For several Millennia (at least) mankind has shared a special relationship with Cannabis, which in recent years had become the subject of much discussion.
We talk of the dubiously illegality imposed by many governments within the last Century. We recognize positive effects on mood and character whilst being told of the inherent dangers of its psychotropic nature and we hear testimonials from countless patients who preach of its effectiveness in comparison to modern pharmaceuticals. Yet almost incomprehensibly we now live in a world that considers the cultivation of marijuana an act worthy of imprisonment and the amount of Police time and money that is wasted prosecuting the casual ‘user’ is truly shocking. The old adage still goes that you can’t realistically impose laws upon Mother Nature but it would appear that the upper Echelons of our race consider themselves to be ‘The Keepers’ who protect us from ourselves. Fortunately we are beginning to see a shift in the undercurrent of global politics and it would appear that this pointless war may begin to subside at a faster rate than expected, but why has this simple plant had such a profound effect on so many of us?
It was long hypothesized that the active Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) component is the major effecter when marijuana is consumed by humans, but there was no real explanation as to why this would be the case. In 1964, Raphael Mechoulam and his team in Israel managed to isolate the chemical and then synthesize it under laboratory conditions. Theories began to surface that there must be an active receptor in the brain which absorbed the plant’s contents and hence allowed the consumer to experience a variety of symptoms dependent on the concentration of THC the plant had developed in cultivation. This was widely accepted as the truth as there was no evidence to suggest that the findings were incorrect but they were not entirely conclusive. Allyn Howlett and his colleagues managed to locate a receptor in the brain in 1988 which was an exact match for the chemical composition of the Phytocannabinoids found in the Cannabis plant; the discovery of this ‘CB1’ receptor, as it is known, led to a paradigm shift in the hypothesized relationship between plant and man and scientists began to suggest that we were ‘wired’ for Cannabis as opposed to simply being effected by it. ‘The CB1 receptors have been found in areas of the brain that control the coordination of movement, emotions, memory, reduction of pain, reward systems and reproduction yet are almost absent in the brain stem (which affects our vital functions such as breathing)’. In addition to this it has been discovered that these receptors are found in the brain itself at a far higher concentration than any other chemical receptor and while the CB1 tend to be located in the central nervous system (CNS) there is also a second set of receptors which are found primarily in the immune system, bones, peripheral nervous system (PNS) and heart which have been labeled as CB2 receptors. These discoveries were then further enhanced in 1992 when Dr. Mechoulam discovered that humans actually produce their own type of endogenous cannabinoid known now as Arachidonylethanolamide/Anandamide which acts as the link between our receptors and external sources of cannabinoids; by 1995 his lab had discovered a second endogenous cannabinoid which they called 2-arachindonylglycerol (2-AG).
Following on from these studies the linked parts have become referred to as the Endocannabinoid system and this is deemed to be an essential part of our physiological being. Internal and external cannabinoids interact in a manner, which promotes survival and regeneration, enables us to fight infections efficiently and regulates our patterns of relaxation, sleep, memory and eating. Ever wondered why you always get ‘The Munchies’? It’s because your body is talking to you. This system is designed to cause positive reactions both internally and externally and bring us in tune with ourselves away from the fictions of society and politics. We are a most incredibly advanced species but we will never fully understand all the pieces of our puzzle until we accept that we cannot create anything, which is truly beneficial to us that do not exist in nature. The Endocannabinoid system is an essential part of us and by restricting our access to naturally occurring cannabinoids we may actually be doing more harm than good but ‘to understand that this system of life exists within your body and brain is to understand the remarkable and various therapeutic applications of cannabis’.
In response to these findings some scientists theorized that symptoms such as a lethargic state and getting ‘munchies’ could be partly responsible for the increasing incidence of obesity and the ensuing health crisis. By establishing the link between cannabinoids and the CB1 receptors in the brain the way was paved for researchers working for Sanofi-Aventis to create a drug designed to block out the binding facility and hence render the receptors useless. The idea was that by blocking them you would essentially suppress hunger and hence people would eat less but the actual results proved to be from desirable. In 2006, the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) gave the green light to this new compound under the name of Rimonabant making it available over the counter in Britain without prescription; within two years it was available in 56 countries but not in the United States as the FDA were concerned about reported side effects which included nausea, neurological problems and even suicidal tendencies due to depression. Across the world people experienced severe neuropsychiatric side effects, increased recurrence of relapse in Multiple Sclerosis sufferers as well as issues regarding erectile dysfunction and gastrointestinal symptoms at a level three times higher than the norm. Evidence began to emerge that Rimonabant increased the likelihood of colon cancer and promoted neurodegeneration while continuing research into endocannabinoid activators proved that their stimulation had the complete opposite effect on almost all of the reported ailments. By 2007 the EMEA suspended its approval of Rimonabant but not before 37,000 people were using it in the UK alone. Even now it is still marketed on the internet to an unsuspecting public as an aid to weight-loss by Indian pharmaceutical companies.
In an ideal situation any person who wanted to cultivate their own supply of marijuana for the purpose of self-medication and relaxation would be able to do so in a manner, which benefited the economy and saved millions for the healthcare systems. Imagine all the tax-free money poured into the Black Market annually, which would suddenly become disposable income? Consider also the reduced pressure on healthcare professionals, which would allow them to better serve those of us who need them most and it is clear that we now need change more than ever. The only people who serve to lose out are the criminals who profit from our ‘illegal’ habits and the pharmaceutical companies whose sole purpose is to profiteer from our suffering. If we are ‘wired’ to receive the benefits of Cannabis and drugs designed to block our receptors cause catastrophic damage to the body how can it still be legitimately illegal? The simple truth is that the medicinal properties are of no benefit to those who only see the world in graphs and profit margins and hence the only manner by which most of us can access a plant extract legally is through a synthesized compound containing alcohol and god knows what else. I would happily buy my supply over the counter in a taxed and moderated store should such a place exist but instead we are forced to become criminalized for an activity which is medically beneficial. But apparently that’s just how the world works.
Originally Published in Weed World Magazine Issue 101