“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” is a maxim that has been repeated for ages. Fear, especially fear of the unknown, is an instinctual trait. Most animals have it — especially those that must contend with predators.
Fear ye, fear ye
Fear in healthy doses can help keep us safer. But without curiosity we’d have never advanced beyond cave-dwelling. Just imagine if no one had wondered what was over the next hill, beyond that mountain, or across the ocean. Mesopotamia and Africa would be really crowded by now.
Fear of the unknown can be the cause of prejudice and hate. Once the unknown is known, it’s usually not quite so bad as what was feared. Despite this, it’s still quite difficult for many of us humans to do new things or go against our fears.
The fight to legalize cannabis, especially for medical purposes, faces some of those fears. And it shares a lot of similarities with the battles that were waged to allow consumption of another leafy green plant: tea.
Drinking tea has become so identified with British culture that it’s hard to imagine a United Kingdom without it. Britons even have multiple specific times of day dedicated to the consumption of the beverage. But, in the context of Britain’s history, tea is a relative newcomer to their traditions.
Drinking tea can be traced back as far as 2700 B.C. in China. Cannabis consumption can be traced back even further, to 8000 B.C. Both plants are also on record in Chinese history as having been used as medicine during the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), while discretionary or recreational use predates that by 400 years or more.
Tea, or chai, was first introduced to Western Europeans in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers, when Vasco da Gama and João da Nova were among the first to reach India from Europe. Fernão Pires de Andrade was the first to establish modern trading contact with the Chinese, and it’s likely that he was among the first to bring back notable quantities of tea.
Once Ferdinand Magellan discovered the circuitous route to approaching Asia from the east, avoiding the pirates who trafficked all around Africa and in the Indian Ocean, the gates were opened. Tea was considered by the Portuguese to be a wonderful commodity and was heavily traded in Spain and Portugal. It was lightweight, easy to store, and in demand. The British, however, were very slow to accept it.
In 1662 Catherine of Braganza (of Portugal) married King Charles II. In her wedding trousseau she brought copious amounts of tea. Despite her noted piousness, the Brits regarded this behavior as quite suspicious. She eventually convinced her husband to try it, and he liked it — a lot. Once the king had been seen drinking tea, it became popular among the nobles and aristocracy of London.
Some Britons sang the praises of the drink, saying it made the consumer smarter, cured every illness, and provided pep. But critics said that tea was a “great dryer, and a promoter of old age, and foreign to European complexions.”
Guil-tea by association
The main complaint, apart from being addictive due to the caffeine, was that tea wasn’t homegrown. It came from Asia, meaning it was unfamiliar and therefore a potential threat. Also, because opium was making its way to Europe at the same time, tea got lumped in with opium dens in the minds of the public and was considered harmful, especially to women.
Tea was still very expensive and difficult to procure, needing to be carried halfway around the world in ships that were more likely to fail than succeed. So there was also a concern that the lower classes, being weak-willed and suspect to begin with, would get hooked and resort to a life of crime to pay for their habit; or, perhaps, women would starve their families in order to support their tea addiction.
Sounds strangely familiar, right? Another lovely green plant called cannabis has faced the same battles in America. The difference, though, is that cannabis is generally not physically addictive, while the caffeine in tea can bring about, in some habitual drinkers, withdrawal symptoms if consumption is suddenly halted.
Cannabis sativa was grown as hemp in the U.S. from the time of the first settlers; for a time, it was even mandatory to grow the crop in some colonies. Use of the plant as medicine, however, was not widely accepted then. It was instead converted into paper, rope, textiles, and other important materials.
Cannabis as a medicine was first brought to the U.S. in the 1800s with the influx of Chinese, who also brought opium. In the 19th century cannabis was regarded as a medicine and was treated as such, even being listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia in 1850. It was available for purchase throughout the land in almost every pharmacy.
In the late 1800s there was a Mexican civil war. Many Mexicans crossed the border, bringing “marihuana” — and that insufficiently scary-looking, original Spanish spelling — with them. They might have used the plant as medicine, but also for recreation. When the puritanical ruling class saw the “jazz Negroes” and the Mexicans smoking cannabis with American youth, they acted quickly to quash the fun.
Like tea, cannabis was associated with women becoming waywardly and unable to control themselves around the substance. The first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, started the war on cannabis well before the Nixon administration stoked the fires.
THIS is why cannabis medicine is still illegal?
Anslinger said, “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, results from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.” He also believed that “reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
Anslinger was one of the first to warn that use of cannabis would lead to pacifism and communist brainwashing, so when President Richard Nixon needed “proof” for his now-debunked accusations of the horrors of cannabis, he used Anslinger’s surveys and findings.
Historian David Courtwright pored over Anslinger’s data and found that the stats Anslinger had used to sway popular opinion as well as government support were fabricated as a tool to pressure and harass black and Hispanic communities. And we have all heard about the recanting by John Ehrlichman, the Nixon administration’s counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs.
Claims of addiction, of loosening morals — these arguments made against cannabis play on the fear of the unknown. [So does the deviant deprivation strategy that passes for public policy on medical cannabis for veterans with PTSI (post-traumatic stress injury). This strategy traps suffering war heroes in a circular maze of cruelty where the federal government refuses to let them have this medicine because sufficient scientific studies to “prove its safety” don’t exist, but only because they’ve been forbidden…by the federal government. — Ed.]
The real dangers of cannabis
In reality, the dangers of cannabis lie mainly in the smoking of it. ALL smoke contains nasty chemicals, and the effects wear off too rapidly. Not only that: Smoking is neither discreet nor allowed in most public buildings in the U.S. Inhaling hot vapors is a quick way to feel the effects, though not the most effective way to reap the health benefits.
Those who smoke cannabis can feel the effects in a few minutes; but the effects also wear off within a few hours. That’s been the delivery method of choice for a long time, even though deeply inhaling any smoke can irritate the lungs and airways. A far more effective and low- to no-risk method to gain the medicinal benefits is to extract the cannabinoids from the plant into food.
When processed by digestion, the liver converts the delta-9-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) present in the cooked cannabis into a much more potent form known as 11-hydroxy-THC. Also, the effects build gradually, taking up to 90 minutes to fully set in—by which time smoked cannabis would be starting to wear off—and can last six hours or longer, depending on a variety of factors.
Until fairly recently, home extraction of cannabis and other plants was tedious and unpredictable at best, leading to inconsistent results — and often worse. Many an aspiring cannabis cooker has sacrificed a heaping helping of their most valuable ingredient in a smelly, failed kitchen chemistry-experiment called stovetop extraction.
Then, in 2011 inventor Garyn Angel devised a machine he called a Botanical Extractor™, which facilitates the process automatically. Consumers simply toss in some cannabis along with butter, oil, or alcohol, press a couple of buttons, close the ScentLock lid, and relax. In as little as an hour, the result is a consistent, easily digested medicine that can be used to elevate virtually any recipe. It created such a sensation that he built a successful company around it, MagicalButter.com, which currently has earned over 250,000 likes on Facebook.
The health benefits of tea, especially green tea, are widely celebrated. And the health benefits of another green herb are increasingly becoming accepted, as verifiable scientific facts come in from new research studies. Finally, plants that can offer relief to patients who suffer from chronic pain, wasting conditions, and even terminal illnesses are being embraced and offered as treatment without the stale racist stigma of yesteryear.
And that suits us to a “tea”!
Which do you like better: tea or coffee? Tell us in the comments below!