Why Marijuana Should Be Legal Now: Part 2 Myths and Facts
In Part One of this series, we explored the timeline of marijuana. From its use in clothing from as far back as 8000 BC, to it's more recent, propaganda-riddled battle against big business and corporate interests, the spread of marijuana across the globe is an interesting tale to say the least.
I would recommend anyone who hasn't yet, to read Part One; even you headier-than-thou-reefer-connoisseurs out there may learn a thing or two. I know I did. It also provides a clear cut backdrop as to what motives lay behind marijuana's illegality. The context of this issue is paramount when objectively choosing which side's arguments make more sense.
That being said, let's look at some popular myths and facts about cannabis.
Myths and their Coressponding Facts
Let's start off with the myths surrounding marijuana, which are largely influenced by the fact that cannabis is such a useful and multifaceted plant (more on that later). As we have shown in part 1, corporate interests were at the root of marijuana's initial shove into the pit of illegality and many of the myths that were contrived back then typically don't hold any water in today's world. Some of these include:
- Marijuana causes violent behavior, Marijuana leads to sex crimes, complete loss of control and psychosis, etc.: Ok, so anyone who isn't a total rube can tell you that these claims are completely outrageous. If you were to study a typical pot smoker in their natural environment (sounds like a funny reality TV show) you would soon find out that they are passive, happy, and most are not trying to do anything harmful to anyone else. Although I it's always dangerous to generalize things by blanketing a whole category of people (there are rotten apples in every bunch) I think it's safe to say that these myths are just plain ridiculous. I know it seems obvious but I had to get it out of the way.
Now that we've transcended obvious propaganda, let's take a look at some other myths which are ingrained as fact in the consciousness of the average Joe or Jane. These are a less easily pointed out as totally fraudulent and have most likely been accepted by the majority of the population.
- Marijuana has no medicinal or therapeutic effects: False. Marijuana has been used as a therapeutic drug for centuries. Recent studies have revealed that marijuana is effective at curbing nausea, helping muscles relax and be less spastic, and at relieving intra-ocular pressure associated with glaucoma. Sixteen states have already legalized it for medicinal purposes citing relief from chronic pain, as well as increased appetite for HIV and AIDS patients going through treatment.
- Marijuana can cause permanent mental illness or brain damage: The basis for this claim was a study in which rhesus monkeys were given 200 times the psychoactive dose of THC for humans, and their brains were examined after their death. The scientists found that the structure of their hippocampus, a region in the brain known to play an important role in memory and learning, had changed. Keeping in mind that rhesus monkeys are not large creatures (less than half the size of humans) should give you an idea of how ridiculous the doses had to be in order to have these results. Even in studies conducted with 100 times the psychoactive dose, no change to the hippocampus was observed. The most recent study had our monkey friends inhaling the equivalent of four to five joints a day for a whole year, and after their deaths no change in hippocampal structure was observed. Although the general consensus is that learning isn't as efficient while under the influence of marijuana, there is no evidence to support the claim of long term brain damage or mental illness.
- Marijuana is highly addictive: Marijuana users have no physical dependence on cannabis whatsoever. Even long time heavy smokers can quit with little strain on their lives. If someone trying to quit has any withdrawal symptoms they are extremely mild; perhaps some irritation or grumpiness. Compare that with a long time alcoholic trying to quit booze and you can clearly see the difference. The claim of psychological addiction is a moot point. Psychological addiction equals a habit. Think about the psychological addiction to coffee or even sweet foods, listening to music or running... you can become "psychologically addicted" to anything, that doesn't mean you can't stop. Critics may say, "Yes, but running is a positive addiction." Really? For everyone? Each person knows what is good for them and what isn't. If someone claims marijuana is a positive addiction then, so be it.
- Marijuana smoke is more harmful than cigarette smoke to the lungs: Please hold your laughter. All 599 additives in cigarettes aside, some people still believe this myth. Although there are a number of carcinogens present in marijuana smoke, your typical bud smoker isn't running through the equivalent smoke volume of a pack a day. Also, there have been no reported cases of lung cancer based solely on marijuana smoke. In 2006, the American Thoracic Society was presented with a study that demonstrated even heavy cannabis smokers showed no increased risk of lung cancer. Marijuana does not obstruct the lung's small airway, which is what leads to diseases like emphysema and bronchitis.
- Marijuana is a gateway drug: The premise of this claim is that since most users of harder drugs (cocaine, heroin, LSD) also use marijuana, then pot must have opened up the doors for them. It actually doesn't work that way. Most smokers of marijuana usually don't use any other illegal drugs. Yet, since weed is the most common and used illegal drug, then chances are, most of the uncommon hard drug users also partake in marijuana.
There are plenty of other myths and a bevy of disinformation out there about marijuana, given to us by authority figures who we may assume have our best interests at heart. One of my favorites is marijuana causes crime, an outrageous claim that anyone who has witnessed stoned behavior can testify against. Or that marijuana is the cause of amotivational syndrome or apathy... tell that to The Beatles, Steve Jobs, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pablo Picasso or any of the multitude of successful people who have enjoyed the use of cannabis.
Before we submit to viewing marijuana in terms of what danger it may potentially pose, we must first consider the source of the information. Does the source really have your safety and well being at heart or are they simply dumping a load of regurgitated disinformation on a public that has been taught to be fearful of a simple herb? We must question the motives behind such claims. If all these statements about pot are just myths, then why are they perpetuated?
Medicinal Facts About Cannabis
As we touched on in Part 1, there are several medicinal properties associated with marijuana consumption. These attributes aren't pulled out of the air, or loosely interpreted from ancient texts. Nor are they New Age pscyho babble about freeing your mind and connecting with nature. In fact, plenty of well established doctors and institutions have spelled out, in no uncertain terms, the benefits and reliefs smoking marijuana can bring. Here are a few examples.
Lester Grinspoon, MD, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, wrote in a Mar. 1, 2007 editorial in the Boston Globe titled "Marijuana as Wonder Drug":
"Cannabis is effective at relieving nausea and vomiting, spasticity, appetite loss and certain types of pain. And it is extraordinarily safe; safer than most medicines prescribed everyday. If marijuana were a new discovery rather than a well known substance carrying cultural and political baggage, it would be hailed as a wonder drug."
Although this excerpt of the editorial sounds like it could've been written by the friendly neighborhood stoner attending the community college, that's actually coming from one of the big chiefs at Harvard's Medical School.
The US Government Accountability Office lists sixteen symptoms under it's "Allowable Conditions Under State Medical Marijuana Laws"...
- Alzheimer's Diseases
- Chron's Disease
- Multiple Scelrosis
- Wasting Syndrome
As if it wasn't enough to have mountains of anecdotal evidence and plenty of scientific studies to support the medicinal value of marijuana, our own government concedes that there are at least sixteen diagnosed diseases that are acceptable to be treated by marijuana. Check.
Tod H. Mikuriya, MD, a psychiatrist and Addiction Medicine Specialist, published on the Internet on Feb. 21, 2001 his report titled "International Classification of Diseases 9 - CM 1996, Chronic Conditions Treated With Cannabis, Encountered Between 1990-2001." In this publication, Mikuriya lists 259 medical conditions that can be effectively treated with cannabis. These include all of the symptoms listed by the US Government Accountability Office for "Allowable Conditions under State Medical Marijuana Laws" but also include other conditions, some of which were diagnosed before the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act and then suppressed due to political agendas. Here's a few:
Insomnia, hypertension, sedative dependence, sleep apnea, stuttering, pulmonary fibrosis, psoriasis, delirium tremens, bipolar disorder,obsessive compulsive disorder...
The National Institute of Mental Health Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Regulation, noted on NIMH's website:
Electrophysiological, neurochemical, and behavioral studies have shown that cannabinoids (marijuana-like drugs) suppress pain neurotransmission... Basically what that means is that consuming cannabis can relieve pain. Remember how the human brain has cannabinoid recpetors? Apparently those receptors and the neurochemical associated with them (THC) can actually suppress pain.
In her book The Benefits of Marijuana: Physical, Psychological, and Spiritual Joan Bello drops science as to the effects marijuana has on our phsyiology. She shows how it effects our Autonomic Nervous System, all in positive ways. Here are some excerpts from her book:
Marijuana, by its effect on the ANS, enhances both sides of the brain. Through increased Sympathetic action, left brain perception is heightened, while, at the same time, right brain reception is enhanced. This is a physiological fact. More blood, and cleaner blood, is sent to the brain, as in the “fight or flight” reaction. And because of Parasympathetic dilation of capillaries, which signifies relaxation, the blood supply to the entire brain is increased. More blood means more oxygen and consequently clearer and broader thinking.
Since marijuana (smoking, as well as ingestion by other methods) dilates the alveoli, toxins are more easily eliminated with cannabis use regardless of its method of application.
When we ingest marijuana, the heart swells through capillary enhancement and is fueled more by more fully oxygenated blood, while, at the same time, its contractions and expansions are greater, allowing for stronger pumping action to the rest of the body.
It is clear from just these few sources that marijuana offers relief from all types of symptoms associated with disease as well as relaxes the body. So, now we are back to the same question, namely, why is it illegal?
The answer is actually quite simple. It is because it is feared by medical and pharmaceutical industries who've invested in artificial and more dangerous drugs and methods of treatment. If marijuana were legal these industries would stand to lose some of their money. They fight and lobby against fair, practical and beneficial marijuana reform laws to keep their costumers choosing pharmaceuticals (whose benefits only sometimes outweigh the risks) and ending up in the doctor's office or hospital waiting room again and again. It's sad that greed based on keeping people ignorant and unhealthy is at the root of marijuana's illegality. Speaking of greed, we haven't even looked at the other side of the cannabis family tree, hemp.
Hemp: The Super Plant
Let me start out by stating one definite fact: Hemp is not marijuana. Hemp is marijuana's more ambitious and practical cousin. While marijuana stays at home writing poetry and painting pictures, hemp is out there "getting 'er done", making clothes, rope, car parts- you name it. Hemp won't get you high, even if you were to smoke it. However, it can do almost anything else except get you high. It can clothe you, feed you, bathe you, fuel your car and guess what? Yup, its illegal.
I can see you, sitting there in your study, wearing your smoking jacket and monicle, scratching your chin and muttering to yourself, "Well, by George, if it can't get you high, why is it illegal?"
Very good question old chap. We touched on this point a bit in Part 1, now let's look a little deeper, shall we?
Hemp, as stated before is not marijuana. It is a tall and skinny plant with leaves concentrated at the top and can be planted very close together, 900 plants per square yard! Hemp will grow almost anywhere, requires little fertilizers, shades out weeds, resists pest and grows very quickly (only 70-110 days to maturity).
The plant's stalk is dried and broken down into two parts. The "bast" are the thread like fibers of the outer stalk and the "hurd" is the inner pulp. The bast is clean and spun into yarn or threads and is used for cordage, rope, carpet and is used as a durable high quality textile in everything from curtains and upholsteries, to backpacks, clothes and towels. The variety of fabrics made from hemp range from super durable materials such as burlap and denim down all the way to silk like material and lace.
Compared to cotton, hemp is more durable, stronger, more insulative and absorbent. It can also produce 1500 pounds of fiber per acre while cotton only produces 500 pounds. It also requires no agricultural chemicals, something cotton cannot boast, as it is estimated that half of all agricultural chemicals used per year are used on cotton.
The hurd of the hemp stalk is rich in cellulose and can be used to make paper. Unlike paper from wood pulp, hemp paper is acid free and does not crack, yellow or deteriorate. Also, unlike wood pulp, the paper made from hemp does not require chemical treatment to make paper. It can be used in the manufacture of anything that wood pulp is used for including diapers, cardboard, packaging, newsprint, and paper towels. Over a twenty year period, one acre of hemp will produce as much pulp as 4.1 acres of timberland.
Hemp will also make fuel from the hurds. Methane, gasoline, charcoal, and methanol can all be made from hemp, and it is a plant that burns with much less damage to the environment, containing no metals, sulfurs and does not increase the level of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere.
Hemp hurds are also used in the manufacture of non-toxic inks, paints, stains, varnishes, lubricants, and sealants, as well as industrial fabrication materials and construction materials such as insulation, particleboard, and medium-density fiberboard. Using hemp as a building material is not new, either. Archaeologists have found mineralized hemp bridges in France, which made stalks into a long lasting cement. Henry Ford constructed an entire automobile body from hemp in the 1930s and now BMW and Mercedes are incorporating hemp in dashboards and door panels.
Hemp oil can be extracted from the plant and used in a variety of products such as cosmetics and body care, soaps, and salves, nutritional supplements, and food products. Hemp seeds have the highest content of essential fatty acids in the plant kingdom along with a high protein content and can be made into nut butters, tofu, used as cereal, flour or protein powder.
Ok, now that I'm completely out of breath from running down the list of boosts and benefits of hemp for mankind, let's pause and think about the economic, environmental, and industrial impact of this amazing plant...
If a vision of a much easier, cleaner, more efficient future flashed before your eyes, you're not alone. Although it is cultivated around the world in countries like Canada, China, the UK, and all of Europe, it is still illegal to grow hemp in the US. I'm going to sound like a broken record here, but it is worth repeating: current industrial giants (coal, oil, wood, dairy, cotton) are afraid that the legalization of hemp would cramp their bottom line and are fighting to keep it illegal. Lawmakers also fear that regulating marijuana would become more difficult. Not like they're doing a good job now, but hey, anything to appease the current establishments, right?
Should the Cannabis Plant be Legalized?
Blah, Blah, Blah... What Now?
So here we stand, at the crux of a very big issue of our time. In a little less than a month, proposition 19 will be on the ballot in California. It would legalize, regulate, control and tax cannabis. Not everyone sees this as a good thing, however, even amongst marijuana users. In Part 3 we'll take a look at the future of cannabis both as a crop and as a medicinal drug. Until then, blaze your own trails and believe only that which you have evidence of, in your mind and in the world.