Smoke Signals

The Brain and Marijuana [Book Excerpt]

The brain and marijuana
By on February 19, 2014

Excerpted from Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medical, Recreational and Scientific.

Up until the late 1980s, marijuana research remained a rather esoteric field involving a small number of scientists in the United States and abroad. Their efforts were circumscribed by the politicized agenda of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which subsidized studies designed to prove the deleterious effects of cannabis, while blocking inquiry into marijuana’s potential benefits. But rather than discrediting cannabis, NIDA inadvertently helped to facilitate a series of major discoveries about the inner workings of the human brain. These breakthroughs spawned a revolution in medical science and a profound understanding of health and healing. “By using a plant that has been around for thousands of years, we discovered a new physiological system of immense importance,” says Raphael Mechoulam, the dean of the transnational cannabinoid research community. “We wouldn’t have been able to get there if we had not looked at the plant.”

Since the identification and synthesis of THC by Mechoulam’s team in Israel in 1965, scientists had learned a great deal about the pharmacology, biochemistry, and clinical effects of cannabis. Everybody seemed to have an opinion about marijuana, but no one really knew how it worked. Smoking pot got you stoned, but what it actually did inside the brain on a molecular level to alter consciousness was still unknown. No one could yet explain how cannabis worked as an appetite stimulant, how it dampened nausea, quelled seizures, and relieved pain. No one understood how smoked marijuana could stop an asthma attack in seconds, not minutes. No one knew why it lifted one’s mood. Although there was considerable evidence that cannabis could ameliorate a wide range of disease symptoms, it took scientists a long time to figure out how marijuana produced its myriad effects.

When American researchers at Johns Hopkins University identified receptor sites in the brain capable of binding with opiates in 1973, some scientists expected that the discovery of receptor sites for marijuana would soon follow. But these were difficult to pin down. Fifteen years would elapse before a government-funded study at the St. Louis University School of Medicine determined that the mammalian brain has receptor sites—specialized protein molecules embedded in cell membranes—that respond pharmacologically to compounds in marijuana resin. Every cell membrane has lots of receptors for many types of messenger molecules, which influence the activity of the cell.

Initially identified by Professor Allyn Howlett and her graduate student William Devane, cannabinoid receptors turned out to be far more abundant in the brain than any other G-protein-coupled receptors.1 Tagged radioactively, a potent THC analog synthesized by Pfizer (“CP55,940”) enabled researchers to begin mapping the locations of cannabinoid receptors in the brain. These receptors were found to be concentrated in regions responsible for mental and physiological processes that are affected by marijuana—the hippocampus (memory), cerebral cortex (higher cognition), cerebellum (motor coordination), basal ganglia (movement), hypothalamus (appetite), the amygdala (emotions), and elsewhere. There are few cannabinoid receptors in the brain stem, the region that controls breathing and heartbeat—which is why no one has ever suffered a fatal overdose of marijuana.

On July 18, 1990, at a meeting of the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, Lisa Matsuda announced that she and her colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) had achieved a major breakthrough—they pinpointed the exact DNA sequence that encodes a THC-sensitive receptor in the rat’s brain. People have the same receptor, which consists of 472 amino acids strung together in a crumpled chain that squiggles back and forth across the cell membrane seven times. Cannabinoid receptors function as subtle sensing devices, tiny vibrating scanners perpetually primed to pick up biochemical cues that flow through fluids surrounding each cell. Matsuda also disclosed that she had successfully cloned the marijuana receptor.

The cloning of the cannabis receptor was crucial. It opened the door for scientists to sculpt molecules—new drugs—that “fit” these receptors somewhat like keys in a slot. Some keys (“agonists”) turned the receptor on; others (“antagonists”) turned it off.2 In addition to synthesizing cannabinoid receptor agonists and antagonists, scientists experimented with genetically engineered “knockout” mice that lacked this receptor. When administered to knockout mice, the THC had nowhere to bind and hence could not trigger any activity. This was further proof that THC works by activating cannabinoid receptors in the brain and central nervous system. Finally, after fifty centuries of medicinal usage, the scientific basis of cannabis therapeutics was coming into focus.

Researchers soon identified a second type of cannabinoid receptor, dubbed “CB-2,” which is prevalent throughout the peripheral nervous system and the immune system. CB-2 receptors are also present in the gut, spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells, endocrine glands, and reproductive organs. THC stimulates the CB-2 receptor, but this does not result in the psychoactive high that pot is famous for (because CB-2 receptors are not concentrated in the brain); THC binding to CB-1, the central nervous system receptor, causes the high. The CB-1 receptor mediates psychoactivity. CB-2 regulates immune response. Marijuana is such a versatile substance because it acts everywhere, not just in the brain.

Just as the study of opium resulted in the discovery of endorphins, the brain’s own morphinelike substance, so, too, marijuana research would lead to the discovery of a natural, internal THC-like compound, our “inner cannabis,” so to speak. In 1992, Raphael Mechoulam, in collaboration with NIMH research fellow William Devane and Dr. Lumír Hanuš, found a novel neurotransmitter, a naturally occurring endogenous (meaning “made internally”) cannabinoid. This “endocannabinoid” attaches to the same mammalian brain cell receptors as THC. Mechoulam decided to call it “anandamide,” deriving from the Sanskrit word for bliss. In 1995, his group discovered a second major endocannabinoid molecule—“2-AG” [2-arachidonoylglycerol]—which binds to both CB-1 and CB-2 receptors.3

By tracing the metabolic pathways of THC, scientists had stumbled upon a hitherto unknown molecular signaling system that plays a crucial role in regulating a broad range of biological processes. This molecular signaling system modulates how we experience pain, stress, hunger, sleep, our circadian rhythms, our blood pressure, body temperature, bone density, fertility, intestinal fortitude, mood, metabolism, memory retention, and more.

Scientists call it “the endocannabinoid system”—so named after the plant that led to its discovery. The name suggests that the plant came first, but in fact, as Dr. John McPartland explained, this ancient internal signal system started evolving more than 500 million years ago (long before cannabis appeared), when the most complex lifeform was sponges. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are present in fish, reptiles, earthworms, leeches, amphibians, birds, and mammals—every animal except insects. Its long evolutionary history indicates that the endocannabinoid system must serve a very important and basic purpose in animal physiology.

Drug-company investigators paid close attention to cutting-edge developments in cannabinoid research, which few people outside the scientific community were privy to.4 Endocannabinoids and their receptors emerged as a hot topic among scientists who shared their findings in highly technical peer-reviewed journals and at annual conclaves hosted by the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS). Advances in the burgeoning field of cannabinoid studies would pave the way for new treatment strategies for various pathological conditions—cancer, diabetes, neuropathic pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and several odd diseases of unknown etiology that seemed to have as their common denominator an inflammatory or autoimmune dysfunction.

The discovery of the endocannabinoid system has breathtaking implications for nearly every area of medicine, including reproductive biology. Dr. Mauro Maccarrone at the University of Teramo, Italy, describes the endocannabinoid system as the “guardian angel” or “gatekeeper” of mammalian reproduction. Endocannabinoid signaling figures decisively throughout the reproductive process—from spermatogenesis to fertilization, ovuductal transport of the zygote, embryo implantation, and fetal development. Cannabinoid receptors proliferate in the placenta and facilitate neurochemical “cross-talk” between the embryo and the mother. A misfiring of the endocannabinoid system could result in serious problems, including ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage. Appropriate levels of endocannabinoids in maternal milk are critically important for the initiation of suckling in newborns. Infant colic has been attributed to a dearth of endocannabinoids.

Israeli scientist Ester Fride observed that knockout mice missing CB receptors resemble babies who suffer from “failure to thrive” syndrome. (Mice lacking CB receptors don’t suckle and they die prematurely.) This is one of many enigmatic conditions that may arise because of a dysfunctional endocannabinoid system. Individuals have different congenital endocannabinoid levels and sensitivities. University of Washington neurologist Ethan Russo postulates that “clinical endocannabinoid deficiency” underlies migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel disease, and a cluster of other degenerative conditions, which may respond favorably to cannabinoid therapies.5

For Big Pharma, cannabinoid research became a tale of knockout mice and men. Using genetically engineered rodents that lacked CB receptors, researchers were able to prove that cannabinoid compounds can alter disease progression and attenuate experimentally induced symptoms. An “animal model” of osteoporosis, for example, was created in normal mice and in knockout mice without cannabinoid receptors. When a synthetic cannabinoid drug was given to both groups of osteoporotic mice, bone damage was mitigated in the normal mice but had no effect on rodents sans CB receptors—which means that cannabinoid receptors are instrumental in regulating bone density.6

Other experiments would establish that CB receptor signaling modulates pain and analgesia, inflammation, appetite, gastrointestinal motility, neuroprotection and neurodegeneration, along with the ebb and flow of immune cells, hormones, and other mood-altering neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate. When tickled by THC or its endogenous cousins, cannabinoid receptors trigger a cascade of biochemical changes on a cellular level that put the brakes on excessive physiological activity.

The human immune system, an amazing physiological wonder, kicks on like a furnace when a fever is required to fry a virus or bacterial invader. And when the job is done, endocannabinoid signaling turns down the flame, cools the fever, and restores homeostasis. (Cannabinoids—endo, herbal, and synthetic—are anti-inflammatory; they literally cool the body.) But if the feed- back loop misfires, if the pilot light burns too high, if the immune system overreacts to chronic stress or mistakes one’s body for a foreign object, then the stage is set for an autoimmune disease or an inflammatory disorder to develop.

Endocannabinoids are the only neurotransmitters known to engage in “retrograde signaling,” a unique form of intracellular communication that inhibits immune response, reduces inflammation, relaxes musculature, lowers blood pressure, dilates bronchial passages, increases cerebral blood flow (a rush of thoughts!), and normalizes overstimulated nerves.7 Retrograde signaling serves as an inhibitory feedback mechanism that tells other neurotransmitters to cool it when they are firing too fast.8

Prior to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, retrograde signaling was known to occur only during the embryonic development of the brain and nervous system. Endocannabinoids choreograph “a broad array of developmental processes in the embryonic brain,” explains Dr. John McPartland, including neural stem cell proliferation and differentiation, a process guided by extracellular cues conveyed via CB receptors. Scientists would learn that cannabinoid receptor signaling also regulates adult neurogenesis (brain cell growth) and stem cell migration.

High endocannabinoid levels in the brain are triggered by strokes and other pathological events—attesting to the neuroprotective function of the endocannabinoid signaling. A major function of the endocannabinoid system—and therefore a significant effect of the cannabinoids in marijuana—is neuroprotective in nature: protecting brain cells from too much excitation. The endocannabinoid system, according to Mechoulam, is part of the body’s “general protective network, working in conjunction with the immune system and various other physiological systems.” His discoveries posed a direct challenge to scientific orthodoxy by revealing that the brain has a natural repair kit, an in-built mechanism of protection and regeneration, which can mend damaged nerves and brain cells.

Ironically, the U.S. government’s unending search for marijuana’s harmful properties yielded astonishing scientific insights that validated the herb’s therapeutic utility. By stimulating CB-1 and CB-2 receptor signaling, marijuana functions as a substitute “retrograde messenger” that mimics the way our bodies try to maintain balance. Cannabis is a unique herbal medicine that taps into how our bodies work naturally. Thanks to this plant, scientists have been able to decipher the primordial language that nerve and brain cells use to communicate. From womb to tomb, across countless generations, the endocannabinoid system guides and protects.

But a big disconnect existed between the world of science and the general public. Aside from certain segments of the scientific community, few people knew about the endocannabinoid system. Doctors, journalists, public officials—hardly anyone was clued in to the latest scientific research that went a long way toward explaining why marijuana is such a versatile remedy and why it is, by far, the most-sought-after illicit substance on the planet.

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Copyright, Project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.


Citations

1 Cannabinoid receptors recognize and respond to three kinds of agonists (turn-on keys): endogenous fatty acid cannabinoids found in all mammals; phytocannabinoids concentrated in the oily resin on the buds and leaves of the marijuana plant; and potent, synthetic cannabinoids concocted in university and drug company laboratories.

2 Cannabinoid receptors belong to the superfamily of G-protein-coupled receptors, which includes opioid receptors. When these receptors sense certain molecules outside the cell, a biochemical response is triggered via specific “signal transduction pathways.” G-protein- coupled receptors are involved in many disease processes and are reportedly the target of approximately 40 percent of all modern pharmaceuticals.

3 Anandamide and 2-AG impact the organism in ways that are “predominantly local and specific,” says Mechoulam. “Their actions are ubiquitous. They are involved in most physiological systems that have been investigated” (“Conversation with Raphael Mechoulam,” Addiction 102[2007]: 887–93; see also “The New Science of Cannabinoid-Based Medicine: An Interview with Dr. Raphael Mechoulam,” in David Jay Brown, ed., Mavericks of Medicine.

4 In a lengthy 2006 review, “The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacology,” scientists with the National Institutes of Health reported that cannabinoid com- pounds held “therapeutic promise” for disparate pathological conditions “ranging from mood and anxiety disorders, movement disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, to cancer, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, stroke, hypertension, glaucoma, obesity/metabolic syndrome, and osteoporosis,” as well as other diseases that are seemingly beyond the reach of orthodox medicine (Pal Pacher, Sándor Bátkai, and George Kunos, “The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy,” Pharmacology Review 58[3][2006]: 389–462).

5 Recent research has established that clinical depression is an endocannabinoid-deficiency disease. Matthew Hill, a scientist at the University of British Columbia, analyzed the “serum endocannabinoid content” in depressed women and found that it was “significantly reduced” compared with controls. Hill observed that this reduction “negatively correlated to episode duration,” meaning “the longer the depressive episode the lower the 2-AG content.”

6 A German research team would later demonstrate that CB-2 receptor activation restrains the formation of bone reabsorbing cells, known as osteoclasts, by down-regulating osteoclast precursors, thus tipping the balance in favor of osteoblasts, cells that facilitate bone formation

7 The human brain has about 100 billion neurons that communicate through neurotransmitters (endogenous messenger molecules) that operate in the space between cells, the “synaptic cleft.” The synaptic cleft is where two nerve tendrils converge without actually touching; it’s in the space between nerve endings that messages are chemically communicated (transmit- ted) from one cell to the next. Whereas every other neurotransmitter (serotonin, dopamine, GABA, etc.) enables nerve impulses to jump across the synaptic cleft, endocannabinoid compounds travel backwards and interact with CB receptors strategically situated on “presynaptic” nerve axons. CB receptor retrograde signaling facilitates a process known as “presynaptic inhibition,” which interrupts and slows down the release of other neurotransmitters.

8 This is the basis of marijuana’s biphasic effect: The body synthesizes endocannabinoids that act as a “slow down” mechanism when nerve cells are stimulated by excitory neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and glutamate; and cannabinoid receptors also transmit chemical signals that “slow down” the release of sedative neurotransmitters such as GABA (which binds to the same receptor as Valium and alcohol). By slowing down or inhibiting GABA activity, the endocannabinoid system speeds things up.

The Origins of Reefer Madness [Book Excerpt]

Reefer Madness
By on February 15, 2014

Excerpted from Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medical, Recreational and Scientific. Reprinted at FAIR online.

Yellow Journalism and the Anti-Cannabis Crusade

On August 11, 1930, Harry Jacob Anslinger became the director of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) in Washington, D.C. He would run the FBN with an iron fist through six presidential administrations spanning more than three decades.

An imposing, husky, bull-necked figure nearly six feet tall, he looked like a tough law-and-order drug buster. With a large square head, huge ears, a cleft chin, and glowering eyes, Anslinger took great pride in his role as the archnemesis of marijuana smokers. He was the godfather of America’s war on drugs, and his influence on public policy would be felt long after death stiffened his fingers in 1975.

When Anslinger grabbed the reins at the FBN, marijuana had already been banned in 24 U.S. states, but there still was no coordinated federal attempt to outlaw the plant. During its first few years, the FBN issued annual reports that minimized the marijuana problem, which Anslinger believed was best dealt with by state and local officials.

The stuff grows “like dandelions,” he complained. Trying to stamp out a plant that flourished everywhere in the world except Antarctica and the Arctic Circle seemed like a dubious proposition. Anslinger had only 300 G-men on his roster, hardly enough to tackle heroin and cocaine, let alone a common weed.

Anslinger didn’t pay much attention to cannabis until 1934, when the FBN was floundering. Tax revenues plummeted during the Great Depression, the bureau’s budget got slashed, and Harry’s entire department was on the chopping block. Then he saw the light and realized that marijuana just might be the perfect hook to hang his hat on. A savvy operator and an extremely ambitious man, he set out to convince Congress and the American public that a terrible new drug menace was threatening the country, one that required immediate action by a well-funded Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Determined to criminalize the herb and build his bureaucratic fiefdom, America’s top narc promoted all the hoary myths about marijuana-induced mayhem and sexual depravity—stories of pot-crazed axe murderers, playground pushers, sordid drug dens and buxom reefer babes whose lives were ruined by the drug.

“If the hideous monster Frankenstein came face-to-face with the hideous monster Marihuana, he would drop dead of fright,” declared the FBN chief (Washington Herald, 4/12/37). Anslinger pulled no punches as he orchestrated a nationwide campaign against marijuana, “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”

In the world according to Anslinger, cannabis was a deadly, addictive drug that enslaved its users and turned them into deranged criminal freaks. He fed titillating tidbits to reporters, who wrote articles that the FBN chief would then cite in making the case that society was in imminent danger of moral collapse because of marijuana.

Anslinger whipped up enthusiasm for the cause in speeches to temperance organizations, religious groups and civic clubs around the country. His anti-cannabis confabulations were given credence by hellfire-and-brimstone preachers who castigated hemp smokers as fallen sinners. A plant that provided the paper on which Gutenberg first printed the Bible was denounced as “the Devil’s weed.”

Perhaps it was the constant pressure from waging war against a figment of his imagination, or maybe his job was simply too demanding, but on April 1, 1935, an angst-ridden Anslinger checked into the U.S. Marine hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. The FBN chief complained of exhaustion and insomnia—he woke up too early and couldn’t get back to sleep, a condition, ironically, which was treatable with cannabis.

While Anslinger convalesced, others picked up the slack. The FBN chief had a strong ally in the press baron William Randolph Hearst, a megalomaniac obsessed with marijuana, whose newspaper chain stretched across the nation. With an instinc-tual grasp of mass psychology, Hearst used his media empire to influence public policy (as when he pushed the U.S. government into war with Spain in 1898). His contempt for facts, his penchant for fabricated stories and doctored photos, and the hysterical tone of his newspapers gave rise to the pejorative expression “yellow journalism.”

Hearst launched a smear campaign against Mexican migrants and their herb of choice. “Murder Weed Found Up and Down Coast—Deadly Marihuana Dope Plant Ready for Harvest That Means Enslavement of California Children,” the Los Angeles Examiner (11/5/33) screeched in 1933.

By stigmatizing marijuana and the “foreigners” who smoked it, Hearst succeeded in exacerbating anti-Mexican sentiment during the Great Depression, when many Anglos felt they were competing with brown-skinned migrants for scarce jobs. More than 2 million Mexicans, who had been welcomed while the U.S. economy boomed in the 1920s, were deported when it faltered in the 1930s—a policy of ethnic cleansing vociferously championed by the Hearst conglomerate.

Hearst also cheered the rise of fascist forces in Europe. “Mussolini Leads Way in Crushing Dope Evil” was the headline of a Hearst press screed (3/9/28) that combined two of the owner’s pet passions—his support for fascism and the war on narcotics. Hearst Sunday papers published columns by German Nazi leaders, who conveyed Hitler’s point of view to 30 million readers without space for rebuttal.

During the Third Reich, the verminization of religious and ethnic minorities went hand in hand with Rauschgiftbekämpfung, the “combating of drugs” to promote racial hygiene. Nazi racialist policies and the demonization of marijuana by Anslinger and Hearst were parallel historical phenomena—both exploited fear and hatred of the Other.

The FBN commissioner understood that the likelihood of prohibitory legislation increased if the substance in question was associated with ethnic minorities. Thus Anslinger disclosed in 1936 that 50 percent of violent crimes committed in districts occupied by “Mexicans, Greeks, Turks, Filipinos, Spaniards, Latin Americans and Negroes may be traced to the use of marihuana.” The headlines and the plotlines were antidrug and anticrime, but the subtext was always about race.

Anslinger brandished the non-English term like a truncheon to emphasize the weed’s connection to alien elements that crept over the Mexican border into the United States. Popularized during the Depression, the new name marihuana was, in effect, the evil twin of cannabis, a word familiar to Americans as a medicinal ingredient.

Anslinger eschewed references to benign-sounding cannabis and hemp, while calling for a federal ban on marihuana. Very few Americans knew that marijuana, the weed that some blacks and Chicanos were smoking, was merely a weaker version of the concentrated cannabis medicines that everyone had been taking since childhood.

To gain public support for his crusade, Anslinger depicted marijuana as a sinister substance that made Mexican and African-American men lust after white women. One of the worst things about marijuana, according to the FBN chief, was that it promoted sexual contact across color lines. “Marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes,” Anslinger frothed. He rang alarm bells in segregated America, warning that blacks and whites were dancing cheek-to-cheek in tea houses and nightclubs, where pot-maddened jazz bands performed what the Hearst papers called “voodoo-satanic music.”

In addition to hexing blacks and Mexicans, Anslinger’s antimarijuana diatribes served as a not-so-subtle reminder to white women, who had only recently won the right to vote, that they still needed strong men to protect them from the “degenerate races.” He never tired of telling new versions of the same morality tale, which featured a vulnerable young white woman whose tragic downfall is triggered by smoking marijuana with dark-skinned rogues.

During the run-up to federal legislation that banned cannabis, Anslinger pounded home the message: White women are in mortal peril because of marijuana—and so are American children. That was the upshot of a July 1937 American Magazine article by Anslinger, entitled “Assassin of Youth,” which led with the usual purple prose:

The sprawled body of a young girl lay crushed on the sidewalk the other day after a plunge from the fifth story of a Chicago apartment house. Everyone calls it suicide but actually it was murder. The killer was a narcotic known to America as marihuana, and history as hashish. It is a narcotic used in the form of cigarettes, comparatively new to the United States and as dangerous as a coiled rattlesnake.

“How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured,” the FBN chief warned.

With Anslinger pitching script ideas, cannabis was demonized in several low-budget exploitation flicks, some of which were financed by major distilling companies that stood to lose sizable sums if marijuana were a legal competitor.

The film Marijuana! (1935) featured the lurid tagline “Weird orgies! Wild parties! Unleashed passions!” But when it came to ridiculous anti-marijuana propaganda, nothing could top Hot Fingers Pirelli, the bug-eyed piano player who pounds out jazz tunes in Tell Your Children (1936), better known by its later title Reefer Madness.

A perverted pot addict, Pirelli sneaks into a closet and fires up the Devil’s doob, prompting frightful facial twitches as he morphs into an insane killer. Drug-policy critic Jacob Sullum (Saying Yes) calls it “voodoo pharmacology”—the idea that certain substances are molecularly program-med to compel weird, immoral behavior.

Although it bombed at the box office, Reefer Madness was destined to become a cult humor classic among American college students in later years. A vivid example of the national frenzy that set the stage for federal pot prohibition, this film epitomized the synchronicity among Washington, Hollywood and mainstream media in the war against cannabis.

In April 1937, Rep. Robert L. Doughton of North Carolina introduced House Bill 6385, which sought to prohibit the use of marijuana by imposing an exorbitant tax on the drug. When he testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, Harry Anslinger trotted out examples from the “Gore File,” his infamous scrapbook full of Hearst press editorials, racial slurs and anecdotal accounts of horrific murders falsely attributed to marijuana smokers. Bereft of actual scientific data to back up his reefer madness claims, the FBN director presented no evidence of a statistical correlation between marijuana use and criminal behavior.

Members of Congress held only two one-hour hearings to consider the Marihuana Tax Act. The final witness and lone voice of dissent was Dr. William Woodward, the legislative counsel for the American Medical Association, who challenged Anslinger’s claim that cannabis was a dangerous drug with no therapeutic value. AMA doctors, Woodward asserted, were wholly unaware that the “killer weed from Mexico” was actually cannabis. He accurately predicted that federal legislation banning marijuana would strangle any medical use of the plant.

Just four years after relegalizing the consumption of liquor, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Marihuana Tax Act by a voice vote without a recorded tally. Signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt without fanfare, the law went into effect on October 1, 1937. It was a day of infamy for pot smokers everywhere. Yellow journalism, racial bias and political opportunism had triumphed over medical science and common sense.

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Copyright, Project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.

High Times Review of Smoke Signals

Smoke Signals by Martin A. Lee
By on February 14, 2014

Published in full in High Times.

From Seed to Smoke: A new book charts the history of marijuana, from its origin as a species to that joint in your hand.

Hallelujah and glory be to Smoke Signals, Martin Lee’s bodacious new book, which in its 528 pages chronicles everything and everyone worth chronicling in the annals of marijuana—from our nation’s first president, George Washington, who grew it; to our nation’s first Drug Czar, Harry Anslinger, who aimed to kill it; to Cheech & Chong, who made it hysterically funny; to Barack Obama, who enjoyed getting high on it as a teen. The history of marijuana in the United States is the focus here, but Lee—who co-wrote the LSD classic Acid Dreams—also describes pot in prehistoric times as well as in Mexico, Jamaica and Amsterdam today.

Lee’s passion for his subject breathes new life into a number of familiar tales involving well-known names (especially if you’re a High Times reader): Dennis Peron, Ed Rosenthal, Brownie Mary, and Valerie Corral, among others, are all here. Lee is clearly as devoted to the herb as any activist, and so he honors the lawyers, doctors, potheads and patients who have committed themselves to the cannabis cause, and—without any moralizing, simply by letting the facts speak for themselves—builds an unambiguous case for the end of pot prohibition. Archival photos provide further ammunition, while an appendix reprints Dr. Tod Mikuriya’s valuable list of conditions and diseases that can be treated with cannabis: everything from arthritis and herpes to diabetes and shingles.

Lee argues impressively that the division between legitimate “medical users” and illegitimate “stoners” doesn’t really help matters. “Cannabis confers preventative as well as palliative benefits that muddle the distinction between therapeutic and recreational use,” he writes. He understands, too, that for teens, cannabis is an “efficient herbal means of navigating the ambient anxieties and frenetic complexities of modern life.” What gives this book its enduring wallop is the author’s unwavering recognition that the War on Drugs is motivated largely by a “lingering Puritan distrust of pleasure.”

But as Lee makes clear, no matter what we choose to call it – pot, weed, herb, cannabis, ganja, marijuana, or grass – after some 4,000 years of co-evolution with humans, this plant is here to stay.

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Book Award for Smoke Signals

Medical marijuana, project cbd. martin a lee
By on February 13, 2014

Published in full on the American Botanical Council website.

ABC Announces Recipients of James A. Duke Excellence in Botanical Literature Award

The nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC) is pleased to announce this year’s James A. Duke Excellence in Botanical Literature Award recipients. The reference and technical book recipient is Medicinal Plants and the Legacy of Richard E. Schultes co-edited by Rainer W. Bussmann, PhD, and Bruce E. Ponman; the recipient in the popular and consumer books category is Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medical, Recreational, and Scientific by Martin A. Lee.

The ABC James A. Duke Excellence in Botanical Literature Award was created in 2006 in honor of noted economic botanist and author, James A. Duke, PhD. It is given annually to books that provide a significant contribution to literature in the fields of botany, taxonomy, ethnobotany, phytomedicine, or other disciplines related to the vast field of medicinal plants. Among his long and prestigious career achievements in economic botany and ethnobotany at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Dr. Duke has authored more than 30 reference and consumer books. He is also a co-founding member of ABC’s Board of Trustees and currently serves as Director Emeritus.

In 2011, due to the diversity of quality books related to medicinal plants, ABC created two distinct categories for the James A. Duke Award. The recipient of the popular and consumer books category award was Healing Spices: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease by Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD, and Debora Yost (Sterling Publishing, 2011). The same year, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia’s Botanical Pharmacognosy: Microscopic Characterization of Botanical Medicines (CRC Press) received the reference and technical books category award.

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13 Key Moments In Marijuana History [SLIDE SHOW]

Allen Ginsberg, marijuana legalization
By on February 03, 2014

Published in full on the Huffington Post.


The history of marijuana in America has long been a history of competing narratives, dueling interpretations. Some believe the official line that cannabis (the preferred name for marijuana in medical and scientific circles) is a major drug of abuse and a gateway to the harder stuff. They see marijuana first and foremost as a dangerous mind-altering substance, a harbinger of social decay. Others are just as adamant that cannabis is a safe and effective medicine for many ailments. Millions use it for pleasure and relaxation. And so it continues.

At the center of this controversy is a hardy, adaptable botanical that feasts on sunlight and grows like a weed in almost any environment. The gooey resin on the serrated leaves and matted flower tops of marijuana contains dozens of unique oily compounds, some of which, when ingested, trigger neurochemical changes in the brain.

Cannabis has a rich cultural history. A plant native to Central Asia, it figured prominently in the shamanistic traditions of many peoples. Handed down from prehistoric times, knowledge of marijuana’s therapeutic qualities and the utility of its tough fiber slowly spread throughout the world. As it traveled from region to region the aromatic herb never failed to ingratiate itself among the locals. Once marijuana arrived in a new place, it never left. Never. Yet it always moved on, perpetually leaping from one culture to another.

The great leap forward came in 1996, when California voters shocked the political and medical establishments by passing Proposition 215, which authorized doctors to approve marijuana use by patients. Similar laws have since been enacted in 16 other states and the District of Columbia. Initiatives to legalize adult marijuana use are on the ballot in several states in November.

What follows are 13 slides of key moments in the history of marijuana in America.

View slideshow

Copyright, Project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.