Weed of Wonder | Review

Weed of Wonder is a stylish coffee table book released earlier this year by The Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum of Amsterdam and Barcelona. It was mostly written by Jules Marshall (Ken Tarant wrote chapter 13), with photography by Floris Leeuwenberg and input from Ben Dronkers, the museum founder, and Gerbrand Korevaar, the museum curator, who served as the book’s Editor-in-Chief.

‘Why use up the forests, which were centuries in the making, and the mines, which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?’Henry Ford

The book kicks off with a foreword from Ben Dronkers, where he states that the role of his museum (which houses over 9,000 artifacts) is to safeguard the history of cannabis, and to be ‘a source of information, inspiration and wonder for generations to come.’ He summarises some of the changes that have come about since he opened the Amsterdam site in 1987, and how attitudes and knowledge about the plant have changed with the ebb and flow of time. One fascinating and likely surprising example of this is credited as being renowned activist Jack Herer‘s archival discovery; a 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine, in which industrial hemp is touted to be the next big thing in America, beneath the headline: ‘New Billion Dollar Crop’. The second opening passage in Weed of Wonder comes courtesy of former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Dries Van Agt, who says: ‘The demonstrable danger [of cannabis] to society is much smaller than those of alcohol and tobacco, which cause much more human suffering.‘ He proudly recalls the 1976 amendment to The Netherlands’ Opium Act, causing their revised approach to cannabis sales to become internationally known as ‘the Dutch toleration policy’.

The book’s introduction laments the beginning of the twentieth century, when ‘just as it seemed cannabis would be an equally useful crop in the era of internal combustion and petrochemicals, it was plunged quite deliberately into a veritable dark age.’ One remarkable discovery (among others) by Professor Raphael Michoulam and his team in Israel is highlighted by the book. Naturally occurring cannabinoids, and receptors for them, are produced inside the brains and bodies of all multicellular animals. Such receptors ‘boost or dampen processes that operate in nearly every part of the body’, regulating pain relief among other crucial functions. This is truly remarkable when you consider that cannabis itself is the only plant which produces cannabinoids. Because of this, cannabis is thought to be at least as old as the last common ancestor of all vertebrates and invertebrates, dating back over 500 million years ago. Aside from helping our bodies maintain homeostasis, the plant has countless industrial uses. Towards the end of the book, author Jules Marshall reminds us that hemp is ‘capable of producing paper, textiles, building materials, food, medicine, paint, detergent, varnish, oil, ink, plastics, and fuel‘.

Formal discoveries and classifications of the Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis plant species are covered, alongside some general history and information in chapter one. The next chapter covers the early history of cannabis around the world, starting around 12,000 years ago with the first traces of domestication in what is now Mongolia and southern Siberia. This fascinating historical tour takes in Japan, Central Asia, India, Egypt, China, Greece and the Roman Empire. The Indian Sanskrit poem, Atharva Veda, lists cannabis as one of five sacred plants. A Hindu work called the Raja Valabba claims that the gods provided cannabis for the human race to ‘attain delight, lose all fear and have their sexual desires excited‘. China’s name for itself was once ‘the land of mulberry and hemp’. Cannabis and silk (produced in part by feeding silkworms mulberries) were both commonly traded on the famous Silk Road routes, stretching from China to the Mediterranean.

Exodus 30 of The Bible describes an anointing or sanctifying oil for people such as kings and priests, which includes the ingredient q’neh bosm. It’s believed this is probably derived from the word ‘cannabis’. The oil Jesus used to heal sick people is thought to have been based on the same mixture. Hashish was popular in the medieval Arab world, where the prophet Mohammed did not ban its use, despite alcohol being strictly forbidden. Arab Doctors of the time used cannabis (or kannab) as a medicine. Hemp fibre was vital for ship construction during The Age of Sail. Johannes Gutenberg‘s revolutionary printing press used hemp-based paper and ink. [If I keep listing early historical tidbits, you’ll start wondering whether this is a proper book review or an endless list of facts, so I’ll move on!]

Suffice it to say, the Western world took much longer to really begin understanding and embracing cannabis, which gained popularity thanks to the likes of visionary Limerick man, Doctor William Brooke O’Shaughnessy. By the late 1800s, Western cities such as New York, Paris and London, began to see the plant as exotic, stylish, intellectual and enlightening. The book goes on to detail connections being formed in the imaginations of influential racist Americans in the early 1900s, who started to associate weed with brown and black people from various ethnic groups. It was therefore to be feared and shunned, according to authority figures of that period. The strong link between cannabis and cultural movements like jazz music, beatnik ‘brotherhoods’ and ‘flower children’ hippies is described in fascinating detail. Sadly, by chapter seven of the book, we’re moving on to growing global prohibition efforts. ‘The Forbidden Plant’ mentions the horrendous injustice of sentencing African-American Roger Davis to 40 years in prison for the possession and sale of eight ounces of cannabis, in 1974. It’s accompanied by a haunting High Times magazine cover of Davis peering at the camera through prison bars.

‘I have been involved with cannabis all my life, and the plant keeps surprising me. People deserve to be educated. There are so many misconceptions, misleading and inaccurate stories, as well as blatant lies, spread by the media. Terrible propaganda against a plant.’ – Ben Dronkers

Perhaps most importantly for modern historians and drug reform activists, this chapter covers all of the key conventions, treaties and laws which made a life with cannabis, including medicinal use and the growing of hemp, increasingly stigmatised and forbidden. The medicinal value cannabis was understood to have was suddenly struck off the international record by a UN ruling in 1951. Generally, such monumental decisions made by politicians of the era were made out of an irrational sense of racist paranoia and fear, based upon no real evidence. It is also thought that they were made with the vested interests of certain industries that competed with cannabis in mind. Figures like Harry J. Anslinger are highlighted as key prohibitionist influencers. Some of their attitudes appear to have remained ingrained in the minds of certain people to this day, including Irish Minister and human barricade to progressive drug reform, Frank Feighan. The book guides us through different areas of pop culture that cannabis left its mark on over the years, before examining Dutch tolerance and its policy changes over the decades in finer detail.

We’re presented with some of Rotterdam and Amsterdam’s finest coffeeshops. Prominent coffeeshop pioneers are profiled; Henk de Vries, the late Kees Hoekert, and ‘The Hash Queen‘, Mila Jansen. Following this, we delve more into cannabis as a part of modern Western healthcare, where at its peak it had ‘at least 2,000 products from over 280 manufacturers’. This would decline immensely in the twentieth century, with the rise of synthetic drug production and less corporate interest in variable plant-derived medications. Chapter 13, by Ken Tarant, is a biography of Ben Dronkers and his life’s work, as seen through three branches; the museum, Sensi Seed Bank, and hemp cultivation and processing company, Hempflax. It also profiles Ben’s family and his most notable museum collaborators who contributed over the years, and in many cases, still do.

‘The Sensi Seed Bank is the most comprehensive cannabis genetics bank in the world… It is a little like preserving the rainforest because we know there are potential medicines there which must not be destroyed.’

– the late Dr. Lester Grinspoon, of Harvard Medical School

Overall, including introductions and credits, Weed of Wonder amounts to 288 pages. It’s packed with information across areas too numerous to cover in this review. It is a high-quality labour of love, formatted in an approachable way that invites readers to dip in and out of reading. It’s full of gorgeous, eye-catching photography and illustrations, and can be bought in either a green or purple hardback cover, with metallic silver or gold title lettering, respectively. It’s unlikely to alienate those with a more casual interest in things, as it avoids overly lengthy or complicated passages. Although ordering the book to Ireland raises its price from €34.50 to a steep €48.75 with mandatory tracked shipping, it is a pleasure from cover to cover and can be thought of as an eye-catching high end investment. Personally, I consider this book a treasure, as well as a testament to the continued passions of Ben Dronkers, his friends and family, and cannabis advocates everywhere by extension.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Gerbrand Korevaar for providing us with a review copy of this book.

Laura & Laura Jayne at Cannabis: A New Green Deal by Uplift.ie | 20.04.2021

Laura Jayne Foley has a Masters in Agricultural Innovation from NUIG (the National University of Ireland, Galway). She is a co-founder of Canabaoil Ltd. and 1Wild Atlantic Hemp. She is also a board member of 2Hemp Co-Operative Ireland. Laura Curry Cloney is the founder of 3The Hemp Higher Project, which was a finalist in 4The Social Entrepreneurs of Ireland.

The following extract has been adapted from the live stream for the purposes of clarity and brevity.

Emily Duffy (of 5Uplift): I’m going to get into some of (the viewers) questions, but the first one that I wanted to put to everybody was, what opportunities do you see for campaigning, specifically out of this 6report? Is there new information that we feel is a good lever of change? I think a lot of the health concerns that have been raised can be addressed through legalisation. If people can access strains that are more beneficial, that are less likely to cause certain things, then people will be healthier. Laura Jayne, would you like to come in? Laura Jayne: Hi! I suppose I just wanted to mention the farming point of view, ‘cause that’s where I come from. So, we grow hemp in West Clare and there’s 200 members of the Hemp Co-Operative growing it. It’s something that I think would benefit rural Ireland, to be able to develop this industry. It had the same kinds of restrictions put on it from a business point of view around the THC element, and I suppose, stigma.

I think this document really gives us an idea of where the prohibition came from. And it really gives us a good understanding about where we’re positioned and why it became illegal. It gives people the opportunity to see it for what it is. It is a plant that is so easy to grow. It has so many benefits and as Shae (Flanagan, of Uplift) mentioned, environmentally it has so many benefits. In an environment where we’re moving away from petroleum products, hemp is a big solution for a lot of those problems. Not only is it a food that’s hugely nutritious, but it’s also a solution to a lot of our environmental problems. It’s something I would very much like to see grow in Ireland in small farms. It has the opportunity to be a revitalisation for rural Ireland. Emily: Yeah, absolutely. And hemp is actually a carbon sink, isn’t it? It stores carbon. Laura Jayne: As Seán (McCabe, of TASC) said, it sequesters a huge amount of carbon, but it’s also phyto-remedial.

So what it does is, it draws glyphosates, heavy metals, chemicals out of the ground, so that it can actually put the soil back in a situation where it’s organic. You know, we’re taking those toxins out of the ground and we’re improving the soil. There really are so many positives for the environment, as well as from a nutritional and medical point of view. Emily: And I think as well, Ireland has one of the highest rates of glyphosate in our surface water in the EU. So, even more of a reason to get those toxins out of the ground. One member, Deborah, has asked a really important question here around community wealth. A lot of you touched on rural Ireland and how this could potentially revitalise it. Rather than talking about tax and economy and all of those kinds of things, how do we see the legalisation of cannabis putting life back into our communities? Creating changed communities that support each other and thrive and grow – pardon the pun! Is there anybody who would like to come in there? Laura Jayne, back to you.

Laura Jayne: When we were doing our Masters, we did a lot of research on farmers and farming in the West. ‘cause we see hemp as having a huge potential as a rotational crop but also as an alternative income. But one of the things we did notice was a lot of the farmers that we interviewed were under 35. Most of them had just inherited the land from their family and they didn’t want to go back to the old way of farming that had been done before. They felt that it wasn’t profitable. What they saw in hemp was that there were so many opportunities from the bio-economy, from CBD oil, from fibre… I would say hemp and cannabis are the same thing, but from the industrial hemp point of view, there’s opportunity there for farmers to increase the income on their land. And that has a knock-on effect in rural Ireland.

A lot of people are part-time farming. They might be working from home. They’d have a plot where they’d spend a few months during the summer, they might grow some hemp. So for me that’s one of the reasons why I think it has that power to revitalise rural Ireland. Also, small processors. We process CBD oil, we have a HSE (Health Service Executive) approval to process cannabinoids from cannabis sativa. And we’re a small operation. But there is an opportunity for processors like us and all around Ireland, developing their own product, developing a local product. And I suppose I think that is where there is some huge opportunity. Emily: Excellent! I just want to check in with Laura Curry Cloney, did you want to come in there?

Laura Curry Cloney: Hi everyone, thanks for having me on. Thanks for the amazing report, it looks really, really good. Just to pick up on something that Shae said, in terms of bogland and growing hemp that may not be of the best of quality.. It can potentially be used for something like hempcrete. It doesn’t necessarily have to be really good quality to do that. It can also be used as biofuel, even on very toxic soil, like for example, landfills. In Ireland alone, there’s over 300 landfills and these sites have been abandoned or are old abandoned mines. If we grew hemp there, you could then create a biofuel from the hemp that’s harvested and also heal the land. So, in those terms you can use it, even if it’s not the highest quality, for other industrial purposes. Emily: That’s great, brilliant.

This is a great question here from Maria, who is talking about chronic pain in particular. I think the medical conversation is really important, but I think, and some of you might touch on this, the means by which people can access cannabis has been highly regulated and restricted. “How much does the Irish government spend on pain management medications with incredibly serious side effects?” So she said that she’s “seen people in Ireland with Rheumatoid Arthritis, 7Ehlers Danlos, back issues, hip issues” going off very high strength prescribed medications, which have a lot of side effects, and that if people could access the right strain, that people would get much better outcomes and much better medical care. But I think the question there is, what is the form of legislation or how does the law need to be, to make sure that people can access the type of cannabis strains that they need? I’m gonna go to Laura Jayne and then I’m gonna go to Laura.

Laura Jayne: Hi. I suppose it’s not from a medical point of view, but it’s from the hemp side of things. When we started farming in 2018, what we wanted to do was make a full spectrum oil. And from 2018-2021 actually, it’s taken us a good long time to get through all the different loops. But from a Food Safety Authority point of view, they’ve allowed us to bring out a full spectrum oil. So our oil has .3% THC in it. Now we got that through on the basis that it’s food and it’s an acute reference dose for THC in foods that was set by the European Food Safety Authority. So we’ve a full spectrum oil. It’s CBD, but it’s also CBG and THC. So there is a soft spot there in the legislation. We’re coming under food law, it’s not under The Misuse of Drugs Act. So it’s a slight ability to get THC into a product, it’s only taken a few years. The licence to cultivate cannabis sativa, the hemp licence, is achievable for most farmers. The HSE have approved us for the processing of cannabinoids from cannabis sativa. Now it’s hemp, but it is cannabis sativa.

I suppose it’s the angle we’ve come at it from. We saw a legal opportunity to grow it, to see if it would grow in Ireland. It grows well, we grow it outdoors. We’re restricted on the type of seeds we can grow, so obviously we would love to see a better range of hemp seeds available that would have higher THC content. But it’s just a positive that there are products on the market that are full spectrum, that do have THC in them. And I suppose going forward, we want more, but that’s where we are at the moment. Emily: Great, thank you so much. And Laura.. other Laura! Emily Giggles Laura: Thanks. Just in relation to what Laura said there, I actually stock her CBD oil in our Hempire yoga studio. And it’s really, really good. It’s excellent quality and having that certificate from the Food Safety Authority, allowing (me) to sell it, makes it a legal product in Ireland. But unfortunately, where the divide is internationally, you can’t sell that through something like Shopify or Paypal.

Even though we have all of the paperwork and all of the documents that say this is a legal product, we are still in a position where we can’t sell it by those means. So you’re looking for different payment gateways to actually get your product out on the market. And the other side of the wellbeing sector is the spiritual aspects of cannabis and how spiritually healing it is, not only to be outdoors growing it. But also, when you see references that are 4,000 years old in The Vedas, referencing this plant as one of the five most revered herbs in the world. That’s ancient Hindu scriptures, where this plant is revered for its magical properties. So that element needs to be brought in. It’s also described as “a plant with an angel residing in its leaves”. And that’s translated from (the) Sanskrit language. So if these ancient Yogis understood this, us as a species can now catch up with that and reawaken that knowledge in us. And I really feel that that’s what this plant is here to do.

It’s to reawaken that understanding and that compassion and that compassionate heart, for everyone. Emily: Compassion is definitely something that we need more of in the world right now, for sure, Laura. And I think what’s really interesting as well, having watched your presentation Seán, was how this used to be a crop that was just readily grown here. That there was a decision made at some point in the past to demonise something that was before that very natural and was used as a tool to boost our economy and lots of other things as well. And it’s obviously not just about that as well, but people do use it as a spiritual aid and I think that’s a really important point as well. I have one final question. Actually, this is for you again Laura, but anybody can come in here if you wanna put your hand up, which is – what small step can we take as individuals right now to bring us closer to legislation?

Laura: Do your research, look into it. Send this information off, because your report looks amazing. So, well done Uplift, this is incredible. And if this is rolled out, we can contact TDs. There’s no denying what this plant can do. When you put together a report of that nature, there’s no argument against it. And people do need to take action, like Nicole (Lonergan, of Cork Cannabis Activist Network) said. It’s up to us to contact TDs, to contact all of these political parties and make some noise about it. And really start to get that roots kind of approach where we’re all standing together. We all want the same thing, whether it’s medical use, or environmental use, or whatever. We all want this plant legalised and that’s super important. It’s really important for the Earth, it’s really important for our children, for their children. We need somewhere to live. For me, that’s what drives me and that’s what I think is so important about cannabis, is where it can bring our planet. Emily: Great, thank you so much Laura. Now I’m gonna ask Laura Jayne…

Laura Jayne: From our point of view, I think we’re pushing an open door. Roderick (Campbell, of The Irish Medical Cannabis Council) said something earlier. He said how to monetise it is the government’s problem. That may be the issue they’re coming up against now, because it is going to be a massive industry. I know CBD, it has been a massive introduction to a much older population in Ireland. People who would never have thought of using cannabis before. And they’re finding the benefits for arthritis, and for different reasons they’re using it. I think now that that population issue you were discussing earlier isn’t there as much. I find that most people we speak to are hugely proactive about the legalisation of cannabis. And people are pushing an open door.

Emily: I love that metaphor of pushing an open door and understanding that it’s as much about how as when. How we’re going to legalise cannabis and how it should benefit our communities. How we should see the wealth created from it going straight back into rural Ireland, that is especially vulnerable now after Covid. There’s even more of a reason now to push it. As Roderick said, there’s 102 people on this call right now. There’s thousands of people who have donated, thousands of people have signed 8petitions. There is a big and growing community as part of this campaign. It’s one of the biggest engagements that we’ve seen in Uplift campaigns in a really long time, which is always a sign to me that we’re gonna win. 

I might pass over to you now Shae, to talk about next steps and where we go from here. Shae: Cool. Once again, thanks to all of our panelists. Thanks to Seán for a great report, and a great presentation on the report. It is being finalised as we speak. TASC and Uplift are putting together some key messages, some of those ones that might work for politicians. Once it’s published, it’ll be circulated for use as a resource for Uplift members, any activists or groups and organisations that could benefit and want to use it for campaigning work. The report is balanced, it’s evidence-based and clear. And I’m really keen for us to work out our next steps together as activists and farmers and as a community. Uplift is a broad church. We come from a lot of different places and I think our plan is best worked out together. Thank you to Nicole, Laura, Laura Jayne, Roderick, Seán and my beautiful co-host, Emily. And thanks all for coming and giving up a piece of your Tuesday night. Enjoy, go forth and be well!

References

1 Check out Wild Atlantic Hemp here – https://www.wildatlantichemp.com/pages/about-us

2 Find out about Hemp Co-Operative Ireland here – https://hempcooperativeireland.com/about/

3 Hemp Higher Yoga’s site is at this link – https://hemphigheryoga.ie/about-us/

4 For more info about The Social Entrepreneurs of Ireland, click this link –

https://socialentrepreneurs.ie/about/

5 The official Uplift website can be accessed here – https://www.uplift.ie/

6 Seán McCabe’s presentation about the upcoming TASC (Think Tank for Action on Social Change)

report on cannabis can be read here –

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/28/seanmccabe-new-green-deal-uplift/

7 For more on Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, check out our recent interview with Evie Nevin

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/31/evie-nevin-26-05-21/

8 Uplift petition – https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/legalise-cannabis-in-ireland

* The full recording of this Uplift panel discussion, Cannabis: A New Green Deal,

can be seen here – https://bit.ly/3fMje97