Tobacco will kill 6 million people next year; cannabis will kill zero.

The World Lung Foundation and the American Cancer Society have compiled in The Tobacco Atlas a damning list of morbidity and mortality inflicted by cigarettes on the world’s people. Cigarettes are powerful drugs, the most addicting and lethal of all drugs. Cigarettes kill far more people than all the illegal drugs combined. In the USA, at least 30 times as many people die from cigarettes than all illicit drugs.

The lists of damage from cigarettes to the health of the world’s people is lengthy:

  • Smoking cigarettes contributes to 6 of the 8 leading causes of death.
  • “Tobacco accounts for one out of every 10 deaths worldwide”
  • Cigarette smoking killed 100 million people during the last century; it may kill one billion during this century.
  • Tobacco kills one-third to one-half of those who smoke it. Smokers die, on the average, about 15 years before people who don’t smoke. Chewed tobacco is also often deadly dangerous.

The most popular illicit drug, cannabis, kills zero people. Marijuana does not have a lethal dose and is not associated with morbidity. Actually though, a few people are killed by association with cannabis, usually in SWAT raids. In Malaysia, about one person is hanged each month for cannabis possession. Cannabis smoke, like all smoke, does contain some toxins, but has not been shown to cause cancer. Elements specific to marijuana smoke, especially THC, may be providing protection against tumors. Medical cannabis is now commonly consumed via vaporizer, so all toxins are eliminated.

What if swine flu developed into great plague next year and death swept across the globe leaving behind six million corpses? The world’s people would tremble in fear. We would grimace in mourning and horror among the mountains of the dead. Yet when this mass death is delivered by the artificial plague of cigarettes, the terrible toll is dismissed with a shrug.

Instead, a world-wide crusade is underway, lead by the USA, with the goal of stamping out not cigarettes, but instead the other drugs. Although they cause are the cause one one death for every 30 from cigarettes (in the USA) these other drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, even nearly harmless drugs such as cannabis, are labeled poisons. Those possessing them, at least in the USA and places like Malaysia, are treated with penalties harsher than for real criminals with actual victims.

In light of cigarettes deadly toll, should the USA and other countries prohibit cigarettes and add them to the list of illicit drugs, where they clearly belong? Clearly NOT. The prohibition approach has failed spectacularly, as it did alcohol prohibition in the USA of the 1920s. The difference is that with alcohol the mistake was realized. With the war on drugs, into its 5th decade and with the USA quintupling its prison population into the world’s largest, the prohibitionist, hard-line, lock-em-up stance continues with almost no critical examination.

This ineffective and wasteful prohibition/incarceration model has caused immense collateral damage to American society. As has worked so well in Portugal, drugs should be removed from the law enforcement, zero-tolerance model into a harm reduction approach.

Such an approach has actually worked very well for cigarettes in the USA over the last 20 years. With education, segregation of smoking and higher taxes on cigarettes to help pay for their health toll, smoking has lost much of its popularity. Cigarette consumption has markedly declined in the USA with no arrests or violations of civil liberties.

A shame Michael Jackson did not use cannabis sleep medication instead

The coroner’s report showed that Michael Jackson, in his overpowering desire to sleep, demanded and received narcotics so powerful they were, obviously, life-threatening. Inability to sleep can be profoundly disturbing. Sleep deprivation is a key CIA torture technique. “It causes people to feel absolutely crazy.” Insomnia in the elderly is a major cause of depression and lack of will to live. Jackson’s insomnia appears profound; he received injections of powerful drugs from 2am until 10am.

Insomnia is one of the conditions legally treatable with medical cannabis in some states. Prohibitionist lampoon such applications for medical marijuana as trivial. Actually, the effectiveness of cannabis for treating insomnia points to how the plant provides nearly a universal medication. What percentage of the population sometimes has trouble sleeping? If seeking medication for the problem, why should they be forced into drugs stronger than cannabis, those with real dangers, including addiction and death? Likewise should those suffering pain be forced into medications less safe than cannabis by drug laws formed in ignorance and prejudice?

Strangely, it is a misplaced sense of morality that seems to motivate prohibitionists. Those wishing to restrict the use of medical cannabis on moral grounds should realized that Queen Victoria herself made use of medical cannabis for menstrual cramps. Mitch Earlywine in Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence, on page 113 mentions that the Queen’s chief physician, Dr. J. R. Reynolds, “recommended the drug for insomnia.”  Reynolds wrote of the therapeutic effects of the drug in Lancet in 1890. So, despite the restrictions Victorian morality, the Queen and her subjects enjoyed medical freedoms deemed illegal in the USA over a century later.

Apparently the cannabinoid best suited for aided sleep is CBD, cannabidiol. High CBD cannabis medications in the form of edibles and tinctures are available in dispensaries not far from Michael Jackson’s LA home. What a shame the entertainer and his doctor focused on high-risk narcotics instead of the far safer cannabis medications available nearby. As DEA law judge Francis Young noted back in 1988, “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”

Supreme Court of Argentina rules for personal liberty.

The Supreme Court of Argentina has freed the huge country’s citizens from possible imprisonment for possession of cannabis and other drugs. Ruling very rationally that the state has no business in the personal behaviors of its people that present no harm or danger to society. AP reports all seven judges agreed in “declaring the unconstitutionality of prison for private consumption.”

  • The court continued: “Each individual adult is responsible for making decisions freely about their desired lifestyle without state interference. Private conduct is allowed unless it constitutes a real danger or causes damage to property or the rights of others.”

Imagine that, adults — rather than the DEA — responsible for their own decisions.  Private conduct allowed! What quaint concepts, like Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Luckily for liberty in Argentina the country is not saddled with the likes of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In terms of personal freedoms, Scalia, who like to call himself an “originalist,” seems to rely less on the Constitution, more on the Witchs Hammer. The Nixon-appointee has ruled, without exception, for the “drug war exemption to the Bill of Rights.” He invariably adjudicates for the power of the state and for reduction of civil liberties of the citizens. With Scalia on the bench, along with other authoritarians Roberts, Alito and Thomas, Americans can give up any hope for reasoned judgements like that coming from the Supreme Court of Argentina. Cry for me, Argentina. Our Supreme Court does not believe in freedom.

It is ironic that Argentina, know for its “dirty war” of abduction, torture, child stealing and executions in the 1970’s and 1980s should be providing leadership to the USA in 2009 in this key issue of personal liberty and incarceration. The AP report quotes an Argentine leader’s analysis of how the drug war harm maximization evil began:

  • Cabinet chief Anibal Fernandez declared that the ruling brings an end to “the repressive politics invented by the Nixon administration” in the United States, and later adopted by Argentina’s dictators, to imprison drug users as if they were major traffickers.

There was a time, before the war on drugs, when personal liberty was a key American value. Forty years, 20 million cannabis arrests and a quintupling of the prison population later, punishment and incarceration have replaced those American values.

  • The war on drugs is the USA’s own dirty war.

Marijuana is SAFER – Important new book.

Drug policy reformers and others interested in personal freedom are encouraged to order today from Amazon.com a copy of the important new book, Marijuana is SAFER: So why are we driving people to drink? I just ordered 2 more copies for local libraries.

The SAFER concept is incredibly powerful for drug policy reform, showing how marijuana is far safer for personal health and public safety than the national drug of alcohol. The low lethal dose of alcohol, which results in many binge drinking deaths, is contrasted with lack of any lethal dose of cannabis. The horrific violence toll of alcohol is painted in contrast to the lack of violence by those choosing marijuana.

These and many other differences that make cannabis a far safer recreational choice provide the basis for an aggressive, pro-active approach to cannabis law reform. The authors, Steve Fox, Paul Armentano and Mason Tvert summarize on page 127:

  • in sum, the fact that alcohol causes so many problems in our society is not a reason to keep pot illegal; rather, it is the reason we must make it legal. Unless our opponents are going to argue for a return to alcohol prohibition, they will be forced to explain why they wish to compel adults to use the more harmful recreational intoxicant.

Today, August 20, a “book bomb” is underway to raise the sales ranking at Amazon. Order a copy for yourself and one for your local library today!

Victory for hemp in Oregon!

With the signature of Governor Ted Kulongoski, Oregon has agreed to allow its citizens the freedom to farm and develop industrial hemp. Hemp is one of humankind’s oldest and most useful crops. It provides great value in thousands of uses. A century ago hemp was an important American crop. The renaissance of hemp cultivation in the USA could provide a major stimulus of true productivity to a country sorely in need of solutions. Hemp can help provide for the most elemental of human needs, by producing food to eat, fibers to wear and materials for building products and structures.

After passing with big majority in both of the house and senate in Oregon, and now signing by the state;s chief executive, Oregon has declared an independence from a smothering federal policy on industrial hemp. Oregon freedom fighter Sen. Floyd Prozanski was the sponsor of state Senate Bill 676. The state senator has sponsored similar bills going back to 1997.  Prozanski commented,

Unlike its pioneering bottle bill, Oregon was not the first state to free the production and use of hemp. Over a half dozen other American states now allow use of hemp for for fiber, food and fuel. The actual senate bill language hints at some of these productive uses:

Oregon’s law is different from most of the new state laws freeing up the farming of hemp in that it does not require a permit from the DEA. This unreasonable requirement by most of the states is a non-starter as the DEA would never grant such a permit. Oregon is also the first western state to begin to free this resource from the federal DEA bureaucracy.  The Beaver State is first in the west only because California governor Arnold Swartzenegger twice vetoed hemp freedom legislation that had passed California’s legislature.

The change in Oregon law, however, does nothing to change the asinine and cruel federal designation of cannabis sativa as a Schedule I drug with draconian restrictions on its cultivation. In the eyes of the DEA, it may be a capital crime to grow a field of hemp. Although hemp has very few of the cannabinoids that give other forms of cannabis their mild psychoactivity, the DEA could still persecute any large hemp grow as a grave federal crime. Just how hemp agriculture will get underway in Oregon (and other states) is unclear.

  • Any Oregon farmer brave enough to exercise his new state’s right to grow a hemp crop could be fairly certain he or she would be inviting a raid by dozens of armed, armored, jack-booted and masked government goons. Arrest at gunpoint while sprawled on the ground would quickly follow, then land forfeiture, months of prosecution and perhaps years of imprisonment.

A solution to the increasingly assertive voice of the American people demanding change on cannabis/hemp issues, changed gained through state initiatives or legislation, is to reschedule cannabis sativa. Changing it from Schedule I down to Schedule V would avoid catastrophic raids and persecutions. Americans could regain the productive resources from hemp, and curative medicines from cannabis, that they enjoyed a century ago.

In any case, Oregon’s actions help unleash Oregonian entrepreneurs wishing to develop hemp crops and products from their choke-hold by federal bureaucrats. Oregon’s governor and legislators, especially Senator Floyd Prozanski, deserve thanks and praises for this liberating legislation. Hopefully, federal changes will allow Oregonians to use hemp to provide people with food, clothing, shelter and fuel.

Your brain on anti-matter. Positron/gamma ray images of cannabinoid receptors in the human brain.

Those interested in medical cannabis will remember that the CB1 receptors, discovered less than 20 years ago, are activated by THC and other cannabinoids in cannabis. This activation provides the psychoactive effects of cannabis and also some of its other health enhancing properties. CB receptors also respond to endocannabinoids produced by own bodies, primarily in our nerve cells. The receptors are part of the endocannabinoid receptor (or regulatory) system, now seen as a major physiological system, with important roles in pain relief, neuroprotection and anti-inflammation, even digestion and vision.

Such CB1 activation by THC from the plant world or anandamide from our own cells, along with other cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant or our own bodies, can provide profound health benefits. Cannabinoids also work by activating CB2 receptors (primarily found on immune cells). Independent of their actions on receptors, cannabinoids are anti-oxidants, protecting nerve cells and other tissue from oxidation stress.

In the photo below, the CB1 receptors are being marked by the inverse agonist, 18F]MK-9470, a positron emission tomography (PET) tracer for in vivo human PET brain imaging of the cannabinoid-1 receptor. Inverse agonists tend to cause receptors to respond in ways opposite their response to agonists such as THC and anandamide. In the case of cannabinoid receptors, hope that inverse agonists might serve as obesity control agents has faded with problems from nausea and mood disturbances.

The physics of what goes on during such as PET scan it astounding. The process would appear to be highly hazardous to health, yet the procedure is commonplace and apparently without risk. Markers with affinities for certain cell types, such as the compounds used above, MK-9470, emit anti-matter. A positron is the anti-matter equivalent of an electron. When it is emitted from the source, in this case on a CB1 receptor in the brain, it travels only a short distance, a millimeter or so, before encountering its matter equivalent, an electron.

When matter electron and antimatter positron meet, the result is annihilation. Such an encounter releases a short burst of highly energetic photons in the form of gamma rays. Why matter/antimatter annihilation with accompanying gamma ray burst inside the brain is not fatal is not exactly clear. Perhaps a high-energy physicist could comment. Or even a low-energy physicist after coffee.

During this positron emission tomography, sensors detect where the gamma rays are coming from and map these in a 3D representation of brain anatomy and activity.  In the images above the patterns of gamma rays being emitted from this matter/antimatter annihilation show the relative distributions of CB1 receptors in various parts of the human brain. See the original research for more detail. Although they are most highly concentrated in the brain, CB1 receptors are also found throughout the entire human body, mainly on nerve cell membranes.

It was 72 years ago today: The Marijuana Tax Act begins seven decades of lies and repression by American bureaucrats.

America’s congress shamed itself 72 years ago today with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act. Responding not to any actual need, but instead to yellow journalism and the efforts of prohibitionist Henry Anslinger, congress outlawed the possession of cannabis.

Forty years later on this same date, perhaps the only intelligent thing ever said by an American president about marijuana was uttered by Jimmy Carter. Four decades after Americans were denied their right to possess or use cannabis, President Carter said,

  • Penalties against a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana for personal use.”

Despite these words of wisdom, these same penalties were not only retained, but increased during the drug war escalation of the 1980s. Tragically, over three decades later, nearly 15 million Americans have had their lives mangled by needless and cruel arrest and prosecution by their own government for cannabis “crimes” with no victims.

Congress did not have in 1937 (nor constitutionally should it have now) the power to prohibit American citizens from possessing cannabis. Remember, an amendment to the constitution was needed to prohibit alcohol; and cannabis prohibition should require a similar change to the constitution. This requirement was avoided by Anslinger and congress in 1937 by forming the prohibitive legislation in the form of a stamp tax, for a stamp that could not actually be purchased. Such legal nonsense caused the US Supreme Court to overturn the act in 1969, pointing out that it calls for self-incrimination, a violation of the 5th Amendment. By the way, the legal challenge to this self-serving law was made by none other than activist Timothy Leary.

Unfortunately, cannabis was firmly prohibited in the 1970 Controlled Substance Act. Cannabis was classified as a Schedule I drug, incurring the most severe penalties against any banned drug. Over 800,000 Americans were arrested for possession of cannabis in 2007. Drug war bureaucrat extraordinaire Henry Anslinger’s toxic legacy continues unchecked.