Cannabis Has Always Been a Medicine

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The following cannabis piece is excerpted from The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness by Steve DeAngelo, published by North Atlantic Books.

I’ll never forget the first time Jason David showed me a home video of his then five-year-old son, Jayden. A pale young boy with slender build and delicate features was curled into a fetal position, eyes wide with fear and bewilderment, limbs and torso and head uncontrollably convulsing in the midst of a grand mal seizure. With tears in his eyes, Jason explained that Jayden suffered from Dravet’s Syndrome, the most severe and life-threatening form of childhood epilepsy.

This fragile boy was on twenty-one prescription medicines and had taken more than 25,000 pills since he was born, but he still suffered multiple grand mal seizures every day. The pharmaceuticals failed to control Dravet’s Syndrome, but they did put Jayden into a zombie-like condition, unable to learn or develop.

Jason came to Harborside—the Oakland cannabis dispensary I co-founded in 2006—at his wit’s end, terrified by both the seizures and the devastating side effects of the drugs prescribed by doctors. He had seen a news report about an epileptic girl arrested for possessing cannabis that she used to treat her condition. It was Jason’s first inkling that cannabis might be effective for Dravet’s.

Cannabis is one of the most investigated therapeutic substances in history. More than 20,000 studies and reviews regarding cannabis have been published in scientific literature, and the vast majority prove that its active ingredients are uniquely safe and effective. Side effects are relatively mild and short-acting, and there is no lethal dose. You could theoretically die of carbon-monoxide poisoning if you inhaled enough smoke, but nobody has ever died from ingesting too much cannabis.

We supplied Jason with a child-friendly, alcohol-free tincture designed to alleviate seizures without causing euphoria. He called us the next day. The tincture had been immediately and profoundly effective— Jayden had not had a single seizure since. We asked Jason to keep us posted.

A couple weeks later, he came back to Harborside with a second home video. Jayden was smiling, alert, and present, playing with a toy truck. The little boy hummed a tune, clambered over his Dad, and goofed for the camera—clearly a much happier child. The frequency and severity of Jayden’s seizures dropped by 90 percent. He had gained weight, was calmer and more focused, and was playing and communicating in ways not previously possible.

What keeps me up at night is not the fear of federal raids or prosecution, or the multiple death sentences I am technically eligible for. What keeps me up is worrying about the millions of patients like Jayden around the world. They and their families suffer horribly from devastating illnesses for which Western medicine has no cure, and often no palliative relief. They are patients whom I know Harborside could help, just like we helped Jason and Jayden—if only the laws would allow us to.

Cannabis has always been a medicine, probably used by human beings since before the dawn of civilization. For the hundreds of thousands of years prior to the invention of modern chemistry, plants were all we had in the way of medicine. Some, like poppy and ephedra, are still used to produce pharmaceuticals today.

Cannabis is listed in the oldest known Chinese pharmacopeia, the Shennong Bencaojing, which is believed to be based on earlier texts as much as five thousand years old. Later Chinese medical texts recognize cannabis as one of fifty “fundamental” herbs and recommend the use of every part of the plant for one hundred twenty different conditions. The man considered the father of Chinese medicine, Shennong, is said by legend to have discovered the healing properties of cannabis, along with those of ginseng and ephedra.

Cannabis was also a part of ancient Egyptian medicine. Across many centuries, Egyptian medical papyri included instructions for the administration of cannabis. It was recommended for ophthalmological, obstetric, digestive, and urological disorders, for glaucoma and premenstrual syndrome—and most notably to “paralyze” tumors.

Other ancient cultures that used cannabis as medicine include the Assyrians, Greeks, Hindus, and Jews. It was recommended for a vast number of conditions, including impotence, neuralgia, epilepsy, kidney stones, pulmonary congestion, spasticity, depression, anxiety, insomnia, pain, digestion and appetite issues, and obstetric conditions.

Modern science has already confirmed the efficacy of cannabis for most uses described in the ancient medical texts, but prohibitionists still claim that medical cannabis is “just a ruse.” No medicine, they cry, can possibly do all those things.

When cannabis was first made illegal, it was impossible to understand the specifics of why it is effective for such a wide range of conditions. It wasn’t until the 1960s that inventions like gas chromatography enabled an Israeli scientist named Raphael Mechoulam to first isolate the active ingredients in cannabis.

It turns out cannabis is packed with therapeutic substances known as cannabinoids. Thus far researchers have identified eighty-five different ones, and suspect there are more. Each cannabinoid individually produces a distinct action in the human body, while different combinations and ratios of cannabinoids produce yet another range of distinct actions. Scientists refer to this as the entourage effect.

The only way to test the imported cannabis of my youth was rolling it up and smoking it, and seeing if it was strong or weak. Eventually we recognized that different batches of cannabis had subtly different effects— but we had no way of determining why, or selecting the effects we most desired. At Harborside today, every product is laboratory tested and labeled with the percentages of the major cannabinoids it contains. That enables our staff to guide patients to products with the best cannabinoid profile for their needs.

THC is the best known of the cannabinoids and is notorious for its psychoactive effects. It is powerfully effective for many conditions including insomnia, chronic pain, cancer, PTSD, glaucoma, low libido, and much more. The impact it has on the human mind is often its most therapeutic contribution.

By contrast, CBD—cannabidiol—is generally considered nonpsychoactive. It suppresses or balances the psychoactivity of THC and is the primary ingredient in the tincture responsible for Jayden David’s remarkable recovery—and that of thousands of other epilepsy patients.

CBD is an extraordinarily potent anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmotic, and neuroprotective substance. It dramatically reduces anxiety without affecting mental processes—so much so that in 2013 one city in the Netherlands distributed CBD-rich cannabis to eighty residents with chronic psychotic disorders. It has also been found effective for rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, alcoholism, PTSD, antibiotic-resistant infections, and neurological disorders.

My father was not too worried about my teen smoking of cannabis in and of itself, but breaking the law was a big deal for him. It wasn’t until Harborside was licensed that we were really able to talk about cannabis comfortably. Today, at eighty-three, he uses three different formulations of cannabis tincture: CBD-rich, THC-rich, and a 50/50 blend.

Cannabis grows on every continent except Antarctica, and it has been found in some of the most ancient archeological sites. Folk healers around the world used it for a wide range of conditions long before formal systems of medicine were codified, and still do in places where poverty and geographic isolation make formal health care inaccessible. That is no doubt one of the reasons that Mexican immigrants fleeing the revolution made sure to bring cannabis with them.

Modern studies have validated many of these practices, finding “good scientific rationale for its historic reputation as a headache remedy and painkiller,” and that it is an effective antibiotic for a variety of microbes. These studies include the very first gold-standard, double-blind, and placebo-controlled human study of cannabis ever conducted in the United States.

Technological progress has led to a better understanding of the human body itself. In 1992, scientists made a startling discovery: the compounds in marijuana create their effects by stimulating a previously unknown cellular communication network. This electrochemical signaling system is known as the endocannabinoid system, and it regulates a vast number of critical processes in human physiology. These include the central nervous system, the autonomic nervous system, the endocrine network, the immune system, the gastrointestinal tract, the reproductive system, and microcirculation.

Remarkably, our own bodies endogenously produce endocannabinoids similar to THC and CBD. They can be found in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. Elevated levels of endocannabinoids are naturally present in human breast milk, and they are the source of the runner’s high. No matter where they are located in the body, the goal of endocannabinoids remains the same: homeostasis, or the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.

Nobody even knew the endocannabinoid system existed twenty years ago, but today researchers believe it has been an integral part of the evolution of brains and nervous systems—because it is part of the physiology of all creatures except insects.

In a rational world, the discovery of the endocannabinoid system would have immediately ended all debate about whether cannabis is a medicine; but the federal policy of classifying cannabis as a drug with high abuse potential and no therapeutic use prevents medical schools from even offering courses in cannabis medicine. Dr. Donald Abrams, Chief Oncologist for the UCSF Research Hospital and author of the gold-standard pain study, reports that most doctors aren’t even aware of the existence of the endocannabinoid system, which researchers now believe is the largest neurotransmitter system in the human body.

The same federally mandated ignorance deters and distorts scientific research about cannabis, most of which is funded and authorized by one agency—the National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIDA has refused to fund research into the medical benefits of cannabis, claiming its charter prevents it from spending money on anything but the harms of drug use. Even worse, the agency suppressed promising leads about the therapeutic potential of cannabis for extremely grave diseases like cancer.

In 1975, the National Cancer Institute reported that THC inhibits the growth of lung-cancer tumors, and that bone marrow treated with cannabinoids showed a dose-dependent resistance to cancer.

NIDA ignored this promising lead and instead funded a study by the National Toxicology Project intended to prove that cannabis causes cancer. But the agency buried the study after researchers found that THC actually reduces cancer of the breasts, uterus, pancreas, and testicles. The only reason the findings ever came to light is because they were leaked to Dr. Abrams.

Incredibly, despite the prior evidence, NIDA continued trying to prove that cannabis causes cancer rather than investigating its alreadydemonstrated ability to fight the disease. In 2006, the agency commissioned Dr. Donald Tashkin to conduct a study intended to show that cannabis causes lung cancer, but he, too, found that it actually fights the disease.

Tashkin’s findings were confirmed by Harvard scientists in 2007, who found that THC could shrink cancerous tumors to half their size and slow the progress of the disease. The findings led Tashkin to reverse his previous opposition and endorse the legalization of cannabis, but they had no apparent effect on NIDA policy.

Almost every treatment currently offered to cancer patients is terrifying. Traditional chemotherapy targets all cells that divide rapidly. Some are cancerous and others are healthy, but chemo kills all of them. That’s what causes side effects like nausea, anorexia, hair loss, diarrhea, fever, and chills—and long-term consequences including organ damage, infertility, and cognitive impairment. Radiation has similar short- and long-term side effects, and it can lead to secondary cancer. Both are often just preludes to surgery.

The way cannabis fights cancer is more elegant, and seems almost magical. The essence of the disease is uncontrolled cell growth—and THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids trigger the death of cancer cells with a simultaneous two-front assault. The advance guard directly attacks the tumor by activating the receptors of the endocannabinoid system to induce apoptosis, the natural process of cell death, which is interrupted by cancer. Meanwhile, the outlying troops block angiogenesis, the process by which tumors acquire the blood vessels they need to continue growing. The tumors disintegrate from within, while being deprived of the blood they need to propagate further— without any damage to healthy tissue or horrifying side effects. And the higher the dose of cannabis, the more effective it appears to be. But that’s not all.

Cannabis also prevents the development of cancer in the first place, and inhibits its spread. THC and other cannabinoids have been found to prevent the reproduction, migration, and invasion of several types of cancer cells, including breast cancer, cervical cancer, oral cancer, neck cancer, head cancer, and bile-duct cancer. It appears to accomplish this feat primarily by blocking replication of cancer- causing viruses, like the gammaherpesvirus. The potent antiinflammatory

properties of cannabis may also help prevent cancer by maintaining healthy cell growth, DNA growth, and other physiological processes.

Some of the most common and deadly cancers respond well to cannabis. NIDA’s own researchers have repeatedly found it effective for lung cancer—the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women. It is effective for prostate cancer, the most common form of cancer—and the second most frequent cause of cancer death—in American men. An abundance of evidence shows that cannabis also is effective for breast cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. And yet more research has established the efficacy of cannabis for colon and pancreatic cancer, also among the top ten cancer killers of women.

These studies are not flukes or fabrications. They are too many and too consistent to be wrong, and come from respected institutions like the University of Madrid, the British Journal of Cancer, the University of California San Diego, the University of South Florida, and the National Cancer Institute. All the evidence points in the same direction: cannabis can prevent and shrink tumors, and quite possibly eliminate them entirely—even with the worst types of cancer.

If any other substance showed the same results, hundreds of millions of dollars in public funding would be devoted to developing it. It is beyond reason that our tax dollars have for decades been poured into proving impossible myths about cannabis instead of exploring the most promising treatment for cancer ever discovered. Incalculable suffering and death have resulted, and it was entirely preventable. The therapeutic and curative potential of cannabis for cancer and other grave illnesses was well established by the middle of the nineteenth century, but its prohibition in the United States brought research to a standstill for most of the twentieth century. We’ll never know how many lives could have been saved if our elected officials had taken the medical potential of cannabis seriously instead of pandering to racism and ignorance.

Cannabis was introduced to Western medicine by Dr. William O’Shaughnessy, a physician for the British East India Company who lived in Calcutta, India, in the early 1830s.

O’Shaughnessy learned of Ayurvedic and folk-medicine uses of cannabis, and conducted years of experiments to validate its efficacy. What he learned amazed him—cannabis is indeed effective for rheumatoid arthritis, spasticity, pain, and many other conditions. O’Shaughnessy returned to England with a large stock of cannabis extract and provided it to physicians across the UK as Squire’s Extract.

O’Shaughnessy’s remarkable discovery rippled through English medicine, as other physicians found cannabis effective for a wide range of disorders. These included migraines, neuropathic pain, and Parkinson’s disease. The Queen’s personal physician called cannabis “by far the most useful of drugs for painful maladies,” and in 1890 Sir John Reynolds published an article in the iconic medical journal The Lancet recommending cannabis for what we now call Alzheimer’s disease.

At first, my stepmother Ginny just misplaced things, and nobody put it together for a while. Then it became difficult for her to answer simple questions, and Dad took her to the doctor. I’d never imagined my tough, hard-charging father as a caregiver, but as Ginny lost her memory, Dad picked up the slack. By the end, he was tenderly feeding her by hand, transferring her from bed to wheelchair to toilet, and brushing her hair every morning. He would sit holding Ginny’s hand for hours, listening to her rattling off increasingly inane stories, desperate to see some small spark of recognition in her eyes.

Next to cancer, Alzheimer’s may be the most feared disease in the developed world. The plaques and tangles it deposits in the brain disrupt the signals between neurons, and the perception of time and recollection of basic knowledge become difficult or impossible. Memories eventually disappear entirely. Patients become unable to recognize loved ones, and sometimes they turn angry and violent. Most patients die from infections as they forget how to urinate, defecate, swallow, and chew—sometimes lying in their own waste.

The disease is growing to epidemic proportions. At least 44 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and that number is expected to almost double by 2030. It will double again by 2050 if nothing is done to stop it. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and regular cannabis use may be the best way to prevent the disease.

Researchers at the world-renowned Scripps Research Institute announced this important medical breakthrough in 2006, reporting that THC “possesses remarkable inhibitory qualities” for the plaques common to Alzheimer’s, and its effects are obtained via a “previously unrecognized molecular mechanism.” Subsequent studies supported the Scripps research and found that the mechanism works by providing neural protection and reducing inflammation. In another wonderful example of the elegance of cannabis biochemistry, the British Journal of Pharmacology reported that cannabinoids simultaneously support “the brain’s intrinsic repair mechanism and … the growth of new brain cells.”

I wish we’d known all that in time to save my stepmother.

* * *

From The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness by Steve DeAngelo, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2015 by Steve DeAngelo. Reprinted by permission of publisher.


Top photo by Abd allah Foteih, courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.

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Cannabis and Ayahuasca: most people believe they shouldn’t be mixed. Read this personal experience peppered with thoughts from a pro cannabis Peruvian Shaman.


Ayahuasca Retreat 101: Everything You Need to Know to Brave the Brew
Ayahuasca has been known to be a powerful medicinal substance for millennia. However, until recently, it was only found in the jungle. Word of its deeply healing and cleansing properties has begun to spread across the world as many modern, Western individuals are seeking spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical well-being. More ayahuasca retreat centers are emerging in the Amazon and worldwide to meet the demand.


Ayahuasca Helps with Grief
A new study published in psychopharmacology found that ayahuasca helped those suffering from the loss of a loved one up to a year after treatment.


Ayahuasca Benefits: Clinical Improvements for Six Months
Ayahuasca benefits can last six months according to studies. Read here to learn about the clinical improvements from drinking the brew.


Ayahuasca Culture: Indigenous, Western, And The Future
Ayahuasca has been use for generations in the Amazon. With the rise of retreats and the brew leaving the rainforest how is ayahuasca culture changing?


Ayahuasca Guide: Effects, Common Uses, Safety
The Amazonian brew, Ayahuasca has a long history and wide use. Read our guide to learn all about the tea from its beginnings up to modern-day interest.


Ayahuasca and the Godhead: An Interview with Wahid Azal of the Fatimiya Sufi Order
Wahid Azal, a Sufi mystic of The Fatimiya Sufi Order and an Islamic scholar, talks about entheogens, Sufism, mythology, and metaphysics.


Ayahuasca and the Feminine: Women’s Roles, Healing, Retreats, and More
Ayahuasca is lovingly called “grandmother” or “mother” by many. Just how feminine is the brew? Read to learn all about women and ayahuasca.

What Is the Standard of Care for Ketamine Treatments?
Ketamine therapy is on the rise in light of its powerful results for treatment-resistant depression. But, what is the current standard of care for ketamine? Read to find out.

What Is Dissociation and How Does Ketamine Create It?
Dissociation can take on multiple forms. So, what is dissociation like and how does ketamine create it? Read to find out.

Having Sex on Ketamine: Getting Physical on a Dissociative
Curious about what it could feel like to have sex on a dissociate? Find out all the answers in our guide to sex on ketamine.

Special K: The Party Drug
Special K refers to Ketamine when used recreationally. Learn the trends as well as safety information around this substance.

Kitty Flipping: When Ketamine and Molly Meet
What is it, what does it feel like, and how long does it last? Read to explore the mechanics of kitty flipping.

Ketamine vs. Esketamine: 3 Important Differences Explained
Ketamine and esketamine are used to treat depression. But what’s the difference between them? Read to learn which one is right for you: ketamine vs. esketamine.

Guide to Ketamine Treatments: Understanding the New Approach
Ketamine is becoming more popular as more people are seeing its benefits. Is ketamine a fit? Read our guide for all you need to know about ketamine treatments.

Ketamine Treatment for Eating Disorders
Ketamine is becoming a promising treatment for various mental health conditions. Read to learn how individuals can use ketamine treatment for eating disorders.

Ketamine Resources, Studies, and Trusted Information
Curious to learn more about ketamine? This guide includes comprehensive ketamine resources containing books, studies and more.

Ketamine Guide: Effects, Common Uses, Safety
Our ultimate guide to ketamine has everything you need to know about this “dissociative anesthetic” and how it is being studied for depression treatment.

Ketamine for Depression: A Mental Health Breakthrough
While antidepressants work for some, many others find no relief. Read to learn about the therapeutic uses of ketamine for depression.

Ketamine for Addiction: Treatments Offering Hope
New treatments are offering hope to individuals suffering from addiction diseases. Read to learn how ketamine for addiction is providing breakthrough results.

Microdosing Ketamine & Common Dosages Explained
Microdosing, though imperceivable, is showing to have many health benefits–here is everything you want to know about microdosing ketamine.

How to Ease a Ketamine Comedown
Knowing what to expect when you come down from ketamine can help integrate the experience to gain as much value as possible.

How to Store Ketamine: Best Practices
Learn the best ways how to store ketamine, including the proper temperature and conditions to maximize how long ketamine lasts when stored.

How To Buy Ketamine: Is There Legal Ketamine Online?
Learn exactly where it’s legal to buy ketamine, and if it’s possible to purchase legal ketamine on the internet.

How Long Does Ketamine Stay in Your System?
How long does ketamine stay in your system? Are there lasting effects on your body? Read to discover the answers!

How Ketamine is Made: Everything You Need to Know
Ever wonder how to make Ketamine? Read our guide to learn everything you need to know about the procedures of how Ketamine is made.

Colorado on Ketamine: First Responders Waiver Programs
Fallout continues after Elijah McClain. Despite opposing recommendations from some city council, Colorado State Health panel recommends the continued use of ketamine by medics for those demonstrating “excited delirium” or “extreme agitation”.

Types of Ketamine: Learn the Differences & Uses for Each
Learn about the different types of ketamine and what they are used for—and what type might be right for you. Read now to find out!

Kitty Flipping: When Ketamine and Molly Meet
What is it, what does it feel like, and how long does it last? Read to explore the mechanics of kitty flipping.

MDMA & Ecstasy Guide: Effects, Common Uses, Safety
Our ultimate guide to MDMA has everything you want to know about Ecstasy from how it was developed in 1912 to why it’s being studied today.

How To Get the Most out of Taking MDMA as a Couple
Taking MDMA as a couple can lead to exciting experiences. Read here to learn how to get the most of of this love drug in your relationship.

Common MDMA Dosage & Microdosing Explained
Microdosing, though imperceivable, is showing to have many health benefits–here is everything you want to know about microdosing MDMA.

Having Sex on MDMA: What You Need to Know
MDMA is known as the love drug… Read our guide to learn all about sex on MDMA and why it is beginning to makes its way into couple’s therapy.

How MDMA is Made: Common Procedures Explained
Ever wonder how to make MDMA? Read our guide to learn everything you need to know about the procedures of how MDMA is made.

Hippie Flipping: When Shrooms and Molly Meet
What is it, what does it feel like, and how long does it last? Explore the mechanics of hippie flipping and how to safely experiment.

How Cocaine is Made: Common Procedures Explained
Ever wonder how to make cocaine? Read our guide to learn everything you need to know about the procedures of how cocaine is made.

A Christmas Sweater with Santa and Cocaine
This week, Walmart came under fire for a “Let it Snow” Christmas sweater depicting Santa with lines of cocaine. Columbia is not merry about it.

Ultimate Cocaine Guide: Effects, Common Uses, Safety
This guide covers what you need to know about Cocaine, including common effects and uses, legality, safety precautions and top trends today.

NEWS: An FDA-Approved Cocaine Nasal Spray
The FDA approved a cocaine nasal spray called Numbrino, which has raised suspicions that the pharmaceutical company, Lannett Company Inc., paid off the FDA..

The Ultimate Guide to Cannabis Bioavailability
What is bioavailability and how can it affect the overall efficacy of a psychedelic substance? Read to learn more.

Cannabis Research Explains Sociability Behaviors
New research by Dr. Giovanni Marsicano shows social behavioral changes occur as a result of less energy available to the neurons. Read here to learn more.

The Cannabis Shaman
If recreational and medical use of marijuana is becoming accepted, can the spiritual use as well? Experiential journalist Rak Razam interviews Hamilton Souther, founder of the 420 Cannabis Shamanism movement…

Cannabis Guide: Effects, Common Uses, Safety
Our ultimate guide to Cannabis has everything you want to know about this popular substances that has psychedelic properties.

Cannabis and Ayahuasca: Mixing Entheogenic Plants
Cannabis and Ayahuasca: most people believe they shouldn’t be mixed. Read this personal experience peppered with thoughts from a procannabis Peruvian Shaman.

CBD-Rich Cannabis Versus Single-Molecule CBD
A ground-breaking study has documented the superior therapeutic properties of whole plant Cannabis extract as compared to synthetic cannabidiol (CBD), challenging the medical-industrial complex’s notion that “crude” botanical preparations are less effective than single-molecule compounds.

Cannabis Has Always Been a Medicine
Modern science has already confirmed the efficacy of cannabis for most uses described in the ancient medical texts, but prohibitionists still claim that medical cannabis is “just a ruse.”

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