Monday, November 13, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Leonard Leinow & Juliana Birnbaum, "CBD: A Patient's Guide to Medicinal Cannabis" (2017)

Over the past five years, I've spent a lot of time talking to people about pot. Seems that no matter where I go, who I'm speaking to, or how the subject is brought up, the conversation inevitably turns to the healing power of the cannabis plant.

This past Saturday was no different. I was in Colorado Springs doing a book signing at The Bookman, a small used bookstore on the city's west side. Not many people came into the store while I was there, but of the eight or nine people I met that evening, about half of them saw my book and immediately opened up about their experiences with medical cannabis. One particularly moving story came from a middle-aged man with painfully gnarled hands that marked an extreme case of rheumatoid arthritis. Thanks to cannabis treatments, he was able to cut up a pineapple by himself last week - something he could not do for years, even though he'd been taking prescription medication.

Impressed - though not surprised - by his story, I told the man about a book I was about to review for this site: Leonard Leinow and Juliana Birnbaum's CBD: A Patient's Guide to Medicinal Cannabis (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2017). Leinow is a globe-traveling cannabis guru who founded the medical cannabis company Synergy Wellness in 2008; Birnbaum is an anthropologist, writer, and trained midwife who started working for Leinow's dispensary in 2015. 

The book's title is the shortened name of cannabidiol (can-ah-bid-DIE-all), one of dozens of cannabinoids - compounds unique to cannabis plants. At Synergy, the authors "get calls every day, from patients looking for instructions and advice on CBD to care for themselves, their children, or their pets" (p. xxiv). With so many people curious about cannabis therapy, and with so little information available to doctors and other medical professionals, Leinow and Birnbaum decided to put many of the answers to these daily calls into a book.

Packed with up-to-date, scientifically verified information on the medical applications of cannabis, CBD: A Patient's Guide targets those who are considering cannabis treatment but aren't sure where to begin. It contains answers to a variety of FAQ's, such as "What kind of treatments are available?" "Does one have to get high in order for cannabis to help?" and "How do different varieties of cannabis treat different afflictions?"

The book is designed to be used in chunks, depending on what the reader wants to know. Those who want a brief overview on cannabis before delving into its various functions can turn to chapters on the plant's medical history and ethnobotany; those interested in the plant's chemistry can consult sections on specific cannabinoids and terpenes; those looking for advice on how to treat a specific condition can turn to the alphabetized list of health issues (there's even a section on cannabis medicines for your pet). In what will likely be one of the book's most popular sections, Leinow and Birnbaum include an alphabetized and annotated list of high-CBD cannabis varieties. This sectional structure makes the book easily accessible to readers with different needs, interests, and knowledge levels.

CBD: A Patient's Guide to Medicinal Cannabis includes an annotated list of high-CBD strains.
Although it may seem to consist of standalone chapters, the book's structure actually mirrors its broader theme. "Synergy" refers to the different parts of a system interacting to produce something greater than the sum of the parts. The concept is central to the authors' philosophy on cannabis treatments. "The focus of medical treatment," they argue, "needs to be that of achieving the right dose of a balanced spectrum of cannabinoids tailored to the particular condition" (p. 23).

This holistic approach is one of the most attractive arguments in the book, because it acknowledges and validates what the pharmaceutical industry can't seem to grasp: that the chemical diversity of medicinal plants - as opposed to a single compound - often holds the key to more effective medicine.  Pharmaceutical companies compete to patent the latest wonder drug, but you can't patent a plant (unless you invent it), which is part of the reason why Big Pharma has remained opposed to lifting restrictions on cannabis. It's also part of the reason why mainstream medicine has paid little attention to the medicinal value of the entire cannabis plant.

For its section on cannabis history, the CBD book leans heavily on Martin A. Lee's Smoke Signals (which I've also reviewed on this blog), even including a lengthy passage from Lee's section on Harry Anslinger. While Lee's book isn't necessarily objective history, it's still mostly accurate, so readers won't be led astray in that section of CBD

Overall, Leinow and Birnbaum have produced a comprehensive, informative volume with very few shortcomings. The book is almost guaranteed to be a hit among the cannabis-consuming public, the alternative medicine community, and for journalists and other researchers who want the most up-to-date information on the plant's medical potential. CBD's reliability cannot be contested; it includes nearly 500 endnotes, most of which reference peer-reviewed articles, and the authors write that updates will be posted on the book's official website, cbd-book.com

Leonard Leinow, Juliana Birnbaum, and the dozens of medical professionals, researchers, and scientists who collaborated on CBD: A Patient's Guide have truly done society a favor: they've given us an honest, accessible, and highly applicable reference work on one of the world's most complex and medically valuable plants.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Modern Day Reefer Madness: On Halloween, Edibles are Coming for Your Children

Edibles sure put the "trick" in Trick-Or-Treat!

Seems like every October, we in the rational corner of society (an increasingly smaller and smaller space) have to endure the breathless warnings of police departments all over the country about malevolent stoners doling out marijuana edibles to innocent children on Halloween.

Local news stations are the primary mouthpieces for these hysterical warnings. This is not surprising, because local news is a shameless clickbait hole of shootings, stabbings, missing white children, and anything else that induces widespread paranoia. 

Real news outlets staffed by real journalists recognize that the idea of cannabis consumers giving away their stash for free to initiate a prank they will never see A) makes zero sense, and B) reflects an incredibly cynical and sinister stereotype of cannabis users.

America's police departments are apparently not beyond the nineteenth-century concept of the "Dope Fiend" lurking in the shadows, preying on schoolchildren, motivated by nothing except their inherent depravity.

The current state of American law enforcement - to say nothing of American journalism - is more frightening than most Halloween costumes. 

Have a Happy Halloween everyone! And remember, as always, that stoners are vicious people who want to hurt your children by giving them non-lethal treats!

The Hempiricist on Public Radio

Had a great time yesterday morning talking cannabis history with Geoff Riley on southern Oregon's Jefferson Public Radio! We discussed some of the problems inherent in researching cannabis, as well as the biology and botany of the plant and how the fraught terminology surrounding cannabis endures to the present. Listen to the full interview here!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Hempiricist Kicks Off Fall Book Talk Tour

Thanks to everyone who came out to my first book talk at Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins! Tons of great questions and an enjoyable discussion. More Colorado talks to come:

Credit: Historiann
11/1 - Barnes & Noble, Boulder, 7 pm
11/11 - The Bookman,
Colorado Springs, 5:30 pm
11/12 - Tattered Cover, Denver, 2 pm
12/6 - Explore Booksellers, Aspen, 5:30 pm


Credit: Nancy Gonzalez

Friday, October 20, 2017

To improve the legal weed industry, look to the past (op-ed in Denver Post's The Cannabist)

My first op-ed hit the internet this morning over at the Cannabist, the all-marijuana section of The Denver Post:



As I've mentioned previously on this site, the Cannabist does great work, and I'm honored to be a part of the nation's premier site for all things cannabis!

Monday, October 16, 2017

New essay: "Marijuana on Public Lands: A Short History"

Credit: Gretel Daugherty, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

This morning Colorado State University's Public Lands History Center published my essay, "Marijuana on Public Lands: A Short History," on its blog. The PLHC is a research institution that uses history to help tackle current problems affecting America's public lands.

Read my post, and while you're there, check out what else the center is digging into!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Missouri cops not the first officers to think hemp was MJ

A few weeks ago, a group of Missouri police officers were so proud of the marijuana motherlode they found that they posed for a quick Facebook pic:



"What a great team effort today," a statement from the Jasper Police Department read, "It was hot and humid and not easy getting those plants."

"Yessir WE GAVE THOSE STALKY BASTARDS HELL TODAY!"  

The statement claimed the "marijuana" plants had a street value of $100,000. Only one problem: those plants are most likely hemp. The Jasper police chief later took down the post, but the internet's legions had already inundated it with angry and corrective comments. Apparently, some of the officers even received threats (side note: this is the second time in the past week I've read about cannabis activists issuing threats - aren't they supposed to be chill?).

The chief later said that his officers found the pot as part of an ongoing investigation into a meth operation, and that he personally did not think marijuana use was a problem.

In further fairness to the Jasper Police, they are far from the only American authorities to have mistaken hemp for marijuana. It happened all the time after the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which excluded hemp in theory but not in practice. Just a year after the law was passed, authorities in Montana burned up a fiber company's whole crop of hemp, forcing the mayor of Red Lodge, Montana to denounce the whole episode as a "big mistake":


Later, police in southern California pulled up hemp plants from people's yards almost daily during the 1950s, and sometimes posed for photos just like the Missouri cops above:



There's so much to love about this photo, taken from the Long Beach Independent in October 1954, from the bewildered expressions on the cops' faces ("GOLLY GEE, WOULD YA LOOK AT THE SIZE'A THAT, LLOYD???") to the article's tinge of mundane suburban drama (my neighbors won't "pooh-hoo" me anymore!). 

Photos and stories like this were extremely common after the Tax Act, as hempseed - a major ingredient in birdseed - was spread across the American landscape by animals and the wind. Though the government required all hempseed to be sterilized - lest it sprout into the evil nemesis marijuana - it's clear that not all of it was.

That, or there was some epic "life-finds-a-way" thing happening. Either way, stories of mistaken marijuana identity are reminders of both nature's role in thwarting prohibition and of the cryptic nature of cannabis, a plant that to this day confounds and surprises us.