Book review: Smoke Signals by Martin Lee is a must-read
May 20, 2017
Cannabis is safe. Most people know this is true.
When we are able to vote on common-sense cannabis policy, legalization becomes the norm, as it has for medicinal cannabis in 26 states, and for ‘recreational' use in seven states (as of this writing).
It's widely know that this plant is more than safe, it can actually reduce harm. Yet we still have an illogical, counter-productive national drug policy. Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I substance, more dangerous than Schedule II crack cocaine. Some people, including our Attorney General still believe what we were told as kids: Marijuana is the devil's weed, a gateway drug that will put you on the road to ruin with one puff. It's evil, and as a society we must fight the spread of marijuana with the full weight of our law enforcement, judicial and penal systems.
This mythology is wrong, destructive and insane. But it's our national policy. And while the tide continues to turn in the states, the federal government is still a force to be reckoned with. Incredibly, it's the law of our land to not only deny access to a necessary, often life-saving medicine, but to persecute, prosecute and needlessly incarcerate untold thousands of non-violent ‘offenders.'
What can we do? We must push back on the stupidity of our national policy on cannabis and try to change reality for the better.
In doing that, it's instructive to ask, how did we get here? In other words, we have to educate ourselves, and one of the best ways to do that is to pick up Martin A. Lee's Smoke Signals. A meticulously researched book, it fills in the backstory on our cultural confusion around cannabis and sheds light on how we got to where we are today. Read it and you will learn about:
- Our Founding Fathers' affinity for the hemp — on which the first and second drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written.
- The pioneering work of Irish chemist and physician William B. O'Shaughnessy, who came across ‘gunjah' in colonial India, and subsequently travelled to Nepal. Afghanistan and Persia to further investigate the healing herb before publishing a 40-page monograph on the medical uses of cannabis back in 1842.
- Jazz icon Louis Armstrong's embrace of cannabis, for which he had a number of nicknames, including ‘Mary Warner.'
- The U.S. government's long campaign of disinformation and anti-cannabis propaganda.
- The pernicious influence of Harry Anslinger, who convinced Congress to outlaw cannabis in 1937 as a way of guaranteeing funding for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and then carried out a 30-year vendetta of aggressive lies and prosecutions.
- How the drug war became a way of controlling Hispanic and African American populations.
- Richard Nixon's role in stepping up the drug war as a way to get back at protestors, Jews and others he perceived as his enemies.
- How the Reagan administration escalated the anti-marijuana drug war into an authoritarian crusade that served to bloat the Drug Enforcement Agency and send thousands to prison.
- How Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam first synthesized THC in 1964, and spurred the discovery of the body's endocannabinoid system, which governs sleep, mood, appetite.
- How the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services obtained a patent in 1993 entitled “Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants.” Patent 6,630,507 states that Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties [and] are found to have a particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenrative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and HIV dementia.”
There's more, but let’s stop and take a breath.
How messed up is in when the government has spent millions of dollars over decades and decades to promote the notion that a substance causes brain damage and ruin — and they spend billions of our tax dollars in an ongoing war on drugs — while they also takes steps to capitalize on the healing powers of that same substance?
If you're of a certain age, you'll remember living through some of the developments listed above, and the generational battles that erupted over cannabis. You’re familiar with the human cost we’ve paid. As absurd and ridiculous as our policies have been, it stopped being funny a long time ago. As detailed over and over again in Smoke Signals, people wanting only to heal have faced heartache and ruin due to backwards government policies.
If you want to be part of the change that’s happening as we move to greater acceptance of the medicinal power of cannabis, read Smoke Signals.
Lee lays out the promise of medical cannabis as a treatment from maladies including cancer, Alzheimer’s, PTSD, epilepsy, chronic pain, inflammation and others.
You’ll have a better understanding of this healing plant and how it works in our bodies. You’ll be better equipped to protect and enhance your own health. And you’ll be better prepared to help evolve local, state and federal laws into humane policies that actually make sense.