Thursday, February 19, 2015

Celebrating Disease at The Oscars, Instead of Combating It (with Cannabis)

When Julianne Moore (pictured) or Eddie Redmayne make their expected Oscar acceptance speeches on Sunday night, they ought to call for more research into the use of cannabis for the diseases that resulted in their award-worthy roles.

Redmayne and Moore both took the Golden Globe acting prize, him for playing the ALS-afflicted Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything" and her for portraying an Alzheimer's victim in "Still Alice."

Apart from offering meaty roles to actors, these diseases have nothing to recommend them. But cannabis has shown promise against both.

As documented in NORML's yearly booklet "Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Review of the Recent Scientific Literature," over 4.5 million Americans are afflicted with Alzheimers, and an estimated 30,000 are living with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's disease).

No approved treatments or medications are available to stop the progression of Alzheimers Disease (AD), and few pharmaceuticals have been FDA-approved to treat symptoms of the disease. A review of the recent scientific literature indicates that cannabinoid therapy may provide symptomatic relief to patients afflicted with AD while also moderating the progression of the disease.

Some experts believe that cannabinoids' neuroprotective properties could also play a role in moderating AD. Writing in the September 2007 issue of the British Journal of Pharmacology, investigators at Ireland's Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience concluded, "[C]annabinoids offer a multi‐faceted approach for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease by providing neuroprotection and reducing neuroinflammation, whilst simultaneously supporting the brain's intrinsic repair mechanisms by augmenting neurotrophin expression and enhancing neurogenesis. ... Manipulation of the cannabinoid pathway offers a pharmacological approach for the treatment of AD that may be efficacious than current treatment regimens."

Steven Hawking with Eddie Redmayne,
who plays him in "The Theory of Everything"
Recent preclinical findings indicate that cannabinoids can delay ALS progression. Writing in the March 2004 issue of the journal Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis & Other Motor Neuron Disorders, investigators at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco reported that the administration of THC both before and after the onset of ALS symptoms staved disease progression and prolonged survival in animals compared to untreated controls.

Experts are calling for clinical trials to assess cannabinoids for the treatment of ALS. Writing in the American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine in 2010, a team of investigators reported, "Based on the currently available scientific data, it is reasonable to think that cannabis might significantly slow the progression of ALS, potentially extending life expectancy and substantially reducing the overall burden of the disease."

Cannabis has also been shown to be helpful for chronic pain, which Jennifer Aniston's character suffers in "Cake." (She was nominated for other awards but snubbed by the Academy.) But even some veterans are being told they must choose between cannabis and prescription meds these days.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tiffany's...or a Toke? Holly Chose Shopping Therapy Over Marijuana

"I've had a little go at marijuana. It's not half so destructive as brandy. Cheaper, too. Unfortunately, I prefer brandy."

This is what Miss Holly Golightly said to the press after being arrested for carrying messages from imprisoned mobster Sally Tomato in the 1958 Truman Capote novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

The 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn (pictured) erased this, and all marijuana references, while retaining the plot that implicated Holly in a drug-dealing ring. After her arrest she loses her Brazilian boyfriend (with whom, in the book, she is pregnant; she miscarries while in jail). Still she refuses to narc on her friend Sally, saying, "Testify against a friend I will not. Not even if they can prove he doped Sister Kenny."

Unlike in the movie, the book contains no happy ending for Holly, who Capote said was based on a real 17-year-old girl he knew (absent the Sally Tomato connection).

"I always knew she was a hop-hop head with no more morals than a hound-bitch in heat. She belongs in prison," stammered Holly's so-called friend who married her former beau Rusty Trawler when called for help. Ironically, marijuana is first introduced in the book when Holly describes in a conversation with the book's narrator (Paul in the movie) her fondness for Tiffany's as an antidote to the "mean reds":

"You're afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don't know what you're afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don't know what it is. You've had that feeling?"

"Quite often. Some people call it angst."

"All right. Angst. But what do you do about it?"

"Well, a drink helps."

“I’ve tried that. I’ve tried aspirin, too. Rusty thinks I should smoke marijuana, and I did for a while, but it only makes me giggle. What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away..."

The film was fine with depicting Hepburn as a bit of a prostitute, and Paul as a kept man (unlike the unnamed narrator in the novella, a working man who faced the draft when he lost his job). Marijuana wasn't completely taboo for movies at that time: it appears in Sweet Bird of Youth the following year (as a means by which Paul Newman's character tries to bribe the aging actress Alexandra del Lago) and it was similarly smeared in 1957's Sweet Smell of Success.

A Broadway play more true to Capote's book was mounted in 2012. London's Royal Albert Hall just announced on Valentine's Day it would host a "live" screening of the film, complete with orchestra, in June. They called Holly, with "gargantuan cigarette holder in hand – one of the most recognisable and arresting images in cinema." (She smoked strong Picayune cigarettes in the book.)

In the film, Holly mischievously waters a marijuana-like plant with a drink while standing in front of a mirror (shown). Later, just after the cat is entranced by Holly's twirling cigarette holder, a party guest is depicted laughing hysterically, then crying, at a mirror. A nod to marijuana's effects?

Capote said of marijuana, "Pot makes the most stupid people sound amusing—that's the best thing about it. They never turn mean, they laugh at everything, and they turn charming even if they are dull."  He reminisced about "smoking up a storm" at the movies during his adolescence, saying, "I remember smoking all the way through a Bette Davis movie, laughing louder and louder as she got cloudier and cloudier." The author tried LSD twice, given to him by a doctor while it was still legal. Hepburn was a heavy tobacco smoker who suffered from asthma and died of cancer at only 63.

Rather than being romantically involved with Holly as in the movie, in the book and life, Paul/Truman was her gay friend. Capote wouldn't speculate about Holly being a lesbian, but pointed out that 80% prostitutes are. Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar portraying Capote in 2005 and Robert Morse won a Tony for playing him on Broadway in 1990.

ADDENDUM: I recently found that Capote mentioned “kef” in his introduction to My Sister’s Hand in Mine: the Collected Works of Jane Bowles. “Tangiers is composed of two mismatching parts, one of them a dull modern area stuffed with office buildings and tall gloomy dwellings, and the other a casbah descending through a medieval puzzlement of alleys and alcoves and kef-odored, mint-scented piazzas down to the crawling with sailors, ship horn-hollering port," he wrote. "The Bowles have established themselves in both sectors—have a sterilized, tout comfort apartment in the newer quarter, and also a refuge hidden away in the darker Arab neighborhood: a native house that must be one of the cities tiniest habitations—ceilings so low that one has almost literally to move on hands and knees from room to room; but the rooms themselves are like a charming series of postcard-sized Vuillards—Moorish cushions spilling over Moorish-patterned carpets, all cozy as a raspberry tart and illuminated by intricate lanterns and windows that allow the light of sea skies and views that encompass minarets and ships and the blue-washed rooftops of native tenements receding lie a ghostly staircase to the clamorous shoreline. Or that is how I remember it on the occasion of a single visit made at sunset on an evening, oh, fifteen years ago.” 

When author Jane Bowles arrived in Tanger, her husband Paul wrote, she had a traumatic experience with majoun and never tried it again. Although Paul repeatedly warned against taking too much, due to delayed onset, Jane impatiently gobbled a second helping and overdosed. "Illogically enough, from that day on, she remained an implacable enemy of all forms of cannabis. The fact that her experience had been due solely to an overdose seemed to her beside the point," Bowles wrote.

Jane, who seemed to prefer alcohol, doesn't seem to address cannabis in any of her stories, but in one of them, "Everything Is Nice," a Moslem woman named Zodelia that the narrator meets on the street comments about the dual life that the Bowles lead in the city, spending half their time with Moslem friends, and half with "Nazarenes" at the hotel. The narrator is taken to a tea party, where she eats "dusty" cakes. The story ends, "When she reached the place where she had met Zodelia she went over to the wall and leaned on it. Although the sun had sank behind the houses, the sky was still luminous and the blue of the wall had deepened. She rubbed her fingertips along it: the wash was fresh and a little of the powdery stuff came off. And she remembered how once she had reached out to touch the face of a clown because it had awakened some longing. It had happened at a little circus, but not when she was a child."

In Paul Bowles's semi-autobiographical novel The Sheltering Sky, the characters Port and Kit Moresby were based on him and Jane. Debra Winger played Kit in the film adaptation of the novel.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Madonna Brings Back Baal at the Grammys

Madonna continued her pop culture interpretations of ancient myths last night on the Grammys, cavorting in a bright red bullfighter's costume with a herd of male dancers wearing bull horns on their heads. Some commentators recoiled at the "Santanic" imagery of the piece, and they're not far off.

Throughout the Old Testament, prophet after prophet warns the children of Israel that God will bring misery upon them unless they cease to burn incense to worship the god Baal. Some scholars think that the “burnt offerings” that were made to Baal and/or his consort Ashtoreth were cannabis, mistranslated as “calamus” from caneh bosm (sweet or good cane) in scripture.

Astarte with horns.
The Louvre.
Baal was depicted, in some regions, as a horned god, and his horns were adopted for the Christian concept of the Devil. Ashtoreth was the biblical name for Asherah (or sometimes Athirat) or Astarte/Ishtar, who was also depicted as horned.

In 1875 British General Charles Gordon, sent to suppress a Muslim revolt in the Sudan, wrote, “In the choice between God & Baal, they choose Baal.” He was beheaded by Muslim rebels (as depicted in the 1966 movie Khartoum with Charlton Heston as Gordon and Laurence Olivier as the Mahdi). Today we're obsessed with Balls.

Baal was also called Bel, a descendant of Belili, the Sumerian White Goddess. Jezebel, whose name means "where is Bel?" was a Phoenician princess in the 9th century who married Ahab the prince of Israel, but maintained her loyalty to Bel. To this day “a Jezebel” is a term applied to a fallen woman not to be trusted; it was the name of a Bette Davis movie wherein she betrays her fiancĂ© by wearing a red dress instead of a white one to a ball. But the name's been resurrected as a hip website for women. 

Elsewhere in the Grammys broadcast, Rihanna rocked with VIP Paul McCartney and Kanye West; Eric Church gave the most powerful performance since Neil Young's "Southern Man," and GaGa was good with Tony Bennett (but it shoulda been Amy). Tenacious D took Best Metal Performance and the late Joan Rivers was awarded her first Grammy. Finally, Sam Smith won best new artist and best song for aping Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down."

Excerpted in part from the forthcoming book Tokin Women, A 4000-Year Herstory from Evangelista Sista Press. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Super-Bowl Sundae: The Drug References & Boys and their Balls

I really just watch it for the cultural references, but the game this year is, I’ve got to admit, pretty thrilling so far.

The ads for the first half of this year’s Superbowl game featured Viagra pumping up a Fiat, Budweiser taking on craft beers, Walter White as “Almost Greg” in a pharmacy for Esurance, and Jeff Bridges wearing a Dudelike sweater and Om-ing for  Square Space. Katy Perry played the “Pepsi Halftime Show” but it was Coke that the Internet server technician spilled into the Matrix in an ad, making love from hate in a kind of LSD-in-the-water fantasy fulfilled (with the wrong substance).

Perry was seen smoking pot out of an apple on the Warped Tour circa 2008, and gave a "thumbs up" to California's cannabis legalization ballot measure in 2010, but replied when asked by Rolling Stone about marijuana in 2014: "I can't do that stuff. I'd be like in the corner: 'Are you trying to kill me?!'" Can’t blame her in this violent society she’s bombarded with, starting with football itself. The program advertised appearing after the game is “Blacklist” with pyrotechnics as violent as they come; a Nascar bad-boy ad also had a firey crash; action star Danny Trejo played Marcia Brady sans her Snickers; and the ultra creepy "Shades of Grey" was advertised as inciting "countless" fantasies.

Perry’s a talented enough singer (she got me singing "Firework" with the autistic girl). But she had to turn her boobs into whipped cream canisters and her nipples into nozzles to get attention. For today’s show, she did up her life-giving breasts with nuclear symbols at Bikini Beach (pictured). She had good line at the press conference about her performance not being “deflating” (I suspect Bruce Vilanch’s hand). Perry is only the fourth woman to headline a Halftime show, counting Janet Jackson (with the famous “Wardrobe Malfunction”), BeyoncĂ©, and Madonna (who reached to Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra).

Perry's show was augmented with pothead Lenny Kravitz, whose “Stand By My Woman Now” was the most respectful song even written to the female sex. While on tour in Croatia in 2005, Kravitz told Gloria magazine that he had smoked pot with Mick Jagger, calling it a "great privilege."

Missy Elliott, the first female Hip-Hop artist to appear at a Superbowl, brought the energy to a higher level than Perry did riding a monster mechanical tiger. Elliott reportedly confessed that she tried “a Jamaica brownie” on her trip in Jamaica in 2005 and told journalists at the press conference that she was high.

Jennifer Aniston in her Lip Flip with Jimmy Fallon backed the Seahawks because, "We got the weed man" (even though New Englanders smoke more pot per capita than any other region). It's nice to see the 5' 11" black Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson holding his own with Giselle's husband, tying up the game by the half. Last year, Wilson became just the second Black starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl, and the shortest quarterback to have ever won a Super Bowl. (Wikipedia)

When Kurt Warner walked the Lombardi trophy in after the game, all the Patriots copped a feel on the metal ball. Meanwhile, our formerly macho cars are indeed getting a Viagra boost with fake engine noise (and no spare tires); and Rachel Maddow had the best bit ever on boys' fascination with balls, deflated and otherwise.

Perry's Firework Finale was stellar and for what was spent on it, we could probably have fed every hungry child in the world Superbowl Suppers for a month. Not to mention, the $9 million-per-spot ads, the $44 million Roger Goodell makes yearly for "a job a 2-year-old could do" and all the dollars down the drain on political "speech." When will we ever grow up?