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Episode from the podcastMade You Think

51: The War on Weed: Smoke Signals by Martin A. Lee

Released Tuesday, 21st August 2018
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“The prestige of the government had undoubtedly been lowered considerably by prohibition”, Albert Einstein observed when he visited the United States in the early 1920s. “Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than laws which cannot be enforced.”
In this episode of Made You Think, Neil and Nat discuss Smoke Signals by Martin A. Lee. In this book we take a walk through the history of marijuana, from it being a legal, useful plant and the third largest crop in the U.S to it being illegal and harshly but selectively punished. We see how racism and the variety of political backgrounds have shaped the PR of this ancient plant.
“It was a move that served as a pretext for harassing Mexicans. Just as opium legalization in San Francisco 40 years earlier was directed at another despised minority, the Chinese. In each case the target of the prohibition was not the drug so much as those most associated with its use. Typically in the United States drug statutes have been aimed or selectively enforced against a feared or disparaged group within society.”
We cover a wide range of topics, including:
  • The history of marijuana, benefits and uses
  • Arguments for and against legalization
  • Political figures and their contribution to The War on Drugs
  • Effects of consumption, psychedelics and edibles
  • Tangents on wellness retreats, duels and fact checking fake news


And much more. Please enjoy, and be sure to grab a copy of Smoke Signals by Martin A. Lee!
You can also listen on Google Play Music, SoundCloud, YouTube, or in any other podcasting app by searching “Made You Think.”
If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to check out our episode on Homo Deus by Yuval Harari for more on the domestication of plants and animals. Or for a totally different type of episode check out Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter as a counter to this linear, fact based book.
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00:31 – This seems to be one of the longest marijuana books in existence. 390 pages but incredibly detailed. So much history of this ancient plant. Includes scientific, medical and recreational history as well as legislative and political history. The book focuses on the US history of marijuana and some within Europe too.
02:09 – The book starts as soon as the U.S was colonized around 1776 and includes insights right through to 2009. The push on recreational legalization started happening right after this book came out. We knew that cannabis had been illegal for a long time but didn’t know how it became that way. It’s strange to consider that there used to be a law that farmers had to grow hemp. Lots of things in the book are counter to what your original impression might be. We are not high for this episode, this book is too linear and fact-based for that.
05:47 – The book includes a little bit of background on the history of cannabis and the uses. We know old tribes around the world were using psychedelics and other plant medicines to induce spirit journeys or healing rituals. It seems to be a global constant that people are using mind-altering drugs for spiritual experiences. There are theories around certain bible stories being a recounting of a psychedelic experience.
07:59 – Ayahuasca as an incredible psychedelic, several plants found in the Amazon are known for their mind altering capabilities. Drugs have been used in rituals for a long time. Cannabis seems to be like revered for that reason in many of these cultures. Marijuana is a psychedelic when consumed certain ways. It would be pretty easy to think that by taking this plant you're communicating with God. You can't really get these experiences any other way.
11:03 – Looking at the benefits of marijuana and how it can change your perception of the world. Dennis McKenna explains that your brain filters everything you interact with in life and you're looking at it through a lens. With psychedelics and even marijuana some of those filters start to fall away. In some ways you start to see things more clearly. You see things from a different perspective. It puts you in an altered state of consciousness. The uses and harms of marijuana – marketing problem vs framing problem.
12:54 – The distinction between hemp and marijuana is really interesting. They are the same plant but owning hemp products is legal as it is non-psychoactive. So much of society depended up on hemp up until the 1800’s, clothes, paper, rope, oil. It is nutritionally dense too. The production of hemp was so important it was a matter of national security. It’s amazing how public opinion of a product can change. It was the third largest crop until it was criminalized. 200 years later people are getting thrown in jail for possession. Are there any things that we take for granted that will just be like completely illegal in the future?
19:01 – WeWork banning meat consumption on expenses. Vegetarianism would contribute to the reduction in numbers of animals if meat consumption goes down. We can’t sustain the numbers of animals if it is not for consumption. In Homo Deus it mentions that 50% of all non-domesticated fauna have either gone extinct or are on the road to extinction in the last 200 years.
21:18 – Argument against eating chicken. Smaller animal with less meat, not eating chicken is the easiest way to reduce the amount of suffering created through your diet. Also for dietary reasons due to excessive estrogen.
25:49 – Wellness retreats and limited health science knowledge. Some people are vegan for health reasons, some for virtue signalling reasons. They only make choices that are externally visibly as being health conscious. Behind the scenes, like cooking with lower quality oil, poorer choices are made.
28:15 – Origin of the word marijuana from Mexico. Modern strains don’t have much CBD any more because they have been bred to have increased THC. THC is the psychoactive component and CBD is the healing component. Eating it is a very different experience to smoking it. Four times as strong as it is digested and processed by the liver. Varying trends over the years in consumption. Chewing, ingesting, smoking. Hashish clubs and dinner, as part of puddings.
32:44 – The term marijuana came from Mexican slang. Prohibitionist started using it take advantage of growing racism against Mexicans. Became attributed to being a Mexican thing. California was the first to outlaw it in 1913.
35:21 – “It was a move that served as a pretext for harassing Mexicans. Just as opium legalization in San Francisco 40 years earlier was directed at another despised minority the Chinese. In each case the target of the prohibition was not the drug so much as those most associated with its use. Typically in the United States drug statutes have been aimed or selectively enforced against a feared or disparaged group within society.”
Recurring theme of using drug laws as a form of racism. Looking at the arguments to keep marijuana illegal, some say this is a way to like catch people who are doing other crimes. Also that the police choose to not go after the actual drug dealers. There are more low level consumers who are easier to prosecute. Laws seem to be enforced extremely selectively. By being put in jail that increases the likelihood of becoming a more serious criminal.
40:23 – Marijuana has so many medical uses. As a society we are used to single target drugs but cannabis has over 200 different active compounds. The pharma industry is mostly interested in patentable compounds – a plant isn’t patentable. Cannabis has been found to reduce side effects of lots of conditions. Remarkable stories of it stopping the progress of glaucoma, stopping people turning blind. People in states that do not have legal marijuana access for medical purposes have to rely on friends bringing it to them illegally.
44:36 – False narratives portrayed to the public about the effects of cannabis use. Taleb said that if any time somebody uses children or women as the reason for something being bad, they're probably lying. It was said that “marijuana will make Mexicans and blacks lust after your wives”.
44:59 – Acts of cannabis taxation were brought into force and enforced harshly before people even knew the law existed. The punishment does not fit the crime at all. Harry J. Anslinger put together a campaign against marijuana for more funding and to keep his job. Doctors are now getting tired prescribing opiates and seeing people get addicted to them so are turning to dispensing cannabis where usage is legal. In San Francisco there are startups that will deliver marijuana products in under 30 minutes.
50:47 – So many research initiatives are being done and they overwhelmingly say it's not harmful however Anslinger ignores them. Side effects are debunked and the LaGuardia committee refutes every claim.
51:41 – Moving on in history to Nixon.
Nixon linked cannabis to loudmouth to racial protesters. ‘They're all on drugs’. He brusquely told an aide. Susceptible to bouts of paranoia the commander-in-chief blamed the Jews for spearheading efforts to legalize cannabis. ‘You know, it's a funny thing every one of those bastards that are out there for legalizing marijuana is Jewish, what the Christ is the matter with the Jews Bob?’ Nixon asked his closest advisor HR Haldeman. In private conversations with his inner circle tricky dick also Savaged African-Americans. Nixon emphasized that ‘you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizing this while not appear in to’ Haldeman wrote in his diary.”
52:30 – You can't like just make a law that it's illegal to be black or Jewish but you can pass a law that targets them. Crackdowns on production did nothing except increase the price of marijuana and make more Mexicans want to farm it.
Distinctions between alcohol and marijuana.
“Nixon, a heavy drinker, drew a rather fuzzy distinction between marijuana and alcohol. ‘A person doesn't drink to get drunk a person drinks to have fun while a person smokes pot to get high’, the president told a friend”
“Addicted to sleeping pills and amphetamines and often South on liquor Nixon staggered through the White House in a daze talking to portraits of past presidents that hung on the walls"
54:08 – Everybody who's heavily against legalization is a hypocrite in one way or another they're either alcoholics or they're taking painkillers. It seems like a fairly common theme. Studies on effects of marijuana consumption in Jamaican mothers.
“The ganja moms and their kids did not appear to be harmed by marijuana exposure in the womb. There were no physical abnormalities, no cognitive deficits and no neonatal complications nor were there any discernible differences between the three day old babies of mothers who used marijuana and the three-day-old non-exposed babies. They were surprised to discover that after one month the babies of mothers who had used ganja throughout their pregnancy were actually healthier more alert and less fussy than one month old infants whose mothers did not take cannabis. Test results for one month old infants whose mothers also ingested ganja while breastfeeding were even more striking heavily exposed babies were more socially responsive and more autonomically stable than babies is not exposed to cannabis through their mothers milk. Alertness was higher motor and autonomic function or autonomous systems were robust. They were less irritable less likely to demonstrate in balance of tone needed less examiner facilitation than the neonates of non using mothers. And then when they were tested at four and five their team found absolutely no difference between the children of ganja moms and children of non-users.”
56:58 – These studies showed little side effects, seems quite beneficial.
Nancy Reagan was a chronic user of prescription tranquilizers. Her daughter basically said her mother's anti-drug advocacy may have been a form of denial. Dangers of overstating the harmful nature of cannabis has other effects.
“Uncle Sam cried wolf too often first. Marijuana was said to create maniacal Killers then to produce inert masses of lazy indulges when teens caught on they weren't getting the Straight Dope about marijuana. They were more likely to ignore warnings about genuinely dangerous drugs.”
01:00:26 – Perception of marijuana impacts other harder drugs. Whenever an authority says something is unhealthy we now re-consider if that is true or not. Fortunately we are now in a time we can fact check anything instantly. Nutritional value of red meat and checking what is true.
01:04:04 – It's really clearly a racism thing, whites and blacks use illegal drugs at the same rate however blacks were arrested prosecuted and jailed at much higher rates. This book covers the war on drugs and how it escalated from the 50’s through to the 90’s. Benefits of marijuana, fasting and ketosis on chemo patients. There could be so much more research on these things. Feels like a crime to make something so helpful, illegal. Horribly ironic in some sense because you know Reagan died of Alzheimer's. It seems like doctors just have known of these benefits it for years.
01:10:37 – Oxycontin and number of deaths. It’s crazy how something so deadly is legal.
“Purdue Pharma multi-billion dollar blockbuster was linked to thousands of Overdose deaths. Of the almost 500,000 Hospital emergency room visits in the US in 2004 more than 36,000 involved Oxycontin.”
No one has ever died from marijuana ever write as far as we know. People will say it's a gateway drug. The only way it's a gateway drug is when it's illegal as it forces you to create a relationship with a dealer.
01:12:53 – Since legalization teen marijuana use is unchanged in both, Colorado and Washington State. Amazing how political the history is, in a mix of racism and fear mongering. All of the research around the benefits is fairly compelling.
“The Economist, the blue-chip British magazine editorialized that the FDA's stance on marijuana lacked common sense adding, if cannabis were unknown and bio-prospectors were suddenly to find it in some remote mountain crevice, its discovery would no doubt be hailed as a medical breakthrough. Scientists would praise its potential for treating everything from pain to cancer and marvel at its rich pharmacopoeia, many of whose chemicals mimic vital molecules in the human body.”
01:15:46 – There has also been significant reduction in opioid usage in the states with active dispensaries for cannabis.
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