Being drawn to farm life is only part of his metamorphosis into the world of cannabis as remedy, as he and his good friend Dan Aykroyd feel the plant could have saved his brother, and can save many more – with a little education.
“Danny and I are starting a charity, and are actively working with the OLCC [Oregon Liquor Control Commission] on a program to replace opiates with cannabis in Oregon,” he shared. “We’ve had meetings with 15 different people – government policy makers, trying to figure out a model. We’re negotiating with a landlord now on a location.”
Born in Chicago to immigrant parents from Albania, Jim and siblings were raised in Wheaton, Illinois. Coming of age in the 1970s there were no diagnosis for mental disorders, the leading cause to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol; but, Jim doesn’t remember his brother ever being manic or depressed.
He feels his brother was damaged long before the partying, more than likely from repeated concussions while playing football.“He was focused in high school,” Jim recalled. “You have to be focused on stage. Work was the drive – his creativity was the drive.”John was outgoing and involved in a wide array of activities during high school. Voted Homecoming King and Most Humorous, he participated in theater, was on the Forensics Team, and was Co-Captain and all-conference middle Linebacker for the Wheaton Central High School Tigers. Known as “Killer Belushi,” John tackled Running Backs at full speed, taking repeated blows, holding records for the most tackles (the school has since been torn down).
By the time John was a senior in high school, Jim remembers him suffering a seizure at home. “We were vying for a seat on the couch in the living room – you know, it was a power-play. At that time if you got up to change the channel, you’d lose your seat,” he laughed. “John went into the laundry room, next to the kitchen to watch a little Motorola TV, old school – the set had an antenna with tin foil on the ends. It was turned-up loud and I was yelling at him to turn it down.”Ever the perennial jokester, Jim thought John was just trying to aggravate his little brother.
When the sound wasn’t lowered he got up to deal with it, and found John having a seizure, hanging onto the edge of the sink.John was taken to the hospital and tests were run, to no avail, with no treatment to speak of.“At that time if you were knocked out on the fi eld, the coach would say, ‘What’s the matter, Belushi, got your bell rung? Get back in there,’” he mocked, remembering. “They didn’t do anything.”
Punch Drunk In the 1920s they called it “Punch-Drunk;” when professional boxers displayed tremors, slowed movement, confusion, and speech problems. The syndrome that would eventually become chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was first recognized in 1949, in a paper penned by British Neurologist Macdonald Critchley. But, the syndrome wasn’t offi cially named until the early 2000s, when Neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, performed an autopsy on the brain of beloved Pittsburgh Steelers Center and NFL Hall of Famer, Mike Webster, after he exhibited erratic, unexplained behavior before his death.
CTE is a neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated head injuries sustained from sports such as boxing, American football, professional wrestling, ice hockey, rugby, and soccer. With visual proof of the damage done only found in an autopsy, after death.
We’ll never know what condition John’s brain was in when his behavior turned erratic, leading him down the path of abusing recreational drugs— cocaine, heroin, and cannabis were plentiful in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when the brothers began in show business.“John found his medicine in college, when he smoked his first joint,” Jim explained. “If we knew then that cannabis could help mitigate the damage done to his brain by football, or a better recreational drug than powders, pills and alcohol, I think he’d still be alive. Danny has always said, ‘If Johnny was a pot-head, he’d be alive today.’
The Smell of SNL in Oregon
In 2014, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard University, Lester Grinspoon, penned an open letter to the NFL, requesting the league to support research into the neuro-protective potential of cannabis, siting a 1998 National Institute of Health (NIH) study. Another study in Spain (2008) showed receptors in the brain responding to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as part of the healing process after Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). In Brazil, researchers published that Cannabidiol (CBD) has the ability to regenerate brain cells in mice, treating depression, anxiety, and chronic stress (symptoms of CTE). Lastly, a review of TBI patients at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, showed patients who tested positive for high levels of THC had higher mortality rates than those who didn’t use cannabis. From these studies/observations, it’s apparent the regenerative properties of cannabis act as a neuroprotectant, helping to heal the brain; while its analgesic properties quell pain; and its anti-infl ammatory compounds help to relieve pressure post-concussion. Regarding the opioid epidemic, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2016 there were more than 64,000 fatal overdoses from opioids, with more than 72,000 documented deaths in 2017, with numbers steadily increasing. In 2009 a survey (NIH) of 644 retired NFL players, 52 percent said they used opioids during their NFL career, with 71 percent admitting to misuse. A report in the American Journal of Public Health states that 50 percent of high school athletes are at risk for abusing pain killers as adults; with heroin use doubling in the 18 to 25-year-old demographic. Lastly, Poison Control Centers report receiving a call every 45 minutes related to minor opioid use. Regarding opioid and other addictive drug replacement, Plant Assisted Therapy (PAT) for addiction recovery is a viable plant-based treatment using cannabis and other superfoods, boasting a 96 percent success rate with minimal relapse. Ron Figarrato of Greener Pastures Recovery (formerly of Maine) developed the treatment after replacing a crack cocaine addiction via smoking and ingesting cannabis and other healing plants (Weed World, issue #139/online). According to Figarrato, cannabis and other plant-based remedies, including kratom, cannabis, passionfl ower, chamomile, milk thistle, kava, moringa, valerian, St. John’s Wort, ginseng, and turmeric are incorporated into the PAT program – along with a healthy diet, yoga, mindfulness, therapy, selfcare, and apothecary – the practice of making plant-based remedies, allowing participants to continue their treatments at home.
Belushi beams with pride when talking about Captain Jack’s Gulzar Afghanica, now one of twelve cultivars grown on the farm. It’s a tribute – a way to keep John’s memory alive, in a positive way.
Working Man’s Weed
There are a plethora of cultivars within Belushi’s Private Vault, with some sourced from small farms in Southern Oregon — Belushi’s way of giving to the community by supporting them. But the Afghani cultivar, along with Cherry Pie, and the Crippler – a sativa dominant hybrid, are a few of the mainstays. Belushi jokingly refers to the hybrid Cherry Pie as the “marriage counselor,” for its ability to make him charming. In addition, Jim takes .25 milligrams of tincture to help him sleep. The family dog, Dash, gets a dose of CBD daily for arthritis. Soon to be launched under the Belushi’s Farm brand and subsequent Blue Brothers brand, is “Good, Ugly Weed,” with a nod to the four-fi nger dime bags culled in the 1960s and ‘70s. “We’ll sell it in a little bag with a couple of papers,” he laughed. “But, it’s really, really good weed – just not pretty – you know, it may have a few stems – not trimmed perfectly. The whole Blues Brothers brand is about regular, working folks. Like the folks who’ve grown weed for decades in this region. Nothing fancy, down-to-earth people working the land, loving the plant.” Also in the works is a rebirth of the old Blues Brothers patrol car, with a new spin. “Illinois is legal now,” he said happily of his home state. “I want to drive the car in Chicago with a big joint on top to celebrate! We are now on a Mission from God, literally, to spread the good news of healing with this plant – and to legalize America.”
It Takes a Village
Belushi has immersed himself in the community of Eagle Point, helping to rebuild the Holly Theater in downtown Medford; with a second project in the works to rebuild the old Butte Creek Mill, lost to fi re in 2016. He also likes to get his hands dirty — planting, curing, trimming, repairing fences, whatever the farm needs— while hanging out with the locals. “I’ve gotten to know the people in the community and feel a part of it now,” he shared. A totem pole and sweat lodge were built on the farm by the indigenous people there, with Belushi adding they couldn’t take any money for their spiritual work, but he’s buying all of his fi rewood from them. A statement from the farm’s website reads, “We honor the spirit of the Tekelama, the people who were there before us; it means ‘Those along the river.’ We honor Mother Earth, Father Sun, Water Spirit, and Fire Spirit, and get rid of the impurities we carry in our hearts.” Belushi waxes poetic when talking of farm life. The plant does that to people. “I appreciate the ladies,” he surmised, speaking of the plants, who are female. “I’m following them – I’m being led by them and in that journey learning about myself, my community, and healing the trauma from my brother John’s death.” Jim shares a video clip on his phone of the women of Southern Oregon who work with him on the farm, potting up the plants on Belushi’s Farm, whispering words of encouragement, “You are beautiful, you are loved, you will heal…”
Written and Published By Sharon Letts in Weed world magazine issue 142