Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bohemian Babes and Hashish

Ada Clare, the Queen of the Bohemians
A new book, Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and Americans First Bohemians by Justin Martin contains a fascinating cast of characters who hung out at Pfaff’s bar in NYC in the mid 1800s. Among them were Fitz Hugh Ludlow, author of The Hasheesh Eater (1857) and Ada Clare, an actress and writer crowned “Queen of the Bohemians.”

Clare wrote this in The New York Saturday Press, January 1860:

"The February number of Harper's Magazine publishes a story by [fellow Bohemian] Fitz James O'Brien, which attracts much notice. The story 'Mother of Pearl,' opens with an exquisitely beautiful chapter on pearl-fishing, but it seems to me that the crisis of the story is a little uninteresting. The drug called hasheesh has become too well domesticated to assist in a crisis now. It is on too good terms with the digestion. Let us have some drug more awful and mystic to round off our harrowing climaxes—buckwheat for instance : it is time that the buckwheat-cake-eater should come forth and soliloquize."

In the Fitz O’Brien story she cites it is a female who takes the hasheesh, and commits murder. Clare rightly dismisses this as poppycock.

An acolyte of Clare’s, actress/poet Dora Shaw was apparently inspired by Ludlow’s writings to try hashish on July 4, 1859 with novelist Marie Stevens Case, who recorded the event in The New York Saturday Press (7/16/59).

"It promised to be a gloomy day to us; all our friends were out of town, and we had nothing to interests us in the wide city round," the story begins. Planning to sleep during the day of the Fourth and later visit a friend to see the fireworks from her roof, Dora suggests they take opium in order to sleep through the day's "crackers and guns," but Marie suggests instead they try Hascheesh. “Good!” exclaimed Dora. “Where can we get it? I’ve heard of that; it gives one exquisite dreams and fantastic visions—the real becomes the unreal, and the dream is the actual—every moment seems an age of ecstasy.”

Procuring the green powder from a gentleman friend, the ladies took a careful dose, but then added to it after they felt no effect: Dora doubled, and Marie tripled her dose. Marie writes:

"Dora, who is always witty, was especially happy on this occasion, and we remained convulsed until laughter seemed the most boundless and exquisite pleasure in the world. Just then some one tapped at the door for Dora, and I went to excuse her. I remember I did not open the door, but stood with my face close to it, and answered the questioner. A painful sense at length came over me. This person seemed to question me forever. I answered mechanically—in fact I was fast becoming a sphinx—my head expanded to the size of the room, and I thought I was an oracle doomed to respond through all Eternity.

"The wicked laugh of Dora, and her soft arms about me, recalled me partially to the fact that I was answering imaginary questions; but the phantasy would not leave me, and I implored my friend to spare me from laughing—'Do you not see,' I cried, 'that I am stone....and if you make me laugh, I shall be scattered to the four winds.' My words had no effect: she laughed, and instantly I felt a convulsion in my frame—a deafening explosion followed and I flew asunder in all directions. Then I heard at the explosion of the fragments—a myriad of sounds succeeded each other, until I was reduced to a most impalpable powder, and caught by the breeze I was wafted away into space. Still was my consciousness preserved, and a circum-folding sense of joy and perfect peace possessed me."

Presently, Marie writes, "my eye rested on some Egyptian vases in the room, and I led Dora to the place where they stood. Over them hung a picture of Cleopatra dying, and we remained transfixed before it. The diadem of Egypt sat proudly upon the brow of the queen, and there seemed a living agony in her face. She moved, breathed, and spoke. As we looked upon her in her gorgeous robes of State, the whole scene changed, and we were in Egypt. We passed through all the suffering of the unfortunate Queen—the poison of the asp curdled our blood also, and our difficult and painful breathing died on the air with hers. After a while, we returned to life, and Dora, shutting her eyes, turned the picture to the wall—no longer a picture to us, but the place, the time, the living reality."

Marie then imagines that mummies tended to she and Dora, one of whom she determines to be a mathematician (Seshat?), but who Dora informs her was a Quaker friend of hers. Feeling as though years had passed, the women are surprised to discover that their adventures lasted only two hours, so they dress and go to watch the fireworks. "The effect of the hascheesh was still upon us a little," Marie wrote, "and the rockets seemed the most astonishing and gorgeous things in the universe."

Adah Isaacs Menken in her "nude girl on a horse" routine
Could this be the first recorded occurrence of women taking hasheesh in the US? Since Clare famously had a child out of wedlock, was she perhaps the first mother to fear involvement of child protective services over the use of cannabis, and so made light of it?

Marie Stevens Case went on to marry “social radical” Edward Howland and live with him in various utopian communities in France, Mexico, New Jersey and Alabama. Her best-known work, Papa's Own Girl (1874), is a novel about an American father and daughter living in a fictional intentional community in New England.

Another Bohemian actress, Adah Isaacs Menken (pictured) has been called the Marilyn Monroe of her day. She had a famous affair in Paris with Very Important Pothead Alexandre Dumas.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Please Let Princess Kate Smoke Pot

It must be rough when your only job is to make babies and look good in public, and you suffer from hyperemis gravidarum (HG), a debilitating ailment characterized by severe nausea and vomiting, malnutrition, and weight loss during pregnancy that afflicts 1-2% of pregnant women globally.

Princess Kate is again dealing with HG during her second pregnancy, and it's speculated that the Royal Family is pressuring her to appear in public nonetheless. She's reportedly looking thin, and tired, which can't be good for the baby.

Since cannabis is the safest and most effective anti-emetic known to man, with a non-oral delivery system (smoking) that offers immediate relief, it would make sense to consider it a remedy for mothers with severe morning sickness. Male cannabis researchers and doctors almost always issue a blanket proscription against using cannabis while pregnant, and there are some studies in rats that indicate low birth weight can be a problem for cannabis-using mothers (as it can for mothers who have HG). But a marijuana and pregnancy study funded by the March of Dimes and published in the journal Pediatrics in 1994 found that the children of marijuana-smoking mothers in Jamaica actually did better on behavioral tests than did the children of nonsmoking mothers.

Graduate student Wei-Ni Lin Curry, herself an HG survivor, collected stories from women with HG who found relief with cannabis in her paper "Hyperemesis Gravidarum and Clinical Cannabis: To Eat or Not to Eat" published in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics and the book Women and Cannabis: Medicine, Science and Sociology (Haworth Press, 2002). Curry's Taiwanese obstetrician told her that "since ancient times the Chinese have used cannabis to treat HG," and recent studies have found that only small amounts of THC cross over the placental barrier to the fetus. (Dreher, Cannabis and Pregnancy, 1997, p. 160.) "I am in disbelief at how our government has kept such valuable medicine from so many ailing women," Curry concludes. "If I had not experienced the cannabis myself, I would not have believed its truly effective and gentle therapeutic powers."

Most recently, survey data collected by the directors of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society (The VICS) and the BC Compassion Club and published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice reported that cannabis is therapeutic in the treatment of both morning sickness and HG. Of the 84 women who responded to the anonymous questionnaire, 36 said that they had used cannabis intermittently during their pregnancy to treat symptoms of vomiting, nausea, and appetite loss. Of these, 92 percent said that cannabis was “extremely effective” or “effective” in combating their symptoms.

Doctors currently prescribe several prescription anti-emetics for HG, none of which have the long history of safety that cannabis has. In the 1950s, doctors in Europe prescribed the untested drug thalidomide for morning sickness, leading to the horror of "thalidomide babies" born with severely deformed hands and feet. Dr. Frances Kelsey of the FDA would not permit thalidomide into the US, and the situation lead President Kennedy to call for a stronger FDA that ironically today is helping to prevent cannabis from being marketed, or even studied.

Women need to demand more research not only into the use of marijuana during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but also for PMS and cancer, particularly breast cancer. (PMS is joked about, but it’s actually quite serious: The suicide rate among menstruating women is significantly higher during PMS than at other times in their cycle, so we’re talking life and death.) The US government has known since the 70s that cannabis has anti-tumor effects, and recent studies confirm it specifically targets breast cancer cells. 

It’s a scandal that these studies haven’t been followed up on, and that even a Princess must endure a difficult condition that might be safely and effectively remedied with marijuana. Considering that Queen Victoria's physician praised the use of cannabis for menstrual cramps and other ailments, and the UK has pioneered cannabis-based medicines from GW Pharmaceuticals, we think it's high time that the royal family follow Prince Charles's lead and open the door to the acceptance of cannabis as a medicine.

Meanwhile, you can donate to the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation or MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) to sponsor research on HG or cannabis.

UPDATE 12/2: The Family Law & Cannabis Alliance reports an uptick in the number of child endangerment cases involving marijuana in Colorado since legalization. Hear more. 

UPDATE 12/8: Kate & William met with BeyoncĂ© and Jay-Z in New York. She seemed to start feeling better after that. 

UPDATE 12/15: I just discovered that Tokin' Woman Harriet Martineau is Kate's great great great great grandmother.  

UPDATE 3/21: Case Reports: Cannabis Inhalation Reduces Symptoms of Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Also see:
NIDA Kills Marijuana and Pregnancy Follow-up Study

Sex Differences in Pain Relief with Cannabis

Why No Cure for Severe Morning Sickness?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Karen Silkwood, Mike Nichols and Marijuana

UPDATE 10/15: Silkwood is included in the new book Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.

When Mike Nichols, who directed the 1983 movie Silkwood, died days after the 40th anniversary of the death of Karen Silkwood, I decided to look up the connection between Karen and cannabis.

I've noted that in the movie, Karen (played by Meryl Streep) shares a joint with her boyfriend (Kurt Russell) and roommate (Cher) in the same car where she dies after suspiciously going off the road into a ditch. A manilla envelope carrying documents about corruption at the Kerr-McGee plutonium processing plant where she worked were never found afterwards, but investigators did find two marijuana cigarettes in the pocket of her coat.

Karen's death at the age of 28 led to a national discussion into nuclear plant safety, the ultimate closure of the Oklahoma plant where she worked, and a million-dollar settlement in a lawsuit brought by her family against Kerr-McGee.

Mike Nichols made his start as part of a breakthrough comedy duo with Elaine May. "To me, a moral issue is always so much more interesting than a real issue," is a line from their watercooler conversation sketch.

Mendocino-based performance artist extraordinaire Sherry Glaser recalls meeting Nichols while he was directing Whoopi Goldberg's one-woman Broadway show in the 1980s. "I got a ride from him to her birthday party. He asked if I'd be offended if he smoked a joint on the way," Glaser recalls. "He was a wonderfully funny man."

Nichols took an Oscar for directing The Graduate and, as he did with Cher, boosted Melanie Griffiths's acting career with Working Girl. His films include Gilda Live, starring Gilda Radner, and Birdcage with Robin Williams; he directed Philip Seymour Hoffman on Broadway in Death of a Salesman in 2012. He was married to TV newscaster Diane Sawyer.

Silkwood helped immortalize the courageous Karen Silkwood. Did her pot smoking make her more attuned to the greater issues around her, as so often happens with the cannabis-initiated? (Or as John Stewart seemed to say, being high makes you open to the message.) If so, it's one more reason why marijuana is considered dangerous to the status quo, and why it's so important for all of us to get past the cruel prejudice against it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Story of Lurae Horse: A US Vet Denied Medication Over Medical Marijuana Use

As the US prepares to honor its veterans on Veteran’s Day, California NORML has been receiving phone calls and emails from vets who are being told by their VA doctors that they must choose between their prescription pain medications or their medical marijuana.

Lurae Horse served in Air Force as airplane mechanic in Panama during the Grenada conflict. An Oglala Lakota Sioux, she joined up at the age of 17, and was raped three times during her service, but didn't report it because she was told she would be discharged. Later, a domestic violence incident left her with brain trauma and an inner ear problem, causing severe vertigo.

One of the side effects of THC is vertigo, but since it seems to spin her in the opposite direction, a neurologist figured out that synthetic THC pills called Marinol, which are prescribable under Schedule II, work for her. “If I have 30 mg of THC everyday, I can function,” Horse said. "Otherwise, I’m in a wheelchair: I instantly throw up and cannot walk.”

Three VA hospitals—in Kansas, South Dakota, and Wyoming—were prescribing her Marinol, Horse says. But when she moved to Long Beach, California in April, the VA there wouldn’t prescribe her Marinol, so she went on medical marijuana instead.

Horse was labeled a “drug addict” in her VA file, and taken off the opiate pain medication Norco by a nurse practitioner at the VA about a month ago. Since she was only on a low dose of Norco, she is able to control the pain she suffers from arthritis and a rotator cuff injury by using the right strains of marijuana, augmented with occasional steroid shots in her shoulder.

She’s more worried about the latest VA pronouncement that she must be “weaned off” her prescription Xanax. She suffers from panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, she says. Without her anti-anxiety meds, Horse says she couldn’t ride buses, or make her doctor appointments. She says her therapist is against the idea of taking her off her medication, but her patient advocate insists it's VA policy. "Month to month I worry, am I going to get my pills or not?” Horse said.

The VA issued a directive in January 2011 stating that patients in pain control treatment who are participating in state marijuana programs “must not be denied VHA services,” adding that “decisions to modify treatment plans in those situations need to be made by individual providers in partnership with their patients.”

This would seem to leave the matter to individual doctors; however many patients in Southern California are reporting that their doctors are making them choose between their prescription drugs or their medical marijuana, claiming that this is VA policy.

Horse says the VA is targeting other medical marijuana patients she has spoken to. Her broader concern is, "They’re going to end up taking somebody’s anxiety medication away, and someone’s going to go really crazy. Not the brightest thing they can do…take them off their meds to keep them calm.”

"I’m Native American; it’s my job to fight the government. I will fight them to my last breath," said Lurae, who is related to the Native American warrior Crazy Horse.

California NORML and Veterans for Cannabis Access are calling for the VA to educate their doctors and bureaucrats about VA's policy on medical marijuana, and conduct a safety study on the use of cannabis with opioid pain relievers.  Read more.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Birdman Gets High (But I Didn't)

Keaton with The Birdman
Getting great reviews is the new movie Birdman, 
starring the former Batman Michael Keaton as an action-hero actor seeking redemption by producing a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver story.

The interestingly named actress Emma Stone, who was so good in The Help, plays Keaton's Lindsay Lohan-style daughter, just out of rehab. In one scene, he smells that she’s been smoking a joint; she makes no apologies. Creepily she is marking up a roll of toilet paper in a manner reminiscent of the Andy Griffith TV movie that addressed drug addiction in the 70s: "In her notebook page after page just had the word, 'Wow.'" After she splits, Keaton picks up her roach, shrugs, and takes a big puff. Things got a bit trippy after that.

Pot poster boy Zach Galifinakis is awesome as Keaton’s attorney; it was the clip played from his performance on The Daily Show that made me go see the film. Edward Norton is of course superb, even in something that doesn't approach his earlier work, like The Fight Club. Norton has made a career playing schizophrenic characters, and summed up our schizophrenic approach to the drugs starring both as a pot dealer and his straight brother in Leaves of Grass.

Stone watching someone else soar
In Birdman, Keaton's alter ego is always putting him down, and the men all do a lot of yelling, hitting each other (sometimes nearly naked), and destroying things. Then they kiss pretty women, who are all in supportive roles (e.g. Natalie Gold as the former wife, Naomi Watts as the insecure actress, and Lindsay Duncan as the critic he slams).

There were some inspiring special effects and good acting, and the theme was courageous in a way, but in the end it bored me: "Men secretly think they’re shitheads (and they often are), so they have (often violent) fantasies about saving the world (and themselves)." This we know. Get over it, guys. 

There wasn't much to the marijuana plot; mostly they drink (much is made of the fact that Carver was an alcoholic). To the extent that it’s autobiographical about “Batman” Keaton, I suppose it might mean that he smokes pot. But I don’t see that on the web; instead he rather insults marijuana smokers here.

Keaton and Norton doing a guy thing
The scene I liked best was when Keaton acted a "truth" to Norton, who bought it. There was much about truth versus fiction, and it tried to be revelatory about men's inner life, but it failed to explore what the play within the play set out to investigate: love. His wife tells him he confuses love with admiration, and that seems right. He even talks about his fear of being on a plane with George Clooney, fearful that should the plane crash, the headline his daughter will read will be about the more handsome Batman.

Considering that the movie playing in the other theatre where I saw it was the totally dehumanizing Interstellar, Birdman deserves marks for attempting to address the human condition. I was always proud of Keaton, who rose from my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA after making his debut on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I wanted to soar watching Birdman, but unlike the SF Chronicle's "little man clapping," it left me sitting in my seat. Because, in it, only the men soared. The women just got to watch, and admire. And sometimes supply the plot, or the pot.

Barbara Lee, Barbara Lee, oh Barbara Lee...

Congresswoman Barbara Lee has been out and about these days. She appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher, then hula hooped with Stephen Colbert (just before he celebrated Washington DC's legalization of marijuana).

The only Congressperson to vote against the Iraq war (or more specifically, the blank-check ability for any President to wage war indefinitely), Lee is no stranger to courageous positions. So it was fitting that she was present to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Berkeley Patient's Group, a medical marijuana dispensary in her district (pictured).

Lee presented BPG with a Congressional recognition, just after watching them donate $10,000 to the local Women's Cancer Resource Center. We don't celebrate our sheroes often enough on this blog, or elsewhere, so here we recognize the good Congresswoman, whose constituents like to say, "Barbara Lee speaks for me."

Pundits are scratching their heads over the Republican landslide midterm election that also saw marijuana measures carry in Oregon and Alaska, as well as DC and a score of cities and counties in Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts and New Mexico. In addition, California and New Jersey passed key criminal justice measures defelonizing crimes like drug possession.

All seven of NORML PAC’s publicly endorsed candidates for the US House of Representatives won decisively, including New Jersey's Bonnie Watson Coleman. Pennsylvania's anti-marijuana Republican Governor Tom Corbett got trounced by Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, who is friendly to marijuana. In California, Lee won handily but three of the worst-voting Democrats on marijuana matters got the boot:  Assemblymembers Steve Fox of Palmdale, Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton, and Al Muratsuchi from Torrance. And Colorado's Democratic governor John Hickenlooper, who retained his seat, announced he would be giving a rebate to state voters after bringing in $50 million in tax revenues from legal marijuana.

The message is clear: supporting marijuana reform is no longer a third rail in politics, and being against this emerging voting block might just get you an early retirement from public life.

Maher smoked his interview with Kal Penn, who starred as a pothead in the Harold and Kumar movies, and also worked in the Obama administration. Asking Penn to nudge Obama on pot, Maher rightly pointed out, "He must know that there's a lot of people who can't vote, can't get housing, can't do a lot of things, get jobs because they have that on their record, that he could have on his record because of what he did. And that's just a hypocrisy I don't think he should be able to live with."

Interviewing rising Democratic star Sen. Kristin Gillibrand, Colbert asked, since marijuana is now legal in DC, might that have a positive effect on the hostility in Washington. "Maybe it would help if you and Mitch McConnell got together and smoked pot," he joked. But although Colbert enjoined Obama to "appoint yourself Commander in Spleef," Obama spoke about sharing a bourbon instead with McConnell, who represents the hemp-growing state of Kentucky.

Stay tuned: CelebStoner ‏reports that Very Important Pothead Woody Harrelson will host Saturday Night Live on 11/15, and Tokin Woman Cameron Diaz will do so the following week (11/22).