BRAVE NEW WEED: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis
$12.99 eBook, available 10/04/2016
Rating: 4* of five
The Publisher Says: The former editor-in-chief of Details and Star adventures into the fascinating "brave new world" of cannabis, tracing its history and possible future as he investigates the social, medical, legal, and cultural ramifications of this surprisingly versatile plant.
Pot. Weed. Grass. Mary Jane. We all think we know what cannabis is and what we use it for. But do we? Our collective understanding of this surprising plant has been muddled by politics and morality; what we think we know isn’t the real story.
A war on cannabis has been waged in the United States since the early years of the twentieth century, yet in the past decade, society has undergone a massive shift in perspective that has allowed us to reconsider our beliefs. In Brave New Weed, Joe Dolce travels the globe to "tear down the cannabis closet" and de-mystify this new frontier, seeking answers to the questions we didn’t know we should ask.
Dolce heads to a host of places, including Amsterdam, Israel, California, and Colorado, where he skillfully unfolds the odd, shocking, and wildly funny history of this complex plant. From the outlandish stories of murder trials where defendants claimed "insanity due to marijuana consumption" to the groundbreaking success stories about the plant’s impressive medicinal benefits, Dolce paints a fresh and much-needed portrait of cannabis, our changing attitudes toward it, and the brave new direction science and cultural acceptance are leading us.
Enlightening, entertaining, and thought-provoking, Brave New Weed is a compelling read that will surprise and educate proponents on both sides of the cannabis debate.
My Review: *I received this DRC from Edelweiss with the kind permission of Harper Wave. Thank you!*
It's a scary prospect: Much like a real-life version of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, cannabis appeared in humanity's ambit unannounced and unexplained, and fulfilled needs we didn't know we had until we started poking at it:
It may sound a bit mad to call cannabis intelligent, but ethnobotanists agree that this plant has astutely inveigled its way into the lives of human beings over thousands of years. When our hunter ancestors were chased by a wild boar, they likely nibbled some cannabis buds afterward to help them forget the trauma, relax, recover, and get up the next day and hit the plains again for another day's supper. When night fell, the plant encouraged our ancestors to fall into the arms of their loved ones. Women munched the sticky flowers to ease the nausea of pregnancy and to numb and then forget the pain of childbirth so they could repeat the experience and help our species proliferate--a miraculous and evolutionarily strategic benefit, when you stop to think about it.Amazing! Also a wee bit unnerving. It's as if the damned thing sat down and had a good long think about how to use the baldish apes traipsing about so energetically to extend its range and out-compete other plants. In fact I'm not at all certain that it didn't do exactly that. *shiver*
There doesn't appear to be a time when humanity didn't treasure the effects of cannabis. It's been known to humankind...well, there's no record of it being discovered because it happened so long ago. Humans being the curious creatures that we are, it was undoubtedly an early and pleasant discovery, since other creatures are known to use cannabis in the wild. Its beneficent properties aren't without the usual frustrations and inefficiencies of plant-based substances:
The primary problem with this all-purpose plant tonic was not its efficacy but the difficulty of ensuring accurate dosing. When cannabis is swallowed, it takes one and a half to two hours for the effects to come on, so early patients never knew if they had taken enough. Too large of a dose could cause harrowing anxiety, but most...worried about prescribing too little.Harrowing anxiety! Hoo boy, been there, done that. I would guess most of y'all have too. It's an issue that stands in stark relief when put against the background of the astounding number of ailments and complaints that cannabis either cures or ameliorates. It is common to all botanical medicaments and potions. Nature gave cannabis many (several hundred, in fact) active compounds of use to us, but being nature, booby-trapped them by unpredictably varying the amounts of any given substance in any given harvest. Before our own era of sensitive testing equipment, verifying the exact proportions of the needed activve ingredient wasn't possible, so over- and under-dosing wasn't all that uncommon. Of course this was also the case with many other botanicals, but it was most loudly trumpeted in the case of cannabis because it was primarily used (in the twentieth century) by the hoi polloi who couldn't afford fancy doctors and expensive modern medicines...or simply didn't trust the newfangled pills that were so unfamiliar to them. It was this fact of cannabis use that led to states passing a wave of hysterical damnfool prohibition laws starting around 1913, and continuing to this good day.
The profile of the typical user, according to the foundational myth of the prohibitionists, is a lower-class and/or black and/or Hispanic male whose use of the weed to relax and ease his weary, overworked bones and, as the disinhibition associated with smoking weed sets in, causes this undesirable person to desire white women for ravishment and defilement. This patently absurd codswallop was perpetuated by "experts" who were, curiously, all white upper-class men. Isn't that something. A few puffs on a joint was more likely to make these working stiffs laugh a little, find their own wives or what-have-you, and enjoy some fully consensual and deeply enhanced nooky before falling profoundly asleep. I've never in my 56 years on this planet met a stoned person who would so much as entertain the notion of rapine and ravishment, it's waaay too much work. That's alcohol that does this. But we won't ever discuss this because wealthy white men drink alcohol and do not wish to stop. Therefore there are cases like that horrible Stanford rapist who got a rap on the knuckles for altering the course of a young woman's life against her loudly expressed objections. Disgusting, isn't it.
But the myth suited and still suits the Powers That Be. The Nixon Administration (1969-1974) supercharged the myth by including young white men in the narrative for the first time. It was the Vietnam era, and sizable numbers of draft-age men were unwilling to sacrifice themselves in service of a morally questionable war. It was politically necessary to find a club to beat them with that didn't call into question their often sincere and valid opposition to the kind of war being waged in Vietnam. Well, voilà! Further criminalize cannabis use! A bunch of pothead hippies with no more moral fiber than the blacks and Hispanics couldn't possibly be tolerated to roam free and rape and defile Our Women! (Isn't it weird how it always comes back to sex? Which is, as I expect y'all know, a whole lot more fun when buzzed.) Thus was born The War on Drugs, a dumb-show with a hidden plot to remove from any ability to participate in governing the country...felons can't vote. The insidious introduction of anti-cannabis messages reaches deep into the culture. Overt anti-pot messages are underpinned by covert propaganda in the media:
One covert program sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) offered about $25 million each year to the five major television networks to shoehorn antipot messages into the plots of their most popular prime-time shows.Wow. That's one helluva list. I don't know what current shows are on the take, but I'd bet cash money that they're just as popular as all of those shows were. It isn't as though the world of television entertainment is squeaky clean anyway, what with product placements and other forms of subliminal advertising. It just sticks in my craw that the US Government spends my tax dollars on this sort of social engineering without any oversight or mechanism for public input. And before you use that breath you just drew in, conservative proponents of prohibition, remember one important fact: If the government can push this message that you approve of, it can push others you don't approve of and you'll be powerless to stop the damage.
Here's how this neat little scheme worked: ONDCP selected the shows most valuable to its mission, secretly vetted scripts, and then paid the networks for instituting the alterations they suggested.
In the original script of one episode of the WB's Smart Guy, two substance-using kids were depicted as cool and popular; after the drug office's input, "we showed that they were losers and put them in a utility room," said one ONDCP contractor. Other programs that had antidrug subplots woven into them included ER; The Practice; Beverly Hills 90210; Home Improvement; Sports Night; 7th Heaven; The Drew Carey Show; Sabrina, the Teenage Witch; Boy Meets World; and General Hospital. Bill Kovach, a media watchdog and then the curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, called this sub rosa propaganda campaign a "venal...form of mind control."
That's a super-quick background check for the deeper subject of this book: what's happened to cannabis and its growers and users during this idiot regime of prohibition? How has the user experience changed? What has led to the current raft of legalizations of the cannabis plant for medicinal and, in a few places, recreational use? Our Intrepid Boy Reporter has sallied forth to investigate for us and bring us a report that we ourselves needn't expend effort to recreate. How thoughtful, no? He goes to many destinations and samples the local product, speaks to the local purveyors...oh, the agony. (I'm so jealous I could spit.) (If you couldn't tell.)
There is some sadness, if not agony, in the trip Mr. Dolce makes to Amsterdam. His portrayal of what was once a vibrant scene of legal cannabis smoking is damn good and depressing. It's become a gray, lifeless simulacrum of a scene. The Dutch government hasn't gone all the way into full legalization...it's still illegal to grow the stuff!...so the end users and those who bring them their pleasure are always a bit off-balance. How very sad, and silly, and unnecessary. All or nothing! Of course, anyone living in the US shouldn't really feel free to criticize any other regime for its lapses of judgment, given our national insanity about cannabis.
But here in the US, despite prohibition's dead hand still on the Federal tiller, there are a few places showing small signs of genuine change. Chief among these is Denver, Colorado, epicenter of the legal cannabis culture of a state with full legalization of all cannabis use. It's been a gigantic boon to the state's coffers, both in additional tax revenue and in savings from not hunting down, prosecuting, and jailing users and dealers in cannabis. That climate has allowed a culture of cannabis appreciation to flourish. Mr. Dolce has this to say about the aficionados:
I initially compared pot aficionados to wine snobs, but I'm revising that analogy. These guys are more like early Silicon Valley geeks, holed up in their garages, diddling with motherboards and circuits in near isolation. No one--maybe not even they--knew what they were up to, yet they were fueled by the conviction that they were creating something new, possibly revolutionary. Their (initial) motivation wasn't money; it was more a desire to upend the established order with something of their own creation. Both groups had questionable social skills, but their dedication was unfettered and the momentum they launched unstoppable.History has spoken. Legalization is the way we're headed. Too much information is now in too many hands to re-cork the bottle; this genie is out for good and ever. The forces of prohibition are now clearly and unflatteringly illuminated: their motive isn't, and never was, public safety, but was and remains social engineering, disenfranchisement of "undesirables," and massive, massive, unbelievably immense profits. Not to mention ghastly forfeiture laws designed to make it easy for police departments to profit from asset seizures, whether justified or not. No guilt need be established. No recourse is available to the unjustly harmed. This is what prohibition always does: Creates a climate of terror for the average person, makes the state security apparatus ever more powerful, and is always, but always, ineffective at its purported task. The lucky folks of Denver are enjoying the early days of a bubble, raking in profits and innovating their socks off as they create a new paradigm in the vacuum left by the death of the old one. It's now The Place To Be, taking the crown away from Amsterdam.
That's only the commercial side of the story. Along with the sales floor, legalization will finally (but only eventually) unfetter the international research apparatus to pursue cannabis's astonishingly complex biochemistry and its possible uses. What is now known about cannabis's chemistry, genetics, and interaction with the human body is almost entirely down to one internationally famous (except in the US) Israeli biochemist, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam. He has studied cannabis for more than fifty years. Fifty. Years. He receives funding from the National Institutes of Health. He discovered THC, the active ingredient in cannabis responsible for the "high." His research inspired a British team of scientists to search for and discover the reason the high exists: an entire, massive receptor network that had gone unnoticed, now called the "endocannabinoid system" or ECS for short. Just to demonstrate how astounding this system is, it has the nickname "the body's supercomputer" because its functions are so far-reaching. The other astonishing fact about the ECS is that all mammals have the same system. That's right: ALL mammals have an ECS. Its purpose is the same across all species: To regulate and balance all, that is ALL, the body's different systems. It is the only neurotransmitter system that works both ways, sending messages as all neurotransmitters do, but receiving them as well. Mechoulam also discovered the psychoactive compound CBD, which is unlike THC in that it doesn't produce a "high" but is an antidepressant, an anxiolytic, and a neuroprotective agent capable of reducing or obviating the worst effects of traumatic brain injury if administered properly and at the correct time.
All of this brilliant work, with almost incredible potential to benefit human life, because of one dedicated researcher who worked (and works) in the grip of total international prohibition. Well, almost total. Israel, a Jewish theocracy, has a flourishing cannabis farming system to provide its people with the many benefits of cannabis-based therapies. Cannabis has even been declared kosher.
Yes, you read that right: Pot is kosher. The world is an amazing place.
All of this has not happened easily or quickly. It's been at some personal cost to Mechoulam as well. But the man is a genuine force of nature:
If I were Mechoulam, I'd probably feel like a lone man screaming in a forest whom no one hears. Isn't he frustrated, I ask, by the political and legal hurdles that have caused his field to progress so slowly?This gentleman will be remembered by the world, eventually, as one of the true greats, a man on the order of Sir Isaac Newton. His discoveries and his passionate advocacy will, in hindsight, be seen as advancing the health of humankind in many, many ways.
His warm, questioning eyes greet me with a gaze as if to say, you poor, naive layman. "Why should I be frustrated? It depends on where you start. I'm a pessimist. I didn't expect anything to happen. The first prize I got was for best publication by a young scientist at the Weizmann Institute in the 1960s. A committee made that decision, but the chairman of the academic board thought I should be doing something else and did everything to kick me out."
I don't believe he's a pessimist. Mechoulam's investigations and insights have blazed the trail for the last half century. Pessimism doesn't fuel such single-focused dedication.
All those kosher pot plants! Mr. Dolce visited a farm in the world center of Kabbalistic Judaism:
This didn't strike Israelis as odd, but the incongruity of Hasidic men trimming weed in their black hats, black coats, and side curls, davening before the plants, delighted me. In fact, farmhands play religious music for the plants (personally, I think the plants might be happier with Bach or post-Yellow Submarine Beatles) and there's a synagogue on the property where the community gathers to pray. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a legendary Kabbalah mystic, is buried on a nearby hill, where his spirit guards the farm from harm.The image is priceless. I live in a building owned by Hasidim, and I can't help but wonder if they know that weed is kosher....
Not only does the Tikkun Olam bud listen to religious music as it grows, but it's put to good use in Israel:
"I used to sit here and ask myself, 'What am I doing?'" [nurse Inbal Sokorin] confesses to me once we've settled into her cubicle at the back of this surprisingly cheerful facility. "We were giving a lot of medication but there was a lot of suffering. We had to fight with patients to give them blood, to put in a feeding tube. By Jewish law you have to fight for life until the end, but I was asking myself, 'Why do we want them to live if they want to die?'Inbal reached out to Tikkun Olam when she saw a documentary on the farm's cannabis culture. She was at her wits' end with her dementia-addled patient who could not stop roaring, who had wasted away to almost nothing. When her request was honored, her roaring patient was treated with a bong-hit of Tikkun Olam's best bud and, mirabile dictu, her roaring ceased! As treatments continued, her life changed completely, her weight increased, her ability to socialize returned to her, and her end-of-life quality of life improved from abysmal to enjoyable.
"Every day I'd come in and say 'Good morning' to one patient, and she'd growl, 'What's good about this morning? Last night I asked God to take me and now all I see is you.' ... I believe in nursing. I know I can help people and educate them. But we were fighting for life and no one was happy."
Lest this review turn into a book of its own, I want to make sure that my admiration for the book isn't mistaken for uncritical adulation because of my own need for research into cannabis's pain-relieving qualities. I admit that I was among the choir from the outset of reading. I can't say that this book made me a convert, far from it, but I learned a great deal of very useful information about the cannabinoids and their chemical functions within the body. I am much more convinced than I was before that the tragedy of prohibition has, as it always does, resulted in far more harm than any notional good it might have achieved.
That's not just desperation for relief speaking. Mr. Dolce has researched his eyes out, he has traveled widely and talked to the few experts on the facts of cannabis's chemistry, and he has presented his findings clearly and succinctly. It is long past time for the demonstrable foolishness of prohibition to end. Cannabis needs to return to the place of honor it once held in the pharmacopia and resume its millennia-long reign as a sovereign remedy for mankind's many miseries and afflictions. Thanks to Joe Dolce, the case for ending prohibition could not possibly be clearer.