The healing virtues and schizoid politics of cannabis

More and more reports of the unexpected healing efficacy of cannabis are being distributed in the underground media. In a recent posting on Alternet,  Laura Gottesdiener relates several stories of  “miraculous” (i.e. unexplained by current science) healings with cannabis.

  • A six-year old boy with a rare form of epilepsy that involved daily seizures, inability to eat solid food or walk around, had 40 hospitalizations and was taking 22 pills daily – all to no effect. His parents began to treat their son with a liquid form of medical cannabis, which dramatically reduced the seizures, so he could eat, run and swim.
  • An 8-month old baby had a brain tumor that couldn’t be operated. Before agreeing to chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment, the parents decided to try rubbing cannabinoid oil by rubbing it into the baby’s pacifier. After two months, the reduction in tumor size was so significant, that the pediatric oncologist decided to continue that treatment rather than chemotherapy.
  •  A two-year old boy in Montana with a brain tumor was being treated with chemotherapy that made the boy blind and too sick to eat. His father gave him cannabis oil through his feeding tube, and after two weeks he could eat solid food again.
  • A recent medical research study reports evidence that cannabinoid drugs (similar in structure to cannabis) not only are effective in treating the appetite loss associated with HIV infection, but may deter the HIV virus from turning into AIDS.
  • Two American twin girls had been raised from infancy with their mother’s hate–filled Neo-Nazi ideology and as teenagers formed and performed in a pop-band called Prussian Blue. When they were diagnosed with cancer and scoliosis, they were given a cocktail of medicines that included cannabis, which gave them “a new outlook on life.” They quit crusading for Aryan power and are now working to help legalize medical cannabis.
  •  Cannabis can apparently have psychosomatic healing effects without being ingested in food or medicine, but simply by its aroma. In the 1990s in Switzerland, when regulatory authorities, hemp farmers and cannabis smokers were negotiating back and forth to find a suitable socio-legal framework for their interests in this ancient plant, there was a time when one could legally sell and buy little cloth bags of cannabis sativa leaves and flowers,  called Duftsäckli (“aroma sachets”), to be exclusively used for “aromatizing” a room or a bed. The pot smokers of course bought these and smoked the contents – until the authorities closed the regulatory loop hole. Berlin journalist and friend Mathias Broeckers wrote to me –
  • An amazing story I heard during a visit to a nursing home for senior citizens. One of the hemp activists had persuaded the staff of this nursing home to distribute cannabis aroma sachets into the beds of the seniors and also to hang additional sachets in the room. The seniors did not know that it was cannabis that was making their rooms smell so sweet, but the nursing staff was asked to note whether there was any change in the sleep patterns of the residents. And this was exactly what happened – the residents slept better and requested significant less sleep medication.

An extraordinary healing transformation also happened with one of the residents of this home who suffered from a kind of Tourettes syndrome. Anyone who passed by her as she sat in her wheelchair was berated with a stream of curses and obscenities. Normally, the staff dealt with her by keeping her heavily sedated, so that she sat in a kind of permanently somnolent daze. The staff then came upon the idea of serving her breakfast toast spread with herb-butter. This herb-butter was made according to a traditional Eastern European recipe with hemp-flowers – and the effect on the old lady was dramatic: instead of bickering and cursing anyone who approached her, she became very  friendly and even began to flirt with the mail-man who came daily. I was traveling once with the producer of this hemp-butter, when an urgent phone call came from the staff of the nursing home: they had run out of their hemp-butter supply and urgently requested more, since the old lady was driving everyone nuts with her cursing and berating.

Meanwhile, while the evidence accumulates of the therapeutic and psychological virtues of cannabis, the American political class at the federal level is turning ideological cart-wheels in order to somehow reconcile the irrefutable evidence of medical value and the increasing trend for states to legalize not only medical but recreational use – with the archaic prohibitionist mind-set inherited from decades of a so-called “war on drugs” which is blindly maintained by the hugely bloated and out-of-control military-industrial-medical-prison complex.

A tremendous contribution to popular education about the true potential medicinal virtues of cannabis is made in the recent film by Len Richmond What if Cannabis Cured Cancer?  To my mind, the most significant point made by the film is the recognition and identification of the endocannabinoid system as an integral branch of our immune system, evolved over hundreds of millions of years of evolution, as far back as invertebrates. The following quote is extracted from an internet article  –

The endogenous cannabinoid system, named after the plant that led to its discovery, is perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment. Cannabinoids promote homeostasis at every level of biological life, from the sub-cellular, to the organism, and perhaps to the community and beyond.

Raphael Mechoulam, the Israeli scientist whose research  identified tetrahydrocannabinol as the chief psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant, has summarized the action of cannabis in the body: stimulating the endogenous cannabinoid system, as relaxing (promoting rest and sleep), increasing appetite (countering nausea and wasting) and forgetting. He particularly emphasizes the importance of forgetting – since it is important to survival to not remember every detail of all of our daily experience.

One might say the capacity to forget is integral to the healing and stress-relieving virtues of cannabis – common observation supports the notion that evening pot-smokers feel relieved and relaxed with the forgetting of the stressors that bombard us all day long. Of course, this also means that you would not want to consume cannabis when you are a student in a learning situation, where you need to remember details of facts and figures. Whether or not cannabis suppresses actual dreaming and the REM sleep associated with dreaming has not been definitely established.  It lessens dream recall, though this apparently comes back, when one stops smoking weed, as I have also confirmed.  I remember Terence McKenna telling me that when he discontinued his almost daily consumption of cannabis, he would be experience a veritable barrage of remembered dreams on awakening.

From personal and shared observation I would add two further aspects to the list of cannabis actions on the human body-mind complex – sensory pleasure and humor. The enhancement of sensory enjoyment is recognized in the heightened taste pleasure with eating, and also the heightened sensual pleasure of erotic contact. The heightened auditory pleasure induced by cannabis is well known to jazz musicians, who were perhaps the first to introduce the plant into popular culture. This effect may be caused by a sense of time dilation, giving the listener seemingly more time to appreciate the subtle variations of tone and rhythm in a piece of music.

The stimulating effect of cannabis on humor and laughter is too well known to require much proof. In the film Can Cannabis Cure Cancer, some of the interview subjects can barely contain their veritable fits of laughter. Whether thus implies stimulation of a humor center in the brain, is unknown,  but we can definitely assume it is connected to the stress-relieving and healing effects. “Laughter is the best medicine” as the old saying goes.

In an old R. Crumb cartoon that appeared sometime in the sixties, two very stoned-looking dudes are sitting on a porch in a small Western town, and a motorcyclist who has evidently just roared through town, is on the way out. One of the dudes turns to the other and says – “Man, I thought he’d never leave.”