The ‘C’ word

(First Published in The Leither Magazine)

The first time I heard the C word Prince Charles said it on TV; he recommended it to a group of people living with Multiple Sclerosis. I’ve heard it used as a blessing and a curse, and I’ve even heard of children using the C word.

I’m talking about Cannabis, by the way.

Everyone has an opinion on it and as many as 50% of us have tried it at one time or another; it’s the most commonly used illegal substance in the world. People have lots of names for cannabis, names like weed, dope, hemp, pot, grass, sherm, hash, green, bud, flowers, and dank, to name but a few. The big question is why; Why do we have so many nicknames for cannabis? Why do humans instinctively seek out this silly, smelly little plant? It’s not a new phenomenon, we know that humans have been cultivating and using cannabis for millenia; archaeologists have found hemp seeds stuck in the teeth of skulls found in Italy, Chinese doctors wrote extensively about cannabis as far back as 3000bc, and in fact, just about every western doctor used some kind of cannabis in their practice when it was first imported to the UK in the 1830’s.

The current legal status of cannabis is largely owed to a political movement that started in North America over 80 years ago. When alcohol prohibition came to an end in 1933, a man called Harry Anslinger set about trying to save his job by prohibiting something else, he called it “marihuana” to make it sound foreign and scary. He used racial prejudices and calculated misdirection to convince a generation that our oldest crop was our greatest foe. Anslinger channelled huge amounts of money from timber, oil and cotton companies, all businesses which were under threat from the benevolent and versatile industrial hemp plant. The same legislation that prohibited psycho-active cannabis, also prohibited a cheap and environmentally friendly alternative to cotton and plastic. In the 1970’s and Richard Nixon started “the war on drugs” as a way to push back against the civil rights and counter-culture movements which were protesting against the Vietnam war. In the 1980’s Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher used puritanical rhetoric to convince citizens to “just say no”. By this point the pharmaceutical, tobacco and alcohol companies had stepped in to help fund the propaganda of cannabis prohibition and raked in the profits. In the 90’s, UK tabloids got a whiff of skunk, and true to form sensationalised their articles to sell more papers, forgetting that newspapers in the 19th century were printed on hemp paper! Meanwhile, in the hands of the black market, cannabis has become stronger, cheaper, more diverse and less safe than ever. The fundamental flaw behind prohibition is that cannabis is not just natural, but in our nature; we need cannabinoids to live and lo and behold we have a rich source of them at our fingertips.

The reason cannabis has an effect on us is in our genes. Every human being has an endocannabinoid system; an inbuilt network of chemical receptors and transmitters scattered throughout the brain and body that work around the clock to keep you well. Cannabinoids perform all kinds of routine tasks; in the brain our cannabinoids regulate the production of dopamine and serotonin, cannabinoids in our eyes allow us to see in colour, cannabinoids in our skin help produce pigment. We have cannabinoids in our livers, and loads in our gut, even our reproductive organs have cannabinoid receptors. There’s been decades of research into these compounds and how to use them to improve health, but in our country many people consider cannabis to be just another substance of abuse. Somehow Canadian cannabis is medicine, but Kirkgate Kush is the devil’s lettuce! Pharmaceutical companies grow skunk it’s a multi-billion pound medicinal export, but when your mate grows skunk it’s an ASBO.

There are 1000’s of types of cannabis and just as many ways to consume it, but not all cannabis has the same effect on everyone, and some cannabis won’t even get you high! In fact, a growing number of people worldwide are opting to use products rich in CBD to support their health. No giggles, no munchies, no bloodshot eyes; these are the effects of CBD’s noisy, fun-loving cousin THC. CBD is first and foremost a heath product.

The effects of CBD are subtle; it works sometimes without you even noticing, quietly supporting your endocannabinoid system to do the background work while you get on with your day. Sometimes our bodies run low on cannabinoids, for a number of reasons, but the easiest way to top yourself up is with a little cannabis. Slowly but surely the endocannabinoid system starts waking up, and gets to work taking care of you. The advice every cannabis practitioner gives is to start low and go slow; little and often, and never more than you feel comfortable with. Every body is different, and nobody knows your body as well as you do.

None of us have been given balanced and accurate information regarding cannabis; some will say its utterly harmless, others will say its worse than heroin, but the truth always lies between the extremes. What we can say with certainty is that there are risks, but they are relatively minor especially in comparison to substances like alcohol and prescription painkillers. If you want to minimise those risks and still get the benefit, focus on CBD.

My belief is that the value of cannabis is more than can be measured in pounds and pence, that’s why my business is a non-profit Social Enterprise. If you want to know more about cannabis, come speak to us; it may be taboo, but cannabis is not a four letter word.

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