This week, we provide a respite from breathless election coverage with the conclusion of Legalization Nation's conversations with Dr. Julie Holland, former head of the psychiatric emergency room at Bellevue Hospital in New York. Specializing in drugs and the brain, Dr. Holland is a clinical assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine and author of Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. Holland spent three years researching The Pot Book, a hefty, 551-page primer on the risks and rewards of the plant, written in conjunction with 52 doctors, academics, writers, and thinkers including Michael Pollan, Neal Pollack, and Doug Rushkoff. For prior interviews with Dr. Holland, visit us online. Here, we finish talking about the frontiers of cannabis psychiatry, and the plant's torrid past.
Legalization Nation: There's an entire other column to write about cannabis in history, but I was most fascinated by what happened to it around the turn of the 20th century and why this book isn't called The Marijuana Papers.
Dr. Holland: This was a medicinal plant way before it became illegal. It was in the pharmacopeia, and what's interesting about the US pharmacopeia is until the early 1900s it was almost all plants and botanicals. Plants and botanicals have a very long history of thousands and thousands of years of being medicine. I'm not a conspiracy theorist but Big Pharma really changed the way that we practice medicine in America and the pharmacopeia really changed.
What happens now is: You can't patent a plant, you have to create extracts and get these particular chemicals approved. You can standardize a chemical, but you can't standardize a plant. But the truth is there are many plants that are medicine, and cannabis is one of them.
Legalization Nation: So where does marijuana come from then?
Dr. Holland: I did not want the word marijuana on the cover of the book and I had to convince [publisher] Inner Traditions that this is very important. Because they were like, 'Well, not everyone knows what cannabis is,' and I'm like, 'You know what, they'll figure it out. There's a big green leaf on the cover. It's The Pot Book.' At some point they wanted to call it The Marijuana Papers. Which is funny. Ha Ha.
I didn't want the word 'marijuana' on the cover because marijuana is a slur. Basically, it's a racist slur that was politically motivated and created by Henry Anslinger. The idea was: Cannabis was a medicine that everybody knew, so they needed a new name. Everybody would have tincture of cannabis if they had cramps or if they had trouble sleeping, or if they were anxious the doc would say, 'you should take cannabis.' Everybody knew what cannabis was and they would associate it with doctors, so Anslinger wanted to call it something new.
They called it marijuana, which was what the Mexican migrant workers were calling it and it's sort of this idea, you know, 'Lock up your daughters, because the Mexicans are smoking their loco weed and they're going to attack them.' It was this idea that the drug would make them so unpredictable and crazy that bad things would happen. Between Mexicans smoking, and then the black jazz musicians that were smoking their 'mezz,' they really hyped up the brown and black people using this drug as, 'That is what the danger is about.'
And we still totally have this problem. There is injustice about who gets arrested and prosecuted. Whites use more pot than Latinos and African Americans but the prisons are full of black and brown people doing time for non-violent drug offenses and it drives me crazy nothing has changed.
Legalization Nation: I really enjoyed Doug Rushkoff's chapter on how dangerous pot is, mostly because he says it stops time and that can really make some people ask themselves some serious questions.
Dr. Holland: It does make you take a time-out, stop, pull back, and see the big picture. You stop and re-assess. I think that's dangerous. Back in the Sixties, that's what they were afraid of was this subversiveness. ... People who don't understand pot think that it's an escape-y kind of a thing, and you're not really there. Really, it's something where you're even more present and even more there; you're immersed in the now and you're not taken away somewhere else.
I think immersion in the now is therapeutic. In terms of meditation and being conscious, the first step is to stop doing and be aware and pay attention and be in the now, and pot does help you with all those things.
Legalization Nation: The Pot Book collects a lot of great empirical evidence that I keep hearing more and more about, yet we still have a very propagandized electorate that goes to the polls every year. Does that ever make you depressed?
Dr. Holland: Look, I'm a doctor and I didn't know all this stuff. So it's become important to me to disseminate this information. I really am an optimist. I really believe the truth wins over, and knowledge is power.
Seeds & Stems
Cultivators, the City of Oakland prepares to issue its request for pot farm applications soon. Dozens of groups are expected to compete for four, highly coveted growing permits. Check our web site for details.
Editor's Note: This issue of Legalization Nation went to print before the election. For post-election analysis, go to our blog: EastBayExpress.com/blogs/LegalizationNation