Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Slide Show: 13 Key Moments in Marijuana History

Smoke Signals slide show: 13 Key Moments in MarijuanaHistory

By Martin A. Lee

The history of marijuana in America has long been a history of competing narratives, dueling interpretations. Some believe the official line that cannabis (the preferred name for marijuana in medical and scientific circles) is a major drug of abuse and a gateway to the harder stuff. They see marijuana first and foremost as a dangerous mind-altering substance, a harbinger of social decay. Others are just as adamant that cannabis is a safe and effective medicine for many ailments. Millions use it for pleasure and relaxation. And so it continues.

At the center of this controversy is a hardy, adaptable botanical that feasts on sunlight and grows like a weed in almost any environment. The gooey resin on the serrated leaves and matted flower tops of marijuana contains dozens of unique oily compounds, some of which, when ingested, trigger neurochemical changes in the brain.

Cannabis has a rich cultural history. A plant native to Central Asia, it figured prominently in the shamanistic traditions of many peoples. Handed down from prehistoric times, knowledge of marijuana's therapeutic qualities and the utility of its tough fiber slowly spread throughout the world. As it traveled from region to region the aromatic herb never failed to ingratiate itself among the locals. Once marijuana arrived in a new place, it never left. Never. Yet it always moved on, perpetually leaping from one culture to another.

Smoke Signals is a panoramic, character-driven social history of marijuana and its shifting role in the American narrative. The book tells how cannabis first came to the Americas -- with Africans who brought seeds aboard slave ships -- and how the plant was vilified and banned in the United States during the reefer madness era.

Smoke Signals chronicles the development of a grassroots movement that began in the 1960s, when cannabis first emerged as a defining force in a culture war that has never ceased. Opposition to draconian marijuana laws would grow into a widespread populist revolt against conventional medicine and extraconstitutional authority.

The great leap forward came in 1996, when California voters shocked the political and medical establishments by passing Proposition 215, which authorized doctors to approve marijuana use by patients. Similar laws have since been enacted in 16 other states and the District of Columbia. Initiatives to legalize adult marijuana use are on the ballot in several states in November.

What follows are 13 slides of key moments in the history of marijuana in America. To view to slide show click here.

Martin A. Lee is the author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific (Scribner, August 2012). He is the cofounder of the media watch group FAIR, director of Project CBD, and the author of Acid Dreams and The Beast Reawakens. For more information and regular updates, follow Smoke Signals – the book on Facebook.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cannabinods Fight Cancer

Marijuana Fights Cancer and Helps Manage Side Effects, Researchers Find


Mounting evidence shows ‘cannabinoids’ in marijuana slow cancer growth, inhibit formation of new blood cells that feed a tumor, and help manage pain, fatigue, nausea, and other side effects.

Cristina Sanchez, a young biologist at Complutense University in Madrid, was studying cell metabolism when she noticed something peculiar. She had been screening brain cancer cells because they grow faster than normal cell lines and thus are useful for research purposes. But the cancer cells died each time they were exposed to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive ingredient of marijuana. 
Instead of gaining insight into how cells function, Sanchez had stumbled upon the anti-cancer properties of THC. In 1998, she reported in a European biochemistry journal that THC “induces apoptosis [cell death] in C6 glioma cells,” an aggressive form of brain cancer. 

Subsequent peer-reviewed studies in several countries would show that THC and other marijuana-derived compounds, known as “cannabinoids,” are effective not only for cancer-symptom management (nausea, pain, loss of appetite, fatigue), they also confer a direct antitumoral effect.

A team of Spanish scientists led by Manuel Guzman conducted the first clinical trial assessing the antitumoral action of THC on human beings. Guzman administered pure THC via a catheter into the tumors of nine hospitalized patients with glioblastoma, who had failed to respond to standard brain-cancer therapies. The results were published in 2006 in the British Journal of Pharmacology: THC treatment was associated with significantly reduced tumor cell proliferation in every test subject

Around the same time, Harvard University scientists ++reported++[] that THC slows tumor growth in common lung cancer and “significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread.” What’s more, like a heat-seeking missile, THC selectively targets and destroys tumor cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed. Conventional chemotherapy drugs, by contrast, are highly toxic; they indiscriminately damage the brain and body. 
Medical Marijuana Crackdown
Aric Crabb, Bay Area News Group / AP Photos
There is mounting evidence, according to a report in Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry, that cannabinoids “represent a new class of anticancer drugs that retard cancer growth, inhibit angiogenesis [the formation of new blood cells that feed a tumor] and the metastatic spreading of cancer cells.”

Dr. Sean McAllister, a scientist at the Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, has been studying cannabinoid compounds for 10 years in a quest to develop new therapeutic interventions for various cancers. Backed by grants from the National Institute of Health (and with a license from the DEA), McAllister discovered that cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive component of the marijuana plant, is a potent inhibitor of breast cancer cell proliferation, metastasis, and tumor growth.

In 2007, McAllister published a detailed account of how cannabidiol kills breast cancer cells and destroys malignant tumors by switching off expression of the ID-1 gene, a protein that appears to play a major role as a cancer cell conductor. 

The ID-1 gene is active during human embryonic development, after which it turns off and stays off. But in breast cancer and several other types of metastatic cancer, the ID-1 gene becomes active again, causing malignant cells to invade and metastasize. “Dozens of aggressive cancers express this gene,” explains McAllister. He postulates that CBD, by virtue of its ability to silence ID-1 expression, could be a breakthrough anti-cancer medication.
“Cannabidiol offers hope of a non-toxic therapy that could treat aggressive forms of cancer without any of the painful side effects of chemotherapy,” says McAllister, who is seeking support to conduct clinical trials with the marijuana compound on breast cancer patients.

McAllister’s lab also is analyzing how CBD works in combination with first-line chemotherapy agents. His research shows that cannabidiol, a potent antitumoral compound in its own right, acts synergistically with various anti-cancer pharmaceuticals, enhancing their impact while cutting the toxic dosage necessary for maximum effect. 

The invasion of metastatic cells is halted by CBD on the right compared to untreated breast cancer cells on the left. (photo credit: California Pacific Medical Center)

Investigators at St. George’s University in London observed a similar pattern with THC, which magnified the effectiveness of conventional antileukemia therapies in preclinical studies. THC and cannabidiol both induce apoptosis in leukemic cell lines. 

At the annual summer conference of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, held this year in Freiburg, Germany, 300 scientists from around the world discussed their latest findings, which are pointing the way toward novel treatment strategies for cancer and other degenerative diseases. Italian investigators described CBD as “the most efficacious inducer of apoptosis” in prostate cancer. Ditto for cannabidiol and colon cancer, according to British researchers at Lancaster University. 

Within the medical science community, the discovery that cannabinoids have anti-tumoral properties is increasingly recognized as a seminal advancement in cancer therapeutics.

Martin A. Lee is the author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific (Scribner, August 2012). He is the cofounder of the media watch group FAIR, director of Project CBD, and the author of Acid Dreams and The Beast Reawakens. For more information and regular updates, follow Smoke Signals—the book on Facebook.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Obama’s “Fast and Furious” Assault on Medical Marijuana

Martin A. Lee, author of the new book Smoke Signals, explains why the Justice Department unleashed the dogs of the drug war against California’s medical marijuana industry
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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Smoke Signals and CBD in North Bay Bohemian

The Straight Dope By Melinda Misuraca
Tired of the euphoria, anxiety and crash from being stoned? Nonpsychoactive cannabidiol supplies health benefits without the typical effects of THC

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