Pubdate: Fri, 19 Jun 2015
Source: Stabroek News (Guyana)
Column: Health & Wellness
Copyright: 2015 Stabroek News
Author: Sherilna Nageer


While the norm in most places nowadays is to run into a pharmacy and 
pick up some medication if one is feeling ill, the truth is that 
pharmacies, as we know them, have only been around for a couple hundred years.

People, however, have been on planet Earth for thousands of years.

What then did our ancestors use for medicine when they got sick? The 
answer, which many people have forgotten, is that many of the 
original medicines were plant-based. Humans, through trial and error, 
careful observation of the animals around them, and experimentation, 
learned over time which plants could heal and which could harm. This 
knowledge, obviously, was very valuable and carefully passed on from 
generation to generation.

Today, a significant number (40% - 50%) of prescription medicines 
still contain extracts from plants, while many other drugs ( 50% - 
70% of those developed in the last 25 years) contain plant 
derivatives - chemicals made in a laboratory but based on elements 
found in nature.

Aspirin, for example-one of the most well-known and commonly used 
drugs in the world-is based on a chemical found in the willow tree 
bark. Other plant-based medicines are used to treat all kinds of 
illnesses from cancer, heart disease, malaria, asthma, diabetes, 
hypertension, to pain management and depression even.

Usually, scientists are eager to discover new sources of potential 
medicine. Some plants however, even those with significant medicinal 
properties, sometimes end up being stigmatized. The cannabis plant is 
one such glaring example.

Cannabis has been around for centuries and grows wild in many tropical lands.

It is also one of humanity's oldest cultivated crops.

Certain varieties (aka hemp) were and are used to make fabric, rope, 
oil, and paper, while other strains-recognized as having more 
mood-altering properties-were and are used for medicinal, religious, 
and recreational purposes.

Records detailing cannabis's medicinal uses have been found as far as 
2737 BC (by Emperor Shen Neng of China), as well as in numerous 
ancient Egyptian papyrus, Indian Ayurvedic texts, Greek and Roman 
medical references, and other records of civilizations ranging from 
Asia to the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, South and North 
America; worldwide, basically.

The root, seeds, and leaves are all useful, with traditional Chinese 
medicine recommending using juice from the leaves to fight tapeworms 
and powder from the seeds against constipation and hair loss. 
Egyptian papyrus describes its help with sore eyes and haemorrhoids 
while Ayurvedic medicine used it to combat insomnia, headaches, 
anxiety, and numerous gastrointestinal disorders. Arabic physicians 
used cannabis from the 8th to 18th centuries, recognizing its 
anti-inflammatory, anti-epileptic, anti-fever, and anti-vomiting 
properties. Cannabis's use in pain management was also widely 
documented, with evidence showing that numerous people, including the 
Vikings and medieval Germans used it for pain relief pain during 
childbirth, toothaches, and for minor surgeries. The Ancient Greeks 
also used cannabis in veterinary medicine, to dress wounds and sores 
on their horses.

In recent times however, there has been a war on cannabis, led 
primarily by the United States. Ironically, in 1619, the legislature 
of the state of Virginia had passed a law requiring every farmer to 
grow cannabis (the hemp variety). The fear of marijuana-the dried 
flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant and the least potent, most 
widely available and used of all the cannabis products-only dates 
back to the 1930's, and was triggered by an influx of Mexican 
migrants who used the plant.

Ignorant racist fear, along with widespread unemployment during the 
Great Depression led to the blaming of marijuana-using Mexicans for 
all kinds of crimes and the eventual passage of laws banning 
marijuana use and cultivation in the US. The industrial variety of 
cannabis-hemp-was also banned.

A few decades later, in the 1970s calls for decriminalization began 
to be heard but various forces including conservative politicians, 
concerned parents, anti-hemp businesses, pharmaceutical corporations, 
and others pushed back, arguing (even without any concrete evidence) 
that marijuana was a 'gateway drug' that would lead to the abuse of 
other 'harder' drugs, which could see permanent brain damage.

The 'War on Drugs' became a massive operation in the 1980s sucking up 
a huge amount of resources and spreading to numerous countries 
outside the US. Foreign aid became linked to countries' willingness 
to go along with American drug policies and the demonization of 
cannabis and persecution of marijuana users became even more 
widespread, even in places which had never before had such laws. In 
just a few decades, hundreds of thousands of people became criminals 
for the simple act of using, growing, and selling a plant which for 
centuries before, had been used freely, openly, and widely.

Cannabis does have psychotropic properties. It does cause changes in 
one's mood, perceptions, and consciousness. However, so do numerous 
other substances, many of which like alcohol, as well as other 
plant-based substances such as tobacco, caffeine, cocoa, are legal. 
In fact, alcohol and tobacco abuse often does much more harm than 
marijuana use. Unfortunately, much of the 'research' from which the 
anti-cannabis sentiment and laws sprung was not based on valid 
scientific research but concocted by persons and groups intent on a 
particular criminalization and economic agenda.

In recent years, much of this anti-cannabis research has been 
revealed to be flawed and current data backs up what our ancestors 
always knew - cannabis does indeed have significant medicinal 
properties. It is not a gateway drug. Cannabis users are not 
criminals; crime rates have not increased in places that have 
decriminalized cannabis.

People suffering from cancer, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and 
other illnesses have been shown to benefit dramatically from 
medicinal cannabis use. As a migraine sufferer, I personally have 
found cannabis to be immensely therapeutic. Hemp products also remain 
more sustainable and environmentally friendly than their 
petroleum-based competitors. It is high time that we rid ourselves of 
the nonsensical notions and laws and use all our brain cells to 
address the real problems in our society.

Ending the stigmatization of the cannabis plant and persecution of 
its users is one step forward in building a healthier and more just society.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom