“Dog-Town and Z Boys”, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, “Dazed and Confused”, “The Beach” and “Don’t be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood”. Message? Chill.
A brief history of the anti-depressant uses of cannabis.
In ancient Sumer, hemp was called the “plant of forgetting worries” (1) and the “old men are young again” plant. (2) In Herodotus’s “Nine Books of History”, the founder of ethnography relates how the Scythians would “howl with joy” after enjoying a hemp “smoke-bath” in tents they made for the event. (3) Democritus – the “laughing philosopher” of ancient Greece – noticed that hemp based beverages promoted “immoderate laughter”. (4) Arab doctors in the twelfth century advised that eating “a little” cannabis does help “against sorrow”. (5) Tibetian pharmacopias state that hemp produces feelings of “elation”. (6) In India, cannabis was called “the giver of delight” and the “soother of distress” from ancient times onward. (7) Linnaeus wrote that cannabis had the effect of “chasing away menancholy”, making you “happy and funny”.(8)
More modern sources of evidence of an anti-depression effect in cannabis can be found in O’Shaughnessy – 1838 (9), Moreau – 1845, (10) Von Bibra – 1855 (11), the Indian Hemp Drug Commission Report – 1893-94 (12) and all subsequent major commissions of study, including La Guardia -1944 (13), LeDain – 1970 (14), Shaffer – 1972 (15) Ganja in Jamaica – 1976 (16) and the recent 1997 WHO report (17).
Curiously, of all the traditions of medicine in the world, “western medicine” stands alone in classifying hemp’s anti-depressive effects as “non-medicinal”, and refuses to do any studies that would prove or disprove the theory.
Perhaps the reason “western medicine” is too busy to investigate the anti-depressant effects of cannabis is because of the exclusive and lucrative business of selling synthetic anti-depressants. According to the “Consumer Guide to Prescription Drugs”, Prozac – a popular anti-depressant – has the following side effects:
Abdominal cramps; anxiety; change in appetite; change in sexual drive; constipation; diarrhea; dizziness; drowsiness; dry mouth; gas; headache; insomnia; light-headedness; nausea; nervousness; reduced concentration; sweating; tremor; vomiting; chest pains; chills; cough; fever; frequent or painful urination; hives; painful or difficult breathing; palpitations; sinus infection; skin rash; sore throat; vision changes. (18)
Cannabis, on the other hand, has only two “side effects” from cannabis have been noted: cannabis “increases heart rate moderately”, and “causes dilation of conjunctival blood vessels”. (19)
Two other interesting facts regarding cannabis and depression: “Synhexyl” – on of the first synthetic cannabis pills – was first used in 1944 as “a new euphoriant for depressive mental states. (20), and “some psychiatrists are currently prescribing Marinol for depression”. (21)
According to Statistics Canada, there were about 393,000 males and 861,000 females suffering from depression, for a total of 1,254,000 estimated cases in Canada. (22)
According to Global TV news (Nov. 13, 2001), the sale of anti-depressant synthetic drugs have gone up 50% since sept. 11.
Webster’s online dictionary defines “recreation” as including “restoration to health” (www.webster.com). When one looks into the history of cannabis use, one finds many examples of “preventative” or “anti-stress, depression and fatigue” uses, and many other examples of cannabis being used for “meditation” and “focus”. The historical evidence shows that preventative uses of cannabis may be both “fun” and “restorative to health” and/or “performance-enhancing” at the same time.
Today, “medicinal” cannabis use (or more accurately, medical necessity cannabis use) has achieved much more legitimacy than “recreational” cannabis use in the eyes of the public, or at least the media. If it’s the “non-necessity” part of cannabis use that some people object to, they must understand that, while stress, depression and fatigue do not kill directly, they DO kill indirectly and, recognizing their long-term effects of stress, depression and fatigue (not to mention the effects of taking harsh chemical anti-depressants) leads to including cannabis and other herbs in “legitimate medicine”.
There is another answer to the “non-necessity” prohibition argument, and that is – “it’s our own lives” argument – the “autonomy” argument. It goes: “we should be able to do as we please with our own bodies, even subjecting them to non-toxic or even toxic herbs and berries and brew – even if it’s just hedonistic pleasure”. The inevitable result of this attitude is a wise, pharmacologically experienced and truly FREE and autonomous public. The inevitable result of the anti-autonomy argument is a prison-state full of stupid, domesticated, stressed, depressed, poisoned and unhealthy sub-humans – a world not far off from ours.
The non-necessity argument has another side – the cost/benefit analysis. With today’s myths regarding inherent lung damage or inherent impairment of coordination finally being addressed, the user of today can easily argue that the costs to our heath system of proper (or even improper) cannabis use are small. To quote the doctor’s bible, the Merck Manual (1987) regarding cannabis:
“there is still little evidence of biologic damage even among heavy users. This is true even in the areas intensively investigated, such as pulmonary, immunologic, and reproductive function.…the chief opposition to the drug rests on a moral and political, and not a toxicological, foundation.”
Finally, there is the matter of the “non-medical” aspects of non-necessity cannabis use. There is the notion that, because there is no doctor involved, it cannot be medicine. By lumping some drugs into the category of “social” (caffeine, alcohol, tobacco) and others into “medical” (Thalidomide, Valium, Ritalin, Heroin, cocaine, cannabis, Viagra,) we have created problems of regulation, monopoly and comprehension that we don’t need. When we realize the fact that we don’t need a doctor’s permission to get access to herbs or massage or other “alternative therapies”, we don’t need permission for cannabis either. Let the doctors “control” the hard drugs (like smack, coke and pills) as much as they want . . . as long as they leave the raw plant medicines alone, the doctors and herbalists can live in peace.
In other words, just ’cause it’s fun doesn’t mean it’s not medicine. And just ’cause it’s smoke doesn’t mean it’s not medicine. And just ’cause the doctor and the chemist don’t get a cut doesn’t mean it’s not medicine. And just ’cause you can live without it doesn’t mean it’s not medicine.
The Native North American Indians have defined medicine as “things” that are “good” (Willard 1992). Recreational cannabis use has proven itself “good” and thus “medicinal”. Getting healthy without doctors is also good, and therefore also medicinal. If it’s good, it’s medicine. Let’s be smart like the North American Indians and err on the side of inclusiveness, medicine-wise.
(1) Faber, “Drogen im alten Mesopotamien – Sumer und Akkader”, 1981, p.271 – as cited in Ratsch, “Marijuana Medicine”, 2001, Healing Arts Press, p.82
(2) “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, translated by N.K. Sandars, Pinguin, 1960
(3) Herodotus, “Nine Books of History”, vol. 4 pp. 73-75, – as cited in Ratsch, p.57
(4) Emboden, “Ritual Use of Cannabis Sativa L.” in “Flesh of the Gods” Furst, ed. 1990, p.219
(5) Mahsati, cited in Ratsch, p. 99
(6) Dash, “Illustrated Materia Medica of Indo-Tibetan Medicine”, ’87, p.347-cited in Ratsch, p.44
(7) Ratsch, “Marijuana Medicine”, 2001, Healing Arts Press, p.37
(8) Linnaeus, “Herbationes Upsalienses”, 1952 edition, p.41, as cited in “Nature & Nation”, Koerner, 1999
(9) “…a great mental cheerfulness.” O’Shaughnessy, “On the Preparations of the Indian Hemp, or Gunjah”, originally published in “Transactions of the Medical and Physical Society of Bengal, 1838-40, reprinted in Mikuriya, “Marijuana: Medical Papers” 1973, p.20
(10) “…the face is covered in smiles…..it has been proposed by M. Moreau to take advantage of this reputed action, to combat certain varieties of insanity connected with melancholy and depressing delusions.” On the Hashish or Cannabis Indica by Bell, 1857, reprinted in Mikuriya, “Marijuana: Medical Papers” 1973, p.42
(11) “…I was moved to laugh foolishly about the most unimportant matters.” Von Bibra, “Plant Intoxicants”, 1855 (1995 reprint Healing Arts Press), p.153
(12) “…Bhang is the Joy-giver, the Sky-flyer, the Heavenly-guide, the Poor Man’s Heaven, the Soother of Grief…” J.M. Campbell, “On the Religion of Hemp,” in Indian Hemp Drug Commission Report (Simla, India: 1892-4), 3: 250-2, reprinted in “The Book of Grass”, Andrews & Vinkenoog editors, Grove, 1968, p.145
(13) “…a sense of well-being and contentment, cheerfulness and gaiety…” from “Mayor LaGuardia’s Committee on Marijuana – The Marijuana Problem in the City of New York”, 1944, cited from p 318, “The Marijuana Papers”, David Solomon editor, Signet, 1968
(14) “Cannabis is an intoxicant and a euphoriant, and it generally acts as a relaxant.” From the LeDain Commission, otherwise known as the “Interm Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs” (my emphasis), p. 202, 1970
(15) “At low, usual ‘social’ doses, the intoxicated individual may experience an increased sense of well-being; initial restlessness and hilarity followed by a dreamy, care-free state of relaxation…” from “Marijuana – a Signal of Misunderstanding” … otherwise known as the “Shafer Commission” Signet, 1972, page 68
(16) “…It makes you feel happy…” from “Ganja In Jamaica” Rubin and Comitas, Anchor Books, 1976, p.127
(17) “There are also reports of an anti-depressant effect, and some patients may indeed use cannabis to ‘self-treat’ depressive symptoms (Gruber et, al, 1997), but these need to be better evaluated.” World Health Organization, “Cannabis: a health perspective and research agenda” 1997, p. 29
(18) “Consumer’s Guide to Prescription Drugs”,1991, Home Health Handbook, p.188-89
(19) “Clinical and Psychological effects of Marijuana in Man”, Weil, Zinberg, and Nelsen, 1968, reprinted in “Marijuana: Medical Papers” edited by T. Mikuriya, 1973, p.277-78
(20) “Great Book of Hemp”, Robinson, 1996, p. 51
(21) “Review of the Human Studies of Medical Use of Marijuana”, Gieringer, 1996