Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tobacco No - Ganja Yes

Tobacco No - Ganja Yes

A new law in The Netherlands banning tobacco smoking indoors means that cannabis smokers can no longer mix tobacco with their weed in the city’s cannabis cafes. Makes perfect sense to me. While everybody is aware of the long term danger of tobacco, most people are under the false impression, stoked by governmental misinformation campaigns, that cannabis involves similar negatives. On the contrary, when you go to the statistics you will not see a single death attributed to the smoking of ganja.

Some years ago a friend who was a medical researcher related the results of a study of cannabis his facility had undertaken. They provided unlimited amounts of power weed to the study population and told them to smoke their brains out. As the study progressed the researchers became concerned for the health of their subjects because cannabis tars were clogging up their lungs and throat. The study was ended prematurely because of their fears. Subsequently they kept a close watch and discovered that the effects of the cannabis smoke completely disappeared within about three months.

Any kind of smoke is going to irritate your respiratory system and being as cannabis is a stimulant, whatever it gives you is going to come out of your body’s capabilities. Whenever I smoke too much my cough goes from intermittent to persistent and I tend to get sick from overextention.

My friend then explained that, in contrast to marijuana, tobacco impacts the small passages in the lungs, the cilia, in a way that scars them and causes permanent damage. Your lungs will improve markedly after you quit smoking but will never return to your previous state.

The only tobacco I’ve smoked in the past 27 years was when I’ve mistakenly taken a hit off of a joint rolled by a European where the practice of mixing it with ganja is common. I invariably cough my brains out in response. If I knew it was coming I could smoke it differently and possibly avoid the same level of coughing fit, but then again if I knew the joint was adulterated with tobacco I’d absolutely never touch the stuff. It’s beyond me why anybody would want to take pure sweet ganja - cannabis grown outdoors requires no pesticides or herbicides - and mix it with diabolically manufactured tobacco containing all manner of nasty chemical additives. Additionally, I’ve read recently that one of the reasons that tobacco is so cancerous is the chemicals used in growing it act to increase its toxicity.

It took a monumental effort to rid myself of the ugly habit years ago and today it conjures up only disgust and abhorrence. (There’s nothing like a reformed tobacco smoker when it comes to harassing and looking down on those who are currently addicted.)

I was coughing with increasing frequency and intensity and knew I was doing serious damage to my respiratory system. It got to the point where my friends were fearing for my health. I had quit and restarted several times but knew that the state of my dependency was such that drastic measures would need to be taken; will power was not going to do the trick. Previously I had stopped temporarily a few times when I had gotten so sick that smoking was impossible. As a result I used immersion therapy, aka, overdoing it, and purposely smoked myself into a serious illness. It wasn’t that difficult since I was already halfway there. I had been smoking cheap roll-your-own tobacco, pretty harsh under the best circumstances, and started chain smoking. After the pouch was finished I started rolling butts, and then butts of butts and began coughing continuously and righteously and before too long I felt so bad that even one more drag was inconceivable.

I’m in pretty good shape considering I started smoking a pack a day at 12, went through coughing fits as early as 15 and continued for a total of 28 years. I can do a lot in the physical realm but my lung capacity is under par and I run out of breath easily. We referred to cigarettes as coffin nails in the fifties so we were under no illusions in spite of advertising, including on TV, which featured doctors endorsing their favorite brands.

Personally, I see no redeeming value in tobacco as it’s currently used except that it keeps the hands of nervous people occupied. The habit is especially pernicious considering the chemicals added to keep it burning, resulting in many home fires over the years, and the extra nicotine added to increase chemical dependency.

In contrast, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette of clean organic tobacco once or twice a day would seem to me to be quite benign. It’d be hard to imagine smoking enough under those circumstances to bring on emphysema or cancer. If I hadn’t nearly destroyed myself with tobacco in the past, I might do it myself. I’m too far gone; today it would be impossible. Even regular smokers would be better off hand rolling clean tobacco; they would smoke less and reduce their chances of contracting disease.

Many smokers have the attitude, which I shared back in my teens, that it’s worth cutting a life short if you can derive immediate pleasure. When reminded as a teenager that I was causing harm I’d retort that I was enjoying myself and didn’t care about the future… “As long as I live to the year 2000 (at age 59) I’ll be happy”. Well now, y2k has come and long gone and I would’ve sorely missed these last eight years and I’m still going strong. Moreover, what’s missing from the ‘enjoy now, die early’ attitude is that it’s not a pretty death. You don’t just have a great time and then suddenly pop off: no, it’s a nasty, horrible death of pain, debility and suffering.

As far as I’m concerned all packaging, marketing and advertising of tobacco should be banned. It is insane that society allows corporations to make profits off of such a destructive substance. When money is involved they will have no qualms about bending the truth to make an extra buck, and large numbers of people will die premature and awful deaths as a result.

In many public markets in Cambodia one can find fresh locally grown tobacco sold in bulk. That’s the only way it should be sold. That applies as well to ganja. I believe everybody has a right to their own poison and government’s only role is in education and research.

Prohibition sucks on almost every level. To begin with, drug wars are really culture wars and cultural norms change over time. It wasn’t that long ago historically when marijuana was legal in America while alcohol was not. There is no logic or science whatever that justifies prohibition of cannabis other than the desire to repress dissident cultures; people who don’t wish to conform to society’s changing quirks.

Secondly, prohibition is futile in any society that allows its citizens even a semblance of freedom. Unless repression is near total, people will do what they want to. I was offered ganja in Singapore and Malaysia where possession of a mere 200 grams nets a mandatory death sentence. And yet both places derive large tax revenues from alcohol sales even though no dispassionate, reality-based assessment of cannabis compared to alcohol could possibly consider the weed worse than the drink.

Prosecution of offenders – police, courts, prisons - is extremely costly to society as a whole and to the individuals whose lives are disrupted. Most of all prohibition increases the cost of contraband to extreme levels making it a lucrative business for criminal elements. South American cocaine cartels literally have billions of dollars at their disposal which they use to corrupt governments and murder public officials trying to enforce the law. Mexico has seen 400 police, including several of very high rank, murdered recently by drug traffickers. All in all a sordid state of affairs.

Cambodia’s lax attitude towards drugs, combined with general police indifference and/or ineptitude is one of the reasons I’ve chosen to live here. Cambodia cannot emulate The Netherlands in terms of drug policy because it’s too dependent on the international community for assistance, but that’s too bad because it is uniquely predisposed towards tolerance of all lifestyles.

It was as recent as 1992 when you could get a shopping bag of pot for one dollar at local public markets. Cambodians used to flavor their soups with it and smoke it when they couldn’t afford to buy tobacco. And in spite of all the hullabaloo about drugs we have our “happy” pizza restaurants where you can still, I believe, get a sprinkle of pot added to your pepperoni.

Cannabis is different from other drugs in the sheer idiocy and unfairness of prohibition. Even if a pot smoker doesn’t consider it totally harmless they would never think it a serious danger. That is actually an example of a beneficial side effect of prohibition. Inquisitive, open-minded individuals learn a healthy dose of skepticism towards government and its attempts at social control and that fosters the creation of counterculture… After a lifetime of being told something is the height of evil you meet someone you like and trust who tells you differently. You try it and immediately know the truth. You’ve been liberated.

The hard drugs are of a different category, though still not worthy of prohibition. Cocaine, meth, heroin can be dangerous on an OD level and on an addiction level. Still, if you asked me if a person is better off being a alcoholic or a heroin junky I’d say the latter. You won’t get any diseases, for sure, or do debilitating harm to your body. On the other hand, you also won’t be inclined to accomplish much, though probably more than being a latter-stage lush. That judgement, however, would only hold true if you had the same easy access to both. If you had to steal to get your fix, you’d be better off drinking.

Here’s an anecdote which aptly describes the feeling, though in this instance the drug was opium from which heroin is derived. A friend related his experience in India smoking the black tar. He and a buddy settled into comfortable chairs and proceeded to smoke themselves into a blissful oblivion. Unfortunately, just before that he had set up his cassette player with an Eagles album and it was set up to reverse itself and play continuously. They listened to the entire album eight times before either could rouse himself from sweet languor and get up and change it.

Cocaine will make you feel strong and invincible and not affect your functioning or productivity at all. However, if you’re not flush with money and you really need a line, you’ll rob a bank, or some such, to get it. On the other hand, I tend to think that chewing the leaves, which have 500 times less potency than powder cocaine, would be quite benign, like coffee.

Meth is heavy shit that can turn you into a washed out freak, so highly not recommended, though even there I’ve known long time meth users who never lost their essential good personalities.

To sum up, what I do to my body is my business: government interference is costly, futile, counterproductive, unfair and stupid.

As for Cambodia, it should strenuously resist the international community’s push for stronger enforcement and criminalization of things people want to do and will do regardless. Let it be like The Netherlands and treat people like adults with minds of their own. Certainly let them spend all they want on education about drugs (hopefully education that’s reasoned and intelligent) and rehab for those who need it but leave the police and justice system out of it.

1 comment:

Ted said...

Hi Stan. I pretty much agree with you. Addictive body drugs are truly dangerous. Psychedelics would probably benefit everyone at least once in awhile to snap them out some rut they are in. What I find truly amazing is that the drugs themselves are not really what "turn us on". They are catalysts to our body's own chemical producing capability. Science is discovering that our body can produce almost any pharmaceutical through intense mental imagery...what we "assume or believe". We can literally either poison ourselves or experience what the "saints" call BLISS. Anyway...everybody must get stoned!