525 - Cannabis (Medical Marijuana, Forgetting and the Botany of Desire)

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#521#522#523#524 Episode #525 - Cannabis
(Medical Marijuana, Forgetting and the Botany of Desire)

#526#527#528#529

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Sat 13 November 2010  Claudia Little, Michael Pollan
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Download Hour1 Download Hour2 Last week we heard how man made toxic chemicals have proved more destructive for humans than initially anticipated. This week, by contrast, we look at the effects of chemicals that occur naturally in plants, and may be more therapeutic than generally recognized. In our first hour, Claudia Little, a medical marijuana activist looks at some of the innumerable therapeutic uses of this plant, with a history of medical use going back several thousands of years. Our second hour features Michael Pollan on the contents of his book Cannabis, Forgetting, and the Botany of Desire, which widens our focus to look at how plants have co-evolved to serve useful functions to other life forms.
We begin with Claudia Little speaking on 2010-03-05 at the Ashland Alternative Health Clinic, in Oregon. A nurse with a masters degree in Public Health, she begins by explaining how she became a marijuana activist after her son was arrested at school and she witnessed his drug rehab, which upset her since she knew if contained so many untruths. After a brief review of its long history of therapeutic use, she describes how and why marijuana was made illegal in US. The bulk of her talk concerns research from the last fifteen years into the effects of cannabis use. She outlines recent findings about the mechanism of action of some of the different chemicals in cannabis and describes a remarkably wide range of surprising and positive effects of cannabis use aside from the well known effects of mood elevation.

She cites a wealth of modern studies, from those suggesting that use by pregnant mothers improves the subsequent brain function of their children to those which suggest that it has an anti-carcinogenic function, perhaps even on lung cancer. By way of explaining these surprising results, which of course run counter to the state-backed line that equates use with abuse, she quotes:

Quotes-66.gif As the National Institute of Drug Abuse, our focus is primarily on the negative consequence of marijuana use.
We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial effects of marijuana. Quotes-99.gif

— NIDA spokesman , January 2010

In our second hour, Michael Pollan presents a 'bigger picture' talk, looking not only at cannabis, but at plants a whole. He speaks of his book Cannabis, Forgetting, and the Botany of Desire, a respectful investigation into plants biochemistry which turns traditional competitive evolution on its head. Whilst we could see bees as exploiting the flowers by feeding from their nectar, it just as possible to see plants as using bees to transport their pollen and do the work of fertilising them. If this is true of bees and plants, why not humans and plants? Acknowledging the linguistic gap in the English language for dealing with such thoughts, he suggests that plants worked out how to get humans to look after them, by appealing to our senses of taste, smell, sight, and our desire for intoxication. He notes that - with the single exception of the Inuit, whose habitat gave them no such option - humans everywhere have enjoyed intoxication from local plants, though each culture usually only prescribe only a few.

He focuses specifically on cannabis, which he notes came quite late to Europe. He terms it a 'cultural mutagen', increasing the speed of a culture's evolution by promoting the free thinking of its users. He speculates how cannabis could have worked in partnership with its users, co-evolved with their culture, by conferring a selective advantage on those who used it, and bred more psychoactive strains. Since cannabis is known to impair short term recall, he answers the apparent riddle of how forgetting could be a survival advantage by considering what life would be like without any forgetting. He tells the tale of "Mr. S", whose apparently unlimited memory drove him to distraction. Forgetting, he suggests is essential to awareness, and he suggests that this is an essential spiritual discipline.

His final reflection is a new interpretation of Genesis. Is it the protestant work ethic that causes humans to see it as 'cheap' to use plants to gain enlightenment, or is there something deeper at work? Was God's prohibition that Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge the first battle of the drug war? He concludes with an echo of Charles Eisenstein's reflections on the possibility of 're-enchanting' nature. Reading from his book, he suggests that occasional intoxication and submission to nature can be a constructive check on the hubris of humans' loftier thoughts by reconnecting us with the earth which supports us and helping us to understand the unity of all life.
Some of this episode's content is repeated in episode 652.
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