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From medicinal herb to prohibited substance: a look at how Cannabis Culture has evolved

Two recently announced initiatives may soon converge for a significant impact on the next wave of revitalization in Western New York. The first is Governor Cuomo’s prioritization of adult-use marijuana legalization. The second is Flora Buffalo’s plan to build a $200M high tech cannabis campus on Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park.

Buffalo could become a hub for cannabis innovation, which opens up many conversations regarding how a project like this and its connection with other local institutions might bolster the region’s economy, while also creating opportunities for employment, education, training and research.

To answer questions readers have sent us and to address some their concerns, we’ve launched this editorial series to explore some of the broader effects of recreational legalization and cannabusiness to our area, and reached out to Flora Buffalo to engage in what we hope to be a widespread discussion.

UPDATE: Governor Cuomo recently announced that legalization is unlikely to happen as part of the final state budget deal. The state budget is due to be passed on April 1. “There’s a wide divide on marijuana,” Cuomo said. “I believe, ultimately, we can get there. And we must get there. I don’t believe we get there in two weeks, and also that’s what the legislative leaders are saying.”

With the changes in legislation surrounding marijuana use in recent years– both medical and recreational – and the rapidly growing trend of utilizing hemp based products for health and wellness, there appears to be a shift occurring in our culture’s largely prohibitive mentality toward cannabis.

The reality is that cannabis has a long history of being utilized for medicinal healing that goes beyond the psychotropic high sought by the stereotypical stoners…

We’ve come a long way from the early depictions of marijuana in pop culture, where propaganda films like Reefer Madness (1936) warned parents of the “new and deadly menace lurking behind closed doors, the burning weed with its roots in Hell” that was endangering their innocent children. And while stoner culture still has its place, we no longer associate every cannabis user with characters like Cheech and Chong, surfer Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or dealer Saul Silver in Pineapple Express.

The reality is that cannabis has a long history of being utilized for medicinal healing that goes beyond the psychotropic high sought by the stereotypical stoners depicted in those films. Mankind has been using cannabis for thousands of years as an herbal medicine in a variety of forms. The first recorded use of cannabis for medical purposes was discovered in Chinese Pharmacopeia text, The Rh-Ya, from 1500 BC. They believed the plant possessed the yin and yang properties needed to treat illness.

Ancient cultures – from Egypt to India to Greece – utilized cannabis for a variety of purposes, such as reducing inflammation and phlegm, lowering fevers, inducing sleep, as an anesthetic, and treating myriad aches and pains.

Marijuana made its way to North America in the 1600s with the early settlers and was utilized as a treatment for depression. George Washington took an interest in the plant’s medicinal qualities and grew it at his home in Mount Vernon. By the 1800s, it had become a mainstream medicinal herb in the West and was included in U.S. Pharmacopeia in 1850.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that early prohibitionist perceptions of cannabis took hold. Massachusetts became the first state to outlaw it in 1911, with more states gradually following and eventually the League of Nations determined it could only be used for scientific and medical purposes. The 1930s brought forth the demonization of cannabis, with the federal narcotics bureau and print media pushing the assertion that it caused insanity and criminal impulses. While the American Medical Association continued to support research on its medical benefits, cannabis was eventually removed from U.S. Pharmacopeia in the 1940s and the subsequent war on drugs that took hold in the 1970s further demonized marijuana and its users.

Though the FDA hasn’t approved other uses, it is also being used to treat everything from Alzheimer’s to cancer, epilepsy, eating disorders, glaucoma, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, nausea and pain.

This long period of prohibition slowed the pace of research on cannabis’ medicinal qualities. It is currently listed as a Schedule 1 drug likely to be abused and lacking in medical value, thus a researcher requires a special license to study it. A report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in 2017 summarized the health effects of cannabis and recommended that greater research be completed to fully understand its health effects – both therapeutic and harmful – and that regulatory barriers to such research be removed.

While all the benefits of cannabis have yet to be medically proven, it is currently legal for medical use in 33 states and the District of Columbia. The main cannabinoids (or chemical compounds) used medicinally are THC and CBD. The FDA has approved medical marijuana for treatment of seizures experienced by those suffering from two rare forms of epilepsy and for treatment of nausea and vomiting experienced by chemotherapy patients. Though the FDA hasn’t approved other uses, it is also being used to treat everything from Alzheimer’s to cancer, epilepsy, eating disorders, glaucoma, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, nausea and pain.

While medical marijuana requires a recommendation from a physician (licensed in a state where it is legal), as well as proof of a qualifying condition, other products with the cannabinoid CBD are more widely available. Unlike products with THC, CBD products are therapeutic without the side effect of feeling high. CBD has been used to help with seizures, inflammation, anxiety, nausea, and pain relief.

Products increasing in popularity include cannabis tinctures or extracts that can be taken orally with a dropper and cannabis topical creams and salves which allow the cannabinoids to enter the body through the skin. Tinctures have been used to treat anxiety, stress and sleeplessness. Topical products can be used to treat skin ailments such as eczema and allergic reactions, muscle strains, and inflammation. These CBD products are safer to use because they do not produce a psychoactive response, but still produce the medical benefits.

…those age 50+ comprise the fastest growing segment of cannabis consumers. They are interested in reducing their reliance on prescription and over-the-counter medications, particularly opioids.

These benefits have contributed to CBD’s growing popularity, particularly among seniors and Baby Boomers who are looking for pain relief for arthritis, inflammation, and chronic pain. According to Eaze’s 2018 State of Cannabis report, which summarizes industry data from consumers in the state of California, those age 50+ comprise the fastest growing segment of cannabis consumers. They are interested in reducing their reliance on prescription and over-the-counter medications, particularly opioids. CBD has also gained interest among veterans, who are looking for holistic alternatives to handle PTSD, anxiety, stress and sleeplessness.

Eaze’s report found that all age groups surveyed reported that they had reduced unhealthy habits such as drinking and substance abuse, and reliance on pain medications. The main benefits they reported included relaxation, anxiety relief and pain relief.

With the shift in perception about cannabis’ therapeutic potential and increasing evidence of its benefits, it’s clear that the cannabis industry will continue to expand post-prohibition. Greenwave Advisors, a marijuana research firm, expects that the CBD industry alone could produce $3 billion by the year 2021.

While New York awaits legislation that legalizes recreational marijuana, the potential already exists to expand its use for health and wellness. Flora Buffalo’s proposed cannabis hub could bring that industry to the Queen City – allowing Buffalo to play a major role in the growth of cannabis as a holistic treatment alternative and the continuation of research surrounding its possibilities.

To Support the Project:

Flora Buffalo needs your help to make their proposal a reality. The greater your support, the quicker Flora can move this project forward. Please complete the form linked here to show your support for Flora’s Buffalo Cannabis Campus to local representatives. And consider sharing this article with friends to help spread the word.

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Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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