It is no secret that cannabis has been fighting an uphill battle to emerge from prohibition. For a number of economic and social reasons, cannabis has been designated as one of the most dangerous narcotics available to the public over the last eighty years. Few policymakers even consider that for thousands of years before the twentieth century, humans evolved right alongside cannabis and this plant is actually a main propellant of our success as a civilized species.

Currently, cannabis lacks the adequate scientific research and educational resources necessary to support a complete cultural revival. Many generations alive today have been deprived of accurate cannabis information, and only know the stories of horror and terror caused by “deranged marijuana freaks.”

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You will surely notice that I do not use the term marijuana. This word has been a weapon against cannabis culture. Yes, it is used in legislation. Yes, it is used in medical texts. But it has negative origins that invalidate any benefits of the plant. For this reason, I encourage the community moving forward to use the word cannabis when discussing or promoting our community.

Be Gentle: Cannabis is Personal and Means So Many Things to So Many People

I have been lucky enough to spend nearly all my life in California, a state where the majority of people feel cannabis should be accessible to medical patients. Or maybe many Californians do not see cannabis as a threat to society. Either way, I have had the fortunate experience of being introduced to cannabis as a plant that is medically beneficial and socially harmless. Still, not everyone has had the same experience as me, and it should come as no surprise that other Americans have formulated very different opinions than my own when it comes to cannabis.

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Cannabis has been associated with both positivity and devastation by policymakers and the media. There is evidence of medical efficacy, and there have been countless funerals resulting from drug-related crime. Cancer patients and epileptic children have been successfully treated, and those growing and distributing the plant have been condemned as criminals. I am unable to provide the exact solution to this predicament, but in an effort to make some progress in the discussion, I would like to present this simple platform for educating the public, and demystifying the dangers of cannabis.

To Establish Change, We Must First Evaluate the Current Climate for Cannabis

Cannabis is labeled by the federal government as a Schedule I Drug, with no acknowledged medical benefit and an alleged high potential for addiction. Changing the opinion of the government depends upon scientific data, which is hard to come by. In fact, securing approval for clinical research on medical cannabis is nearly impossible, requiring a strict three-part review process conducted by the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. If the federal review process had fewer obstacles for research approval, it would be one of the most substantial changes for the cannabis community.

UCSF Study Finds Medical Cannabis Could Help Patients Reduce Pain with Opiates

UCSF Study Finds Medical Cannabis Could Help Patients Reduce Pain with Opiates (source)

Due to anecdotal evidence, many states have passed legislation approving cannabis use in some capacity. There are twenty-three states that have medical cannabis programs, although some have different limits for medical access. Four states have passed laws for recreational cannabis, and are attempting to regulate their markets in accordance to potential conflicts with the federal government.

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Additionally, there are fifteen states that have passed CBD laws, including Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas. This phenomenon is recent, and is the result of mounting pressure from the parents of children suffering from seizures. Despite the lack of clinical evidence, the policymakers in these predominantly-conservative states have had to adjust their views on cannabis, even if only slightly. Still, this shift is a turning point on the path to America embracing cannabis.

Why We Must Take a Scientific Approach

Scientific evidence is the key to understanding cannabis. While we know so little about the effects of cannabinoids interacting within our bodies, many people certify that cannabis works for their medical issues.

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There are recreational and spiritual benefits as well, but to shift the cannabis paradigm, we must understand that clinical research is the ammunition in the battle for cannabis. Let’s review some of the existing research that is supporting the medical efficacy of cannabinoids:

  • Cancer.gov: FAQ page with great breakdown of cannabis and cannabinoid basics.
  • The Journal of American Medical Association: JAMA publishes articles on medical cannabis research, and although he articles are very dense, they are packed with information. You do need a subscription to access their texts directly, but if you find an article that pertains to a condition that is important to you, it is generally just a Google search away.
  • Raphael Mechoulam at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: Dr. Mechoulam has been a pioneer for cannabis research over the last fifty years. Israel has much more accepting laws and regulations for medical cannabis research, and Dr. Mechoulam has been at the forefront of publishing medical cannabis texts.
  • UCSD Center for Medical Cannabis Research: CMCR is a great source for recent scientific findings regarding the medical efficacy of cannabis. The articles are advanced, but can certainly provide insight if you are researching a specific medical condition.
  • National Institute of Health: This is not necessarily the most positive cannabis content due to current federal laws, but they do an impartial job of amassing positive and negative cannabis studies, which is important for a responsible debate.
  • The Cannabis Health Index by Uwe Blesching, Ph.D.: A comprehensive list of over 100 serious medical ailments and conditions, and the clinical research associated with that specific condition. The newest addition will be available in December 2015, and is potentially the most important book for those approaching cannabis for medical treatment.
  • NORML: The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is a great resource for cannabis information. While they do focus heavily on cannabis legislation, they certainly provide foundational information for those still tackling the basics of cannabis.

Project CBD: Non-Profit Uses Science to Engage the Conversation

Project CBD is a non-profit promoting cannabis education, access, and activism. Smoke Reports was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Mr. Martin Lee, the Director of Project CBD. We asked Mr. Lee about the current situation for cannabis, and what his organization is doing to help educate people on the subject.

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Mr. Lee explained Project CBD’s approach to providing education to the general public. By first focusing on the diversity of cannabis medicine, and gradually introducing the concept of cannabinoid ratios, Project CBD is able to prepare new patients with an understanding of cannabinoid synergy.

Project CBD’s Approach to Cannabis Education

“Project CBD is trying to be responsive to what is happening… We want to educate the medical marijuana community, and people in general, that there is more going on in cannabis than just THC… We work to educate people about the therapeutic value of the whole plant, and by focusing on CBD, a relative unknown factor in the community back then (2010), as a way of highlighting the whole plant beyond a single compound like THC.

The way to draw attention to the significance of CBD, adopted as part of the therapeutic regimen of the medical marijuana world, is to focus on the significance of pre-clinical results, which is very exciting with respect to CBD… There is a lot of confusion and misconception regarding CBD. People are inundated with ads for CBD products derived from industrial hemp. There is a lot of information circulating about whether or not CBD is legal. The whole thing is a bit muddled, but the priority information is not legality; it’s how to use it… With all the different ratios of THC and CBD now available in oils, doctors and patients can get very specific, and take measured doses of a specific ratio of a certain product…”

Understanding Cannabis Ratios and Cannabinoid Synergy

“There is still a lot of confusion because CBD has been misportrayed as the only medical part of the plant, and that THC is not medicinal… People think they want as much CBD as possible and as little THC as possible. That mindset is like a hangover from Reefer Madness… Not that CBD is not very potent as a molecule, but it contributes to an overall effect as a plant medicine… When you have the ratios available, it gives people the opportunity to find what’s right for them, and we are seeing good results with non-consistent ratios for different people…

We are finding that there is not really a perfect ratio for a condition. It’s more like different ratios are a set of tools that allow people to get to where they need to go using as much THC as possible while still feeling comfortable. Ironically, this is the challenge with CBD medicine. It’s not how much CBD you can take, but rather how much THC a person can handle, or wants to handle. The important thing is that you have some of both, beyond the ratio of hemp…There are a lot of possibilities for experimentation, and yet experimentation is the wrong word because it implies no one knows what they are doing. A better description would be that people are able to adjust when using different ratios… and of course, this should be done under a doctor’s supervision.”

Regarding Legalization, Research and Increased Education

“When it comes to evidence, there is a lot of scientific data out there but its pre-clinical, and that data does explain why people are anecdotally reporting having these positive outcomes… There are a lot of things happening on the federal level, on the state level, and people should be trying lots of different approaches and strategies to move this whole thing forward…The weakest link in all of this is physicians and doctors.

There needs to be state-wide classes available for doctors… We need to find the pioneers of this area, not necessarily scientists, but the people in the field working with patients and exploring the different ways of administering cannabis. These people have a lot to say about what’s happening, what is working, and what isn’t. This is real information that is being accrued and we need to get that information out to health professionals…

Project CBD’s role is really to help facilitate the training of doctors, help facilitate the production of quality medicine and to help facilitate the educational process so that the dispensaries and budtenders can better relate to patients who are interested and need these medicines. With this information available, these people are better equipped to actually talk to patients.”

– Interview with Martin Lee (5/11/15), Director of Project CBD and Author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational, and Scientific

Martin Lee’s evaluation of the current cannabis situation provides valuable insight into how the cannabis community can successfully introduce cannabis as a legitimate medicine, rather than a psychoactive narcotic.

Retelling the Cannabis Narrative

Scientific evidence from clinical trials will illuminate the benefits of cannabis, but conducting research means clearing many bureaucratic hurdles. The last eight decades of cannabis prohibition have stigmatized the plant in a very negative light. One of the most important steps the cannabis community can take to relieve cannabis of this burden is to retell the narrative of the human-cannabis relationship.

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In their recent book Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany, Robert Connell Clarke and Mark D. Merlin re-evaluate everything we once “knew” about cannabis. This text is a comprehensive exploration of the natural origins and early evolution of cannabis, and does a fantastic job of featuring the relationship between cannabis and social advancement.

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Over the past eighty years, the public has been exposed to “marijuana,” the dangerous drug that has been demonized with tales of drug-fueled minorities on their violent rampages of sex and crime. For cannabis to find any social success, we must abolish this derogatory interpretation and revisit the history between cannabis and humans.

“Most importantly, by consciously or inadvertently carrying seeds as they migrated, Cannabis became part of their transported entourage. Humans and Cannabis became linked in a number of ways very early on and remained so until modern times.”

– Clarke and Merlin, Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany

The narrative presented in Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany is not concrete, and leaves many details open to interpretation. Still, it is one of the clearest accounts of humanities exposure to cannabis. Early uses would have included fiber, food and fuel, and the importance of this resource would not have gone unappreciated by early humans.

The authors continue the narrative with an explanation on cannabis varieties. Humans clearly discovered that this was a multipurpose plant early on, and would have chosen to propagate the plants that best served their needs. Artificial selection of desirable traits resulted in generations upon generations of the long-term domestication of different cannabis species. Considering the probability of cannabis populations transitioning from feral to domesticated several times, it is clear there is a lot more cannabis diversity than just “indica and sativa.”

Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany is truly a fascinating read, and really does capture how important this plant is to the past and future of human society. It is a long read, but the authors do a fantastic job of weaving scientific language and imaginative storytelling in a way that keeps your eyes on the page.

Conclusion: Progressing the Cannabis Movement with Accurate Information

Bringing cannabis out of the shadows has been a decades-long battle, and as more states approach cannabis for medical purposes, the community should bolster its already large arsenal of anecdotal evidence. There is still so much more that needs to be accomplished for cannabis to truly become socially acceptable. The main focus in this endeavour should be educating the public, and to do this, the community needs to support scientific research and a more open approach to re-establishing a positive history of this plant.

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In recent California news, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom directed a commission for sensible cannabis policy and implementation. The findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy echoed these sentiments of education and public safety. With the main goal of protecting California’s youth from premature exposure to cannabis, Gavin Newsom and the rest of the Commission stress the importance of educational programs that extend to both medical and recreational consumption.

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As the cannabis movement continues forward, our community needs to uphold a united focus on education and research in order to legitimize cannabis so that a skeptical public can appropriately embrace this beneficial plant.

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