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the column of lasting insignificance...
—for July 4, 2015 by John Wilcock


What Is it?

What manner of plant is this, and how is it used?—

It is a plant—this thing that we are about to discuss: a green plant, a veryabundant and ubiquitous plant, an unusually valuable economic plant, possibly a dangerous plant, certainly in many ways a mysterious plant.
—Dr. Richard Evans Shultes (Random Thoughts and Queries on the Botany of Cannabis)

Marijuana varies in potency, depending on where and how it is grown, prepared for use, or stored. The active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is present in all parts of both the male and female plants but is most concentrated in the resin (cannabin) in the flowering tops of the female. more powerful form of the drug, hashish, is made by collecting and drying this resin.
—Encyclopaedia Britannica

The plant known officially as “cannabis” and unofficially (most often) as “marijuana” or “hemp” has proved, over thousands of years, to be one of the world’s most important natural resources. It has been used in virtually every country and culture to make fuel, clothing, rope and paper, among other things, as well as for medicinal and recreational purposes—depending on how it is cultivated. Illegal in the U.S. since 1937, it has been the subject of often intense debate—especially since the sixties, when it exploded onto the national consciousness as an integral element in the overall cultural revolution of that period.

After wafting in and out of the edges of the national spotlight for several decades, the plant and the controversy surrounding it have recently returned with a vengeance, thanks mainly to increased press coverage (including TV documentaries, Time, Esquire and Atlantic Monthly cover stories, and many appearances in the popular Doonesbury comic strip), and to the recent passage of propositions in several states making it legal (under certain conditions) for doctors to prescribe it for medicinal purposes. (A tug of war between these states and the federal government is currently being waged, and promises to grow ever wider, as more and more similar state propositions are passed.)

Among other factors leading to the renewed interest in marijuana have been the recent, very successful publication of two landmark books on the subject, Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes and Rowan Robinson’s The Great Book of Hemp. As Herer’s book, especially, shows, the plant—far from being some kind of evil curse, to be shied away from—has played an important part in the history of the United States. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other of our forefathers cultivated it as a valuable plant for a variety of worthwhile purposes, including medicinal.

And now, more than ever, the question remains: Should marijuana be legalized or should it not?

Inasmuch as millions of Americans regularly break the law by using “pot” (risking, in the process, often severe prison sentences), the question is a fairly urgent one, affecting a sizable portion of the populace.

Many arguments have been put forth recently in support of both positions—with experts as well as laymen sharply, and often eloquently, divided by the issue. So let us cast this debate in proper perspective, and think ourselves way, way back to the very beginning:

Somehow, sometime, out of the vast void, God or whatever-there-is-instead-of-God, Big Bang/natural selection—whatever—brought forth an incredibly wide variety of plants, most to be used or simply enjoyed as we see fit, some dangerous few to be handled with extreme care, others to be used judiciously . . . plants, in other words, to be used but not abused. Obviously, what is now urgently needed is a clear-eyed assessment of each of these plants, to discern its effects, all across the board—environmentally, economically and psychologically.

That tobacco is legal and marijuana is not, for example, makes little sense to anyone who fully understands the properties of each. This is not to say that the abuse of marijuana isn’t harmful—but only to the extent that any substance one ingests, from apples to rutabagas, can be abused. And despite the hackneyed claim by former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese that marijuana is a “gateway drug” leading to the use of harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin, it is estimated that some 65 million Americans have used marijuana, while only two million have tried heroin.

“Must be a narrow gate,” commented the noted columnist Stephen Chapman, who offered to bet Meese “his next house loan” that the first drug used by 95 percent of cocaine and heroin users was actually aspirin.

Moderate, non-drug-abusive smokers have long known that this much-maligned herb is nonaddicting and that in sensible amounts it does not impair physical and mental faculties. So maybe it’s time to clean up our fudgy thinking and start saying something like: “Say no to some drugs, yes to others.” Or at least: “Say no to drug abuse.”

Making a start toward reducing jail overcrowding is just one benefit that legalization of marijuana would bring—along with all those to be found in the plant itself.

Cannabis is an herbaceous annual, that is, a leafy plant with little or no woody parts which grows for a season, dies down, then springs up again the following year from its own seed. The seed is essential, since cannabis will not regrow from last season’s roots. Cannabis is dioecious; it requires both a male and a female plant to reproduce itself. Both sexes have flowering tops and both produce resin, containing the psychotoxic (mind-intoxicating) tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The male, however, is essentially useless to those who want to acquire the psychotoxic effects of the resin because what little resin is in its body is difficult to obtain. The male plant can, however, be used as a substitute for tobacco and may be smoked in either cigarettes or pipes with minimal psychotoxic effect.

The male and female cannabis plants look very much alike to the casual observer, but their reproductive functions become quite specific as the plants mature. When the male plant blossoms it produces flowers that open wide, exposing pollen-laden stamens, the tiny life-bearing male anthers. The female also produces flowers containing an inconspicuous pistil, or egg-bearing female flower, which patiently awaits the arrival of the pollen. The female plant must depend upon a properly directed wind to bring the pollen to her. Other plants can rely on insects for the transportation of their pollen. Not cannabis. Insects steadfastly refuse to have anything to do with the plant. So cannabis is quite literally propagated by the breeze. Once a capricious wind has wafted the pollen to the female, reproduction begins, mature seeds form and fall to the ground, and the cycle begins again.

The female of the species is the hardier of the two. The male, once it has served its reproductive purpose, dies. Under controlled agricultural circumstances the male does not even die naturally. Growers yank it out by the roots once pollination has occurred. In India where cannabis cultivation has been highly developed, the male never gets the chance to pollinate the female—the plant is destroyed once it begins to show its sex. The Indians provide a “ganja” (marijuana) doctor who travels up and down the commercial fields trimming the lower branches of the female plants to better encourage resin production, while at the same time eliminating the male plants. Indians believe the female plants yield much better ganja if they are not fertilized.

Cannabis lives from spring to fall, then dies. Next spring it reappears from the seeds that are unbelievably hardy. As long as the seeds can be protected by a soft covering of soil or leaves, cannabis will continue to spread as a wild weed. Under these conditions resin production tends to increase and its potency becomes much more marked. Cannabis does particularly well in areas where the soil is disturbed each year. Flooded plains provide an excellent medium for growth. Shady, stable areas will not permit the plant to reproduce itself, for cannabis thrives on soil instability. In general, it may be assumed that if thistle, milkweed, dandelion, and similar weed growths do well, cannabis will do even better.

Those interested in cultivating cannabis as “hemp”—that is, for industrial purposes—are more concerned with plants grown in cold or temperate regions where the subsoil is moist and the rain is abundant. Plants growing in these areas are soft and fibrous and thus of greater commercial value. Hot, dry areas, on the other hand, produce brittle fibers and the resin produced in contrast to that occurring in plants grown in colder areas is copious, heavy, and sticky. The stickier the resin the greater its intoxication potential. Thus marijuana users prefer a plant grown under circumstances unfavorable to the best commercial hemp products.
—Edward R. Bloomquist, M.D.

Cannabis has been considered as a breeder of crime, especially in psychopathic individuals, a concept supported by the acts of violence presumably committed while under the acute influence of the drug. Suicide, homicide, and sexual assaults have been blamed on marijuana. It has been contended that inhibitions are removed and personality traits exaggerated, and that the criminal is thereby emboldened to do violence. Evidence on which the above view is based is not always of the most acceptable variety. The sociological, psychiatric and criminological aspects of marijuana were studied and reviewed by W. Bromberg (1939) and D. D. Shoenfeld (1944), and no positive relation could be found between violent crime and the use of the drug. Marijuana is no more an aphrodisiac than is alcohol, and the drug apparently is not used for sexual stimulation. No cases of murder or sexual crimes due to marijuana were established, and Shoenfeld concluded that the smoking of marijuana was not associated with juvenile delinquency. Marijuana habituation does not lead to the use of morphine, heroin, cocaine, or alcohol, and the associated use of marijuana and narcotic drugs is rare. Indeed, strong alcoholic beverages counteract the psychic effects of marijuana and are avoided by the habitué.
—Dr. Louis S. Goldman and Dr. Alfred Gilman

On numerous occasions over the centuries, including several times in recent decades, fakirs in India have allowed themselves to be buried alive without air, food, or drink before reliable, educated witnesses from the West. Days later, they are revived in front of those same witnesses, emerging from their interment in perfect health. Supposedly, no scientific explanation has ever fully accounted for the phenomenon, but perhaps overlooked in the rash of hypotheses is one first published in 1855, by the Bavarian scientist Baron Ernst von Bibra (1806-1878). In his book Plant Intoxicants, a detailed study of seventeen psychoactive plants, von Bibra suggests that hashish [a cannabis preparation more potent than marijuana] may be the fakir’s secret:

Hibernating mammals prove indeed that a condition very similar to [a live burial] may occur in warmblooded individuals with an active metabolism. I was able to convince myself that such a condition can be artificially brought on or put off at will, by artificially changing the temperature. In man, however, such a condition can only be produced by narcotic means that cause his metabolism to slow down considerably. We noticed that, in all cases, small doses of hashish produce an increased appetite; large doses, on the other hand, may easily have the opposite results. It is possible that some of the fakirs possess a hemp preparation that enables them to undergo the described experiments.

In support of von Bibra’s idea, cannabis is reputed to help Hindu sadhus bear long fasts, and it also helps peasants to endure long periods of famine, as noted elsewhere.
—Rowan Robinson

It is quite difficult to know what people mean when they talk about psychological dependence. Hundreds of Englishmen demand bacon and eggs for breakfast and feel they have not started the day properly without it. Is this psychological dependence? Usually the term is used in the sense that people are upset if they are deprived of something they like very much. Thus people could be described as psychologically dependent on chocolate, on sexual intercourse, on anything that gives pleasure. Clearly this is far too general to be a useful definition, but it is difficult to limit it in a meaningful way.

Most cannabis users can stop smoking pot without any difficulty (A. W. Watts, 1965), and the question that interests the user is unlikely to be “Can I stop?” but “Why should I stop?” One is tempted to dismiss the whole concept of psychological dependence as just another way of saying that some people will go to a great deal trouble to obtain what they want. But there is a bit more to it than that.

A few people are obsessed with the idea of getting a supply of cannabis when they run short, and everyone who uses it has to break the law. It is unlikely that anyone would break the law to get a bar of chocolate, but very many people would do so if sexual intercourse were illegal. The term psychological (or psychic) dependence is misleading unless it is defined more precisely. All that can be usefully said about cannabis is that a few users will do dangerous and silly things in order to get the cannabis they want, the majority will go to some trouble to get their supply, and a fairly large minority will merely take pot when the opportunity arises and will feel no distress without it. This makes it clear that the extent of psychological dependence depends in the main upon the personality of the user and much less on the intrinsic effects of the drug.

It is probably true that anyone who smokes pot every day over many years has developed a psychological dependence on the drug. The same might be said of those who take tea or coffee every day. But in fact most users do not take cannabis regularly on a daily basis, but are more likely to have it on weekends and on other occasions when they have time to spare without the smoke interfering with work or study. So they are much less likely to form a habit than those who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol every day.
—Michael Schofield

“When introduced into the system, marihuana affects two areas: the mind and the body. The effects come almost immediately (within a few minutes) when marihuana is smoked, and in a half hour to an hour when ingested. . . . There are slight changes in the cardiovascular system; a small rise in blood pressure, an increase in heart beat, and some congestion around the eyes . . . but none of these changes are beyond the normal margin of safety. There is often a desire to urinate. The mouth and throat begin to feel dry, and thirst is realized. The appetite frequently grows enormous. Blood sugar and the basal metabolic rate are elevated, but here, too, not beyond the upper limits of normal. There is a pupil dilatation and the eyes’ reflex to light is slow. The skin becomes sensitive to touch . . . certain feelings [occur] such as the top of the head flying off, the limbs becoming more mobile. and a general strength or lightness sometimes appears, indicating a stimulating effect. . . . The area surrounding the eyes often gets reddish, and the throat feels dry. The flow of saliva seems slowed down, for the smoker often desires any liquid or sweet. The almost irrational desire to put some object into the mouth to quell this feeling is referred to as a ‘regression to the oral stage.’ Perception of distance is not impaired by sight, but physical actions, such as walking up a flight of stairs, often seems like an entire journey.”
—John Rosevear

“If you are smoking, by some sort of transposition or intellectual quid pro quo, you will feel yourself crouching and packed together like tobacco, the strange power of smoking yourself. . . . Here, then, is happiness. with all its intoxications, follies and puerilities. You can swallow it without fear—one does not die of it. Your physical organs will be in no way affected. . . . The simplest words, the most trivial ideas, assume a new and strange guise; you are actually astonished at having hitherto found them so simple. Incongruous and unforeseeable resemblances and comparisons, interminable bouts of punning on words, rough sketches for farces, continually spout from your brain.”
—Charles Baudelaire

“The effects of this drug have been frequently and luridly described: disturbance of space-time perception, acute sensitivity to impressions, flight of ideas, laughing jags, silliness. Marijuana is a sensitiser . . . it is not habit-forming. I have never seen evidence of any ill effects from moderate use.”
—William S. Burroughs, in a letter to Dr. Dent in the British Journal of Addiction, 3 August 1956

“At San Francisco General Hospital 5,000 acute drug-intoxications were treated in 1967. Despite the high incidence of marihuana use in San Francisco, no ‘marihuana psychoses’ were seen. In fifteen months of operation the Haight-Ashbury Clinic has seen approximately 30,000 patient-visits for a variety of medical and psychiatric problems. Our research indicated that 95% of the patients had used marihuana one or more times and yet no case of primary marihuana psychosis was seen.”
—D. E. Smith, medical director for Haight-Ashbury Clinic, Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, 1968

“I’ve smoked two marijuana cigarettes in my life. The first time I ended up staring at the test pattern on a television set for about five hours. The second time I got so hungry I nearly ate the furniture in a hotel room.”
—Shirley MacLaine

“Grass sits you down on your fanny. You can’t do anything but see things.”
—Joni Mitchell

“Pot isn’t a performance-enhancing drug, unless you happen to be in a Cool-Whip-eating contest.”
—Kevin Matthews, Chicago radio station WMVP-AM

“A lot of people don’t understand that not everybody should get high. If you smoke dope and it makes you paranoid and gives you diarrhea, or whatever, don’t do it.”
—Tommy Chong

exerpted from our latest book...
Marijuana—The Weed That Changed the World

National Weed (1974, issue #3)


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