` Holy Smokes: What You need to know about Marijuana & it’s Legalization | GBRI
 

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Section 1: Intro and History:

Smoking is a cultural and habitual vice that human beings have been doing for centuries. Smoking a substance whether it is legal, such as tobacco (see the previous article if you wish to learn more), or illegal such as cannabis (depending on where you live), is one of the fastest ways to get the desired substance in your bloodstream in order to feel the desired effects. What determines whether a substance is legal or not usually has nothing to do with the actual negative effects on one’s health. Instead, there is usually an alternative motive such as business profits or politics. This cannot be clearer than when dealing with tobacco and cannabis.

Cannabis, also known as weed or marijuana, has been around for centuries. In fact, the oldest known object related to cannabis was a hemp rope found in Czechoslovakia dating all the way back to 26,900 BC. For those who are unaware, hemp is the male version of the cannabis plant. The female is the only one that grows the buds that are used for smoking purposes. For most of human history, cannabis was not only legal but was an important crop that held commercial, medicinal, and spiritual value among many cultures. To put things into perspective, cannabis has been illegal for less than 1% of the time that it has been in use.

The cultivation of cannabis can be traced back at least 12,000 years, making it one of humanity’s oldest cultivated crops. Cannabis plants are believed to have evolved in Central Asia in the regions of Mongolia and southern Siberia.  The earliest cultural evidence of this cultivation can be found from the oldest known Neolithic culture in China, the Yangshao.  From 5,000 to 3,000 B.C the economy of the Yangshao was cannabis-driven.  Archaeological evidence shows they wore hemp clothing, wove hemp, and produced hemp pottery. The first record of cannabis’s medicinal use dates to 4000 B.C. as it was used as an anesthetic during surgery.

From China, coastal farmers took cannabis to Korea around 2000 B.C. or earlier.  It reached India between 2000 B.C. and 1000 B.C. when the region was invaded by the Aryans, a group that spoke an archaic Indo-European language.  It became widely used in India, where it was celebrated as one of “five kingdoms of herbs … which release us from anxiety” according to one of the ancient Sanskrit Vedic poems. They worshiped the spirits of plants and animals, and cannabis played an active role in their rituals.  Like the Chinese, the people of India have a long history of using hemp in their clothing and cannabis-derived medicine.

The use of cannabis also played a large role in ancient Egypt and has been recorded as far back as 2,000 B.C., found on scrolls depicting medicinal plants.  Here, it was first documented to treat sore eyes and cataracts.  According to Diodorus Siculus, a Sicilian Greek historian, Egyptian women also used cannabis as a medication to relieve sorrow and bad humor.  In 200 BC, the Greeks mention of it as a remedy for earaches, edema, and inflammation. From there, the cannabis plant made its way to Britain during the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the 5th century.

 

With regards to the United States, there is some slight confusion of when cannabis was first introduced. The plant was well known from the colonization of the early 1600’s but however did not reach public awareness as a recreational drug until the early 1900’s. America’s first cannabis law was enacted at the Jamestown Colony of Virginia in 1619. It was a law “ordering” all farmers to grow Indian hempseed, and there were several other “must grow” laws enacted over the next 200 years. In fact, you could be jailed for not growing hemp during times of shortage in Virginia between 1763 and 1767. Also during most of that time, hemp was considered a legal tender. The United States Census of 1850 counted 8,327 hemp “plantations” (minimum 2,000-acre farm) growing cannabis hemp for cloth, canvas and even the cordage used for baling cotton. Hemp was such a critical crop for a number of purposes that the government went out of its way to encourage growth.

It was the 1900’s when the fate of cannabis took a turn for the worst. To understand how we ended up at this point, it is important to go back to what was happening in the United States in the early 1900’s just after the Mexican Revolution. At this time we saw an influx of immigration from Mexico into states like Texas and Louisiana. These new Americans brought with them their native language, culture, and customs. One of these customs was the use of cannabis as a medicine and relaxant. The Mexican immigrants referred to this plant as “marihuana”. It must be noted that Americans were familiar with the term “cannabis”, as it was a common ingredient in almost all tinctures and medicines available at the time. However, Americans were unaware of the term “marihuana”.

The illegalization of the cannabis plant was ultimately a product of racism, propaganda, and business interests. With the influx of Mexicans, bad feelings developed between the small farmer and the large farms that used cheaper Mexican labor. Then, the depression came and further increased tensions, as jobs and welfare resources became scarce. To combat this so-called “Mexican problem”, people targeted one obvious difference, the fact that they smoked “marihuana”.  Many states quickly followed with marijuana prohibition laws, including Wyoming (1915), Texas (1919), Iowa (1923), Nevada (1923), Oregon (1923), Washington (1923), Arkansas (1923), and Nebraska (1927). These laws tended to be specifically targeted against the Mexican-American population. For example, In Texas, a senator said on the floor of the Senate: “All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff [marijuana] is what makes them crazy.”

Soon after the marijuana prohibition laws, eastern states began to attribute the “problem” to a combination of Latin Americans and black jazz musicians. Marijuana and jazz traveled from New Orleans to Chicago, and then to Harlem, where marijuana became an indispensable part of the music scene. Again racism was part of the white man’s charge against cannabis. For example, newspapers in 1934 editorialized: “Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.” This was the beginning of the use of fear tactic propaganda in order to misinform and influence the public. Two of the main fear-tactic rumors spread were: one, that Mexicans, Blacks, and other foreigners were snaring white children with marijuana; and two, the story of the “assassins.” Early stories of Marco Polo had told of “hasheesh-eaters” or hashashin, from which derived the term “assassin.” In the original stories, these professional killers were given large doses of hashish and brought to the ruler’s garden (to give them a glimpse of the paradise that awaited them upon successful completion of their mission). Then, after the effects of the drug disappeared, the assassin would fulfill his ruler’s wishes with cool, calculating loyalty. Within a short time of this, marijuana started to be linked to violent behavior.

The two men first responsible for the all-out war against cannabis were Harry Anslinger and William Randolph Hearst. In 1930, Harry Anslinger became the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), a new government agency with the opportunity to define both the problem and the solution. He immediately realized that opiates and cocaine wouldn’t be enough to help build his agency, so he latched on to marijuana and started to work on making it illegal at the federal level. Anslinger immediately drew upon the themes of racism and violence to draw national attention to the problem he wanted to create. He also promoted and frequently read from “Gore Files”, which were racist, un-factual anti-marijuana tales and statements. Examples include: “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”, “You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.”, and “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”

Harry Anslinger got some additional help from William Randolph Hearst, owner of a huge chain of newspapers. Hearst had lots of reasons to help. First, he was known to hate Mexicans. Second, he had invested heavily in the timber industry to support his newspaper chain and didn’t want to see the development of hemp paper in competition. And lastly, telling lurid lies about Mexicans (and the devil marijuana weed causing violence) sold newspapers, making him even richer. These propaganda techniques are referred to as yellow journalism.  An example of this can be seen in a nationwide column published: “Users of marijuana become STIMULATED as they inhale the drug and are LIKELY TO DO ANYTHING. Most crimes of violence in this section, especially in country districts are laid to users of that drug.”

Hearst and Anslinger were then supported by Dupont chemical company and various pharmaceutical companies in the effort to outlaw cannabis. Dupont had patented nylon and wanted hemp removed as competition. The pharmaceutical companies could neither identify nor standardize cannabis dosages. As well, people could grow their own medicine and not have to purchase it from large companies. This all paved the way for the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which put cannabis under the regulation of the Drug Enforcement Agency and criminalized possession of the plant throughout the country. This was a cleverly devised legislature that used the term marijuana in the legislation and did not publicize it as a bill about cannabis or hemp. At this point, marijuana was a sensationalist word used to refer to Mexicans smoking a drug and had not been connected in most people’s minds to the existing cannabis/hemp plant. The legislature also did not account for the two types of cannabis, the psychoactive female and the non-psychoactive male (hemp). Thus, many who had legitimate reasons to oppose the bill weren’t even aware of it.

These anti-cannabis propaganda techniques were then later used by President Nixon in 1971 to start the War on Drugs. This was ultimately a campaign designed to allow the federal government to deal with the protesters of the time, who were seen as a threat to what they were working for. They knew that protestors of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights activists generally used substances like cannabis and LSD, so they used their habits as a way to be able to lock them up.  The War on Drugs has led to politicians wanting to appear tough on crime and passing tougher penalties, constant increases in spending on law enforcement and prisons, racist application of drug laws, taxpayer funded propaganda, stifling of opposition speech, and political contributions from corporations that profit from marijuana being illegal (pharmaceuticals, alcohol, etc.) which all can be seen today.

Section 2: Benefits of the Cannabis Plant:

It is clear that the illegalization of cannabis stems from racism, the spread of misinformation, and the financial interests of those who would lose money if cannabis was legalized. But is cannabis actually more harmful to your body than the legal tobacco? The answer is no, it is in fact much healthier for you than smoking tobacco.

The medicinal and psychoactive effects that we associate with cannabis are caused by unique chemical structures called cannabinoids found in the actual plant. To date, there have been 86 cannabinoids identified in nature. The major psychoactive ingredient in cannabis is delta-g-tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly referred to as THC. The second most common ingredient in cannabis is cannabidiol or CBD and is very prevalent in hemp varieties of cannabis. CBD actually lacks any noticeable psychoactive effects and does not really interact with the body’s cannabinoid receptors. That’s right; your body is naturally designed to interact with these substances.  Despite the lack of psychoactive properties, plenty of evidence is starting to show that CBD has valuable medicinal properties. It works in concert with THC, augmenting its medical effects and moderating its psychoactive effects. Some researchers think that CBD has antipsychotic properties which tend to reduce anxiety and panic reactions to THC. It is also considered to improve wakefulness and to supplement THC’s activity against pain and spasticity.

Due to the Age of Information, we are learning more and more about the deceitful nature towards cannabis in the past. This is giving rise to more and more scientific studies to determine the actual benefits that the cannabis plant provides. We are starting to notice the incredible healing nature of this plant and all that it can be used to treat.

Cannabis can be used to treat and prevent the eye disease glaucoma, which increases pressure in the eyeball, damaging the optic nerve and causing loss of vision. According to the National Eye institute, cannabis decreases the pressure inside the eye.  “Studies in the early 1970s showed that marijuana, when smoked, lowered intraocular pressure (IOP) in people with normal pressure and those with glaucoma.” These effects of the drug may slow the progression of the disease, preventing blindness.

Cannabis may also help to reverse the carcinogenic effects of tobacco and even improve lung health.  According to a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2012, cannabis does not impair lung function and can even increase lung capacity. Researchers looking for risk factors of heart disease tested the lung function of 5,115 young adults over the course of 20 years. Tobacco smokers lost lung function over time, but cannabis users actually showed an increase in lung capacity.

Cannabis has proven to be a highly effective method for controlling seizures, such caused from epilepsy or a disease called Dravet’s Syndrome. In a 2003 study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, marijuana extract and synthetic marijuana were given to epileptic rats which rid the rats of the seizures for about 10 hours. There is also the famous case of Charlotte Figi, who is a young girl with Dravet’s Syndrome. Her family treats her using a medical marijuana strain high in cannabidiol (CBD) and low in THC, now called Charlotte’s Web. The use of this medicine has decreased her seizures from 300 a week to just one every seven days. The doctors who recommended this treatment say that the cannabidiol in the plant interacts with the brain cells to quiet the excessive activity in the brain that causes these seizures.

CBD may also help to prevent cancer from spreading. In 2007, researchers at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco reported cannabidiol stops cancer by turning off a gene called Id-1. Cancer cells make more copies of this gene than non-cancerous cells, and it helps them spread through the body. The researchers studied breast cancer cells in the lab that had high expression levels of Id-1 and treated them with cannabidiol. After treatment, the cells had decreased Id-1 expression and were less aggressive spreaders. The use of cannabis may also be able to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. A study done in 2006 at the Scripps Research Institute found that THC slows the formation of amyloid plaques by blocking the enzyme in the brain that makes them. These plaques are what build up and kill brain cells resulting in Alzheimer’s.

Cannabis has also been shown to help with muscle spasms. In a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, 30 multiple sclerosis patients with painful contractions that didn’t respond to other treatments reported they were in less pain after smoking cannabis for a few days. The THC binds to receptors in the nerves and muscles to relieve pain.  Smoking cannabis has also shown to treat diaphragm spasms in Leeuwenhoek’s Disease, which were otherwise untreatable by other prescribed, very strong medications. These spasms are not only painful but interfere with breathing and speaking. Smoking cannabis has shown to calm the attacks almost immediately, calming the muscles in the diaphragm. Also, a recent study in Israel shows that smoking cannabis significantly reduces pain and tremors and improves sleep for Parkinson’s disease patients. What were most impressive were the improved fine motor skills among patients.

Patients with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have also shown to benefit from cannabis use. Researchers at the University of Nottingham found in 2010 that compounds in cannabis, such as THC and CBD, interact with cells in the body that play an important role in the gut function and immune responses. THC-like compounds made by the body increase the permeability of the intestines, allowing bacteria in. The plant-derived cannabinoids in cannabis block these body-cannabinoids, preventing this permeability and making the intestinal cells bond together tighter. Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disorder that causes pain, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and more. A recent study in Israel showed that smoking a joint significantly reduced Crohn’s disease symptoms in 10 out of 11 patients, and caused a complete remission of the disease in five of those patients.

Contrary to popular belief, smoking cannabis can also keep you skinny and boost your metabolism. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2013 suggested that cannabis smokers are skinnier than the average person and have healthier metabolism and reaction to sugars, even though they do end up eating more calories caused by the munchies. The study analyzed data from more than 4,500 adult Americans, 579 of whom were current cannabis smokers, meaning they had smoked in the last month. About 2,000 had used cannabis in the past, while another 2,000 had never used the drug. They studied their body’s response to eating sugars: their levels of the hormone insulin and their blood sugar levels while they hadn’t eaten in nine hours, and after eating sugar. Not only were the cannabis users skinnier, but their body had a healthier response to sugar.

Cannabis use has also shown to have several positive effects on your brain. For instance, cannabis usage has shown to cause increases in creativity. One study tested participants on their ability to come up with different words related to a concept, and found that using cannabis allowed people to come up with a greater range of related concepts, seeming “to make the brain better at detecting those remote associations that lead to radically new ideas.” Other researchers have found that some participants improve their “verbal fluency,” or their ability to come up with different words. Part of this increased creative ability may come from the release of dopamine in the brain, lessening inhibitions and allowing people to feel more relaxed, giving the brain the ability to perceive things differently. Cannabis use is also approved in some states to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Naturally occurring cannabinoids, similar to THC, help regulates the system that causes fear and anxiety in the body and brain.

In addition to the positive mental effects of cannabis use, it has also shown to physically protect the brain from trauma. Research from the University of Nottingham shows that cannabis may help protect the brain from damage caused by stroke, by reducing the size of the area affected by the stroke, shown in rats, mice, and monkeys. There is also some evidence that cannabis can help heal the brain after a concussion or other traumatic injury. A recent study in the journal Cerebral Cortex showed that in mice, cannabis lessened the bruising of the brain and helped with healing mechanisms after a traumatic injury.

Finally, the use of cannabis can also help those who are looking to cut back on alcohol or tobacco. Unlike alcohol and tobacco, cannabis use is not physically addictive. This means that if you consistently smoked cannabis and suddenly stopped, your body would most likely not suffer any physical withdrawal symptoms. Disorders like alcoholism involve disruptions in the endocannabinoid system and because of that; some people think cannabis might help patients struggling with those disorders. If part of your tobacco addiction is the physical act of smoking, cannabis is a safer, less harmful substitute.

Section 3: Harmful effects:

The harmful effects of smoking cannabis are limited. Smoking cannabis has shown to increase your heart rate by as much as two times for up to three hours. However, this might only cause a problem for those with an already pre-existing heart condition. It has also shown to increase bleeding (if you get a cut) and lower your blood pressure (which might be a good thing). Regular cannabis smokers may develop an ongoing cough or an elevated risk of chest colds and lung infections. However, this may be due to the physical smoke warming and irritating your lungs rather than the actual compounds in cannabis. Other physical negative effects of cannabis include dizziness, red eyes and dilated pupils, dry mouth, shallow breathing, and slowed reaction time.

In general, most people smoke cannabis because the high makes them feel happy/better, relaxed, and gives them a new perspective on life. However, it may affect some people differently and cause some less-pleasant effects on your mind such as a distorted sense of time, paranoia, anxiety, depression, and short term forgetfulness. Yet these effects usually ease up a few hours after use. Like tobacco, cannabis affects almost every part of your body when absorbed. However, unlike tobacco, cannabis has a plethora of positive effects on your mind and health rather than only negative health effects.

Section 4: Cannabis & Crime

As more states push to legalize marijuana, more misinformation is spread to persuade people that it’s a bad idea. For instance, some claim that the legalization of marijuana in Colorado has led to an increase in crime in the city of Denver. However, Denver’s city government has determined that just more than 200 crimes annually can be connected to marijuana, which is less than 1 percent of total crime. Most of the crimes connected to marijuana have to do with drug cartels rather than someone who was just high. One 2014 study from the University of Texas at Dallas found that legalizing medical marijuana may actually lead to a reduction in violent crime. According to data released by the city of Denver, violent crime and property crime in Denver decreased in 2014. Violent crime in Denver went down by 2.2% in the first 11 months of 2014, compared with the first 11 months of 2013. In the same period, burglaries in Denver decreased by 9.5% and overall property crime decreased by 8.9%. As well, traffic fatalities went down in 2014, according to data released by the Colorado Department of Transportation. In the first 11 months of 2014, the state had 436 traffic fatalities, a 3% drop from the 449 fatalities in the first 11 months of 2013. The decline in fatalities in 2014 marks a continuation of a 12- year long downward trend in traffic fatalities in the state of Colorado. Violent crime rates have also went down in Washington D.C. since they legalized marijuana. Due to marijuana’s general calming effects, the urge or even the thought of doing something violent or illegal is drastically decreased, even non-existent. With regards to the reduction in traffic fatalities, even though the effect of marijuana may slow your reaction time, it also increases your self-awareness. Those high on marijuana while driving are generally more attentive, and take more safety precautions while on the road. Generally, when people get high on marijuana they just want to relax, eat food, and do something they enjoy…not do something that is illegal or would put themselves or anyone else in harm’s way.

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Section 5: Laws and Policies:

Thankfully today we are seeing more and more states and countries making headlines for legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to fully legalize the consumption, possession, and cultivation of cannabis for personal use. In the United States, the states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, and Washington D.C. have all legalized cannabis for recreational and medical use under certain stipulations. There are 15 states that have decriminalized the possession of a certain amount of cannabis ranging from 10 grams to 100 grams. These states include California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Vermont, Nevada, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, and Ohio. The following countries have decriminalized the possession of cannabis in certain amounts for personal use as well; Austria (5 Grams), Belgium (3 Grams), Columbia (22 Grams), Czech Republic (15 Grams), Ecuador (10 Grams), Greece (1/2 Gram or 2 Joints), Netherlands (6 Grams for Consumption in a Coffee Shop), Peru (8 Grams), Russia (6 Grams), Ukraine (5 Grams),Virgin Islands (28 Grams / 1 Ounce), Argentina, Bolivia, Cambodia, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Jamaica, Mexico, Portugal, and Switzerland.

There are some states and countries where cannabis is only legal for medical purposes only. These states include California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Maryland. The countries include Puerto Rico, Israel, Serbia, Macedonia, Italy, Columbia, and Australia.

There are still some countries that have laws in place when it comes to cannabis for personal or medical consumption. Getting caught with cannabis in any of these countries can still land you in jail or possibly even prison; Albania, Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bosnia, Bulgaria, People’s Republic of China, Denmark, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fairland, France, Greenland, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Vietnam,  and Zimbabwe.

It must also be noted that in the United States cannabis is still considered to be a schedule I substance according to the DEA for some reason, which declares it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”. It is still illegal at the federal level.

Section 6: Conclusion:

   The more people use and scientifically investigate cannabis, the more reasons we find why it should have never been illegal in the first place.  I would like to reiterate the fact that cannabis has been illegal for less than 1% of the time that it has been in use. Its use can be found throughout the history of humanity in various cultures all over the world. Ancient cultures praise the plant for its many medicinal, spiritual, and practical uses. With modern science, we are proving the ancients right by observing its many medical benefits and uses. Unlike tobacco, people throughout history never noted any actual negative side effects. The war against cannabis was created as a way to systematically incorporate racism against Mexican immigrants and other minorities into the public opinion. Its illegalization was/is also fueled by profit-driven industries that would severely lose revenue due to cannabis medicine and hemp products. Pharmaceutical companies would not be able to regulate cannabis because it is a naturally growing plant that anyone could have in their home. The many medical benefits of cannabis would also render many current pharmaceuticals obsolete. Hemp has a plethora of practical products that could be made from it such as clothing, paper, insulation, concrete (hempcrete), plastic, a biofuel for vehicles, and even can be used for cleaning up soil contamination. However, due to this diverse nature of hemp, it would put the companies that make the current versions of these products out of business or cost them a lot in order to convert.

Cannabis should not be illegal in any logical, intelligent society. Cigarette smoking (which is legal) is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States. Nearly 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol (legal)-related cases annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids (legal) have quadrupled since 1999 and so have sales of these prescription drugs. From 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids. The worst thing about prescription opioids such as methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone is that they could easily be replaced with cannabis for pain relief. Guess how many recorded deaths or overdoses there has been from cannabis use…zero, that’s right ZERO, yet it is still illegal. As far as mind-altering substances go it is by far the healthiest and safest choice out there. No government has any logical reason to prohibit you from using this wondrous, naturally occurring substance that your own body has designated, designed receptors for. I’m not saying that everyone should or has to smoke cannabis; it may not be for everyone, but surely if you do, no one has the right or coherent basis to tell you otherwise.

 

Written By: Justin Mrowicki

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