Research Challenge: Cannabis

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The laws…they are a’changing. In just six months, give or take a couple of weeks, it’ll be legal for anyone to grow and use cannabis in my home state. Although Oregon’s been growing marijuana, or as the locals call it “Weeeed,” since long before prohibition, even we don’t have a lot of solid, credible information about this herb. Here, there are two camps; Marijuana is the answer to all our problems or Marijuana is the root of all our problems.

As a Practical Herbalist, I’m seeking the middle ground on this one. The research, however, is kind of expensive. It’s not like you can buy used books on pot at the Smith Family Bookstore. Well, maybe you’ll find a few, but those generally aren’t new enough to talk about the research that’s been done in the past five or ten years. Even through the online sources, like Abe Books, the used books written by experts in the field aren’t more than a buck or two cheaper than new. And, you’d think that our fondness for this particular plant would have driven our libraries to fill their herbal shelves with reputable works on the growing and use of cannabis (including its use as a food and fiber plant), but not so much so. Prohibition really squelched all intelligent conversation on this herb.

Normally, I have no trouble researching herbs. Books, scientific studies, and a selection of online resources put together by other experts in the field usually provide one piece. Contact and personal experience is every bit as important. Beyond reading, I can usually find live plants with which to connect. I can greet them in their native surroundings and work with their medicine in my home and studio using their various parts, like their roots or leaves. Tea Tree offered a challenge in that I only had the essential oil, but at least that was something. Cannabis…that’s a whole ‘nother story. Even legal growers are pretty hedgy about letting anyone near their plants even just to touch the leaves lightly and make an offering of respectful connection to the Spirit of the plant. Heck, even talking about cannabis is still a bit taboo.

For me, it means that the job I normally do with ease is going to be a wee bit tougher this time around. On the plus side, it’s a lot easier to connect with the Spirit of Cannabis than you’d think. She’s not exactly a retiring sort of being. Her spread across the globe was more than about getting the world’s population high. She provided us with food and fiber en mass up until prohibition, providing the fiber that made up nearly 80 percent of the world’s clothing along with a wide variety of industrial and artistic products including paper, rope, veneers, varnishes, cosmetics and beauty products, and the like. She partnered with us several thousand years ago in Ancient Mesopotamia as a food, fiber, and medicine crop. Only a short near century ago, we had a little spat and drew up a few laws to prohibit her growth and use amongst us, but she hasn’t forgotten the close relationship we once hand. Her spirit still reaches out to us in kindness. The real challenge in my job this time around is to navigate the crazy haze of information we’ve constructed about her and carry out of it sound, practical ideas for how this plant can become a part of our household pharmacopeias and lifestyles in a practical and healthful way once again.

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