Marijuana: What's behind the smoke?
Today, Canada has legalized the recreational use of marijuana and will issue pardons for people who were convicted for the possession of 30 grams or less.
This makes the country the world’s largest marketplace for pot and its pardon policy further signals the trend in how states should protect and prioritize the medical needs of its citizens.
Including those to regulate, decriminalize, or entirely legalize the use of marijuana.
The first country to legalize the recreational use of cannabis was Uruguay in 2013.
The country gave citizens (not tourists) the right to personally grow and purchase marijuana at a state mandated price. The decision was a bold move for then President, José Mujica who said the law had three objectives: “(to) undercut the criminal profits of an industry whose annual worth is estimated to be between $30 and $40 million; keep regular consumers away from illegal sales places known as street selling points; and provide drug users with a product absent of harmful substances through regulated sales in pharmacy.”
However, due to political delay, Uruguay has failed to actually implement the law.
Due to social uncertainties and political contention, seven out of ten Cannabis users in Uruguay still purchase marijuana from “the street”. This “half-baked” approach has resulted in users’ continued purchase of untested marijuana from the black market. Thus, sustaining a supply chain which still empowers organized, armed, and violent crime.
The Failed “War on Drug” Approach
Canada’s approach towards marijuana is progressive to say the least. Today the majority of the world lives in a society where marijuana is stigmatized and illegal.
In the United States more than half of all drug arrests are because of small amounts of the weed. While the U.S. only makes up 5% of the global population, they have the world’s largest incarceration rate. Globally, 22% of all people in jail are incarcerated by the United States.
Most disturbing, is that black and white people consume marijuana at similar rates. However, black people are three times more likely to be arrested and imprisoned than their white counterparts. To reiterate, the majority of people being convicted and imprisoned are not violent criminals. They are not major drug traffickers. They are: black men. All of which highlights how existing drug policies have been armed to target vulnerable communities rather than criminal power structures.
Currently, in the United States the number of black men in prison and under correctional control (probation or parole) is double the amount of black men that were enslaved during the pinnacle of slavery.
This doesn’t just mean that individual men (without a criminal history) are being targeted by a system which robs them of their liberty and labels their existence as “criminal”. Instead, this illustrates, on a wide scale, how entire communities of color are being torn apart for years and family households are reduced to a single-source income.
Given that the current drug policies of the U.S. are implemented unequally, there is a direct correlation between mass incarceration of minorities and drug policies. Which strengthens the conclusion that: the current system has resulted in the criminalization of minorities.
Therefore, misinformation about cannabis exists to serve an oppressive political agenda and doesn’t significantly disempower violent criminal drug lords.
The Benefits of Legalized Research
Regardless of a manufactured rhetoric or fear mongering, the fact is: legalized marijuana has produced more transparent information about the individual and social effects of consumers.
A macro analysis of regions that have legalized marijuana, does not show increases in illegal activity or violence. Instead, legalization is more linked to a decrease in alcohol consumption. The Journal of Law and Economics published a study indicating that traffic-related fatalities significantly decreased in areas that have legalized marijuana.
Thus, these persistent myths about the plant have been fortunately dispelled because of legalized research.
“Gateway drug” or “Exit drug”?
Today’s research illustrates how thousands of opioid users, drug addicts, and alcoholics are turning to marijuana to overcome their substance abuse. Thus, for millions of people it is more accurate to say that marijuana is an exit drug.
The University of British Columbia conducted a study that suggested Marijuana not only treated addiction, but also aided those with mental health issues particularly for those who suffer from depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
When millions of people die from legal substances like alcohol, tobacco, and opioids: we must critically examine why existing drug policies are in place, what the actual results are, and who do they primarily affect.
Therefore, as a global community, we should be weary of any state sanctions that limit the capacity of our health and wellbeing. Which is why the main purpose of this article is to provide better information regarding marijuana’s relationship with humanity through a historic and scientific lens.
A Quick Chronology of Cannabis
Cannabis is one of humanity's oldest crops. It has been used for centuries by ancient societies for medical use, spiritual rituals, and burial practices.
One of the first references of medical marijuana can be found in the Ebers Papyrus (1550 B.C.). The papyrus was discovered in Egypt and is known as one of the oldest medical textbooks in the world. It cites Cannabis as a remedy for ailments such as inflammation and as an aid for pain.
In Northern China, archeologist discovered Cannabis buried inside the 2,700 year old tomb of a Shaman in the Gobi Desert.
In a completely different part of the world, Cannabis was discovered in the ancient Viking Oseberg Ship, which had been buried underground and was likely built in 800 A.D.
Thus, cannabis has existed in cultures across time and space. It’s benefits have been documented and utilized as key aspects of social participation and self care.
Coming to The Americas
While not native to the region, it was in the Americas where it “took off”.
The best information suggests that cannabis was brought to the Americas by Spanish Conquistadors as late as 1550. In 1619, the first settlers of Jamestown were mandated to grow hemp. By the 1700s, Founding Fathers of the United States like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and first president George Washington all grew hemp.
The plant, being one of the fastest growing plants on earth, was used for its fiber in industry. With a similar fabric to linen: it was spun for the production of textiles and paper. “Hemp rope” was used in sailing ships. Moreover, in its refined form, it was used for animal feed, and from the hemp seeds came the oils.
Therefore, regardless of legality or climate, we know that cannabis has proven to be a resilient plant capable of growing nearly everywhere on earth. This was nature’s doing. But in order to understand the medical benefits of marijuana we must first look to the human body.
What’s a “Cannabinoid”?
All humans have a complex physiology in their bodies called the Endocannabinoid System. The Endocannabinoid System exists throughout the entire body and its tissue. It is a natural “communication center” between the body and the properties found in cannabis.
THC and CBD are the most basic elements (cannabinoids) of cannabis. There many other elements but THC and CBD are the most common. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive element. CBD (Cannabidiol) is a non-psychoactive element.
Endocannabinoids are the body’s natural neurotransmitters which allow cannabis molecules like THC and CBD to bond with brain and body receptors.
Because these cannabinoid receptors exist throughout the body and brain, it can naturally treat a wide variety of ailments such as anxiety, chronic pain, inflammation, and immune health. But the primary function of the Endocannabinoid System is to restore the immune system.
What this means, is that the human body was designed to receive and use the information transferred from the plant. This natural and unique physical communication between the human body and marijuana does not exist for alcohol or tobacco.
Sativa, Indica, or Hybrid?
There are two types of Cannabis: Sativa and Indica.
Although they both get you “high” they have been grown in different climates for centuries, and thus produce different effects to the body.
Overall, most marijuana strains are within a hybrid range. Being a mix of both Sativa and Indica. All strains contain both THC and CBD.
In general, Sativas have higher levels of THC. Thus, users have a more psychoactive response, a “head high”. Consumers of Sativas demonstrate more brain activity and increased levels of dopamine. This “high” is experienced by users feeling more creative, energetic, and having increased focussed.
On the other hand, Indicas generally have higher levels of CBD which produce a muscle relaxing effect commonly referred to as a “body high”. Pure CBD consumption can give individuals pain and inflammation relief without mind altering effects.
Depending on your condition, or desired experience, certain strains may be more beneficial than others. Those who suffer from severe depression often claim to feel more optimistic, energetic, and able to complete daily tasks when consuming Sativas.
Alternatively, those who suffer with chronic pain, anxiety, PTSD; have expressed feelings of relaxation and relief when consuming Indicas.
A Chemical Romance
Despite questions of legality, cannabis today has reached a peak in cultivated perfection. Why? Simply because technological advancements in the cultivation and extraction of THC and CBD can now create the “strongest” strains of marijuana ever.
Also, hydroponic growing systems have allowed growers to cultivate more evenly crystalized buds in a shorter time frame and without any soil.
Other methods like heat presses have allowed growers to extract THC oils at highly concentrated levels. Creating the most potent market of flowers, edibles, and oils.
While cannabis can be consumed by smoking, eating, vaping or dabbing. No method of consumption is necessarily better than the other, it really is a matter of preference.
However, the most significant advancement in the treatment of marijuana can be seen in the concentrates. These are “waxes” or “oils” (butter or hash) that are pure extracted THC. So true to their name, concentrates have a much higher percentage of THC than in their flower form. These are typically consumed by “dabbing” or vaping. When inhaled, the substance consumed is not dense enough to constitute smoke, therefore, in that sense: vaping is technically a healthier means of consumption.
Medical & Spiritual: Not Criminal
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has classified THC and CBD and CBD extracts as a “Schedule 1 drug”. Meaning the Federal government believes Marijuana is categorically the same as heroin or cocaine. Furthermore, Schedule 1 drugs are believed to have no medical value.
Moreover, the United Nations Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2017 (published last march), advised against legalization of marijuana. Even criticizing Canada’s parliament stating that it would be in “contravention” of international agreements.
But the current Secretary General of the United Nations (and Portugal’s former Prime Minister), António Guterres begs to differ.
“We can promote efforts to stop organized crime while protecting human rights, enabling development and ensuring rights-based treatment and support. I am particularly proud of the results of the reforms I introduced in Portugal when I was prime minister almost 20 years ago.”
-António Guterres, March 13 2018
Even if his message (given a month after the INCB report was published) may ring subtle to some years, it carries the weight of a former head of state who decriminalized drugs.
In his second term as prime minister, Guterres achieved what the New York Times called “one of his signature measures” in the year 2000. With the decriminalization of all drugs, in an effort to combat rising heroin addiction. Portugal witnessed a significant drop in overdose deaths and HIV infections.
The United States is currently experiencing its own opioid epidemic. With numbers that put opioid related deaths from overdose at higher rates than from guns and car crashes.
The fact is no one has ever died from a Marijuana overdose, because it's impossible. Marijuana is “addictive” in the same way that coffee is, however individuals do not experience a life threatening toxic withdrawal. The same cannot be said of serious withdrawal from alcohol or opioids.
Also, keep in mind that according to the World Health Organization: alcohol kills more than 3 million people each year and tobacco kills more than 7 million. Both of which “enjoy” widespread legal status.
Which is why the question remains: why is it that marijuana, a natural plant, remains illegal? Especially when we know it can treat a variety of ailments and does not possesses the documented harmful effects of tobacco or alcohol.
What’s really behind the smoke
The current model of criminalization is not designed to confront the conditions which push people towards addiction or dependence. Instead, the model of incarceration is profit driven. And does not target drug lords or violent criminals.
This disproportionately affects minorities, creating a cycle of criminalization for those who don’t wield any political power. So rather than seeking to preserve the criminalization of marijuana, states should be devoted to providing accessible healthcare and social services to their citizens.
The history of humanity and the science of the human body reveal that marijuana was available, and even meant to be consumed. As such, it irrefutably has a place in the medical community and should be approached within the scope of the right to public health.
Being classified as a Schedule 1 drug eliminates any federal research of marijuana. Which allows the U.S. government to perpetuate policies that result in discriminatory practices which overwhelmingly affect minorities.
While a large part of the establishment wants marijuana to continue to be outside of regulation and just a “criminal” issue, it’s clear that with regulation, and by treating this issue as a right to healthcare: more actionable data has been obtained for better public policy.
Myths are being broken, the data speaks for itself, and policy is being redrafted. Canada’s decision the legalize marijuana would reveal the economic and social benefits for states to follow this trajectory. Perhaps the economic incentive will encourage other states to enact policies that meet the needs of its citizens.
Perhaps the times are changing. Or perhaps, humanity is going back to its original relationship with nature’s ubiquitously growing green herb.