In laying accusations against Cannabis sativa L., (Cannabis) as a cause of harm, Prohibitionists often produced ‘evidence’ based upon experimentation using concentrated or synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) upon the likes of mice and monkeys. Such evidence was never scientific and should have been ignored. Whilst there are similarities between mice, men and monkeys (we are all mammals) there is a big difference between the effects of a human being smoking whole-plant Cannabis and the dropping of neat THC onto the inner lining of a mouse’s stomach (the latter ought to be illegal)! To use the results of experiments with just one of many hundreds of compounds in a plant to infer the observed properties (alleged toxicity etc.,) is scientifically unsound. It would be like extracting poisonous chemicals from the human body and inferring the body itself is poisonous, ignoring the counter-balances which nature usually provides.
Both hydrochloric acid, found in a dilute form in our digestive systems, and sodium hydroxide are poisonous but mixed, they produce salt and water. THC is just one of many active ingredients in Cannabis which can be produced synthetically. Organic Cannabis contains over 1,000 other compounds; like any herb it is the use of the whole herb as medicine which is vital, the ‘Entourage Effect’. Any judgement of Cannabis based on the supply of THC alone to patients is unfounded. Cannabis contains THC but Cannabis is not purely THC. It is incorrect methodologically to mix in extraneous, irrelevant THC findings, or data from isolated cannabinoids and then make false claims relating to Cannabis. When The Lancet wrote, in 1995, “The smoking of Cannabis, even long term, is not harmful to health” they meant whole-plant Cannabis only, not mixed with tobacco or anything else. The same applies to United States (US) Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Judge Young who said, over twenty-five years ago, that Cannabis is safer than most foods we eat. Judge Young not only ruled Cannabis as safe, but also that Cannabis in its natural herbal state is non-toxic.
Scientific evidence from clinical empirical studies (long term, cross-cultural studies in Jamaica, Costa Rica, Greece and Egypt in the 1970’s-1980’s etc.) confirm Cannabis contains no addictive properties in any part of the plant or in its smoke so, unlike and in contrast to tobacco, alcohol and all the legal or illegal ‘recreational’ substances, Cannabis is both non-habit-forming and non-toxic. As such, Cannabis is uniquely safe and does not induce psychological or physical dependence, exonerating Cannabis from causing harm to human beings. “We have seen that the majority of studies have found no clinically or statistically significant differences between groups of Cannabis users and controls on commonly accepted neurological and psychological measures of cerebral functioning”, researchers at the State University of New York, Buffalo, New York stated in the paper, ‘The Chronic Cerebral Effects of Cannabis Use II Psychological Findings and Conclusions’ (1986). During testimony on behalf of NORML before US Congress in 1997, Associate Professor, Emeritus Lester Grinspoon, M.D., described Cannabis as remarkably safe, and “… surely less toxic than most of the conventional medicines it could replace if it were legally available. Despite its use by millions of people over thousands of years, Cannabis has never caused an overdose death”. According to the US National Cancer Institute, “Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal overdoses from Cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur”.
The word ‘drug’ derives most likely from the fourteenth century Dutch / German word for dry, ‘droge’, when used referencing goods or wares (dry-goods, -wares), particularly herbs and spices for culinary or herbal uses and dyeing of textiles. Application to “narcotics and opiates” came in the late nineteenth century with no connotation of addiction over the centuries until the twentieth century, when the meaning was transformed by the specious pseudo-philosophy of Prohibition. To those people in whose (pecuniary) interest it is to perpetuate prohibition of Cannabis the semantically incorrect use of the word ‘drug’ where Cannabis is concerned, is a premeditated misuse of terminology. This serves strategy advantageous to Prohibitionists and comprises a simple but effective mechanism of disinformation, by putting the harmless herb into an unjustifiable association with addictive and harmful drugs. The reality is clear: Cannabis and those pernicious substances, the drugs, are wholly unalike. As the word ‘drug’ is wrong and inapplicable to Cannabis, it is necessary to establish a correct word, veracious vocabulary, which is fitting. From The Report of the Family Council on Drug Awareness (FCDA) (Europe, 2000);
“Because Cannabis has been loosely, widely and incorrectly referred to in the past as a ‘drug’ does not mean that this basic untruth can become acceptable. On the contrary, since the introduction of Prohibition the legal situation compels veracity and clarity more than ever, for not to articulate the truth accurately involves perjury. Yet truthful language, the truth, exposes the mendacious basis to the crime that is this prohibition of Cannabis”.
Some argue Cannabis is a drug in any case, as it can be used as a constituent in a medicine. Others argue that parts of the Cannabis plant cannot correctly, semantically be called a drug at all, especially as it is neither physically addictive nor toxic in any conceivably consumable amount. Tell a Rastafarian that his sacrament is a drug and you will find yourself in trouble! Look at a bale of hemp fibre, hemp-seed oil soap, paper, cloth or seed cake, they are all pure Cannabis, and then call it a drug. Drugs are associated with addiction (drugs of abuse) and health and other problems; Cannabis is associated with none of these. From all medico-scientific aspects, harmless Cannabis is not only wrongly defined as a ‘drug’ in any meaningful (semantic) definition of the word but also, by definition and empirical reality, wrongly proscribed as a ‘drug’ (or other substance) under legislation regulations. Although dictionaries vary slightly in their definitions of ‘drug’, virtually all refer to, and rely for definition on, a drug’s habit-forming, addictive properties.
Webster’s New World Dictionary, for example, defines ‘drug’ as: “a narcotic, hallucinogen, especially one that is habit-forming”. Cannabis is pharmacologically distinct from the family of opium derivatives and synthetic narcotics, is not hallucinogenic and contains no habit-forming properties in the plant itself or its smoke. Evidence from the most fundamental and widely inferred meaning, by definition based on empirical fact, Cannabis is not a drug. According to the Oxford Pocket Dictionary to intoxicate is to make drunk, excite, elate, beyond self-control. Unlike alcohol, Cannabis users do not lose self-control. Massive amounts just send them to sleep. Intoxicants are potentially toxic, that is poisonous, with a certain overdose level often dependent on the individual. There has never been a single death directly attributed to Cannabis use, in thousands of years of history, with hundreds of millions of users worldwide, as there is no toxic amount of Cannabis. Many substances which are mind-altering or mood changing are also not drugs; hormones, endorphins, adrenaline and endocannabinoids (endogenous cannabinoids). Conscious-altering substances which we consume which are not generally regarded as drugs, either, include sugar, caffeine and chocolate.
Scientifically, it is now generally accepted that Cannabis is safer than alcohol and tobacco. The question of any risk attached to the use of Cannabis will continue to be a matter for the experts, but irrespective of the answer there exists no justifiable reason to punish Cannabis users or those who grow it. In January 2017 the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a ground-breaking report, ‘The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research’. The report states there is conclusive evidence Cannabis can be used medicinally with Cannabis treatment recognised for efficacy in treating many medical conditions such as “… chronic pain in adults, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms”. Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs at the US Drug Policy Alliance said, “This report is vindication for all the many researchers, patients and healthcare providers who have long understood the benefits”, and, “To have such a thorough review of the evidence conclude that there are benefits … should boost the case for federal reform”. Cannabis has been used for centuries, both medicinally and for what Prohibitionists like to refer to as recreational use, which is actually therapeutic, as well as for rope etc., long before the days of drugs and synthetics.
A now rescinded Australian Government document from the National Drug Strategy stated, “Cannabis has been erroneously classified as a narcotic, as a sedative and most recently as an hallucinogen. While the cannabinoids do possess hallucinogenic properties, together with stimulant and sedative effects, they in fact represent a unique pharmacological class of compounds. Unlike many other drugs of abuse, Cannabis acts upon specific receptors in the brain and periphery. The discovery of the receptors and the naturally occurring substances in the brain that bind to these receptors is of great importance, in that it signifies an entirely new pathway system in the brain”. The fact that Cannabis is a non-toxic herb means it should not be under any form of legislation, nor tied up in bureaucratic red-tape or included in a Poisons Standard nor a ‘Misuse of Drugs Act’ anywhere on the planet, as a substance has to be harmful to be deemed as belonging there, which Cannabis isn’t. The illegal placement of Cannabis under politically invented standards and acts is a hidden crime against humanity.
In Australia, personal Cannabis use and possession is illegal and penalties vary greatly from state to territory. As from November 2016 however, pharmaceuticalised ‘medicinal Cannabis products’ are deemed ‘legal’ Australia-wide and a federal Cannabis cultivation scheme is being introduced. In February 2016, the Federal Government passed legislation ‘legalising’ cultivation of Cannabis for medicinal purposes. The Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016 introduced a legislative framework to enable licensed cultivation of Cannabis in Australia and facilitate access to ‘medicinal Cannabis products’ for therapeutic purposes. The then Federal Health Minister said the Government worked closely with the states and territories in developing the legislation and clarified that the legislation did not relate to decriminalisation of Cannabis for general cultivation or recreational use. “If states wish to decriminalise Cannabis, then that’s entirely a matter for them. This product is not one that you smoke, it’s not something that might be out there illegally”.
Currently twenty-eight US states have medical Cannabis laws, and sixteen more states have CBD-only laws. The NAS report notes that “There are specific regulatory barriers, including the classification of Cannabis as a Schedule I substance, that impede the advancement of Cannabis and cannabinoid research”. Cannabis was classified in the US as a Schedule I Controlled Substance decades ago, along with ecstasy, LSD and heroin whilst crack cocaine is a Schedule II substance along with methadone, oxycodone and fentanyl, and other narcotics including morphine, opium and codeine. In the US, the qualifications required for a drug to reach Schedule I distinction are threefold:
- High potential for abuse
- No currently accepted medical use, and
- Lack of accepted safety for use.
Does Cannabis truly meet the requirements of a US Schedule I drug? The answer is a resounding NO! High potential for abuse? Hardly! No currently accepted medical use? No way! Lack of accepted safety for use? Absolutely not!
Over 43% of American adults have smoked Cannabis at least once, but less than 1% smoke on a daily basis. Cannabis use across the US doubled from 7% in 2013 to 13% in 2016 and whereas alcohol is linked to over 75,000 deaths per year (according to the World Health Organisation about 3.3 million net deaths worldwide in 2012, or 5.9% of all global deaths) and tobacco roughly 400,000 per year (around 6 million deaths annually worldwide), the world is still waiting for the first-ever instance of Cannabis fatality. This is a substance on which it is impossible to overdose and does not cause the kind of violent limbic explosions associated with abuse of alcohol, cocaine and amphetamines. Initial studies suggested cannabinoids might increase nucleus accumbens dopamine concentrations, in part, by binding to the dopamine transporter and thereby decreasing uptake into presynaptic terminals, which would be consistent with the pharmacological mechanism of action of other drugs of abuse, such as cocaine. Cannabinoids failed to alter the width of electrically evoked dopamine release events, thereby showing that cannabinoids do not increase dopamine by decreasing uptake. Thus the way Cannabis increases dopamine, through separate pathways to addictive substances, is why Cannabis is not addictive. Cannabis is not a Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor (DRI) in the way that cocaine, alcohol (0.2% less addictive than cocaine), methylphenidate (Ritalin) or dexamphetamines are; they are all addictive DRI’s.
In Australia, down-scheduling of ‘medicinal Cannabis products’, from Schedule 9 (Prohibited Substances) to Schedule 8 (Controlled Drug, alongside cocaine and methadone), took effect from 1 November 2016. Cannabis remains a highly regulated substance in Australia and the use and supply of Cannabis for non-medicinal purposes (for example, recreational use) is illegal, in accordance with applicable Commonwealth, state and territory laws. Poisons for therapeutic use (medicines) are mostly included in Schedules 2, 3, 4 and 8 with progression through these Schedules signifying increasingly restrictive regulatory controls.
Schedule 8 – Controlled Drug – Substances which should be available for use but (according to government) require restriction of manufacture, supply, distribution, possession and use to reduce abuse, misuse and physical or psychological dependence.
Schedule 9 – Prohibited Substance – Substances which may be abused or misused, the manufacture, possession, sale or use of which should be prohibited by law except when required for medical or scientific research, or for analytical, teaching or training purposes with approval of Commonwealth and/or State or Territory Health Authorities.
Despite both recreational and medical use of whole plant at present being illegal across Australia, the country ranks among the highest in the world for Cannabis use. According to the Australian National Drug Strategy Household Surveys (NDSHS), 13% of Australians aged 14 and above used Cannabis in the year prior to the survey, with teenagers and young adults in their twenties making up most of the users. Over 40% reported having used Cannabis at some point in the past. In October 2016, only 7% of Australians surveyed for their views said they were opposed to Cannabis being made legal for medicinal purposes. In a poll released by Roy Morgan Research, 91% of Australians polled, aged 14 and above said it should be made legal, while 2% were unsure. The strongest support for legalisation came from the 50-plus age group, with 94% of respondents in favour. The age group least likely to support it were 14-to-24 year-olds, but even so, 85% of that group said it should be legalised for medicinal use. Michele Levine, the CEO of Roy Morgan Research, said that Australians aged 50-plus were the strongest supporters.
Over the last decade, the proportion of the population who believe Cannabis should be made legal has grown from 26.8% (2004) to 31.8% (2014). In this time, the 65+ age bracket has seen the largest proportional increase in favour of legalisation, rising from 16.9% to 25.5% (a 50% growth rate). However, this is still well behind young Australians aged 18-24 (35.7%), the age group with the most support for making Cannabis legal.
How Australians of Different Ages Feel About Legalising Cannabis, January-December 2014
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia). Base: Australians 14+
Since the 1970’s, the twenty-eight American states that have re-legalised Cannabis for medicinal purposes have done so quite simply because Cannabis has huge medical value, something that has been known throughout recorded human history. Cannabis’ long history of use as medicine dates back to 2737 BCE. The classical Chinese pharmacopoeia described a large number of herbal formulations used for the treatment of a wide variety of diseases and prescribed for a broad range of indications. As such, Cannabis medicine is not a new trend, despite what ‘reefer madness’ America and other propagandists might have you believe. About 5,000 years ago, Chinese physicians would recommend a tea made from Cannabis leaves to treat a wide variety of conditions and in Chinese herbology, Cannabis is one of the 50 Fundamental Herbs.
In 2014 across the US, a total of 2.5 million persons aged ≥12 years had used Cannabis for the first time during the preceding year, an average of approximately 7,000 new users a day. During 2002–2014, the prevalence of Cannabis use during the past month, year and daily increased among persons aged ≥18 years. Among persons aged ≥12 years, the prevalence of perceived great risk from smoking Cannabis once or twice a week and once a month decreased and the prevalence of perceived no risk increased. Among persons aged ≥12 years, the percentage reporting that Cannabis was fairly easy or very easy to obtain increased. The percentage of persons aged ≥12 reporting the mode of acquisition of Cannabis was buying it and growing it increased versus getting it for free and sharing it.
Cannabis use among older Americans is increasing. Although much of this growth has been attributed to the entry of a more tolerant baby boom cohort into older age, recent evidence suggests the pathways to Cannabis are more complex. Some older persons have responded to changing social and legal environments and are increasingly likely to take Cannabis recreationally. Other older persons are experiencing age-related health care needs and some take Cannabis for symptom management, as recommended by a medical doctor. Cannabis may be a viable policy alternative in terms of supporting the health and well-being of a substantial number of ageing Americans. On the one hand, Cannabis may be an effective substitute for prescription opioids and other misused medications; on the other hand, Cannabis has emerged as an alternative for the under-treatment of pain at the end of life.
One of the biggest components to any narrative battle will be “a fight for civil liberties” versus “lazy twenty-somethings looking for an excuse to get ‘high’”. The increased medicinal use among seniors should demonstrate that responsible Cannabis use is not only a conceivable practice but one that already exists widely across the US, Canada and Europe. Re-legalisation of Cannabis incurs regulation of Cannabis. Most, if not all current safety hazards associated with Cannabis exist because the substance is illegal and unregulated. Just as alcohol prohibition led to organised crime and poorly-crafted home-made booze (that often led to alcohol poisoning), the continued criminalisation of Cannabis has led to a massive underground trade between south-western US and Mexico.
It is a by-product of the pursuit of happiness that man has the right to debilitate himself, as long as he does not harm his neighbour while doing so. It is perfectly legal to abuse to any desirable degree, and even to the point of death, the drugs Marlboro, Jack Daniels and McDonald’s, as well as base jumping, cave diving and bull riding. It should come as no surprise that almost all of these are more addictive than Cannabis and cause more deaths per year. What’s more? Many of them cause harm to innocent bystanders. So will those who wish to keep Cannabis illegal also criminalise these dangerous drugs? Cannabis is first and foremost a herb and a medicine, not a drug. The overtones of the words are very different as medicine is a product that treats or prevents disease and drugs are a chemical substance with a biological effect. Importantly, while tobacco, alcohol and prescription pain killers, all legal, kill people by the thousand, Cannabis gives new life to the suffering, and it is past time this natural wonder was made freely legal, worldwide.
Expanded from Cannabis Campaigner’s Guide – Is Cannabis Really a Drug?, with Why Marijuana Is Not A Drug, Cannabis is a medicine, not a drug, The health and psychological consequences of cannabis use, Cannabis is Not an Addictive Drug, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, NORML’s Testimony on Medical Marijuana Before Congress (1997) Lester Grinspoon, MD, The Shocking Facts On Cannabis, National Academy of Sciences Finds Conclusive Evidence That Marijuana is an Effective Medicine, Cannabis Prohibition: A Very Serious Crime , One in Eight U.S. Adults Say They Smoke Marijuana, Schedule 9 Poisons Standard, Schedule 8 – Poisons Standard, National Estimates of Marijuana Use and Related Indicators – National Survey on Drug Use and Health, United States, 2002-2014, Cannabis Is One Of The 50 Fundamental Herbs Of Chinese Medicine and The Increasing Use of Cannabis Among Older Americans: A Public Health Crisis or Viable Policy Alternative?