Taxonomy and Nomenclature of Cannabis


FIG. 1. 

Macrofossils identified as Cannabis (not to scale).

Taxonomy includes the identification and categorisation of organisms (classification) and nomenclature is the naming and describing of organisms. The family Cannabaceae now includes Cannabis, Humulus and eight genera formerly in the Celtidaceae (grouping Cannabis, Humulus and Celtis goes back 250 years). Print fossil of the extinct genus Dorofeevia (=Humularia) reveals Cannabis lost a sibling 20 million years ago (mya). Cannabis print fossils are rare (n=3 worldwide), making it difficult to determine when and where Cannabis evolved. A molecular clock analysis with chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) suggests Cannabis and Humulus diverged 27.8 mya. Microfossil (fossil pollen) data point to a centre of origin in the northeastern Tibetan Plateau. Fossil pollen indicates Cannabis dispersed to Europe by 1.8–1.2 mya. Mapping pollen distribution over time suggests European Cannabis went through repeated genetic  bottlenecks, when the population shrank during range contractions.

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Genetic drift in this population likely initiated allopatric (occurring in separate non-overlapping geographical areas) differences between European Cannabis sativa (cannabidiol [CBD] >Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol [THC]) and Asian Cannabis indica (THC > CBD). DNA barcode analysis supports the separation of these taxa at a subspecies level and recognising the formal nomenclature of C. sativa subsp. sativa and C. sativa subsp. indica. Herbarium specimens reveal that field botanists during the 18th–20th centuries applied these names to their collections rather capriciously (unpredictably). This may have skewed taxonomic determinations, ultimately giving rise to today’s vernacular taxonomy of ‘‘Sativa’’ and ‘‘Indica’’ which totally misaligns with formal C. sativa and C. indica. Ubiquitous interbreeding and hybridisation of ‘‘Sativa’’ and ‘‘Indica’’ has rendered their distinctions almost meaningless.Image result for C. sativa L.

A folk taxonomy of “Sativa” and “Indica” has entangled and absorbed the nomenclature of Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. Thousands of websites generalise about the morphological (form and structure), phytochemical (biologically active compounds in plants), organoleptic (relating to taste, colour, odour of substances that stimulate sense organs) and clinical properties of these plants. “Sativa” is recommended for treating depression, headaches, nausea and loss of appetite; it causes a stimulating and energising type of neuroactivity. “Indica” is recommended for treating insomnia, pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, epilepsy and glaucoma; it causes a relaxing and sedating neuroactivity. “Sativa” plants produce more THC than CBD and a terpenoid profile that smells “herbal” or “sweet”. “Indica” plants produce more CBD than “Sativa” with a THC-to-CBD ratio closer to 1:1. “Indica” terpenoids impart an acrid or “skunky” aroma. Robert Clarke (Indiana University, US) in his 1987 Masters thesis, ‘Cannabis evolution’, first described the unique organoleptic properties of “Indica” plants, as a “slow flat dreary high” …

Image result for ernest small cannabis publicationsIn 2007, Ernest Small (National Research Council, Canada) noted “Sativa” and “Indica” were “quite inconsistent” with formal nomenclature, because C. sativa  subsp.  sativa  should strictly apply to non-intoxicant plants. Conflating formal and vernacular taxonomy has begun to muddle otherwise excellent studies that worked with “Sativa” but latinised the taxon as C. sativa. This confusion even appeared in the distinguished journal Nature. “Sativa” and “Indica” written in quotation marks mean different things than C. sativa and C. indica written in italics. McPartland et al. derided the inaccuracy of vernacular taxonomy, followed by others including Small, Clarke and Ethan B. Russo, MD. Some experts propose jettisoning all vernacular names in favour of a metabolomics (study of small molecules, metabolites, within cells, biofluids, tissues or organisms) classification, “from cultivar to chemovar”. The parade of mistakes leading to “Sativa” and “Indica” is detailed in ‘Models of Cannabis Taxonomy, Cultural Bias, and Conflicts between Scientific and Vernacular Names’.

It could be advisable to apply a nomenclature system based on the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP): it is not necessary to use the species epithets, sativa or indica and a combination of the genus name and a cultivar epithet in any language and bounded by single quotation marks define an exclusive name for each Cannabis cultivar. In contrast, Cannabis varieties named with vernacular names by medical patients and recreational users, lacking an adequate description as required by ICNCP, should be named: Cannabis strain Sour diesel, or Cannabis strain Granddaddy Purple, with their popularised name without single quotation marks, having in mind their names have no taxonomical validity.

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Schultes et al. assigned the taxon C. indica to Afghani plants and described the taxon having broad, oblanceolate leaflets, densely branched, more or less conical in shape and very short (<1.3 m). Designating these plants as C. indica was faulty; Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (French naturalist) was entirely unfamiliar with Afghani Cannabis. Lamarck’s protolog (original description of a species) of C. indica in 1783, describes plants that are relatively tall, laxly branched and with narrow leaflets. Anderson repeated the errors. He typified C. indica with plants that Schultes described in Afghanistan. He assigned C. sativa to plants consistent with Lamarck’s C. indica. Anderson illustrated these concepts in a line drawing (see below). This illustration has become pervasive on the web as the poster child of vernacular nomenclature.

FIG. 4. 

Cannabis vernacular taxonomy.

De Meijer and van Soest introduced the vernacular taxonomy to peer-reviewed literature: “Indica” refers to plants with broad leaflets, compact habit and early maturation, typified by plants from Afghanistan. “Sativa” refers to plants with narrow leaflets, slender, tall habit and late maturation, typified by plants from India and their descendants in Thailand, South and East Africa, Colombia and Mexico. Categorising Cannabis as either “Sativa” and “Indica” has become an exercise in futility. Ubiquitous interbreeding and hybridisation renders their distinction meaningless. The arbitrariness of these designations is illustrated by “AK-47” a hybrid that won “Best Sativa” in the 1999 Cannabis Cup and “Best Indica” four years later. More than 30 years ago, unhybridised plants of Indian heritage and Afghani landraces were already difficult to obtain. Hybridisation has largely obliterated population differences. Anderson illustrated a plant consistent with Schultes.

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One of the first seed bank catalogues from The Netherlands, in 1986, illustrated “Ruderalis” plants growing near the Hungary-Ukraine border. The photos of “Ruderalis” show plants with strong apical dominance and little branching. These traits are consistent with a spontaneous escape of cultivated hemp. In today’s vernacular taxonomy, “Ruderalis” is applied to plants that exhibit one to three characteristics: CBD≅THC, wild-type morphology, or early flowering (sometimes called “auto-flowering”, that is, day-neutral, flowering not induced by light cycle). Some authors have tried to reconcile “Sativa” and “Indica” with formal C. sativa and C. indica. McPartland et al. noted Afghani plants were mislabelled “Indica”. They reassigned “Indica” at species rank (Cannabis afghanica) or varietal rank (C. sativa var. afghanica). In summary, reconciling the vernacular and formal nomenclatures: “Sativa” is really indica, “Indica” is actually afghanica and “Ruderalis” is usually sativa. All three are varieties of one species, C. sativa L.

Extracted / Adapted from Cannabis Systematics at the Levels of Family, Genus, and Species



Cannabis is NOT a Drug

micemenmonkeysIn 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.

Image result for hydrochloric acid sodium hydroxideBoth 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.

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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”. 

Image result for Dutch ‘droge’ herbsThe 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. Related imageTell 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.

Image result for narcoticWebster’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.

Image result for The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for ResearchScientifically, 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.

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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 dImage result for Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016eemed ‘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”.

Image result for twenty-eight US states have medical Cannabis lawsCurrently 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:

  1. High potential for abuse
  2. No currently accepted medical use, and
  3. 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. 

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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. 

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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.

Image result for Cannabis use among older Americans is increasing.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 usImage result for massive underground trade between south-western US and Mexicoe 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 DrugThe 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?


Cannabis Tinctures: Uses, Effects and Recipes

cannabis-tinctures-1Cannabis sativa L., (Cannabis) tinctures are a simple way for patients to take their medicine and are easy to make at home. Tinctures are one of the oldest methods of consuming Cannabis. In fact, before prohibition began in the United States in 1937, tinctures were the most common type of Cannabis medicine in the US and around the world. While less common today, mostly due to archaic and inhumane laws, Cannabis tinctures are still popular among patients, especially those who need to take regular doses throughout the day. Like other herbal tinctures, a Cannabis tincture is simply a concentrated liquid form of Cannabis. Cannabis tinctures are sometimes called ‘Green Dragon because of the deep green colour that develops as the plant’s chlorophyll infuses with (most commonly) alcohol. But what are Cannabis tinctures? What are their benefits and common uses, how do they differ from other forms of Cannabis and what are some of the best recipes for making them?

(Cannabis Tincture)

Cannabis tinctures are made by soaking Cannabis flowers (buds) in alcohol (leaf trim, hash and kief can also be used). The alcohol extracts the terpenes, cannabinoids and other compounds from the Cannabis (for the full ‘Entourage Effect’), into a liquid that contains a high concentration of active compounds. Alcohol also preserves the compounds, which is important since it takes longer to consume tinctures as opposed to other forms of Cannabis. Cannabis tinctures are usually stored in an amber or dark blue glass, dropper bottle, which helps preserve the tincture for longer by blocking out sunlight. One of the benefits of using tinctures is that the alcohol allows your body to absorb the medicine faster. Most tinctures are taken by placing a few drops under the tongue, known as sublingual administration. When you take a tincture sublingually, the cannabinoids are absorbed rapidly by the blood vessels lining the inner tissues of the mouth, resulting in a quick onset of effects. 

Tinctures can also be ingested orally, such as by swallowing or mixing it with food. If you consume a tincture orally, the cannabinoids must be absorbed through the stomach and gastrointestinal tract and through the liver (in particular) and take significantly longer to enter the bloodstream. Depending on whether the Cannabis is decarboxylated first, tinctures may contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in its active form or non-active form (THCa). Most people choose to decarboxylate their Cannabis before making a tincture, allowing them to take full advantage of the medical benefits of THC. While medical uses of THC are still being researched, there is evidence that it can be helpful in treating a wide range of conditions and disorders, including nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, pain, multiple sclerosis, cancer, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, anxiety, depression, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, sleep apnoea, glaucoma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many others. 

cannaplantHowever, if you do not decarboxylate your Cannabis, you will receive the benefits of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, THC acid or THCa, found in the flowers, leaves and stems of young Cannabis plants. Biosynthesised by the trichomes, THCa plays a critical role in protecting the trichomes, and thus the plants themselves, from insects and other predators. Furthermore, THCa is no more ‘psychoactive’ than CBD, thus allaying parental concerns about getting their children ‘high’ (an unfounded, prohibitionist-driven fear). THCa is one of the cannabinoids primarily found in fresh Cannabis, although in variable amounts, according to CannLabs. Once the Cannabis plant is exposed to heat, such as vaporising, THCa decarboxylates to THC. What happens on a molecular level is that the carbon dioxide in the Cannabis is released; as a carbon atom in the acid is lost, THCa is converted to neuro-active THC. THCa acts as a cannabinoid receptor agonist and in so doing, also provides neuro-protective (brain protection) effects.

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THCa has also been shown to be an anti-inflammatory agent, has anti-proliferative qualities (helps inhibit growth of cancerous cells), as well as anti-spasmodic effects, useful for epileptic patients. THCa works just as well as Cannabidiol (CBD) for seizure control and is cheaper and more accessible than CBD (especially in the speculative environment created by CBD’s sky-rocketing popularity). In contrast to the specialised, low-THC/high CBD plants needed to make CBD extracts, any high-THC Cannabis strain can be used to make a THCa tincture. Prominent Australian Cannabis breeder/researcher, Mark Heinrich, said in 2014;

“As it is THCa, there is no issue of a ‘high’, so that makes strain choice less selective. Truly, this is globally available to even the poorest people. I have sent this simple method to doctors in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and more … There is no need to spend big money on CBD if THCa is just as good. We are getting good results with CBDa, CBD, THCa and CBN. Right now, predators and sharks are making a killing from CBD, but make no mistake, THCa works just as well and we have proof. We want everyone to have access to the tutorials to empower them to be able to make their own and not be reliant on CBD merchants. What’s even better, the information is FREE … And think how many folks can now get help – empowerment of parents”.

Image result for strain sativa v indicaThe effect of any tincture does depend on which strain is used to make it. For example, a sativa dominant strain will give you more of an energetic and uplifting tincture which could also be used to stimulate appetite and combat pain. An indica dominant strain however, will give you more of a body ‘high, can aid sleep and reduce nausea, depression and pain. Tinctures made with a hybrid strain will share some qualities of both indica and sativa. Tinctures allow the user to obtain the same medical benefits while avoiding respiratory issues associated with incinerating the plant (smoking). Tinctures also have advantages over edibles, containing fewer calories than most Cannabis-infused baked goods. However, a common concern (particularly among prohibitionists and the downright ignorant) with edibles is someone may accidentally eat the food without knowing it’s infused and get ‘high.

Tinctu(Photo: Marijuana Growers HQ)res are easier to store as they are often in glass dropper bottles and look like medicine (probably because they are), so accidental consumption is usually unlikely. Tinctures can also be kept for longer without spoiling. Unlike edibles, if tinctures are kept in a dark, cool cupboard or fridge, they should last for years. Tinctures can be a good option for patients who need to be discreet about their medication. Unlike smoking or vaporising, which can emit a scent and draw unwanted attention in public, consuming a tincture is quick and odourless. This means tinctures can be taken in the same settings as any typical over-the-counter medication: at the office, in public places or anywhere else Cannabis wouldn’t be considered socially (nor politically) acceptable. Tinctures are safe to use for patients who are prescribed medical Cannabis. Tinctures may be especially helpful to ill children who can’t smoke or vaporise Cannabis.

Unlike edibles, which can take up to an hour or longer to start working, tinctures can be felt as quickly as 15 minutes after dosing. The effects of tinctures also last for a shorter period of time compared to edibles. Tincture efficacy usually peaks about 90 minutes after consumption and can last 4 to 8 hours, depending on the dose. Because the effects can be felt so quickly, dosing with a tincture is easier than dosing with an edible. As with any form of Cannabis, you should start with a small dose to gauge your tolerance and to avoid any possible, initial, unwanted effects of ‘over-consuming’. If you’re taking a Cannabis tincture for the first time, start off with about 1 ml and adjust (upwards or downwards) as necessary.  There are three ways to consume Cannabis tinctures: sublingually, orally or with food. To take a tincture sublingually, drop desired dose under the tongue and hold for 30 seconds before swallowing. This method will produce quicker, stronger effects because the tincture is absorbed into the bloodstream through the inner lining of the mouth.

Find ground cannabis used to make tincturesYou can take Cannabis tinctures orally by adding a few drops to a beverage such as a smoothie, juice or even a ‘mocktail’. Alternatively, you can swallow the tincture on its own like any liquid medicine. When you take a tincture orally rather than sublingually, it must be absorbed through the digestive system, so it will take longer to feel the effects. Tinctures taken orally have a similar effect to edibles and can take up to an hour to start working. Tinctures can also be combined with food to make a tincture edible. The difference between a tincture edible and a fat-based edible is the latter is harder to dose and can produce a longer, more intense effect (including euphoria). If you consume a tincture mixed with food, it will take the digestive system more time to absorb than if you took the tincture sublingually. Cannabis tinctures may be added to a variety of foods such as puddings, ice creams, dressings and sauces.

long steep cannabis tinctureThere are many advantages to taking Cannabis tinctures, with a major one being how easy they are to make at home. You can make your own Cannabis tincture (links below) and, while there are many different recipes out there, these are some of the most popular ones. When preparing a Cannabis tincture, you usually must decarboxylate (or ‘decarb’) your plant material. Decarboxylation is the process of heating Cannabis to activate the compounds in the plant. Specifically, this will convert THCa into THC and allow you to experience all the effects of whole-plant Cannabis. If you choose to skip this step, your tincture will mostly contain THCa. Epsilon Apothecaries, (California, US) has a downloadable Extraction Basics Guide (pdf), the Epsilon Essentials Guide Series, comprises a novice approach to the creation of three special supplements: tincture extract of Cannabis, essential extract of Cannabis, and supplemental extract of Cannabis. Readers can learn how to create therapeutic grade supplements at home, following in the footsteps of Epsilon’s decade-long track record of success in a variety of cases. The Epsilon Essentials Guide is free of charge, the company’s website says, “All we ask is your respect in return”.

North American Recipes

Australian Recipes (Nimbin HEMP Embassy – Medical Cannabis Preparations)

  • Tincture – Cold Method
  • Tincture – Hot Method (Green Dragon)
  • Glycerine Method (Alcohol free)
  • Rick Simpsons Hemp Oil (Dosage information from Phoenix Tears)

Expanded from Cannabis Tinctures: Uses, Effects, and Best Recipes with THC-a Tincture for Paediatric Seizures, Granny Storm Crow’s List – Phytocannabinoids, Potency-101, and Medical Cannabis Preparations 


Cannabidiol (CBD) Claims and Misconceptions

Once a widely ignored phytocannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD) now attracts great therapeutic interest, especially in epilepsy and cancer. As with many rising trends, various myths and misconceptions have accompanied the heightened public interest and intrigue. CBD is a 21-carbon terpenophenolic (plant metabolite with biological activity important for human health) compound exclusive to Cannabis, after its decarboxylation from a cannabidiolic acid precursor (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Cannabidiol (CBD) Production, Biosynthesis and Metabolism. CBD is biosynthesised in hemp or Cannabis sativa and is produced in greatest concentration in capitate glandular trichomes in the unfertilised female flowering tops of the plant. Its main precursors are olivetolic acid and geranyl pyrophosphate, which produce cannabigerolic acid (CBGa) and then cannabidiolic acid (CBDa) via catalysis by CBDa synthase, an enzyme co-dominant with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) synthase. Subsequently decarboxylation via light exposure, heating or ageing results in CBD. In vivo (in a living organism), first-pass hepatic metabolism produces 7-hydroxy-cannabidiol, whose specific pharmacology has yet to be ascertained. While exposure to strong acids can produce an isomerisation (conversion into an isomer of itself) of CBD to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), this reaction does not occur in humans.

Understanding how CBD exerts its myriad effects on human physiology is a work in progress. Scientists have identified over 60 different molecular pathways through which CBD operates. CBD is the most common phytocannabinoid in hemp and second-most prevalent in Cannabis. It has proven extremely versatile pharmacologically, displaying the unusual ability to antagonise or nullify the action of cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) in the presence of THC, despite having little binding affinity and supporting its modulatory effect on THC-associated adverse events such as anxiety, tachycardia, hunger and sedation. CBD and THC have similar molecular structures, but CBD does not directly stimulate CB1 and CB2, the canonical cannabinoid receptors, like THC does). 

The history of CBD cannabis or cannabidiolData emerging from international cannabinoid research indicates CBD interacts directly with CB1 in ways that are therapeutically relevant, but CBD parks at a different docking site on CB1, functionally distinct from THC’s orthosteric binding site (the active site; allosteric bind elsewhere on the protein surface). CBD attaches to an allosteric binding site on the CB1 receptor. When CBD docks, it does not initiate a signalling cascade. But it does impact how CB1 responds to stimulation by THC and the endogenous cannabinoids. Allosteric modulation of CB1 changes the conformation (shape) of the receptor and this can have a dramatic impact on the efficiency of cell signalling. 

The effects are mediated by a wide variety of signalling mechanisms including activity on cannabinoid receptors, 5-HT1A (subtype serotonin receptor; involved in mechanism of action of anxiolytic, anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications), the orphan GPR55 (G Protein-Coupled Receptor 55), GPR18, TRPV1 (the capsaicin receptor or vanilloid receptor 1 which contributes to CBD’s anti-psychotic effect), the nuclear receptor PPAR-gamma (regulates gene expression) and other transient receptor potential (TRP) channels. CBD is a GPR55 and GPR18 antagonist (blocking agent), possibly supporting a therapeutic role in disorders of cell migration, notably endometriosis. CBD is anti-convulsant, anti-nausea, cyto-preservative for normal cells, enhances adenosine (a potent biological mediator that affects numerous cell types) receptor signalling and prevents prion accumulation and neuronal toxicity. CBD and THC are both neuroprotective, evidenced in a 1998 study, Cannabidiol and (−)Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol are neuroprotective antioxidants, and are a treatment and preventative for Alzheimer’sCBD is an analgesic, a neuroprotective anti-oxidant, more potent than ascorbate or tocopherol, acts as a TRPV1 agonist analogous to capsaicin but without noxious effect, while also inhibiting uptake of anandamide (AEA).

Image result for cannabis helps heal bone fracturesIn 2005, it was demonstrated CBD had agonistic activity which may underlie its anti-anxiety activity, reduction of stroke risk and anti-nausea effects. Recent studies demonstrated that CBD has a prospective role as an anti-depressant; inhibits synthesis of lipids in sebocytes and produces apoptosis at higher doses in a model of acne; and, displays powerful activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). CBD has been linked to the speedier healing of bone fractures. The Journal of Bone and Mineral Research published a study, Cannabidiol, a Major Non-Psychotropic Cannabis Constituent Enhances Fracture Healing and Stimulates Lysyl Hydroxylase Activity in Osteoblasts, which shows the administration of CBD significantly helps heal bone fractures.

Newfound interest in CBD has been accompanied by an alarming number of mischaracterisations. Across the United States (US), many start-ups and retailers have jumped on the CBD bandwagon, touting CBD derived from industrial hemp as the next big thing, a miracle oil with medicinal properties, without making people feel “stoned”. But along with a growing awareness of CBD as a potential health aid there has been a proliferation of misconceptions. These include apparent confusion as to the correct assignation of CBD’s psychopharmacological activity, where does it belong in the politically correct drug war catechism, alleged sedative effects, its mechanism of action as an antagonist at CB1, its legal status in US commerce, its metabolic fate in human administration, medicinal versus recreational cannabinoids, ‘bad’ versus ‘good’ cannabinoids, effectiveness of single-molecule compounds, state law ineffectiveness in serving patients and, CBD isn’t CBD, as it really does matter where it comes from. Better understanding of these issues will be of great importance for patients, recreational consumers, physicians and legislators as they further consider the role and disposition of this versatile phytocannabinoid.

Misconception: Cannabidiol is non-psychoactive and non-psychotropic – CBD is frequently mischaracterised in lay, electronic and scientific sources as ‘non-psychoactive’ or ‘non-psychotropic’ in comparison to THC, but these terms are inaccurate, given its prominent pharmacological benefits on anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction and possibly even depression. CBD should be re-labelled, perhaps as being less ‘illuminating’ than THC. Lacking associated reinforcement, craving, compulsive use, etc., that would indicate a significant ‘drug abuse’ liability, CBD certainly isn’t a suitable ‘drug of abuse’, nor is THC, for that matter, as neither has the same mechanism of action as drugs of addiction, like cocaine, for example, do. 

CBD Image Source: PubChem

CBD Molecular Formula: C21H30O2

There is serious interest among drug companies in allosteric modulation of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). In theory, if not practice, allosteric modulators can prime the system for amplification or inhibition by fine-tuning receptor transmission with amazing subtlety. Full-on stimulation of CB1 can deliver therapeutic benefits, but THC’s psychoactivity intrinsically limits its medical utility, according to ‘Big Pharma’ catechism. For the medical constabularies, getting high is by definition an adverse side effect. Allosteric modulation raises the prospect of increasing CB1 receptor activity without causing disconcerting dysphoria or needless euphoria.

Properly used, the psycho- or neuroactivity of Cannabis carries with it many important treatment options. Rev. Dr Kymron deCesare of Steep Hill Lab Inc., said in 2015 that a good friend living with ADHD focussed on sativa strains containing significant amounts of the terpenes, pinene, limonene and terpinolene (in a strain like Super Silver Haze) and their mind became energetic, clear-headed and project-oriented, turning the unfocussed, chaotic ADHD mind into a mildly focussed OCD. Research into allosteric modulaterpene-profile-limonene-the-leaf-online2tion of the ECS is still in its early phases. Allosteric modulators of CB1 were first discovered in 2005 and ten years would elapse before scientists at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, reported in the British Journal of Pharmacology that CBD is a negative allosteric modulator of CB1 in vitro. This means CBD lowers the ceiling on the ability of THC and endogenous cannabinoids to stimulate CB1. 

THC and CBD work in tandem; they are the power couple of Cannabis therapeutics. Given the intimate synergies between these two plant compounds, how much sense does it make to attribute psycho- or neuroactivity exclusively to one (THC) and not the other (CBD)? Is it really accurate to say that CBD is a “non-psychoactive” substance? Researchers have demonstrated that CBD is a pharmacological agent of wondrous diversity, an absolute archetypal ‘dirty drug’ (a substance used as a medication that may bind to many different molecular targets or receptors in the body with a wide range of effects and reactions), encompassing analgesic, anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-emetic, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), anti-psychotic, anti-convulsant, neuroprotective, immuno-modulatory and cytotoxic effects (in breast cancer, for example). If CBD can relieve anxiety or depression or psychosis, then obviously CBD is a profound mood-altering substance, even if it doesn’t deliver much by way of euphoria.

Image result for CBD-only’ laws

Perhaps it would be better to say that CBD is “not psychoactive or neuroactive like THC” rather than repeating the familiar and somewhat misleading refrain that “CBD is not psychoactive”. The identification of CBD as a negative allosteric modulator that binds directly to CB1 challenges antiquated assumptions about CBD and sheds new light on its medicinal potential. In turn, as scientific understanding and therapeutic experience deepens, the description of CBD as non-psychoactive or non-neuroactive may fall by the wayside.

Misconception: Psychoactivity is inherently an adverse side effect – According to politically correct drug war catechism, the Cannabis high is an unwanted side effect. ‘Big Pharma’ is keen on synthesising medically active Cannabis-like molecules that don’t make people high, although it’s not obvious why mild euphoric feelings are intrinsically negative for a sick person or a healthy person, for that matter. In ancient Greece, the word euphoria meant “having health”, a state of well-being. The euphoric qualities of Cannabis, far from being an unwholesome side effect, are deeply implicated in the therapeutic value of the plant. “We should be thinking of Cannabis as a medicine first” said Dr Tod Mikuriya, “that happens to have some psychoactive properties, as many medicines do, rather than as an intoxicant that happens to have a few therapeutic properties on the side”.

Misconception: CBD Is Sedating – Image result for cannabis is sedatingSome early anecdotal literature cited a low incidence of sedation after CBD administration, and contemporaneously, this side effect is frequently attributed to CBD. However, low to moderate doses are distinctly alerting, as proven in its ability to counteract sedative effects of THC, delay sleep time as documented via electro-encephalography and reduce THC-associated ‘hangover’. Numerous studies in normal subjects have been free of sedative effects. By contrast, CBD formulated as the pharmaceutical Epidiolex (an investigational Cannabis extract with traces of THC, other cannabinoids and some terpenoids), employed in very high doses of 25 mg/kg/day or more to treat intractable epilepsy has produced sedation under conditions of poly-pharmacy, especially when co-administered with clobazam (benzodiazepine), which resolves after reduction of the dose of clobazam.

Whereas pure CBD is not sedating, many CBD-containing Cannabis and hemp chemovars do display this liability. This is not attributable to CBD concentration per se, but rather to the predominance of high levels of myrcene in many commercial varieties. Myrcene, a monoterpenoid, displays a prominent narcotic-like profile that is seemingly responsible for the ‘couch-lock’ phenomenon frequently associated with modern Cannabis phenomenology. Selective breeding of low myrcene chemovars reduces or eliminates this liability, yielding Cannabis plants or extracts that are more suitable to the patient who must also work or study.

Misconception: CBD Is a CB1 Antagonist Like Rimonabant – Rimonabant (Acomplia) a synthetic CB1 inverse agonist that was marketed briefly in Europe to treat obesity and metabolic syndrome was removed from the market due to numerous serious associated adverse events, including anxiety, suicidal ideation, nausea and even anew cases oImage result for rimonabantf multiple sclerosis. This situation produced a chilling effect on development programs for other CB1 inverse agonists and even extended to harsh scrutiny of the natural compounds, CBD and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCv), which, in contradistinction, act as neutral antagonists at CB1. The mechanism of action of CBD seems, rather, to stem from negative allosteric modulation of CB1, particularly in the presence of THC and it produces none of the rimonabant-type adverse events.

Misconception: CBD is legal in all 50 US states – In keeping with its versatile pharmacology without associated drug abuse liability or serious side effects, CBD is unscheduled in most nations. This is not the case in the US  (nor in Australia*), where pharmacology notwithstanding, CBD has been a forbidden Schedule I agent with its own Drug Enforcement AdministrImage result for cbd is legal in usation (DEA) number and designation as a THC analogue. In spite of continuing prohibition, domestic commerce in CBD in one form or another is rampant, previously accompanied by claims that its extraction from hemp refuse was a legal process. In 2016 the DEA considered CBD oil to be a federally illegal Schedule I drug, but there were temporary safeguards in place that protected patients in many states from federal prosecution over possession of the oil.

Misconception: CBD Turns into THC in the Body – This false claim has been invoked online and has gained currency and perhaps even credibility, after publication of an article in which it was demonstrated that CBD could be converted to THC after prolonged exposure to ‘simulated’ gastric acid. While this isomerisation reaction has been known for decades, first reported in 1940 and later in the 1960’s, there is no evidence the reaction occurs in humans in vivo. First, no known enzyme exists that can catalyse such a bioconversion. In addition, pharmacokinetic and metabolism studies in human clinical trials refute such a reaction. In a double-blind placebo-controlled study of CBD in Huntington disease, fourteen patients were administered oral doses over six weeks. No plasma levels of THC were found. Similarly, a 2012 randomised, controlled study compared CBD, THC and placebo in sixteen healthy males. Neither THC nor its primary hepatic metabolite, 11-hydroxy-THC, was noted after CBD administration. There seems to be no compelling evidence CBD undergoes cyclisation or bioconversion to THC in humans. A review in 2016, Even High Doses of Oral Cannabidol Do Not Cause THC-Like Effects in Humans, came to the conclusion enough data exists to be reassured the acidic gastric environment during normal gastrointestinal transit does not “expose patients treated with oral CBD to levels of THC and other psychoactive cannabinoids that exceed the threshold for a physiological response”.Image result for cbd turns into thc

Misconception: CBD is medical. THC is recreational – Often people seek “CBD, the medical part” of the plant, “not THC, the recreational part” that gets you high. Actually, THC, “The High Causer” has awesome therapeutic properties and should become known as, THC, The Healing Cannabinoid”. In 2006, Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute (San Diego, California) reported that THC inhibits an enzyme implicated in the formation of beta-amyloid plaque, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s-related dementia. The US federal government recognises single-molecule synthetic THC (Marinol) as an anti-nausea compound and appetite booster, deeming it a Schedule III drug, a category reserved for medicinal substances with little abuse potential. Side effects of synthetic THC include;

  • mood changes;Image result for THC is the bad cannabinoid. CBD is the good cannabinoid
  • dizziness, trouble concentrating;
  • feeling high;
  • weakness, lack of coordination;
  • anxiety, confusion;
  • stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea;
  • warmth or tingly feeling; or,
  • sleep problems (insomnia).

But whole plant Cannabis, the only natural source of THC, continues to be classified as a dangerous Schedule I drug in the US with no medical value.

Misconception: THC is the bad cannabinoid. CBD is the good cannabinoid – Cannabis Yin YangThe drug warrior’s strategic retreat: Give ground on CBD while continuing to demonise THC. Diehard Cannabis prohibitionists are exploiting the good news about CBD to further stigmatise THC with CBD framed as the good cannabinoid. Why? Because CBD doesn’t make you high like THC. This demonisation is moralistic, reefer madness. In 2014, Project CBD penned a foundational science paper, A Tale of Two Cannabinoids, in favour of whole plant Cannabis therapeutics.

Misconception: CBD is most effective without THC THC and CBD as the power couple of Cannabis compounds work best together. Scientific studies have established that CBD and THC interact synergistically to enhance each other’s therapeutic effects. British researchers have shown that CBD potentiates THC’s anti-inflammatory properties. Scientists in San Francisco, California determined that a combination of CBD and THC has a more potent anti-tumoural effect than either compound alone when tested on brain cancer and breast cancer cell lines. Extensive clinical research has demonstrated that CBD combined with THC is also more beneficial for neuropathic pain than either compound as a single molecule.

Misconception: Single-molecule pharmaceuticals are superior to ‘crude’ whole plant medicinals – According to the US federal government, specific components of the Cannabis plant (THC and CBD) have medical value, but the plant itself does not have medical value. Uncle Sam’s single-molecule blinders reflect a cultural and political Image result for CBD is most effective without THCbias that privileges Big Pharma products. Single-molecule medicine is the predominant corporate way, the FDA-approved way, but it’s not the only way and it’s not necessarily the optimal way to benefit from Cannabis therapeutics. Cannabis contains several hundred compounds, including various flavonoids, aromatic terpenes and many minor cannabinoids in addition to THC and CBD. Each of these compounds has specific healing attributes, but when combined they create the “Entourage Effect”; the therapeutic impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its single-molecule parts. The FDA, however, isn’t in the business of approving plants as medicine.

Misconception: CBD-only’ laws adequately serve the US patient population – Image result for Cannabidiol, a Major Non-Psychotropic Cannabis Constituent Enhances Fracture Healing and Stimulates Lysyl Hydroxylase Activity in OsteoblastsFifteen US state legislatures have passed CBD only (or, more accurately, “low THC”) laws and other states are poised to follow suit. Some states restrict the sources of CBD-rich products and specify the diseases for which CBD can be accessed; others do not. Ostensibly these laws allow the use of CBD-infused oil derived from hemp or Cannabis that measures less than 0.3% THC. But a CBD-rich remedy with little THC doesn’t work for everyone. Parents of epileptic children have found that adding some THC (or THCa, the raw unheated version of THC) helps with seizure control in many instances. For some epileptics, THC-dominant strains are more effective than CBD-rich products. The vast majority of patients are not well served by CBD-only laws. They need access to a broad spectrum of whole plant Cannabis remedies, not just the low THC medicine. One size doesn’t fit all with respect to Cannabis therapeutics and neither does one compound or one product or one strain.

Misconception: CBD is CBD—It doesn’t matter where it comes from – Hemp versus cannabisYes it does matter. The flower-tops and leaves of some industrial hemp strains may be a viable source of CBD, but hemp is by no means an optimal source. CBD-rich products should be made using only organic, whole plant Cannabis because this offers the best safety profile and superior medicinal benefits. Industrial hemp typically contains far less CBD than CBD-rich Cannabis. Huge amounts of industrial hemp are required to extract a small amount of CBD, thereby raising the risk of toxic contaminants because hemp is a “bio-accumulator” that draws heavy metals and other toxins from the soil. Single-molecule CBD synthesised in a lab or extracted and refined from industrial hemp-derived CBD and refined CBD powder lack critical medicinal terpenes and secondary cannabinoids found in Cannabis oil. These compounds interact with CBD and THC to enhance their therapeutic and medicinal benefits. In the US it’s against federal law to use hemp leaves and flowers to make medicinal products.

In conclusion, CBD is an intriguing agent of unparalleled pharmacological diversity that is nevertheless surprisingly benign in all its observed effects. Its use has become widespread in certain geographical areas, particularly in ‘legal’ states in the US and it is on the threshold of becoming an approved pharmaceutical agent in intractable epilepsies (even though whole plant works at least twice as well, without side-effects that pharmaceuticals seem to inherently attract). Given this current nouvelle richesse (new wealth) following its long history of obscurity, it is incumbent upon the scientific and medical communities to understand better the mechanisms of action of CBD, its limitations and particularly the myths and misconceptions that its meteoric rise in popularity have engendered.

Expanded from Cannabidiol Claims and Misconceptions, with Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects, Are cannabidiol and delta-9- tetrahydrocannabivarin negative modulators of the endocannabinoid system? A systematic review, Effect of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol on nocturnal sleep and earlymorning behavior in young adults, Neural basis of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol: effects during response inhibitionCannabidiol in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy: an open-label interventional trial, Cannabidiol is a negative allosteric modulator of the cannabinoid CB1 receptorCurrent therapeutic cannabis controversies and clinical trial design issuesIdentification of psychoactive degradants of cannabidiol in simulated gastric and physiological fluid, Even high doses of oral cannabidiol do not cause THC-like effects in humansAcute effects of a single, oral dose of d9 -tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) administration in healthy volunteers, Therapeutic Effects of Phytochemicals and Medicinal Herbs on Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral NeuropathyIs CBD Really Non-Psychoative?Cannabidiol (CBD), Even High Doses of Oral Cannabidol Do Not Cause THC-Like Effects in Humans: Comment on Merrick et al. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research 2016, and CBD Misconceptions

*CBD was added to the Australian Government Poisons Standard (the SUSMP)Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons, under Schedule 4 in June, 2015;

CANNABIDIOL in preparations for therapeutic use containing 2 per cent or less of other cannabinoids found in cannabis.

Additionally, in the SUSMP of November 2016, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) updated the entry for Tetrahydrocannabinols in Schedule 8 (Controlled Drug – Substances which should be available for use but require restriction of manufacture, supply, distribution, possession and use to reduce abuse, misuse and physical or psychological dependence) to read;

# TETRAHYDROCANNABINOLS when extracted from cannabis for human therapeutic use, when:

  1. a) included in products manufactured in accordance with the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967; and/or
  2. b) imported as therapeutic goods, or for use in therapeutic goods, for supply, in accordance with the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989; and/or
  3. c) in therapeutic goods supplied in accordance with the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989,

except when:

  1. i) it is in a product to which item 4, 8, 10, 11 or 12 of Schedule 5A to the Therapeutic Goods Regulations 1990 applies; or
  2. ii) in hemp seed oil, containing 50 mg/kg or less of tetrahydrocannabinols when labelled with either of the following warning statements:

(A)            Not for internal use; or

(B)             Not to be taken; or

iii)    in products for purposes other than for internal human use containing 50 mg/kg or less of tetrahydrocannabinols; or

  1. iv) separately specified in the NABIXIMOLS entry in this Schedule.

Formerly, THC had sat in 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.

United In Compassion to Grow Cannabis for All Australians

“Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”, wrote Sir Walter Scott in the early 1800’s. He could very well have been talking about the nascent cannabis industry in Australia and the machinations of both sides of politics. 
Lucy Haslam Clinical trials of ‘medicinal cannabis’ will begin in January 2017 in New South Wales (NSW) for up to 250 patients, the Minister for Medical Research announced in 2016. Ignoring the urgent needs of patients, Tamworth medical cannabis crusader Lucy Haslam, who used the healing herb to treat side-effects of her terminally ill son Dan’s chemotherapy in 2015, said a more compassionate approach would be helpful. “I’m frustrated with how long this is taking, it’s not really looking after the patients at allI’m contacted every day by people whose loved ones are going through hell and the fact that cannabis is still part of this ‘war on drugs’ is ridiculous”

Mrs Haslam, of Australia’s biggest health charity, advocacy group, United in Compassion, together with Dr Alex Wodak, President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, veteran of drug law reform with vast experience in drug and alcohol services, gave an interview in 2016. Mrs Haslam, who’d played a key role in pressuring the Federal Government into legislating for medical cannabis, described how she’d been hood-winked, with promises broken. At the time of Dan’s anniversary …  The Government’s Health Ministry said, ‘look if you could get Labor to not require this to go to Committee we could get this legislation through’”. Precisely what Mrs Haslam did. The Labor Party agreed on the proviso the Government appointed an Advisory Council to guide Regulation writing, something Mrs Haslam really wanted. So the Government agreed ... a year later, we’ve got Regulations … very prohibitive, very restrictive … orchestrated by one or two individuals who have no background in medical cannabis, who didn’t consult … It’s very poorly written … not with any amount of compassion or desire to see patients get access … the complete opposite. And that’s down to a couple of individuals who refuse to hear any criticism”.

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Queensland and Australia’s first (and only) legal medicinal cannabis patient (and his Mum)

The Federal Government regulations are a bureaucratic nightmare which are “not going to translate into easy, safe, affordable access for patients”. In fact, “it’s going to create an even bigger black market”. Mrs Haslam described the somewhat insurmountable obstacles faced by those wishing to access medication and made it clear it wasn’t what she’d had in mind. A Queensland patient advocacy group petitioning Canberra, furious at Government claims the ‘drug’ had been legalised for medical use were “false and misleading, called the idea patients could go to their doctor and be prescribed cannabis, “political spin and propaganda. The consensus was the Government had tweaked the existing rules and made obtaining cannabis products even more difficult than before legislation was passed! 

“The lack of humanity is shameful, if you let an animal suffer

like this you’d be dragged over hot coals”, Lucy Haslam

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Amending existing drugs legislation to allow for the plant’s cultivation, the Federal Government rescheduled cannabis, within the national Poisons Standard, changing it from a Schedule 9 (Prohibited) substance to a Schedule 8 (Controlled) one. At the same time the Office of Drug Control (ODC) was established to take responsibility for the licensing end of things and middle-ranking officials with no expertise in the subject quickly got to work creating the regulations that have caused so much affront. Patient access would be dependent on ‘Special Schemes’ already in use at the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) through which, under certain circumstances, doctors can prescribe and patients may obtain (at their own expense) products unapproved in Australia.

But these too were tweaked to make cannabis more difficult to obtain than any other supposedly lawful drug. The Government meanwhile continues to claim the benefits and risks of medicinal cannabis have not been adequately characterised”, a position at odds with current scientific and medical evidence which led to the law changes in the first place. And it contrasts markedly with the former Health Minister’s pledge to make the TGA Schemes work effectively: The steps we take in health must always be with the patients in mind and this is very much a measure for the patients … their advice, their input, their passion and their advocacy has brought this to our attention”, she told Parliament the day the law was amended.

On 5 December 2016 the industrial hemp firm Ecofibre announced in the Australian Financial Review that it was leaving Australia. We have an Australian company, Australian seeds, Australian shareholders, but we have to go to America because of the legislation”. The shift of operations to the US was amid claims Australian rules about growing cannabis and manufacturing products from it were unworkable. Millionaire philanthropist and high-profile medical cannabis campaigner Barry Lambert, who made headlines when he gifted over AU$33 million to Sydney University for research into medicinal cannabis, said a federal law that was supposed to legalise medicinal cannabis had far too many restrictions. 

Regulations laid down by the Government’s ODC, to licence, regulate and monitor cannabis cultivation and product manufacture, stipulate that growers must have a licensed manufacturer lined up to buy their crop, while manufacturers have to demonstrate a market, with customers. Meanwhile, governance only allows for existing compounds to be prescribed. A manufacturer can’t make something unless there’s a demonstrable market and the market cannot be demonstrated unless the manufacturer has a commodity to be prescribed! “It’s ridiculous”, Mr Lambert said. “And the government is saying, ‘We know better’? They have no bloody idea”.

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Ecofibre’s low-THC cannabis (hemp) fields in Kentucky, US

The Government took the unusual step of publishing a rebuttal of the Lambert/Ecofibre allegations, which was factually incorrect. The statement claimed the ODC was already in the process of assessing medical cannabis licence applications and insisted an increasing number of requests for cannabis derived products had been received and approved, something patient organisations flatly refute. Mr Lambert commented that the Federal Government legislation/regulations were outdated, uninformed and uncaring, noting further that the fight for access by the sick in Australia was just warming up. Campaigners and industry insiders claim the rules, which came into force on the first of November 2016, have, if anything, made the plant harder to grow and medicine no easier to obtain. 

Image result for barry lambert ecofibreMr Lambert and his wife, Joy, made their donation after seeing the difference cannabis-based medicinal oil made to their grand-daughter, Katelyn, who can suffer up to 1,400 seizures a day because of her rare form of epilepsy, Dravet syndrome. “Her attendance in hospital has dropped 89%”, Mr Lambert said. Mr Lambert’s son, Katelyn’s father Michael, was last year charged with cultivating cannabis and will face court in February and March, 2017. The Lambert donation, hailed as a benefit to inter­national research, was announced with fanfare by the University of Sydney and then NSW Premier Mike Baird. “This is something that is going to reverberate around the world. We are now leading this country and, in many respects, the world”. Mr Lambert said he hadn’t seen the Premier since. “He doesn’t appear to have done anything worthwhile at this point in time” (the now former Premier resigned in January 2017 citing family reasons after 10 years in politics he qualified for a public-service pension, so time to quit). He said he had not seen much progress from the University, ­either. “They still haven’t done any trials, they are still playing with the mice and other things, I assume”.

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The Main Quadrangle at the University of Sydney

The inaction means the Lambert funds will go overseas, with AU$4 million going to Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, US). “They’ve got the right ­approach to it”, Mr Lambert said. “They’re going to be out there doing stuff immediately because some of them won’t be around in 20 years. They shouldn’t have to break a law”. A spokeswoman for the NSW Minister for Medical Research would not comment on Mr Lambert’s remarks but said the Government had committed AU$3.5 million to explore the use of cannabis products (pharmaceuticals) for children. She also said 40 doses of Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical cannabis-based product still undergoing clinical trials which provides 39% seizure cessation (whole plant cannabis provides up to 100% seizure cessation), had been granted under its Compassionate Access Scheme.

Image result for ecofibre hempEcofibre said the hemp they successfully grew for a decade and a half in the Hunter Valley (NSW) was perfect. Authorities however, said the crop was fine for industrial purposes, containing only small traces of THC, but it could not be used to make medicine as open field growing conditions did not meet the strict ODC cultivation criteria. What might occur next is a matter for speculation; in the words of one Ecofibre executive, “The draconian measures being put in place do not in any way support patients’ rights to access this medication and equally make it unviable for producers and manufacturers”Barry Lambert said, The chance for Australia to be smart and innovative has once again been thwarted by our government”


No state government has fully legalised use of medicinal cannabis, although the NSW government’s clinical trials could open the way for certain approved pharmaceuticals. However, because of Australia’s tight laws the cannabis used in the NSW trials on humans has to be imported from Canada and the Netherlands. Legislation surrounding cannabis is the opposite of what many campaigners had wanted, with state and territory laws bringing an additional tier of bureaucracy. Patients wanting access to cannabis or doctors who wish to prescribe it must first obtain permission from the Federal Government’s national Regulator the TGA and then from their state or territory health department with varying rules between jurisdictions. One, the Northern Territory, doesn’t grant any permission at all.

The former Federal Health Minister unveiled the Australian Advisory Council on the Medicinal Use of Cannabis on 23 December, 2016, saying she wanted to make sure ‘medicinal cannabis’ went through the same testing process as any other drug. “It’s appropriate to do it as quickly as possible but there’s always the Special Access Scheme for terminally ill patients with no hope for treatment”, she said. A more detailed outline was provided on the Department of Health (DoH) website. Medicinal cannabis plantCampaigners and industry insiders claim the rules, which came into force on the first of November 2016, made the plant harder to grow and medicine no easier to obtain. Throughout the entire saga no medical cannabis users were consulted and the result has been chaos and a barely concealed antipathy toward not only the Turnbull Government but the bureaucrats in its employ. 

Australia’s move to legalise medicinal cannabis is a huge failure, critics of the scheme say, and the country’s Federal Government is on a collision course with would-be commercial producers and patient groups less than two months after the legislative and regulatory changes took effect that were intended to permit the plant’s cultivation and use for therapeutic purposes. Dogged by a litany of woes since its inception in early 2016 including, lest it be overlooked, the fact that no allowances have been made for those found driving with cannabis (lawfully) in their system. Impairment is not necessary for an offence to have taken place and cannabis, notoriously, can take days to exit the body while drug-driving is heavily punished. Passage of the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act last February should, in the words of the former Health Minister, have provided the “missing link” that would enable states and territories to “cultivate and supply cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes”. The “missing link” she said then was “from farm to pharmacy”, an effective enough soundbite though bearing little resemblance to fact. It was nevertheless seen as a promise by campaigners who are now feeling extremely short-changed.No automatic alt text available.As a footnote, the former Health Minister who fronted the cannabis debacle thus far, resigned in January 2017. It was really not a great time to be busted in the entitlements ‘cookie jar’, amidst stories of single parents, students, pensioners and people with disabilities being pursued for debts that, in many cases, they did not even owe. Nothing could better illustrate how woefully out-of-touch the Federal Government has become than a minister popping out to buy an unplanned, unanticipated (which turned out to be a lie as she’d contacted a real estate agent about the property, owned by a donor to and member of the Liberal Party, months beforehand) AU$795,000 luxury flat while travelling on the taxpayers’ dime, at the same time as Centrelink was referring distraught victims of its robo-debt recovery debacle to the suicide hotline, Lifeline.

Adapted from Medical Cannabis Campaigners Bemoan Long ProcessMed. Cannabis Council Betrayal and Cannabis Policy Car Crash and Turnbull government has a silver foot in its mouth


Neuroprotective Properties of Cannabinoids

Cannabis was considered medicine for thousands of years and only over the last eighty years has it been stigmatised as a ‘drug of abuse’. Thanks to countless scientists and their curiosity we now understand that the compounds in cannabis interact directly with a widespread and complex system named the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which works to maintain homoeostasis (equilibrium) within our brains and bodies. Almost every physiologic process in the human body is affected by the ECS including our natural protective response to injury and inflammation.

11The ECS was discovered as a result of scientists searching for the mechanism of action of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Working as a ‘key and lock’ mechanism, cannabinoid receptors (the ‘locks’) that sit in the cell membrane are activated by ‘key’ chemical compounds. The keys include endocannabinoids, compounds that we make internally, phytocannabinoids, compounds made by the cannabis plant and laboratory-derived synthetic cannabinoids, used mostly in research. When the cannabinoid activates the receptor by binding to it, a chemical reaction takes place in the cell, telling the cell to change its message.  For instance, if a person suffering from pain uses cannabis medicine, pain is often minimised or eliminated.  This happens because the brain cell alters the perception of pain in response to the activation of the cannabinoid receptor by the cannabinoids, which in turn tells the cell to stop sending the message of pain. Knowing where cannabinoid receptors are located allows us to understand the conditions that cannabis medicine can affect. In the brain the receptors are located in areas that control pain, nausea, vomiting, learning, stress, memory, appetite, motor coordination and higher cognitive function. In the body, cannabinoid receptors are mostly located in the gut, immune system and liver and are largely involved in regulation of inflammation.

rsz-history-of-endocannabinoid-systemWhen there is a traumatic brain injury (TBI), damage from the initial insult occurs followed by a number of secondary damage mechanisms. Injured brain cells release a neurotransmitter called glutamate, which is toxic to cells when it accumulates. This over-abundance of glutamate leads to a cascade of chemical reactions that produce even more compounds that further damage the brain. Brain injury also causes the release of chemicals that cause blood vessels to constrict, decreasing blood flow that leads to cell energy loss and cell death. Brain inflammation is triggered within hours of injury and adds to the massive destruction of brain cells. These multiple mechanisms that harm brain cells are the reasons why TBI is so difficult to treat. We need treatment that will address all of the different mechanisms, glutamate accumulation, decreased blood flow and inflammation, taking place in the injured brain.

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Cannabis’ two major cannabinoids, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are responsible for the beneficial effects following TBI’s. Cannabinoids have been shown to act on the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the ECS, which in turn prevents release of pro-inflammatory cytokines after brain trauma. Activating the CB1 and CB2 receptors has been shown to stimulate the release of minocycline, which reduces brain swelling and neurological impairment and diffuses further injuries to the brain’s axons. Research shows that the ECS is activated immediately after injury. Endocannabinoids block the release of compounds that cause secondary damage to brain cells. 

Endocannabinoids have been found to decrease intensity and duration of toxicity to brain cells and enhance brain cell survival after injury. Endocannabinoids are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, so simply put, your brain makes self-protective endocannabinoids in response to injury with the goal of minimising cell damage and death in a multitude of ways. As both synthetic and plant cannabinoids mimic our endocannabinoids, researchers have investigated them to see if they can provide neuroprotection for TBI with promising results. From the 2004 study, Cannabinoids as neuroprotective agents in traumatic brain injury;

“Cannabinoids of all classes have the ability to protect neurons from a variety of insults that are believed to underlie delayed neuronal death after traumatic brain injury (TBI), including excitotoxicity, calcium influx, free radical formation and neuro-inflammation. The pathways and experimental models supporting a neuroprotective role for the various classes of cannabinoids are critically reviewed vis a vis their potential to support the development of a clinically viable neuroprotective agent for human TBI”.

Brain Injury
This flow chart outlines the pathway of secondary damage from brain injury and the modulation of the resulting outcome via endocannabinoids. Negative signs correspond to a decrease in the respective effect, whereas positive signs correspond to an increase.

In a three-year retrospective reviewEffect of Marijuana* Use on Outcomes in Traumatic Brain Injury (2014), adult patients presenting with TBI to a trauma centre with a positive THC screen at the time of TBI had decreased risk of death; 2.4% versus 11.5% for those who tested negative for THC. The three-year retrospective review of 446 separate cases of similarly injured patients highlighted to researchers that TBI patients who had a history of cannabis consumption possessed increased survival rates compared to non-consumers (97.6% survived surgery, versus 88.5% of those who didn’t consume cannabis).

“Our data suggest an important link between the presence of a positive THC screen and improved survival after TBI”, the researchers concluded. “With continued research, more information will be uncovered regarding the therapeutic potential of THC and further therapeutic interventions may be established”.

Many studies highlight the incredible neuroprotective role of cannabinoids. While effective therapies to treat ongoing TBI symptoms have been difficult to come by, thanks to researchers like Professor Yosef Sarne of Tel Aviv University, we’ve discovered Cannabis may prevent long-term brain damage by administering THC before or shortly after injury. Sarne and his team published their results in 2013, demonstrating that administering just a fraction of the amount of THC that would be found in a typical cannabis joint anywhere from one to seven days prior to, or one to three days after an injury, induces the biochemical processes necessary to protect critical brain cells while preserving long-term cognitive function.

Clinicians in jurisdictions where cannabis medicine is recognised and appreciated, see many patients struggling to recover from TBI and can attest that cannabis medicine has profound positive effects. Patients report restorative sleep, emotional balance and an overall sense of well-being with cannabis. Many report discontinuation of ineffective pharmaceutical medications that cause a multitude of unwanted and sometimes dangerous side effects. That being said, clinical trials using plant cannabinoids during the acute phase of injury are warranted. TBI patients should not have to suffer for months or years after the injury to reap the neuroprotective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of cannabis. Researchers and clinicians need to be free to study cannabis compounds and dosing in humans so that with early treatment, we can minimise and likely prevent the devastating consequences of TBI.

, is a physician who specialises in cannabis medicine in Los Angeles, California. She specialised in Paediatric Emergency medicine for years before witnessing the amazing benefits of this treatment in an ill loved one. Since then, she has successfully treated thousands of adult and paediatric patients with cannabis. She regularly speaks about cannabis medicine at conferences and patient groups around the world. She is the owner and medical director of CannaCenters and medical advisor to
*Cannabis sativa L., is the correct botanical term, marijuana is a North American colloquialism


Deregistered and Defiant – All In The Public Interest

In 2003 the New South Wales (NSW) Government was going to introduce legislation to allow a trial of medicinal cannabis. Australian researchers had been lobbying the government for two very different schemes. Most favoured transforming cannabis into a pharmaceutical, but one doctor was determined to treat cannabis as a medicinal herb and threatened that if the government locked in a trial with a big pharmaceutical company, he would run his own illegal trial. He was already developing high potency strains of cannabis that could have been tested on the thousands of medicinal cannabis users.

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Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, in 2017, and that very same doctor “… is permanently prohibited from supplying or administering cannabis or any of its derivatives to any person for the treatment, or purported treatment, of cancer”. So, what happened?

Dr Andrew Katelaris was a resident medical officer at North Shore Private Hospital in Sydney, Australia in 2003. A fervent campaigner who wanted cannabis to become a low-cost, herbal medicine. He envisaged patients growing their own, but his main goal was to become a licensed cannabis supplier, developing potent strains of plants. In 2002 he convinced the NSW government to grant him the first licence to grow and test cannabis for differences in ‘drug’ content with cooperation of Southern Cross University (Lismore) under an exemption from the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act. The research revealed some startling results, with pesticide and herbicide contamination and enormous variation in strength. In 1995 Dr Katelaris had begun growing one of the nation’s first hemp research crops at Quirindi in northern NSW. At that time, he had been investigating the plant’s fibre for use in the fabrics and construction industries. 

4b864cc1455c483493f76af3e5bc404aHowever, Dr Katelaris never had permission to test ‘street’ cannabis and in 2003 his growing licence was revoked after police declared his property a security risk (a large shed was not padlocked), a decision that wasn’t revoked despite many letters of support from European textiles companies impressed with the potential for the Australian-grown crop. Dr Katelaris was astounded, his was meant to be a first licence, a photo-chemical survey into the variability of what was available and he had wanted to rapidly follow up with producing quality cannabis and setting up trials, so desperately required. Katelaris was on the phone to the government thereafter, trying to re-establish the cannabis trial, but he was now regarded as a maverick in the science community. 

In October 2003 the United States government took out patent #6,630,507 on cannabinoid compounds in cannabis due to their antioxidant and neuro-protective properties.

Dr Katelaris recalled being contacted by a 78-year-old patient after he’d appeared on ABC TV’s Catalyst program, in 2003, discussing the medical use of cannabis. “The patient was so desperate for help that she found my name in the White Pages and rang me at home”, he said. The woman was wheelchair bound and in chronic pain and a pain management clinic prescribed morphine, which caused severe constipation, unsteadiness and confusion. “She had already tried cannabis in cookies, which had provided benefit but … she wasn’t able to smoke the herb”, Dr Katelaris said. “I provided her with a sublingual tincture prepared from carefully selected cannabis plants. It led to substantial improvement and she was able to reduce her morphine dosage with its associated side effects”. For showing such compassion and understanding, he was charged with professional misconduct.

“Cannabis can be used to relieve an enormous amount of pain and suffering and is safer to use than Panadol”, Dr Andrew Katelaris, June 2015

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The Sydney Morning Herald reported in August, 2006 that a Sydney doctor who grew 49,519 ‘cannabis plants would not serve a custodial sentence. Dr Katelaris was convicted of one count of cultivating not less than a large commercial quantity of cannabis after drug squad detectives raided his property where he was growing a half hectare crop of hemp. He grew the plants on his property near Dungog in the NSW Hunter Valley in 2005, having been involved in industrial hemp research and medical cannabis experimentation since 1989. The court was told the crop had a low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, making it of no value as a ‘drug’. During sentencing submissions the court was told Dr Katelaris licence as a medical practitioner in NSW had been revoked for three years with the NSW Medical Tribunal banning Dr Katelaris over the self-administration of cannabis and for supplying it to some patients.

The Judge told the court Dr Katelaris would not be imprisoned, however, he was to be charged for possession of cannabis when police officers discovered him trying to bring a plant into the courtroom! At the 2006 hearing the Judge said he had no idea what the appropriate penalty was for growing a crop that, while prohibited, had been found to be so low in THC that it was practically useless as a recreational ‘drug’. Dr Katelaris was acquitted on the possession charge but his indignation on being found guilty of cultivating a commercial quantity of hemp led to a further prosecution for contempt of court, after he likened the jury to a “group of twelve sheep”Fighting that charge, he said the judge in the case was “morbidly obese” and “his ego was bruised by the fact he could not stay awake” during the trial, but this defence did not persuade the judge and he was convicted and placed on a three-year good behaviour bond. 

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In 2012, asked about the ethical issues raised by breaking the law, Dr Katelaris said, “It is not a matter of ethics, it is about the scientific evidence that overwhelmingly shows that cannabis has a beneficial effect on the symptoms of severe disease including spinal spasticity and MS, HIV and cancer. The illegality stems from racist and corrupt laws put in place in the US in the 1930’s. The law should serve humans, but instead the cannabis laws cause harm and serve to persecute a most disadvantaged group in society. Because of the illegality there is a $5-billion black market with profits mostly going to organised crime. What are the ethics of forcing sick people to go to criminals?”

Since 1989 he has been experimenting with the medicinal uses of cannabis. Initially to assist in the management of chronic pain and spasticity, and the results were very encouraging, in most cases, improving pain control whilst reducing the need for narcotics. In 2013 he obtained cannabidiol (CBD) dominant cannabis seeds from Spain and began experimenting with this to control the seizures of children afflicted with intractable epilepsy (the major cause of preventable brain damage). Intractable epilepsy is, by definition, any seizure disorder that cannot be controlled by current medication. Many thousands of Australian children and their families are currently affected and this condition costs the country hundreds of millions of dollars annually, with frequent ambulance call-outs, hospital admissions, often with prolonged periods in intensive care and a huge bill for pharmaceutical drugs and tests, most of which show little benefit.

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Since 2013, Dr Katelaris has supplied medicinal cannabis to dozens of children with serious seizure disorders. With this safe and effective herbal medicine he has seen a dramatic reduction in the frequency and intensity of seizures suffered and in addition, most of the children have shown a noticeable improvement in social, intellectual and motor functioning. His current research interest is in developing better seizure medication.

He is specifically refining the use of cannabis plant varieties that are cannabidiol-dominant. Cannabidiol (CBD) is non-neuroactive cannabinoid.

Dr Katelaris concluded a trial pilot study with twelve children suffering from intractable forms of the disease taking part in the three-month study. All children had exhausted all other methods of conventional medical treatment. The children were administered an infusion of cannabis in refined coconut oil. By the time they had finished the trial, the condition of all of the children had improved, with at least 70% experiencing fewer epileptic episodes. Some showed noticeable advances in social interaction and gross motor skills during the trial and the results were very promising, Dr Katelaris said. “This is the first good news for parents with children afflicted with intractable epilepsy, who until now must suffer not only their affliction, but the severe toxic effects of the ineffective poly-pharmacy”.

Police made 66,684 cannabis arrests in Australia in 2013-14, the highest on record.

87.2% of those were consumers, rather than providers. 

Australian Crime Commission Illicit drug data report 2013-14

In 2016 he was working at a ‘wellness clinic in Newcastle run by the Church of Ubuntu, where he supplied cannabis oil to children with epilepsy and adults with cancer, still advocating for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis. However, Dr Katelaris admitted he was “flying blind” when he prepared “huge doses” of cannabis mixed with coconut oil and injected it directly into the ovarian cancers of two 56-year-old women at the Newcastle clinic in September, 2015. Nearly 18 months later, with further sanctions from the state’s health watchdog and a referral to police, Dr Katelaris insists health authorities are “retarding progress”, and that his championing of cannabis oil as a “safe and effective herbal medication” for broad use is in the public interest. 

An ultrasonic cleaner used to extract oil from the flowers

One of only a handful of compassionate suppliers openly flouting the law by providing access to medicinal cannabis oil for families in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), NSW, Victoria and further afield, Dr Katelaris has become the most public face of doctors unwilling to wait for the law to catch up with the needs of their patients. While quick to stress he is not operating as a GP, he was conducting clinics on the NSW central coast and Skype consultations with patients in other states, advising them not just on cannabis but also diet and lifestyle. He has spent countless hours teaching patients how to use cannabis to treat conditions ranging from intractable epilepsy to chronic pain and relief from the debilitating side-effects of chemotherapy.

Dr Andrew Katelaris last year with a collection of small cannabis plants to be grown for medicinal uses.

“This is a pharmaco-fascist state we live in” Dr Katelaris declared. It’s child abuse what’s going on, I mean, what civilised country refuses to treat children with one of the safest medicines known to man?”

“They’re irrelevant to my existence” Dr Katelaris said about Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) sanctions against him after the NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, made a formal complaint about the cannabis “experiment” involving two women. He said he had not been contacted by police after the HCCC referred its report and findings to them about the two women, one taken to the Calvary Mater hospital, the other, to the John Hunter hospital, two days after injections. In a statement, Dr Katelaris criticised federal and state governments after a police raid on his Newcastle premises in December 2016 that led to the destruction of more than 200 cannabis plants. 

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“Will I bother to go and appeal the decision? Hardly. It’s easier to simply ignore it. I answer to a higher moral authority than the HCCC. My own conscience”,
even though Dr Katelaris alleged the HCCC report contained “errors of fact”. NSW Police confirmed Dr Katelaris had been referred to them for investigation but declined to comment further. Dr Katelaris told the HCCC that he had warned both women on 2 September 2015, that cannabis oil injections directly into tumours had never been tried before, “… you’re in unchartered waters”.

Asked about the ethical issues raised by breaking the law, Dr Andrew Katelaris asked

in reply, “What are the ethics of forcing sick people to go to criminals?”

Dr Katelaris held the Department of Health responsible for the failure of his “experiment”, after alleging it prevented him from having the University of Sydney test the strength of the active ingredient in tDr Katelaris was struck off the medical register a decade ago.he cannabis oil he used. He placed blame “squarely at the feet of the ministry (of health)”, the HCCC found. “We’re not cavalier and I’m not stupid” he told the HCCC. Dr Katelaris was asked why he persisted in describing cannabis as a “safe and effective herbal medication” given what the commission termed a “catastrophic” outcome for both women. “He completely and somewhat angrily repudiated the use of the word ‘catastrophic’”, the HCCC report said. The HCCC found his insight was “so deficient, that he poses a serious risk to the health and safety of the public. The commission finds that he devised a hasty, ill-conceived and unsafe clinical trial of this experimental treatment, which would give him the ‘protection’ of a disclaimer if things went badly, but personal accolades and good publicity if things went well”, it found.

Type ‘Katelaris’ into the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency database for cancelled health professionals and it doesn’t come up, and it’s the same if you try it in the field for “practitioners who have given an undertaking not to practice”. AHPRA advises you to go to AustLII, the Australasian Legal Information Institute, where you can search for court or tribunal cases. However, you won’t find the 2005 Medical Board decision that led to Dr Katelaris’ deregistration if you check on AustLII, which makes the AHPRA referral of limited assistance. That’s if you’re even aware AHPRA exists at all, despite the millions of dollars spent establishing and running it since 2010.

drandrewkatelarisDr Katelaris referred to the Medical Board – now the Medical Council – as “a bunch of f…wits” and the Health Care Complaints Commission was a “pharmacofascist” institution. In October 2015 the HCCC ruled that “Andrew Katelaris is permanently prohibited from supplying or administering cannabis or any of its derivatives to any person for the treatment, or purported treatment, of cancer”The HCCC report is available on their website. The commission concluded Dr Katelaris put his own interest in self-protection and self-promotion ahead of the health and safety of two vulnerable women suffering from ovarian cancer. In his defence, Dr Katelaris slammed the scientific credentials of the HCCC and said the women involved in his pilot study, had good outcomes and he would continue his research.

“What the HCCC didn’t mention is that one of them was alive and well and the other showed a substantial reduction in their cancer markers before they resumed conventional therapy and died”, he said.

Dr Katelaris has been referred to police, but he said he was not concerned. “I’ve been referred to police on many different occasions. We do understand that the police are starting to wake up to reality that they now have discretion not to act against people, but if I am approached and duly charged we will defend any matter strenuously on the basis of medical necessity”. Dr Katelaris said the successful use of cannabis oil among severely epileptic children spoke volumes. “Our results in childhood epilepsy have been stunning”, he said. “We haven’t produced a panacea but we have salvaged more than half of the children that are written off as intractable epileptics and that has actually forced the government to take the steps that they are in doing their own research”. He said governments needed to hurry up with medicinal cannabis trials.


Adapted from Deregistered, Defiant and a Risk to the PublicCannabis Campaigners Case Fails on the DetailsDeregistered doctor referred to police over cannabis experiment on ovarian cancer patientsDr Andrew KatelarisCannabis doctor escapes prisonNimbin MardiGrass 2012, Australian HEMP PartyMEDICINAL CANNABISPeople Power Changes Political Stance On Cannabis, Dr Pot and Doctor Defiant After Sanction Over Cannabis Oil Injections

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