Cannabis Break Down: Cannabis 101

Although I am new to cannabis reform activism, I am not new to the experience of its use. I started consuming when I was about 19 or 20 and I am now 35 so that gives me about 15 years of experience with the herb in one way or another.

Some of you, new to cannabis, will find that impressive while others listening will think me nothing but a young pup, still wet behind the ears. Either way, I am sure the truth lies somewhere in between, kind of like Wikipedia graffiti or Wikiffiti, as I like to call it.

While it is impressive, it is not the fact that I have been smoking for a decade and a half that should impress and while I am still a young pup, that is not what makes me wet behind the ears.

What should impress is that for all those years I was ignorant, my eyes closed to how truly versatile, beneficial, and necessary this plant is, blind to anything but its qualities of recreation. It was as if my having head submerged in a bucket of toxic waters of urban legend and reefer madness, unknowingly, like most people, frantic and clambering for a way out.

I did not realize how negatively these things influenced my frame of mind until I stumbled upon NORML Show Lives  podcast and started to learn that cannabis was more than a recreational substance; it was as if someone pulled my head free of the bucket, and gave me a towel to wipe my eyes.

I believed many incorrect quote unquote “facts” of reefer madness and the typical urban mythology that springs up tailored to the local tongues. Not to mention those custom-made head games your brain plays as an unwitting and unknowing soldier in a war that governments around the world wage on their citizens that societies allow to persist.

Now I know the Endocannabinoid system in the human body responds well to all the forms of Cannabinoids or active chemical compounds, like THC, produced by the Cannabis genus of plants as medicine and for general health and wellbeing. I suspect, as science better understands the interaction of cannabinoids within the human body it will revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry; as long as the government does not give them sole reigned over research by moving it from Schedule I to Schedule II, allowing them to make super drugs out of the compounds found in pot.

However, it is not just the tens of, if not hundreds of, medicinal applications that make it such a valuable and advantageous plant but there are also tens of thousands of means to utilize the plant agriculturally and industrially. From nutritious food products made from the seeds and oils, to fibers for cordage and textiles as well as biodegradable replacements for plastics and other petroleum based products. That list goes on and on and on and if that is not enough reason to legalize there are approximately 35, 000 deaths a year from alcohol consumption with a whopping zero deaths a year from cannabis. You heard right folks; no one dies or has died in the last 5000 years of recorded history from the use of cannabis.

I will not assume that all those listening no nothing of the plants benefits to humankind, in fact most of you will have heard most of this being loyal listeners of either JDR, CSA, NSL or any of the other badass shows on The NORML Network, got to love free plugs, right? That or you are one of my friends or family who have heard me going on and on about these matters already.

For those of you with your head stuck in that bucket of murky water, consider this your helping hand out and complimentary towel to wipe your eyes dry. Now let us take a walk and talk of these matters as student’s talk of new discoveries made in traversing the pages of their assigned text.

Let us start with a brief, extremely brief, history of Cannabis.

Evidence goes back over ten thousand years with hemp fiber imprints found on potter from what is now China and Taiwan. Three-thousand five-hundred BCE to two-thousand five-hundred BCE evidence of its use in religious and medical rights and rituals as well as agricultural applications found throughout the Central and East Asian, Eastern and Central European, Mediterranean, and African cultures. The use of the Cannabis plant continued in various forms and cultures from the Aryans or Indo-Persians who brought its use to India which is later included in the Vedic’s to the Scythians who Herodotus, a Greek historian, remarks on its use for spiritual and recreational uses around the fifth century BC. A few hundred years later, the Chinese make the first paper from hemp and mulberry about 100 BC and by 70 AD, people where growing cannabis in England. For the next thousand years, it spreads throughout Europe becoming a staple crop for many countries and peoples. By one-thousand one-hundred AD, Muslims use hemp to produce the first paper in Europe and its use continues for the next eight hundred and fifty years. In the year 1492, Columbus sails the ocean blue while hemp rope and sails make this voyage possible. Cannabis cultivation made its way to the Colonies by no later than 1611 and by the 1920’s cannabis was a staple crop worldwide with some cultivation found in most countries while supplying eighty percent of the world’s textiles.

It has only been with the last 100 years that any laws where established to prohibit the cultivation and use of cannabis when South Africa outlawed the plant. The first national prohibition of cannabis in the United States was The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act which although the law itself did not outright outlaw all the varieties of cannabis it did greatly restrict the ability for anyone, including doctors to prescribe it, to cultivate, sell or use cannabis seeing as how the government did not issue any tax stamps. Though hemp did get a brief repeal during WWII when the United States government needed farmers to grow hemp to make the rope and textiles needed for war but when the war was over so was hemps return to agricultural cultivation in America. It all goes downhill from there and by 1973 against the advice of his commission to end the prohibition of marijuana President Nixon declares the War on Drugs and forms the Drug Enforcement Agency or DEA. Although, during the middle and late 70’s eleven states had decriminalized (removed the criminal penalties for possess of cannabis) the end of the decade saw a drastic turn of events leading into the 1980 elections. President Regan’s administration saw the escalation of hostilities with the enactment of mandatory minimum sentencing. By 1996, a beacon of light appears with California passing Proposition 215 and now 16 states and the District of Columbia, have some form of medical marijuana programs with legalization looming in one of the states come the 2012-election season.

Well that ends the history lesson; we can see that humanity has a long tradition of utilizing this plant for a multitude of purposes throughout various cultures, now it is time to look at current events in the world of cannabis.

Although taxonomists, scientists responsible for describing, identifying, naming, and classifying organisms, categorizations of the plants have changed over time, current classification by the United States Department of Agriculture groups all cannabis as the species Cannabis sativa L. with indica and sativa being subspecies with hemp typically being Cannabis sativa L. containing 1% or less THC. Our government uses this classification to keep it in line with federal laws prohibiting Cannabis sativa L. to avoid challenges in court on the basis that it may have been Cannabis indica for all the court knows. The Feds like to change the rules to fit the laws established making the plant in all form illegal, even hemp which cannot get you high.

For the general public we typically have three classifications; hemp which most of us understand as the varieties used for agriculture and industrial applications and then we have sativa and indica most commonly known for their recreational uses but are now recognized more and more for their therapeutic medicinal properties.

Thus, we can see the plant has three main categories of utilization with our society, within agricultural and industrial sectors, the health, and medical communities, and the most recognized of all its uses, recreational. Let us start with the most familiar of these its usage for recreational purposes.

As most of us are familiar, you can smoke or vaporize the plant or various extracts like hash and hash oil to inhale the THC and other cannabinoids to experience the psychoactive effects of THC and some of the other sixty-six or more cannabinoid compounds. These are the fastest means by which to feel the psychoactive properties with the highest peak but the quickest rate of decline usually bottoming out within a half hour. For those of you who do not already know, vaporizing is when you heat the buds, hashish or hash oil to a point at or below the boiling point to release the desired chemicals while avoiding those produced when burning plant matter. This reduces the harms of inhalation of high temperatures cause to the lungs by smoke and avoids the release of carbon monoxide and the creation carcinogenic compounds. Other means to consuming cannabis is the ingestion of edibles or food goods made from ingredients such as butter and oils infused with the cannabinoids by heat extraction. Edibles take from a half an hour to an hour and a half to set in being one of the slower methods of achieving the high and the peak is substantially lower than that of inhalation but provides the longest sustained high. There are many traditional drinks comprised of heating cannabis and tea or other herbs in water with some type of saturated fat to release the cannabinoids. One of the most common traditional drinks being tea with either milk or butter added during the preparation process; these tend to be less potent than edibles due to the need to apply heat for longer periods than a typical brewed drink calls for to reach maximum potency of the cannabinoids. There are other methods such as the use of ethanol alcohol, vinegar, or glycol to extract the cannabinoids, much like vanilla and other extracts, called tinctures. You can also eat or juice the raw plant material weather it is fresh or dried and again get similar effects to those of edibles but without heating the plant materials, they are less potent.

Now do you recall hearing me describe the effects of THC’s high as psychoactive, sounds like a bad thing correct? While it sounds quite an impressive word, not to mention scary, it is not as bad as it sounds. We find psychoactive chemicals throughout day-to-day life from caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol to many common prescription drugs such as all opioid and coca (the base plant for cocaine) derived drugs, barbiturates, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, analgesics (pain killers) and anti-inflammatory based pharmaceuticals to name a few. These compounds cross the blood brain barrier and primarily act upon the central nervous system affecting brain function, which changes perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behavior. We accept this as a society with so many dangerous psychoactive substances in particular alcohol and tobacco both of which are responsible for well over 400,000 deaths a year (yes that is a lowball figure for my mathematically inclined listeners who know those statistics already) but recoil when the word is used towards illicit drugs, in particular cannabis. Although the fact that so many legal products are psychoactive gets left unmentioned to the public but it is often brought up when prohibitionists talking of cannabis, if one where to speculate it does seem probable that this knowledge of so many legal goods would remove the shock and awe value of a word such as psychoactive.

Besides THC, it contains other cannabinoids that although active are not psychoactive and the ratios of these compounds to one another alter THC’s effects. Scientific research sheds new light on the way these compounds interact with the neurotransmitters in the brain and body acting upon our Endocannabinoid system that our ancestors discovered millennia ago. Well known to the medical community is the ability to relieve nausea and vomiting caused by many conditions and pharmaceutical regiments used to treat diseases. It also stimulates hunger in patients who suffer from wasting associated with AIDS, chemotherapy and a variety of other diseases and disorders. Reduces Inter Ocular Pressure of the eyes associated with glaucoma and it is a proven analgesic or pain reliever. Over 50 studies show that the naturally occurring cannabinoids in marijuana have the ability to stop some forms of cancer from growing and in other types; it triggers cell death; first noted in 1973 yet this information was known to the government and was not released until decades later. The list goes on and on from multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, Crohn’s and other diseases of the bowels, mental disorders such as bipolar, depression , and anxiety to Parkinson’s, PTSD, epilepsy and many, many more conditions. You will not here me claim it will cure all of humanities medical woes but what we can learn from and about the way the compounds interact within our bodies stands to change the medical profession as we know it.

In addition to being one of if not the safest recreational substance available and the most medically effective plants and plant compounds it is also the most versatile natural resource available to humanity in the form of hemp. With tens of thousands of uses, including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction materials, fuel, healthy nutritious food products, and one of the fastest growing biomass’ which requires little pesticides and no herbicides this plant is the most valuable crops on the planet.

Yet this plant, it’s cultivation and distribution is federally outlawed in all forms in the United States of America labeled as a bane to its citizens with no medical value that poses great harms to the user and society, slandered as a slayer of children’s youth and corruptor of nations that leads people to crime, hard drugs, death and destruction. This image of cannabis has to change and consumers becoming knowledgeable and spreading the truth is how we will accomplish this necessary change in image, which will lead to legalization.

You can listen to this article from Grass-Roots Radio Active Marijuana’s 4-20-2011 Special here.


About TriXteR Phillips

Founder and Jack-of-all-Trades at Stand Up and Speak Out a volunteer organization devoted to providing the public with safe, legal, and supportive events on 4-20 to help bring public attention to the need to end cannabis prohibition for all humanity. Founder, Admin, Blogger, and Jack-of-all-Trades at TriXteR Phillips: A Poison Thorn in Prohibition's Side.
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19 Responses to Cannabis Break Down: Cannabis 101

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