“We have screwed this up.”
These were the words that Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz used to describe the Federal treatment of cannabis. Gaetz was one of five republicans to vote in favor of the MORE Act, which would remove cannabis from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, and eliminate criminal penalties for individuals who manufacture, distribute or possess this plant.
“The federal government has lied to the people of this country about marijuana for a generation,” Gaetz told his peers. “We have seen a generation, particularly of black and brown youth, locked up for offenses that should have not resulted in any incarceration whatsoever.”
He’s right. Cannabis (also known as “marijuana”) has been villainized by the Federal government for generations now, with virtually no rational explanation. Even as individual states begin to legalize the plant, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level.
There are 3 major problems with the criminalization of cannabis. First, it has led to mass incarceration which has disproportionately impacted racial minorities. Although states like California have decriminalized the plant, reports show that every year, tens of thousands of Californians are still arrested for seemingly minor infractions.
Even after Prop. 215 was passed in 1996 (which allowed for doctors to prescribe cannabis) and full decriminalization in 2011, researchers discovered that “between 2006 and 2015, there were nearly half a million marijuana arrests in California,” citing data from the California Department of Justice.
The second problem is that cannabis possesses powerful healing properties. Sadly, research has been almost completely stifled because of its categorization under U.S. law. Alongside heroin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has categorized cannabis as a Schedule I drug, which is the most restricted class.
Medical practitioners are not allowed to prescribe cannabis as an alternative form of “medicine,” even in states where cannabis is legal. To clarify, it’s still legal, but practitioners cannot prescribe it as “medicine” because it’s not FDA approved to treat anything. In order to study the plant, researchers face daunting regulatory hurdles and must have their research application approved by the DEA and National Institute on Drug Abuse.
And finally, there’s the issue of our fundamental freedoms under the U.S. Constitution. This plant hasn’t been outlawed because it is dangerous or harmful; it’s been outlawed because it threatens established industries and is used as a means to discriminate against minorities.
Let’s take a look at the history of cannabis, it’s potential for healing, and what we can do to help abolish the absurd laws surrounding this amazing plant.
The History of Cannabis
Did you know that cannabis has been used to treat illness for nearly 5,000 years? As far back as 2900 BC, the Chinese were using cannabis for healing. Its use goes back to the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chinese emperor Shen Nung – considered the father of Chinese Medicine – and the discovery that the healing benefits of the sacred plant once formed the backbone of medical practice.
Greek and Roman cultures used cannabis for ear pain, edema, inflammation, gout, malaria, memory loss, and sexual dysfunction. In 79 AD, Pliny the Elder – a naturalist and natural philosopher of the Early Roman Empire – wrote the Naturalis Historia in which he recommends cannabis for treating cramped joints, gout, and violent pain.
Cannabis was also used in the Middle Ages, when hemp was a commonly found healing agent. According to respected author and historian Martin Booth, “During the Middle Ages, hemp was central to any herbalist’s medicine cabinet. William Turner the Naturalist, considered the first English botanist, praises it in his New Herball, published in 1538.”
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp for decades. In his journal, Washington repeatedly references cultivating different strains of cannabis with varying levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The Anatomy of Melancholy, an influential English book about mental illness, proposed that cannabis could be used to treat depression. Authored by Oxford scholar Robert Burton in 1621, the text is considered one of the most influential of its time. It explores a host of mental health issues and was among the first to describe depression in medical terms.
Until the early 20th century, cannabis continued to be used as a staple of natural medicine. It was used by queens and commoners alike for everything from headaches and menstrual cramps to increasing appetite and helping with sleep.
In 1850, cannabis was officially added to the U.S. Pharmacopeia as a proper medical treatment for a myriad of ailments. Neuralgia, tetanus, typhus, cholera, rabies, dysentery, alcoholism, opiate addiction, anthrax, leprosy, incontinence, gout, convulsive disorders, tonsillitis, insanity, excessive menstrual bleeding, uterine bleeding, and more were often treated with tinctures made from cannabis extracts. Cannabis was even featured in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet for its ability to help with opiate withdrawal, nausea, and vomiting. However, things began to change at the start of the 1900s.
The Wiley Act of 1906 regulated the labeling of medical cannabis. From 1910 to 1927, during the height of the prohibition movement, cannabis was banned by Massachusetts, Maine, Wyoming, Indiana, New York, Utah, Vermont, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, Iowa, Oregon, Washington, Arkansas, Nebraska, and California.
However, the demand for medical cannabis was still present. When cannabis importation was disrupted by the First World War, America became self-sufficient, with pharmaceutical farms (including Eli Lilly) producing 60,000 pounds of cannabis in 1918. But global legislation that would label cannabis as an illegal substance was on the horizon.
In 1925, the League of Nations restricted the use of cannabis to medicinal and scientific purposes only. In 1928, cannabis was added to the Dangerous Drugs Act, prohibiting its use in the United Kingdom. In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was formed. By 1937, Congress enacted the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.
Promoted by Harry Anslinger, the commissioner of the Bureau, the new law did not technically make cannabis illegal… but it may as well have. Heavy cannabis taxes were imposed on doctors, pharmacists, and manufacturers. In order to apply for the tax stamp, these people would be required to admit to possession of the plant, therefore incriminating themselves. This made it essentially illegal for Americans to grow, buy, sell, or possess cannabis.
The American Medical Association strongly protested the new legislation, questioning the rebranding of cannabis as “marijuana” and insisting that there was no evidence that cannabis is dangerous or addictive. Here is an excerpt from the AMA’s letter of protest:
“I have been instructed by the board of trustees of the American Medical Association to protest on behalf of the association against the enactment in its present form of so much of H.R. 6906 as relates to the medicinal use of cannabis and its preparations and derivatives.
Cannabis and its preparations and derivatives are covered in the bill by the term “marihuana” as that term is defined in section 1, paragraph (b). There is no evidence, however, that the medicinal use of these drugs has caused or is causing cannabis addiction. As remedial agents, they are used to an inconsiderable extent, and the obvious purpose and effect of this bill is to impose so many restrictions on their use as to prevent such use altogether.
Since the medicinal use of cannabis has not caused and is not causing addiction, the prevention of the use of the drug for medicinal purposes can accomplish no good end whatsoever. How far it may serve to deprive the public of the benefits of a drug that on further research may prove to be of substantial value, it is impossible to foresee.”
But despite pleas from the medical community, the persecution associated with cannabis was already underway.
The “Persecution Plant”
Within 24 hours of enacting the new law, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Denver City police stormed the Lexington Hotel and arrested two men for possession and dealing of cannabis. Samuel Caldwell and Moses Baca became the first men to be arrested for selling and possessing cannabis, respectively. Caldwell was sentenced to four years in Leavenworth Penitentiary, while Baca received an 18-month sentence. Neither man was granted parole.
In 1970, the act was repealed as a violation of Fifth Amendment rights. It was simultaneously replaced with the Controlled Substances Act, under which cannabis was designated as a Schedule 1 narcotic. According to current federal law, a schedule 1 narcotic is considered to have a high potential for abuse, to be unsafe even under medical supervision, and to possess no medicinal benefits.
While the reasons behind such strict criminalization of a medicinal plant are not entirely certain, there are some prevailing theories. One is that hemp poses a serious agricultural threat to the timber industry. Andrew Melon, who was Secretary of the Treasury and the wealthiest man in America at the time when cannabis was criminalized, had extensive investments in the DuPont family’s new synthetic material nylon. Nylon was considered a direct competitor to hemp.
There has also been an abundance of anti-cannabis propaganda, much of which may have been an attempt to villainize various minorities. Reefer Madness, a film produced in 1936 by a prohibitionist religious group, suggested that teens who smoked cannabis were prone to murder, suicide, rape, and eventual insanity. Cannabis has also been repeatedly associated with black and Hispanic communities in an attempt to use racial bias as anti-cannabis propaganda.
Nevertheless, times are changing. Although cannabis is still considered a Schedule I narcotic by the United States Federal Government, it has been decriminalized in many other parts of the world. In the USA, forty-one states have either legalized cannabis, legalized its medical use, or decriminalized possession.
Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Colorado, Michigan, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia have all fully legalized cannabis. Unfortunately, federal laws still make it difficult to conduct proper research, and patients are often restricted by state lines since interstate travel could result in charges of drug trafficking.
Make no mistake: The U.S. government knew that cannabis was safe and possessed powerful healing properties, yet they still criminalized it.
And although it is still federally illegal in the United States, research has been done on the plant for decades, both in the U.S. and around the world. Studies from research teams representing Harvard, UCLA, Israel, Spain, and more have suggested that various compounds found within the plant can be used for cancer treatment, pain relief, nausea, and brain disorders.
In fact, the research is so promising that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services filed a patent on certain cannabinoids found in cannabis as neuroprotectants and antioxidants. With the awarding of patent 6,630,507 in 1998, the U.S. government obtained a medical patent for a plant that it had classified as having no medicinal use (remember, Schedule 1 narcotics are considered to have “no medicinal value.”)
But what caused our government to file patents on cannabis is perhaps the most important medical discovery in a millennium: the endocannabinoid system.
The Untapped Potential of the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system – or ECS – was discovered in the 1990s by researchers studying the medical uses of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). And although there’s much to learn, the knowledge we have so far is extremely promising.
A typical cannabis plant contains between 450 and 500 different phytonutrients, including many kinds of terpenes (chemical esters), flavonoids, antioxidants, fatty acids, substances that can detoxify the body like chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, and more. Although the concentration of these substances in cannabis is impressive, most are not unique. There are many other superfoods which also contain these same healing substances.
What makes cannabis unique are its cannabinoids. What’s even more unique is that there is a direct relationship between the body systems of all vertebrates (such as humans) and the cannabinoids that exist in all three forms of cannabis: cannabis indica, cannabis sativa, and cannabis ruderalis (hemp).
As it turns out, the body produces its own cannabinoid-like substances called endocannabinoids. What scientists discovered is that these substances bind to and synthesize with specific cannabinoid receptors in the body. The main receptor sites are CB1, which is linked to brain health, and CB2, which helps to boost immune system function.
Researchers studying cannabis in the 1980s and early 1990s began to realize that there was a systematic and highly-specialized way in which THC-binding takes place in the body. A total network of support and healing came into focus for researchers around the world in the 1990s.
This breakthrough came about in large part due to the work of Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, professor of Medicinal Chemistry at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. As a result of Dr. Mechoulam’s work, the network that supports THC-binding eventually came to be known as the endocannabinoid system.
The main job of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain balance (known as homeostasis) within the body as a whole in response to ever-changing environmental factors such as eating habits, level of stress, air quality, and much more. In addition to being a modulator, its secondary responsibilities are to protect and repair cells. According to the University of California, Los Angeles Cannabis Research Initiative, “Taxonomic investigation has revealed that the endocannabinoid system is incredibly old… it is present in all vertebrates – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, etc… all produce endocannabinoids.”
Dr. Mechoulam and his team, as well as other researchers, developed their understanding of the endocannabinoid system for over a decade. Scientists now know that endocannabinoids break down plant-based THC in large part through the activity of key enzymes that are part of the system. Some examples of important endocannabinoids include 2-Arachidonoyl Glycerol (2-AG) and Anandamide. Some examples of enzymes that help break down cannabinoids include acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MGL).
It was initially believed that the endocannabinoid system only existed in the nervous system and was mainly a support system for the brain. Later inquiry expanded this view and it is now known that the endocannabinoid system exists within the entire body and can have an effect on virtually all of the body’s systems. Besides the nervous system and the brain, the state of a person’s endocannabinoid system can influence almost all of the body’s organ systems, including the immune system, the gut, the respiratory system, and the endocrine system. Cannabinoid receptors have been found in immune system cells, in the liver and pancreas, in skeletal muscle tissue and skin, in blood vessels and heart muscle, in the eyes, in the kidneys, in bone and fat, and in the GI tract.
Our bodies contain many complex systems, including the cardiovascular system, neurological system, and endocrine system. But the endocannabinoid system may be the most powerful of them all. When it comes to brain function, these chemicals and receptors have the ability to help prevent and heal many of the neurological issues that we encounter.
But sometimes things can go wrong. Sometimes our endocannabinoid system can suffer damage or fail to function properly. That’s where cannabinoids come in.
Think of endocannabinoids as unique keys that fit into millions of little locks throughout our bodies. Plant-based cannabinoids (exocannabinoids or phytocannabinoids) have the unique ability to mimic these keys and unlock doors that may otherwise have remained shut.
There’s evidence that cannabis can help with memory, epilepsy, autoimmune disease, brain trauma, stroke, PTSD, depression, and more. Cannabis is able to help with nearly all of these afflictions thanks to the endocannabinoid system. And although the current research is encouraging, we are still in the early stages of our journey.
Thirty years ago, scientists had no idea that this extensive system even existed. Now, it will likely become the life’s work of an entire generation of doctors and researchers.
Fighting the Power
With everything we know about cannabis and the endocannabinoid system, why is it that politicians are STILL fighting to make it illegal? For that answer, all we need to do is follow the money. Why?
Because the legalization of cannabis would massively disrupt billion-dollar industries that currently control many of our elected officials and institutions.
Take the medical industry for example. Did you know that cannabis has shown promise in treating diseases like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, anxiety disorders, autoimmune disease, strokes, depression, and even cancer?
Did you know that cannabis could likely replace opioids when it comes to pain management? A 2018 study by Harvard found that access to cannabis led to a reduced number of opioid prescriptions in local communities.
Did you know that Americans spend tens of BILLIONS of dollars on cancer treatments, more than $12 billion on epilepsy, and a whopping $150 billion on anxiety disorders and depression? Meanwhile, tens of thousands are dying from prescription drugs like opioids, antidepressants, and other designer drugs.
In 2018, more people died from synthetic painkillers than from cocaine and heroin COMBINED! Let me put it another way:
There were 73% MORE deaths from prescription pain meds and antidepressants than from both cocaine and heroin.
The companies that manufacture these drugs are worth billions and have so many friends in government and the FDA that they are very rarely brought to justice.
So OF COURSE these special interest groups don’t want to legalize cannabis! It’s going to drastically decrease their bottom lines! And the more research we’re able to do on this amazing, natural plant (and the inherent endocannabinoid system present in every human on earth), there more we’ll be able to maximize its potential for healing and wellness.
Matt Gaetz is right: the US government screwed this up. They have lied to the American people, and it’s time for a change. He knows that it’s up to his fellow republicans to set things right.
The MORE act would essentially eliminate all federal laws surrounding cannabis, leaving it to each state to create their own regulation. Just as the founding fathers intended. This is NOT a partisan issue, and there is no excuse for politicians from ANY party to oppose this bill.
According to Gaetz, every single bill to relax restrictions on cannabis in the U.S. passed this year. The people have spoken. And now, we need to speak LOUDLY. So here’s how it works:
The US House of Representatives has already passed the MORE Act, by a staggering 70 votes. 122 democrats, 5 republicans, and one independent voted in favor, while 158 republicans and 6 democrats voted against. If those numbers hold, the bill will die in the Senate.
But why? Why would any of our elected officials vote against this bill? The way I see it, there are only 2 possibilities:
- They are uneducated about the safety and medicinal properties of cannabis and have been tricked by nearly 100 years of propaganda.
- They’re beholden to Big Pharma and special lobbying groups who don’t want to see this bill passed.
Neither of these are a valid excuse.
So please. Write, call, and email your senators. Share this information on social media and have conversations with your friends and families. Make it clear that ANY elected official who votes against this bill is either corrupt or ignorant – and that neither is acceptable in our government.
You can find information on how to contact any United States Senator here.
Enough is enough. Let’s hold these politicians accountable for representing the people who elected them.