Learning the Health Benefits of Cannabis

State-by-state legalization of marijuana is opening eyes to the possible health benefits from parts of the cannabis plant, but the federal government remains an obstacle, as Martin A. Lee explained to Dennis J Bernstein
by Dennis J Bernstein

Despite breakthroughs in understanding the curative possibilities of CBD — essentially the non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant — the stigma of marijuana’s criminalization is delaying progress as is the refusal of the federal government to support state-by-state legalization.

A marijuana plant.

I spoke with Martin A. Lee, the director of Project CBD and a leading expert on the breakthroughs and breakdowns when it comes to the use of CBD as a healing tool on April 20, 2017. Lee is also the author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational, and Scientific

Dennis Bernstein: Okay. Well, let’s just start with a sweeping overview. Trump is in. We’ve got an extremely right-wing attorney general. On the macro level do you anticipate… is there a sense that the landscape is changing?

Martin Lee: No one really knows what lays ahead. Obviously, the uncertainty coming from the federal government is problematic for the “cannabis industry” – we used to call it a community, now it’s an industry.

But there are also countervailing forces. You know, Trump’s folks have talked about coming down on the recreational market, as opposed to medical. They seem to be conceding medical. But there are countervailing forces particularly with respect to the CBD industry. CBD, cannabinoid, as you are mentioning, is basically a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant with a lot of therapeutic applications.

So, whereas there’s concerns about the pharmaceuticalization of CBD, once it is approved as an isolated pharmaceutical, and soon it will be by the federal government, what will happen to the so-called grassroots hemp industry… CBD oils are derived from hemp. This is all over the place, online. And there is significant political support for an indigenous hemp industry in the United States, coming particularly from the Kentucky senator’s. Mitch McConnell, of course, is a very powerful senator, Majority Leader in the Senate, representing Kentucky, a hemp growing state. So, how this is all getting played out, who’s going to control it, how it will be regulated remains to be seen, because of all these different variables. It’s hard to predict.

DB: And, in that context, there is some major confusion. Some people are being busted, some people are having their stuff taken. Talk about… there’s been a number of raids all over the country in the context of hemp and CBD. Talk about what’s been going on in Alaska.

ML: Well, just in general, before Alaska, there’s been an idea promoted by businesses online that CBD, cannabinoid, is legal in all 50 states, which is not true according to the federal government. And there’s been a lot of confusion both… really on the state level, also, how this compound and these products made with this compound, will be regulated. Some states have not legalized medical marijuana, but have legalized the CBD, just one compound in the plant. Sounds a little crazy but there’s now 15 states without medical marijuana laws where, technically speaking, CBD is legal.

And this has given people an idea that they can just access this stuff from the wholesalers, CBD oil, and hang a shingle, so-to-speak, and start selling it. Well, some folks who have done that in various states are in for a rude surprise. In Alaska, a state where marijuana is legal for adults, as well as for medical use, there have been raids of all the medical marijuana facilities that are providing CBD products, on the grounds that they weren’t being produced, these products, within the state of Alaska.

Most medical marijuana states stipulate the product has to be grown and produced and sold and consumed within that state. And since these CBD hemp oil products are coming from all over, from Europe, from Colorado, from Kentucky, not from Alaska that was the reason why there were a series of raids, I think it was seven in total, dispensaries were hit as part of the same drag net, in February, in Alaska.

And there’s been half a dozen other states where there have been some sporadic raids like this. I don’t think this is a result of a unified policy. I think this is a local law enforcement affair. But it underscores the confusion with respect to the legal status of CBD which is ultimately grounded in the contradictions of prohibition, a policy that doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s built on a mountain of lies, basically.

DB: Perhaps the most interesting, outside of Alaska, in terms of those raids is Kentucky. So, even though the majority leader of the Republican Senate is Mitch McConnell, Kentucky is being hit. It’s an interesting sort of back and forth there.

A thicket of hemp plants. (Wikipedia)

ML: Yes, again, they’ve been hit, in Princeton, Kentucky, actually, the name of the town, there was a law enforcement raid of a storefront that was selling CBD rich products, oil products. But presumably made in Kentucky, but that store did not have a license to do that. And, again, this idea that’s being promoted by vested interests that CBD is legal everywhere, and you can just do whatever you want with it. That has sort of collided with the realities and confusion at the local law enforcement level, and the state level as well. In Missouri, the attorney general actually brought an action against a couple of stores that were selling CBD without a proper license.

DB: Marty, let’s turn the focus to… tell people a little bit more about the possibilities of CBD. There have been some breakthroughs, of course, this is difficult because of the federal government’s unwillingness to relent in considering all of this a very dangerous drug. But there has been more and more research, breakthroughs. Tell us about some of the possibilities that we now know exist in terms of the use of CBD.

ML: Well, there’s a huge amount of scientific research that’s been going on now for several decades, focusing on CBD, it’s cannabinoid and other components of the plant. But what’s interesting is that now we’re seeing some reports from doctors, clinicians, in states where there’s a robust medical marijuana program, such as California, who are actually reporting what they’re finding when they’re treating patients, including pediatric epilepsy patients, which has gotten a lot of attention. Little kids with intractable seizure disorders, terrible, where they’re seizing hundreds of times a week.

It so happens, for certain conditions, CBD as a molecule, even as an isolated product, can be very effective depending on what is the underlying breakdown molecularly, so-to-speak, in the brain that leads to these disease disorders. And there could be hundreds of factors that feed into epilepsy. But, what I find really interesting here, is that what these doctors recently reported in a peer reviewed scientific journal, was that the CBD isolate, the high CBD, low THC oils, which are very effective in some cases, are not effective in all cases. In fact, are not effective in most cases. We need to say most cases, there might be a reduction of seizures but not an elimination, as there are in, let’s say, 10 – 15% of these cases.

And what the doctors clearly found was that they have to have an array of different kinds of cannabinoid medicine, different ratios, of CBD and THC, different components of the plant have to be available for the doctor and the patient to test and to figure out ultimately what works for each individual.

And what that really calls into question, in my mind, is the whole pharmaceutical model, where there’s one compound, one ratio, in this case it’s going to be all CBD, and nothing less that’s going to be approved very soon as a legal medicinal tool. But the science and the clinical experience clearly shows while that’s a very, very valuable medical instrument (the pure CBD), what you really need is some options available from the whole plant. And without that you have a very, very limited possibility of helping people out.

DB: So, what you’re saying is there is an important synergy between the non-psychoactive and the psychoactive and that it’s a formula, it would be, I guess, a prescription from the pharmacy in terms of what are you dealing with, what is the makeup and the breakdown of…adding one or the other to accommodate each case?

ML: Yeah. So it really goes back to old style medicine. And it’s happening today in the sense that…it’s not many physicians who are doing this, but some can take out their pad and write a recommendation, because technically a prescription is not allowed from what is still a schedule 1 substance, an illegal substance. And they can tell you what ratios THC and CBD should be in the oil, what terpenes–the compound that gives a particular smell to the plant–and many different combinations, thereof. Those terpenes also have significant medical effects. They’ve found that in some cases of epilepsy if there are certain terpenes present that the compounds that smell like lemon or lavender, respectively called limonene and linalool. When these are present in the oil that has a great accentuating effect in terms of an anti-seizure property.

So, all these things are being discussed, explored and discovered. And it’s very, very exciting. And it’s tremendous potential I think for medical science, and practical medicine, and ultimately to reduce the costs of health care. It’s that dimension, I think, that is not being discussed, but I think that’s kind of the elephant in the living room. That given the health care crisis we face in this country we should really be taking very seriously the implications of this plant.

DB: Now that is the breakthrough. The breakdown, once again, is law enforcement, isn’t it? It’s been that way for years, in which the research is still being held up by the arcane laws of yesteryear.

ML: Yes, definitely on the federal level, this is true, and it has a huge influence. But things are happening on a state level now. I think the prohibition is so absurd, particularly with respect to medical research, that some states are going their own way. And I think in California what there’s been a noticeable shift to observe is that Sacramento [the state capital] is now behind the industry, as it were. It’s supportive of the industry. Whereas a year ago you couldn’t say that clearly. But there’s clearly been a shift and hopefully that will manifest itself, in part, in allocation of funds for serious research in this area.

DB: Marty, could you take a moment to talk a little bit about the social history, and how the law enforcement and how the criminalization has been a devastating problem, and which we still face. I mean people are going to be in jail long after the things that put them in jail are legal and sort of helping to float the entire economy of the United States.

ML: Yeah, it is ironic that something that is such a huge economic boon is still penalized, in terms of personal use, although that’s happening less and less. Clearly the history of marijuana prohibition as an instrument of social control by the government is quite significant.

And we’ve seen that clearly in terms of the … arrest statistics, the disproportionate targeting, arrests, persecution, if you will, of young people, particularly people of color, that continues. But, even more than that, and that’s quite enough to be opposed to this prohibition, carte blanche, but it’s not just different segments of society, specific segments of society that have suffered; Everybody has, in terms of the impeding of important medical research. So this is something in many, many different ways that has really hurt society because of the laws have been a convenient instrument to “keep people in their place.”

DB: Are you aware, Marty, that according to the New York Times of April 15th you now live in America’s cannabis bucket?

ML: Yes, I was aware of that. And the triangle, this is the cannabis bud feast in the United States. It’s been such historically since the early 1970’s. And it’s part of that, the region that includes the [S.F.] Bay Area. Yeah, you could say it’s the cannabis capital of the United States. But, really the whole cannabis phenomenon and there’s been a huge pro-cannabis cultural shift socially and culturally. This is now a nation-wide phenomenon. It’s not just California, or Colorado or Washington anymore.

DB: And so, Marty, coming up is 420 [April 20], what does 420 mean in the world of marijuana? And what will you be doing on 420?

ML: Well, April 20th has become kind of a national cannabis holiday, if you will. In my mind, it’s sort of part of a rite of spring that also involves so-called bicycle day, that’s a day in which Dr. Albert Hofmann discovered the effects of LSD in the 1940’s, and Earth Day. And 420 altogether seem to be, like I say, an annual rite of spring to certain elements in our community. And this 420 I’ll be at Animal Farms, that’s a dispensary up at Hopland at the Solar Living Center, with the Real Goods Store, 12 acre permaculture oasis, we described. They’re having an all day party. Everybody is invited. I think a lot of people are going to be there. We’ll have a speaker’s circle, music, food, a whole array of things.


DB: I don’t want to go out, I don’t want to be a bummer. I just want to give folks who are using marijuana in various ways who are going to dispensaries, what is your recommendation to people … in terms of being careful? Should they be frightened now of vape oil, of using these vapes? How does one be cautious in the age, in the 21st century, in the age of marijuana?

ML: Well, I think there are really three challenges, three big problems facing the consumer now. One is just the lack of adequate labeling on the products. Also, the pesticide residues, and there’s a lot of products tainted with pesticides in the cannabis area. And it’s a very significant problem. We’re actually working on this issue now, Project CBD.

But then, as you point out, the issue of vape pens. The problem is with these vape oils, oftentimes they’re cut with thinning agents. And some to watch out for that are apparently legal to include in these things but particularly potentially dangerous, very dangerous: propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol, if you see this on any of the marketing collateral for these vape oils, avoid those. Because when heated and inhaled, those particular compounds, propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol, turn into carcinogens, and can cause cancer. And it’s terrible, but it’s trouble in these vape pen oils. It’s not impossible to find some good ones. But we have seen, when we looked at those, vape oils, made from the hemp derived CBD, we haven’t found one yet that hasn’t been tainted by these toxic thinning agents. And these are products that are directly used for medical patients. You wouldn’t use a vape oil pen with high concentration of CBD for recreational purposes.

But also, just in general, e-cigarettes, tobacco cigarettes have this propylene glycol in it, and I just fear we’re going to have a terrible day of reckoning, when these aren’t regulated. Unfortunately these things are regulated as being safe for oral consumption.

But they’ve never really been tested for heating and inhalation. And now there’s scientific reports that are coming in, not tested by the government, incidentally, but by individual scientists are quite ominous. So it’s something to avoid.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

30 comments for “Learning the Health Benefits of Cannabis

  1. Paulette Junkins
    May 9, 2017 at 10:08

    The health benefits of cannabis are large in numbers. I have also used it for migraine but my physician advised me that its overuse could be risky for heart and brain functions. However, Martin A. Lee also explained health benefits of medical marijuana in efficient manner.

    Paulette Junkins – PR Manager at https://www.walkerdrugrehabilitation.org/texas/round-rock/

  2. jimbo
    May 1, 2017 at 01:31

    It’s bullshit what the guy says about propylene glycol and an unworthy remark for a truth telling venue such as CN. Actually CN would be an ideal place to promote vaping as a life saver. Heart doctors should be heartily recommending vaping to their tobacco addicted patients. From what Ii have read propylene glycol is a safe product and is NOT anti-freeze. As an addicted nicotine vaper I haven’t had a real tobacco ciggie in six year. Except for the addiction I have had none of the short breath, coughing, phlegm and stink of tobacco. Best of all i get the same exact satisfaction – throat kick – as I did from Marlboros.

  3. PharmerDavid
    April 29, 2017 at 20:29

    I have been a medicinal cannabis patient and grower for over 15 years, and have cured my dog’s mammary gland cancer, and my own prostate and skin cancers. My recommendation to use is for chronic pain in my back, which is the most common reason doctors recommend medicinal cannabis. It also helps with my appetite, and with insomnia. Cannabis also helps my arthritis and depression. We use it for food too, both the whole seeds, and hemp oil, which is useful as a massage oil too. I make a coconut-cannabis extract, which is how my dog uses it, and I use it externally on myself. Sometimes I eat the oil extract, which is very palatable, so I just let it dissolve on my tongue, so it goes right into my system without having to go through the liver. When you eat it, the liver converts THC to 11-Hyudroxy THC, which is MUCH stronger – more like taking a psychedelic such as LSD than smoking pot. I’ve started growing high-CBD strains, since dogs have more CB1 and CB2 receptors, making them hyper-sensitive to THC. I like the high-CBD strains for myself too, because I can function better during the day. My high-THC strains which don’t have enough CBD to balance the psychoactive effect make it difficult to get things done. I like getting “stoned” occasionally, but not during the day when I’m trying to accomplish things that require using my logical thinking. The only extract I make beside coconut, is making “ice hash”, which separates the trichomes from the vegetable matter using ice water. It’s the purest kind of hash, even better than “finger hash”, which inevitably gets vegetable matter mixed with the trichomes. I’ve tried using the stronger extracts made using solvents, and they are almost too strong, and lose much of the smell (terpines) and taste (flavanoids), which have medicinal effects too. Using the who bud by vaporizing is the best way to medicate, and gives you all the medicinal properties of buds. I find the really strong extracts to be too strong, and they sometimes burn my lungs, making them hurt – maybe it’s from the solvents used, which inevitably leave some residue behind..? For medicinal use, I recommend using organically grown medicine, vaporizing it, or using a coconut-exract, or other fat. Coca butter is another good vegetable fat to use, and it smells wonderful. The combination of coconut oil and coca butter smells wonderful in a tropical way. It always reminds me of bathing beauties basking in the sunshine at the beach, back where I grew-up in the Pacific Palisades.

    • mike k
      April 30, 2017 at 11:26

      Your lifestyle with cannabis sure gives the lie to reefer madness. It’s so normal. No big deal. That’s how it’s supposed to be….

  4. elelo
    April 29, 2017 at 15:42

    Don’t know about managing pain from other illnesses but of personal experience, I can say that nothing works better on arthritis pain better than cannabis… nothing.

  5. April 29, 2017 at 12:46
    • mike k
      April 29, 2017 at 14:22

      The promo and pictures really suck, and this crap must be truly horrible. What a stupid idea – mixing something good in itself with some cheap poison?

  6. mike k
    April 29, 2017 at 11:42

    “Turn on, tune in, drop out” was not bad advice to break free of the cultural trance. But we did not realize that strong spiritual leadership and a sense of direction that could withstand the inner and outer pressures that came to bear on our nascent liberation gesture would be necessary to sustain it and take it to a higher level of functionality.

  7. mike k
    April 29, 2017 at 11:33

    What was Socrates executed for? Corrupting the youth with his ideas questioning the Gods and normative beliefs of Athenian culture. I had better be careful about suggesting pot education for the youth….. And btw “just say no” is classic negative conditioning.

  8. mike k
    April 29, 2017 at 11:26

    Can you imagine the real history of entheogenic plants being taught in public schools? Not in this authoritarian culture you can’t. Patriarchy is afraid of anything that promises to liberate it’s subjects from their conditioning. Free thought is considered dangerous by those seeking control over young minds.

  9. mike k
    April 29, 2017 at 10:54

    If we look at cannabis through the lens of social justice, human freedom, and the nature of oppressive regimes – it takes on a whole different significance than it occupies in the ordinary thinking of most people, who are conditioned by propaganda, and have no idea of the importance of the state telling people how they may use their minds, and even what they are allowed to eat.

  10. mike k
    April 29, 2017 at 10:47

    Did Jesus anoint with cannabis oil? Like many hidden realities, this idea sounds really flaky at first glance. But if you look deeper you may find it is not as far out as it sounds….


  11. mike k
    April 29, 2017 at 07:29

    Ignorance about marijuana and the “war on drugs” is widespread. Saying pot can cause schizophrenia is an example. Or believing that pot smokers are impaired in driving cars similarly to those imbibing alcohol. Learn more about this important issue:



  12. john wilson
    April 29, 2017 at 05:13

    Health benefits for some there may be, but a life suffering from terrible schizophrenia is what some people who smoke this stuff have to live with. The simple truth is that the human body doesn’t need any kind of drugs to thrive. The only time drugs are needed is when there is a medical condition which can only be treated with prescription drugs. Of course, this could include cannabis etc. Its bad enough to have to take prescription drugs to survive and when one is elderly, so the young should revel in in being free of medication and make the most of their youth.

    • PharmerDavid
      April 29, 2017 at 20:36

      I used to know some guys who lived in a halfway house for “schizophrenics”, and other mental illnesses. When they smoked pot, it would calm them down, and they behaved more “normally”. The reason people with mental illnesses often like marijuana, is because it makes them feel better. I’m not saying it can’t cause mental problems in some people, but for some of us it HELPS our mental problems. I have hypothyroidism, which can cause symptoms of mental illness, especially manic-depressive syndrome, which I have always had, and cannabis helps cure my depression, and agitation, which can lead to psychotic episodes. Just saying please don’t assume cannabis is always bad for people with mental illnesses, because some of us are helped by it.

  13. nev
    April 29, 2017 at 01:23

    smoking has to be harmfull ..are there any records of health issues for of past years on lung issues ..

    • mike k
      April 29, 2017 at 11:50

      Cannabis does not have to be smoked to be effective.

  14. BannanaBoat
    April 28, 2017 at 21:08

    Ganga first became illegal in response to Mexicans fleeing warfare, El Paso made it illegal in 1915. Dupont did not want competition to his synthetic products, possibly cotton also.

  15. Zachary Smith
    April 28, 2017 at 21:02

    What I actually know about this subject I could print on a 4×6″ index card without the slightest difficulty. But since I’ve heard all the propaganda for most of my life, like everybody else I have “opinions”.

    One is that this is a topic Society’s Authoritarians hold with a death grip. Mostly or entirely right-wingers, they plan to continue with that control. I strongly doubt all the “testimonials” telling of how little Mary or old man Billy had their xxxxxx symptoms ended/cured by smoking a joint every now and then. BUT, so long as none of the patients-users will present any risks to the rest of society, I say let them have their Cannabis.

    I hate single-data-point examples, but mine dates back decades ago when I was employed at keeping a complicated machine running as a setup-man. I was elbow deep in the thing when a worker returned from his smoke session outside the building, let out with a loud “Whee”, and started punching the buttons to restart the machine. I barely got clear in time.

    I don’t want the patients/users to have access to transport vehicles, heavy equipment, or firearms while they are under the influence. If that’s impossible, then I’m for continuing with the ban. Yes, this position is illogical considering the easy availability and universal use of alcohol, but that’s how I feel.

    • mike k
      April 29, 2017 at 11:49

      Zachary – There is a lot of solid scientific evidence now about the positive effects of cannabis as medicine. It’s not all anecdotal anymore. Just google cannabis research.

      • Zachary Smith
        April 29, 2017 at 13:05

        I did that, and wasn’t impressed. Perhaps I used the wrong search terms, but “peer reviewed” was one of them.

        • Antiwar7
          April 30, 2017 at 15:14

          Most peer-reviewed journal articles don’t contain the text “peer-reviewed”. Even their citations don’t.

    • Antiwar7
      May 1, 2017 at 11:01

      You have a good reason to feel that way. But the problem is the negligent worker, who could have done the same after getting drunk at lunch, and who should have been fired.

      Also, not saying that you had to, but since the cost to you was greater, maybe you could have taped a huge sign over the start buttons while you were working.

  16. Curious
    April 28, 2017 at 20:37

    The history of pot is entangled so much in the federal government that it will take some real knowledge and a lot of people to change things around. Hemp, for example, was known as pots’ sober cousin since one couldn’t really get high off of it and hemp had a lot of uses, especially in WW1. Rope, just for one example. Then, people like William Randolph Hearst and Dupont changed the rules since hemp was too competitive to their cotton crops and created federal laws to outlaw hemp. Hemp could be used for many products today, even fuel, but the feds still remain recalcitrant.

    After prohibition something had to be done with the force policing alcohol so the Treasury needed more revenue. Why not create a DEA to get that needed money since they already had the people to enforce new rules.
    Pot should not be a schedule 1 drug by any means, and hemp could/should be a viable crop but they don’t want to change the rules and the DEA doesn’t want to give up their helicopters, their guns and their mega budget by questioning whether pot should be taken off the schedule 1 list, as it should. I believe the constitution was written on hemp paper…. oh the horrors!

    A solution would be to drastically cut the DEAs budget for one. Secondly, people should understand that there is a difference between a ‘body high’ and a ‘head high’. Most people only think of smoking pot, not turning valuable THC into lotions, gels, topicals, soaps, and ingestible items which can reduce pain. If people get more informed on how a person can fight chronic pain by ingesting THC, rubbing on a lotion, or a topical rather than smoking it, things in this country will change for the better.

    The DEA will fight this because of budgetary reasons rather than ‘protection’ and Big Pharma will fight it until they come up with some phony synthetic, with FDA approval, so they can make money off a plant, which people could grow for free. The children who have benefited from the chemistry of a pot plant are a perfect example of how Big Pharma has too much control, and does a lot of things for a buck instead of proper care for a patient.

  17. mike k
    April 28, 2017 at 17:27

    Anti-pot laws were used as a way to harass the counterculture and the African American culture. All that was a reaction to the 60’s. Antiwar protests panicked the rulers, and criminalizing pot was a tool to deal with it. Rich guys don’t like hippies. Just one more reason to distrust our unjust government. Criminalizing a plant? This is just stupid, but they used it to suppress dissent. The whole fear of psychedelics is natural to an establishment bent on keeping people stupid. Beer is great for that.

    • Tannehouser
      April 28, 2017 at 18:51

      The hit Job on Pot started way before the sixties. Pre WW2 actually in earnest. Yes beer is good for that……

      • mike k
        April 28, 2017 at 19:40

        I started smoking pot in ‘49. There was no real heat on it until the 60’s. You could smoke in bars and on the street. It was illegal, but there was no real strict enforcement. And it was dirt cheap. Later, enforcement drove the price up.

        The interview above only scratches the surface of pot’s medical potentials. For example, it is the only known treatment for a class of very lethal brain tumors. I know because I researched it for a friend who had such a cancer. Look on the norml website for more info.

        • Antiwar7
          April 30, 2017 at 15:10

          Wow, that’s a long time. In an ideal world, you should get big bucks to be part of a research study on long-term use.

Comments are closed.