In our brave new "pharmacological society" prohibition has proved to be more effective as a pricing policy than as an actual barrier to the availability of illegal drugs. And the absence of reliable information, even about such fundamental questions as the relative toxicity of the various drugs which are available, has resulted in widespread confusion and suffering. In order to clarify some of the issues raised by the use of marijuana and other forms of cannabis, the Unidentified Flying Idea (UFI) sponsored a symposium on "Marijuana and Health" last month at the Science Center.
At this forum author David Solomon pointed out in his opening remarks that "Although many governments have attempted to eradicate the use (of cannabis) by declaring it illegal, in those areas where it has become part of the cultural pattern (as if Africa, India, Asia, and Latin America) no authority has been able to suppress it for long." Solomon believes the issues raised by the existence of psychoactive substances transcend the risks and benefits of any particular drug: "No social authority can successfully arrogate unto itself the right to dictate or fix the levels of consciousness to which man may aspire, whether these states are reached pharmacologically or otherwise."
Author and researcher H. L. Humes asserted that mass experimentation with cannabis and the psychedelics, though undertaken with no clear research objective, has answered the major remaining question about them. "One person may have an ecstatic experience with a psychoactive substance whereas another person may have a "bummer". Why? The answer is that the person who is having the "bummer" is dumping repressed traumatic material from childhood or infancy, or even the birth trauma. The "bummer" is not in the drug it is in the person taking the drug; In microdosages," he emphasized, "cannabis will surface repressed material; it functions like a kind of neurological laxative...That may give us a clue as to how psychiatry can move into the twentieth century.
Cannabis was introduced into western medicine by a toxicologist and analytic chemist who confirmed that cannabis is non-poisonous, a view shared by the Chinese--who had carved a snake coiled around a rod from hemp stalks since the time of Shen Nung, legendary" father of medicine Queen Victoria's personal physician came to view cannabis as "one of the most valuable medicines that we possess," and brought new understanding to its widespread use in the East as a tonic and relaxant herb by declaring it to be the remedy of choice for a certain class of functional neurological disorders. He and other physicians of the time recommended it for both the cure and the prevention of migraine, neuralgia, and other symptoms of chronic anxiety-tension.
Humes argued that today diseases of this type, including both the physiological symptoms associated with chronic neuromuscular tension (such as headache, backache, insomnia, constipation, asthma, and so on), and the cluster of cognitive and emotional distortions which come under the general heading of anxiety-neurosis, are so widespread that the medical profession should stipulate the existence of an epidemic. He urged the direction of research attention to the use of cannabis as a specific remedy.
Epidemic anxiety-neurosis has a mass social aspect. "Many of the practices of governments around the world are clearly neurotic," said Humes, asserting that the behavior of the superpowers is determined by "weapons fetishism," a sympton seen in the individual "gun nut." "You could say that weapons fetishism is investing weapons with the power to save, and it's an understandable fetish. The rationale of the neurosis is always overwhelming to the patient who's suffering from it." The arms race "can be regarded as a symbiotic neurosis...(and) unless you can heal both parties to the symbiotic neurosis at the same time, it's almost impossible."
Humes warned that the mutually reinforcing escalation of the arms race is a regenerative feedback cycle: "the momentum of that oscillation can overwhelm you... the problem of putting the brakes on is a lot more difficult than initiating the thing...And as you build these monstrous weapons of destruction, with the idea that they are somehow making you more and more secure, you come closer to the day of your own destruction. Anxiety neurosis is full of paradoxes like that." Of particular concern, he said, are "trip-wire" first-strike systems now being planned and deployed, which he called "paranoid" and "destabilizing...They are an invitation to war."
His recommendation" "It we could spark some serious research in the use of cannabis and other relaxation therapies meditative techniques and so on, to the end of being able to teach these methodologies via public television, we might be able to get the net tension of the nation down sufficiently to abate this unholy arms race that seems to be terrifying the whole world out of their wits."
Federal law currently recognizes no valid medical uses for cannabis, placing it in a class with toxic addictive narcotics such as heroin. In general the speakers at the Marijuana and Health Symposium recommended the revision of public policy to bring it into line with medical understanding. Dr. Tod Mikuriya, formerly in charge of cannabis research for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), asserted that we have--"not a drug problem--we're dealing with a problem based upon ignorance, denial, hypocrisy, and special-interest greed." He recommended comprehensive drug law reform, including the "repeal of all exemptions from product liability laws for alcohol and tobacco," and having an assigned risk for the liabilities they cause. He also suggested a repeal of all excise taxes dealing with drugs and alcohol, saying "Sin taxes are the erasure of the separation between church and state...They create an intrinsic conflict of interest." If a taxation policy were to be adopted, he said, it should follows the policy recommended by the British Indian Hemp Commission in 1894: "taxation should be at such a level that you do not encourage illicit cultivation and traffic."
Dr. Mikuriya was especially critical of the involvement of the federal government in poisoning marijuana--and American citizens--with the herbicide paraquat. Instead he recommended limiting the government to regulating "the purity and freedom from contaminants, which is an appropriate function of government."
David Solomon received one of the biggest hands of the day when he rejected the idea of legislation which would restrict the availability of cannabis to prescription by a physician. "Forget about the M.D.s for a minute. Let's talk about the folk doctors. We're folk. We doctor ourselves. (Legislation should) support the right of any individual citizen to grow--to produce marijuana, without taxation, for personal use and the use of friends and family...(It should be) as free as lettuce!"
Merick D. Spters '79 is a member of the organization. Bed Unidentified Flytax Idea (UFI)