Cannabis: history, fantasy, medicine.
We hear a lot lately about medical marijuana and cannabis. It seems like new legislation is introduced daily. Since 1996, starting with California, 23 states have enacted medical marijuana laws while 4 states having recreational cannabis laws. However, at the federal level, cannabis is an illegal Schedule 1 narcotic.
The history of the cannabis plant is well documented. Cannabis has been used for thousands of years as a source of fiber, nutrition, medicine and sacred ritual. There are distinctions in what is considered hemp and medical marijuana, although they are both from the parent plant, cannabis. Traditionally, hemp is considered the plant that provides seeds, fiber, juice and other non-psychoactive uses. Hemp has a negligible THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) content. THC is the psychoactive component of the plant and is most noted for the recreational high, although there is increasing evidence that THC provides some medical benefits.
Hemp seeds are a rich source of amino acids, protein and dietary minerals and fiber. You can currently purchase hemp milk, hemp snacks and protein bars in the food markets. The oils are rich in essential fatty acids and are contained in hair products, dietary supplements, cosmetics and other products. The fiber, derived from commercial hemp is made into fabrics, paper and building materials.
The United States used to grow hemp commercially in the South where it was used in WWII to produce uniforms, rope and canvas. Today, most of the world’s production of hemp comes from France, while China ranks second. Great Britain and Germany resumed commercial production in the 1990s. The retail value of hemp, imported by the United States was $581 Million in 2013.
Of note, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp. Ben Franklin owned a mill that made hemp paper. Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.
When US sources of “Manila hemp” (not true hemp) was cut off by the Japanese in WWII, the US Army and US Department of Agriculture promoted the “Hemp for Victory” campaign to grow hemp in the US.
So why was cannabis, in any form banned and classified as a schedule 1 narcotic? Fortunately, there is a lot of documented history as well.
- Moral outrage. Many considered the considered the intoxication effects immoral. People who used marijuana were considered lazy. It was also associated with jazz musicians.
- Social prejudice. During hearings on marijuana law in the 1930’s, claims were made about marijuana’s ability to cause men of color to become violent and solicit sex from white women. This imagery became the backdrop for the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which effectively banned its use and sales. It was also associated with an influx of Mexicans smoking ‘loco’ weed.
- Financial Gain. There is some debate that petrochemical companies desired ‘rayon’ and ‘nylon’ to replace hemp and other natural fibers.
The American Medical Association (AMA) opposed the act because the tax was imposed on physicians prescribing cannabis, retail pharmacists selling cannabis, and medical cannabis cultivation/manufacturing.
While the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was ruled unconstitutional years later, it was replaced with the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970’s which established Schedules for ranking substances according to their dangerousness and potential for addiction. Cannabis was placed in the most restrictive category, Schedule I, supposedly as a place holder while then President Nixon commissioned a report to give a final recommendation.
The Schafer Commission declared that marijuana should not be in Schedule I and even doubted its designation as an illicit substance. However, Nixon discounted the recommendations of the commission, and marijuana remains a Schedule I substance to this day.
Since that time, most cannabis growing and production has been the domain of the illicit market. Marijuana has been bred for the last few decades to maximize the THC content. However, increasing interest in the commercial applications of hemp, has developed, mostly in Canada and Europe. . This revitalization in interest was also the driving force for medical research. In 1964, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam – along with his colleagues, Dr. Yehiel Gaoni and Dr. Haviv Edery – succeeded in the very first isolation and elucidation of the active constituent of cannabis, D9-tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. The initial research was thought to conclude in about 6 months, however Dr. Mechoulam continues to refine and expand his studies.They have since discovered and isolated other cannabinoids, such as CBD (cannabidiol).
For an overview of Dr. Mechoulam’s work, please see this video : The Scientist
Future articles will concentrate on:
-Scientific discoveries, chemical components and the endocannabinoid system
-Research over the past 50 years, past, present and possible futures
-Current use inside and outside the medical system. Why, how, facts and myths.
Current legal status and the implications