How is Cannabis Traditional Medicine?

by Dr. Michelle Sexton                       IMG_2380

Traditional medicine (TM) is the generational and societal healing wisdom that has developed sequentially by cultures, prior to the genesis of modern medicine.  The World Health Organization defines TM as “the health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant, animal and mineral-based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being.”

The contemporary exploitation of plant compounds, via the chemical revolution and the genesis of synthetic compounds, has culminated in modern chemically-based medicine that is unsustainable, and in many cases with questionable risk:benefit ratios. The United States is in a minority compared to 80% of countries that still primarily use traditional medicine to treat the whole person.   Some examples of these ancient approaches include Ayurveda, Siddha medicine, Unani, ancient Iranian medicine, Islamic medicine, traditional Vietnamese medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Korean medicine, and traditional African medicine systems such as Multi and Ifá.

The earliest written records of plant-based medicine or herbal/botanical medicine (sometimes known as “herbals”) from Egyptian, Chinese, Indian and Arabic texts all included Cannabis in their repertory. An Egyptian manuscript known as “Fayyum Medical Book” compiled knowledge dating from 6 BCE and discussed using topical application of an herbal mixture that included Cannabis (sometimes heated) for “curing” of tumors. It appears that Cannabis was often used topically also as  “a treatment for the eyes” (Papyrus Ramesseum III, A 26, ca. 1700 BCE.). There are records indicating that it taken internally to treat diarrhea, urinary problems, pain, spasticity, as a vermicide, as a love potion, for impotence, pulmonary congestion, anxiety, as an anti-inflammatory, and possibly to “cure anger and sorrow” (C. H. Oldfather, Diodorus Siculus, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1933, p. 470).  The ancient Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist Pedanius Dioscordes referenced hemp in his medical/botanical book “De Materia Medica” (50-70 CE) which is the primary source of historical information on Greek, Roman and other medicines of antiquity. Of hemp, he wrote:  “being juiced when it is green is good for the pains of the ears”. Pliny the Elder, who was a Roman naturalist, included hemp in a volume he wrote, Naturalis Historia, (77 CE). Skipping ahead to more modern times, the French writer M. Marcandier reported in 1778 that hemp was reported to be useful in thetreatment of “tumors”.  The term “tumor” may have been used to describe any kind of “abscess, sores, ulcers or swelling” but it is unclear if these tumors included what we consider today to be cancerous tumors.  Based on these documentations, Cannabis has clearly been an element of TM from the earliest recorded history to more contemporary times.

Dr. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy introduced Cannabis to contemporary western or “modern” medicine, around 1839 when he described successfully treated cases of rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera, tetanus, and epilepsy he observed at the Medical College of Calcutta. Upon his return to England in 1843, he introduced “Indian Hemp” as “an anti-convulsive remedy of the greatest value.”  Western medicine reacted promptly as a wave of cholera was in motion and in France, Dr. Louis Aubert-Roche, successfully used it in treating “the plague”. Hemp had also found its way into Hahnemann’s  and otherhomoepathic “material medica” from 1811, where it remains today.

The American Eclectic physicians, an early branch of American medicine that peaked around 1890, relied heavily on botanical use that they drew from the Native Americans. The Eclectics included Cannabis in their materia medicas (the contemporary “herbal” texts) at the turn of the 20th century.  The American Materia Medica (1919) by Finley Ellingwood (a major Eclectic practitioner) classified Cannabis as a narcotic. Roberts Bartholow was a more “conventional” American doctor at this time who did the first experiments with electrical stimulation of the brain. He dared to investigate the Eclectic’s claims and  classed Cannabis as a “cerebral excitant” (From the Eclectic Medical Gleamer, March 1912 vol.8,2). These opposite effects of being sedative and excitant may demonstrate what modern science would consider biphasic actions of cannabinoids at their receptors. Ellingwood’s text continues: “its mode of

Indian Cannabisaction is sedative, narcotic, anodyne and anti-spasmodic.  It acts upon disturbed function of the nervous system”.  The monograph goes on to describe therapy for “pain, insomnia, melancholia, hypochondria of the menopause, epilepsy, heart disturbance, functional disorder of the stomach, neuralgic dysmenorrhea, menorrhagia and metorrhagia, gonorrhea, arresting priapism, for genito-urinary infection and impotence, coughs, and laryngeal spasm”.  These are some of the documentations of the traditional use of Cannabis as a therapeutic agent.                                                                                                                   This brief, and in no way comprehensive, historical background is intended to demonstrate the documented ancient history of Cannabis as a TM. These documentations illustrate the efficacy and relative safety of this plant medicine and serve as the historical analog to western medicine’s drug approval process.  It is improvident to assign plants to reductionistic scrutiny that single-agent synthetic drugs should be subjected to, as the historical records speak for themselves. Also, the complex and synergistic way that herbs or herbal formulas work alongside other natural and traditional approaches to restore health, are too elaborate to reduce to the current gold standard of randomized controlled trials (RCTs), the defining feature of

Cannatolechemically-based medicine.  However, cannabis in inhaled and oral forms has been subjected to rigorous large RCTs for specific indications such as pain and spasm and has prevailed. There are adequate records to show that humans have known which plants are toxic and deadly, and which are helpful and healing by trial and error over centuries. Plants and human beings are biologically too intertwined for solely viewing their relationship through the impoverished current models that were designed for single agents and a more reductionistic approach to medical treatment and healing.

The trial-and-error method, or what might be viewed as “uncontrolled” clinical trials, continue today with a host of plant medicines, while increasingly “We the People” are turning to them for their greater safety profile and history of efficacy. Combine this movement with a return to nurturing our bodies, relationships, communities, societies, cultures and our planet, and there is room for hope of a healthy future. Indeed, there are lessons to be learned from the current phenomenon of cultivating and using Cannabis as a botanical medicine, such as how organic gardens, growing our own medicine, locally, cooperatively, and responsibly is a means to sustainable health.  According to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)  “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family including, food, clothing, housing and medical care . . .” (Art. 25 Sec.1).  May our right to pursue traditional medicine and natural health not be overcome by municipalities, higher governments, capital gain, healthcare plans or other forces that have high social costs and mitigate our larger freedoms to pursue the time-honored means of healing ourselves with plants.

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The current awakening to herbs, and specifically Cannabis, for medicine is a portal “back to the garden” of botanical and sustainable medicine that is misconstrued as “alternative” when it is in fact universal and time-honored. Animals and plants are made for each other.  We have co-existed from the beginning of time, with plants the servants that provide us food, shelter, clothing and medicine, thus sustaining our survival.  Cannabis: the gateway herb.  DSCN4038

 

Needless Suffering of Medical Marijuana Patient Embodies Federal-State Conflict: A Prison Extraction

Sunil Kumar Aggarwal at Huffington Post – Associate Member of the New York Academy of Medicine, Senior Resident Physician at Large Academic Medical Center in New York City

When I was in the graduate school portion of the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Washington in the Department of Geography, I had an opportunity to work with an intrepid defense attorney by the name of Douglas Hiatt, who brought me face-to-face with major health and human rights cases of persecuted, ill and disabled patients who were caught up in the federal-state conflict on medical marijuana. While the story I share below is from 2005, and was covered by the AP wire, it seems it is only in this age of majority support for ending the federal war on marijuana, when there is still doubt being expressed about the severity of marijuana prohibition enforcement, that people may be able to read and appreciate the full medical details of the following case. I did try to submit the write-up below to medical journals several years ago, but it seems like they were not yet willing to listen. Please lend me your ears and consider the consequences of a federal health policy built on denial of scientific fact of the medical utility of herbal cannabis.

Read the story here

Cannabis and the Medical Community

by Will Duffield

The past few weeks I have been attending classes at my local ambulance station, working toward getting my EMT certification. I think it is important to look at how new EMTs are taught to deal with cannabis, as protocols surrounding the substance are often influenced more by dogmatic  legal speculation than science, even within the medical field.

Our textbook contains a brief paragraph about cannabis in the toxicology section, terming it marijuana. According to the book, smoking marijuana produces “euphoria, relaxation, and drowsiness”, and also impairs “short term memory and the capacity to complex thinking and work”. While the validity of some of these observations can be questioned, the data available to those researching behavioral trends among cannabis users has been limited. Government prohibition of cannabis use, as well as social discrimination, leads many users to lie about their use. The textbook goes on to estimate that 20 million americans smoke cannabis every day. Most cannabis related emergency calls come not from the desired effects of cannabis, but from unwanted “anxiety and panic” that sometimes occurs.

I would have liked to see a discussion of the THC to CBD ratios present in most smoked cannabis, and how they might affect the user’s experience, particularly with regard to the possibility for anxiety and panic. The textbook notes that “A person who has been using marijuana rarely needs transport to the hospital”. When a marijuana user is in such distress that they wish to go to the hospital (EMTs cannot refuse to transport a patient) the textbook advises the EMT to “reassure the patient and transport the patient with a minimum amount of excitement”. In essence, we understand that you’re freaking out, man, and we will try to keep you calm and comfortable in our alien vehicle. This is a remarkably progressive approach, particularly when juxtaposed with police procedures which treat cannabis users as potential threats. In fact, the book draws strong connections between alcohol and murder, traffic injuries, and suicide, while making no mention of a similar connection between cannabis and mayhem. It does warn that marijuana may be laced with other drugs, and a call for marijuana intoxication may turn out to be something far more dangerous. This is a symptom of the current black market and its lack of nonviolent methods of contract enforcement.

It is important to understand how various segments of the medical community currently view cannabis, and why these views are held. To the extent that they are shaped by legal prohibition, they may change as cannabis is legalized, however, the “how” of legalization may influence, and be influenced by, the medical community.

The advent of legal cannabis in Colorado has lead to an increase in the number of THC infused edible products available to consumers. While adults will rarely mistake commercially sold  marijuana edibles for normal baked goods, young children cannot often distinguish between the products, as both often have brightly colored, easily opened packaging. Michael Kosnett, a toxicologist and associate clinical professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine has recommended that THC infused products be sold in childproof containers, as many modern medicines are. The problem could also be solved by more responsible parenting, and perhaps more respectful treatment of what is undoubtedly a mind altering substance.

While it is politically simple to treat cannabis like alcohol, in reality, the substances are incredibly different, both in effect and in how they are consumed. Children do not enjoy drinking vodka, and people do not die from smoking large amounts of cannabis. The medical community has accepted this to a far greater degree than our legislators and law enforcement officers, and has been quicker to address the unique specifics of cannabis.

*Textbook citation – Gulli, B., Ciatolla, J. A., Barnes, L., & American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2011). Emergency Care and Transportation of the Sick and Injured. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett.

Operation Medical Access Transition

by Dominic Corva, Executive Director

The passage of I-502 meant that its Legal Landscape would operate in conjunction with current Washington State Medical Marijuana legislation, until or unless the legislature acted to clarify the situation.  This is quite significant, since current Medical Marijuana statutes are much more liberal than I-502, despite offering less formal protection as affirmative defense.  Many current Medical Marijuana patients are justifiably concerned that if the Medical regime is subsumed under the Legal, more restrictive regulations regarding production, distribution, and retail will translate into lack of access to the medical care.  For instance, under I-502 no home grows will be legally permitted and consumers may only buy one ounce at a time at retail stores, if they can get to retail locations given restrictive zoning rules.

No matter what one thinks about the broad set of conditions for which one may become a medical marijuana patient in Washington State, a significant percentage of these are seriously ill and debilitated patients — patients that no reasonable person could accuse of “hiding” behind medical to get high.  Further, these patients often get free cannabis from their access points or from their caretakers, in the existing black- and grey-market industry.  For them, I-502 may take away their de facto (socially conferred) and de jure (legally conferred) right to affordable and accessible medicine.

This Project asks how Initiative 502’s relationship with current Medical Marijuana Policy in Washington State affects catastrophic patient access to medicine.  We will partner with existing medical dispensaries to select and track a sample population over time.

 

Cannabis is a particularly diverse economy

by Dominic Corva

Briceland, Sohum, Casa de Jakubal

I had the pleasure of visiting Kevin Jodrey at his propagation business, Garberville Grass, which is technically in Redway.  Propagation means breeding and cloning strains that are sold to 215-carded growers in Southern Humboldt, so all the plants there were strictly in vegetative state, from tiny clones barely removed from clipping to worn-out mothers brought into the sun as sort of botanical hospice care.

Kevin’s business is the only approved one of its kind in Sohum, a condition for which his regional credibility with municipal authorities and grower customer base played some part.  It was fascinating to learn about various ways in which Garberville Grass produces a social surplus above and beyond economic surplus — profits, and distributes that surplus among the population.  For instance, he recently learned how to produce organic inoculant tea (see photo), which multiplies like yeast from some samples.  These are given away from house barrels to customers that bring containers.  He also explains how to use it — something to do with local bamboo material and rice, apologies for the imperfect recollection.

How does this relate to our title’s “diverse economy”?  A diverse economy is characterized by lots of different capitalist and non-capitalist relations of production (think formal and informal markets, and hence black, gray and white markets for the purpose of our consideration).  It produces community resilience because lots of different values flow in lots of different ways, so a crisis in one kind of exchange can be absorbed by the heterogeneity of social resources.  It’s an ecological conceptualization of socioeconomic value, so if you understand the argument for genetic diversity, you understand the argument for economic diversity.  Diverse economies can flourish when they are not totally dependent on larger-scale mono-economic forces (think Finance, for example).  Diverse economies are therefore democratic economies, which means we aren’t just talking about distributing inoculant tea.  We are also talking about decentralized informal economies that play a part in cushioning forces of creative destruction unleashed by mono-economic forces.  How many distressed mortgages were saved by turning a McMansion into a grow-op?  How many parents in the recent financial crash paid their bills by growing or distributing Cannabis?  Is that number significant?  We know it could be because we remember the role the Bolivian coca economy played in absorbing surplus labor and generating foreign exchange in the 1980s.

Ray Raphael, a lifelong scholar and teacher of U.S.-American history, noted in his 1985 book Cash Crop that eradication efforts like CAMP made Jeffersonian small-scale rural agriculture possible by preventing the consolidation of the cannabis industry.  His argument about cannabis agriculture as a cash crop in a decentralized, democratic economy also holds for non-rural contexts. Domestic cannabis is produced by small-scale growers everywhere, and there are more of these than ever before all throughout the U.S, even as larger-scale cannabis agriculture also proliferates.  This is a situation shaped in no small part by policies of prohibition and practices of policing, and as these weaken against waves of state-level medical and legal Cannabis initiatives the obverse can be expected.  Right now, the consolidation of the cannabis industry into the hands of the Few, the Corporate, the Financed is far from fait accompli, but the un-diversification of diverse economies in which the Cannabis economy plays a part is a distinct possibility.

This is one of the lessons that will be learned from Washington and Colorado, though undoubtedly it will play out differently in both states.  Will the cannabis industry centralize?  If so, what are the effects of that?  Unemployment?  Decreased economic opportunity?  Will it affect women or ethnic communities?

There is some reason to be optimistic about what will be learned from Washington.  For totally different reasons, policymakers and consultants have consistently expressed an interest in preventing such consolidation.  One common reason given is so that industry profits won’t eventually soften attitudes towards allowing marketing, especially to children.  Corporate greed will work against the interests of public health — the risk of addiction — and the safety of children.  I share their latter concern, and note ironically that such a stance implicitly critiques the existing power of unregulated Capitalism and finds it wanting.  On the other hand, I think it’s possible that the more the population consumes cannabis, the less addiction problems it will have, especially to prescription drugs.

So the question may be, what kind of economy do we have? but the answer is, especially for newly Legal Cannabis, what kind of economy do we want?  Both of these are excellent research questions.

 

 

 

Cannabis is Food

by Will Duffield

This weekend at the Pennsylvania Libertarian Party convention, I had the pleasure of meeting Shawn House, owner of Lancaster Trading House, and creator of the Hempzel. The Hempzel is a classic sourdough pretzel created with both wheat, and hemp seed. After purchasing the Lancaster Trading House from its former owner in 1997, Shawn began contracting with several Pennsylvania bakeries to produce the Hempzel. The dietary benefits offered by hemp seed have attracted the patronage of both individual internet customers through his webstore, and many natural foods retailers. Hemp seed contains proteins and a balanced mixture of several essential oils as well as potassium and vitamin E. Hemp seed also contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, delivering many benefits in a small package. For those who seek all these properties in a plant based product, hemp is an essential food.

Since the introduction of the Hempzel, the Lancaster Trading house has started selling several other hemp based products including hemp mustards and gluten free hemp pretzels. While the Hempzels are baked locally, the hemp seed must be sourced internationally because of the current federal prohibition of all cannabis growing. Even though the hemp seed used in the Hempzels does not contain THC in psychoactive quantities, and is Test Pledge certified to ensure that consumers are not ensnared by drug screenings. Shawn must purchase his hemp internationally, a problem which often increases the cost of hemp based products. Despite these costs, the benefits of hemp add tremendous value to consumer products that incorporate the seed.

Shawn believes that hemp ought to be regulated not by the Drug Enforcement Agency, but by the Department of Agriculture. This sensible decision would help to revive the historical understanding of cannabis as a useful crop. Shawn warns against legislation that establishes minimum acreages for hemp growers. Current minimums in Canada prevent farmers from growing less than 20 acres of hemp, pushing hemp cultivation away from the realm of the individual farmer, and incentivizing corporate agriculture by shutting many small growers out of the marketplace. Historically, early Pennsylvania farmers would often grown an acre or two of hemp to supplement their main crop, often growing more when tobacco prices were low. Hemp historically added value to the crops of Pennsylvania farmers, and could do so again, were it not for current federal regulations barring the domestic growing of Hemp. Products like the Hempzel can help to revive domestic consumer demand for hemp in everyday foods.hempzelssd4_09_300h

Cannabis is Common Ground

A nice little facebook exchange with Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition, led to two more aphoristic observations from which research questions can be derived.  And by research here folks, right now I mean send me responses that can help shape how the research is designed and processed — democratically, not technocratically.

This exchange was inspired by the excellent analysis by “W.W.” from Houston Texas, writing in the Economist Blog.  W.W., if you are out there, the Center is very interested in meeting you!

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2013/06/marijuana-legalisation

So, here you go:

As we go along, I also want to incorporate a bit of scientific method, which is to say that we must clearly define our null hypothesis, and then try to disprove it by gathering data.

Null hypothesis:  Cannabis is never common ground.

Process: search for evidence that disproves the null hypothesis in a robust fashion.

Cannabis is common ground. Cannabis consumption has allowed otherwise disinterested, structurally more privileged citizens to learn about structural racism, structural problems with our medical system and so forth.

 

Have you experienced this?  Please comment below.

 

On a related note, Cannabis is a gateway to knowledge about one’s place in society at large.  Not for everyone, but for how many.  Null hypothesis:  Cannabis is never a gateway to knowledge about one’s place in society at large.  Evidence to the contrary disproves the null hypothesis …

Cannabis is Culture

"Southern Humboldt County California, August, 1978. A volunteer sativa plant out in the meadow. For decades, families and children have lived in multiple contexts which include cannabis culture."  -- Ursi Reynolds.
“Southern Humboldt County California, August, 1978. A volunteer sativa plant out in the meadow. For decades, families and children have lived in multiple contexts which include cannabis culture.” — Ursi Reynolds.

Cannabis is Culture.  How is it Culture?  Culture is shared system of meanings that help groups of people understand the world they live in.  It is dynamic and always evolving, rather than a thing people possess.  Cannabis consumption means different things in different cultural contexts, none of them inevitable.  Cannabis consumption was made to mean “a threat to society,” beginning in the early 20th century, by associating it with socially threatening populations: Mexican migrant workers during and just after the Mexican Revolution and Black Jazz musicians.  The construction of Cannabis as a social threat galvanized popular opposition to cannabis consumption as an acceptable cultural practice, setting the stage for Cannabis prohibition.

Part I

In the 1960s, Cannabis use was associated with political, economic, and cultural rebellion.  This was especially the case on college campuses where many white children of the middle class became involved in the Civil Rights movement, in many cases from direct participation as 1961 “Freedom Riders” challenging de facto segregation in the American South.  In the wake of this particular mobilization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, the youth wing of the Black Civil Rights movement), challenged their white allies to work in their own communities to end racism.  For increasingly disaffected white youth in higher education, this ended up meaning that they sited struggles from college campuses — perhaps most famously, at the University of California Berkeley.  Students led the Free Speech movement in the early 1960s, but as the Vietnam War expanded student movements de-localized, and created solidarity with global anti-imperialist struggles that constituted the invisible Heat of the Cold War.

At the same time, radical countercultural spaces like the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco exerted gravitational pull for a wide range of disaffected youth with varying degrees of political consciousness but a determination to find a place to which they belonged.  An offshoot of the San Francisco Mime Troop, the Diggers, created a model for sustaining such a place and constituting such a community, by organizing “Free” spaces in which social needs could be addressed:  the Free Store, the Free Clinic, Free crash-pads, and Free Music.  Not all counterculture was “left,” even as the term itself evolved from a predominantly class meaning to one that incorporated diverse identity politics, and not all “left” was countercultural.  We can, however, provisionally identify “countercultural left” as a tendency that was oriented to both external and internal revolution, with that word “revolution” meaning lots of different things to lots of different people.  Perhaps the most common meaning was that many people found their political paths by changing their consciousness as they consumed particular criminalized biota and molecules — plants and synthetics.  Cannabis and LSD were the archetypal food for doing so.

As the “law and order” politician became an increasingly viable career path, U.S.-American voters began to understand cannabis as a social threat that was embodied by the countercultural left, which in truth did hate “Amerika” as a symbol of capitalist greed, imperialist impunity, patriarchal dominance, and racist structures.  Many were intensly patriotic or nationalistic and didn’t conflate “Amerika” with the United States of America, a place where people could be free to live how they wanted to.  The Weather Underground, in their 1971 first Communique [link goes here], asserted that “Guns and grass are united in the youth underground.”  Cannabis became a symbol of social upheaval and revolutionary consciousness, perhaps even the culprit for so many white middle class youth adopting a subjectivity of the oppressed.  It was an easy target for rallying increasingly political evangelical voters engaged in the reactionary “culture wars.”

Next in “Culture”:  Back to the Land and “Beyond Counterculture.”