As a child of the fifties and sixties growing up in
Denver, I have watched this whole thing unfurl. It has many names. Marijuana; Cannabis; Reefer; Ganj; Grass;
Weed; Chronic; Schwag; Pot. There should be a dictionary for the language alone.
it came in various packages. Lid; Match
Box; Bag; an Ounce; a Quarter pound; a Pound (most people I knew that
bought this much, were not exactly consumers).
Now the new and much stronger cannabis hybrids, “Blue Dream”; “ATF”; "Sour Diesel"; OG Kush “Grape Ape”. Yeah, the
list goes on, and it is a very long list. Marijuana has taken on a life, and
more importantly “a cultural phenomenon, all its own”.
I was in high school in the late 1960s. And
there was this, "Thing", we called the “counter culture movement”, which started soon after President Kennedy was assassinated. Catalyzed by the escalating war in Southeast Asia, and nourished by our "underground" music, it moved headstrong like a juggernaut
through the late-sixties and into the next decade. Its offspring? SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) along with "Hippies and Heads", and a general
mindset throughout my generation, "The Baby Boomers", that it was okay to smoke
marijuana. Almost every baby boomer you meet, will tell you, they have smoked
it “a time or two”.
Marijuana was fun, didn’t turn people into drunken idiots,
made most of us more creative, and it was cheap. Even on the black market, pot’s
price as a national average of thirty dollars to forty dollars an ounce, didn’t
change for twenty years. Marijuana took on a huge persona in the seventies
that propelled its popularity forward. Yep! Our children, Generation X, and
their children, Generation Y, "The Echo-boomers" (they had a boom too). Fifty years of general
acceptance across all lines.
People liked it, and despite marijuana’s illicit pigeon
hole, smoked it all the time. At great personal risk I might add. Realize that
it was a fifteen year felony in some states to possess even one “joint” up
until five years ago. That’s right. We had to wait until the "ex-hippies" who were now "yuppies",
took over the country and sought progressive reform, bolstered by decades of well
honed scientific research which was impossible to dispute.
As I moved through high school, college, graduate
school, and medical school, it was always around, and a huge part of my generation’s
quiet behind the scenes recreational culture. I met many doctors who stated' "They smoked more pot in medical school than high school and college combined". Really? Yeah! I'm afraid so. Unless you lived under rock in the sixties and seventies, why on earth would you be surprised?
That my generation found no true educated
argument against its use, except for its illegal status, allowed a heralding in of decriminalization
legislation. Our generation had aged, become seasoned professionals, and gained
It was obvious, that unlike alcohol, and other
potent “mood-alterers”, cannabis had no known chemical dependence associated
with its ongoing use. People do not smoke it then get in their cars and drive ninety miles an hour
through a red light. No, they would rather stay home, listen to music, or watch
movies. Or perhaps write that book, that song, paint that picture, or study astrophysics.
Go figure. You can binge all weekend on pot and go to work the following Monday
feeling fine. Try that with vodka? I don’t think so.
It was inevitable that marijuana would push onward
until the older generations were shoved aside, laws modified, decriminalization
of pot’s possession was embraced, and a push for more research took place, eventually
leading to sweeping legislation, state by state. Ex-hippie governors, justices,
and legislators made sure of that. Behind the scenes the whole time, was an
organization called NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of
Marijuana Laws. I didn’t know anyone in college that wasn’t a member or
To this day, many of my peers, and of course, most
baby boomers agree, that cannabis is much safer than alcohol, and obviously a
healthier choice for pain control and recreational use, "period".
Don’t forget that all the while this was going
on, little by little, there would be breakthroughs regarding the medical uses
of THC, yeah, one of the biggest words I learned in junior high,
Tetra-Hydro-Cannabinol, the pharmaco-active compound found in marijuana.
Starting in 1972, THC was being used for the
supportive treatment of children with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), an
unrelenting killer not ten years earlier, now treatable with methotrexate cocktails, radiotherapy and bone marrow transplants. Treatments that were changing everything, but wreaked havoc
on the gastro-intestinal tract, causing nausea and anorexia.
They were using
pot to give these kids “the munchies”, so they would eat, and it worked. It
spread like wildfire into all cancer therapy regimens. By 1982, it was in every
Oncologist’s doctor's bag.
Then there was an important finding that THC could lower
the intraocular pressures in glaucoma patients. This research was repeated over
and over again, but couldn't be squashed. This discovery was legendary. Many
glaucoma patients could now get state and federal permission for medicinal use
outside of a controlled setting (a hospital) despite a Federal prohibition
against cannabis. The first in many allowed features of pot use, flatly ignoring
But the big head scratcher was this phenomenon of cannabis
induced elevation of pain thresholds and its use for pain control. Yeah, I know. I was
very skeptical at first. When patients would tell me in my office or at the
hospital that they smoked reefer to control pain, my response was generally,
But when scientists hit a homerun in the late eighties with
“Delta 9” research firmly establishing THC as an opiate “G protein” operator, I
began to eat crow. The evidence was undeniable. This is the research that
introduced us to “Medical Marijuana” and its related pain clinics in the late
nineties. But wait. Doesn’t the Federal government consider pot illegal?
Here’s the deal. The 1920s ushered in with a
prohibition on alcohol. This required congress to amend the constitution,
making it illegal to possess or manufacture liquor. This was doomed to failure
on many levels. The biggest blow? The shift of the American economy not
foreseen by Congress. The stock market crash of 1929, and America’s pockets being drained by organized crime like no
other time in our history.
On the heels of this American hiccup, came the Great
Depression. Because there was no booze and everybody was dirt poor, they
reached for other things. A substance already well known to the jazz community,
Americans started smoking reefer, because it was a pleasant functional "high", made them feel
better, grew everywhere, and was cheap.
So what did the federal government do? Well, the FBI, yeah, Hoover's FBI, didn't particularly care for the "jazz Community", so they acted quickly. First they
amended the Constitution again, so we could all have our beer, wine, and cocktails
back. Then in the mid 1930s they started a propaganda campaign called “Reefer
Madness”. Yeah, we’ve all seen the movie, but what it did, was convince the
“traditionalists” (The Great Generation) and their moms and dads, that "marijuana is
Without batting an eye, The United
States Government enacted laws to prohibit the possession, horticulture thereof, or sale of
Marijuana. A Federal Prohibition, exactly like the one on liquor.
This is a Constitutional Amendment with formidable teeth. And its shadowy effects continue to linger. This is why specters of this black cloud, for instance, Colorado license
plate profiling by State Police Departments outside of Colorado are so widespread.
An aura set
up by old “Wasp born Blue Laws” and ignorant "heads in the sand" attitudes of what Baby Boomers called "The Establishment", has continued its "devil's grip" on society.
know. Our parents, and their parents, just never got into “the beatnik thing”.
"But I thought the Earth was flat".
Uh, no, it isn't. And If you ask Baby Boomers what decade did your mom and dad love the most, they will almost all say "mom and dad wish it was still 1954". Are you kidding me?
When we had the Colorado vote in 2012, I debated
heavily with friends about the Federal black cloud. Many of us, me included,
thought that we stood to lose huge Federal monies if we voted to make recreational
pot legal. Important tangibles that could bring the State of Colorado to its
knees, like our school hot lunch programs, our highways, bridges, infrastructure,
and here in Colorado, all of our National Forests and Federal Bureau of Land
But the Yes vote came in. Things were immediately set
in motion. The Free Enterprise system at its best. Marijuana stores, like
liquor stores, called Budstores, and Pot bars were ready. But the big thing was
making it work right and intelligently. Agricultural and
Horticultural regulations; Sales and distribution regulations; Zoning for Budstores; State inspections; FDA approval of
inhalants and edibles; State Licensing; Deciding on a fair tax rate; Taxing;
Enforcing the tax; Collecting the tax; Where do we put the tax?; What programs
do we want the taxes to feed?; monitoring Trafficking across state borders;
Education of our police forces; Roadside testing for “high” drivers; Bureaucracies
and Oversight bodies to run it all; Educating the public; Keeping an open
dialog with the DEA.
The task at hand was very big. This was a huge thing Colorado took on. And of course, everyone was watching. It cost us millions to
set up the bureaucracy alone, but remember, we had a well established "medical
marijuana" system already in place as a template.
The end result of this hard work? Colorado made millions of dollars
in just the first 3 days recreational pot became legal. On January 1, this year, when recreational
pot first went retail, typical “Budstores" in Denver (“ground zero”) reported an
average of 400 to 500 customers per store on opening day with an average of
$40,000 dollars in sales.
Even most “supermarket liquor stores” can’t come close to
this in daily sales. In just 3 months since, state officials are predicting billions of dollars
in cannabis sales and peripheral business by year’s end.
Recreational pot is taxed at 21.12% in Denver. And
the customers, most of them from out of state, keep rolling in. Colorado’s
governor has said that tax revenue alone, may approach one billion dollars this
fiscal year, we know we’ll make 600 million for sure. Money that will be
injected immediately into school construction, education, and drug addiction
That black cloud still hovers though. Congress will
inevitably have to address the issue. In the meantime, it is plausible that the
DEA could march in with the Federal Marshals and shut us down with the full
power of the U.S. Constitution behind them.
It’s becoming interesting now, however, as our
Attorney General, Eric Holder,
implied in a statement last November: that the Feds would Stand Down, and watch
with great interest to see if Colorado can bring an established model with
excellent and efficient enforcement policies in place, and a revenue sharing
system with economic teeth the size of a Great White. It’s all about revenue.
When this happens, one of two things will occur.
Either the Obama administration will see the revenue economics glaring them in
the face and move to influence congress, introducing the bill through our
executive branch, or the other States, hungry for economic stimulus, will start
to topple like dominoes. Congress will have no choice but to capitulate and
ratify the Constitution. Yeah, maybe this cloud has a silver lining. Apparently
the U.S. Department of Justice has a lot of ex-Hippies “running the show”.
So, what really put muscle into “Medical Marijuana”
and the eventual legalization gamble for recreational use by Colorado, and
Washington? What’s a “Delta 9”? What does THC do? Why is it generally unable to induce
chemical dependency? Why is it easier on our biological systems than alcohol or
other drugs? Yeah, don’t forget, it’s a drug.
In the late 1940s, while investigating the causes of
opiate addiction, it was determined that there may be specific opiate receptors
in the human brain that compounds like opium, codeine, Heroin,
morphine, and hydrocodone can activate. This was an interesting postulate. It infers
biologically, that “if we have central nervous system receptors for opium and
its cousins, it can only mean one thing, we make our own opioids in our brains".
Why else would a receptor specifically shaped for opiate molecular moieties already
be in the brains of humans?
This was a bold statement, but lead to research in
all directions. Receptor agonist and antagonist research models had to wait for
technology to catch up. Opiate isomers were being considered for better pain
There was a Heroine epidemic induced by mob prohibition money, the
likes of which we will never see again, but gave birth to the science of
“Addictionology", and created drug rehabilitation models that are highly effective and continue to evolve.
"If we find a receptor, can we make a protein to block it?"
Then it happened. Technology quickly caught up. In the
early 1960s the first hard peer reviewed papers from well built scientific
models started to appear. They found G protein opiate receptors in the human
brain. This pressed private enterprise as well as academic research forward on protein pharmacologic agonist and antagonist
investigation protocols. And it didn't take long for the evidence to be unmasked.
Confirmed in 1971, we now had
ground breaking evidence on what we call natural or autologous pain control.
Naturally occurring opioids, called Endorphins and Enkephalins binding G
receptors in the central nervous system of human brains. There are several opiate receptors, but the μ receptor (mu receptor) is the true
receptor for Pain control and Euphoria.
Through opiate or endorphin chemical attachment, μ
receptors signal Dopamine release, which engages our pleasure centers in the
limbic system and thalamus. Not only do these opioids dampen and even
obliterate pain signals, these chemicals provide us with the higher emotional
senses we possess as human beings. The sensations of “enthusiasm”, “elation”, “humor”,
and “ecstasy”, are all chemically driven.
Our sensations when we smile or
laugh. The sensation of sexual arousal is a chemical cascade of enkephalins.
They play a huge role in orgasm, and other pleasantries we humans enjoy
biologically. The “runner’s high”, that “second wind”, are both examples of
stress loads acting to release these chemicals in our central nervous system.
we look at something spectacular, like the first time you see the Grand Canyon,
that rush of pleasant surprise, is induced by endorphin surges binding μ
receptors in your limbic reticular activating system. Wow! Yeah, we learned a
Most of our opioid receptors can be found in Periaquaductal
gray matter, the amygdale, cerebral cortex, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and limbic system.
These structures are all tied into our emotional regulatory centers,
homeostatic regulating centers and higher functioning in the cerebral cortex. A
concert of mediators we experience every day.
So why are we talking about opiates? It’s important
to understand this physiology if you want to understand how THC works to
control pain, in addition to its well known “high”. In the late 1980s, the THC
Δ 9 receptor (Delta-9) was discovered in the limbic system and cerebral cortex
of human brains.
Wait! There’s a receptor in our brains for marijuana? That
means, you guessed it. We make natural cannabinoids in response to stress and
This phenomenon was first observed in the seventies,
when studying placebos against THC. Reproduced time and again, these research
protocols were always a stumper, because when a population of candidates were
told they were smoking powerful marijuana strains like "Thai Stick" or "Sensimilla", they would get rip-roaring stoned. But they were smoking THC free
That’s right. They were making their own THC. Isn’t science awesome! The
percentages of candidates experiencing being stoned was the interesting thing.
Generally a positive placebo response is seen in a low percentile (typically around 3%), but almost all
of these candidates would be stoned.
By 1993 research was in full swing on this receptor.
Found to be a G protein, just like the μ receptor, it was part of the human brain
neurotransmission system. What came next changed everything. The THC Δ 9
receptor was found to live next to and work to augment the opiate kappa receptor and mu receptor and visa-verse. The first hard evidence that pot can control pain by working on the
same railroad that opiates do.
Further research conducted to nail down the “no
chemical dependency” phenomenon is underway. Also being investigated is a host
of physiological observations, including treatment for epilepsy, and other
neurological disorders, like multiple sclerosis, and movement
disorders, like Parkinsonism.
Just this month the journal, Scientific American, reported the discovery of the cannabinoid that has anti-seizure properties.
It appears that marijuana was a source of
medicinal magic bullets it took us more than fifty years of legal, political,
moral, and scientific “brick wall crashing” to get on our shelves.
Okay, so here’s what it does that concerns me.
Although it is well known for the “high” it produces, as well as its medicinal
uses, cannabis also causes difficulty in thinking clearly in some people (with long term effects); the red
eyes, everyone knows about; dry mouth too; increased appetite; tachycardia (fast heart
rate); and slowed, even obtunded coordination. In addition to these effects, it causes hallucinations and delusional paranoia in many individuals.
Psychological addiction, anxiety,
and depression are also common. Even bipolar activation has been reported in peer reviewed
medical literature. It is a well known migraine trigger in migraineurs. There is also research suggesting an increase in heart
attack risk within the first hour of smoking marijuana. Any doctor should take
pause when considering pot as therapy until these issues are further investigated and
Despite these concerns, A majority of doctors say
that “medical marijuana” should be legalized nationally. Interestingly, twenty-one states
WebMD Chief Medical
Editor Michael W. Smith, MD. says “The medical community is clearly saying they
support using marijuana as a potential treatment option for any number of
medical problems. In fact, many doctors already prescribe it.
professionals are still unclear as to what the long-term effects may be. The
findings would indicate a strong desire to have the DEA ease restrictions on
research so that additional studies can be done to conclusively show where
medical marijuana can help, and where it might not”.
If we legalize marijuana nationally, it will be work.
I mean a lot of work. Remember what Colorado had to put in place.
First, the prohibition
has to be repealed, then the Constitution will have to be ratified. The
Department of agriculture will become one of its biggest oversight bodies, in addition
to the others.
We will have to construct bureaucracies to tax, enforce the tax,
and collect the tax. Don’t forget licensing; regulated distribution centers;
monitoring; law enforcement, and the need for indisputable roadside testing.
Department of Justice will have to re-task its agencies, including the ATF,
FBI, and the DEA. We will need counseling and addiction management programs, as well as restructuring of our Drug and DUI courts. Yes, a very huge undertaking. And what
about the thousands of people in prison for pot possession? This will be a very big issue
when the prohibition is repealed.
Keep in mind that the positive effect on our economy
would be massive, and on a scale we have never seen before. From Wall Street to the agricultural, and consumer industries, and from the textile, packaging, and accoutrement paraphernalia industries, everyone will feel the money.
Consider what it will do to the
“online” industry if pot is legal nationally. Think about it.
When cannabis is legalized, who’s going to own “Pot.com”? Not you and not me
either. Somebody already owns it.
The DEA lists marijuana as a schedule I, illicit
narcotic, the same as Heroin, Crack, and Meth. It will remain there until the
Constitution is amended to repeal the prohibition.
Pot isn’t going away. So, we
must ask ourselves: If Marijuana is here to stay, is safer than our current legal
recreational drug, has endless possibilities for healing, is inexpensive to
grow (yeah, it’s a weed), and will stimulate the economy, wouldn’t it serve us better to run this under a free
Here's a thought. This would be a huge blow to the Mexican Drug Cartels, and possibly create a paradigm shift in the Mexican economy, allowing for free agricultural development, and an opportunity for Mexico to compete cooperatively as a legitimate world player in the cannabis agricultural and textile industries.
An opportunity to lift themselves out of the third world economy into first world status. We saw this happen with Chile in the 1990s when they began to compete globally with the great wines they are producing from their Andean vineyards. They were able to pay off their debt, shrug off organized crime, and now stand with the other first world nations as one of the top economic powers in the world.
Stay healthy, and keep learning.