“There is no doubt that we’re moving toward full legalization and acceptance of Cannabis in this culture.”
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Monday evening at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe, Dr. Andrew Weil gave a sold-out talk on the evolution of integrative medicine. He touched only briefly on the subject of Cannabis sativa. However, he spoke of it in terms that resonated with the Borderland perspective described in my last two posts. Weil said that, unlike any other plant, Cannabis had made the decision a very long time ago to throw its lot in with humans.
There is a very clear trail in Weil’s history to the embrace of Cannabis, which we also know as hemp. From Harvard University he has both a medical degree and an undergraduate degree in biology with a focus on botany, and he wrote a thesis on the narcotic properties of nutmeg. In 1994, he founded the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson, and his belief in the healing potential of plants is central to the effort to balance pharmaceutical remedies with herbal.
With reference to psychoactive substances in plants, Weil is frank about his belief in the need for moments of transcendence:
“I have argued that every human being is born with an innate drive to experience altered states of consciousness periodically–in particular to learn how to get away from ordinary ego-centered consciousness. I have also explained my intuition that this drive is a most important factor in our evolution, both as individuals and as species.”
Weil’s talk ranged widely over the whole subject of integrated medicine, but it was his brief comments on Cannabis that really caught my attention. I have not had an open mind about legalization, and my opposition has been expressed like this: “A lot of motorists are already drunk, drugged illicitly or by prescription, recovering from sleeping pills, talking on the phone, and texting. So now we’ll have to worry that they’re also stoned?”
When I shared this thought with a friend, she said “A lot of them already are stoned.” Oh, OK. I guess I’m out of touch.
And the truth is that I personally know pretty much nothing about marijuana. Well, I have to admit that I did share one joint way back when I was 34, I think. As I remember, my date found me fun as a result, but I was left with no desire whatsoever to do this again.
However, when Weil described Cannabis as throwing its lot in with us in the same way that ancient dogs became camp followers, I felt more interest in its story. I perked up even more when a woman in the audience told how marijuana had given her relief from migraine headaches. I have a friend who has migraines.
The next day I did some research on hemp. It is the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content that determines whether hemp has psychoactive properties. In the European Union, which is not nearly as fusty as we are, literally dozens of varieties of hemp with negligible THC are certified for cultivation for its practical uses.
Hemp is the source of oil, seed, and fiber as well as marijuana when THC is high. Hemp seed can be used for animal and bird feed as well as in nutritional products like granola and energy bars for humans. The fiber can be turned into cloth and cordage of tremendous strength. Hemp fabric was used for sail cloth and rigging in the era of sailing ships. And get this–hemp can be used as a “mop crop” to clear impurities out of waste water and sewage. At the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site, it has been planted to clear isotopes and other toxins from soil, air, and water.
Hemp can also be used to produce biofuels and insulating material for construction. Furthermore, the plant is very sturdy, supposedly requiring few pesticides and no herbicides. It has been called a “carbon negative” raw material. (All of this is from Wikipedia.)
So who is benefiting from hemp production, since we aren’t? Weil said that China has the market for hemp fabric cornered, and Canada has done the same with food production from hemp. Here, however, hemp is considered a “controlled substance” under federal law. Nine states have passed laws to license farmers to grow hemp, but the Drug Enforcement Administration is getting in the way.
Nevertheless, things are looking up a bit for this potential “boutique” crop. In February, Congress passed a farm bill allowing colleges and state agencies in the states above to conduct research on hemp crops. The legislation found support from both sides of the aisle. In some cases the states are marijuana-friendly; others are simply interested in the potential profitability of the crop. One of the latter is Kentucky, so Senator Mitch McConnell voted for the provision.
Dr. Weil had commented that “we have behaved very foolishly toward this plant” and have been driven by both irrationality and fear. I feel a little tarred by that brush. Although I am still not eager to drive up to Colorado and buy a brownie, I do think that we have handicapped ourselves in a number of ways through existing policy. And I would love to see marijuana take a big bite out of pharmaceuticals where it can treat conditions more effectively, more economically, and with no potentially dangerous side effects.
Dr. Weil is now 72 years old, but he seems to be as passionately engaged as ever with a mission that has brought him renown the world over. Nevertheless, he says that his favorite activity is simply working in his garden. One imagines that his relationship with the plants is very different from the usual. Perhaps they tell him things.