illegal under federal law. Why has marijuana prohibition lasted so long?
MAL: Marijuana’s illegal status has been a useful tool for political elites. In the 1930s, when Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, realized his entire department was on the chopping block because of Depression-era budget cuts, he launched the Reefer Madness campaign to convince Congress and the American people that a terrible menace threatened the country, one that required a well-funded antinarcotics program. A shameless racist, Anslinger demonized marijuana to preserve and expand his bureaucratic fiefdom.
President Richard Nixon drew from a similar Machiavellian playbook in the early 1970s when he declared war on illicit drugs. For Nixon, the anti-marijuana crusade was more than just a formula for padding arrest statistics and appearing tough on crime. It was also a way of targeting youth protest, antiwar sentiment, ethnic discontent, and other expressions of cultural ferment—underscoring once again that pot prohibition had little to do with the actual effects of the herb and everything to do with who was using it.
The drug war that Nixon set in motion would escalate and metastasize under Reagan and his Oval Office successors. Official rhetoric focused on crime and safety, but the subtext was always about race and dissent. Marijuana prohibition is as an instrument of social control. It will end when it’s no longer politically expedient for demagogues and deadbeat public officials. They’ll have to figure out another way to fill America’s prisons with black and brown youth.
DH: A majority of California voters rejected legalizing cannabis in 2010, but two years later Washington and Colorado residents voted to legalize cannabis for adult use. What ingredients for success were lacking in California that existed in the other states?
MAL: The 2010 campaign for Proposition 19 in the Golden State emphasized the potential economic benefits of legalization. In some ways it was a less proactive campaign than legalization efforts in Colorado, which directly challenged drug war myths by driving home the message that marijuana is much safer than alcohol. The California ballot measure would have increased penalties for adults who smoked marijuana in the presence of a minor. This sent a mixed message that may have reinforced one of the sacred cows of the drug war—that cannabis poses serious risks to youth. For some voters, it was a choice between boosting the economy or safeguarding public health. The successful outcome of the Colorado vote showed that it’s not necessary to include additional pot-related punishments to sway voters.
Another factor is that the cannabis industry in California has deeper roots than the fledgling industry in Colorado and Washington. The Emerald Triangle in Northern California emerged as America’s cannabis breadbasket in the late 1970s. Marijuana farmers in the Emerald Triangle are skittish at the prospect of legalization. Mom and pop growers, who’ve paid their dues over the years, fear that legalization will threaten their livelihood. They worry that Big Tobacco will try to monopolize the marijuana trade. They wince when they hear of overtures to tobacco companies from single issue-obsessed, DC-based, drug policy reform lobbyists who seem to believe that the ultimate goal is to make marijuana widely available at the cheapest price possible.
DH: What should we expect if and when marijuana is legalized nationally? Do you think it will catalyze an economic revival, as some hope? Are pot-coms destined to be the new dot-coms?
MAL: With cannabis, it’s probably best to expect the unexpected. That said, legalization should be an important priority given the pernicious side effects—or main effects—of marijuana prohibition. Marijuana prohibition is a venal and dishonest policy that has fostered crime, social discord, racial injustice, police corruption, and drug abuse itself, while shredding the Constitution and impeding medical advances. The science strongly suggests that ending cannabis prohibition would be a net positive in terms of public health.
Scientific studies indicate that cannabis consumers, compared to non-users, take less painkillers and Big Pharma meds, drink less alcohol, are less likely to be obese or diabetic, and are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s. In California and other states that have legalized medical marijuana, there have been no fatalities or problematic health patterns attributable to the widespread use of the herb. In all likelihood, that pattern will continue as more states legalize marijuana across the board for adults.
For all the hype about the great green rush, pot-coms are not going to be the next dot-coms. Cannabis has long been a source of nourishment for the underground economy. It doesn’t need a brand name or a chain of storefronts or a stockmarket listing to generate large amounts of cash. But cannabis won’t remedy the massive inequalities that disgrace and sicken the United States. Legalizing marijuana without challenging pervasive economic and social inequality could be a recipe for “repressive tolerance,” as the philosopher Herbert Marcuse would say. Legalization could be a fallback strategy for the 1 percent: Cut poor folks some slack and let ‘em smoke weed while they are getting fleeced.
DH: What about the children? What do you say to those who fear marijuana legalization will adversely impact young people?
MAL: Yes, protecting the children—it’s the last refuge of drug war scoundrels. Recent surveys indicate that high school students in the United States and Canada are more likely to smoke pot than cigarettes. This should be seen as a positive development. With cannabis prohibition seemingly on its last legs, drug war propagandists are ratcheting up scare stories about an epidemic of young marijuana addicts with permanent brain damage and lower IQs.
Unfortunately, Sanjay Gupta promoted federal fables about kids and cannabis, even though earlier in the show he took the DEA to task for misinforming the public. “In fact, nine percent of marijuana users will become dependent,” said Gupta, repeating one of the talking points of the DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, two federal agencies founded during the Nixon era that have long since forfeited any claim to credibility with respect to cannabis.
Marijuana does not cause a person to become an addict any more than food causes a person to become a compulsive eater. The idea that marijuana damages the brains of young smokers, stunts intelligence, and makes people apathetic is a political construct with no scientific basis. Alienation and bleak prospects, not marijuana-smoking, are root causes of apathy.
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The Same Compounds Behind Marijuana's Distinctive Stinky Smells Give Clues About the Kinds of High You'll Experience
The first thing you notice upon entering a well-stocked medical marijuana dispensary is the many varieties of cannabis on display – dozens of glass jars filled with glistening, manicured bud. Everyone has their favorites: OG Kush, Headband, Sour Diesel, Flo, Lemon Thai, Super Silver Haze ... Some strains are energizing, some are sedating; some are better for pain, others for inspiration.
A couple hits of high-THC herb, by whatever name it’s called, will get you good and stoned. But it’s not the amount of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol that accounts for the particular properties of each strain. Nor are the minuscule quantities of cannabidiol (CBD) or the hundred or so “minor” cannabinoids a key factor in most strains. With few exceptions, the THC levels are lofty, while the other cannabinoids barely register their presence, according to labs that test samples for growers and dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal.
So if THC levels are generally high across the board and the other cannabinoids are present only at trace levels, what makes one strain different from another? And why does each marijuana strain impart a distinct psychoactive effect? There must be something else in the plant that influences the quality of the cannabis high.
David Watson, the master crafter of the foundational hybrid Skunk #1, was among the first to emphasize the importance of aromatic terpenes for their modifying impact on THC. Terpenes, or terpenoids, are the compounds in cannabis that give the plant its unique smell. THC and the other cannabinoids have no odor, so marijuana’s compelling fragrance depends on which terpenes predominate. It’s the combination of terpenoids and THC that endows each strain with a specific psychoactive flavor.
In 1989, Watson and his business partner, Robert Connell Clarke, formed HortaPharm, a legally chartered, Holland-based research company that specializes in botanical science and cannabis therapeutics. Based in Amsterdam, these two American expatriates broke new ground in horticultural pharmacology as they crossed and recrossed thousands of cannabis varietals, discarding most along the way while selecting a relatively small number for further development.
How did they decide which plants made the first cut? “We smelled them,” Watson explains.
He had long suspected that the terpenes present in cannabis resin enhance the potency of THC. Ten years after launching HortaPharm, Watson tested his hypothesis in an experiment that compared the subjective effects of 100 percent THC to lesser amounts in terpene-infused cannabis resin. The consensus among Watson and several associates: Terpene-infused resin with 50 percent THC was more potent by dry weight than an equivalent amount of pure THC.
Typically, terpenes are volatile molecules that evaporate easily and readily announce themselves to the nose. Therein lies the basis of aromatherapy, a popular alternative-healing modality. Like their odorless cannabinoid cousins, terpenes are oily compounds secreted in the marijuana plant’s glandular trichomes. Terpenes and THC share a biochemical precursor, geranyl pyrophosphate, which develops into the cannabinoids and terpenoids that saturate the plant’s flower tops.
But unlike THC and the other plant cannabinoids that exist nowhere else but in marijuana, terpenes are ubiquitous throughout the natural world. Produced by countless plant species, terpenes are prevalent in fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and other botanicals. Terpenes are also common ingredients in the human diet and have generally been recognized as safe to consume by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Scientists have identified and characterized the molecular structure of some 20,000 terpenes, which compose the largest category of plant chemicals. These can be further broken down into mono-terpenes, diterpenes and sesquiterpenes, depending on the number of repeating units of a five-carbon molecule called isoprene, the structural hallmark of all terpenoid compounds.
Around 200 terpenes have been found in cannabis, but only a few of these odiferous oily substances appear in amounts substantial enough to be noteworthy (or nose-worthy, as it were). Also, the terpenoid profile can vary considerably from strain to strain. “The range of flavors expressed by the genusCannabis is extraordinary – no other plant on the planet can equal the cacophony of smells and tastes available from cannabis,” says DJ Short, the breeder-artisan who conjured True Blueberry from several heritage landrace strains.
The terpenes in marijuana have given the plant an enduring evolutionary advantage. Some of these essential oils are pungent enough to repel insects and animal grazers; others prevent fungus. To combat plant disease and infestation, organic pot growers spray the terpene-rich essential oils of neem and rosemary onto their crops. And terpenes, it turns out, are healthy for people as well, according to a September 2011 report by Dr. Ethan Russo in the British Journal of Pharmacology that discussed the wide-ranging therapeutic attributes of terpenoids, including several aromatic compounds that figure prominently in cannabis strains.
Alpha-pinene (essential pine oil), the most common terpene in the plant world and one often found in cannabis, is a bronchodilator potentially helpful for asthmatics. Pinene also promotes alertness and memory retention by inhibiting the metabolic breakdown of acetylcholinesterase, a neurotransmitter in the brain that stimulates these cognitive effects.
Linalool, a terpenoid prominent in lavender as well as in some cannabis strains, is an anxiolytic compound that counters anxiety and mediates stress. In addition, linalool is a strong anticonvulsant, and it also amplifies serotonin-receptor transmission, conferring an antidepressant effect. Applied topically, linalool can heal acne and skin burns without scarring.
Beta-caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene found in the essential oils of black pepper, oregano and other edible herbs, as well as in cannabis and many green, leafy vegetables. It is gastro-protective, good for treating certain ulcers, and shows great promise as a therapeutic compound for inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders because of its ability to bind directly to the peripheral cannabinoid receptor known as CB2.
THC also activates the CB2 receptor, which regulates immune function and the peripheral nervous system. But this is not the reason people feel stoned when they smoke marijuana; instead, what causes the high is THC binding to the CB1 receptor, which is concentrated in the brain and the central nervous system.
Stimulating the CB2 receptor doesn’t have a psychoactive effect because CB2 receptors are localized predominantly outside the brain and central nervous system. CB2 receptors are present in the gut, spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells, endocrine glands, and reproductive organs. Marijuana is such a versatile medicinal substance because it acts everywhere, not just in the brain.
In 2008, the Swiss scientist JÃ¼rg Gertsch documented beta-caryophyllene’s binding affinity for the CB2 receptor and described it as “a dietary cannabinoid.” It is the only terpenoid known to directly activate a cannabinoid receptor (which is one of the reasons why green, leafy vegetables are very healthy for people to eat). The dual status of beta-caryophyllene as a terpenoid and a CB2 activator underscores the synergistic interplay between various components of the cannabis plant. There are over 400 chemical compounds in marijuana, including cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids (which give fruit skin its color). Each has specific medicinal attributes, which combine to create a holistic “entourage effect,” so that the therapeutic impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts.
Certain terpenoids dilate capillaries in the lungs, enabling smoked or vaporized THC to enter the bloodstream more easily. Nerolidol, a sedative terpenoid, is a skin penetrant that increases permeability and potentially facilitates cannabinoid absorption when applied topically for pain or skin conditions. Terpenoids and cannabinoids both increase blood flow, enhance cortical activity and kill respiratory pathogens – including MSRA, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that in recent years has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans. Dr. Russo’s article reports that cannabinoid-terpenoid interactions “could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal, and bacterial infections.”
Marinol, legally available as a Schedule III substance, comes on like gangbusters and can make even the most seasoned stoner feel a bit too loopy. For nearly everyone who has tried both, the experience of THC alone compares poorly to that of THC combined with terpenes and other components of the cannabis plant.
In the summer of 2011, the Werc Shop in Los Angeles emerged as the first lab to test cannabis strains for terpenes. Since it began providing this service to the medical marijuana community, the Werc Shop has analyzed more than 2,000 bud samples for terpene content. Its analysis has occasionally revealed strains with different names but identical terpene content.
“A terpene analysis is like a fingerprint,” explains the Werc Shop’s president, Jeff Raber. “It can tell you if it’s the same strain under different names. We can see strains going by different names that have the same terpene profile. We now know those strains are identical.”
Terpene testing has enabled the Werc Shop to identify when strains have been misnamed. “We’ve seen a dozen of samples of Trainwreck, for example, that have a consistent terpene profile,” Raber says. “And then we examine some bud purporting to be Trainwreck, but with a terpene content that differs markedly from what we know is Trainwreck. By testing for terpenes, we can often verify if the strain is what the grower or provider says it is.”
It may be possible, via terpenoid and cannabinoid analysis, to investigate and verify the genetic lineage of various strains. Though a great deal of research would be required, one might even be able to construct something akin to a marijuana family tree.
The Werc Shop has also tested numerous cannabis extracts for their terpene content. But Raber found that the oil-extraction process, if it involves heating the plant matter, typically destroys the terpenes, which evaporate at much lower temperatures than THC.
Various extraction methods have their pros and cons. Using hexane or another toxic solvent to extract cannabis oil can leave poisonous residues behind. Critical CO2 extraction, while cleaner, requires expensive, sophisticated equipment and technical expertise. In either case, the extract maker may have to add the terpenes back into the oil concentrate in order to maximize the plant’s therapeutic potential.
In the future, when the herb is legal nationwide, it should be possible to access strain-specific cannabis oils, as well as made-to-order marijuana extracts with a full array of terpenes artfully tailored to meet the needs and desires of individual users.
William Courtney, a Mendicino County-based physician, recommends eating — or juicing and then drinking — raw cannabis leaf and bud as a way to achieve megadose therapeutic impact from marijuana without psychoactive effect. The green plant contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in its acid form, THCA, which is not psychoactive.
Leading proponents of ingesting raw cannabis — not just in response to illness but for general health maintenance — include Dr. Courtney’s wife Kristen.
For many years, an ailing Kristen Courtney had struggled with systemic lupus. Her prognosis was dismal. But her condition improved dramatically after several weeks of ingesting raw cannabis and drinking the juice of THCA-dominant plants. The plant also contains small amounts of several dozen other cannabinoids (compounds that are unique to marijuana) in their acid form.
Convinced that they had discovered a cure for chronic illness, the Courtneys became passionate advocates of juicing. They have inspired a following of true believers in Northern California and beyond. Juicing, the Courtneys argue, is the best way to consume cannabis therapeutically. But many of their claims about the advantages of juicing cannabis are unsubstantiated and misleading.
A dietary supplement
Courtney recommends “expanding our use of cannabis from the 10-milligram psychoactive THC dose to the 600-to-1000 milligram dietary dose.”
He explains in an online Q&A: “The main psychoactive compound in dried, aged cannabis is delta-9 THC, which is absent in the raw, fresh leaf. In general, patients do not experience a ‘high’ from consuming the raw product. However, other compounds in the plant, such as the terpenes [which give cannabis its unique smell], may have an effect on mood or energy levels.
“Raw bud has a higher concentration of cannabinoids than leaves and is an excellent method of consumption if you have the resources to make this possible. Both are extremely beneficial but they are best combined . . . Bud should be at the state where the trichomes are fully present but not yet amber (i.e., cloudy). Leaves for eating or juicing should be picked from plants well into flowering stage.”
For palatability, the Courtneys recommend blending raw cannabis with “a minimal amount of organic fruit or vegetable juice, just enough to cut the bitter taste of the raw cannabis.”
A wheat-grass juicer is recommended for those using large quantities of leaf. A blender is the preferred method for juicing buds —“quicker, easier to clean, and you recover closer to 100% of what you put in,” according to Courtney.
Raw cannabis, not rinsed, should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer in bags that extend the freshness of vegetables. The Courtneys recommend soaking cannabis leaves in water for five minutes before juicing.
THCA is cleared rapidly from the blood. Courtney suggests splitting the juice into small portions to be consumed during the day.
Not for Everybody
Raw cannabis does not provide acute symptom relief, Courtney acknowledges, although “some effects can be immediate.” One patient at the Humboldt Patient Resource Center in Northern California reported immediate relief from severe nausea after drinking juiced cannabis.
Some effects, according to Courtney, “take three days to be appreciated. Others build for weeks. Full clinical benefit may take four to eight weeks to take effect. It takes that long for plant (phyto) cannabinoids to fully saturate the body’s adipose (fat) tissue. Phytocannabinoids are stored in the adipose tissue, as are the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K.”
Courtney cautions people with kidney or gallbladder problems that raw cannabis might pose a risk. He would not recommend it for a patient with Hypercalciuria, type II, Enteric Hyperoxaluria, or Primary hyperoxaluria.
Also, Courtney notes, anyone on prescribed medications that can be blocked by grapefruit or pomegranate juice should advise their doctor if they are considering a raw cannabis regimen. Ditto those who are taking blood-thinning drugs such as Coumadin. Most leafy greens contain high amounts of Vitamin K, which can prevent the liver from metabolizing such drugs. and raw cannabis might, too.
Those who wish to pursue a juicing regimen face a major obstacle: how to obtain sufficient amounts of cannabis? Purchasing large quantities of cannabis is beyond the budget of most patients. And growing your own marijuana — the ideal in terms of freshness — is an option for all too few in our society and throughout the world.
The Courtneys advise: “If you know a local organic grower, ask if you can use their excess leaves. . . Only use organic cannabis that does not have any pesticides applied at any point in its life cycle. Make sure there are no toxic miticides.”
Ambiguous information re dosing
Dr. Courtney recommends using 25 large fan leaves per day in juice, salsa, pesto, salad, etc. If you have access to fresh bud, he recommends one bud a day for general health maintenance. “If you are suffering from a serious condition,” he adds, “that can go up to several buds/day.”
To determine the cannabinoid content of fan leaves, a prospective juicer sent 30 large leaves from a flowering Omrita Rx plant to the Werc Shop, an analytical lab in Los Angeles, for testing. They were found to contain a combined total of 11.5 milligrams of cannabinoid acids. To ingest 600 mgs of cannabinoids, by this measure, one would need to juice more than 1,500 leaves every day and/or a significant amount of bud.
70 Trillion Interactions?
Courtney credits Ruth Ross, a scientist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, with the discovery that CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) and CBGA (cannabigerolic acid) have marked antagonistic activity at the GPR55 receptor, a protein implicated in tumor formation, cancer cell proliferation, and pain perception. At the August 2012 meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society in Freiburg, Germany, Mary Abood of Temple University discussed the extent to which GPR55 is expressed in the body. From these two sources, Courtney deduced that “if you smoke, bake, vaporize, sautee . . . CBDA, CBGA and quite probably THCA, you decarboxylate all the cannabinoid acids, sacrificing an interaction with 70 trillion cells.”
Decarboxylating, (i.e., heating) the plant converts the cannabinoid acids – by smoking, vaporizing or cooking – into their neutral, non-acid form: nonpsychoactive THCA becomes psychoactive THC and CBDA becomes cannabidiol (CBD), a potent nonpsychoactive cannabinoid with unique therapeutic attributes. But the notion that ingesting heated cannabis sacrifices “an interaction with 70 trillion cells” is dubious.
“The basic research on GPR55 is still in its infancy,” says Jahan Marcu, Ph.D, a scientist who has worked in Abood’s laboratory. “Experts in the field have published conflicting reports on the activity of various cannabinoids at this receptor. Dr. Abood and Dr. Ross would most certainly caution against extrapolating these findings into effects on humans.”
A 2012 article coauthored by Ross in the Journal of Biological Chemistry noted that several neutral cannabinoids, including CBD, interact with the GPR55 receptor. THCA is a weak activator of GPR55, according to Ross and her colleagues, whereas CBD and CBDA both block the GPR55 receptor.
To apply Courtney’s image in reverse, a person ingesting raw cannabis is “sacrificing an interaction” with the cannabinoid receptors in the human brain and body. Unlike THCA, neutral THC activates the cannabinoid receptor known as “CB2,” which regulates immune and peripheral nerve function. This is one of the reasons marijuana is an effective remedy for peripheral neuropathy, a painful nerve disorder that afflicts millions – diabetics, people with AIDS and cancer, MS and rheumatoid arthritis patients.
When THC binds with the CB2 receptor, it doesn’t have a psychoactive effect because CB2 receptors are localized predominantly outside the brain and central nervous system. THC also binds to CB1, the cannabinoid receptor concentrated in the brain and the central nervous system. This is what makes a person feel high.
CBDA and CBD
There have been numerous studies demonstrating the potential efficacy of cannabidiol in treating heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and neurological illness — but very few studies involving CBDA. During a talk at the April 2012 Patients Out of Time conference in Tucson, Courtney frequently referred to CBD research as if the findings also applied to CBDA.
CBD and CBDA both have therapeutic attributes, but they are not the same. And it is by no means evident that CBDA is innately superior to CBD, as Courtney implies. Or that THC is inherently “psychotoxic,” as he has characterized it.
Pioneering research conducted by Dr. Sean McAllister at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, has established that CBD and THC are potent inhibitors of breast cancer cell proliferation, metastasis, and tumor formation. But he found that “Compared to CBD, CBDA had negligible effects in cell viability assay against multiple cancers. We therefore never took a great interest in the molecule.”
McAllister noted the findings of a 2006 report, “Antitumor Activity of Plant Cannabinoids with Emphasis on the Effect of Cannabidiol on Human Breast Carcinoma,” by Alessia Ligresti and a team of Italian scientists: “For in vitro studies, the cannabinoids under investigation were screened for their ability to reduce cell proliferation on a collection of tumoral cell lines. Cannabidiol always exhibited the highest potency . . . Cannabidiol acid was the least potent compound. Among the other plant cannabinoids, cannabigerol [CBG] was almost always the second most potent compound, followed by cannabichromene [CBC].”
Kristen Courtney treated herself by juicing THCA-dominant cannabis at a time when there were no analytical labs serving the medical marijuana community in California. In recent years, as CBD-rich plants have been identified and found to be medically beneficial, the Courtneys began to advocate juicing for CBDA content.
Cannabidiol is nonpsychoactive in its acid as well as neutral form; thus “psychotoxicity” is not a factor at any dose of CBD. So why should one go through the trouble of procuring and juicing large quantities of CBDA-rich verdure when measured doses of CBD-rich concentrates are available for patients in California and other states where medical marijuana is legal?
Courtney has suggested that neutral cannabinoids are inferior because they are “synthetic,” by which he means not produced by the living plant. But as the plant dries, decarboxylation occurs naturally. In some tropical cannabis strains, significant decarboxylation happens before the plant is harvested.
A Patient’s Lament
A middle-aged man with prostate cancer, a patient of Dr. Courtney’s, contacted Project CBD, a medical science education service, seeking information about where to obtain large quantities of CBD-rich marijuana in order to juice it. He didn’t want to smoke it or vaporize it, he explained, because “Dr. Courtney says it doesn’t work if it’s heated.”
Perhaps this desperate patient misunderstood Dr. Courtney. Or perhaps he was misled by Courtney’s contention that ingesting cannabinoid acids is the best way to utilize the plant for therapeutic purposes.
There’s not a lot of science about cannabinoid acids in general and CBD acid in particular. From what we know, these compounds have medicinal value and juicing cannabis may help people with cancer and other diseases. But how these benefits are conferred is not entirely clear.
One advantage of ingesting fresh raw cannabis is that you’re getting most if not all of the volatile terpenes, and plenty of chlorophyll. (Odiferous terpenes also have therapeutic properties.) Juicing organic fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, is a health-positive practice, even when cannabis is not part of the mix.
There are many valid ways to administer medicinal cannabis. One size doesn’t fit all with respect to cannabinoid therapeutics.
Pot-smokers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your pipe dreams.
Marijuana legalization is a beginning, not an end.
When residents of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the adult use of cannabis, it felt like a momentary rush of sobriety in a country dazed by decades of anti-marijuana hysteria. But what comes next?
The drug war edifice is cracking and the end of prohibition may be nigh. Or may not be. The way things play out is not preordained. Major strategic differences among legalization proponents are surfacing about how to proceed. Some drug policy reform leaders, fearing an official backlash, are urging a cautious, go-slow, approach: make it as easy as possible for the feds to back off and let the states do their thing. Other voices, claiming a pro-pot electoral mandate, are calling for bold, assertive moves to implement the will of the voters.
Some medical marijuana dispensary operators are celebrating the prospect of expanding into adult sales, while others worry about getting squeezed out as weaker players fold in an increasingly competitive, multibillion-dollar industry. Mom-and-pop growers in the Emerald Triangle of Northern California, America’s cannabis bread basket, who’ve paid their dues over the years, cringe when they hear of post-election overtures to tobacco companies from single-issue obsessed, DC-based, drug policy reform lobbyists who presume to speak for tens of millions of cannabis consumers.
The future of cannabis is up for grabs – as much as anything can be in our ailing, corporate-dominated culture. So why not think big? Here are some ideas:
1. Tax and Regulate: Endorsed by 500 economists and several Nobel laureates, a 2005 report projected that ending marijuana prohibition in the United States would save $7.7 billion in combined state and federal spending, while taxing herb transactions would bring in $6.2 billion annually—a net gain of close to $14 billion. Whatever funds that re-legalizing cannabis adds to federal and state treasuries should be matched dollar for dollar by cuts in the obese Pentagon budget, which currently exceeds the combined military expenditures of the next 21 countries on earth. If the United States can’t defend itself with a budget equal to the combined military expenditures of the next top 10 countries, then America’s military leaders are incompetent and ought to be dumped.
2. Cultivate: Implement small-is-beautiful regulations capping the number of marijuana plants in a way that favors family farms rather than agribusiness giants. Make organic farming practices mandatory and discourage high-energy intensive indoor grows. Tobacco companies – or any businesses Big Tobacco invests in – shall not be permitted to grow cannabis or produce cannabis products. Tobacco farmers instead will be encouraged to cultivate industrial hemp, which was needlessly banished from the American agricultural landscape because of the war on drugs. Offer tax breaks for farmers and companies that engage in large-scale cultivation and production of fiber hemp, a versatile, ecologically sustainable plant with more than 25,000 known industrial applications – everything from hemp clothing, food and cosmetics to hemp surfboards, insulation and car panels.
3. Exchange: Organically grown marijuana should be available for barter and purchase by men and women 18 years and older in licensed cannabis dispensaries, herb stores, farmers markets, whole (small "w") food emporiums, and health clubs from sea to shining sea. Liquor stores, drug store chains and supermarket chains will be barred from selling marijuana because they sell dangerous, unhealthy products: cigarettes, booze, toxic household items, children’s toys reeking of endocrine-disrupters, pharmaceuticals with pernicious, sometimes lethal, side effects, junk food loaded with corn syrup, neurotoxic additives and GMOs. In order to minimize exposure to these harmful substances while promoting cannabis commerce, it’s crucial to disentangle marijuana from mainstream corporate monoculture.
4. Apologize: All marijuana prisoners must be freed immediately and the U.S. government should pay reparations to those whose lives were ruined because they were among the more than 20 million people arrested for violating U.S. laws against marijuana possession. Reparations should also be paid to medical patients -- including military veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries -- who have been denied access to marijuana or discriminated against because they used cannabis for therapeutic purposes. And the millions of U.S. drug war victims in Latin America and other countries should also be compensated. This won’t ever happen given the astronomical sums at stake. In lieu of reparations, the U.S. government must issue a formal apology for waging a dishonest, destructive, and logically incoherent crusade against cannabis users at home and abroad.
5. Experiment: Medical marijuana in California, the first state to re-legalize the herb for therapeutic use in 1996, began as a laboratory experiment in democracy, and it has led to a cultural shift in favor of legalizing cannabis for personal use. A portion of the revenue accrued from taxing legal marijuana transactions should be used to underwrite other laboratory experiments in democracy – in particular, green new deal work programs founded on the premise that a green economy entails more than producing environmentally benign consumer goods. Spearheaded by a burgeoning cannabis industry, a green economy will point the way toward novel forms of labor-sharing, voluntary simplicity, and local self-providing, while challenging the tyranny of the job system that was implanted during the industrial revolution. (Work yes!! Jobs no!) Alienation and bleak prospects, not marijuana-smoking, are root causes of amotivation.
6. Educate: For a long time, the illegality of cannabis acted as a deterrent to clinical research in the United States. Recent scientific discoveries regarding the “endocannabinoid system” – which includes “cannabinoid” receptors in the brain and body that respond pharmacologically to marijuana – have breathtaking implications for nearly every area of medicine. This information will be integrated into science classes, medical school curricula, and continuing education seminars for doctors, other health professionals, and the general public. And the federal government henceforth will vigorously sponsor clinical investigations into marijuana’s healing potential, which has barely been tapped.
7. Heal: Make cannabis a centerpiece of a robust single-payer healthcare system that rewards citizens who embrace healthy lifestyles, preventative medicine, and holistic healing options. There should be incentives for women who breastfeed their children (kids who breastfeed are typically healthier than non-breastfed offspring) and for people who medicate with marijuana, exercise regularly and eat whole food diets. (Medical marijuana patients in general drink less alcohol and take less painkillers and Big Pharma meds than patients who don’t use cannabis.) Healthcare costs will plummet when the federal government guarantees that every citizen has access to vitamin D in sufficient quantities, as well as orally ingested cannabis extracts infused with cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of the marijuana plant with remarkable healing properties. Vitamin D combined with CBD will become the “killer” public health app of the post-prohibition era.
8. Occupy: Legalizing marijuana without challenging endemic social injustice is a formula for “repressive tolerance” – cut the masses some slack while they’re getting shafted. Economic inequality is socially divisive, psychologically stressful, and hugely damaging in terms of health outcomes, especially for poor people, who comprise half the population in 21st century America. Massive inequalities disgrace and sicken the United States. Extensive research has shown that health and social problems by almost every measure — from mental and physical illness to violence and drug abuse — are more prevalent in countries with large income disparities. A post-prohibition society that doesn’t address pathological income inequality will not be able to heal itself.
On Tuesday, October 16, the second Obama-Romney debate was held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island, near where I grew up as a kid.
If I were moderator, I would have started by asking the candidates to explain the etymology of that quaint village name. Why is the town called Hempstead? Because once upon a time, farmers on Long Island grew hemp, marijuana’s durable, non-psychoactive twin. They grew hemp for fiber, cordage, paper, oil, and many other necessities. Many American farmers used to grow hemp – not just on Long Island.
Hemp was one of the first crops cultivated by Puritan settlers in New England. Early American households in some colonies were required by law to produce hemp because the plant had so many beneficial uses. Thomas Jefferson penned the original draft of the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. Patriotic wives and mothers organized spinning bees with hempen thread to clothe the Yankee army. The first American flags were made of hemp cloth. Without enough hemp, American revolutionaries would not have prevailed in their struggle against the British.
But today it’s illegal to grow hemp in the United States. A plant once prized by our Founding Fathers, a plant with an impeccable patriotic pedigree, has been banished from the American agricultural landscape because of the war on drugs.
Concerned about the availability of marijuana, the federal government imposed tight restrictions on hemp, even though hemp contains minuscule amounts of THC, pot’s psychoactive ingredient, not nearly enough to make someone feel high. If marijuana is the funny stuff, then fiber hemp is its serious sibling, a sober, can-do ecologically sustainable plant with more than 25,000 known industrial applications – everything from hemp sneakers, lip balm, body lotion and granola to hemp surfboards, backpacks, building material and car panels.
Drug Enforcement Administration officials contend that if hemp were legal to grow, it would make marijuana law enforcement much more difficult because hemp and pot bear a resemblance. (They are actually the same species -- cannabis sativa – but are genetically distinct.) By misclassifying hemp as a drug, Uncle Sam essentially ceded a lucrative and expanding agricultural market to Canada, China, Russia, and the European Union, which subsidizes hemp farmers.
The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that prohibits commercial hemp cultivation. Yet it’s okay for American businesses to import hemp fiber and hempseed oil, as long as the plant itself is grown abroad.
That’s very frustrating to David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which use 20 tons of hempseed oil in soaps and other products every year. It would be more cost-effective for Bronner’s company and better for American farmers and the U.S. economy as a whole if American businesses could purchase hemp oil and hemp fiber from American rather than Canadian farmers. “The Canadian farmers are laughing at us all the way to the bank,” said Bronner.
Rough industry estimates indicate that several hundred million dollars worth of hemp products are sold annually in the United States.
Nine states – Maine, Vermont, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Dakota, Montana, Oregon and Hawaii – have passed laws permitting hemp cultivation and research. But unlike in states such as California where medical marijuana is legal and people can grow limited quantities of cannabis for therapeutic use, industrial hemp farming hasn’t taken hold anywhere in the United States.
There is no industrial hemp resistance like there is a medical marijuana resistance. That’s because the feds generally follow a policy of only busting cannabis grow-ops larger than 100 plants. Whereas a family or a collective can earn decent money from growing 99 pot plants (which command a high price relative to other crops), for an industrial hemp grow to be economically viable, it would have to exceed many times over the 100-plant limit, which would make it an automatic target of federal law enforcement.
In effect, pot prohibition makes it more difficult for a farmer to grow industrial hemp than granddaddy purple -- underscoring once again the sheer idiocy of the war on drugs, a venal and destructive policy that has fostered crime, police corruption, social discord, racial injustice and, ironically, drug abuse itself, while impeding medical advances and economic opportunity.
The politics of hemp and the politics of marijuana are inseparable – if only because the feds have made it so.
To unshackle hemp from the tyranny of pot prohibition, Bronner and other activists are supporting three state ballot measures this fall that would legalize cannabis for adult use in Colorado, Washington and Oregon.
Hemp is the botanical elephant in the living room of American politics. It’s off limits to grow and presidential candidates keep dodging the issue – even when they’re debating in a town called Hempstead.
Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Acid Dreams author Martin A. Lee's new book Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana -- Medical, Recreational, and Scientific (Simon and Schuster, 2012):
Peer-reviewed scientific studies in several countries show THC and other compounds found only in marijuana are effective not only for cancer symptom management (pain, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, and so on), but they confer a direct antitumoral effect as well.
Animal experiments conducted by Manuel GuzmÃ¡n at Madrid’s Complutense University in the late 1990s revealed that a synthetic cannabinoid injected directly into a malignant brain tumor could eradicate it. Reported in Nature Medicine, this remarkable finding prompted additional studies in Spain and elsewhere that confirmed the anticancer properties of marijuana-derived compounds. GuzmÃ¡n’s team administered pure THC via a catheter into the tumors of nine hospitalized patients with glioblastoma (an aggressive form of brain cancer) who had failed to respond to standard therapies. This was the first clinical trial assessing the antitumoral action of cannabinoids on human beings, and the results, published in the British Journal of Cancer, were very promising. THC treatment was associated with significantly reduced tumor cell proliferation in all test subjects.
GuzmÃ¡n and his colleagues found that THC and its synthetic emulators selectively killed tumor cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed. No Big Pharma chemotherapy drugs could induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells without trashing the whole body. Up to 90 percent of advanced cancer patients suffer cognitive dysfunction from “chemo brain,” a common side effect of corporate cancer meds that indiscriminately destroy brain matter, whereas cannabinoids are free-radical scavengers that protect brain tissue and stimulate brain cell growth.
There is mounting evidence that cannabinoids may “represent a new class of anticancer drugs that retard cancer growth, inhibit angiogenesis [the formation of new blood vessels] and the metastatic spreading of cancer cells,” according to the scientific journal Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry. Studies from scientists around the world have documented the anticancer properties of cannabinoid compounds for various malignancies, including (but not limited to):
• Prostate cancer. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that the administration of the synthetic cannabinoid WIN-55,212–2, a CB-1and CB-2 agonist, inhibited prostate cancer cell growth and also induced apoptosis.
•Colon cancer. British researchers demonstrated that THC triggers cell death in tumors of the colon, the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
• Pancreatic cancer. Spanish and French scientists determined that cannabinoids selectively increased apoptosis in pancreatic cell lines and reduced the growth of tumor cells in animals, while ignoring normal cells.
• Breast cancer. Scientists at the Pacific Medical Centers in San Francisco found that THC and other plant cannabinoids inhibited human breast cancer cell proliferation and metastasis and shrank breast cancer tumors. 1.3 million women worldwide are diagnosed yearly with breast cancer and a half million succumb to the disease.
• Cervical cancer. German researchers at the University of Rostock reported that THC and a synthetic cannabinoid suppressed the invasion of human cervical carcinoma into surrounding tissues by stimulating the body’s production of TIMP-1, a substance that helps healthy cells resist cancer.
• Leukemia. Investigators at St. George’s University and Bartholomew’s Hospital in London found that THC acts synergistically with conventional antileukemia therapies to enhance the effectiveness of anti-cancer agents in vitro (in a test tube or petri dish). Scientists had previously shown that THC and cannabidiol were both potent inducers of apoptosis in leukemic cell lines.
• Stomach cancer. According to Korean researchers at the Catholic Uni- versity in Seoul, WIN-55,212–2, the synthetic cannabinoid, reduced the proliferation of stomach cancer cells.
• Skin carcinoma. Spanish researchers noted that the administration of synthetic cannabinoids “induced a considerable growth inhibition of malignant tumors” on the skin of mice.
• Cancer of the bile duct. The administration of THC inhibits bile-duct cancer cell proliferation, migration, and invasion and induces biliary cancer cell apoptosis, according to experiments conducted at Rangsit University in Patum Thani, Thailand.
• Lymphoma, Hodgkin’s and Kaposi’s sarcoma. Researchers at the University of South Florida ascertained that THC thwarts the activation and replication of the gamma herpes virus. This virus increases a person’s chances of developing cancers such as Hodgkin’s, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Kaposi’s sarcoma.
• Liver cancer. Italian scientists at the University of Palermo found that a synthetic cannabinoid caused programmed cell death in liver cancer.
• Lung cancer. Harvard University scientists reported that THC cuts tumor growth in common lung cancer in half and “significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread.” Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the world. More Americans die of lung cancer each year than any other type of cancer.
Simon & Schuster, Copyright 2012 -- All rights reserved. This excerpt has been published with permission from the author.
Eric Holder, Obama’s embattled attorney general, was under mounting pressure from Congress to explain the botched "Fast and Furious" sting operation, in which 2,000 assault rifles and other firearms were sold to suspected traffickers for the Mexican drug cartels. It was intended as an intelligence-gathering ploy, but U.S. agents lost track of most of these weapons.
A drug war covert operation run by the Phoenix branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Fast and Furious remained a secret until the murder of an American border patrol agent in December 2010. Two guns found at the scene of the murder had been sold during the Fast and Furious operation. Arms from the same misbegotten cache were subsequently linked to many other crimes.
For several months Holder stonewalled, disavowing any knowledge of the caper despite documentation showing that high-level Justice Department officials aided the surveillance mission. The fact that Fast and Furious had its roots in a similar Bush-era ATF operation mattered little to GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, the grandstanding chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who went so far as to accuse the Obama administration of purposely allowing the guns to escape as part of a liberal plot to tighten gun control laws. Issa was not credible; nor was Holder.
By early October 2011, there were calls for a special prosecutor to investigate whether Holder had perjured himself during testimony before Congress. Right-wing pundits described the scandal as “Obama’s Watergate.” The ATF announced a major shake-up at the top of the bureau. A chorus of disgruntled sheriffs and other G-men clamored for Holder’s resignation. The attorney general was losing support among law enforcement rank-and-file.
But Holder had an ace up his sleeve, and he played it at a crucial moment.
Ever since California voters approved Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana for medical use in 1996, law enforcement lobbyists had been urging the federal government to enforce prohibition and choke off the burgeoning industry.
On October 7, the same day Holder wrote a detailed letter to Rep. Issa, defending his handling of the Fast and Furious affair, four federal prosecutors in California held a hastily organized press conference in which they threw down the gauntlet and announced the start of a far-ranging crackdown that would nearly decimate the Golden State’s medical marijuana industry.
Within 10 months, close to half of California’s 1,400 dispensaries would shut down as the DEA waged an all-out vendetta against what Proposition 215 had unloosed. The drug police weren’t just going after the bad apples; they were going after every apple in the barrel. Cannabis dispensaries abiding by state law were raided by federal agents. Federal prosecutors threatened to seize property from landlords who rented to medical marijuana facilities. The feds also threatened municipal officials who sought to implement state medical marijuana regulations. Federally insured banks and credit card companies refused to service marijuana-related enterprises.
Medical marijuana proponents were stunned by the ferocity of the Obama administration’s assault on the industry in California and elsewhere. Why did the former pot-smoking Choom Gang kid unleash the dogs of the drug war against a thriving business sector when times were tough economically and jobs were scarce? Why would the president risk alienating his base when public opinion polls showed that more than half of Americans favored legalizing marijuana for personal use?
It’s not as though Americans were dropping like flies because of medical marijuana abuse. More than a million Californians had gotten a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis, and no fatalities or problematic health patterns attributable to the herb had emerged since the passage of Proposition 215.
Team Obama’s decision to crack down on the medical marijuana industry wasn’t motivated by public health concerns. The Justice Department green-lit a scorched earth campaign against medicinal cannabis in order to placate law enforcement and control the damage from the Fast and Furious scandal by deflecting attention to other matters.
Medical marijuana facilities were red meat for cops and an easy payday for narcs who were aching to take down pot-selling storefronts throughout the Golden State and beyond. Desperate to shore up support among law enforcement, Holder, a longtime marijuana foe, threw the drug war dogs the perfect bone on October 7, 2011. It was a politically expedient decision designed to protect the attorney general’s bureaucratic position.
Marijuana’s illegality has long been a useful vehicle for Machiavellian public officials. In the mid-1930s, when Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, realized his entire department was on the chopping block because of Depression-era budget cuts, he launched the Reefer Madness campaign to convince Congress and the American people that a terrible menace threatened the country, one that required a well-funded antinarcotics program. He demonized marijuana to preserve and expand his bureaucratic fiefdom.
Backed into a corner, Holder drew from a similar playbook as Anslinger, underscoring once again that marijuana prohibition has little to do with the actual effects of the herb and everything to do with cynical bureaucratic self-interest.
It was billed as a panel discussion on "the global shift in human consciousness." A half-dozen speakers had assembled inside the Heebie Jeebie Healers tent at Burning Man, the annual post-hippie celebration in Black Rock, Nev., where 50,000 stalwarts braved intense dust storms and flash floods last August. Among the notables who spoke at the early evening forum was Dr. Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin, the Bay Area-based psychochemical genius much beloved among the Burners, who synthesized Ecstasy and 200 other psychoactive drugs and tested each one on himself during his unique, offbeat career.
Sitting on the panel next to Shulgin was an unlikely expositor. Dr. James S. Ketchum, a retired U.S. Army colonel, told the audience, "When Sasha was trying to open minds with chemicals to achieve greater awareness, I was busy trying to subdue people."
Ketchum was referring to his work at Edgewood Arsenal, headquarters of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, in the 1960s, when America's national security strategists were high on the prospect of developing a nonlethal incapacitating agent, a so-called humane weapon, that could knock people out without necessarily killing anyone. Top military officers hyped the notion of "war without death," conjuring visions of aircraft swooping over enemy territory releasing clouds of "madness gas" that would disorient the bad guys and dissolve their will to resist, while U.S. soldiers moved in and took over.
Ketchum was into weapons of mass elation, not weapons of mass destruction. He oversaw a secret research program that tested an array of mind-bending drugs on American GIs, including an exceptionally potent form of synthetic marijuana. (Most of these drugs had no medical names, just numbers supplied by the Army.) "Paradoxical as it may seem," Ketchum asserted, "one can use chemical weapons to spare lives, rather than extinguish them."
Some of the Burners were perplexed. Was this guy cool or creepy?
Shulgin, a critic of chemical mind-meddling by the military, was wary when he first met Ketchum at a 1993 event honoring the 50th anniversary of the discovery of LSD. But Ketchum is not your typical military bulldozer type. An intelligent, gracious man with a disarming sense of humor, in his own way he has always been a free spirit. He and his wife, Judy, who currently reside in Santa Rosa, became close friends with Sasha and his formidable partner, Ann. They stayed in frequent contact and occasionally socialized together. When the Shulgins invited them to Burning Man, the Ketchums joined the caravan of RVs driving to the desert.
"I'm kind of a Sasha worshipper," Ketchum, who reads neuropharmacology textbooks during his leisure hours, confessed. Tall and lanky, the colonel, now 76, is one of the few people who can actually understand what Shulgin, six years his senior, is talking about when he lectures on the molecular subtleties of psychedelic drugs, waving his arms furiously like a mad scientist. Shulgin took Ketchum under his wing and welcomed him into the fold.
Shulgin wrote the foreword to Ketchum's self-published memoir, Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten, which lifts the veil on the Army's little-known drug experiments and illuminates a hidden chapter of marijuana history. A graduate of Cornell Medical College, Ketchum describes how he was assigned as a staff psychiatrist to Edgewood Arsenal, located 25 miles northeast of Baltimore, in 1961.
"There was no doubt in my mind that working in this strange atmosphere was just the sort of thing that would satisfy my appetite for novelty," Ketchum wrote. Soon he became chief of clinical research at the Army's hub for chemical warfare studies. Although the Geneva Convention had banned the use of chemical weapons, Washington never agreed to this provision, and the U.S. government poured money into the search for a nonlethal incapacitant.
The U.S. Army Chemical Corp's marijuana research began several years before Ketchum joined the team at Edgewood. In 1952, the Shell Development Corporation was contracted by the Army to examine "synthetic cannabis derivatives" for their incapacitating properties. Additional studies into possible military uses of marijuana began two years later at the University of Michigan medical school, where a group of scientists led by Dr. Edward F. Domino, professor of pharmacology, tested a drug called "EA 1476" -- otherwise known as "Red Oil" -- on dogs and monkeys at the behest of the U.S. Army. Made through a process of chemical extraction and distillation, Red Oil, akin to hash oil, packed a mightier punch than the natural plant.
Army scientists found that this concentrated cannabis derivative produced effects unlike anything they had previously seen. "The dog gets a peculiar reaction. He crawls under the table, stays away from the dark, leaps out at imaginary objects and, as far as one can interpret, may be having hallucinations," one report stated. "It would appear even to the untrained observer that this dog is not normal. He suddenly jumps out, even without any stimulus, and barks, and then crawls back under the table."
With a larger dose of Red Oil, the reaction was even more pronounced. "These animals lie on their side; you could step on their feet without any response; it is an amazing effect and a reversible phenomenon. It has greatly increased our interest in this compound from the standpoint of future chemical possibilities."
In the late 1950s, the Army started testing Red Oil on U.S. soldiers at Edgewood. Some GIs smirked for hours while they were under the influence of EA 1476. When asked to perform routine numbers and spatial reasoning tests, the stoned volunteers couldn't stop laughing.
But Red Oil was not an ideal chemical-warfare candidate. For starters, it was a "crude" preparation that contained many components of cannabis besides psychoactive THC. Army scientists surmised that pure THC would weigh much less than Red Oil and would therefore be better suited as a chemical weapon. They were intrigued by the possibility of amplifying the active ingredient of marijuana, tweaking the mother molecule, as it were, to enhance its psychogenic effects. So the Chemical Corps set its sights on developing a synthetic variant of THC that could clobber people without killing them.
Enter Harry Pars, a scientist working with Arthur D. Little Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass., one of several pharmaceutical companies that conducted chemical warfare research for the Army. (Two Army contracts for marijuana-related research were awarded to this firm, covering a 10-year period beginning in 1963.) A frequent visitor to Edgewood, Pars synthesized a new cannabinoid compound, dubbed "EA 2233," which was significantly stronger than Red Oil.
At the outset of this project, Pars had sought the advice of Shulgin, then a brilliant young chemist employed by Dow Chemical. Shulgin was a veritable fount of information regarding how to reshape psychoactive molecules to create novel mind-altering drugs. Eager to share his arcane expertise, Shulgin gave Pars the idea to tinker with nitrogen analogs of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Pars never told Shulgin that he was an Army contract employee. A declassified version of Pars' research was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (August 1966), in which he thanked Shulgin for "drawing our attention to the synthesis of these nitrogen analogs."
The U.S. Army Chemical Corps began clinical testing of EA 2233 on GI volunteers in 1961, the year Ketchum arrived at Edgewood Arsenal. When ingested at dosage levels ranging from 10 to 60 micrograms per kilogram of body weight, EA 2233 lasted up to 30 hours, far longer than the typical marijuana buzz.
"I Just Feel Like Laughing"
In an interview videotaped seven hours after he had been given EA 2233, one soldier described feeling numb in his arms and unable to raise them, precluding any possibility that he could defend himself if attacked. "Everything seems comical," he told his interlocutor.
Q: How are you?
A: Pretty good, I guess. ...
Q: You've got a big grin on your face.
A: Yeah. I don't know what I'm grinning about, either.
Q: Do things seem funny, or is that just something you can't help?
A: I don't -- I don't know. I just -- I just feel like laughing. ...
Q: Does the time seem to pass slower or faster or any different than usual?
A: No different than usual. Just -- just that I mostly lose track of it. I don't know if it's early or late.
Q: Do you find yourself doing any daydreaming?
A: Yeah. I'm daydreaming all kinds of things. ...
Q: Suppose you have to get up and go to work now. How would you do?
A: I don't think I'd even care.
Q: Well, suppose the place were on fire?
A: It would seem funny.
Q: It would seem funny? Do you think you'd have the sense to get up and run out, or do you think you'd just enjoy it?
A: I don't know. Fire doesn't seem to present any danger to me right now. ... Everything just seems funny in the Army. Seems like everything somebody says, it sounds a little bit funny. ...
Q: Is it like when you're in a good mood and you can laugh at anything?
A: Right. ... It's like being out with a bunch of people and everybody's laughing. They're just --
Q: Having a ball?
A: Yeah. And everything just seems funny.
Q: Would you do this again? Take this test again?
A: Yeah. Yeah. It wouldn't bother me at all.
EA 2233 was actually a mixture of eight stereoisomers of THC. (An isomer is a rearrangement of atoms within a given molecule; a stereoisomer entails different spatial configurations of these atoms.) Eventually, Edgewood scientists would separate the eight stereoisomers and investigate the relative potency of each of them individually in an effort to separate the wheat from the psychoactive chaff and reduce the amount of material needed to get the desired effect for chemical warfare.
Only two of the stereoisomers proved to be of interest (the others didn't have much of a knockdown effect). When administered intravenously, low doses of these two synthetic cousins of tetrahydrocannabinol triggered a dramatic drop in blood pressure to the point where test subjects could barely move. Standing up without assistance was impossible. This was construed by cautious Army doctors as a warning sign -- a sudden plunge in blood pressure could be dangerous -- and human experiments with single THC stereoisomers were suspended.
Looking back on these studies, Ketchum wonders whether his colleagues made the right decision. "This hypotensive (blood-pressure-reducing) property, in an otherwise nonlethal compound, might be an ideal way to produce a temporary inability to fight, or do much else, without toxicological danger to life," Ketchum says now. Given the high safety margin of THC -- no one has ever died from an overdose -- and the likelihood that the stereoisomers would display a similar safety profile, Ketchum believes the Army may have spurned a couple of worthy prospects that were capable of filling the knock-'em-out-but-don't-kill-'em niche in America's chemical warfare arsenal.
As for the two exemplary stereoisomers weaned from EA 2233, Ketchum speculates, "They probably would have been safe in terms of life-sparing activity. ... But a person who received them would have to lie down. If he tried to stand up and get his weapon, he would feel faint and lightheaded and he'd keel over. Essentially he would be immobilized for any military purpose until the effects wore off."
The colonel's assessment: "A safe drug that knocks people down -- what more could you ask for?"
Volunteers for America
With THC isomers on the back burner, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps focused on several other compounds -- including LSD, PCP, methylphenidate (Ritalin) and a delirium-inducing ass-kicker known as "BZ" (a belladonna-like substance similar to atropine) -- all of which were thought to have significant potential as nonlethal incapacitants.
By the time the clinical testing program had run its course, 6,700 volunteers had experienced some bizarre states of consciousness at Edgewood. Under the influence of powerful mind-altering drugs, some soldiers rode imaginary horses, ate invisible chickens and took showers in full uniform while smoking phantom cigars. One garrulous GI complained that an order of toast smelled "like a French whore." Some of their antics were so over-the-top that Ketchum had to admonish the nurses and other medical personnel not to laugh at the volunteers, even though it was unlikely that the soldiers would remember such incidents once the drugs wore off.
Ketchum insists that the staff at Edgewood went to great lengths to ensure the safety of the volunteers. (There was one untoward incident involving a civilian volunteer who flipped out on PCP and required hospitalization, but this happened before Ketchum came on board.) During the 1960s, every soldier exposed to incapacitating agents was carefully screened and prepped beforehand, according to Ketchum, and well treated throughout the experiment. They stayed in special rooms with padded walls and were monitored by medical professionals 24/7. Antidotes were available if things got out of hand.
"The volunteers performed a patriotic service," Ketchum says. "None, to my knowledge, returned home with a significant injury or illness attributable to chemical exposure," though he admits that "a few former volunteers later claimed that the testing had caused them to suffer from some malady." Such claims, however, are difficult to assess given that so many intervening variables may have contributed to a particular problem.
A follow-up study conducted by the Army Inspector General's office and a review panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences found little evidence of serious harm resulting from the Edgewood experiments. But a 1975 Army IG report noted that improper inducements may have been used to recruit volunteers and that getting their "informed consent" was somewhat dubious given that scientists had a limited understanding of the short- and long-term impact of some of the compounds tested on the soldiers.
Ketchum draws a sharp distinction between clinical research with human subjects under controlled conditions at Edgewood Arsenal and the CIA's reckless experiments on random, unwitting Americans who were given LSD surreptitiously by spooks and prostitutes. "Jim is very certain of his own integrity," says Ken Goffman, aka R.U. Sirius, the former editor of the psychedelic tech magazine Mondo 2000. "There is little doubt in his mind that he was doing the right thing. He felt he was working for a noble cause that would reduce civilian and military casualties." Goffman helped Ketchum edit and polish his book manuscript, which vigorously defends the Edgewood research program.
Strange bedfellows, the colonel and the counterculture scribe. Or so it would appear. But these days, Ketchum and Goffman see eye to eye on many issues. Both feel that the alleged dangers of marijuana and LSD have been way overblown. No doubt, LSD could wreak havoc on the toughest, best-trained troops, derailing their thought processes and disorganizing their behavior.
When used wisely, however, LSD can be uplifting. Ketchum notes that some soldiers had insightful and rewarding experiences on acid, lending credence to reports from civilian psychiatrists that LSD was a useful therapeutic tool. "I had an interest in psychedelic drugs long before my interest in chemical warfare," Ketchum says. "I was intrigued by the positive aspects of LSD, as well as the incapacitating aspects."
One morning, Ketchum arrived at his office in Edgewood and found "a large, black steel barrel, resembling an oil drum, parked in the corner of the room," he recounts in his book. Overcome by curiosity, he opened the barrel and examined its contents. There were a dozen tightly sealed glass canisters that looked like cookie jars; the labels on the canisters indicated that each contained about three pounds of "EA 1729," the Army's code number for LSD. By the end of the week, the 40 pounds of government acid -- enough to intoxicate several hundred million people -- vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared. Ketchum still doesn't know who put the LSD in his office or what became of it.
But this much is certain: Some officers at Edgewood were dipping into the Army's stash for their own personal use. "They took LSD more often than was necessary to appreciate its clinical effects," Ketchum admits. "They must have liked it."
The colonel was personally a bit skittish about trying LSD. Eventually, he worked up the courage to experiment on himself. Under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable Edgewood physician, he swallowed a small dose and proceeded to take the same numerical aptitude tests that the regular volunteers were put through to measure their impairment. Constrained by the white-smock laboratory setting, his lone LSD experience was somewhat anticlimactic. "Colors were more vivid and music was more compelling," Ketchum recalls, "but there were no breakthroughs in consciousness, no Timothy Leary stuff."
Ketchum also sampled cannabis shortly after he began working for the Chemical Corps. His younger brother turned him on to marijuana, but the first time Ketchum smoked a joint nothing happened. "Later, I read about reverse tolerance. Some people don't get high on marijuana until they use it a few times," Ketchum explains.
It wasn't until he went on a paid, two-year leave of absence from Edgewood that he started smoking pot socially. Ketchum had convinced the surgeon general of the Army that it would be in everyone's best interest if he studied neuroscience at Stanford University. How better to keep abreast of the latest advances in the field? In 1966, he joined a team of postdoctoral researchers mentored by Karl Pribram, a world-renowned expert on the brain and behavior.
Ketchum related well with his academic colleagues. "I got together with a few of my friends at Stanford and we had some cheap marijuana, which I smoked, and I got a real effect for the first time," he says. "I liked it. It was very sensuous. But I didn't use it very often. I didn't have any of my own."
Ketchum's West Coast hiatus coincided with the emergence of the hippie movement in San Francisco. "I was fascinated with this spectacular development," he gleams. "Luckily, I caught it at its peak."
Occasionally, Ketchum took his home movie camera to Haight-Ashbury, the epicenter of hippiedom, and filmed the procession of exotically dressed flower children strutting through the neighborhood high on marijuana and LSD. "I was always interested in drugs, primarily because I've always been interested in how the mind works," he says. "So when this wave of psychedelic users descended upon San Francisco, I thought maybe I'd learn more by going there."
Ketchum attended the legendary Be-In in Golden Gate Park in January 1967, sitting cross-legged on the lawn with 20,000 pot-smoking enthusiasts, soaking up the rays and listening to rock music, poetry and anti-war speeches. A few months later, the colonel began working as a volunteer doctor at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, where he treated troubled youth with substance abuse problems.
Life After Edgewood
Ketchum returned to Edgewood in 1968, but the mood back at headquarters was not the same as before. Growing opposition to the Vietnam War and public disapproval of the use of napalm and toxic defoliants cast a lengthening shadow over classified research into chemical weapons. When journalists briefly got wind of the Army's ambitious psychochemical warfare program, they scoffed at the notion of making the enemy lay down their arms by turning them on.
The colonel saw the writing on the wall. Army brass consented when he asked to be transferred to another base in the early 1970s. By this time, the Chemical Corps had concluded that marijuana-related compounds would not be effective in a battlefield situation, but the testing of other incapacitating agents under field conditions would proceed. And drug companies continued to supply a steady stream of pharmaceutical samples for evaluation by the military.
In 1976, Ketchum retired from the Army and embarked upon a new career as a civilian psychiatrist in California. Commissioned by the California Department of Justice, he collaborated on a 1981 study comparing the effects of alcohol and smoked marijuana on driving performance. The results were somewhat surprising. "When combined with alcohol, cannabis produced little additional impairment," he concluded.
"While alcohol had an adverse impact on steering, THC affected a driver's ability to estimate time. But the combination of both drugs did not substantially increase the impairment produced by either one alone. ... In fact, there was an antagonistic effect. Marijuana seemed to offset some of the problems caused by alcohol, and vice versa."
Ketchum feels that drug prohibition is bad public policy. "It's the refusal to look at the evidence that keeps pot illegal. They misrepresented marijuana as an evil weed. ... I've always had a libertarian attitude toward drugs. I believe people should be able to do anything as long as it's not harmful to somebody else."
In the years ahead, Ketchum would reach out to medical marijuana trailblazers, prominent psychedelic advocates and drug-policy rebels working inside and outside the system to end prohibition. He joined the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and became a member of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
Founded by Rick Doblin, MAPS has spearheaded the revival of scientific investigations into the therapeutic potential of LSD, ecstasy, psilocybin and ibogaine, while also challenging bureaucratic roadblocks that prevent independent cannabis research in the United States. Ketchum attended fundraising events and wrote letters to potential donors, praising the work of MAPS.
During the 1960s, Ketchum supervised thousands of drug experiments, yet he barely scratched the surface of the awesome potential of cannabis and LSD. "Jim is not apologetic for what he did before," Doblin says, "and I don't think he sees it as incongruous with supporting research into the therapeutic aspect of psychedelics. These tools have tremendous power, but he only looked at a narrow slice of it while he was at Edgewood."
Today, Ketchum steadfastly maintains that cannabis and LSD are safe drugs compared to many legal substances. This is what the Edgewood experiments and other studies have shown, he contends. Given his status as a retired army officer who had extensive, hands-on experience testing psychoactive compounds, he speaks with a certain authority that most medical and recreational drug users cannot claim.
After Californians broke ranks from America's drug-war orthodoxy in 1996 and legalized medical marijuana in the Golden State, Ketchum got a recommendation from his family doctor to use cannabis for insomnia. "I have personally found it helpful, especially for sleep," he says. "I've had problems with sleep for a long time."
It was at a picnic hosted by the Shulgins that Jim and Judy Ketchum first met Tod Mikuriya, the controversial Berkeley-based physician who has been described as "the father of the medical marijuana movement." One of the prime movers of Proposition 215, the successful med-pot ballot measure, Mikuriya quickly took a liking to the Ketchums and taught them how to use a vaporizer for inhaling cannabis fumes without tar and smoke.
With Mikuriya tendering introductions, Ketchum befriended some of the leading lights of the '60s counterculture, including Tim Scully, the prodigious underground chemist who manufactured millions of hits of black market LSD (remember Orange Sunshine?) while the colonel was administering hallucinogenic drugs to soldiers at Edgewood. "Jim and his wife visited me at my home in Mendocino County," Scully says. "I enjoyed their company. We found that we shared idealistic beliefs about the potential for good in psychoactive drugs, as well as sharing some wry understanding of the pitfalls, too."
As for their divergent paths in the past, Scully remarks, "I don't really see his work as having been in conflict with mine. I believe Jim sincerely hoped to save lives by helping in the development of nonlethal weapons as an alternative to conventional weapons."
An incurable iconoclast, the colonel has made common cause with counterculture veterans and anti-prohibition activists. His endorsement of the therapeutic use of marijuana and LSD confers additional credibility on views long championed by his newfound allies. Validation, in this case, goes both ways. Embraced as one of the elders, a peculiar elder to be sure, Ketchum somehow fits right in.
"I don't have a problem with being difficult to categorize," he says.
On the morning of January 13, 2004, Tehama County prosecutor Lynn Strom unexpectedly announced that the state of California was dropping charges against Cynthia Blake and David Davidson for possessing and growing cannabis with the intent to distribute. While the two medical marijuana patients waited in the courtroom, Strom and the defense attorneys disappeared inside the judge's chambers to discuss the motion to dismiss. Moments later, more than a dozen sheriff's deputies pounced on the hapless couple, handcuffed them, and shoved them into an unmarked police car waiting outside the courthouse in the Sacramento Valley town of Corning. They were already en route to jail in Sacramento when Strom informed their lawyers that the state was bowing out because the Feds were taking over the case.
It was a devastating blow for Blake, a retired Federal Reserve employee, and her sweetheart, Davidson, a retail shop owner. Both in their early fifties, they were booked on federal drug charges and transferred to the jurisdiction of the Eastern District office of US Attorney McGregor Scott. If convicted, they each faced a mandatory minimum of ten years to life in prison for exercising a right they thought they had gained with the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, the California ballot measure that legalized cannabis for medical purposes.
Both had a physician's recommendation to ease their ailments with marijuana, and neither had a criminal history. They had been tending three dozen pot plants in a remote garden, which they shared with other patients; their attorneys insist that no money had exchanged hands for the herb. But none of this would matter in federal court, which treated all marijuana as equally illicit, making no exceptions even for the seriously ill.
The well-coordinated Blake-Davidson hand-off was not the first time local authorities in California had turned over a medical marijuana case to federal authorities. But it is perhaps the most dramatic example of ongoing, secret collusion between various levels of government to prevent the implementation of the Compassionate Use Act, as Proposition 215 was called on the ballot.
For the past ten years, state and local officials sworn to uphold the state ballot measure have instead proven to be willing -- sometimes eager -- accomplices in a concerted U.S. attack on a state law. Now, a half year past its tenth birthday, the landmark California law remains under siege.
Within days after Prop 215 was enacted in the fall of 1996, top California law enforcement officials huddled privately with America's drug war high command in Washington, DC, where they plotted to sabotage a voter initiative they were unable to defeat at the ballot box.
On Dec. 3, 1996, in Sacramento, 300 district attorneys, police chiefs, sheriffs, and narcotics officers attended an "Emergency All Zones Meeting," at which they were advised, basically, to continue arresting and prosecuting as before. Then-Attorney-General Dan Lungren and his deputies maintained that the new law did not shield marijuana suspects from arrest but merely provided them with an "affirmative defense" to invoke at a trial. Under Lungren's "narrow interpretation," local narcotics officers could exercise unilateral power in deciding if med-pot growers had more plants than they, the officers, believed justified by their medical condition.
Enforcement of the Compassionate Use Act varied dramatically across California's 58 counties. Where ballot support was strongest, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, patients could obtain locally issued ID cards and purchase their medicine from storefront dispensaries that had begun opening even before Prop 215 passed. But beyond an hour or so drive from San Francisco, in the Other California -- Red-State California, as it were -- local police and prosecutors conducted a reign of terror against patients and caregivers that went largely unnoticed by the state's metropolitan press corps.
Operating with federal anti-marijuana grants that increased by 50 percent in the first five years after passage of Prop 215, a dozen regional task forces worked with DEA and IRS partners to target marijuana growers regardless of medical use. "Prop. 215 might fly in San Francisco, but not here," a Placer County deputy told the target of a 1998 arrest and prosecution.
Nowhere did local authorities repress medical users more than in the Eastern District, the sprawling federal court district spanning California's San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys and the Sierra Nevada, where Blake and Davidson faced charges.
Targetting the Pot Docs
Drug War strategists had pegged physicians as the weakest link in the med cannabis supply chain. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Clinton's drug czar, took aim at the doctors first, threatening to revoke the licenses of those who approved cannabis use by patients. A group of physicians and patients, with help from the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance, promptly sued the U.S. government on free speech and privacy grounds. The suit, called Conant v. McCaffrey, resulted in a federal injunction issued on First Amendment grounds upholding the doctors' right to discuss cannabis as a treatment option.
So the Feds passed the baton to the California Attorney General's office, via its agents in the state medical board's enforcement division, to crack down on physicians specializing in cannabis consultations. Despite specific language in Proposition 215 exempting doctors from retaliation by state officials, the Medical Board launched legal proceedings against several physicians based on evidence gathered by local undercover narcs who feigned symptoms to obtain a medical recommendation.
Unable to gag the doctors, the Clinton administration paid for anti-marijuana advertising and filed federal civil actions against a half dozen cannabis dispensaries in Northern California. It was the opening salvo of a seesaw legal battle, which culminated in a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative (OCBC) in April 2001. As a result, some of the six clubs stopped selling medical marijuana, but others remained in business in open defiance of federal law.
The OCBC ruling gave the Bush administration its first chance to escalate the federal assault on California's fledgling medical marijuana infrastructure. Assisted by local narcotics units, the Ashcroft Justice Department went after dispensaries, medicinal grow-ops and high-profile activists up and down the state.
Federal agents may have overreached when they raided the Santa Cruz cannabis hospice led by Valerie and Mike Corral. Elderly disabled patients were handcuffed to their beds, while men in paramilitary gear tore apart their gardens and living quarters. Local officials rallied behind the patient collective, openly distributing marijuana on the steps of City Hall the day after the heavy-handed bust in September 2002. This was followed by another public-relations fiasco a few months later, when Americans for Safe Access, a newly formed grassroots organization, convinced Bay Area jurors to denounce their own guilty verdict in the federal trial of cannabis cultivation expert Ed Rosenthal, who ended up with a one-day sentence.
Suddenly, it seemed like the government's bare-knuckled crusade against medicinal cannabis was foundering. Optimism increased among California med-pot activists, who were buoyed by several federal and state court rulings in 2003. In December, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Appeals Court ruled in favor of Angel Raich and Diane Monson, two California women who had sued the Justice Department for the right to use medical marijuana.
But just as the momentum appeared to shift in favor of the med-pot cause, the federal government launched a concerted rollback effort. Leading the rollback has been McGregor Scott, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the U.S. Eastern District, one of four federal jurisdictions in California, in March 2003.
Scott was known to medical marijuana activists as the overzealous Shasta County DA who prosecuted Rick Levin, a disabled contractor who had been cultivating for personal medical use. (Levin prevailed.) But Scott's elevation to U.S. attorney was welcomed by California law enforcement officials. "It's going to be nice to have a U.S. attorney who has a local perspective," said Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully.
Scott had been active in the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA). A board member for three years, he also chaired the CDAA small counties committee. When he assumed his new office, Scott appointed the CDAA's veteran executive director, Lawrence Brown, as his chief assistant. Brown, who hired his successor at the CDAA, would become Scott's point-man on medical marijuana.
Scott promptly met with the district attorneys of all 34 counties in the Eastern District to lay out the federal position on medical marijuana and other issues. He also sought to influence the state medical board. Joan Jerzak, the chief of the board's enforcement division, acknowledged at an August 2003 meeting that she had conferred with Scott regarding medical marijuana, and that he wanted a closer working relationship. "A management group will probably be the interface," Jerzak said as she asked the board not to reformulate its policy on medical marijuana until the Supreme Court ruled in the Raich case.
A key development was the October 2003 enactment by California lawmakers -- after 11th hour concessions to the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement -- of Senate Bill 420. SB 420 was written to "clarify" Prop 215 and protect patients from law enforcement's arrest-first policies. Sponsored by Sen. John Vasconcellos, the bill set a statewide minimum number of permissible plants and ordered counties to issue ID cards to qualified patients to shield them from arrest. The new statute also created more protection for caregivers, allowing them reasonable compensation for their time and services, and gave groups of patients the right to grow and distribute as collectives or cooperatives.
Although the California District Attorneys Association made sure SB 420 prohibited anyone from making a profit from pot, entrepreneurs opened more than 100 new storefront dispensaries within a year, many in previously unthinkable locations. Medical cannabis users in many rural communities came out of the closet. They started new patient groups or allied with statewide groups, and spoke out on behalf of public access to cannabis at storefront dispensaries before city councils and boards of supervisors.
SB 420 set the stage for the current battle over the proliferation of patient-run dispensaries. For the first time, local elected officials in scores of cities and counties were forced to take a stand on the issue, as increasing numbers of activists applied for permits to open dispensaries and local law enforcement objected -- or lobbied for preemptive moratoria and prohibitions. More than 100 California jurisdictions have proceeded to ban dispensaries, but another three dozen have expressly allowed and regulated the storefront distribution of medical marijuana.
SB 420 was the ultimate product of a task force created by Vasconcellos and Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat elected in 1998 to succeed the unpopular Lungren (who got only 39 percent running for governor against Gray Davis). Although Lockyer said he had voted for Prop 215 -- and would submit an amicus brief supporting Raich -- he was unwilling to rein in hostile local officials. Responding to an August 2000 plea for uniform county standards by the North State Sheriffs Association ("...the law desperately needs clarification"), Lockyer declined to issue new plant and possession guidelines, washing his hands of how local jurisdictions should act.
California police and prosecutors opposed to medical marijuana turned away from the state's top lawyer for advice about medical marijuana and instead looked to the state's private law enforcement associations. If ordered by a court to return pot to a defendant, "I have the counsel for the California Sheriff's Association telling me I'm committing a felony," remarked El Dorado Sheriff Jeff Neves at a meeting with patient advocates. In 2002, Yuba Sheriff Virginia Black had the California State Sheriffs Association ask other sheriffs to write letters to Ashcroft and DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson asking them to "resolve" the conflict between state and federal law. ("I urge you to contact your local DEA office," Hutchinson replied.) The same year, Martin Mayer, general counsel of the California State Sheriffs Association, issued an alert following a California Supreme Court ruling that overturned the conviction of Myron Mower, a 31-year-old blind diabetic arrested in his hospital room. "Does this mean that law enforcement should no longer arrest one in possession of marijuana if, for example, he or she has a note, letter, or prescription from a doctor?" Mayer asked, before declaring: "Absolutely not!"
At its 2005 Summer Conference, the California District Attorneys Association secretly issued a new opinion about SB 420 in a closed executive session. While the CDAA had inserted language in SB 420 prohibiting cooperatives from making a profit, now the CDAA went a step further and told the state's district attorneys that no money could change hands when a cooperative distributed medicine to a patient.
A PandoraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Box
If SB 420 had opened a Pandora's box of neighborhood marijuana dispensaries, the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2005 decision in Gonzales v. Raich gave federal authorities a powerful tool in their effort to close it. While the 6-3 decision against Angel Raich and Diane Monson -- whose medical cannabis had been grown and consumed within California -- did not overturn the law created by Prop 215, the justices reaffirmed the federal government's authority to enforce federal law.
On August 1, 2005, McGregor Scott sent a letter to all California's district attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs interpreting the Supreme Court decision. Local law enforcement had asked the U.S. Attorney's office for "possible enforcement action against 'medical marijuana' dispensaries," Scott stated, before citing the CDAA summer conference opinion as proof that the dispensaries violate California as well as federal law. Scott encouraged local agencies to first consult with their own district attorney regarding the potential for local prosecution. He also attached a copy of an article about SB 420 that ran in the Prosecutor's Brief, a quarterly CDAA publication.
Scott's anti-cannabis campaign set the stage for increased cooperation with local prosecutors, who have transferred a number of difficult medical marijuana cases to federal authorities, especially in the Eastern District. Armed with Scott's letter and the secret CDAA opinion, law enforcement opposed the opening of new dispensaries and pushed city councils and county supervisors to enact moratorium ordinances. The California Police Chiefs Association lobbied officials with the League of California Cities, and on a few occasions DEA agents or a DEA counsel attended city council meetings at the invitation of local police.
Relocated to the foothills of El Dorado County, McGregor Scott took a personal interest in the public discussion of a marijuana dispensary ordinance in the gold-rush town of Placerville, the county seat. After watching public-access television coverage of a city council hearing, Scott phoned the town manager, John Driscoll, to commiserate. The U.S. attorney told him the advocates who spoke at the meeting were simply in it for the money, Driscoll reported to associates.
Showdown in Southern California
In 2005 San Diego county supervisors refused to authorize the patient ID program mandated by SB 420, and filed suit to overturn the law. In December '06, a San Diego Superior Court judge rejected this suit (which was joined by two other counties) and upheld California's law permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes. San Diego Country officials have appealed the decision, and the case is pending.
Today there are 200,000 authorized medical marijuana users in California, which is the only state (among twelve that have legalized medical marijuana) with a significant aboveground pot business. Thirty-three of 58 counties have initiated ID card programs. But an ID card doesn't prevent searches of med-pot patients by local and state law enforcement officers, who still target medical marijuana providers and users in California, where doctors who recommend cannabis do so at their own risk.
Hardly a week goes by without another raid against med-pot dispensaries by the DEA in cahoots with unreconstructed drug warriors in one county or another. Southern California has been hit particularly hard in recent months with anti-med-pot sweeps in San Diego, the Los Angeles area, Bakersfield, Palm Springs, Morro Bay, Riverside and Orange County, and dozens of other cities.
Activists and patients hope the San Diego lawsuit and subsequent raids will be the last gasp of an ultimately futile effort to snuff out California's burgeoning medical marijuana scene, which continues to gain momentum. There are currently almost 400 med-pot storefronts and delivery services unevenly distributed throughout the state -- with 200 concentrated in the LA area. In North Hollywood alone, there are more pot clubs than Starbucks.
In April '07, the state Board of Equalization served notice that sellers of medical marijuana must pay state and local sales tax - a stipulation not applied to conventional pharmaceuticals. But the state has yet to meet its responsibilities by establishing commonsense rules and procedures to protect those involved in prescribing and distributing marijuana to the sick.
Thus far, there has been little decisive action from Attorney Gen. Jerry Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who persist in deferring to recalcitrant state and local law enforcement, which have been adamantly opposed to any legal sale of marijuana, even nonprofit exchanges, since the passage of the Compassionate Use Act. Even today, the California Narcotics Officers Association features on its website a position paper asserting: "There is no justification for using marijuana as a medicine."
As the drug warriors wage their war of attrition against medical marijuana, the human toll continues to rise. Facing the prospects of a decade in federal prison, David Davidson left Cynthia Blake and is now a fugitive. She agreed to plead guilty to a single felony that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in custody. Prosecutors offered leniency provided she testify against Davidson and reveal her erstwhile partner's whereabouts. In September, Blake was sentenced to 18 months in federal custody.