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GET REAL: Holy herb versus devil weed


GET REAL: Holy herb versus devil weed

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THE REACTION to suggestions of decriminalising cannabis has softened a lot. One time it was an immediate: “Hell no.” 

Now the standard response is: “We have to look at the research.” That search leads us to the holy land.

The leading scientific researchers of cannabis are at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Marijuana is illegal in Israel, but some of the strongest strains in the world are said to be grown on government approved farms. Professor Raphael Mechoulam of the University’s Faculty of Medicine was the first to isolate and synthesize THC, the most active ingredient in marijuana. 

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Mechoulam admits that it is not in farms, but in laboratories around the world where the real advances in marijuana research are being made. Companies are racing to refine marijuana into a marketable pharmaceutical product. 

Over 10 000 Israelis are already licensed to receive the raw unrefined plant for medicinal purposes. There are stories coming out of Israel of amazing sounding results.

Observers have argued that war on drugs is a failure and actually promotes what it claims to attack. Critics of the drug war suggest that it has not made a dent in drug use, it criminalises users, most of whom pose no threat to society, it is biased against certain countries, races and classes, and it is extremely costly for taxpayers to maintain.

Despite the criticisms, the war remains intense. Supporters are convinced that any easing up would lead to disaster. 

Twenty states in the United States have already decriminalised or legalised marijuana. Over 30 countries have done the same. In these areas there are no penalties for having small quantities for personal use.

It remains to be seen if the expected fallout will occur, especially in countries like Uruguay which have totally legalized the herb. A large segment of the population of Uruguay does not agree with this. The law was expected to be repealed if a conservative party won elections in 2014. A left-leaning government, headed by Tabare Vazquez won the election preserving the legal status of marijuana for now. The current president, Vazquez is an oncologist; a cancer doctor.

Both cannabis smokers and those who want to smoke it out can bring much emotion to conflict.

It can be a battle of extremes: the holy herb versus the devil weed. On one hand is a perspective of marijuana as herbal saviour. On the other, demonised as the herb from hell, sent by Satan to corrupt mankind. In between heaven and hell is earth, where the debate about marijuana is grounded. 

Though the main concern is for the effect of marijuana on today’s youth, marijuana itself is no new kid on the block. The herb blazed its way across ancient Asia where it originated, through Africa and the Middle East, spreading eventually to Europe and the Americas. Some sources suggest evidence of ganja farming from as far back as 12 000 B.C. making it one of man’s oldest cultivated crops.

This long relationship between human beings and cannabis may be rooted in our biological structure. We have within us something called an Endocannabinoid System. The proper functioning of this system is critical to our health and well-being. It is designed to work with chemicals called cannabinoids.  Cannabinoids are either made in our bodies or ingested from the cannabis plant.

All over the body are cannabinoid receptors. Does this suggest divine origin or demonic sabotage?

Or does it suggest the evolution and adaptation of our species over thousands of years of contact with the plant?  Author Terrence Mckenna argues that the development of our large brains happened because our primate ancestors partook regularly in psychoactive substances like marijuana, which had a consciousness expanding effect.

The plot thickens. At first, we only had to decipher if marijuana was godly or satanic. Now, we are wondering if the weed is atheist.

In the land of its leading researchers, cannabis is banned and regulated. There may be ancient historical precedent in Israel for its tight control.

Kaneh Bosom is the Hebrew name of the anointing oil used by Old Testament priests, prophets and kings. It was forbidden to the average Israelite. The oil was made of five ingredients. Scholars agree on four of them but there is disagreement about the fifth ingredient. A small number of scholars speculate that Kaneh Bosom was named after the ingredient we now call cannabis.

Whether the Israelite elite kept it for themselves or not, there was knowledge of marijuana’s medicinal benefits long before Moses encountered the burning bush. From 2000 B.C., Chinese records describe the plant as a treatment for rheumatism, gout, and other ailments. There are other records of ancient physicians citing cannabis as medicine.

In 1906, a US law was passed requiring the labelling of over the counter medications containing cannabis. It was not until a little later, after the Mexican war, that the use of cannabis was made illegal. One of the main claims in support of the ban was that marijuana was responsible for making blacks and the growing number of Mexican immigrants sexually aggressive towards white women.

It can be argued that despite its continued prohibition, the use of marijuana has become a defining feature of marginalised societies in the West.

Not to be outdone, however, the US department of health now holds a patent for the use of marijuana as a medicine. Coming soon to a pharmacy near you.     

Adrian Green is a creative communications Specialist. Email: [email protected]