Gooey Interviews: MPP’s Rob Kampia

[This article was originally written in March 2008]

[In the spring of 2008, I sat down with Rob Kampia at his office in Washington, D.C. He came off as highly intelligent, politically savvy, and very amiable. Yes, those of you wanting to question his politics, methodology, or attitude, he’s actually a nice guy.]


Rob Kampia isn’t your average Congressional lobbyist. Nor is he your average pothead. Then again, an office address in Washington D.C.’s haughty Capitol Hill district coinciding with a business card containing the term “marijuana” pretty much predicts how much normalcy you’re likely to find in this interview.

Kampia is most known for his role as Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project. In fact, he’s devoted most of his professional career to the non-profit organization that he co-founded more than 13 years ago, after working at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in the mid-1990s. Kampia left the then-singular national pot advocacy group after nearly two years to found a competing organization that has, more than a decade later, helped enact medical marijuana laws in nearly half a dozen U.S. States and donated nearly $12 million in grant money to grass roots organizations.

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A biography that begins with his graduation from Penn State in 1993 and ends with the current string of state-level MPP successes misses the critical turning point in Kampia’s career: his three-month prison term for cultivation for personal use. However, bitterness over the loss of a quarter year of his freedom wasn’t his prime motivation for joining NORML or starting MPP. Suddenly Kampia was the proud owner of three felony violations, any one of which prevented him from fulfilling his dream vocation of NASA astronaut (Kampia’s degree is in Engineering Science).

Kampia’s current role is one born from ongoing personal loss, not charitable politics or a natural flair for speaking with the media. If Kampia’s prohibitionist foes are unfairly equipped with billions in taxpayer money, this establishment-savvy activist has his own secret weapon: the next 40 years of his life. Time that should have been spent exploring the asteroid belt or the moons of Jupiter will now be obsessively and strategically devoted to the single mission of preventing others from suffering Kampia’s fate under the same antiquated prohibitionist laws.

Interview

Gooey Rabinski: Why did you leave NORML?

Rob Kampia: There was a difference in opinion on strategy between some of the folks in the office–including me–and the management of the organization at the time. It was the kind of thing that I discussed with the management over the course of many months and it became clear that there was just a difference in opinion on strategy. The person who was running NORML at the time, who is no longer there, felt like it was useless to lobby Congress at all. He said, first, we have to change public opinion and then we can implement the public’s will in the form of legislation.

He looked at the process as linear. I look at it as symbiotic, where legislation should be introduced whenever possible and we should lobby on that legislation. Inevitably, this generates media coverage around the legislation, which helps inform and educate the public and change opinion.

Also, having legislation pending and lobbyists on Capitol Hill gives activists around the country something to organize around. I look at media coverage, legislation, and fund raising as [forming] a triangle. Each of the corners helps the other corners.

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But that’s what ultimately led to my departure [from NORML]…just my frustration of not feeling like the organization was doing all that it could.

GR: Now that there’s been several years of MPP and concrete accomplishments, how do you feel that your model stacks up?

RK: I think in the 13 years that I’ve been running MPP that the proof is in the pudding. MPP has changed a number of state [medical cannabis] laws. We helped with Hawaii. We were solely responsible for Maryland. We were solely responsible for Montana. We were solely responsible for Vermont. We were solely responsible for Rhode Island. And we’re on the brink of passing legislation in Illinois, New York, New Hampshire, and Minnesota.

GR: You don’t smoke pot because it makes you paranoid. That occurs in some people with sativas. Have you tried a nice strong indica?

RK: No, I haven’t tried an indica that I know of, but I actually use marijuana now. I got back into smoking, very occasionally, a couple of years ago. I’m an occasional recreational marijuana user now. I smoke low potency marijuana in situations that are comfortable for me.

GR: So you’re every pothead’s best friend because you want their shwag, eh?

RK: Actually, that’s right. I’ve even traded down before.

GR: [Laughing] It’s gotta be a nice life, you know? It’s nice to be a cheap date.

RK: [Laughing] Right on. I’m a minimalist when it comes to it, really.

GR: Let’s talk about Peter Lewis and how you met him and how he came to be such a big part of MPP’s mission.

RK: I met him at the Drug Policy Alliance conference in Albuquerque in the summer of 2001. He had already donated five figures to us, but he and I had never had any real contact, including even a phone call, prior to the conference.

It was really just a combination of luck and perseverance. Since co-founding MPP in 1995, my attitude was that, if we did really good work, eventually it would be funded. I didn’t know how it would happen, I didn’t know where it would happen, but I knew it probably would happen because there are lot of people out there, in the U.S. and abroad, who have a lot of money and support ending prohibition.

It turns out, what I didn’t know, was that [Lewis] was at the conference looking for someone to handle his marijuana philanthropy.

GR: Sounds like it was a nice synchronicity and the planets came together.

HBK11RenderRK: Yea, exactly. He had just, a couple of months earlier, retired as CEO of Progressive Insurance Company. He wanted to get serious about investing money on an annual basis into ending marijuana prohibition in the U.S. and needing someone to handle that. But I didn’t know this. So when I was meeting with him, he surprised me and we talked about what MPP had done. He said he wanted to not only fund MPP at a higher level, but also to start a grants program to fund other organizations in the U.S. working toward MPP’s mission–so we wouldn’t be putting all of his financial eggs in the MPP basket.

GR: It sounds like Lewis stepped in and gave you a shot in the arm while you brought in the organizational leadership and networking to handle the cash infusion. Overnight, MPP became a real player.

RK: That’s right. Because we already had the infrastructure setup and my colleagues and I already had years of experience working the issue, we knew the laws inside and out and who the players were, both good and bad, on every side of the marijuana issue. [Lewis] investing in us was like raising a child, rather than giving birth to a child.

GR: Did it not also validate your efforts? Just the phenomenon of people perceiving that, if a smart wealthy guy like Lewis was willing to support MPP, there must be something to your organization?

RK: That’s right. Once he started investing in us, it became easier for me to raise money from other sources. So it just snowballed.

GR: Is George Soros still working with MPP?

RK: Interestingly, I’ve never even spoken with him. He was actually the number one contributor for the first few years of our development. Then he didn’t donate anything for a while. Last year, he gave $400,000 to a Massachusetts ballot initiative supported by MPP.

GR: It’s nice to know you have a couple of heavyweights on your side. The prohibitionists certainly have a boatload of money and power in their court.

RK: Yea. They have guns and jails and guys with badges and something like $60 billion a year that they’re spending fighting the drug war. We, as a movement (MPP and the Drug Policy Alliance, etc.)–the collective anti-drug prohibition budget, I guess you could say–is about $32 million. So they’re outspending us by a factor of 2,000 to one.

GR: Holy shit. Those aren’t good odds. Speaking of the bad guys… You’re a lobbyist in D.C. Why are Nancy Pelosi and the other Democrats such spineless bastards?

RK: The name of the game with the Democrats in Congress is that they’re always restraining themselves in the present from what they want to achieve in the policy arena so they can win the next election so they can achieve their policy goals after that election. But because the House in the U.S. is elected every two years, once [an official] is in, they immediately have to begin campaigning for the next two-year cycle.

So they’re actually addicted to elections, just like someone who uses alcohol or other hard drugs. It’s kind of like they’re saying “I swear, just one more time, and I’ll quit tomorrow….”

GR: Just one more two-year shoot up….

RK: That’s really what it is. We have majority support for medical marijuana in Congress–if you ask people privately what they think. But we can’t get a majority vote because they’re saying they don’t want to take a risk, that it’s more important for them to get re-elected.

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Not only is that an amoral position, in my opinion, but–setting morality aside–what they don’t understand is that it’s actually a foolish position politically. Because medical marijuana is more popular than they are! They should be embracing medical marijuana because it’s an issue that makes them appear bold, like they’re leaders willing to stand up. But, in fact, they wouldn’t be–because they have majority [constituent] support.

GR: MPP has been working with Playboy. Let’s talk about that.

RK: This June will be our third benefit at the Playboy Mansion [in Los Angeles]. It raises about $150,000 for us each year. It’s also a great way to connect with celebrities. We’re always trying to get in touch with celebrities to leverage their popularity for our cause. But calling celebrities to ask them to meet with us in their offices doesn’t get us many meetings. When you have a party at the Playboy Mansion, however, more people are willing to come out and have a good time and have a positive association with MPP.

The Playboy parties are good for short-term fundraising and long-term relationship building with celebrities and the funders who show up for the party. And we get a bit of positive media coverage.

GR: If legalization occurs in the U.S. at the federal level, will the rest of the world follow?

RK: I think you’ll see reforms in Europe at a much faster pace–if Europe isn’t already there by the time the U.S. gets there. I think it would free European countries that want to tax and regulate marijuana, but just don’t want to deal with the hassles of George Bush or a drug czar hassling and threatening them.

Congress for blog

But I don’t think you’re going to see any dominos falling in places like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, or China. In these cultures, the political leadership and the people both support prohibition.

GR: That actually sounds like more of a democracy than we have here in the States, where the leadership doesn’t agree with the popular opinion….

RK: [Laughing] Exactly. Right. If the people [in those countries] want to put themselves in prison, who are we to stop them?

GR: If a Democrat enters the White House this fall, will it really improve things for pot smokers?

RK: It’s going to make a difference in terms of the DEA’s raids on medical marijuana clinics in California. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have said they would end the DEA raids. This is something that could be done with no action from Congress. McCain said he would continue with the raids and doesn’t seem to show any compassion. Not to mention fiscal conservatism, because he’s willing to spend taxpayer money having the DEA chase down cancer patients in California–in violation of state law.

You might also see a difference in the DEA allowing a marijuana production facility in Amherst, Massachusetts, for the purpose of providing laboratory-grade marijuana for FDA-approved research.

DOJ defies law for twitter

GR: Do you think NORML began the fight to legalize cannabis and MPP will finish it?

RK: I don’t think NORML began it and I don’t think MPP will finish it. [Laughing] I was only one year old when NORML was founded in 1970, so my knowledge of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s is just from reading and talking to “the elders.” But NORML wasn’t the only organization back then. They were the ones who became the pre-eminent organization after a few years, but there were others–some in California–that were working on various aspects of marijuana policy reform.

There was a state-wide ballot initiative in California in 1972 which was funded and staffed by Californians. That effort received pretty close to no funding from NORML. Of course, it failed, but it did make the ballot in 1972. That was the first state-wide vote to roll back marijuana prohibition in the history of the country.

That’s my view of the beginning. In terms of the end, I fully intend for MPP to be instrumental in engineering the end of marijuana prohibition, which could be in 10 years, or 15 or 20 from now. But there will always be other organizations working in partnership with us. In 15 years, when president whoever is signing the bill to end prohibition on the federal level, I can’t imagine that I’m going to be the only person at the signing ceremony. There’s gotta be people from the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance…there will be other players. Maybe someone from the American Medical Association, maybe someone from the American Bar Association….


HBK11RenderGooey Rabinski is a technical writer and instructional designer who has contributed feature articles to magazines such as High Times, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana (2015 Edition), available on Amazon Kindle, and a contributing writer at Whaxy.com.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Glass Wizard Brent Thackery Blows

The ability to blow top-shelf glass—the rare examples that make even experienced blowers stop and take notice—isn’t extremely common. The capability to make a living at it is even more rare. But that’s exactly what one entrepreneurial 29-year-old from Indiana, under the moniker of the Midwest Funk Connection, has accomplished.

Brent Thackery has been blowing glass for only eight years, a relatively short period of time to master an art as delicate and sophisticated as his. During that time, his art has been purchased by several A List fans of the culture, including actor Woody Harrelson, funkmaster George Clinton, and others from the music industry.

Humble Origins

Thackery’s adoption of his craft reads like a bohemian-style great American success story. “I borrowed two hundred bucks from my cousin and went to a welding supply store and bought a blow torch,” he told me during an interview from his studio. “A local company makes bottles for pharmaceutical companies. I dressed like a ninja and jacked a bunch of stuff from their dumpster and began working with it,” he said, laughing.

Close up of a pendant

“It was a slow start at first,” he explained. “I took a scientific class and made test tubes and water jackets and all that stuff. The rest of it was sitting in my garage, screwing up pieces,” he told me. “I was making my living as a tattoo artist at the time. Whenever I was waiting for clients, I’d mess with the glass. I have kids, so there was also the pressure to make money,” he said. At first, Thackery’s family mocked him, not believing that he could make a living blowing glass. “But here we are, eight years later, tearin’ it up,” he said. 

Accolades

“He’s pretty amazing,” said Willy Crosby, a blower with the Galactic Empire studio in Columbus, Ohio, who specializes in decorative pieces for tobacco connoisseurs. Crosby said he believes that it’s Thackery’s attention to detail that helps set him apart. “Brent puts just as much time into the decorations and extremities of his pieces as the main piece,” said Crosby.

“At one point, I think half of my staff had commissioned custom pieces from him, and these are kids who—like me—see thousands and thousands of different pieces per year,” said Steven Arthur, owner of the Magic Bus, a popular headshop in Indianapolis. “His stuff is dynamite, that’s for sure.”

The secret of Thackery’s success lies in his unique combination of talents. His technical precision and honeycomb treatments are among the best in the business. But accuracy alone produces nothing more than a machine-tooled glass bong. Thackery’s mesmerizing pieces are hybrids of his technical prowess and an inherent sense for the organic. His work reflects an intimate and almost primordial sense for “lopsided balance.” Sometimes resembling alien toadstools, other times portraying trippy sea creatures or elaborate and fantastical structures, Thackery’s art is exactly that: Art.

Take me to your leader

His creations are almost hauntingly sophisticated and deep. Many of Thackery’s pieces seem to magically provide a glimpse into the wide infinity of space. One of his trademarks is decorating pieces with one or more swirling or flower-like worm holes, twisting time and space into a few square inches of Pyrex.

While possessing a keen sense of the need to market and sell his work in order to survive in the modern world, Thackery considers his pieces more than a mere product. Comfortingly, his spirituality toward his work is exceeded only by his humility. When describing how his glass first began attracting attention, Thackery said, “People just began gravitating toward it.” It may be that much of his success is due to his focus on his trade and the pieces he produces, not himself or his ego. “Glass blowing itself is more than sitting down and making a pipe. The glass is actually the teacher,” he said.

Organically Inspired Beauty

When one peers into the seemingly impossibly deep spaces on some of Thackery’s highly organic pieces, a natural response is to wonder how someone could develop the skill to create such beautiful art. When queried, he responded, “I just sat in front of the torch and put in the time. I was passionate about it. Obsessed with it, you know? That’s really the key, I think. If you’re obsessed with anything, you’re going to get good at it,” he philosophized.

The quality of a showcase piece created by Thackery doesn’t come cheap: His bubblers sell for between $350 and $3,000. For those on a more meager budget, he produces less elaborate—yet equally gorgeous—pipes, vases, oil lamps, and necklace beads. “I’ve probably had more than 20 of his bubblers through my store in the past year, and I don’t think I’ve had two that were the same,” said the Magic Bus’ Arthur. “Brent’s probably the only artist that I can say that about,” he said. “And I see tens of thousands of pipes per year.”

Tripped out psychedelic colors snap

Thackery pointed out that some high-end glass techniques are the simple result of a blower’s ability to take the heat. “The hotter that you work with the glass, the more fluid it becomes. You have to be able to think faster and more fluidly in order to move your hands to accommodate the quickness of the flow. Just being able to move with the glass at the rate it wants to fall makes you a better blower,” he said.

This Indiana artist’s passion translates into a spiritual respect for his craft. “The individual pieces are a point in time,” he told me. “Sometimes, when you’re blowing glass, it’s like a Zen state, and you forget that you’re even blowing glass. You’re kind of on a little day trip and you come back and the piece is done,” he said with his charismatic laugh.

One could easily regard this artist’s pieces as pure art, not wanting to coat them with resin while consuming his or her favorite herb. Thackery, however, is quick to correct any such misunderstandings. “Actually, it’s sacrilegious to not smoke with them,” he said. When asked his goals, the young blower’s hippy spirituality shined through. “I don’t really have any goals,” he said. “What happens happens, you know?” After a reflective pause, however, he admitted, “I’d like to make a pipe that the whole world could hit at the same time.”

Big Country Weighs In

Big Country, from Big Country Glass in West Virginia, has been blowing his own pieces and reselling heady glass from other artists since 1991. “Out of all the glass blowers I know, Brent definitely has his own thing going,” Big Country told me during an interview at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in Ohio.

  • On Implosions: “He does a lot of implosions using gold and silver fuming and he’s pretty much mastered how to work the two. Using a mixture of gold and silver, you can alter the heat of the flame and get just about any color in the rainbow. If you’ve seen some of Brent’s implosions, he definitely has that on the lock.”
  • On Shaping: “His shaping is his own thing, for sure. They’re not standard shapes. He doesn’t blow a traditional bubbler; he doesn’t blow a traditional hammer. He blows these big goopy massive evil-lookin’ things.”
  • On Style: “I’ve seen his shit for quite a few years now. I would never walk into a shop and not be able to pick out his stuff. If you see 50 pieces, his will jump out to you immediately.”

Interview Session One

Gooey Rabinski: During the past eight years, how have your glass blowing skills evolved?

Brent Thackery: It was a slow start. At that time, it seemed few people were doing it. You didn’t really hear about anybody doing it. So there was no way to really learn or find a mentor. So I took a scientific glass blowing class. That kind of laid the foundation. The rest of it was just sittin’ in my garage, screwing up pieces [laughs].

GR: What were your first income sources from glass blowing?

BT: I hooked up with some people who began selling some of my stuff. And I did a lot of production work. It required persistence and helped me get my technique down.

GR: Tell me more about the production work.

BT: It really helped a lot in that I’d have an idea and have to follow it through. I learned to not allow the glass to control me. I had to control the glass to create product that we had to have.

GR: Your work is among the best I’ve seen. Surely you didn’t develop this skill set with a single scientific class and some production work….

Try a 3D fluid filled orb on for size

BT: It was really just giving up my life and sitting in the garage for ten or fifteen hours a day for two or three years and not having a life at all. Just sitting in front of the torch and puttin’ in the time and being really passionate about it. That’s really the key, I think.

GR: What are your outlets for selling?

BT: Basically, it’s young people, they’re pretty much the mainstay. I do have a guy who sells stuff for me. He’s a businessman and he’s a major player in the industry. He had never seen a pipe that was worth more than a couple hundred dollars and I sent him a sample…one of the first bigger pieces I had done. He took it to a show in Las Vegas. He called me from the show and ordered like 30 of them. I was blown away. It might take a week or so to make one, and he wanted 30 overnighted to him! [laughs]

GR: What’s the average price range of the pieces you’re crafting?

BT: For the elaborate pieces, anywhere from $800 and up. If somebody came to me with $100,000, I could create a piece worth that much. That’s really my philosophy, to go over the top. Whatever I can do to expand the art of everything. I’ll admit, I want people to be amazed when they look at something.

GR: Do you like to focus on the bigger pieces?

BT: Absolutely. Not just ‘bigger,’ but technical things. Like when people say, ‘You can’t do that. The glass isn’t capable of doing that.’ And then I’ll make a mistake and it will contradict everything that I thought was possible. That avenue takes me to new places.

GR: So, on the creative side, you have to get an idea that you can see in your mind but somehow, on the physics side of it, you have to make the glass and the flame realize your vision?

BT: Yea. It’s a matter of opening myself to the channels of energy that are just kind of flowing through me. I’m using myself as a medium and these other energies are creating the glass for me. That’s kind of the way I like to look at it.

Interview Session Two

GR: Is it sacrilege to place a world-class heady piece on the shelf and never puff on it?

Thackery specializes in flowers and orbs

BT: [Laughing] Absolutely…absolutely.

GR: What type of pieces have you been working on? Have you been focusing on any particular style?

BT: I’ve been doing a lot of big stuff. A lot of fuming stuff, just trying to keep it real simple. I’m really trying to do new stuff and get away from what everybody else is doing and what’s expected, you know?

GR: Sounds like you’re developing some of your own techniques.

BT: Yea, trying to do a lot of experimental stuff. Just trying to come at it from different angles and different perspectives. Instead of just knocking out a straightforward production piece that everybody’s looking for, trying to do something totally weird, just to make it a novelty.

GR: So you’re creating those pieces where gawkers say, “You can really smoke out of that?” [Laughing]

BT: [Laughing] Yea, that’s what I’m trying to get. That mindset that you can have a piece sitting there and it’s not necessarily something that you need to hide. It’s sitting around and you think, “Wow, I just want to look at this for a while before I use it.”

GR: Would you say glass blowing—as a profession and way of earning one’s living—is a form of freedom from the establishment?

BT: Absolutely. Freedom from whatever is oppressing people. [This proves] that there’s an avenue to live the life you want to live. The life that you dream about. With my own work, I just want to get a message out of peace and harmony into the world.

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GR: What’s your favorite piece to date?

BT: I made a piece for a big card player. It was just a gigantic black piece. I did a lot of gold fuming on it. That’s one of my favorites, for sure. I just pulled off a new piece a couple of weeks ago with some new colors. When I put them all together, it was just about every color in the neighborhood, but they all flowed seamlessly. ‘Cause there’s silver and gold in the colors, which changes the tint of things.

GR: Is glass blowing a natural extension of your creativity and spirituality?

BT: Absolutely. It’s become a part of who I am. If you’re searching for new things and your brain kicks up on glass, there’s no limit. I haven’t run into a wall yet. In some things in life, you’ll reach a plateau in your learning where you can’t go any further on your own, but this has held my interest. I was a tattoo artist for ten years and I couldn’t learn anymore. I was trying to learn from other people and I wasn’t getting anywhere. Then I began doing glass on the side and, ever since, I just can’t stop.

[This interview was conducted in 2007.]


HBK11RenderGooey Rabinski is a technical writer and instructional designer who has contributed dozens of feature articles to magazines such as High Times, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself and media outlets such as Whaxy and Green Flower Media. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

You Don’t Know Jack (Herer)

[The following article was first published in August 2007. Jack Herer passed away on April 15, 2010 in Eugene, Oregon, at the age of 70. His pivotal book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, has sold more than 700,000 copies worldwide.]


Many people, when they think Jack Herer, aptly think hemp—both the kind you smoke and the type you wear. His pinnacle book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, has sold more than 700,000 copies, launching this Buffalo-raised Californian to fame both within and outside of the marijuana movement. The 2005 documentary Emperor of Hemp has brought Herer’s message to an even wider and more mainstream audience.

Jack the strain. Coveted by millions

Although Herer has worked tirelessly more than half his life to bring awareness to his belief that hemp can save the planet, there’s more to this 68-year-old cannabis crusader than meets the eye. More active than many in their 30s, Herer continues to throw his weight behind several West Coast projects—all related to cannabis and hemp, of course.

But do you really know Jack? For some, Herer is “some guy they named a type of pot after.” More seasoned fans of the culture cite his book (now in its 11th edition). But most people don’t know the story behind the strain (yes, it was officially blessed by the Hemperor) or the story of the sexy pocketable wooden pipe that produces dozens of cool hits from a single bowl. If you’d like to exclude yourself from the ignorant, read on.

Jack Herer’s Double Barrel Pipe

In 1998, when Herer was visiting Jacksonville, Florida, he met a marijuana activist who showed him a unique pipe made from aluminum. “Each hit was the perfect hit. But there was a problem; it got hotter and hotter and hotter and hotter,” Herer told me in an interview from his Northern California home in 2006. Herer and one of his sons have sold more than 30,000 units in the past nine years. The unique paraphernalia is marketed as a “double barrel, double venturi, ricocheting vortex” effect pipe.

Designed for Cool Hits

It just so happened that, at the time he discovered the aluminum pipe in Jacksonville, Herer owned a small company that manufactured pipes. He and his employees experimented with a variety of designs, all driven by the central goal of avoiding the heat buildup of the aluminum model.

After six months of obsessive experimentation—involving more than 700 test units—Herer and his compatriots finally held in their hands a pocketable wooden pipe capable of delivering the Holy Grail of toking: Cool hits—every hit. The air dynamics of this “double-barrel” (double-hole) smoking implement deliver air that’s 1/3 the temperature of a standard, one-hole pipe.

Jack Herer's Double Barrel Pipe

All this in a pipe that never requires cleaning (the design inherently retards resin buildup) and consumes only 1-1.5 percent of a gram of herb per hit (each bowl delivers 30-40 hits). Herer explained how conventional, single-hole pipes burn 15-30 percent of a gram in only one or two hits. “We got it cooler than a water bong. And it never gets dirty! After nine years, they’re still not dirty,” Herer told me.

Another fact that, on the surface, seems too good to be true: Not only does the pipe deliver up to a few dozen hits off a single—albeit elaborately packed—bowl, but each hit is fresh. In other words, the pipe’s air flow dynamics mean you’re never smoking ash. “Each hit is the first hit. 90 percent of each hit is green,” said Herer. Perfect for parties and group settings where you don’t want to be rude to your guests.

Slow Packing Only Dry Pot

With all of the amazing qualities of stretching your herb supply and requiring no cleaning for literally a decade, all in a pocketable form factor that delivers hits cooler than a water bong. What’s the catch? Not price ($60 US). “You have to use dry, cured pot. Which is what you should smoke anyway,” Herer said.

Herer demonstrating his pipe at a trade show in San Francisco

Jack Herer using his famous pipe. Photo Copyright © 2007-2016 Gooey Rabinski.

These unique pipes must also be carefully and diligently packed, layer after layer, using a regimented technique involving a special wooden packing tool. Be warned: This pipe isn’t a quick toke before the concert when you’re running late. Impatient potheads won’t be thrilled with the time required to pack the bowl, an exercise somewhat symbolic of Herer’s personal spirituality toward the herb.

How To Use a Jack Herer Pipe

To enjoy the benefits of one of Herer’s greatest non-literary contributions to the culture, one must properly pack the bowl. As Herer told me, “You don’t know Jack if you don’t know how to pack the pipe.”

  1. Collect 1/3 to 1/2 of a gram of dry cannabis.
  2. Crush/grind the herb and separate it into six equal piles. These will be used to pack the bowl, layer-by-layer.
  3. Place the first of the piles into the bowl. Smash it down with your finger to create an even layer across the screen.
  4. Using the narrow end of the wooden packing tool, apply pressure to the edges of the bowl. Herer recommends considering the bowl as the face of a clock and compressing it at eight different spots (corresponding to a cycle of 12:00, 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00 followed by a round of 1:30, 4:20, 7:30, and 10:30).
  5. Repeat this process until the bowl is full.
  6. When lighting the pipe, hit only a corner; don’t torch the entire bowl. The self-carbureting action of the pipe means it typically stays lit long enough to casually pass down the line without everyone scrambling for a Bic.

The Jack Herer Strain

If you’re lucky, you’ve had a sample of some well-grown and properly dried and cured Jack Herer, a strain bred and introduced by Sensi Seeds in Amsterdam. In 1994, Ben Dronkers, owner of Sensi Seeds, approached Herer about lending his name to a new choice strain from the company. “It was Northern Lights #5 x Haze and two or three other strains, bred together. [Ben] said, ‘Don’t tell anybody,’ so I said okay,” Herer told me.

Four inch version with signature - photo by Amy Devenport

“We talked about royalties, and I said, ‘Oh, that’s okay, when I come to Amsterdam, take care of me.’” Dronkers asked Herer if he was sure he didn’t want royalties instead, but Herer refused, not thinking much of it.

To the detriment of Herer’s wallet but the solidity of his legacy, the Jack Herer strain has been one of Sensi Seeds’ best sellers, generating more than $10 million in revenues. In the thirteen years since its introduction, it always fetched a price deserving of its energetic sativa-dom high type, smooth onset, and solid potency. “If I had taken a royalty instead of the red carpet when I’m in Amsterdam, I’d be about a millionaire now,” Herer said with a self-deprecating but humorous laugh.

The Curmudgeonly Cannabis Crusader Continues

For millions of people around the world, when they think Jack Herer, they think hemp. More importantly—and due in large part to the popularity of his groundbreaking book—millions of people who may never know who Herer is will still get his message. Herer told me the one thing he most wishes readers would remember, and it isn’t his unique and economical pipe–or the fact that he wishes he could turn back time on his licensing deal with Sensi Seeds (money has never been a strong motivator for him). Rather, Herer wishes that hemp can prevent the destruction of the rain forest and completely replace petroleum as society’s fuel of choice.

“I’m going to get pot legal all over the globe,” Herer told me with conviction. “The thing that can save the Earth—if it’s savable—will be 100% legalization of everything hemp,” he emphasized, adding, “Who has died from it?! Only those who were shot by cops!”


All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003-2016 Gooey Rabinski. All Rights Reserved.

Gooey Rabinski is a writer, instructional designer, and cannabis satirist who has contributed feature articles to magazines and media outlets such as High Times, The KindSKUNK, Cannabis Culture, WhaxyHeads, Weed World, Green Flower MediaCannabis HBK11RenderHealth Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself.

He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle.

His cannabis-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Gooey Interviews: David Gans

Endarkened forces are bearing down
On us unconforming souls
Waving flags and bashing fags
And burning truth like coal.

             Lyrics from It’s Gonna Get Better by David Gans


You may or may not have heard of David Gans. If you’re of a progressive mindset, don’t trust your government, believe in enlightened approaches to social justice, think romance is often a comical game, and are just generally fed up with the bullshit from Corporate America, you probably already like Gans—you just don’t know it.

A California native and lifelong resident, Deadhead documentarian Gans has enjoyed a multi-faceted career in both journalism and music that has spanned nearly four decades and includes books, albums, and the Grateful Dead Hour, a nationally syndicated radio show and his day job for the past 22 years. His songs are an eclectic collection of intelligent, socially conscious, and political rabble rousing tunes often doused in biting irony.

GOTV07_millmanDuring his career, Gans has interviewed some of the biggest names in popular rock music. Artists such as Neil Young, Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac, the Talking Heads (the topic of one of his books), Jerry Garcia (the topic of several of Gans’ album and book projects), and the Doobie Brothers gave their stories to Gans for magazines such as Rolling Stone and Musician.

In the fall of 2007, David Gans and I spent some time backstage at the Fall Hookahville music festival where he was performing. We discussed the Grateful Dead (the topic of most of Gans’ work), his latest album, and national politics—while exploring the libertarian values espoused in his music.

Gooey Rabinski: What was it about Jerry Garcia and this god-like magnetism?

David Gans: He was a ridiculously charismatic guy. His musicianship was superlative. And his song writing and the character of his performance were just incredibly attractive to people. A lot of people who like to get really really high—in a positive way, not stupid fucking drunk people—but people who took acid as a tool of self-discovery and to widen the doors of perception and all that…it’s not that they took it seriously, but it was, in a way, a spiritual pursuit.

Going to see that band and hearing that guy play, he could take you on trips and just amazing places—if you got that. The people who didn’t understand Grateful Dead music and just thought it some stupid stoned hippy music, they never got it. But the people who did get it really got it. It could really take you someplace.

When Jerry was paying attention, when he engaged with the music, it really was deep shit. So I totally understand people who would follow him to the ends of the earth. There reached a point somewhere along the line when the legend started to eclipse the man. I think Jerry got kind of tired of being Jerry Garcia pretty early in the game.

GR: Do you think that coincided with the band’s commercial success?

DG: Yes and no. That was really a whole other thing. I think Jerry sort of withdrew from that reluctant guru role much earlier than that. He had that thing like Bob Dylan had of being somebody where everything he said was taken so seriously that an offhand comment would become a moral lesson in the world. I think he began to realize that, when he spoke from the stage, people were listening a little too intently.

GR: It’s almost like a Jesus Christ syndrome in how people regarded Garcia….

DG: Yea, Jerry was dealing with that as well. Because he had all these people who got really really high and really into what he was doing—and took it more seriously than he took it. And more seriously than I think he thought it was meant to be taken. The power of that alarmed him some. He didn’t want to be responsible for telling people what to do and he didn’t want people interpreting what he said as being powerful instructions.

I have this feeling that’s one of the reasons why he and Bob Dylan connected so well. They were two guys who had had way too much attention. That, you know, Dylan was famous in the early ’60 and late ‘60s for having that guy Alan J. Weberman going through his garbage and divining stuff. Dylan also changed the world and he kept sayin’ stuff that mattered to the world and he kept making observations.

GR: But just because he drinks a pint of milk every day doesn’t mean that cows are god….

DG: Well, right. People were taking his stuff way too seriously. Just as a practical matter of how to live in the world, not being able to go down to the corner and have a beer I think could get to you after a while. But Jerry was an unbelievingly engaging guy. When he had the charm turned on—which was most of the time I ever saw him—he could talk about anything and not just be bullshitting, you know? He was interested in stuff…he was well-read…he watched movies…he watched TV. He knew what was going on in the world and he cared about what was going on in the world. He could talk intelligently and inspiringly about it.

I think the Grateful Dead and the whole San Francisco hippy movement thing really did, for a while, think they could change the world. And then reality closed in and they realized that, not only could they not change the world, but they couldn’t even live the way they started out to live.

When the Grateful Dead started being a touring band—in like 1968—I think the whole nature of their family existence changed. ‘Cause they started out as a neighborhood band living communally in this big social experiment with all these other people and they ended up…. Being on tour is like being in a space capsule, but it’s launched on earth. You’re not really in the world. You’re carrying this complete environment of your own around with you. And part of their mission in those days was to bring that thing to various places. They were going to turn New York onto it.

Twisted Love Songs album coverWhatever notions they had about a social experiment fell by the wayside. And this is just my opinion from years of observation. I wasn’t there at the time, but I had seen how it went down and what became of it. I just think the practical matter of being a touring band and keeping your music fresh and dealing with that audience and stuff became their reason for being. All that early stuff that they thought was going to be so cool ended up being less important than keeping the show on the road.

GR: I’ve heard your latest album, Twisted Love Songs. In It’s Gonna Get Better, you label politicians as “pious thieves.”

DG: People have been beating god to death to get what they want from the world. An example is this guy [Senator] Larry Craig from Idaho who pleads guilty to this crime of soliciting sex in a public bathroom—and this is a guy who has spent years advocating loudly and passionately legislation to punish guys like himself.

What does that tell you about that party and those people? The ugly, violent, moralistic nature of that party provides this incredible cover for economic crimes. You know, they get everybody all hung up about sayin’ “fuck” on the radio….

GR: Or a breast at half time….

DG: Yea. You know, there’s all these things regarding public morality—which they’re so hypocritical about–but they’re just ways of distracting people from real crimes. They’ll police our behavior in private and with each other, but they won’t police people’s terrible economic abuse of one another in the marketplace. They keep trying to forget the role of the state in regulating toxic emissions into the environment and abuses of financial instruments to enrich people at the expense of others, and then they want to creep into everyone’s bedroom and find out who’s fuckin’ who up the ass.

It’s just so completely wrong. That they’ve managed to acquire this much power with that as the lever of it is just absurd and criminal to me. So that’s what that song’s about: They’re pious thieves.

GR: But can we really get rid of them? Everyone says, “back in the good ol’ days,” but I believe that there was no “good ol’ days.” There’s been corrupt, evil motherfuckers forever. Egypt…Greece…Rome…England…we’ve always had an evil ruling class. As we do now.

DG: America was supposed to be this experiment in social equality. And the Constitution is a beautiful, absolutely brilliant and humane document that has been neglected, forgotten, abused, and raped by these people. Particularly the Bush Administration, which is the worst thing that’s happened to the planet in I don’t know how long.

GR: But what do we do about it? I hear all of these simple solutions, such as “go vote,” and none of them sound quite right.

DG: Well, voting is a part of the solution. Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” That means embody those values that you think matter. You can’t live a completely pure existence. One of the great pitfalls of trying to do that is to demand ideological purity of everybody. You just can’t be 100% ideologically pure in this universe.

GR: So what do you like to do most? Write music? Play music? Write? Or is it less about the medium and more about the topic?

DG: Well, getting to be a Grateful Dead expert wasn’t really what I intended. I was a general interest journalist for ten years—’76 to ’86—but then, toward the end of that time, I accidentally got a book deal and wrote Playing in the Band.

GR: Your music encompasses the way many Americans and Canadians feel since Bush came into office.

DG: I grew up in a time when we thought music was going to change the world.

GR: The late sixties?

DG: Yea, pretty much. The Beatles got everybody’s attention and then started doing something constructive with it, which was great. Everybody wanted to hear what they were doing and, as they grew up, they started writing music that meant something more than just mating rituals. Which is what all the early stuff was.

GR: Like Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis?

DG: Well, you know, music was about raw energy and it was about sex and shit, but people came along. The folk singers tried to change the world and Bob Dylan tried to change the world and the Beatles were pop stars who had a much bigger audience than the folk singers and they started doing socially responsible stuff. That’s when I came of age.

Solo Acoustic album coverGR: At the beginning of your first set [at Hookahville], you mentioned democracy. Has America ever really had a democracy? It certainly seems like we might not have one now.

DG: Well, they’ve done their best to get rid of it, but I think it might survive. I don’t know…history is all about survival of the fittest and the brutality of people in defense of their own property and in reaction to their own fears going back to the beginning of history. America was founded on these principles—and operated in spite of these principles—since day one.

A lot of people have been screwed over and a lot of people have gotten rich off the backs of other people in the name of American values. But I think, on a whole, it’s been a pretty successful experiment and, if we’re careful and if we’re positive and if we’re proactive, we can save it from the degradations of the kleptocrats. The Bush people are just the worst in terms of not giving a rat’s ass about who’s lives are made more miserable by their profiteering.

GR: You said earlier that you think Bush has been….

DG: Way worse than Nixon.

GR: Worse than Nixon?

DG: Well, we hated Nixon with a passion in ’74.

GR: But he created the DEA….

DG: Nixon also created the Environmental Protection Agency. Nixon went to China. Nixon did stuff that….

GR: So you’re saying he gave a damn?

DG: Well, Nixon was pathological, too. Believe me, man, Nixon was a sick motherfucker. But he was politically expedient. In those days, you could do more things. With the rise of the religious right, the fundamentalists and the profiteers have formed this incredible unholy alliance. The fundamentalists provide this great distraction, this cover.

Everybody’s arguing about a titty being seen at the Superbowl, but the debate about toxic waste and economic justice is relegated to the middle of the newspaper and not even covered in the evening news because all these other circuses are crowding it out.

I’ll rave about this shit ‘til the cows come home, but when I get up on stage, I try to make a little subtle reference to it here and there and just tell my story and let people get some value out of it—and maybe some inspiration.

GR: ‘Cause certainly if we look at the 2000 [U.S. presidential] election with Florida and then the 2004 election with Ohio….

convcoverNeighboring camper/pot salesman: How are you guys doin? I don’t mean to interrupt, but I have a bag of [Crutchster’s] Dumpster…a bunch of little bottoms. A quarter is $60. Perfect for rollin’ joints! I just got a huge pile of it.

GR: I might want to swap you for some hash.

Salesman: What kind of hash?

GR: Afghani.

DG: [Laughing] I’m not in the market ‘cause I’m flying home Saturday morning.

[We talk briefly with the guy selling pot and then return to the interview.]

GR: Is it fair to say that, within a reality of not being 100% ideologically pure, that one votes with one’s dollars?

DG: Yea.

[Gans, an old school master of journalism in almost any medium, has also produced or co-produced eight other albums, including Grateful Dead: So Many Roads, a five-CD collection spanning Dead shows between 1965 and 1995.]

GR: It’s nice to know that yuppies can also get stoned and trip and listen to good music….[laughing].

DG: It’s not about yuppies. Everybody in the world should hear that music, you know? The fact that they’re putting a record together that’s sold in a place where lots of good music is being sold these days. And because the regular retail record business is completely falling apart.

You just have to try to make things better in any way that you can and try not to make things worse and—you know what I’m sayin’? You can’t say Starbucks sucks and the Grateful Dead shouldn’t do business with them, because they’re trying to sell their music and get new people to like it, which is something we were always trying to do, too. When we were young Deadheads, we wanted to evangelize this to the world.

Okay, now they’ve found a way to get [this music] in the hands of people who would never run into the Grateful Dead in their ordinary travels, but they see that at Starbucks and they check it out.

Like this thing came up recently where the Grateful Dead put out a CD that’s being sold at Starbucks. It’s a double CD and it’s kind of an introduction to Grateful Dead music. It’s kinda neat. It’s not a record that I need because I’ve been listening to the Grateful Dead for 35 years.

But a lot of people are totally up in arms. They’re asking how can they get in bed with Starbucks, these corporate criminals. I know there’s some truth to that, that there are things that Starbucks has done in terms of being predatory in locating their stores and stuff, but I also hear from some people—and I’ve not done any direct research on this—that they’re very good employers. That [Starbucks] treats their workers well and their workers are stakeholders in some way and have good health plans and such.

GR: You articulate those values well.

DG: Well, thank you. Mission accomplished [laughing].

Anybody who expects me to take their faith as the truth is going to have a problem. If you believe god did this and god made that and god wants you to do that…then fine, you do that. But you don’t get to tell me how to behave because your god believes that shit, because I don’t believe that shit.

All of Western religion is based on stories that were told and written down years after the events took place and it’s all people telling other people what to do and you have to ask, what’s in it for them? The patriarchical god doesn’t do me the slightest bit of good because I don’t know him. And I’m not taking anybody else’s word for his. I think it’s a criminal thing to go around trying to run the world and telling people to deny their own nature on the basis of some shit that’s been told for 2000 years and passed along by people with a vested interest in continuing to be in power.

That doesn’t mean that I hate religion, it means that I hate religious fanatics who want to run the world in their image. That’s one of the things that my songs get a little gnarly about. I’d like to inspire and persuade people, but you don’t do that by telling them what to think. You do that by showing them how you think and setting an example. That Ghandi thing again: Be the change you want to see in the world. So I try to live a life that’s not lethal to anybody else.

The Works of David Gans

Books

  • Conversations with the Dead (The Grateful Dead Interview Book)
  • Playing in the Band (An Oral and Visual Portrait of the Grateful Dead)
  • Not Fade Away (The Online World Remembers Jerry Garcia)
  • Talking Heads (The Band and Their Music)

Albums

  • Twisted Love Songs
  • Solo Electric
  • Solo Acoustic
  • Home by Morning
  • Live at the Powerhouse
  • Grateful Fest 6 (Live at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park)

HBK11RenderGooey Rabinski is a technical writer and instructional designer who has contributed dozens of feature articles to magazines such as High Times, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana (2015 Edition), available on Amazon Kindle, and is a contributing writer at Whaxy.com.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

2006 Wonders of Cannabis Festival

[This article was originally written in January 2007]


The 2006 Wonders of Cannabis festival held in late October, the second annual since Ed Rosenthal founded the San Francisco-based event in 2005, was a blazing success for attendees, vendors, and performers alike. This pot trade show cum smoke out party brought out California’s finest as vendors, growers, breeders, bands, and the fans of the culture that support them celebrated the kind herb.

The Best of the Best

To say the herb was top-shelf at this event would be an understatement. Cali’s finest came out to share choice strains, including OG Kush, Trainwreck, and Sour Bubble—many of which were mouth watering examples of outdoor organic. Even after a full day of toking, Bushy Old Grower’s (BOG’s) Sour Bubble cut right through the fog, proving itself as one of the unofficial top strains of the event. It’s unique high type and knockout potency had even veteran tokers appreciating it and those suffering chronic pain feeling blessed relief.

The boys from Vapolution showed off their vaporizer

Scott and Patrick from Vapolution

Other superlative medical strains came from the D&M Compassion Center out of Lake County, about three hours north of San Francisco. D&M specializes in outdoor grown true living organics and has been cultivating their medicine in the same pristine outdoor growing spots—sans synthetic fertilizers of any kind—for more than 12 years.

Other Northern California compassion clubs made a strong showing at the event, including downtown San Francisco’s Hope Net and The Sanctuary, both of which brought samples of their superlative medicine. The Sanctuary’s sugary C-4 and AffGoo had some of the best bag appeal seen at the event.

Backstage in the VIP Lounge, Steve and Kevin from Hope Net exhibited some of the finest hashes, oils, and kiefs seen all weekend, administering hits old school style on a ceramic hot plate with a glass straw. Hope Net also makes a modern version of Bhang in the form of infused chocolate milk that will either kill your pain or get you stoned as hell, but you won’t go away unsatisfied.

Rolling Contest

A highlight of the Wonders of Cannabis festival was the rolling contest, attracting dozens of rollers and hundreds of spectators. The veteran growers and breeders showed the young punks from L.A. and San Fran what they’re made of.

“Ghandi of Ganja” Northern Cali pot farmer Eddy Lepp picked up the fattie award as he rolled a burrito for the judges in record time. Breeder and grow author BOG likewise showed the kids what it’s all about by winning the fastest one-handed rolling competition while giving away copies of his new book Bonanza of Green with the other.

Jack Herer takes a toke break at his booth

Jack Herer with his trademark pipe

Despite the fact that a few participants complained about the fake herb used in the rolling contest, some concessions to the man had to be made. Besides, there was enough of the good stuff floating around that no one complained very long. The overall mood was relaxed and unintimidating. BOG and I shared a joint of his incredible indica-dom Sour Bubble while having a pleasant conversation with two on-duty California park rangers. Relaxed toking within six feet of a badge…no, Toto, this isn’t Kansas anymore.

Jack Herer & Los Marijuanos

The Kottonmouth Kings and Los Marijuanos (which, translated literally, means “The Potheads”) entertained the crowd with toker-friendly tunes and a message of legalization and medical compassion. Los Angeles comedians Howard Dover and Ngaio Bealum (who also performed MC duties) kept attendees laughing and the entertainment running smoothly.

Jack Herer proved his reputation for tireless activism as the Hemperor schmoozed with those passing by his booth, selling copies of his books Grass and The Emperor Wears No Clothes and demonstrating his beautiful wooden double barrel vortex pipe.

Herer’s amazing organically-inspired smoking implement delivers a smooth, cool hit every time. I watched him tirelessly demonstrate to every customer who purchased one how to pack it, explaining the trippy double venturi ricocheting vortex effect that occurs inside. Don’t worry. After you smoke a bowl out of it, you still won’t understand how it works—but you’ll be really glad it does.

Top-Shelf Vendors & Celebs

If energized hip-hop-influenced musical acts such as the Kottonmouth Kings, Los Marijuanos, and Rocker-T weren’t enough, attendees had an opportunity to visit dozens of top-shelf vendors. From Stinky Clean pipe cleaner to the Marijuana Policy Project (and its legalization effort) to Hemp Hoodlamb’s ecologically friendly, pimpin’-in-style hemp winter wear, the Wonders of Cannabis allowed attendees to get up close and personal—and maybe even share a toke—with their favorite ganja-friendly companies.

S&M Industries showed up with their best-of-show kiefing boards, designed and built in Northern California with standout quality and a commitment to customer satisfaction (such good kit, I picked one up myself). The crew from Vaporstore.com were also on hand, showing off a wide variety of vaporizers.

Eddy Lepp displays the fattie winner at the rolling contest

Eddie Lepp and his rolling contest winning joint

Celebrities in attendance included Los Angeles dispensary owner Craig X from the hit Showtime series Weeds, who was up from Hollywood checking out the scene. Also on hand was Libertarian presidential hopeful and med pot user Steve Kubby, who was a guest speaker.

Americans for Safe Access had an impressive booth, informing the cannabis world of its ground-breaking research and activism. SKUNK Magazine’s favorite vaporizer, the Vapolution, was in full effect as proprietors Scott and Patrick allowed booth visitors to sample personal herb samples in their impressive and economical vaping device. Toking was believing, with swift sales of the unit proving its value and effectiveness for stretching one’s medicine supply and reducing harmful tars.

Performance artist the Snake Lady, although not on the official entertainment roster, gave a few private performances—one of which included belly dancing with her pet 300-pound snake—and showed off some of her impressive tatts.

Special thanks also go out to Raquel from New Mexico, whose booth was adorned with tons of groovy silk and velvet clothing, as well as infused organic chocolate-covered fruit and other edibles. If not for her wonderful infused-espresso chocolate, I might not have made my flight out of San Francisco back home.

Standout Speakers

Standout speakers included Lepp and Herer, both of whom spoke from the heart with unprepared speeches. Lepp told the audience of his plight to legally (under California’s Compassionate Use Act) grow medicine for the sick and dying while the DEA removed more than 32,000 plants from his farm in Lake County in 2004—leaving thousands of patients without medicine.

Historian Michael Aldridge and L.A. attorney Bruce Margolin

Historian Michael Aldridge, L.A. attorney Bruce Margolin

Some members of the audience were brought to tears as Herer described how, in the early 1980s, his mother visited him in California while suffering from severe Alzheimer’s. She was suffering so badly, said Herer, that she no longer recognized many family members. After smoking cannabis with Herer for six weeks, she displayed zero Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Upon returning home, however, her husband forbade her from smoking (thanks for nothing, patriarchy), even if it did help her, based simply on the fact that it’s illegal. “Two years later, she got so bad she was put into a hospital,” Herer told the audience. “One year later, she didn’t recognize me or my children whatsoever. She died in 1990. For the last four years of her life, she didn’t recognize me when I came to visit.”

Spirituality & The Most High

For those not from California, the spirituality of many vendors and attendees might have been surprising. Lake County’s Reverend Tom Brown was selling his Holy Anointing Oil, a multi-thousand-year-old recipe dating back to the Old Testament. Lepp and members of his multi-denominational Ministry of Cannabis and Rastafari made the rounds, spreading love, smiles, good ganja, and words of optimism.

Craig X, of Temple 420, a Jewish/Christian ministry based in Hollywood that also functions as a compassion club, believes strongly in the religious and spiritual right to consume cannabis. “We feel that God created all plants on earth with His Word according to the Bible in the Book of Genesis,” reads Temple 420’s Web site. “This includes the cannabis plant, with its many uses.”

Not Your Average Trade Show

The 2006 Wonders of Cannabis wasn’t your average trade show with a little entertainment on the side. Professional facilities, open toking, standout edibles, compassion clubs that understand the meaning of compassion, world-class entertainment, some of the most outstanding outdoor organic herb, and more cool pot-centric vendors than you can shake a cola at made for a memorable weekend.

Even though a few attendees probably don’t remember much of it….


All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003-2016 Gooey Rabinski. All Rights Reserved.

Gooey Rabinski is a photographer, writer, instructional designer, and cannabis satirist who has contributed feature articles to magazines and media outlets such as High Times, The KindSKUNK, Cannabis Culture, WhaxyHeads, Weed World, Green Flower MediaCannabis HBK11RenderHealth Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself.

He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle.

His cannabis-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabin

Gooey Interviews: Bushy Old Grower

[This article was originally written in February 2007 and updated August 6, 2015. All photos captured at the garden of Bushy Old Grower in December 2006.]

BOG, or Bushy Old Grower, is a cannabis gardener in Northern California. He has decades of experience in breeding, cultivating, and helping patients who use medical cannabis—especially those who want to emulate him and be independent of the black market and grow their own.

Author of Bonanza of Green, a book that documents his personal stage-based grow process, BOG is known for several potent and top-shelf strains, including Bogglegum and Lifesaver.


Their names call to me like the Siren’s song: Sweet Cindy, Bogglegum, Lifesaver, and that oh-so-intoxicating Sour Bubble. All are strains bred by Bushy Old Grower—better known to many as BOG. A Michigan native who now resides in the Pacific Northwest, BOG is a well-respected grower and breeder who has produced a line of top-shelf strains based on Bubblegum (unlike some breeders, BOG fully discloses his crosses).

gooey-rabinski-interviews-bushy-old-grower-1

Finely grown examples of BOG’s strains are sought by connoisseurs, med patients, and edibles bakers throughout North America. They also fetch a competitive price on the dispensary and retail markets and are sold by the likes of Canada’s most finicky mail order weed services. BOG is one of the more spiritual breeder/gardeners on the scene; his Buddhist and American Indian principles guide much of his growing and breeding. Interestingly, it was first German Shepherds, rather than cannabis, that spurred him to indulge in breeding.


I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with BOG and his wife at their rural mountain ranch in December 2006. The following interview is an excerpt from that weekend.

Gooey Rabinski: You’re known to many people in the pot culture for your breeding skills and seeds. Do you still sell seeds?

Bushy Old Grower: I don’t really sell seeds in the way we were known for as far as sending them to a distributor who then markets them as BOG Seeds. No, we’re not doing that anymore. My genetics are safe…I’m keeping them…I have friends who are using my genetics. But at this point, I’m trying to be more public and get out there to promote my book a bit and be like anybody else in a state that allows medical usage.

GR: You mentioned your book, Bonanza of Green. You’ve been growing and breeding for decades. Does your experience culminate in this book?

BOG: I believe so. Early in my life, at 21 years old, I realized that my dogs were a part of my family. I’ve always had large German Shepherds that I love very much. I’ve bred them and I’ve found that, often, if you have a really special pair of parents, you’ll end up getting really special offspring. I don’t really look at breeding as something that’s rocket science. When you mix a couple of strains or you isolate a certain phenotype of one strain, what you’re doing is kind of a crap shoot. Hopefully you come up with something that’s unique enough and worthy enough that other people want it, too. That’s what I gradually evolved into doing.

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Just growing my own marijuana, I ended up making my own seeds and—before I ever heard of them—I was making my own feminized seeds. That was something I swore off before I ever sold any. I don’t consider it reliable enough. There can be too many problems with feminized seeds.

People kept telling me that I had a book in me, and that I really outta write it. All I ever taught was the basics of growing in soil, indoors. I had found that that was a safe, easy way. It was the way I knew how to do it. I’m pretty much a self-taught guy.

The goal with Bonanza of Green was to write a simple beginner’s book. Things like filling a Dixie cup with potting soil and putting a hole in the bottom for drainage…just some of the things that a lot of people who are trying to grow need to know. I just feel that teaching people to grow is like teaching someone to fish. They can actually take care of themselves if they learn how to grow.

GR: What do you think about the scene on the West Coast?

BOG: Look at what they did in L.A. The Feds—the DEA—came in and basically robbed medical marijuana clubs that were totally legal in the state. No charges were filed against any individual. Basically, they just seized it because they can do it. Because of their Supreme Court decision, they can come in and harass. It’s the same thing that happened to Eddy Lepp with the largest marijuana grow in history…in America…with 32,000 plants. Two years in a row they popped him. The guy still has his whole farm and ranch there [in Lake County, California]. I don’t think [the Feds] want to get all the way to court with some of these cases where somebody is going to fight to say “this is my religious right.” And it is.

I’m a founder and member in a church that has documentation for ancient usage of cannabis and holy rituals and it’s no different than any other church. The church has these rights and the good news is that there are decisions being made and it looks like the religious rights will be upheld. And that’s on a federal level. That’s not just state medical laws.

GR: Let’s talk a little about Bonanza of Green. It’s more than a book; it’s a system of growing that, in your opinion, makes more sense than some conventional methods.

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BOG: Bonanza of Green, or BOG, is a production-line system. It consists of separate vegetative and flowering rooms and continuous production so that it’s not all-at-once. You have plants at many different stages. You always have part of your flowering room getting done. Every time you harvest some plants from flower, there are vegging plants ready to move into the flowering room. Today may be the day you either plant some seeds or take some clones. It may be the day that you transplant some small plants into bigger pots. It may be the day that you move some plants into flower.

This system also has a couple of other benefits. A lot of people grow in a way that they have all of their flowering room coming mature at one time. They have a lot of smell as the plants mature and dry. For some, that’s a security risk.

GR: There’s a difference between four or five plants coming up and 30 plants coming up.

BOG: There sure is. Four or five is a lot easier to conceal and manage. Instead of having a whole lot of weed, all at one time, you’ve got some fresh all the time. I’d rather always have some fresh around.

GR: What was the first strain you developed?

BOG: It was a pure Bubblegum called BOG Bubble. It’s yummy stuff and quite a large yielder. And, you know, a lot of people had kind of put Bubblegum behind them. Bubblegum had been a really big thing in Holland. It was like the number one commercial clone in Holland for a long time. When I did my breeding and all my work back at the start, I didn’t work with other people’s clones, like a lot of breeders do. I didn’t have access to them. I was off on the fringes, you know? Up in my cave, in the mountains. The best I could do was get some seeds.

In the case of BOG Bubble, I took clones of the first group of seeds that I got. There were two different kinds of plants in them. The results were kind of variable, like a lot of people’s seeds are [laughs]. What I was calling pure Bubblegum may have been a Bubblegum/Kush cross. It’s hard to really know the history of everything that’s done in the breeding world. It took me a while to figure that out. But my Bubblegum was a pretty pure Bubblegum because the clones that I had selected tasted like Bubblegum and produced good, reliable Bubblegum seeds. Whereas the other clones seemed more potent and rare. The rare one is what eventually became Sour Bubble. It was a selection out of this…probably a Kush Bubblegum cross.

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Some people would have said that making seeds from seeds had already weakened the lines that I was working with. It’s a myth, though. And I’d be willing to argue this with anybody. When you make seeds from a batch of seeds, those original seeds are often not stabilized at all, and are often first crosses. You really can’t expect a lot out of them. You get those seeds and then you can work with them to stabilize them. That was done for many generations on the BOG Bubble and then Bogglegum.

Bogglegum was the second strain I created, which was Bubblegum crossed to an NL5 [Northern Lights #5] in the form of a real hardy plant that came down from Canada. So that was a cross between one of Amsterdam’s best stains and one that’s very well known from British Columbia. Bogglegum is really easy to grow and matures pretty fast.

GR: What did you create next?

BOG: Most of the time, in my breeding, my best friends and people who later tuned out to be good breeders themselves would send me their best strains and I would end up crossing it to my Bubblegum. That’s what happened with Subcool’s JCB that I brought in and crossed with my BOG Bubble. That was a great combination that produced Lifesaver. Lifesaver was touted as a medical strain by a lot of people because it has a numbing effect…your teeth get a little numb.

GR: The Sour Bubble is really a standout strain. Tell me more about it.

BOG: We’ve maintained the same clone for about six and a half years now. That clone is my elite clone mom. Most breeders claim that they have a few. But this one I actually came up with myself from my own breeding and I have to say that anybody who has ever tried it loves it and that’s pretty much all I’m gonna grow. I’ve decided that the whole evolution of the BOG strains is getting right back to the start. Sour Bubble is really the side of the Bubblegum Kush that I liked the most all along. So that’s what we’re doing now and everybody’s real happy with it.

When I get trim from the Sour Bubble, I make the best hash. I make bubble hash using ice water and it’s definitely a marketable commodity. The better quality your trash, the better quality your hash. The better quality your strains or clones…it all adds up. When you have something that’s really good, you’ll never have any problem selling it. Even if it doesn’t yield as much as something else, it’s really nice to have that one thing they can’t get enough of.

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GR: I’m really impressed with Sour Bubble. The first time I smoked it was with you in San Francisco after I’d been smoking with Eddy Lepp and Jack Herer and a bunch of hardcore tokers for five days straight. After a marathon like that, it’s really tough to get something to stand out. Between you, your wife, and me, we only got through half a joint of that stuff. It cut right through everything else.

BOG: I remember, you were pretty lit on that joint, Gooey. You were pretty happy. A lot of times I get that reaction. Sour Bubble is considerably stronger than any of my other strains. My other strains are no slouch; usually they compare pretty well to the good stuff that’s going around. But Sour Bubble…we got it tested in a college lab and we’re going to get it re-tested with chromatography real soon. But we came up with 32 percent THC in Sour Bubble.

GR: Wow. That’s like Trainwreck….

BOG: There may be a couple of strains that claim to be a little higher than that, but most people would call me a liar. But it’s high just because there’s an awful lot of resin on a bud. My next highest strain would be like Lifesaver at 25 percent.

Basically, genetics are a very important thing in the quality and the yield. Now I’m not tryin’ to tell people that they need to go out there and find the last pack of BOG Seeds somebody claims they have, okay? But besides method and technique, genetics tends to be the biggest factor in how well people grow. There’s no purpose in putting a lot of work into something that doesn’t have much potential. And that’s not the grower’s fault. If you grow something from poor genetics and it comes out mediocre, that’s the best you can do!


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All text and photos Copyright © 2003-2016 Gooey Rabinski. All Rights Reserved.

Gooey Rabinski is a technical writer and instructional designer who has contributed dozens of feature articles to magazines such as High Times, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana (2015 Edition), available on Amazon Kindle, and is a contributing writer at Whaxy.com.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Vapolution: The Honda Accord of Vaporizers

[This article was originally written in August 2006 and updated in March 2015.]

What do you get when you combine two California heads with engineering degrees, a tight product development budget, and a toking inventor’s desire to build a better mousetrap? In the case of Vapolution, a small company out of Chico, California, this recipe produced a $99 vaporizer that extracts and delivers herbal resin as effectively as the coveted $550 Volcano or $200 herbalAire.

Motivated Heads

“We’ve always been pretty motivated heads,” said Scott Goodwin, the 27-year-old co-founder of Vapolution during a phone interview from his office. “We were both mechatronic engineering students together at Chico State. We studied together and typically had some sort of vaporization device with herbs in it next to us. It wasn’t something we had built, but instead an off-the-shelf device. We thought we could do better,” said Goodwin.

Although Vapolution the company is currently only three full-time employees, Goodwin and partner Patrick Leopold have sold more than 5,000 of their economical vaporizers throughout North America and Europe. Despite its initial success, the company has no plans for splashy ad campaigns. “We really want to be a word of mouth company,” said Goodwin. “We’d definitely like to be larger, but we don’t want to force it with some marketing scheme. We just want people to tell their friends, ‘Hey, my vaporizer works great; maybe you should look into this.’”

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The second generation Vapolution, currently available.

Both Goodwin and Leopold have put their money where their mouth is, quitting lucrative industry jobs and making financial sacrifices to promote their homegrown product and pursue the dream of offering a cost-effective, safe, and satisfying vaporization solution for the masses. “I cashed in my 401K so I can go out to festivals and take a grass roots approach to spreading the word about a product and a concept I believe in,” said Goodwin. “I think vaporizing really is a better way.”

Goodwin, who proudly states that his own herbal consumption is completely vaporized, says he works with Leopold to continually improve upon the design of the Vapolution. “We both want to evolve the product. That’s why we named the company Vapolution. It’s the evolution of the vaporizer and our commitment to it,” he said.

Mobility & Safety

A distinct advantage of the Vapolution is it’s mobility. Afforded by it’s small, light design and rugged form factor, the unit allows one to take it out and about with confidence. The bundled car adapter features a generous six foot cable, further encouraging owners to transport their vaporization capabilities to locations other than the cloistered confines of their homes.

“You can purchase a power inverter for a lot of the vapes out there, but those suck down your car battery pretty fast. The Vapolution can be left in the car overnight and it’s still not going to kill the battery,” said Goodwin.

The unit’s mobility became even greater when the company released a two-hour battery pack in 2007, allowing untethered use that, if metered out conservatively, could produce an entire weekend of fun on a single charge (perfect for hikers, rock climbers, cyclists, and nature lovers—or simply tucked away in a backpack in the remote stacks of the library).

Unlike many vaporizers, especially hotplate type units, the Vapolution features no exposed hot surfaces, significantly decreasing the chances of burning oneself or starting a fire after too much couch-lock indica and pizza. The unit’s meager power consumption does more than allow it to be used in a car without killing the battery. “We were absolutely stuck on making the device work with 12 volts,” said Goodwin. “If the output is shorted, it won’t shock the user to where they could be seriously hurt.”

Stealth

The Vapolution is especially capable in two areas in which many other vaporizers, including the Volcano, fall short: stealth and mobility. Because it has no fan, the Vapolution operates silently, a nice feature for nearly all users and a necessary characteristic for millions of tokers living in dorm rooms, shared apartments, or who simply can’t divulge their underground lifestyle to their house mates. The unit’s tough and compact design makes it easy to store and conceal in small spaces. It’s practical to use when camping, in a hotel room, at a music festival, or anywhere that a 12V car outlet is within a six foot reach. 

Most fans of the culture are familiar with or have used the top-shelf Volcano vaporizer. Sleek, German, and very effective at vaporizing herbs—specifically cannabis—the Volcano is on everyone’s Christmas list. But at $550, most peeps just don’t have the coin.

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The first generation Vapolution–sweet beginnings.

To assume that the Vapolution does a poorer job of extracting resin than other, more expensive  vaporizers, is a logical conclusion. We live in a “get what you pay for” world, after all. The Vapolution, however, is a pleasing exception to this rule. At only $100, the unit matches the resin extraction rates of the coveted Volcano and offers a few advantages not found in its expensive German cousin.

Value

Goodwin explained how the Vapolution is an affordable artifact born of the reality of an engineering student’s frugal resources. “When we were designing the product, we were engineering students. And we were working with an engineering student’s budget, which wasn’t that much,” said Goodwin. “Our ability to purchase more expensive items was limited.” Goodwin emphasized that, although the team had their own design goals, they also engineered around empirical evidence. “We wanted the Vapolution, above and beyond all things, to be functional,” he said.

Due to the Volcano’s popularity, people at trade shows and festivals frequently ask Goodwin and Leopold the difference between the Volcano and the Vapolution. “We tell them $420 and a fan,” laughed Goodwin. But, as he readily admits, an apples-to-apples comparison between the Vapolution and the Volcano is both unfair and illogical.

“I’m sure the Volcano would win if you were looking to attract people to your camp site because you can see it and everyone knows it’s got great vapor. But if you want to just keep your herbs to yourself, I think our device is the way to go,” said Goodwin.

One of this team’s primary goals was to develop a vaporizer that would be affordable for the masses. “We like to think that we’re the Honda Accord of vaporizers, where the Volcano is a top of the line Mercedes or BMW. It’s a great device. But a Honda is reliable and affordable,” said Goodwin.

Vapolution has a sincere appreciation and concern for its customers. Both Goodwin and Leopold work hard to get the word out about their product. Frequently traveling to festivals and shows, the company offers a healthy bulk discount, selling the Vapolution for $80 each in quantities of five or more. “Some people tell us that they have their heart set on a Volcano. We tell them maybe they should have their hearts set on charity: You can buy five Vapolutions for less than the Volcano and you’d still have a great vaporizer…and the ability to give four to your friends,” said Goodwin, an earnest evangelist for both the Vapolution and the science of vaporization.

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Interview

Gooey Rabinski: “We’re surrounded by amazing technology. Humans walked on the moon more than 35 years ago. High-def satellite TV, sophisticated smartphones, and ubiquitous messaging have permeated nearly every segment of society. Yet humans have been smoking herbs and tobacco for thousands of years. Is society finally beyond smoking?”

Scott Goodwin: “I think we at least have a choice now. And it’s a good choice to make, to be beyond smoking. I think more and more people are going to make this choice in the future. I think we’ll see more reputable evidence of the efficacy and economy of different types of vaporizers and a quantified health improvement over smoking.”

GR: “Is it ironic that people with severe illnesses—such as AIDS, cancer, MS, and epilepsy—are smoking cannabis medicine to gain relief? Are they doing themselves harm in the process of consuming their medication?”

The boys from Vapolution showed off their vaporizer

SG: “If I was a sick patient, the last thing in the world that I’d want to give up is my energy that helps me get through the day. I’ve found that smoking—because your lungs would have to work through all the tars and the heavy particulate matter—wears you out. It takes a lot for your lungs to work through the bad stuff that you’re putting inside your body when you’re smoking. Vaporizing, if you’re a patient, really is the only alternative.”

GR: “How does the Vapolution, a convection-type model, compare to conduction-based (hotplate) vaporizers?”

SG: “It’s a confusing topic. But once again, empirical evidence is supreme. Our device produces a great amount of vapor. It fully extracts the resin from the plant. Many people who have the domes [hotplate models] call us and say ‘This thing’s not a vaporizer.’ We have to agree with them. For what a vaporizer is supposed to do, it really isn’t.

“Hotplate vaporizers are counting on the principle of conduction, where the heat from the flat plate touching the herbs releases the oils to be ingested. But, as you can imagine, this is like grilling steak on only one side. Whereas, with the Vapolution, you’re using the principle of convection and moving a heated air mass through the plant material that extracts the oils that are then ingested. Convection, as far as vaporizers go—as far as we’re concerned—is the only way to go. It more evenly and more efficiently exacts greater amounts of vapor from the plant.”

GR: “What are your future plans?”

SG: “We definitely want to offer more accessories for the product that we currently have. We have glasswork that sits in the Vapolution that makes the device an entirely glass vaporizing experience, eliminating the [plastic] whip. We want to take the glass-on-glass concept to the next level. We want to provide more mobility with the battery pack. We’ve discussed perhaps putting together a bag attachment or a gravity toke. There are slick gravity toke devices out there that we could hook up to the Vapolution so users could pull the vapor through water. There’s all sorts of directions that we want to take the current unit.”


HBK11RenderGooey Rabinski is a counterculture writer who has contributed dozens of feature articles to magazines such as High Times, Skunk, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana (2015 Edition), available on Amazon Kindle.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Big Pharma: Rx for Disaster

[This article was originally written in August 2006. At nearly 4,000 words, this is one of my longer articles. Apologies to those who don’t have the time….]


Supporting a worldwide pharmaceutical drug market valued at between $400 billion and $500 billion each year, North Americans are among the most medicated humans on the planet. On the surface—and employing the traditional definition of “medicine”—this can be interpreted as a good thing. More help for more people with physical, mental, and emotional ailments is a sign of a progressive and compassionate society.

Nice vision, eh? Too bad it’s so far from the reality of modern western medicine. Patients, both the truly sick and those simply led to believe they’re ill, are being misled and mistreated by pharmaceutical corporations and doctors in a deregulated wild west of medicine that’s becoming increasingly corrupt and intimidating.

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Lest we deceive ourselves, let’s not limit to adults our consideration of the dark side of this chemical gold rush, fueled by corporate greed and a gross lack of government oversight. Children are being targeted by drug companies in a manner like never before. While Ritalin is the drug most associated with childhood Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), many adult medications are being prescribed to young people, but typically with little or no testing.

There’s also the topics of suicide and addiction. Anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac and Paxil have been linked to aggressive behavior and suicide in both adults and children by studies released on both sides of the Atlantic. Adding insult to injury, medical journals—traditionally a bastion of reputability and solid science—haven’t been immune to corruption on the part of big pharma. Within the past few years, reports have surfaced showing that a significant percentage of medical journal articles has been authored by ghostwriters hired by drug companies.

A Pharmaceutical Primer

Before delving into the often-harmful effects of pharmaceutical drugs themselves, it’s helpful to briefly examine the companies producing and marketing them. First, most drug companies are very profitable. From 1980 to 2000, industry profits tripled. The pharmaceutical business is consistently ranked as the most profitable industry of the 47 listed in the Fortune 500 (only in 2003 did it slip, and only to third place).

Much of the colossal growth of “big pharma” has resulted from the deregulation of the industry by the Reagan administration. Beginning in 1980 with Reagan’s election, a series of laws were passed that favored the growth of the pharmaceutical market and allowed drug companies to partner like never before with academia and other public institutions (such as the National Institutes of Health, or NIH).

In this manner, drug companies have been able to push much of the expense of research and development off on “partners” and other third parties. These alliances also help drug companies contain bad publicity because so many organizations have a financial stake in the health of their pharmaceutical sugar daddy. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lost a $1 million annual revenue stream when dexfenfluramine (marketed as Redux), for which it held a patent, was recalled in 1997.

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While many pharmaceutical company public relations spokespeople refer to the high costs of research and development when defending their steep drug prices, most drug research isn’t conducted by drug companies. According to Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, pharmaceutical companies rely on academia, small biotech start-ups, and government bodies such as taxpayer-supported NIH to conduct research on their products.

As big pharma gained wealth and power, it began exerting more lobbying pressure on the U.S. Congress (there are now more drug company lobbyists in Washington, D.C. than there are elected officials). In the 1990s, Congress passed several laws that significantly helped fatten drug company revenues and, resultantly, profits. The patent life of brand-name drugs increased from eight years in 1980 to 14 years in 2000. While this may not seem overly significant, consider a “blockbuster” drug such as arthritis treatment Celebrex or the antidepressant Zoloft, each of which generates more than a billion dollars in sales per year. It’s simple math: Six additional years of exclusivity on such drugs equals about six billion dollars. That six billion dollars buys a lot of lawyers and lobbyists to pressure Congress and various policy makers into forming legislation that favors the pharmaceutical industry (but is often counter to the best interest of patients and consumers).

As ex-Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura used to say, “Follow the money.” Some of the numbers on big pharma’s financial side are mind boggling, but extremely educational in understanding the motives and power held by these firms. For example, in the late 1990s, just before losing its patent on Prilosec, AstraZeneca was raking in $6 billion per year for the popular heartburn medication that it marketed as the “purple pill.” Claritin, before owner Schering-Plough lost its patent in 2002, accounted for one-third of the company’s revenues. When the patent expired, the drug began selling over the counter for considerably less than prescription price. In response, Schering-Plough attempted to switch patients from Claritin to Clarinex, a nearly identical drug—except for the fact that Clarinex is still patented.

Not only are revenues high for drug companies, but profit margins are far beyond the expectations of all other industries. In 2001, the top ten American drug companies basked in profits equaling nearly 20 percent of sales. However, the median net return for all other industries in the Fortune 500 was only 3.3 percent of sales (less than one-sixth of big pharma’s numbers). Consider also that, in 2002, total profits for the top ten drug companies equaled $36 billion. This exceeded the combined profits of the other 490 corporations in the Fortune 500 by more than $2 billion!

Prescribing Death

Some of the numbers regarding the use of pharmaceutical drugs in the United States are alarming. Each year, more than 2.2 million hospital admissions result from adverse reactions to prescribed medications. But hold onto your seats, boys and girls: Nearly one in ten of these admissions results in…death.

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In 1999, after suffering a minor urinary tract infection and taking a pharmaceutical drug to treat it, author Stephen Fried’s wife suffered side effects that included delirium, visual distortions, insomnia, and bipolar disorder. Documented in his book Bitter Pill, Fried describes how the adverse reactions of his wife—and millions of others like her—are considered to be statistically insignificant by both drug companies and their government regulators.

In the U.S. alone, between 45,000 and 200,000 people die annually of reactions to legal drugs (this is two to nine percent of the 2.3 million Americans who die each year). Compare this to the 5,000 to 10,000 who die of illegal hard drug use. In 1998, the Journal of the American Medical Association released a study entitled “Incidence of Adverse Drug Reactions in Hospitalized Patients.” The article reviewed thirty-nine studies regarding adverse drug reactions occurring in American hospitals during the previous 30 years. By very conservative analysis, the study determined that in 1994 more than 2.2 million people were hospitalized due to negative reactions to pharmaceutical drugs. Moreover, 106,000 of these hospital admissions resulted in death. All of these cases involved properly prescribed and administered drugs.

The number one killer in the U.S. is heart disease (about 750,000 deaths annually). Number two is cancer at about 530,000 deaths. Third place belongs to strokes, with approximately 150,000 deaths. But, according to Dr. Ray Strand, America’s number four killer isn’t auto accidents, AIDS, or suicide bombers in Baghdad. Instead, it’s the 100,000 deaths each year resulting from adverse reactions to properly prescribed medication. “If you add the 80,000 deaths caused by improperly prescribed or administered medication, adverse drug events become the number three leading cause of death in this country,” said Strand.

Overall, the mass media has done a poor job of reporting the reality of adverse drug reactions within the population, but many stories have been too big to ignore. Vioxx, the pain reliever developed by Merck that used to rake in $2.5 billion annually, in the fall of 2004 was found to cause heart problems that could—and did—result in death. This fact somehow eluded the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when it approved the drug in 1999.

In 2000, through a subsequent study, Merck learned that Vioxx resulted in twice as many heart attacks than when patients were using an older painkiller called naproxen. Drug company spin meisters said this was due to the protective effects of naproxin. In other words, Merck said Vioxx wasn’t causing heart attacks, but instead naproxin was preventing them. However, a long-term follow-up study comparing Vioxx to a sugar pill placebo proved that it actually was the cause of the heart attacks.

Off-label Prescriptions

One practice within the U.S. medical profession that’s fully legal and accepted is the off-label prescribing of drugs. This involves taking a drug intended for a particular ailment and prescribing it for another condition. Potential complications arising from this practice only increase when the drugs being prescribed off-label are intended for—and tested on—adults, but given to children.

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If doctors are having a difficult enough time avoiding death and suffering in their patients when prescribing drugs for their intended efficacy, one can imagine the problems that have arisen from off-label prescribing. And no group of doctors writes more off-label prescriptions than child psychiatrists.

One such case is that of ten-year-old Shaina Dunkle of Smithtown, Pennsylvania. Dunkle had been taking the drug desipramine (Norpramin) for her ADHD. Desipramine is a drug typically prescribed for adult depression, but is commonly given to children for a variety of behavioral problems. In 2001, after taking the drug for about a year, Dunkle collapsed due to a grand mal seizure. She died minutes later in the arms of her mother. An autopsy revealed there could be no cause of death other than the desipramine.

Dunkle should never have been prescribed desipramine. In the mid-1990s, reports began to surface within the medical community regarding sudden deaths within children taking the drug (all within appropriate doses). Seven such cases of sudden death among children prescribed desipramine were published. Most doctors abandoned the drug for safer medications, such as Ritalin. Although her parents were given no indication whatsoever that use of the drug carried potential complications or any increased risk of sudden death, Dunkle was prescribed desipramine by her doctor five years after these reports surfaced.

Serious SSRI Side Effects

Since the late 1980s, a category of drugs called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs—including Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Luvox, and Lexapro—has been commonly prescribed for depression in both adults and children. Replacing tranquilizers such as Valium, SSRIs were hailed as wonder drugs, supposedly causing no addiction and conveniently taken only once per day. Beginning in the 1990s, however, reports began to surface that linked the use of SSRI drugs to agitation, strange behavior, and even suicide.

If only a very small percentage of those consuming SSRI drugs are affected in an adverse manner, it still results in big numbers. Between 1988 and 2002, 27 million people were prescribed Prozac. Between 1993 and 2002, 18.5 million people took Paxil. And between 1992 and 2002, 22 million people were prescribed Zoloft. If only 1/100th of 1% of these patients (one in 10,000) experienced adverse symptoms, it would equal 6,700 innocent people who had engaged in aggressive or suicidal behavior (many of whom surely succeeded in harming themselves or others).

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But percentages of adverse manic reactions to antidepressant drugs is likely considerably higher than 1/100th of 1 percent. Some studies have reported that “some degree of clinically significant over-stimulation and mania” results in five to 10 percent of patients taking antidepressants. If only two percent of patients experienced these negative side effects, it would equal more than 1.3 million people!

In January 2006, mainstream media reported the story of retired baseball star Jeff Reardon. Reardon, a former star pitcher with career earnings of $11 million, had little reason to rob a jewelry store. But that’s exactly what the ex-slinger, who had been consuming several antidepressants following the death of his son, did. “I completely lost my mind,” Reardon told police after turning himself in, adding, “I flipped on my medications.”

Dr. Peter Breggin, a medical expert and psychiatric consultant, says this isn’t an isolated story. “I’ve seen dozens of similar cases,” he reported. Breggin described a man who was taking Prozac and the tranquilizer Xanax at the time that he robbed his wife’s bank, another bank near his mother’s residence, and his local drug store. Wearing no disguise and carrying only an empty air pistol, the man engaged in friendly small talk while patiently standing in line at his last robbery. When police surrounded the building with guns drawn, he nonchalantly walked through the flabbergasted officers, got into his car, and drove away. Amazingly, among a flurry of bullets, the man was captured unharmed. A judge later found him not guilty due to temporary insanity caused by psychiatric drug “intoxication.”

In a similar case, Breggin described how a college student robbed several gas stations. Like the drug intoxicated bank thief, the student was strangely unconcerned with his chances of getting caught in the act, driving the same car his family used to regularly visit the same gas stations. Like others, he too wore no disguise. “Both of these individuals were suffering from antidepressant-induced manic reactions that completely obliterated their judgment and led them to take actions that were wholly out of character for them…they were upstanding people with no criminal records,” said Breggin.

Breggin reported how another man became suicidal after taking Paxil. The man, who had no history of violence or criminal activity, drove his car into a policeman. Not satisfied with hitting the man, he got out of his car and began jumping on his victim, attempting to obtain the officer’s gun with the goal of shooting himself.

Breggin reports that nearly every case of this type that he’s investigated has involved a patient who recently began treatment or had their dosage adjusted. In such cases, patients experience impaired judgment, a lack of an understanding of the consequences of their actions, feelings of invulnerability, and impulsivity. Their impulsivity is especially alarming, making their behavior nearly impossible to predict or prevent. Beginning in 2004, the FDA began requiring antidepressant manufacturers to use labels indicating the potential side effects of their drugs to include “aggression, hostility, impulsivity, agitation, and mania.”

If taking SSRI drugs wasn’t risky enough, there’s also the issue of withdrawal, which can cause violent impulses, including suicide. Again, because this behavior is impulsive, it’s difficult or impossible to predict or prevent. In one case, a man with no prior history of violence assaulted a friend after missing only two doses of Paxil. The longer the drug has been consumed, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms. 

Biased Research

Most information regarding drug efficacy and side effects is produced by clinical trials and laboratory research, resulting in articles appearing in medical journals. Publications such as The New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association ring with an air of refined academic prestige. Medical journals, probably the most relied upon channel of information regarding new research and drug information by doctors and the medical profession, have carried a solid reputation for dependability and objectively hard science.

Medical-Research

Until recently, that is. With the pharmaceutical industry’s heightened profits came heightened influence. Today, most clinical research and drug trials are sponsored by the company that makes the drug. This is more than a slight conflict of interest, and one that government regulators and the mass media have allowed to exist almost unchecked.

According to Angell, drug researchers worked very independently of drug companies until the 1980s. “Drug companies would give a grant to an academic medical center, then step back and wait for faculty researchers to produce the results,” wrote Angell in her book The Truth About the Drug Companies. She describes how, today, drug companies and their long financial tentacles are involved in every aspect of research, “…from design of the study through analysis of the data to the decision whether to publish the results.” Thus, if research to which it is financially connected produces results that executives think will be less than impressive to investors, a pharma company can simply bury the data, never allowing it to see the light of day—or put a ding in its stock price.

Proof of the industry’s far reaching influence lies in the fact that the highly-respected New England Journal of Medicine dropped its policy prohibiting authors of medical study review articles to have financial ties to the drug companies making the medicines being analyzed. On the surface, this makes the journal seem as bad as the pharmaceutical corporations. However, it justified its action as a pragmatic one, stating it could no longer locate enough independent experts who had not been paid in some way by the pharmaceutical industry.

Industry-Paid Ghost Writers

Also involving medical journals and carrying equal ethical implications is the practice of pharmaceutical companies employing unattributed ghostwriters to develop articles for medical journals. One case involved Adriene Fugh-Berman, an associate professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, who received requests from AstraZeneca to contribute to and peer-review the same article (a blatant conflict of interest). Another involved Dr. David Healy, an esteemed British psychiatrist, who was approached by a drug company and e-mailed a 12-page paper, fully edited and bearing his name. The only problem was the fact that Healy had never before seen the article.

THE GHOST WRITER

One British newspaper estimates that half of all articles appearing in medical journals are written by ghostwriters. “With one half of journal articles being ghostwritten, where is the FDA? Why are we putting up with all this? These lies kill and they are killing more by the minute,” said Dr. Ann Blake Tracy, Executive Director of the International Coalition for Drug Awareness. The Canadian Broadcast Company featured an episode of Marketplace in which a ghostwriter admitted that he was paid to write favorable reports. “Bad side effects that could affect patient safety are sometimes completely ignored,” he admitted.

Thankfully, several prominent voices within the medical community, fearful that doctors have been receiving biased and inaccurate information, have stepped forward to criticize the practice of medical journal ghostwriters. “Scientific research is not public relations. If you’re a firm hired by a company trying to sell a product, it’s an entirely different thing than having an open mind for scientific inquiry,” said Robert Aliff, vice chancellor of clinical research at Duke University Medical Center. Dr. Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal, said, “When we find out, we reject the paper, but it is very difficult. In a sense, we have brought it on ourselves by insisting that any involvement by a drug company should be made explicit. They have just found ways to get round this and go undercover.”

Price Gouging

In 2000, heartburn reliever Prilosec was the world’s best selling pharmaceutical drug, costing Americans in Buffalo, New York $3.30 per pill. A 10-minute drive north of the Canadian border and the same pill could be had for $1.47. Another good example is the popular allergy medication Claritin, which costs five times as much in the United States than in Great Britain ($2.00 vs. $0.41).

But one can’t put all the blame on pharmaceutical corporations. The United States is the only industrialized nation to impose no price controls on pharmaceutical drugs. Ironically, drug companies say this is precisely why they must charge Americans so much. “The industry admits that it charges Americans, particularly those without insurance, far more than it does people in other countries, but it insists it needs to do so in order to make up for the fact that other countries regulate prices,” said Angell. If you’re American and angry with drug companies, logically you should be equally frustrated with Congress and it’s lack of price control oversight.

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In 2001, the pharmaceutical industry distributed $11 billion worth of free drug samples to doctors via 88,000 sales reps. Drug company reps handed out not only samples, but also personal gifts and perks (which sometimes included golf vacations and similar luxuries for those doctors who move the most product). This situation brings to mind the stereotypical scenario of the back alley drug dealer who, desiring to “hook” a new customer, gives away the first dose on the house.

$11 billion worth of free samples to doctors becomes truly pathetic when one considers that many senior citizens each month must decide which item they will do without: food, heat, or their prescription medications. In 2001, almost one in four seniors citizens reported skipping meds or simply leaving prescriptions unfilled because they couldn’t afford their drugs. Ironically, those without insurance—and who are typically the most financially challenged—pay the most for drugs. Members of HMOs are favored because their healthcare companies negotiate bulk deals for them. Senior citizens with nothing but Medicare typically pay more than anyone else for their prescriptions.

Direct Advertising

In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began allowing drug companies to market directly to consumers. While this may not seem like an overly dramatic change on the surface, it resulted in the current flood of television and print ads for drugs treating everything from toe nail fungus to erectile dysfunction. The drug industry currently spends about $1.5 billion per year on television ads. According to Competitive Media Reporting, this is about twice the amount spent by the beer industry on TV spots.

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In 1998, 55 million people in the United States talked with their doctors about pharmaceutical products they saw advertised on television. According to Prevention Magazine, in 84 percent of these cases, doctors wrote prescriptions. Knowing that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that imposes no price controls on prescription medication, it may come as no surprise that America is the only modernized nation that allows prescription drugs to be directly marketed to consumers via television and print ads.

If the sheer volume of drug ads isn’t alarming, one should find disturbing the fact that drug companies are now targeting the healthy and purposefully stigmatizing common ailments and conditions as if they were dramatic life-threatening diseases. In the mid-1970s, in an interview with Fortune magazine, Merck CEO Henry Gadsden said he wanted to make his company more like Wrigley’s, the chewing gum manufacturer. Like Wrigley’s, Gadsden said he wanted to “sell to everyone” and admitted that he desired to make drugs for healthy people.

“Mild problems are redefined as serious illness and common complaints are labeled as medical conditions requiring drug treatments,” report Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels in their book Selling Sickness. “Runny noses are now allergic rhinitis, PMS has become a psychiatric disorder, and hyperactive children have ADD,” they wrote.

An End In Sight?

Until pharmaceutical companies become more concerned with the fate of their customers than their stock valuations and profit margins, spiraling costs, uncertainty and fear among consumers, and unnecessary suffering will continue. Patients, including children, will continue to die due to a lack of thorough and objective research. As long as higher education is receiving money from pharmaceuticals and medical journals are provided with research results that are acutely skewed in a drug maker’s favor, the current crisis in western medicine will persist.


HBK11RenderGooey Rabinski is a technical writer and instructional designer who has contributed to magazines such as High Times, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle, and a contributing writer at Whaxy.com.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Vaporization: The Science of Harm Reduction

While joints and bongs will probably forever be a part of pot culture, alternative consumption methods have existed for thousands of years. From the drinking of tea-like Indian bhang (cannabis buds soaked in hot milk and spices) to the ancient middle eastern tradition of marinating cannabis flowers in olive oil for anointment to the skin, the smoking of cannabis is actually a fairly contemporary means of ingestion.

The emergence of the medical marijuana movement has motivated the development of alternative methods of consuming cannabinoids, the elemental chemicals in pot that get recreational tokers high or medicate the sick. Joining sublingual sprays, tinctures, pills, and edibles is a relatively old technology: Vaporization.

This method of extracting THC and other valuable cannabinoids from a pot plant offers the advantages of decreased harm to the lungs, long-term cost reduction, and decreased smell (aiding in stealth).

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The Vapolution vaporizer from Chico, California (gen 2).

Vaporizers are available in a wide variety of forms—from temperature controllable forced air models such as the $550 German Volcano to simple manually operated glass devices for under $20. It’s becoming common for smoking cafes and compassion clubs to rent or offer free use of high-end vaporizers. “Vapor lounges” are becoming common at dispensaries in Colorado, California, Oregon, and throughout Canada.

In the world of vaporization, the terminology is different. All metaphors related to the combustion of cannabis suddenly fail to apply to this often high-tech method of separating THC from a cannabis bud. No longer do generations-old references to “burning a spliff” or “torching some herb” suffice. Instead, one toasts or vapes one’s stash.

The Reality

Vaporization provides many of the convenience advantages of smoking while avoiding most of the—albeit controversial—health risks associated with the burning of cannabis leaves and flowers. It offers rapid onset (a characteristic of smoking, but not eating) and very efficient extraction of cannabinoids (superior to smoking). This greater efficiency means that vaporization offers a cost savings over smoking that results from stretching your supply. In a world where cannabis prices often compete with those of gold, this is a significant advantage.

While vaporization offers mid- to long-term cost savings compared to smoking, it sports a heavy upfront expense—at least for the most efficient machines. The benchmark, at least for the time being, is the Volcano. At more than half a grand, however, this model is beyond the budget of many pot users. Fortunately, prices will surely decrease as market competition and demand increases. Other capable (and less expensive) models include the herbalAire, Vapolution, Erbo Pipe, and Vapman.

Many tokers report that vaporization produces a more heady, sativa-like high. “It does seem to be more of a body engagement when one smokes cannabis as compared to vaporization,” said Dr. Rick Doblin, founder and president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) based in the San Francisco bay area. “Maybe that’s from the smoke or the particulate matter…it’s hard to say exactly. But there does seem to be an ethereal, heady effect that comes from vaporization,” he said.

The Science

When one burns any herb, the goal is to extract the substances of medicinal or psychotropic value. However, research has shown that burning cannabis also extracts more than one hundred toxins—when a handful of cannabinoids, flavonoids (flavor), and terpenoids (odor) is all you really want.

Despite studies linking marijuana smoking with a decrease in the likelihood of contracting lung disease, a lack of toxins is simply superior to an abundance of what may or may not carry negative health consequences. Chemic Laboratories in Massachusetts illustrated this when it found that the Volcano can produce vapor that is 95 percent pure THC, with only three additional compounds present in the vapor (one of which is a cannabinoid). Vaporization and edibles are currently the least risky consumption methods available for patients using marijuana medicinally (with tinctures running a close third).

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The Volcano vaporizer from Germany.

One of the most confusing elements of vaporization is the temperature at which it takes place. This is due, in large part, to the fact that vaporization occurs within a range of temperatures, not at a specific thermal point. To be more precise, each cannabinoid (more than 60 have been discovered) vaporizes at a slightly different temperature.

Thus, different cannabinoid profiles are produced by variations in vaporization temperature. While the average recreational smoker will be hard pressed to perceive minute differences, a near-combustion temperature (about 220 degrees Celsius, or 428 degrees Fahrenheit[1]) will produce a different high type than a setting at the base of the vaporization temperature range (about 50 degrees cooler).

According to MAPS’ Doblin, lower vaporization temperatures result in a headier, more ethereal high, while higher temps produce a more body-engaged, indica-type effect. He recommends using higher temps in order to extract a maximum volume of cannabinoids.

Harm Reduction

According to the latest peer-reviewed research conducted by Dr. Dale Gieringer of NORML and published in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, vapor produced by the Volcano was overwhelmingly populated by THC, but did contain trace amounts of other compounds (collaborating the previous findings of Chemic Laboratories).

“The major finding of this study was a drastic quantitative reduction in non-cannabinoid compounds in the vapor from the Volcano,” read the Gieringer study. “This strongly suggests that vaporization is an effective method for delivering medically active cannabinoids while effectively suppressing other potentially deleterious compounds that are a byproduct of combustion,” it summarized.

A leading edge unit such as the Volcano produces cannabis vapor that is pure enough, in fact, that it qualifies to be used as a scientific medical device. Doblin points out that the purity of cannabis vapor produced by a professional unit is great enough that even medical patients should harbor little worry regarding health risks.

“Vaporization does such a good job of reducing the risks that we’re aware of that I think there’s an excellent chance that high potency marijuana, vaporized, can be considered a medicine by organizations such as the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration],” said Doblin. Thus, vaporization is a technical advancement in the consumption of cannabis that’s also serving as a political tool for researchers like Doblin.

Torching vs. Toasting

The greatest difference between a common form of smoking, such as a joint, and high-efficiency vaping (something like the Volcano) lies not only in the efficiency of the extraction of cannabinoids, but also in the completeness of the collection and consumption of the transfer medium (vapor or smoke). When smoking a joint, much of the smoke is lost and never consumed, escaping into the air. This is obviously less true of bongs and pipes, but significant loss from “sidestream” smoke still occurs. In fact, a 1990 study by Mario Perez-Reyes (Marijuana Smoking: Factors that Influence the Bioavailability of Tetrahydrocannabinol) revealed that as much as 40-50 percent of the THC in a joint is lost to sidestream smoke.

While most vaporizers are not designed as well as the Volcano, many models do offer the efficiency of capturing all vapor for consumption, allowing none to escape or go to waste. Examples include the herbalAire and Vapolution.

While burning herb is a one-pass process (for a given quantity), vaping involves several passes over a single portion of marijuana. Depending on the resinous nature of the sample, up to ten vaporization passes (ten bags of vapor, in the case of the Volcano) can be made over a single portion of cannabis. The first two passes produce the greatest strength vapor, with each concurrent pass producing less and less (the collection bag becoming less hazy). For best results, one should stir the “duff” (toasted cannabis) after every vaporization pass.

True to the thousands of uses of the hemp plant, the spent duff that’s a by-product of vaporization continues to offer utility. Toasted cannabis herb is well suited in the kitchen, complimenting soups, casseroles, and meats during cooking. It can even be used as a crude potpourri.

Both smoking and vaping offer excellent titration (dosing). Like smoking, edibles, and tinctures—but unlike pill solutions such as Marinol or the sublingual spray Sativex—vaping provides the economy of allowing patients to grow their own medicine, delivering the added benefits of affordable supply and strain selection.

The Future Will be Vaporized

While smoking will probably never disappear from the cannabis landscape, the future of vaporization promises even greater efficiencies and convenience. Smaller, more portable units will begin to emerge that provide results approaching the quality of today’s best models. Vaporization will continue to lure greater numbers of disciples, both recreational and medical.

“The whole science and technology of vaporization is developing in a really good way,” said Doblin. “The whole process of vaporization is just going to become easier, more convenient, and less expensive,” he concluded. “I think there’s going to be a lot more people moving to vaporization in the future.”

[1] Thus, the urban legend of the perfect vaporization temperature being 420 degrees is actually somewhat true. In Fahrenheit, 420 degrees is within the recommended upper range of the vaping temperature scale.

[This article was originally written in April 2007 and updated March 2015.]


HBK11RenderGooey Rabinski is a technical writer and instructional designer who has contributed to magazines such as High Times, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana (2015 Edition), available on Amazon Kindle, and a contributing writer at Whaxy.com and Green Flower Media.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Drugged Driving Laws Lack Logic

[This article originally appeared in Cannabis Culture magazine in 2005.]

Assume you drink two beers while watching a baseball game on Saturday. While driving home from work the following Thursday, you’re picked up for a broken tail light. At his own discretion, the officer decides to test you for alcohol impairment. The beers you drank five days prior are detected. As a result, your car is impounded, you’re dragged away to jail, you lose your license, and you suffer a hefty fine.

Think this sounds far fetched? Think again. Driving Under the Influence of Drugs laws (DUIDs) are doing exactly this: testing for trace amounts of THC and cannabinoid metabolites that can exist in the human body for weeks (and, in chronic smokers, even months) after the behavioral effects of cannabis have disappeared.

“I don’t know anybody who thinks it’s acceptable to drive when you’re impaired, whether the impairment is caused by prescription drugs, fatigue, marijuana, or anything else,” Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) in Washington, D.C., told Cannabis Culture. “But we have a huge educational job to get the public to understand that these laws literally make it a crime to drive stone cold sober.”

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Politicians often compare drugged driving initiatives to existing drunk driving laws, treating them as nearly identical. However, there’s a basic logic to all drunk driving laws: alcohol consumption at a certain rate equals impaired driving performance, which in turn increases the chance of accidents. While the nuances of individual laws and enforcement techniques will probably always remain a point of contention, the basic public policy of preventing drunk driving is sound.

This is where the similarity between policies to combat drunk driving and drugged driving ends. A conventional breathalyzer—or even the more stringent blood analysis—tests for current intoxication. However, in a blatantly illogical and unscientific twist of irony, most drugged driving laws test not only for current marijuana intoxication, but also consumption that occurred weeks prior to the test. Because the effects of cannabis last only hours, consumption during prior days or weeks necessarily has no effect whatsoever upon current driving performance.

The premise of drugged driving initiatives—like that of their drunk driving cousins—is impairment at the time of vehicular operation. Therefore, any test that detects marijuana in the body of a driver that has ceased to influence his ability to operate a vehicle is neither ethical nor scientifically valid. It’s identical to a driver being busted for drunk driving on June 18 for the half a beer she drank on June 3.

Laws Around The World

The United Kingdom, Australia, and many states in the U.S. currently have DUID laws on the books. The federal governments of Canada and the U.S. are seriously considering such laws.

cannabis rally in canada

Victoria, the second largest state in Australia, on December 1, 2004 began random roadside tests for illicit drugs using a controversial saliva swab method. This imperfect technology caused significant embarrassment to the Victorian government when, on the day of its launch, it resulted in a well-publicized false positive for truck driver John De Jong. Subsequently cleared by follow-up independent and police lab tests, De Jong now may sue the government and Victoria police for the slur to his reputation.

The Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) has voiced opposition to the roadside testing program. “The whole episode on day one and its results were a fiasco. If it continues, it will be a disaster for road safety,” said RACV public policy director Dr. Ken Ogden.

“The key issues for any drug testing program are fairness and reasonableness,” said Norman Marshall of the Australian Drug Management and Education Group, one of Australia’s largest drug testing companies. “You cannot have a program which allows for someone who is innocent to be put in a position where they are suffering anxiety and distress. This is a classic example of it.”

In the United States, anti-drugged driving laws are being adopted at an alarming rate at the state level. A federal measure is also being considered. If it becomes law, federal transportation funds will be withheld from states that do not comply (as has been done in the case of drunk driving laws).

Despite federal budget deficits, a poor economy, and soldiers in Iraq lacking basic flack jackets, the Bush administration’s drug czar, John Walters, is spending $10 million on a single anti-drugged driving television ad specifically aimed at teens who use marijuana.

The Studies

A 1983 U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) study concluded that the only significant affect of cannabis use was slower driving (not only is this “not bad,” but it’s arguably a positive effect of driving high). Another NHTSA study in 1992 revealed that pot is rarely involved in driving accidents, except when combined with alcohol. (Many studies do not isolate alcohol consumption when reviewing marijuana-related accident statistics; thus, marijuana is cited in accidents caused by people who are also drunk.)

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A 1998 study by the University of Adelaide and Transport South Australia examined blood samples from drivers involved in 2,500 accidents. It found that drivers with cannabis in their systems were slightly less likely to cause accidents than those without. In Canada, a University of Toronto study in 1999 revealed that drivers who consumed a moderate amount of pot typically refrained from passing cars and drove at a more consistent speed.

According to the Cannabis and Driving report, a comprehensive literature review published in 2000 by the United Kingdom’s Department of Transportation, “The evidence that certain classes of drug may impair driving, and thereby, increase accident risk, is inconclusive.”

Zero Tolerance Laws

Society would consider absurd any law that criminalized drivers who consumed two ounces of beer and got behind the wheel because, quite simply, such small amounts of alcohol don’t impair driving skills. However, the most frightening variety of drugged driving policies, called zero tolerance laws, do exactly this. Zero tolerance laws test for extremely minute quantities—and often any quantity—of THC or cannabinoid metabolites in a driver’s body. Thus, friends of medical marijuana users who are exposed to second-hand smoke or someone who attends a rock concert or rave club can theoretically ingest enough THC to criminally implicate themselves.

Eleven U.S. states currently have zero-tolerance laws on the books: Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin. Each of these states criminalizes drivers who are found to have either very minute or any amount of cannabis in their bodies. Thus, a joint smoked three weeks ago—for which absolutely no degradation of current driving skills exists—could result in a suspended license, hefty fines, or jail time.

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Nevada has a law that criminalizes drivers for such minute amounts of THC[1] in their system that it is, in effect, a zero tolerance law. A zero tolerance also passed through the state legislature of Ohio.

“The prohibitionists have been very clever in choosing this as a topic to emphasize. Nobody wants impaired drivers on the road. ‘Zero tolerance’ actually sounds good. But we must explain why these laws criminalize people who are not impaired and waste resources that could do good in other ways. It’s a good way to stir up fear. Prohibition depends on fear,” said the MPP’s Mirken.

Medical Marijuana & Prescription Drugs

Another shortcoming of current drugged driving initiatives around the world is the lack of consideration for the often significantly debilitating effects of prescription drugs. A recent study revealed that 44 percent of Americans take prescription medication. Yet these drugged driving laws test only for illegal drugs, not prescription or over-the-counter medications.

“Some of these laws do make an exception for prescription drugs such as Marinol,” said Mirken. “But it’s no different than if you were smoking the natural herb. In fact, oral THC is somewhat more psychoactive. So we have this bizarre attempt to make criminals out of a particular class of citizens using a natural substance because they are socially disfavored and a good whipping boy for politicians.”

cheech and chong driving high for blog

Canada and ten states in the U.S. permit licensed use of medical marijuana by their citizens. Sponsors of drugged driving bills don’t seem to consider that sufferers of chronic pain, wasting syndromes, and spasticity disorders actually increase their driving skills after consuming moderate doses of cannabis to alleviate their debilitating symptoms. Policy makers also do not consider that many pharmaceutical drugs cause side effects that are markedly more detrimental and dangerous than a standard dose of cannabis.

If unchecked, the trend toward stricter persecution of drivers who are responsible cannabis smokers and medical marijuana users could someday result in total prohibition from the roads. “It’s just a matter of time before they say you have to pass a drug test before you can get a driver’s license,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New York City.

[1] Two nanograms per milliliter; company drug screenings typically test only as low as 50 nanograms.


HBK11RenderGooey Rabinski is a counterculture writer who has contributed dozens of feature articles to magazines such as High Times, Skunk, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana (2015 Edition), available on Amazon Kindle.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Staying CALM in Toronto

[This article originally appeared in Cannabis Culture magazine in April 2006]

At an unpublished location in downtown Toronto, an intentionally nondescript storefront doles out comfort and hope in the form of cannabis medicine for nearly 1,600 patients. In operation since 1998, the CALM compassion club is one of Ontario’s largest medical cannabis dispensaries.

Boasting three full-time managers with nearly 15 years of combined compassion club experience and a volunteer workforce of 10, CALM began when its founder joined a university hemp club and learned about the efficacy of cannabis for HIV and AIDS. Shortly thereafter, he began using cannabis to treat his migraine headaches. The relief he experienced made him a believer.

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“I heard how cannabis was being used for HIV. The university was located down the street from the gay district here in Toronto. I just sent feelers out to see what was going on, and the feedback was that it works. So I had a feeling [the club] would be well received,” said Neev, who also serves the role of CALM’s director.

In its third downtown Toronto location, CALM has for eight years helped deliver medicinal cannabis products and counseling to the area’s sick. The most common avenue by which the club receives new members is family doctors and specialists. “Once they get feedback from the patients they’ve referred, they feel more comfortable about sending others,” said Neev. Word of mouth is also a significant recruiting mechanism for the club.

The most prevalent ailments found in the club are HIV and AIDS. “I believe we have one of the highest HIV populations of all medical clubs, which makes our demographic mostly white, mostly male, and mostly between 30 and 45 years old,” said Neev.

Domenic, CALM’s general manager, described the club’s environment. “Clients know that when they come here, they’re safe and won’t get ripped off. We have a very visual distribution where they see exactly what they’re getting,” he said. Domenic described how the club employs subtle touches—such as classical music, aromatherapy, and professionally dressed staff—to create an environment that’s as healthy and stress free as possible.

“Organizations like TCC [the Toronto Compassion Club] and CALM exist because the powers that be at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels realize the need to help sick Canadians and that they can’t do it,” said Jon, CALM’s manager.

“So we live in this grey area, we compassion clubs,” he continued. “We’re seen as a necessary evil. We’re allowed to exist right now because we take care of a segment of the population that [the government] can’t. But I’d like to see the whole perception changed from a necessary evil to just necessary,” he said.

More Than Medicine

In this respect, CALM is, by design, more than merely a cannabis dispensary. Instead, it’s an invitingly warm and soothing environment for its members. CALM staff are focused on and nearly obsessed with ensuring that each member experiences a holistic, nurturing, and stress-free environment. Operating under the belief that stress exacerbates illness, the staff has worked hard to create—pardon the pun—a calming environment for its members.

“This should be like a pharmacy,” said Domenic. “Cannabis should be distributed in the same professional manner, at the same educated level, and with the same security,” he said, adding, “Our members deserve that; they’re sick people.” The atmosphere at CALM is a stark contrast to the avenue by which most members obtained their medicine prior to joining the club: the black market. “We’re providing a valuable social service,” said Neev.

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Tracy, CALM’s Projects Coordinator, described how one of the club’s members, a single mother suffering from fibromyalgia, during her first cannabis purchase suffered the bad luck of buying from an undercover police officer. “She was traumatized,” said Tracy. In the secure and professional environment of CALM, however, this once fearful mother says she actually enjoys shopping for her medicine.

One approach employed by the club is that of treating symptoms instead of diseases. “Someone who’s having sleeplessness due to multiple sclerosis might use the same strain as someone with sleeplessness due to cancer,” said Neev. As part of this effort, CALM maintains separate strain and baked goods feedback logs in its lounge, allowing members to share their efficacy experiences with others.

CALM is somewhat unique among compassion clubs in its community outreach efforts. “CALM is a little different in that it takes on many side projects, such as the Global Marijuana March. We have several ambitious projects on our 12-month schedule,” said Neev. The club is also very involved with Toronto’s annual Pride Day in late June and helped produce the risqué 2006 Budbabes wall calendar (Tracy’s brainchild). 

Ensuring Quality Medicine

Members of CALM can choose from a wide variety of forms of cannabis medicine, including herbal bud, tinctures (in the form of mouth sprays), hash, and a plethora of edibles, including brownies, chocolate and vanilla truffles, apple spice cupcakes, extra strength sativa brownies, and several flavors of indica and sativa cookies. The club carefully labels edibles as either indica or sativa and, when possible, references relative potency.

For herbal bud, CALM identifies each strain’s balance of indica and sativa as a ratio. “80/20 S,” for example, indicates a hybrid strain with 80 percent sativa and 20 percent indica. According to Domenic, this helps ensure that patients find the right medicine for their particular ailment and stress level. It also allows members some independence in their choice of medicine.

CALM employs several processes to ensure the quality of the cannabis it dispenses to its members. “The most common is a microscopic inspection,” said Neev. “This reveals any mold or fungus, the main reasons we might turn down a product.”

“It’s always a challenge finding consistency,” he said. “At the drop of a hat, a grower may have to move. They may be out of commission for six months. If they’ve had a robbery, they’ll probably quit for at least a year or two,” he lamented.

CALM has enjoyed long-term relationships with most of its gardeners. “We try to foster communications directly with the grower so we can refine any aspect of the production process,” said Neev. “We learn what kind of nutrients they’re using. We find out which boosters or supplements they’re using.”

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The club reports that it is able to establish direct relationships with 80-90 percent of growers. “Most growers want to work with us, but sometimes they’re far away; there’s a million reasons why a grower might not want to work directly with us.” However, Neev reports that most growers who supply CALM consistently provide a high level of quality. If growers don’t maintain certain standards, CALM simply refuses to work with them.

“First, it has to be mold and pesticide free. Once we’ve established that, we look for quality,” said Neev. “Even if it looks good, it might not actually be good,” he said, explaining how the final determinate of a potential crop’s fate is an old fashioned subjective smoke test from an experienced staff member. “Every so often, we’ll get something that doesn’t look all that great but has a really good kick or body buzz,” he said.

The need to establish the absence of mold and fungus has been dealt with in a creative and surprisingly inexpensive way at CALM. Employing a special microscope designed to work with a computer via its USB port, CALM inspects samples of all medicine under 60 times magnification. “The microscope is an excellent barometer,” said Neev. The club has been using photos produced by the microscope to catalog the strains it offers.

When possible, CALM takes its quality assurance effort a step further, inspecting the gardens themselves. “We make sure that they’re clean and the wiring is safe,” said Neev. “We check everything to ensure that it’s a high quality growing environment.”

CALM doesn’t publish prices outside its membership, but said that it’s competitive with the black market. “I’d love to see marijuana given away to sick people,” said Neev, “But we’d be incurring problems.”

In accordance, the club enforces a strict resell policy. “To help prevent reselling, we can’t make it like a dollar or two a gram, because the resell value is just too high,” said Neev. “We have to be competitive with the black market, but not so competitive that we’re feeding the black market,” he added. Of CALM’s 1,600 members, about 50 have been relieved of their membership for reselling.

Dedicated Staff

CALM employs a diverse staff, allowing it to fluidly communicate with and counsel members from equally diverse backgrounds. All staff except one are serious medical users, all with different conditions.

The club’s management is derived almost entirely from the ranks of its membership, allowing those who manage the club to better empathize with members. But, as pointed out by Neev, recruiting staff from the membership is a double-edged sword. “The benefit is that you have firsthand experience. The drawback is you don’t have certified experience,” he said. “We do some of the pharmaceutic functions of a nurse, but we’re not nurses, we’re not pharmacists.”

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It’s difficult for those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting this safe and professional downtown dispensary to truly understand the positive tone of CALM’s staff and membership. In a private moment on the patio of a nearby smoking café, Jon described how he quit a good paying job to engage in the more selfless pursuit of working at CALM and chasing something other than money. “We have kind of a solemn duty to help our fellow Canadians, you know?” he said soberly.

Member Testimonials

Probably the most accurate gauge of the effectiveness and quality of a compassion club is its membership. CALM boasts members ranging in age from 19 to 79. While most members have HIV or AIDS, the club’s relatively large patient base finds within its ranks nearly every major malady.

Mona, who requested that her last name be withheld, joined CALM six years ago as its 456th member. This 79-year-old medical user’s conditions include asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoporosis. “If God grew anything better, he kept it for himself,” she said about the medicine she receives from CALM. But Mona’s uniqueness includes more than her status as CALM’s oldest member. She has been using cannabis to treat her ailments for more than 60 years, longer than most cannabis users have been alive.

When asked if, after six decades of use, she believed she could be addicted to cannabis, Mona confidently said no. “I can quit it. If I haven’t got it, I’m not going to go out and shoot somebody or steal something or do something I shouldn’t. If people think that, they’re wrong,” she said.

Mona said she appreciates CALM’s cannabis because it doesn’t cause negative side effects or lead to addiction, unlike many of the pharmaceutical drugs she’s been prescribed over the years. She described the painful experience of becoming addicted to Percodan, a pain killer used to treat moderate-to-severe pain. “When they found me, I had thrown up and was in the middle of the floor, shaking,” she said. “I didn’t know my name.” Mona reported that she’s been able to significantly reduce her dependence on pharmaceutical drugs because of her use of medical-grade cannabis from CALM.

Mona obtains all of her medicine from CALM. When asked what she would do if CALM went away, she immediately became jittery and her voice cracked. “Oh, don’t tell me that, don’t tell me that. They help a lot of people here.”

Greg, a 53-year-old member, suffers from severe osteo and rheumatoid arthritis. A veteran member of CALM with more than six years of membership under his belt, he reports that he’s been able to dramatically reduce his reliance upon pharmaceutical drugs simply by making medical-grade cannabis a part of his daily life.

Greg, who works in the information technology industry, said that he couldn’t perform his job duties if cannabis didn’t reduce his reliance upon pharmaceutical drugs. “Without cannabis, I couldn’t do my job,” he said. Greg said his use of cannabis as medicine, “Is about being able to function…about being able to work.”

Jennifer, a 21-year-old suffering from bipolar disorder, is one of the newest members of CALM. Previously a heavy drug user, she said she has learned much from CALM’s staff.

“If I’m feeling really manic and I smoke an indica, I can calm down and take a break. And if I’m feeling really low and depressed and can’t get out of bed, I smoke a good strong sativa and I feel great,” she said.

Like Greg, Jennifer explained how cannabis reduces the negative side effects of her pharmaceutical drugs. “My hands shake from all the lithium,” she said during an interview at CALM. “If I smoke a joint, they stop shaking and I can write,” she said with a smile.

Gloria, a CALM member who suffers from fibromyalsia, migraine headaches, and osteoarthritis, has been using medical cannabis for about 30 years. She learned about CALM from her doctor, who recommended that she take medical marijuana to treat her symptoms.

Gloria said she appreciates the quality of the cannabis made available from CALM, which she said is a great deal better than the street pot she used to purchase to treat her ailments. “I never knew what I was going to get [from the black market]. It was totally different from what we get here at CALM,” she said.


HBK11RenderGooey Rabinski is a counterculture writer who has contributed dozens of feature articles to magazines such as High Times, Skunk, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana (2015 Edition), available on Amazon Kindle.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Patient Profile: Al Graham

[This article was originally published in Cannabis Health Journal in April 2006]

HBK11RenderOntario resident Al Graham isn’t the stereotypical image one envisions when hearing the phrase “medical marijuana user.” Neither a pothead nor a rebel, this Crohn’s sufferer is more likely to be found at a 4 x 4 tough truck competition than a hempfest. But like millions of others, Graham knows one thing that permeates all cultures: His pain and suffering are diminished through the use of medical cannabis.

Graham, a 44-year-old father of three, began experiencing the symptoms of Crohn’s disease in December 2002. Since that time, his daily routine has been turned upside down. Fear, painful and sometimes humiliating symptoms, and a barrage of intimidating treatments have disrupted his life for the past three years.

The Onset

Crohn’s disease is a disorder afflicting nearly a million people in North America. It features chronic inflammation of one or more sections of the gastrointestinal tract, typically the intestines. Although it’s cause is unknown, one theory stipulates that Crohn’s is caused by abnormalities in the immune system’s response to the contents of the bowels. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bleeding. Complications encompass bowel obstructions and perforations, cancer of the bowel, and inflammation of the joints, spine, eyes, and liver.

During the six-month period between the onset of Crohn’s symptoms and his official diagnosis in the summer of 2003, Graham’s life changed significantly. He suffered such significant and rapid weight loss that his illness was virtually impossible to hide. “I thought, oh, great, I’m losing weight. And then, all of a sudden, it got real bad,” he said during an interview at an Ontario smoking café, explaining how he lost 60 pounds in only six months.

A busy Type A prior to his diagnosis, Graham has experienced difficulty with the fact that Crohn’s has forced him to slow his daily pace. Hospital stays characterized by sheets full of blood while his lavatory became a jar beside his bed have served as a shocking and pronounced reminder that his life may never be “normal” again.

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It would have been understandable if Graham’s medical use of cannabis was limited to simply getting high to dull his pain and forget his worries. Instead, he told me he felt an obligation to get educated. “As soon as I got sick, I went looking for information,” he said. “I wanted to find out how [cannabis] was going to benefit me and look for strains that would help—instead of just relying on any ol’ bag of weed.”

Strain efficacy is a topic close to Graham’s heart. When queried, he mentioned Williams Wonder and Juicy Fruit as especially helpful. “Juice Fruit makes me hungry and gives me the munchies,” he said. Not a trivial thing for a patient who lost 10 pounds per month for half a year and is fighting to maintain a healthy weight.

Graham’s favorite forms of cannabis are edibles and vapor. “Edibles have reduced my trips to the bathroom. They slow the process,” he said. He explained that he prefers smoking for help with sleep, stress, appetite, and pain. Edibles, however, provide him with more of a gastrointestinal benefit than smoking, striking at the heart of his ailment.

The Education

While his doctors were able to educate him regarding Crohn’s disease, it was Graham who had to educate some of his doctors about how cannabis could help not only his symptoms, but also the negative side effects of his pharmaceutical treatments. He said his research wasn’t just to educate himself, but also to educate those around him. “It’s not just me and my wife, but I have to educate all of my close family,” he said.

Not an easy task for a man whose 16-year-old daughter completed the D.A.R.E. program in her public school. After admitting his use of medical cannabis to her, she cried and told him it would lead to harder drugs and harm his health—sincerely believing that it could even kill him. While Graham has countered much of her taxpayer-supported brainwashing with the facts, his own daughter still asks him not to medicate in her presence.

His wife—always supportive of his choice to use cannabis to treat his disease—was at first skeptical of its efficacy. “Then the doctor came out and didn’t have any question [regarding its efficacy],” said Graham, adding, “She was quite surprised.”

This humble Canadian has been a trailblazer in the career of his family physician, who had never before filled a prescription for marijuana. “So I brought the paperwork to his office. We talked about the facts,” he said. When his doctor raised concerns that cannabis might act as a gateway to hard drugs, Graham reacted calmly but sternly. “I said, hey, I’m 44, I have three kids. Have I ever missed a doctor’s appointment?” His physician had to admit that Graham, since his diagnosis, had been fully cooperative, accepting all recommended treatments for his condition.

“When they wanted to stick a needle in my rib cage and take a piece of my liver out, I did it,” he said. “When they wanted to stick a six foot hose…heh, yeah,” he said, stopping himself and bearing a painful smile. A smile earned through years of enduring treatments that, while helping to sustain his life, have threatened to dehumanize him, stripping away his hope of regaining normalcy within his life. Graham, however, remains optimistic.

The Treatment

If the direct symptoms of Crohn’s aren’t enough to frighten you, consider the side effects of some of the pharmaceutical medications commonly prescribed. In strong enough doses, they are all seemingly designed to kill either the disease or the patient in a modern wild western medicine metaphor of “this body ain’t big enough for the two of us.”

Graham’s lifestyle hasn’t been altered merely by the necessity of taking dozens of pills every day to treat his Crohn’s symptoms. “You’re always getting stabbed or they’re sucking twelve tubes of blood out of you,” he said, only half joking.

His family has had to learn to shop for groceries differently, carefully reading labels. “It’s no fun looking at food and wondering what it’s going to do to me,” he said. “Can I eat it? Am I going to be in deep pain? Fears of what you can and cannot eat get to you. Marijuana helped me want to eat,” he said gratefully.

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At one point, Graham was consuming 33 pills each day. He described how pharmaceuticals affected his life. “You go into the drug store and you’re looking for a container so you can organize your pills, one that has separate containers for Monday through Sunday,” he said. “But the whole container doesn’t have enough room to hold one day worth of pills,” he exclaimed.

One nasty drug commonly given to Crohn’s patients is Prednisone. During our interview, Graham elaborated on the negative side effects of this anti-inflammatory steroid commonly administered for a wide variety of ailments. Among its more pleasant side effects are bloating, nervousness, and increased joint pain.

Several other strong pharmaceuticals, each with its own set of sometimes significant side effects, entered the picture. “My doctor put me on Methotrexate,” he said. “It’s used for treating chemo patients with cancer.” Also known as Biotrexate and Neotrexate, among Methotrexate’s listed potential side effects are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and–death. While more gastrointestinal and stomach problems isn’t exactly what a Crohn’s patient needs, death isn’t on anybody’s gift list.

It’s easy to say, with distant objectivity, that Graham’s symptoms and negative side effects are “bad things.” But consider injecting yourself once a week in the stomach with a drug that warns, in large capital letters, METHOTREXATE IS A POTENT AND POTENTIALLY FATAL DRUG. “It’s not the kind of thing you wanna read, eh?” he said, sporting a nervous laugh.

Methotexate also often causes decreased bone marrow activity, further complicating the fact that Prednisone carries the potential side effect of diminished bone density. “I was on Prednisone so long and so many different times that both of my doctors told me they were going to send me for bone density tests,” he said.

Graham detailed his Methotrexate routine. “It’s an injection that I have to take once a week, in my stomach,” he continued. He explained how he had never before given himself an injection. Thus, he went to his family doctor and requested that the nurse perform his first injection to show him the ropes.

Smacking of legal policies that serve mostly to alienate and dehumanize patients, Graham described how the nurse donned a mask, gown, gloves, and protective glasses in preparation for the injection. “I asked her what she was doing and she said she had to in order to give me the drug. I asked, ‘If you’re afraid of getting a bit of this medicine on your hands, what do you want me to do?’” he said incredulously. “Allow this to be put into my bloodstream?”

A full account of Graham’s treatments can be both intimidating and depressing. In addition to the daily pill regimen and weekly Methotrexate injections, he must undergo infusions of a drug called Remicade every six weeks. A solution targeted at Crohn’s patients with moderate to severe symptoms who have “tried other therapies without success,” Remicade’s goal is to reduce flare-ups, inducing and maintaining remission.

When asked if he gets high before such unpleasant treatments to better cope, Graham said no. “I wait ‘til after. I just prefer to do that,” he said. “Afterward, when we get out of town with my wife driving, down comes the window.”

The Side Effects

Graham says he often suffers from the negative side effects of his pharmaceutical drugs. “I feel like an old man, like an 80-year-old with a cane. My joints, my muscles…and it’s from the medications,” he said.

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Graham is quick to point out that cannabis helps not only the symptoms of his Crohn’s disease, but also the side effects of the pharmaceutical drugs he must take. “I’m currently on two of the hardest drugs my doctor can prescribe to me,” he said, referring to Mexothrexate and Remicade. “There’s no other drug that he can give me.”

Remicade carries possible side effects of blood and nervous system disorders. Both it and Methotexate are last resorts on the doctor’s list of escalated treatment therapies. And both sometimes seem as bad or worse than the disease they treat, giving patients like Graham twice as much to worry about.

Graham isn’t without a sense of humour regarding the negative side effects of his pharmaceutical treatments. “At one point I was on so many different medications that I made a long list of all the potential side effects,” he said. “I just took the data from the information packets and listed it on the computer. I had about seven eighths of those side effects,” he said. “It was just brutal.”

After describing the irony of the pharmaceutical drugs that keep him alive while simultaneously torturing him, Graham smiled while talking about the efficacy provided by cannabis. “It has allowed me to keep my sanity,” he said. “Being sick and taking pharmaceutical drugs often leads to bouts of depression,” he said soberly, describing tearful sleepless nights and paralyzed body parts. Sadly, he was describing pharmaceutical drug side effects, not symptoms of Crohn’s. “Marijuana helps put a smile on my face and lifts my spirits while I wait to have some tube or needle stuck in places that people just don’t talk about,” he said.

Graham was brave enough to be starkly honest about the personal impact of the side effects of his treatments. “I’m going through periods that I find myself having a shortness of breath, dizzy spells, and numbness in my hands and face,” he told me. “It gets me to a point that it makes me cry. I just hurt all over,” he confessed. “Cannabis helps me deal with what I’m going through, without all the severe side effects.”

The Finances

When a disease like Crohn’s strikes, it affects more than just the patient. After 21 years of employment and working his way from entry level yard assistant to plant supervisor, Graham was forced to leave his job with a local hydro power company. “They knew I was sick,” he said. “It was obvious.”

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Currently on long-term disability, Graham says he is actually fortunate. “I was lucky. I had a benefits package that included long-term disability. They give you [a percentage] of your wage,” he said. He and his family, however, are now deprived of the bonus money he used to earn on his job, costing them $10,000 a year. “All of the sudden you’re down to making next to nothing on your unemployment and it doesn’t even cover a mortgage and a loan payment,” he said.

Graham’s bi-monthly Remicade infusion carries a cost of $3,500. While he receives financial assistance for this expense from the Trillium Foundation, a provincial patient assistance organization serving Ontario, this still has a significant impact on his finances.

“I had an infusion about three months ago. That’s $3,500 that goes out the door to the pharmacy. I haven’t received the cheque yet,” he said. Until he actually receives a reimbursement payment, he can’t repay the pharmacy. “So I’m paying interest on that credit, plus I have to pay my deductible,” he lamented. “By the time I’m done, it costs me about $500,” he said. That’s five hundred dollars, every six weeks, that the Graham household cannot recoup—in addition to lost income, other significant health-related financial burdens, and the $10,000 in lost bonuses from the job he can no longer hold.

The Glass Half Full

Fortunately, Graham has noted some benefit from his current situation. When asked if his disease and the resulting hardships have strained his relationships with his wife and children, he  told me, “It’s actually brought us closer together.”

Possibly most remarkable is the fact that, despite his pain and suffering, Al Graham isn’t a bitter man. In fact, he’s frequently expressing his thanks to those who have helped him in one way or another since his condition began. “Every time I needed something done, my doctors, my wife and family, and my friends were always right there to do it,” he said sincerely.

His reliance on cannabis, preferably in the form of vapor or edibles, has decreased his capsule consumption from 33 to four pills a day. Sympathetic doctors, new coping skills, the responsible use of cannabis, and a supportive, caring family are slowly giving Al Graham his life back.

While he breaks many of the traditional stereotypes, Graham’s story is nearly identical to that of any patient who takes refuge in medical cannabis. Regardless of their other commonalities—or lack thereof—these are people who use cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of a deadly disease for which a treatment better than mother nature’s seemingly can’t be conjured. Not even by a species that has walked on the moon and developed weapons of mass destruction.


HBK11RenderGooey Rabinski is a counterculture writer who has contributed dozens of feature articles to magazines such as High Times, Skunk, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana (2015 Edition), available on Amazon Kindle.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Patient Profile: Kelsey Krebs

[This article originally appeared in Cannabis Health Journal in October 2006.]

HBK11RenderWe supposedly live in the day of the “miracle drug,” a title garnished on everything from Prozac to Viagra. Despite the medical marijuana community’s overall contempt for pharmaceutical drugs—or, more accurately, their slew of negative side effects—it’s true that many med pot patients wouldn’t be alive if not for their pills, injections, and other treatments. But is a drug really a “miracle” if it delivers such negative side effects that patients can’t decide which is worse, their disease symptoms or the culminated side effects of their pharmaceuticals?

Ask Alberta resident Kelsey Krebs about a miracle drug and he’ll point you in a significantly more natural direction than the local pharmacy. Krebs, a 58-year-old multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferer who contracted the disease in 1991, sees no ambiguity in labeling cannabis his personal miracle story. In a wheelchair for nine years as a result of MS, cannabis gave Krebs the gift of mobility in 2004. Unable to walk for nearly a decade, this optimistic Canadian told me how he routinely strides four blocks to collect his mail and can spend more than an hour browsing his local Costco—without the complimentary battery-powered mobility scooter.

MS is more common in women than men and typically targets those between the ages of 20 and 40. It became a part of Krebs’ life when he was 43. This neurological disorder, affecting more than 2.5 million people globally, normally strikes in a form called relaxing-remitting (but often worsens into progressive forms). Krebs’ initial onset of the disease went straight for the jugular in the form of chronic progressive MS—the most debilitating manifestation. His doctors informed him that he’d never experience a remission. “Which I didn’t…for 13 years,” said Krebs. “It just slowly kept getting a little worse. Until I started using cannabis, that is.”

Krebs is a testament to the power of word of mouth. In 1998, after having suffered from MS for nearly seven years, one of Krebs’ co-workers asked him if he had ever used or considered cannabis to treat his disease. A few days later, his co-worker gave him a gift that would forever change his life: a joint.

The Lame Shall Walk

Considering the example of Krebs, theories that Jesus Christ healed the afflicted with cannabis aren’t so far fetched. After spending nearly one-third of his adult life confined to a wheelchair and being told by doctors that his condition wouldn’t improve, it certainly must have seemed like a miracle to his friends and family when Krebs began walking unassisted for significant distances.

kelsey_krebs“I probably had about a fifteen second standing span,” Krebs told me during a phone interview from his home outside of Edmonton. “If you said stand, my legs would just crumble and I’d fall. I would have to sit down. Today, I could probably brace my legs and stand for an hour,” he said. Krebs shared his excitement of no longer being restricted to a wheelchair. “You’re looking up, always on the ground, asking someone to open the door…. Now I just open the door myself and walk in,” said Krebs. “I’m standing at the same height as other people. It just feels so good.” In addition to the emotional and psychological benefits of mobility and independence, the exercise gained from walking contributes to Krebs’ overall health, enhancing his ability to battle the slow erosion of his nervous system that is the core destructive force behind MS.

“When I first got MS, I was very strong from hunting and walking,” he said. However, as the disease progressed and he lost his mobility, Krebs became increasingly weaker. “The less you can walk, the weaker you get. The weaker you get, the less you can walk. It’s just a downward spiral,” he said. “Now I’m on an upward spiral. The more I can do, the more I walk. Which means there’s more I can do,” he said happily.

Benefits Beyond Mobility

If going from wheelchair bound to full mobility isn’t enough to convince one of the efficacy of cannabis, Krebs has also gained significant relief from double vision (16 percent of those with MS suffer partial or complete loss of vision). “Before I used cannabis, when I looked at my lawn, I could hardly see anything. When I had a few drags of a joint, my vision would go back to singular,” he said.

Krebs believes that he has regained normal vision and mobility as a result of the relaxation that cannabis affords his body. Referring to the protective and insulating myelin sheath surrounding the nerves that an MS patient’s immune system erroneously attacks, Krebs said he believes the key to the benefits he gains from cannabis lies in its power to relax him. “I truly believe that my body is so relaxed using pot that it gives it a chance to build more myelin than is being eaten away. That’s what I think the whole [benefit] is,” he said.

Reduction of Pharmaceutical Drugs

There’s something perversely exciting about the ability to replace pharmaceutical drugs costing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop—and that carry a laundry list of negative side effects—with a simple plant one can grow in their back yard (and that carries arguably no negative side effects).

Like many MS patients, cannabis has allowed Krebs to reduce his pharmaceutical drug consumption from seven to only two drugs. This has reduced his expense to Health Canada and—more importantly—eliminated the negative side effects of the drugs he no longer requires. “Just being off those poisons, I feel better,” he said.

Drugs such as the anti-inflammatory steroid Prednisone, Solu-Medrod (basically a stronger form of Prednisone), and the anti-spasticity drug Baclofen caused Krebs to suffer a wide variety of negative side effects.

“Baclofen was the ugly one, the one that made my ears ring,” said Krebs. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, in older adults, Baclofen can cause “hallucinations, confusion or mental depression, other mood or mental changes, and severe drowsiness.” Krebs explained how he no longer needs Baclofen—or its harmful side effects—now that he consumes cannabis on a regular basis. “Pot takes the tremors right away. I can be sitting here, shaking like a leaf, and I’ll have three or four puffs and I’ll calm right down,” he said.

Prednisone, another drug that Krebs no longer needs because of his use of medicinal cannabis, is one of the most commonly prescribed steroids on the market. It also carries some of the most severe side effects. Symptoms such as dizziness, difficulty sleeping, extreme changes in mood, bulging eyes, red or purple blotches under the skin, and extreme tiredness are but a few of its “less severe” symptoms. The “serious” list of side effects includes seizures, depression, loss of contact with reality, uncontrollable shaking of the hands, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, swelling or pain in the stomach, and difficulty breathing or swallowing.

When his neurologist put him on Salu-Medrod, Krebs was told it was newer and more powerful than Prednisone. All he can remember, however, is that it carried some intense and life-altering side effects. “I know you cannot believe that a person can stay awake for three weeks, but [on Salu-Medrod] you do! Even when you close your eyes, you’re still wide awake. And that lasted for three weeks [after the treatments],” said Krebs. Having undergone a Salu-Medrod treatment once every three months for a period of three years, Krebs reported that, although he no longer takes the drug, he continues to experience sleep disorders. “I haven’t had Salu-Medrod for two years and I still have to take a sleeping pill and cannabis or I can’t sleep,” he said.

DSC_7632Before adopting cannabis as medicine, Krebs had fallen into the sad category of patients who have become so bombarded with pharmaceutical drugs that their doctors begin prescribing secondary drugs simply to reduce the negative side effects of the primary drugs. Which, in turn, often requires even more drugs, in an ironic pattern of treatment escalation with no theoretical end. “Do you see the contradiction here?” asked Krebs. “You take Baclofen primarily to stop shaking, but Prednisone causes shaking. The drugs are working against themselves,” he lamented incredulously. 

Krebs also explained how, when watching television, “…my eyes would turn digital.” He explained how his TV screen would turn into moving colored squares. When he inquired with his neurologist, he learned this to be a prelude to migraine headaches. “With cannabis, migraines never developed. The only time I got severe headaches was when I was on Baclofen,” he said. 

Strain Efficacy & Tolerance Building

Krebs, a Health Canada MMAR (Medical Marijuana Access Regulations) exemptee with a legal garden of 25 plants, grows five plants each of White Rhino, White Widow, Northern Lights, Northern Berry, and Louie (a Northern Lights hybrid). Krebs reports that he gains roughly equal relief from the tremors, double vision, and pain produced by his MS from each of the strains he’s growing. Because the efficacy of the strains is roughly the same for him, he chooses varieties based on yield and robustness.

“Louie is a very heavy, sappy, gooey, crystalline plant and a good yielder. I like that one,” said Krebs. “White Rhino and White Widow are pretty finicky. I’ve had little problems with them here and there. Leaves falling out or burned or whatever. Whereas the other strains, like Louie, just seem to grow,” he said.

To maximize his harvest and help him remain independent from the dangers and expense of the black market, Krebs employs CO2, plentiful ventilation, and appropriate lighting for each stage of plant growth (metal halide for the vegetation stage and high pressure sodium during flowering). “I use CO2 and, you know, I can tell the increase in growth. You can see the difference. To me, CO2 is very important,” he said.

“When I first started, I took any F1 female I could get,” said Krebs when asked about his early experience growing for himself. “I’d like to get in Blueberry. I’d like to get in Chemo. I’d like to get rid of White Rhino and White Widow.” Krebs said he’s happy he has a grow license and doesn’t have to depend on Health Canada for his medicine. “I’ve read where medical users have wanted to send their [Health Canada] weed back, it was so rough,” he said.

To prevent tolerance building and maximize the medicinal effects of his crop, Krebs (who consumes about three grams of cannabis per day), has devised a rotation schedule based on the five strains he’s growing. “Mind you—don’t forget this—your body gets accustomed to [a particular strain] in two to three weeks,” he said, explaining how once, early in his growing, he had a small amount each of five strains. “I was really happy; I finally had good pot! So I smoked a small amount of four or five of the strains each time. Well, in a couple of weeks, I was immune to everything! I had to quit all the other strains and start going back to one at a time. You want to have one for two or three weeks, cut if off, and go to the other one for two or three weeks,” he recommended.

Krebs enjoys vaporizing because he’s able to avoid a headstone. “I want a body stone more than a head stone,” he said. “With vaporizing, I don’t get any kind of head stone. You’d never know I even smoked,” he added. Like many patients with chronic progressive MS, Krebs reports that he rarely feels “stoned” in the conventional sense, as would a recreational smoker. “To me, stoned is just my muscles relaxing. I don’t get goofy or get a head buzz,” he said.

Unlike recreational smokers, Krebs seeks only relief from the symptoms of his MS, not to get high. “I don’t like that big head bomb when you’re seeing triple…that’s what you want when you’re a kid or want to get stoned. I don’t want that. I’m that way when I wake up on a normal day, unsteady and shaky and everything. With MS, it’s like you’re half stoned all the time. I don’t like that. It’s out of control. I want to get my feet so when I take a step, it’s really a step. When I’m thinking, I want the thought to be there.” Krebs illustrates the major difference between hard core medical users and recreational consumption. “I’m not smoking to get high. I’m smoking to get rid of the shaking and the pain,” he told me.

A Semblance of Normalcy

“Since I began smoking all the time, I’m surprisingly pain free. I can sit in a chair—I’m sitting here right now, in my TV chair—and, by bending certain ways, I can get to a point where absolutely nothing will hurt, not even have one finger, one toe…nothing hurt. I’m pretty fortunate for that,” Krebs said.

Krebs especially appreciates the reduction in his double vision that daily cannabis consumption has provided. “Without smoking, I can sit and look at a tree and it’s like a mirage. I can see green, but I can’t tell you if it’s four branches or two. It’s just blurry,” he said. “If I have a couple of puffs, I can feel the range move in…and I can see. Cannabis has definitely helped my vision.”

If the ability to walk and see isn’t enough to convert the cynical, Krebs enjoys other benefits from his use of cannabis. One of the biggest problems experienced by those with chronic progressive MS is overall loss of muscle control, which often manifests itself in the form of a weak bladder. Since adopting the use of cannabis in his daily life, Krebs has significantly greater bladder control. “When I first started driving again, about two years ago, I’d wet my pants on the way to the city and have to turn around and come home,” he said soberly. He explained how his accidents weren’t for lack of a service station or restaurant. In a condition known as Key in Lock Syndrome, MS patients experience the rapid onset of a great urgency to urinate (resulting from one or more bladder contractions). This condition (not limited to those with MS) rarely allows sufferers to find facilities in time to prevent embarrassment. “Using cannabis, I haven’t had an accident for a couple of years now,” Krebs told me.

Like Alison Myrden in Ontario, Grant Krieger in Calgary, and thousands of fellow patients throughout North America, Krebs is another success story in the use of medicinal cannabis to effectively—and often astonishingly—treat MS. The mere fact that cannabis has single-handedly allowed him to regain the ability to walk is a miracle in itself. However, the reduction in pharmaceutical drugs (and their negative side effects), dramatically improved vision, and the fact that he’s now able to drive and work are obviously major improvements in his quality of life.

Not bad for a man who medical professionals advised to get used to his wheelchair because, they said, he’d never walk again. The fringe scholars might just be right: Jesus may have healed with cannabis. After all, anything that can help the lame to walk and give vision to the blind must be considered a miracle.


HBK11RenderGooey Rabinski is a counterculture writer who has contributed dozens of feature articles to magazines such as High Times, Skunk, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana (2015 Edition), available on Amazon Kindle.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Patient Profile: Marylynne Chamney

[This article originally appeared in Cannabis Health Journal in May 2005]

The medical marijuana movement is rife with examples of injustice, patient persecution, and indifference on the part of government and society in general. The story of Marylynne Chamney is, unfortunately, no exception.

In December of 1994, Chamney—then 30 years old—suffered her first grand mal seizure, forever changing her life and undeniably informing her and her family that she was now officially an epileptic. “You don’t know what it’s like to be blind until you’re blind,” Chamney said in a phone interview from her home. “I got epilepsy and wondered why people didn’t understand me.”

Negative Side Effects

In the tradition of western medicine, her diagnosis was followed by tests and treatment regimes prescribed by doctors—along with a barrage of pharmaceutical drugs. Drugs such as Dilantin and Tegretol carried severe side effects, most notably nausea and lost appetite.

These negative side effects resulted in the further deterioration of Chamney’s health. In only three months, her weight decreased from 130 to 65 pounds. The severe nausea caused by the synthetic drugs that were supposed to increase her quality of life by preventing her seizures was slowly starving her body of nutrition. Depression and double vision were among other side effects. Chamney was relegated to spending most of her time on the living room couch, often continually sick for days at a time.

“Everything appeared to move up and down, like TV credits. I typically saw three things at a time,” she said. “The only way I could see clearly was by closing one eye. So for about two years I went around with one eye closed,” she laughed.

Adding insult to injury, the seizures never abated. The drug treatments that carried such significant negative side effects also had relatively little efficacy, leaving Chamney depressed with hopelessness and pain.

Eight months after her first seizure, one of Chamney’s friends suggested she try cannabis as an alternative treatment. Her husband Stuart dipped into the black market and purchased a quarter ounce of an unknown strain. After two to three joints per day for about two days, Chamney’s appetite returned.

“I believe marijuana is a panacea,” she said. “It gave me my life back. I can’t describe how miserable I was on the pharmaceutical drugs alone.” Chamney has since been a regular medical marijuana user, regaining her weight and significantly decreasing her dependence on pharmaceutical drugs. She has also suffered far fewer seizures than when she was taking pharma drugs alone.

Despite the stigma, Chamney admitted to her doctor that she was taking cannabis to treat her condition. He consulted medical references that categorized marijuana as a muscle relaxant and anti-spasmodic. Noting that this was the perfect treatment for epilepsy, he endorsed her choice of medication, even requesting updates regarding its efficacy.

Chamney requires, on average, 35 grams (about 1.2 ounces) of cannabis per week. This amount allows her to smoke as she needs and use some for baking or tea (although it’s extremely rare that she has enough pot on hand for such non-smoking luxuries).

The realities of black market economies soon impacted the Chamney family budget. Chamney’s daily cannabis consumption level cost the family, on average, a thousand dollars per month. Stuart was forced to begin working two jobs to cover the expense. Despite this effort, the financial burden of paying for black market medicine ultimately resulted in bankruptcy for her family.

Section 56 Exemption

In 2000, Chamney petitioned for and was eventually granted a Health Canada Section 56 exemption, including a Growing License. “When I saw that Terry Parker was making headway with epilepsy and that he got an exemption, I pursued one for myself,” she said. “I didn’t want to do anything illegal and jeopardize my daughter’s life. I had to make it legal, or else what would my daughter learn?”

Health Canada refused Chamney’s first two petitions. “With two doctor’s notes, they still refused me,” she said. “They claimed my doctors didn’t quite understand marijuana. My doctor had simply said that he was unaware of any conclusive studies proving its efficacy, but that he was willing to back me.” Despite her qualifications for Health Canada’s medical marijuana program, the Great White North’s federal health care system sat on Chamney’s request, forcing her to continue purchasing from the black market and prolonging her uncertainty and financial hardship.

Chamney became increasingly frustrated. “So I contacted a reporter at the Toronto Sun,” she said with a tone of revenge. “They ran a story and I got my exemption the day after the article appeared! So you have to make noise. Anyone wanting an exemption has to make noise! Go to the press. They’re powerful.”

The appearance of the Toronto Sun article, however, wasn’t completely positive. While Chamney gained her exemption, she didn’t anticipate the repercussions of friends, family, and neighbors learning of her dependency on cannabis. Chamney’s brother (a school teacher) and his wife strongly disapproved of her use of marijuana—even medicinally. As a result, they estranged themselves from her. “I lost a brother because his wife doesn’t approve of pot,” said Chamney. “I still feel like a criminal because of the stigma.”

The Invasion

But epilepsy, financial hardship, social stigma, and dependency on the black market proved to be relatively minor problems compared to what came next for the Chamney family. On May 14, 2003, at about 3:30 a.m.—just three days prior to their second home harvest—four men donning balaclavas and weapons broke into the Chamney home. The thieves’ goal was the capture of the family’s literally valuable-as-gold—but fully legal—medical marijuana plants.

One of the thieves chased Stuart across the street, swinging at him with a serrated butcher knife. When Stuart turned to face the criminal, he fled. Meanwhile, a second intruder confronted the Chamney’s then 18-year-old daughter Andrea, pointing a 9 mm pistol in her face. A third thief threatened Chamney with another 9 mm.

Her parents, who were living on the second floor of their house to assist with her illness, were also threatened with guns pointed in their faces.

As Chamney and her husband ran into the street, screaming for help and trying to catch the men, the criminals sped away in a van. But not before one of them stopped and slugged her in the mouth as her mother helplessly looked on. The injury resulted in the loss of several teeth and three root canals.

Stuart later discovered that the thieves left behind a duffel bag containing razor blades, duct tape, and garbage bags. “You can only imagine what they were going to use that stuff for, eh?,” he said during a phone interview.

Police Response

“I think the police suspected us as much as the intruders,” Stuart said. He described how he was viewed warily by the local police, as if “we had been the perpetrators instead of the victims.” He also felt pressured to reveal fellow growers as the Mississauga police probed him for information unrelated to the effort to catch the criminals responsible for the burglary.

Not satisfied with the lackadaisical response of the police, Stuart began his own research. He learned that, in 2001, Health Canada experienced its own break-in, suffering the theft of several exemptee records. This was followed by a small rash of home invasions and medical garden thefts throughout Canada. Unfortunately, the Chamney family victimization was not the first incident of an exemptee medical garden theft.

Aftermath

The negative repercussions of the invasion have been numerous. Chamney was traumatized to the point of developing agoraphobia (the fear of open or public places). She has left her home only half a dozen times in the two years since the invasion. “I’m afraid to go out, but I’m tired of staying here. It drives me nuts,” she said.

Daughter Andrea suffers from acute anxiety and carries her mace in-hand when entering the home. Stuart, who once hoped that legally growing his family’s own cannabis could wean them from the dangers and expense of the black market, works 80 hours per week to afford his wife’s medicine. To escape the trauma of the event, Chamney’s parents have moved to northern Ontario, several hours away. “I feel as if I’ve lost half my family just because marijuana helps my epilepsy more than anything else,” she said.

The Chamney home invasion clearly illustrates the destructive effects of prohibition-induced black markets for cannabis. As a fully legal Health Canada exemptee with a Growing License, Chamney broke no laws and followed all Health Canada regulations regarding their medical garden.

The sad reality that victimizations of this type could be prevented by cannabis legalization is difficult to ignore. The fact that many who suffer from debilitating and terminal diseases are further persecuted by criminally controlled black markets and marginalized by government and police is an embarrassment to all of society, prohibitionists and activists alike.


HBK11Render

Gooey Rabinski is a technical writer and instructional designer who has contributed to magazines such as High Times, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle, and is a contributing writer at Whaxy.com.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Patient Profile: Dennis Lillico

If you inquire with a medical specialist regarding dystonia, you’ll learn that it’s a family of neurological disorders similar to Parkinson’s Disease, only more severe. Due to its relative rarity, the average layperson has never heard of dystonia. Severely degenerative in nature, it is actually—behind Parkinson’s—the third most common movement disorder, afflicting more than 300,000 people in North America.

Dystonia disturbs nerve signals from the basal ganglia in the brain to various muscles. Some dystonias are genetic, while others are the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. Brain injuries are a third causal classification.

The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation defines this ailment as “a syndrome of sustained muscle contractions, frequently causing twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures.”

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But ask British Columbian and dystonia sufferer Dennis Lillico for a definition (whose dystonia is genetic in nature) and he’ll convey to you a very personal story of pain, depression, incredible optimism, and overwhelming challenge.

“I suffer from severe depression and involuntary movements in my body that are stress induced,” Lillico said during an August phone interview from his home in Trail, B.C., about 140 miles north of Spokane, Washington. “It causes my brain to have an auto dominant nature. That means I look at things with an analytical mind.”

While most sufferers of severely debilitating diseases would rather indulge in forgetting their symptoms, Lillico has accumulated a knowledge of his condition that approaches that held by most doctors. “I have seven high signal legions within the frontal lobe on the right side of my brain,” he said. “My condition is classified as essential myoclonus, which means that it is degenerative, based on myelin deterioration.”[1]

Lillico described his condition in a manner more seeming of a medical professional than a man who can label a weekly two block walk to a public park a major victory. Unlike a medical professional of the western variety, however, he is particularly good at describing the human side of his ailment.

“The perception of time doesn’t mean much to me,” he said matter of factly. “Dates are not very important to me either. I have to look at things differently.”

Extreme Sensitivity to Stress

Lillico’s daily existence hinges on his ability to prevent or reduce stress. He suffers from continual involuntary movements throughout his body, severe depression, and extreme sensitivity to stress. He is also afflicted with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Based on MRI scans of his brain, doctors believe—but cannot conclude—that he may also suffer from multiple sclerosis.

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Lillico only wishes he could define stress by the same metric as the rest of the world. Workplace politics, rush hour traffic, and misbehaving children are stress sources of which he can only fantasize. His personal stressors—activities such as walking, talking, eating, and personal grooming—are things that healthy people take for granted. Tasks that others perform several times per day, almost as afterthoughts or background activities, are monumental challenges for this humble Canadian.

“I find amazing that, by listening to the children who are playing in the pool, laughing, having fun…it helps me connect my heart with my brain,” he explained. “There are lots of things that you can do for stress reduction. And hanging around kids playing in the pool is some of the best stress reduction that I can do.”

The compassionate tone in Lillico’s voice dispels the notion that he may be living vicariously through the energetic, carefree children. He has seemingly accomplished the rare feat of channeling his pain and suffering into a compassion for his fellow humans.

Lillico’s voice and his enunciation are as I envision Dr. Stephen Hawking if he were capable of speech. It’s easy to gain the perception that Lillico might literally be a sub-genius, his condition being so severe that it would drive those of a lesser intellect or mental tolerance into psychosis, severe chronic depression, and even suicide.

Simple Tasks Difficult or Impossible

Lillico described in painful yet objective detail an incident when a friend prepared pancakes for him. “I couldn’t put my hand to the plate. It was a hard struggle, very hard,” he said. He described how it was impossible for him to cut the pancake, place it in his mouth, chew, and swallow, because his disorder affects every muscle in his body.

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“Just the simple movement of me taking a fork and trying to put it to a plate…I couldn’t physically do that without fighting very hard,” he said.

After witnessing Lillico’s struggle, his friend began to weep. Without the ability to chew or swallow, however, there was little his friend could do to assist.

“Without any hesitation, after smoking a doobie, I wolfed the whole pancake down with no problems whatsoever. At that specific point in my life, there was no one on this planet that was going to tell me that I couldn’t smoke my medication. No one.”

In only six years, Lillico has endured a lifetime of suffering. Many simple pleasures in which people indulge on a daily basis will never be enjoyed by this soft spoken 40-year-old. A brief phone conversation taxes his energy and can be a monumental challenge.

A man of above-average intelligence, Lillico’s brain produces thoughts that his mouth and tongue muscles have difficulty expressing (similar to stroke sufferers). The stuttered lethargy of his speaking can easily tax an impatient conversational partner. The knowledge that his stilted speech can be frustrating to his conversation partners, in turn, further stresses him—thus deteriorating his speaking ability to an ever greater extent.

Simply by attempting to engage in a common activity (such as eating or walking), Lillico can, ironically, cause himself enough stress to prevent his ability to engage in the activity. His life is a physical metaphor for an emotionally crushing Catch 22: Engaging in activities that potentially reduce his stress level threatens to cause him stress.

Familial Autosomal Dominant Myochronic Dystonia

Officially labeled Familial Autosomal Dominant Myochronic Dystonia, Lillico’s condition began to manifest itself in pain and muscle spasms in 1999. But it was not until 2003 that neurological specialists in Vancouver were able to accurately diagnose his disease.

To Lillico, the exact label on his ailment is of little consequence. Regardless of its Latin name, pain and struggle are pain and struggle. The perpetual lack of control he exhibits over the muscles in his body needs no medical title. It is a constant reminder of his minute-to-minute challenge to fight his disease and overcome the lure of depression and hopelessness.

“Leading neurologists and experts on my condition have told me, in writing, that there is very little that can be done about this disability because it is a genetic mutation,” Lillico told me.

Leading Edge Desperation

Dennis Lillico is a man literally ahead of his time. Unlike those with more common and more treatable conditions such as epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, or Hepatitis C—where at least some form of credible medical treatment and understanding of their illness exists—Lillico finds his condition to be on the cutting edge of medical ignorance. Hopelessness can easily spring forth from responses from the medical establishment such as “We simply don’t know.”

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“Most people who have had my disability before have committed suicide because they can’t take it…and I can imagine why,” he said, his already-weak voice crackling with emotion. “So it was no question for me to legally take on whoever I had to take on after realizing exactly what benefits cannabis was giving me,” he said.

Pharmaceutical Treatments Not Effective

It is soon obvious that Lillico perceives the responsibility to research and treat his disease to be his own.

“There are such things as botox treatments, injections into the muscles that can relax them, that have been found beneficial with disabilities such as dystonia and other neurological conditions,” Lillico said objectively. “But, because all of my muscles move, [doctors] are afraid to inject botox because I will just go limp and won’t be able to move at all.”

Lillico described how many neurological conditions run parallel to autosomal dominant features such as his own. “I have been tested and told by Vancouver General Hospital—through a formal neurological psychiatric evaluation—that I use an extremely large portion of my left brain hemisphere, which would make sense if the right hemisphere isn’t working properly,” he explained.

Despite the severity of his condition, Lillico is a testament to the human body’s ability to reprogram itself to adapt to adverse conditions, such as the myelin deterioration suffered by his nerves and brain. “They told me I use approximately 94% of the left [brain] hemisphere and 6% of the right hemisphere. So I use a lot of the ‘put it together’ side of the brain,” he said.

90:1 Efficacy Improvement with Cannabis

“[My doctors] have documented in their records that even the best medical drugs out there, the newest drugs out there, are only working for 1% of this disability,” said Lillico. “Whereas cannabis helps me with 90%. So I just told them, ‘You know what, guys [laughing], you think I’m going to sit here and go through this when I don’t have to?! No way!”

Lillico acts as the “cannabis is good medicine” poster child for every doctor he meets. “I have changed every doctor’s opinion I have come across about medical cannabis,” he said proudly. “They have acknowledged, in all of their reports, that it is beneficial to me.”

When asked his opinion of cannabis and its efficacy for his ailments, Lillico couched his response philosophically. “It is a fight for quality of life for me. If I don’t have cannabis or any cannabinoids in my body, I wake up and I’m in pain from the neurological damage that’s being done to my system,” he said.

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Using cannabis to manage his pain and movements, Lillico smokes (or uses a vaporizer that a neighbor donated) throughout the day. He can quickly fall into a downward spiral if he is without cannabis. His pain causes stress, which in turn causes more painful myochronic movements within his muscles. “If I’m not able to shut down that vicious cycle, I will live a very debilitating life,” he said soberly.

Lillico’s affinity for cannabis is understandable, given that the best medical treatments available have almost zero efficacy for his condition. “I have noticed that, when using cannabis, I am able to do things with a smile and totally relax every muscle in my body. Using stress reduction tools, such as meditation and proper breathing, I am able to confront a lot of my movements and reduce stress as much as I can,” he said.

Without cannabis, Lillico often cannot walk. If he can’t walk, he can’t transport himself to soothing environments, such as parks and pools where children play. If he can’t achieve the simple task of walking to a park, he also can’t enjoy the benefits of self-reliance and stress reduction.

Lillico is adamant about his choice of cannabis for treatment (although he has little choice given the lack of efficacy from pharmaceutical treatments). “I can choose to be up and energetic. I can choose to put one foot in front of the other. I can choose to have a smile instead of frowning,” he said. “Those are choices made available to me only by cannabis.”

“I do believe, in my specific position, with what modern science has to offer me, that cannabis is the best medication possible for my condition,” he concluded.

More Than Cannabis

While he readily admits “Cannabis is the only medicine that has given me any relief,” Lillico freely acknowledges that his condition is treated by more than cannabis. But he just as readily says that, without it, he is incapable of indulging in his other stress-reducing activities. Cannabis makes his other treatments possible.

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“The Heart Mass Institute in California has taught me how to breathe properly,” he said. “By breathing and thinking something good—and, of course, using cannabis as well—I am able to reach deeper states of meditation, which is healing me and giving me the strength to put one foot in front of another,” he said with a tone of victory.

“Sometimes, that’s a real challenge for me,” he added.

Blessed

Does he feel cursed by his disease? Lillico is quick to offer a more optimistic course of thought. “Oh, no, I feel blessed! I feel like I’m the luckiest person on this planet right, now…I do. Because I’ve been given an opportunity to try to help people,” he said emotionally.

Of course, due to the relentless efforts of a monopolistic pharmaceutical industry and prohibitionist politicians bent on fear mongering, most of the world doesn’t understand the efficacy Lillico gains from cannabis. “Even one of my closest friends doesn’t believe in medical cannabis that much,” he said.

“I acknowledge the international efforts to destroy the medical benefits of cannabis in the United States. I have very strong opinions about that,” he added, hinting at his activist side.

“Cannabis benefits every neurological condition except for Parkinson’s,” Lillico told me. “Health Canada has even acknowledged that there is benefit and, in every case, they have stated that there must be more research done. They have reported 54% to as much as 94% symptom relief in every neurological condition out there,” he said.

Finding Medicine

Lillico can’t afford to purchase cannabis on the black market based on his meager income (unable to work, he receives public assistance). He relies on the charity of others who contribute medicine. “Some people have, through the internet, helped. But a lot of the local people think that I’m too outspoken and are afraid to help me.” At the time of this interview, Lillico was out of cannabis.

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Lillico has attempted to grow his own cannabis, but with little success. Prior to obtaining a medical exemption and grow license, Lillico’s small grow effort was confiscated by the police.

“The RCMP came in February of 2005 and took out my grow room and two pounds of dry medication that I had locked up in my room,” he lamented. “They went in and they destroyed half of my grow equipment and shut down the power to my house. They put me out of my house for two months.”

There are many who believe medical marijuana is a farce, due in large part to governments that continue to propagate this notion. But to patients such as Dennis Lillico, the efficacy of cannabis is more real than healthy individuals will ever comprehend.

Patients such as Lillico, who often search for years or even decades for a credible solution to their pain and suffering, are perplexed by the inability of their own government and the medical establishment to recognize such a simple and natural source of relief as cannabis. Couched in politics, corporate monopolies, and a government insensitive to peer-reviewed scientific research, current marijuana policy is clearly not meeting the needs of people like Lillico, arguably society’s most vulnerable citizens.

[1] Healthy nerves in the human body are coated with a myelin sheath. This protective tubular casing consisting of specialized fat cells that protect nerves from electrical activity and allow them to function properly. It is the myelin sheath that contributes the color to the white matter of the brain.

[This article originally appeared in Cannabis Health Journal in October 2005.]


HBK11RenderGooey Rabinski is a technical writer and instructional designer who has contributed to magazines such as High Times, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana (2015 Edition), available on Amazon Kindle, and a contributing writer at Whaxy.com.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.

Vaporization: Modern Cannabinoid Consumption

While images of joints and bongs will permeate cannabis lore for decades to come, alternative consumption methods have existed for thousands of years. From the drinking of tea-like Indian bhang (cannabis buds soaked in hot milk and spices) to the ancient middle eastern tradition of marinating cannabis flowers in olive oil for anointment to the skin, the smoking of cannabis is actually a fairly contemporary means of ingestion.

The emergence of the medical marijuana movement has motivated the development of alternative cannabinoid consumption methods. Joining sublingual sprays, tinctures, capsules, and edibles is a relatively old technology: Vaporization. This method of extracting THC and other valuable cannabinoids from the cannabis plant offers the advantages of decreased harm to the lungs, long-term cost reduction, and significantly decreased smell during consumption (aiding in stealth for those where consumption is illegal).

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Medical quality vaporization requires a device called, appropriately enough, a vaporizer. Available in a wide variety of forms—from temperature controllable forced air vaporizers, such as the $500-600 German-produced Volcano, to simple manually operated glass devices for under $20—vaporization is more than a cultural experiment. In fact, it is becoming more common for dispensaries and smoking cafes to rent or offer free use of high-end vaporizers.

In the world of vaporization, the terminology is different. All metaphors related to the combustion of cannabis suddenly fail to apply to this often high-tech method of separating THC from the cannabis plant for administration to a patient. No longer do generations-old references to “burning a spliff” or “torching some herb” suffice. Instead, one toasts or vapes one’s stash.

Pen vapes have recently become all the rage, especially in trendy legalized states like Colorado and Oregon. While some of these devices produce a good vapor stream and extract as much medicine as possible, others are cheap imposters that are reported to produce a cheap high that doesn’t approach the experience of smoking. This post focuses on desktop vaporizers.

A Brief History

While high-end vaporizers are relatively novel, references to the vaporization of cannabis date back at least as far as the 5th century B.C. Greek writer Herodotus described a plant cultivated by the Scythians that they threw upon red hot stones within a closed room, producing a vapor. Herodotus humbly noted that the Scythian vapor bath produced an effect “…that no Grecian vapor-bath can surpass. The Scythians, transported with the vapor, shout aloud.”

In 1989, a self-purported U.S. government employee who identified himself simply as “Dr. Lunglife” provided a manuscript to High Times in New York City. The paper detailed the process for building a basic vaporization machine from parts purchased at a local RadioShack electronics store (see Vaporizing THC Oil: An Alternative to Smoking Marijuana in the May 1989 issue of High Times).

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In 1994, at the 7th Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, Sensi Seed Bank employee “Eagle Bill” demonstrated what is believed to be the first temperature controllable heat gun version of a vaporizer. Using only trim leaves and bottom-of-the-plant buds, Eagle Bill wowed passers-by with a clean, powerful high. Shortly thereafter, commercial vaporization units began to trickle onto the market.

The Reality

Objectively, vaporization provides many of the “convenience” advantages of smoking while avoiding most of the—albeit controversial—health risks associated with the burning of cannabis leaves and flowers. It offers rapid onset (a characteristic of smoking, but not eating) and very efficient extraction and utilization of cannabinoids (clearly superior to smoking).

This greater efficiency means that vaporization sings a siren song not heard on the island of smoking: More for your money. High-quality vaporization simply stretching one’s medicine supply. In a world where the price of cannabis often competes with that of gold—and the most ill are typically those with the least financial power—this is a tremendous advantage (especially for patients consuming high volumes).

Vaporization allows most patients to consume 50-75 percent of what they typically would smoke to produce the same effect. For those who are chronic smokers, this can result in significant savings over a period of only one or two years.

While vaporization offers significant mid- to long-term cost savings compared to smoking, it sports a heavy duty upfront expense—at least for the most efficient machines that are best suited to medicinal users. The benchmark, at least for the time being, is the Volcano. At $500 USD, however, this model is simply beyond the budget of many cannabis consumers.

Many patients report that vaporization produces a more heady, sativa-like high. “It does seem to be more of a body engagement when one smokes cannabis as compared to vaporization,” Dr. Rick Doblin, founder and president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in Sarasota, Florida, told me during an interview. “Maybe that’s from the smoke or the particulate matter…it’s hard to say exactly. But there does seem to be an ethereal, heady effect that comes from vaporization,” he said.

The Science

When one burns any herb, the goal is to extract the substances of medicinal or psychotropic value. Unfortunately, research has shown that burning cannabis typically produces more than one hundred toxins, when a handful of cannabinoids and terpenoids is all one really wants. The combustion of cannabis is akin to collapsing an entire building, when all you need is to redecorate a single room.

Despite studies linking marijuana smoking with a decrease in the likelihood of contracting lung disease, a lack of toxins is simply superior to an abundance of what may or may not carry negative health consequences (especially for weak or very sensitive patients). Chemic Laboratories in Massachusetts illustrated this when it found that the Volcano can produce vapor that is 95 percent pure THC, with only three additional compounds present in the vapor (one of which is a cannabinoid). Regardless of the pleasures of smoking, many patients must necessarily seek the most efficient and least risky consumption methods available. Currently, this is either vaporization or edibles (with tinctures running a close third).

Vapolution 3.0 glass-on-glass vaporizer

One of the most confusing elements of vaporization is the temperature at which it takes place. This is due, in large part, to the fact that vaporization occurs within a range of temperatures, not at a specific thermal point. To be more precise, each cannabinoid (111 have been discovered) vaporizes at a slightly different temperature.

Thus, different cannabinoid profiles are produced by variations in vaporization temperature. While the average recreational smoker will be hard pressed to perceive minute differences, a near-combustion temperature (about 220 degrees Celsius, or 428 degrees Fahrenheit[1]) will produce a noticeably different medicinal effect or high type than a setting at the base of the vaporization temperature range (about 50 degrees cooler). This can have an impact for medical users who find maximum efficacy from a particular cannabinoid profile.

According to MAPS’ Doblin, lower vaporization temperatures result in a headier, more ethereal high, while higher temps produce a more body-engaged, indica-type effect. He recommends using higher temps in order to extract a maximum volume of cannabinoids.

Torching vs. Toasting

A thorough and fair comparison of smoking and vaping is outside the scope of this article. However, because the vast majority of patients smoke their medicine, comparing vaporization with this universal benchmark creates helpful and realistic reference points.

The greatest difference between a common form of smoking, such as a joint, and the pinnacle of vaping, the Volcano, lies not only in the efficiency of the extraction of cannabinoids, but also in the completeness of the collection and consumption of the transfer medium (vapor or smoke). When smoking a joint, much of the smoke is lost and never consumed, escaping into the air. This is obviously less true of bongs and pipes, but significant loss from “sidestream” smoke still occurs. In fact, a 1990 study by Mario Perez-Reyes (Marijuana Smoking: Factors that Influence the Bioavailability of Tetrahydrocannabinol) revealed that as much as 40-50 percent of the THC in a joint is lost to sidestream smoke.

While most vaporizers are not designed as well as the Volcano, many models do offer the efficiency of capturing all vapor for consumption by a patient, allowing none to escape or go to waste. The Vapolution is an affordable ($100) and efficient model that doesn’t waste medicine.

While burning herb is a one-pass process (for a given quantity), vaping involves several passes over a single portion of marijuana. Depending on the resinous nature of the sample, up to ten vaporization passes (ten bags of vapor, in the case of the Volcano) can be made over a single portion of cannabis. The first two passes produce the greatest strength vapor, with each concurrent pass producing less and less medicine (the collection bag becoming less hazy). For best results, one should stir the “duff” (toasted cannabis) after each vaporization pass.

volcano-vaporizer-classic

True to the thousands of uses of the hemp plant, the spent duff that is a by-product of vaporization continues to offer utility. Toasted cannabis herb is well suited in the kitchen, complimenting soups, casseroles, and meats during cooking. It can even be used as a crude potpourri.

Both smoking and vaping offer excellent titration (dosing). Like smoking, edibles, and tinctures—but unlike pill solutions such as Marinol or the sublingual spray Sativex—vaping provides the economy of allowing patients to grow their own medicine, providing the added benefits of affordable supply and strain selection via targeted genetics.

Finding Perspective

It should first be noted that the “superiorities” of vaporization are sometimes subjective, especially for recreational smokers, but often for medical consumption as well. Even some hardcore medical users prefer smoking. “I’m a cigarette kinda girl,” said Alison Myrden, a noted Ontario-based multiple sclerosis patient/activist who has tried the Volcano. “I have too much trouble with my hands due to the MS to play with vaporizers or pipes,” she said.

Myrden’s situation highlights the reality that there is no best consumption method for cannabis. MS patients such as Myrden and others with severe neurological disorders (epilepsy, dystonia, etc.) often are forced to seek simplicity. The stress reduction that accompanies one’s preferred and highly subjective ingestion method is of significant note. The psychological stress produced by displeasure or frustration can easily eclipse the benefits of a technically superior means of consumption.

Caregivers and others in the medical marijuana community should consider vaporization as simply another option in the ever-widening range of consumption avenues. 

Harm Reduction

According to the latest peer-reviewed research conducted by Dr. Dale Gieringer of NORML and published in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, vapor produced by the Volcano was overwhelmingly populated by THC, but did contain trace amounts of other compounds (collaborating the previous findings of Chemic Laboratories).

DSC_4239

“The major finding of this study was a drastic quantitative reduction in non-cannabinoid compounds in the vapor from the Volcano,” read the Gieringer study. “This strongly suggests that vaporization is an effective method for delivering medically active cannabinoids while effectively suppressing other potentially deleterious compounds that are a byproduct of combustion,” it summarized.

A leading edge unit such as the Volcano produces cannabis vapor that is pure enough, in fact, that it qualifies to be used as a scientific medical device. Doblin points out that the purity of cannabis vapor produced by a professional unit is great enough that even medical patients should harbor little worry regarding health risks.

“Vaporization does such a good job of reducing the risks that we’re aware of that I think there’s an excellent chance that high potency marijuana, vaporized, can be considered a medicine by organizations such as the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration],” said Doblin. Thus, vaporization is a technical advancement in the consumption of cannabis that is also serving as a political tool for researchers like Doblin.

The Future Will be Vaporized

While smoking will probably never fully disappear from the cannabis landscape, the future of vaporization promises to increase efficiencies and convenience even further. Smaller, more portable units will continue to emerge that provide results approaching the quality of today’s Volcano. While rabid detractors perpetually fail to establish a link between smoked cannabis and lung cancer, a significant percentage of the cannabis community will prefer smoking over vaping. Vaporization, however, will continue to lure greater numbers of disciples, both recreational and medical.

“The whole science and technology of vaporization is developing in a really good way,” said Doblin. “The whole process of vaporization is just going to become easier, more convenient, and less expensive,” he concluded. “I think there’s going to be a lot more people moving to vaporization in the future.”

[1] Thus, the urban legend of the perfect vaporization temperature being 420 degrees is actually true. In Fahrenheit, 420 degrees is within the recommended upper range of the vaping temperature scale.

[This article originally appeared in Cannabis Health Journal in November 2006 and was updated July 26, 2015.]


HBK11RenderGooey Rabinski is a technical writer and instructional designer who has contributed to magazines such as High Times, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle, and a contributing writer at Whaxy.com.

His marijuana-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.