As part of the federal budget deal last week, Congress exercised its wisdom for the benefit of Washington, DC residents when it entirely reversed the city’s voter referendum approving the legalization of cannabis in the city to be regulated in a way similar to alcohol sales.  Legalization had been approved in November by the DC voters by a margin of 68-32. 

Now, Washington DC is apparently the only place in the United States where federal cannabis prohibition is mandatory.  Even the medical use of cannabis, also previously approved by voters in DC, appears to now be a serious federal crime again.

Bipartisanship in Congress only applies to the big picture, like in bankrupting the nation, endless warfare and, in this instance, the suppression by brute force of a plant that has been in use for 6000 years or longer.

The fact though this measure had to be pushed by Congressional leadership into a must-pass budget bill is indicative of how poorly the federal government’s century long war on weed has gone over the past two decades.  The giddy days of Ronald Reagan are long over.  Complete surrender has already occurred in three States.  All of the remaining 47 States are in play politically for legalization or a lesser liberalization.

A Fierce Retreat and Backfill

The war appears to be lost already.  No horror stories are coming out of Colorado or Washington State that might give the prohibitionists renewed life.  As with blue laws, sodomy laws and Jim Crow laws, abolition will be complete in the end or near so.

Yet the last of the pot warriors still pull the strings in Congress and in most of the State legislatures.  Special interest pleaders like distillers, brewers, pharmaceuticals, tobacco and too big to fail banks are too politically powerful for cannabis to break free from the top down finally. 

The masters of Congress along Wall Street are known by the world to be the financial lynchpin for the international drug lords, a business the banks are loathe to lose.

Not a single State legislature has legalized cannabis on its own.  They instead watch the voters do the job.  There is little campaign money for greater freedom, after all.

The federal government’s Schedule 1 Narcotics law still says today that cannabis has no legitimate use whatsoever, now almost through two Obama terms in office. 

The US Supreme Court has refused to hold that smoking a joint in your own closet at home is a privacy right, nor that prohibition of a certain plant by Congress is beyond the scope of the interstate commerce power.

The Fog of War

The debate across the nation on cannabis legalization mostly concerns new tax revenue, government budget numbers and just how thoroughly to regulate this menacing plant, especially sales.  The terrible health effects of alcohol and tobacco use are trotted out for comparison.  So, cannabis has now risen to the point of being closely categorized with two toxic poisons that kill millions across the world every year, except by the Congress that still sticks to its far firmer position on weed.

What one has not seen in the national debate thus far though is much of the most basic information there is on the subject.  Namely, the fact the psychoactive component of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) known as a cannabinoid compound, has proven to actually be a great benefactor to humanity, never a dangerous foe, and has in this century opened a horizon for scientific advancement seldom matched in discoveries from the natural world.

So, what does the history and science of cannabis thus far show?

A Long History

The unusual part of the hardy, pugnacious cannabis plant found in warm, arid climates, THC has been used recreationally and as a medicine for longer than human civilization has existed.  The US DEA says the first official reference to smoking weed for medicinal purposes was written under China’s Emperor Nung in 2727 B.C., even though it seems no such Emperor could have existed, except in Chinese legend. 

The Greeks and Romans used cannabis widely as medicine, somehow dealing with the euphoria as well.  Historically, cannabis became a medicine and the legal intoxicant of choice across large parts of the Middle East and Asia, especially in the form of hashish, places where alcohol use has been criminally prohibited for many centuries.  These nations did however join the global treaties of the 1970’s offered by the United States suddenly outlawing “marijuana” worldwide.

In the United States prior to creeping prohibition beginning in the 1920’s, cannabis
was widely sold as a medicine for a variety of ailments as well as a party-time favorite.

Outside of propaganda pieces like the short movie
“Reefer Madness” produced in 1936, not a single person in the United States has ever been shown to have died from an overdose of cannabis use, nor even from its long-term health effects.  

The alleged direct tie to violent behavior that so drove the enactment of “marijuana” prohibition in Congress a century ago, has proven laughable now, even to law enforcement advocates.  A mellowed-out stoner would be the last person one would expect to start a fight.

On the subject of intoxicated driving, to the surprise of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and just about everyone else, even immediate cannabis use prior to driving does not measurably endanger traffic safety, largely because users tend to compensate and concentrate on their driving.  Two recent NHTSA studies confirm those findings as noted by the National Institute of Health.  This is no news since the NHTSA made the same findings in 1993.

The so-hyped
British research study alleging a possible tie between long-term cannabis use and schizophrenia has been debunked as placing the cart before the horse.  So has the brain imagery study inferring an impairment of intellect and motivation due to late adolescent cannabis use.

But maybe the
most failed anti-cannabis research study ever is the most recent one that examined, to the thrill of prohibitionists, the long-term effects of serial cannabis use daily for at least a decade.  About 2% of cannabis users fall into this category.

This focused study of super-stoners spent more time in its analysis trying to explain away why the participants are so mentally alert and healthy overall than anything else, more alert and healthy than the statistical mean for people their age. 

There were findings that two changes in the brain appear from daily cannabis use.   The frontal cortex where deliberative processes occur is slightly shrunken, especially in those patients who became daily cannabis users by age fourteen.  No tie to loss of IQ or brain function could be identified by testing however, indeed the opposite conclusion seemed more likely to be true for the test group. 

Most importantly by far, the study also found “the brains of cannabis user seemed to have increased structural integrity and the different areas of the brain appeared to be activating and responding in greater synchronicity.”

A New Basis for Science

Botanists speculate that THC is a form of self-defense for the cannabis plant against both herbivores and ultra-violet light exposure.  The medical science on THC that is now growing across the world indicates the herb’s lifeblood may well have a similar effect on human health in many more ways than one.

For a start, it turns out the hundreds of cannabinoids called collectively THC found in the cannabis plant is the example in nature that led to the scientific discovery of an entire system of natural receptors within human physiology, the endocannabinoid system.


The endogenous cannabinoid system, named after the plant that led to its discovery, is perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.

Cannabinoids promote homeostasis at every level of biological life, from the sub-cellular, to the organism, and perhaps to the community and beyond. Here's one example: autophagy, a process in which a cell sequesters part of its contents to be self-digested and recycled, is mediated by the cannabinoid system. While this process keeps normal cells alive, allowing them to maintain a balance between the synthesis, degradation, and subsequent recycling of cellular products, it has a deadly effect on malignant tumor cells, causing them to consume themselves in a programmed cellular suicide. The death of cancer cells, of course, promotes homeostasis and survival at the level of the entire organism.

Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are also found at the intersection of the body's various systems, allowing communication and coordination between different cell types. At the site of an injury, for example, cannabinoids can be found decreasing the release of activators and sensitizers from the injured tissue, stabilizing the nerve cell to prevent excessive firing, and calming nearby immune cells to prevent release of pro-inflammatory substances. Three different mechanisms of action on three different cell types for a single purpose: minimize the pain and damage caused by the injury.

The endocannabinoid system, with its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and all of the body's organs, is literally a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system we begin to see a mechanism that explains how states of consciousness can promote health or disease.

In addition to regulating our internal and cellular homeostasis, cannabinoids influence a person's relationship with the external environment. Socially, the administration of cannabinoids clearly alters human behavior, often promoting sharing, humor, and creativity. By mediating neurogenesis, neuronal plasticity, and learning, cannabinoids may directly influence a person's open-mindedness and ability to move beyond limiting patterns of thought and behavior from past situations. Reformatting these old patterns is an essential part of health in our quickly changing environment.”  Dustin Sulak, DO
Maine Integrative Healthcare
  Also see here, here and here.


The Miracle Cure

So, what is the cannabis plant being used for today in the world of medicine?

The capacities of the endocannabinoid system in cancer treatment and prevention is now the most promising area of research seeking an end to cancer.  Cancer tumors in rodents have been successfully eliminated without the severe side-effects of radiation or chemotherapy, simply by activating the body’s own physiological method for healing by attacking the invader cells.

The blending of the health of the mind and of the body through cannabinoid therapy is best proven by a recent study of Alzheimer’s patients.  The study shows the dramatic healing effects cannabinoid therapy has for the debilitating disease and for other forms of dementia.  The study concludes that cannabis use reverses the effects of Alzheimer’s and even prevents the onset of the disease, especially when used as a young adult by people already prone to the illness.

Also demonstrating the link of bodily health to mental fitness is the anecdotal, but singular success of cannabinoid therapy in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, and other panic disorders.  Cannabis use is widely reported to lessen one’s fear, especially extreme irrational fear (except for the first time or so you try it).  Experts have long believed in pursuing this promising avenue for psychiatric research.  Just this spring the federal government finally blessed an extensive study using cannabis as PTSD therapy for US veterans.

When it comes to pain relief cannabinoid therapy can be as effective as the narcotics widely used for pain management, oxycontin and morphine.  Cannabis is the natural alternative to narcotics use, quite ironically.

Illnesses from nausea to arthritis to diabetes to glaucoma to ALS and many more have also been responsive to cannabinoid therapy.  Nothing works as well as the body’s own natural processes.

Certain rare, deadly illnesses resistant to all other treatments often go into remission with cannabinoid therapy, including severe epilepsy and Epstein-Barr Syndrome.  These conditions strike from an early age.

Still not convinced?  Well then, consider that wide exposure to cannabinoids seems to delay age progression.  The old-time stoners often look a generation younger than the calendar indicates.

Dr. Michele Ross, a neuroscientist, says it all.

Cannabinoids Unchained

There was a time when the Earth was so plainly flat is was religious heresy to claim the Earth is round, a crime potentially punishable by death.  Such heresy was thought to undermine the primacy of the human being as the focus of God’s creation of the universe, so therefore the work of the devil.

Going way back to Ancient Greece until near the turn of the 20th Century the favored medical treatment by far for many illnesses was “purging the humours”, removing the “bad blood” from the body pints at a time.  This method never helped anyone and must have ended the lives of many, many patients across five millennia, including apparently George Washington and King Charles II.

In this 21st Century, the dinosaurs who run Congress aside, it is well past time to accept the cannabinoid as one of the better friends of humanity.  Editor