There are many compelling arguments against marijuana prohibition already out there – I will not repeat them here. In this essay I would like to add a line of thought which constitutes another reason for the legalization of marijuana.
The Experience of Millions of Marijuana Users
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), approximately 150 million people around the world today are using cannabis for its psychoactive effects. I doubt that this estimated number is correct – the actual number is probably much higher – but let’s leave it at that for now. Some of these users value diverse cannabis strains for their respective mind-altering properties, whereas others choose strains suited for a variety of medicinal purposes. The vast majority of people who consume cannabis have to obtain it illegally because of the existing cannabis prohibition laws in most countries. A great deal of the cannabis sold on the black market has been produced under bad conditions, grown purely for profit, and sold to the consumer without quality controls of any kind.
Consumers often do not know exactly what kind of cannabis they are using – an Indica or a Sativa, a type of hybrid, or even the name of the strain. They also do not know how the marijuana they buy has been produced and stored, if growers have used biological or chemical fertilizers, if they refrained from using pesticides, or indeed any of its background. An illegal market does not generally allow for much transparency.
This also means that there are millions of cannabis users worldwide who have millions of anecdotes and stories to tell about the effects of marijuana – but most of these users are unable to give precise details about which plants they consumed the flowers of, or the conditions under which these plants were produced. Not only is this information virtually impossible to find in an illegal market, but also prohibition rests on a disinformation campaign about marijuana which has helped to generate a taboo zone around its use. Prohibition prevents independent information on cannabis biology, strains, genetics, and growing from entering the mainstream media. Furthermore, many users have even been actively misled by criminal dealers who take advantage of prohibition and the lack of knowledge on the side of consumers to sell them cheaply produced, low-grade marijuana – sometimes weighted by dangerous substances – under the name of superior strains.
The Importance of Anecdotal Evidence
As marijuana expert Harvard Prof. Emeritus Lester Grinspoon points out, anecdotal evidence is a valuable source for much of our knowledge about the effects of synthetic medicines as well as plant derivatives. He also rightly reminds us that
“(t)oday, advice on the use of marijuana to treat a particular sign or symptom, whether provided or not by a physician, is based almost entirely on anecdotal evidence.“ link
Lester Grinspoon himself helped to accumulate much of the valuable anecdotal evidence upon which scientists and patients can draw today, with his websites on medical marijuana (rxmarijuana.com) and the enhancement uses of marijuana (marijuana-uses.com). Another website where users are asked for their experiences with marijuana (and other psychoactive substances) is erowid.org. This site makes available thousands of pages of information on psychoactive substances, and specifically asks users for the drug and dosage they used and for their reports on the effects observed. Naturally, as Grinspoon also reminds us, anecdotal evidence has to be examined with care and critically evaluated. But it leads the way, as it always has, for researchers who are interested in the effects of all kinds of substances on the human brain and body.
Dozens of Cannabinoids, Hundreds of Marijuana Strains
Cannabis has been used as a medicine for thousands of years – for the treatment of chronic pain, nausea, insomnia, neurogenic pain, asthma, glaucoma, epilepsy, and so on – the list seems endless. We are now beginning to see that the effects of marijuana have to be understood as an interaction between various cannabinoids and the already existing endocannabinoid system in our bodies. Researchers found that not only the main active ingredient THC (Delta 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol), but also CBN (Cannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol) play an important role in producing or modulating the psychoactive effects of marijuana. In addition, these cannabinoids seem to have interesting medicinal effects. Other cannabinoids which may affect the high are THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin) and CBC (Cannabichromene). Scientists are only just beginning to understand how these cannabinoids affect our brains and bodies, and they still do not know much about the other cannabinoids – over 50 of them – contained within the plant.
There are millions of marijuana users around the world consuming hundreds of different cannabis strains produced by various seed banks and breeders today. These people are not simply using marijuana to induce relaxation or some kind of euphoric state, as non-users frequently assume. They value the diverse effects of marijuana and many are using it consciously and deliberately to alter their mind for very specific activities. Some want to be able to focus better on their work, others use it to remember the distant past; to make or listen to music; to see new patterns and to come up with new ideas; to get emotionally in touch with themselves or others; or to make love with their partners.
Some consumers of cannabis have the privilege of knowing which strains they are using. They understand that an Indica strain may be better to relieve muscle pain after sporting activities, whereas a Sativa strain might give less of an effect on the body (body-stone) but a more uplifting cerebral high. Some may even know which strain they prefer for which specific activity or mood. More advanced aficionados with a connection to growers or an interest in cannabis biology will also know that a high coming from a plant that has been harvested too late (when most of the pistils of the plant have turned amber) will probably make them more sleepy and give a more disorientating, disruptive effect than a high coming from a plant of the same strain that has been harvested earlier, at the optimum point of the cycle.
A New Experiential Database for Scientific Research
Many marijuana users become aficionados because they are beginning to understand that marijuana holds great potential for them, a potential that can best be fulfilled if they know which strain to choose under what conditions. They have a vested interest in learning how different marijuana strains and variations in growing conditions bring about the various enhancements they enjoy so much. In a legal market, users would be better informed about which type of marijuana they are consuming. Standard product controls would ensure they could rely on the consistent quality and purity of the strain varieties they buy. I’m sure that thousands of those who value marijuana, including medical marijuana users, would be happy to contribute reports of their experiences to a scientifically structured website requesting specific information about the effects of different strains on users.
We know that the end of marijuana prohibition would both save and generate huge amounts of money for governments. A scientific website project asking for feedback on experiences would be relatively cheap to finance. This website would be extremely effective as a resource for the study of the mind-altering properties of cannabis as well as its applications as a medicine for all kinds of purposes. Thousands of detailed anecdotal reports from knowledgeable users would help tremendously to inform scientific research, leading the way to a better understanding of which combinations of cannabinoids in marijuana are actually causing which effects on mind and body. The legalization of marijuana would make it possible for us to draw upon far more, and far better informed, anecdotal evidence. We could also ask contributors for more personal information, helping to better categorize their reports based on their personal histories and experience. This project would boost our understanding and research of cannabinoids, their medical applications and their potential for all kinds of enhancements, as well as their risks. Given the many medicinal and other uses of marijuana we already know, this marijuana wiki research project would help millions, if not hundreds of millions of people around the world.