Book Excerpts 5.6 and 5.7: The History of the Criminalization of Cannabis and its Health Effects

5.6 A Brief History on the Criminalization of Cannabis in the United States


Since most people in jail in America are there for cannabis possession, use, or sale, understanding why this substance became illegal here is significant. The history of its criminalization in America is rather long and absurd tale. Hemp was grown legally for a long period in America. Some of the founding fathers even grew hemp and during part of the 18th century in America, hemp was more valuable than paper money. In fact, during periods of hemp shortage (like 1763 to 1767), farmers could be jailed for not growing it.1 It was mostly grown for the fiber in its stalks and was not smoked at this time by many Americans. Growing hemp was eventually made illegal in America by the Marijuana Tax Act. This Act was not passed because the government witnessed negative social repercussions related to marijuana use, but rather because lawmakers did not want the hemp industry to overtake other profitable industries.

The Marijuana Tax Act didn’t technically criminalize hemp in America, but rather taxed it in a way that made it unlawful to grow or possess. Some varieties of cannabis or hemp do have many psychoactive properties, but there was no distinction in this law made between highly psychoactive varieties of hemp and varieties with essentially no psychoactive properties, which were used only for the fiber in their stalks.2 Fibrous hemp cannot be smoked. The effects would be minimal and very undesirable. Psychoactive varieties of hemp are often called marijuana or cannabis rather than hemp, but they are almost genetically identical.

Hemp that could be smoked was included the Marijuana Tax Act for very different reasons. The term “marihuana” was eventually used to describe the more psychoactive varieties, but before the distinction was made, the two terms were used synonymously in America. Marihuana was a Mexican slang term used for cannabis. Its use only became widespread in America because the government and media used the word often since it was associated with Mexicans who were portrayed as lazy and ignorant, which was far from the reality.

Non-psychoactive varieties of hemp were included in this tax act because timber, petrochemical, and news tycoons, along with government officials feared it would overtake other resources like tobacco, pine trees, synthetic polymers and the chemicals used to make them. Most hemp was grown by poor and working-class farmers, so large corporate and political actors did not profit from it until the Tax stamp was enacted. Hemp would have improved the livelihoods of many farmers and their families if it had remained legal. If made legal now, the crop could become the number one cash crop in the country. This is because hemp has so many uses. To name a few, hemp’s strong, sturdy fiber can be used for the creation of paper and plastics. Hemp can also be made into blankets, bioplastic, insulation, clothing, rope and many other useful items. Hemp can also be fermented into ethanol (like corn) and used as a fuel with less negative environmental impacts than fossil fuels. (However, there are better alternative energy sources available for cars like solar and electric.) Hemp seed oil also contains high amounts of protein and essential fatty acids, Omega-6 and Omega-3. (Soybeans also contain them.)

In the 1930s, machines that strip hemp fiber became more affordable and practical for common people to use, and this posed a threat to several industries that rely on less sustainable and recyclable resources. In his book the Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer states:

In 1916, USDA Bulletin No. 404 reported that one acre of cannabis hemp, in annual rotation over a 20-year period, would produce as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres of trees being cut down over the same 20-year period. This process would use only 1/7 to 1/4 as much polluting sulfur-based acid chemicals to break down the glue-like lignin that binds the fibers of the pulp, or even none at all using soda ash. All this lignin must be broken down to make pulp. Hemp pulp is only 4-10% lignin, while trees are 18-30% lignin. The problem of dioxin contamination of rivers is avoided in the hemp papermaking process, which does not need to use chlorine bleach (as the wood pulp papermaking process requires), but instead substitutes safer hydrogen peroxide in the bleaching process.

Thus, hemp provides four times as much pulp with at least four to seven times less pollution. As we have seen, this hemp pulp-paper potential depended on the invention and the engineering of new machines for stripping the hemp by modern technology. This would also lower demand for lumber and reduce the cost of housing, while at the same time helping re-oxygenate the planet.

As an example: If the new (1916) hemp pulp paper process were in use legally today, it would soon replace about 70 percent of all wood pulp paper; including computer printout paper, corrugated boxes and paper bags. If hemp had not been made illegal, 80% of DuPont’s business would never have materialized and the great majority of the pollution which has poisoned our Northwestern and Southeastern rivers would not have occurred.”

This is likely accurate. The majority of our paper and cardboard come from pine trees, and this industry is responsible for much deforestation. By using hemp instead of pine, we get to keep our trees which sequester carbon and provide oxygen.

DuPont was originally founded as a gun powder mill using French equipment (hence the French name). Nylon was produced in 1935 by DuPont, (its creator killed himself by drinking cyanide) but it could have been made unnecessary if hemp had remained legal because biodegradable plastic can be made from hemp without the use of chemicals or pollutants. DuPont may have lost money on a variety of other polymers and paper-creating processes. Therefore, DuPont made many efforts to criminalize hemp.

The rich owners of large newspaper conglomerates in America like William Randolph Hurst who founded the Hearst Corporation in 1887 also sought to criminalize hemp for similar reasons. Hearst was a wealthy opportunist who took over The San Francisco Examiner from his millionaire, senator father, George Hurst. He then bought The New York Journal. He was elected for office in 1903, centralizing his power, and he acquired twenty-eight other papers. His papers eventually had over 20 million readers. They typically ran propaganda and “yellow journalism,” (as Joseph Pulitzer’s papers did) that largely influenced public opinion. Hurst campaigned against marijuana in his papers largely because he did want to lose any money to the hemp industry. He also contributed to the support for the Spanish-American war of 1898 so that he would not lose land and other assets he owned in Mexico.

William’s rich father bought 670,000 acres of land at 20-40 cents an acre from Mexico after the government defeated local Native Apache leader, Geronimo. George was friendly with the Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz and his property in Mexico eventually expanded to 1,000,000 acres. In 1886 William wrote to his mother “I really don’t see what is to prevent us from owning all Mexico and running it to suit ourselves.”3 However, their ranch was looted during the Mexican Revolution of 1910 under Pacho Villa, one of the leading Mexican Revolutionaries. It was then occupied by Venustiano Carranza’s forces.

Hurst, Pulitzer and many other financially-invested actors produced widespread smear campaigns about marijuana in order to encourage criminalization and affect public opinion. Lies about how marijuana use causes mass murder and insanity were published in Hurst’s many newspapers. Newspapers across the county also focused disproportionately on car accidents involving marijuana, even though alcohol related accidents outnumbered marijuana related accidents by more than 10,000 to 1.4 Hurst’s articles were also unapologetically racist, xenophobic, and contradictory. He claimed that smoking marijuana made black men rape white women and listen to “satanic-voodoo music.” (He was referring to jazz.)

Herman Oliphant, general counsel to the Treasury Department, introduced the Marijuana Tax Act to the House Ways and Means Committee in 1937 without consulting the American Medical Association, (AMA). Ways and Means Chairman, Robert L. Doughton, who was (not surprisingly) a DuPont partner, quickly approved the bill soon thereafter. Dr. William C. Woodward, an attorney for the AMA explained they were never consulted about the bill and that it was based on propaganda and lies. He also discussed a few of marijuana’s medical benefits.

Aside from being rooted in greed and bigotry, the Marijuana Tax Act was also self-incriminating, and such laws are unconstitutional because of the Fifth Amendment. Anyone who wanted to grow marijuana had to possess a Marijuana Tax Stamp, but to get the stamp you needed to possess cannabis, which was illegal without the stamp. Therefore, anyone who tried to register with the requirement of marijuana was arrested for possession. Those who did not have marijuana were just rejected. This unconstitutional law was enforced for 32 years.

With the tax act in place, the government could now profit from the seizures of cannabis and fines for possession, and it could insure other profitable taxed crops were not overtaken by hemp. The tax act also enabled the government to punish, incarcerate, and deport minorities like Mexican immigrants working on the border and African Americans who smoked cannabis. (Minorities who obeyed the law were often abused by police anyway because of the widespread racism in most police forces.)

Most Americans did not object to the tax act because there was so much propaganda disseminated about marijuana. Hollywood also contributed to the propaganda about drugs likely due to financial contributions from Washington. The highly fictional and sensationalized film about marijuana, Reefer Madness, is an example. It was made by Grand National Studios in 1936. Politicians also spread propaganda and lies about marijuana use and other drugs in legislation. The first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), Harry Anslinger, made claims during the congressional hearings on the Marijuana Tax Act that were extremely unscientific and blatant propaganda, as did many others involved. Dr. Frank R. Gomila, commissioner of public safety, called cannabis a more alarming menace to society than all other habit-forming drugs. Harry and others on the commission claimed that cannabis led to heroin and that the two drugs had similar negative effects. They also claimed insanity, murder, rape and suicide were effects of marijuana. The associations made between marijuana and more harmful drugs had many negative impacts beyond wrongful incarceration. Those who used marijuana and found these claims to be false were more likely to believe they were being lied to about more harmful drugs, causing an increase in their use and addiction rates.

In 1944 a committee of individuals appointed by the New York mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia was convened to conduct one of the first in-depth studies on the effects of smoking marijuana in the United States. The LaGuardia Commission discovered that all of marijuana’s alleged psychotic effects were unfounded. The committee also found that the substance has great medicinal value and is nearly physically harmless. But this commission’s report had no effect on the Tax stamp. In fact, the government threatened to imprison any doctors who did such research, and this unconstitutional act was enforced until 1969 when political activist, Timothy Leary, fought to have it repealed. No one was punished for passing the Marijuana Tax Act after it was repealed, nor was anyone compensated for undeserved incarceration, despite the untold pain and suffering it caused.

Before the Marijuana Tax Act was repealed, the government completely reversed its position on the effects of marijuana. In the 1960s, instead of claiming that it resulted in insanity and indiscriminate violence, the government claimed that marijuana made people pacifistic and weak. Therefore, the government in essence admitted that the reasons they used to justify cannabis criminalization were unfounded. During the “red-scare” of the 1950s, the government worried “communist” Russia would use marijuana against Americans to weaken their soldiers. At this point, the government considered communism and Russia to be bigger threats to America than American minorities, so they simply changed their position on marijuana to increase the hatred of another group of people.

Although Timothy Leary succeeded in repealing the Marijuana Tax Act, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act (CDACA) of 1970 that abolished it, made marijuana just flatly illegal and reversed his hard work. Title II of this legislation called the Controlled Substances Act created five different schedules for drugs. According to the US government, schedule one drugs have high potential for abuse and no medical value. Cannabis was made a schedule one drug, despite the fact that it is not addictive and doctors across the country agree that is has medical value. Psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and LSD are all schedule one drugs as well, despite the fact that none of these drugs are addictive.

Far more dangerous, addictive and potentially lethal substances, on the other hand, such as cocaine, methadone, oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl, phencyclidine (PCP), hydromorphone and methamphetamine are all schedule two drugs simply because they have some medical use as analgesics. As stated, it is not public safety governments are concerned with. They are concerned with who is using them and who they are influencing. People are easier to control and profit from if they are addicted to certain substances controlled by large institutions. They want our emotions and identities to be in their control, so that they can profit from what we feel and who we become.

The war against marijuana and all drugs is clearly a culture and class war above all else, and even some judges, police officers and politicians who are not corrupted by power or corporate influence realize this. In the documentary America’s War On Drugs: The Last White Hope, Superior Court Judge, James Gray, explained: “85% of all people in the United States of America that use any form of illicit drug only use marijuana. That means that the total number of people who use anything else would not justify this colossal prison industrial complex {if marijuana was legalized.}” After James Gray realized the futility of the drug war as a judge, he wrote a book called Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About it.

Governor Ron Paul is one of the very few politicians who has recognized this problem. In 2001 he said: “For the first 140 years of our history, we had essentially no federal war on drugs and far fewer problems with drug addiction and related crimes as a consequence. In the past 30 years, even with the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the drug war, little good has come of it. We have vacillated from efforts to stop the drugs at the source to severely punishing the users, yet nothing has improved.”

Despite the slowly growing number of police, judges, and others in authority who recognize the drug war has never worked, it is unlikely that any of these schedule one substances will be rescheduled in near future. The reason being that the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998 requires the director of ONDCP or the “drug czar” to prevent people from conducting any studies on a schedule one substance, (such as marijuana) for the purpose of determining what benefits (medical or otherwise) it may have. This Act expired in 2003, but this requirement was included in later Acts. Until the legalization that prohibits testing is repealed, our understanding of these drugs will never be complete, and no one in America will be legally allowed to test and prove the medical efficacy, potential dangers or long-term effects of these drugs.

Three years after CDACA passed in 1970, the Rockefeller drug laws passed in New York. These laws called for mandatory minimum sentencing, although they weren’t the first. The Boggs Act of 1952 was the first act to call for it. This act required anyone convicted of marijuana possession (even if it was a first offense) to be sentenced to a minimum of two to ten years in prison and fined up to $20,000. The Rockefeller drug laws were even more Draconian. They required a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years to life for the sale of a mere two ounces of any narcotic and the same sentence for the possession of four ounces of a narcotic, regardless of the circumstances. Both of these acts also defined narcotics as a variety of illicit substances including cocaine and marijuana, which are not chemically narcotics. (A narcotic is an opioid or “painkiller” like morphine.)

The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 was the first act to incorrectly classify cocaine as a narcotic and since then many lawmakers and LEOs still refer to non-narcotic drugs as narcotics, and users suffer because the punishments for narcotic offenses are more severe. This misclassification also demonstrates how disturbingly ignorant most law-makers and other officials are about drugs and their effects. (The Controlled Substances Act still refers to cocaine as a narcotic.) Calling all illicit drugs “narcotics” groups them together, stigmatizes them, and furthers the misconception that all illicit drugs are the same and should be treated as such. This word has the same negative connotation as “marihuana,” and it is used by the government for the same reasons.

The Rockefeller drug laws were adjusted in 2004 and again in 2005, but they and other laws that call for mandatory minimum sentencing are still enforced, and they do great harm. Regarding every court case as the same doesn’t make sense because no case is ever the same. Like the Rockefeller drug laws, the “three strikes law” also requires judges to turn a blind eye to the specific circumstances of each case. This law has been passed in 13 states, and it requires a sentence of 25 years to life for a third conviction of any felony. Most felonies are charges for possession of very small amounts of an illicit drug bought for personal consumption. Felonies also include bicycle theft (this qualifies as “grand theft auto” for some reason), opening mail that isn’t yours, writing on a mailbox, and certain driving infractions like DUIs (or OUIs) and more minor offenses. In California where the three strikes law applies, prisons are currently holding almost double their capacity of inmates. Inmates are not getting help and when released, they often go right back to their old habits or worse ones.

It is evident governments are much more concerned with the identities of citizens and their productivity than their safety because the drugs politicians push the hardest against, such as marijuana and psychedelics, are the least dangerous.5 It is also in the interest of governments to keep the most popular, addictive drugs legal because they profit from their taxation. Tobacco and alcohol are heavily taxed and they produce enormous revenue for the government, despite the millions of deaths they cause every year.

In 2007 in America alone, tobacco killed about 450,000 people and alcohol killed 150,000, excluding drunken driving accidents.6 Even legal prescription drugs kill more than 100,000 Americans per year, yet cocaine and heroin combined only kill about 10,000 people annually on average in America, and cannabis, the drug most criticized by the government, has never caused any documented deaths.

Almost half of all teenagers in America have admitted to trying marijuana, and when they realize they are being lied to about its effects, some assume other more addictive drugs (licit and illicit) are just as harmless as stated, and this can cause addictions to very dangerous substances and deaths. America is still being brainwashed about the effects of drugs by the government today. The ONDCP has never made an advertisement about the dangers of cigarette smoking, drinking or even heroin and cocaine use. Almost all of their advertisements are about marijuana. The ONDCP has also infiltrated television programs. Between 1998 and 2000, various networks, such as the WB, received tens of millions of dollars to have their scripts revised to include anti-drug messages. Most of these scripts were revised to condemn the use of marijuana more than any other drug.

Anti-drug organizations are often no more honest about their intentions than governments. For example, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, (an organization that produces some of these advertisements with the ONDCP) is funded primarily by tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical and oil companies. If it was actually “anti-drug” on principle, the organization would not take this money.

Governments and anti-drug organizations focus so much on marijuana mostly because they have disdain for cultures they associate with its use, which they perceive to be unproductive or overly liberal. (Some are also motivated by unscientific propaganda or unrealistic concerns about their children). There is still such a stigma attached to marijuana that DEA agents insist on raiding medical marijuana dispensaries when the majority of doctors agree that marijuana has medical value. These DEA agents could ignore these dispensaries and focus on hard drugs, but instead they bust dispensaries and arrest patients at their own discretion. In many cases, DEA agents have even arrested patients with terminal conditions.

The DEA has the legal authority to shut down dispensaries in every state, including states where medical marijuana has been made legal by state law because it is a federal agency and the CSA is a federal law. Attempts to reschedule marijuana have been thwarted by the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because they still deny it has medical value, even though many FDA and DEA officials have recognized in court and in publications that it does. DEA Administrative Judge, Francis Young, called marijuana “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.”7

The current position the FDA and DEA hold on marijuana is not based on scientific understanding or concern for public health. They do not adopt more progressive drug polices because they are motivated by profit. The FDA does what is most profitable for large pharmaceutical companies because this is what is most profitable for the FDA. Pharmaceutical companies often pay FDA officials to approve drugs they know are dangerous, sometimes without even testing them. In fact, under the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDFA), the FDA gets $100,000 for every drug expedited through approval process. (The administration also tries to make healthy foods less available by regulating and restricting them as “drugs” in order to increase sales of pharmaceuticals) If medical marijuana was made federally legal, it would replace many currently legal, FDA-approved prescription drugs, some of which can be very harmful and even lethal. Pharmaceutical companies have spent millions fighting against cannabis legalization for this reason. For example, Insys Therapeutics gave half a million dollars in 2016 to Arizonans for ‘Responsible Drug Policy’, to defeat the state’s ballot to legalize cannabis. Insys Therapeutics ironically has developed synthetic THC they call Syndros, which was approved by the FDA and DEA.

Drug abuse and crime rates in America have remained rather stable in recent years, but American drug laws have only become strict. America has nearly twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population, yet America only has five percent of the world’s population. The population of China is about four times larger than America’s population, but they have a far lower prison population and a slower rate of incarceration. Despite the fact that the rate of serious crime in America over the past twenty years has gradually declined, the rate of incarceration has tripled due to more severe drug laws, stricter enforcement, and more funding to counter-drug agencies.

Between 1970 and 2005 the prison population grew by 700%. In 1971 there were fewer than 200,000 prisoners in America.8 In 2006, a record 7 million people were either on probation, behind bars or on parole, and in 2010 more than one in 100 adults in the United States was incarcerated.9 The drug war cost the federal government about $15 billion dollars in 2010 and state and local officials spent $25 billion more.10



















5.7 Cannabis and its Efficacy as a Medicine


Marijuana has a number of medical applications and it has been used as a medicine for thousands of years, so its medical efficacy is worth discussing. It would not be contested so much if testing of the drug was legal everywhere and there wasn’t so much propaganda about it. While smoking cannabis is not completely harmless to lung tissue, (inhaling smoke of any kind can temporarily damage lung tissue) its psychoactive components, cannabinoids, as well as synthetic cannabinoids can be ingested without smoking. These components have many medical uses.

Cannabis has strong analgesic effects, and it can be used as a much safer, non-lethal alternative to opiates for chronic pain caused by conditions like cancer, AIDS, dysmenorrhea, neuralgia, and others.11 Marijuana can also kill cancer cells and reduce the risk of getting cancer12. This has been well known in parts of the medical community for decades but the information has been suppressed and withheld from the public by the government. In 1974 the Medical College of Virginia discovered the “active chemical agent in marijuana curbs the growth of three kinds of cancer in mice and may also suppress the immunity reaction that causes rejection of organ transplants” as reported in the Washington Post by Victor Cohn on August 18th 1974.13 The study, which was published the following year in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that “Mice treated for 20 consecutive days with delta-8-THC and CBN had reduced primary tumor size.”14 THC and CBN reduced the size of Lewis lung adenocarcinoma tumors in laboratory mice, and prolonged their lives by as much as 36%. They also inhibited Leukemia virus-induced splenomegaly by 71%.15 This was corroborated by Harvard researcher, Anju Preet, PhD, in 2007 in another study on the effects of cannabis on mice with lung cancer.16 In 1976 former President Gerald Ford, NIDA, and the DEA prohibited research and federal health programs from researching natural cannabis derivatives for medicine. Reagan continued this prohibition of the study of cannabis, but made an exception for pharmaceutical drug companies that were interested in marketing derivatives. In September 1983 Reagan actually attempted to persuade “all American universities and researchers to destroy all 1966-76 cannabis research work, including compendiums in libraries”17 as the corrupt administration didn’t want Americans to know they could grow their own medicine, cure their own cancer, and thus reduce the profits of big American pharmaceutical companies.


A 1998 study led by Dr. Manuel Guzman of the Complutense University’s School of Biology in Madrid, Spain found that ”delta9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the major active component of marijuana, induced apoptosis in C6.9 glioma cells, as determined by DNA fragmentation and loss of plasma membrane asymmetry.” (Glioma is a cancerous tumor that occurs in the brain and spinal cord and is generally incurable.) The SETH Group (Scientists Exploring Truth in Healing) has also shown cannabis compounds can stop the growth of human glioblastoma multiforma (GBM) brain cancer cells. The Group stated “No chemotherapy can match this nontoxic anti-cancer action.” Further, in 2012 Pierre-Yves Desprez, Ph.D and Sean McAllister, Ph.D. of the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute found that CBD stopped breast and brain cancer invasion and metastasis by downregulating expression of the Id-1 gene.18

Cannabis is also an anti-emetic, which makes it especially useful cancer treatment because chemotherapy can induce nausea (although cannabis makes chemotherapy unnecessary). Cannabis is also an appetite stimulant, which makes it useful in the treatment of any disease that reduces appetite or causes cachexia, the “wasting syndrome,” like anorexia, AIDS, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure, hormone deficiencies, and tuberculosis.

Cannabidol or CBD may be the most medically useful cannabinoid in marijuana. CBD is an anticonvulsant and an antipsychotic, which can make it useful in the treatment of epilepsy and a variety of mental disorders. It is also bronchodilator like an inhaler, so CBD can treat suffers of asthma and COPD.

Cannabis can also treat glaucoma. Glaucoma increases intraocular pressure and impairs vision as a result, and it is the leading cause of blindness. Marijuana reduces intraocular pressure, which reduces the symptoms of glaucoma, and can delay the onset of blindness for years caused by the disease. Marijuana has also been shown to relieve spasticity caused by neurological and motor disorders like multiple sclerosis (MS) and spinal cord injury.19

Marijuana can have euphoric and anxiolytic effects, which can make it useful for the treatment of anxiety disorders and depression in certain cases. Cannabis strains that are high in CBD are most useful. Although marijuana is harmless at low doses, it should not be smoked while pregnant because it may cause DNA mutations in vitro like many other drugs. It has been shown to increase the risk of low birth weight when pregnant.20 Patients with very unstable heart conditions like angina pectoris should probably avoid cannabis, or consult their doctor before using it because THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, a major cannabinoid in cannabis, increases heart rate. However, cannabis generally has the opposite effect on blood pressure.

Another reason that cannabis has been less accepted as a medicine aside from the hearsay, politics, and propaganda is that THC can cause mild psychosis (usually auditory or visual hallucinations) at high doses. CBD, however, is an anti-psychotic as stated. These opposing effects often provide balance.

The role cannabis plays in mental disorders is complex because different strains of marijuana have different amounts of THC and CBD and often consumers are not able to measure these molecules, so a patient may unknowingly receive a strain that is inappropriate for their condition. Marijuana can be useful for patients with mental disorders, but since THC can cause psychosis it may be contraindicated for those with psychotic disorders. However, marijuana that is high in CBD or CBD alone may help those with psychotic disorders. More research needs to be done on this to reach more concrete conclusions.

It is worth mentioning that psychosis is not always a negative condition. Psychosis is a natural part of life and it does not always need to be treated. (I will discuss it in more detail later on.) Psychosis is the inability to distinguish external and internal stimuli. In other words, it is a state in which an individual becomes unaware of what is real and what is a creation of their minds. It can manifest itself as vivid hallucinations, which can affect any of the five senses. It can also result in a sense of detachment from reality (or dissociation). Menstruation21, childbirth, sensory deprivation and many other natural processes can cause mild psychosis. Cannabis-induced psychosis only occurs when very high doses of THC are consumed, and novice users are more likely to experience it.

Because many individuals with mental disorders like to use marijuana, some in the media with dubious intentions claim marijuana causes these disorders. But there is no relationship between marijuana and schizophrenia. About half of all people with schizophrenia use drugs and many have addictions. Long-term use of drugs can like meth and crack can result in settled psychosis and symptoms of schizophrenia. It is possible schizophrenia itself is just settled psychosis since so many diagnosed with it are ex-addicts, victims of trauma, or both.

Dopamine dysfunction is thought to cause schizophrenia and marijuana has almost no effect on the dopaminergic system. Cannabinoids binds to cannabinoid receptors, and they have minimal effects on other neurotransmitters. Some individuals with schizophrenia likely use cannabis to cope with the devastating, symptoms of their disorder and previous trauma. Most schizophrenics also smoke cigarettes, which have a greater effect on dopamine. But no scientist or doctor has made the claim that tobacco leads to schizophrenia because it has never been shown. (Many schizophrenics actually find tobacco helps their symptoms, despite the many potential, grave health risks.)

Many politicians and pundits try to draw a link between marijuana and schizophrenia because of their personal beliefs, and they want less people to use it. But their beliefs are not rooted in careful consideration or hard science. Marijuana can increase the disorganization of thoughts, which is a cognitive symptom of schizophrenia, but this is the only way I have found it is related. Harvard Professor and psychiatrist, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, who has treated schizophrenic patients for 40 years, has said the supposed link between schizophrenia and marijuana is absurd:

If you just take the fact that…the frequency of schizophrenia is about 1% world-round, you would expect with a drug used as often as it is that there would be a little [increase] but it doesn’t change a bit. It hasn’t changed. In fact, you can find as much information showing that marijuana is useful for schizophrenia than you can [claiming] it is harmful.” – Dr. Lester Grinspoon PhD.

Cannabis is the most popular drug in the world. In 2011 there were an estimated 220 million users,22 but not nearly as many people were diagnosed with schizophrenia that year. Even fewer reported symptoms of schizophrenia. The rate of reports has also been relatively stable over recent years.

It is important to note that marijuana smoke is not completely harmless to the lungs. Deliberately inhaling smoke of any kind is harmful to the lungs. (Even using a lighter is harmful because byproducts created by the combustion of fuel are inhaled.) “Street marijuana” can also be sprayed or modified in other ways that make it heavier and more potentially harmful. It is also sometimes claimed there is more “tar” in marijuana than there is in tobacco. This has not been scientifically proven, but regardless of the validity of the claim it a dubious comparison because not all tar is the same. Cigarette tar paralyzes the lungs cilia and can kill them. But marijuana smoke produces a different “tar” with different effects on the lungs. While there is no data or research that proves marijuana smoking causes cancer, it can cause bronchial DNA cell changes, and these can potentially increase the risk of getting cancer. But again, no one has ever proven that anyone has developed cancer solely from marijuana use. Marijuana smoking also does not cause major immune dysfunction or increase susceptibility of infectious diseases (as tobacco does) shown by many studies that have measured no changes in smokers’ T-lymphocytes, macrophages, B-lymphocytes, and immunoglobulin levels, even with heavy usage.23

Heavy smoking of marijuana can inflame the lung’s bronchial tubes (especially the larger ones) and make them produce more mucus, resulting in bronchitis, which increases airflow obstruction, and results in coughing, wheezing, and similar symptoms. These are generally mild, but they can be irritating. Heavy smoking can also slightly reduce lung density and vital capacity.24 (Vital capacity is the greatest amount of air a person can expel after maximum respiration.)

Tobacco smoke tends to more severely irritate the smaller pathways, which makes it a common cause of chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and cancer. Heavy smoking of marijuana may be loosely connected to emphysema, but in the same 2007 study just cited, it was noted that only 1 out the 75 participants who only smoked marijuana had macroscopic emphysema, as opposed to the tobacco smoking only participants, of which 19 out of 91 had macroscopic emphysema.

The most common reason cannabis is rejected as a medicine by a small minority of doctors is because they believe it has to be smoked, but this is not the case as stated. Cannabis can be consumed with a vaporizer, which vaporizes the active elements of the plant (the cannabinoids), turning them into a gas without burning the carbonous plant material that would otherwise irritate the lung pathways. Cannabis can also be prepared to be eaten, taken by pill, or consumed in liquid form. Pure synthetic cannabinoids can also be consumed without irritating the lungs. Smoking or cooking with hash is also a healthier alternative to smoking cannabis. All of these alternatives allow for cannabis to be used as a medicine without any increased risk of cancer, bronchitis, emphysema, or any other disease and even reduce the risk some of these ailments.

Certain synthetic cannabinoids that have been formulated have increased the efficacy of cannabinoids thousands of times over. Synthetic and isolated, natural cannabinoids are arguably most useful as medicine and much more research should be done on them. They should be used widely in clinical trials to improve our understanding of one of the most important medicines that exists.


1 Herndon, G.M., “Hemp in Colonial Virginia,” 1963.

2Cannabis Sativa is much more fibrous than Cannabis Indica, which is usually short, bushier, and has denser flowers. Cannabis Ruderalis is shorter than both and is an auto-flowering plant, meaning it will flower regardless of the light cycle its exposed to.

3 Robinson, Judith: The Hearsts: an American Dynasty, Pg. 89. University of Delaware. 1991. Print.

4 See previous citation

5Some psychedelics, like LSD, however, can be lethal even in very small doses. Repeated, daily use of certain psychedelics can also have negative impacts on brain function. However, the most commonly used psychedelics are far safer and less lethal (relatively, not by weight, of course) than tobacco or alcohol. In other words, 30 hits of acid would not likely kill you but 30 shots of liquor probably would, depending on your tolerance and weight.

6 Booth, Kevin: American Drug War: The Last White Hope. 2007. Film

7 Young, Francis: Marijuana Rescheduling Petition. Docket No. 86-22. September 6th 1988.

8 Currie, Elliott: Crime and Punishment in America. Metropolitan Books, 1998. Print.

9 The Pew Charitable Trusts: “One in 100 Behind Bars in America in 2008” January 26 2008, Pg. 34. Journal.

10 Jeffrey A. Miron & Kathrine Waldock: “The Budgetary Impact of Drug Prohibition” Print. 2010.

11 Dr. Grinspoon, Lester and Dr. Bakalar, James B: “Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine.” 2007. Various pages. Print.

12 Velasco G, Sánchez C, Guzmán M: Towards the use of cannabinoids as antitumour agents. Nat Rev Cancer 12 (6): 436-44, 2012. <<>&gt;

19 Consroe P, et al: “Reported Marijuana Effects in Patients with Spinal Cord Injury.” 1998 Symposium on Cannabinoids. International Cannabinoid Research Society. Pg. 34. 1998. Print.

20 Fergusson DM., et al. Maternal use of Cannabis and Pregnancy Outcomes. NCBI. Online. <<>>

21 Brockington, Ian: Menstrual Psychosis and the Catamenial Process. University of Birmingham. Eyry Press, 2008. Print.

22 UNODC: World Drug Report, 2011. New York. Print.

23 Sarah Aldington et al. “Effects of Cannabis on Pulmonary Structure, Function and Symptoms.” Thorax: An International Journal of Respiratory Medicine. NCBI, December 2007, Volume 62. Journal.

24 See previous citation.

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