Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Drinking in America, From the Pilgrims to Today

Susan Cheever
It grabbed me from the first line: "The pilgrims landed the Mayflower at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on a cold November day in 1620 because they were running out of beer." Thus begins the new book by Susan Cheever, Drinking in America: Our Secret History.

Cheever, the daughter of novelist (and drinker) John Cheever, brings a brisk, novelistic style and fresh attitude to her histories, weaving fascinating, little-known tidbits into interesting, readable volumes like American Bloomsbury and Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography.

Here again, as in My Name is Bill (about Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous), Cheever tackles Americans' love of alcohol. She makes clear at the outset that our ancestors relied heavily on beer due to unhealthy water found on sea voyages and elsewhere. Beer was served at the first Thanksgiving table, since "the Pilgrims' first barley crop had born fermentable fruit." By 1635, Plymouth had begun granting licenses to make and sell liquor, and public drunkenness had become unlawful. Puritain elder Increase Mather explained the dichotomy this way, "Drink is in itself a good Creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan."

It's no mystery why voters want a president with whom they can enjoy a beer. George Washington, Cheever writes, lost his first election for the Virginia Assembly in 1755, but two years later "he delivered 144 gallons of rum, punch, cider, and wine to the polling places distributed by election volunteers who urged the voters to drink up.... Most elections featured vats and barrels of free liquor as well as the candidate in hand to drink along with his constituency." Two of Abigail and John Adams's sons and two of their grandsons died of alcoholism and Jefferson wrote that he wished Americans would stick with beer and eschew whiskey "that now kills one third of our citizens and ruins their families." Liquor was given to slaves to help keep them docile. 

The book's clever cover. 
"The American Revolution was instigated and carried on with energy provided by rum made from Caribbean molasses and with Caribbean distilling techniques," Cheever continues in a subsequent chapter.  Of the revolt against Washington's drive to enforce a tax on home-brewed whiskey, she adds, "The eighteenth century in America, beginning with the Whiskey Rebellion, was all about whiskey." In a chapter titled, "Johnny Appleseed, The American Dionysius," she picks up on Michael Pollan's observation that the beloved seed-sower was popular because he was bringing the possibility of alcoholic hard cider, not apples for eating, to the prairies. (As well as wine grapes, god-of-excess Dionysius was the patron of cultivated trees and the discoverer of the apple.)

To hint at motivations and explain events throughout the tale, Cheever adds her own insights, such as, "Alcoholics are inspired liars, and soon enough in an alcoholic family no one knows exactly what is true and what is not true." She delves into the stories of famous prohibitionists like P.T. Barnum and Walt Whitman, and her chapter on Ulysses S. Grant and the civil war brings the reader up to the present state of affairs concerning alcohol and armies. The failure of prohibition, and the effects of alcohol on Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon are touched on, as is the news (to me) that the Secret Service agents guarding JFK the day he died were hungover from an alcoholic binge the night before.

Cheever's tone isn't moralistic, and she acknowledges in several places the positive effects alcohol may had had on our history, such as inspiring writers and generals. She ends the book with a series of tantalizing "what ifs" had teetotalers had their way instead of drinkers.

It's important that marijuana reformers understand how deep the connection to alcohol runs in our country, and Drinking in America is, in that regard and many others, an illuminating and enjoyable read.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Girls on Ganga in "Grandma's Boy"

Netflix has done it again: found a little-known film with a surprising amount of pot smoking in it. This one is 2006's Grandma's Boy starring Linda Cardellini of Freaks and Geeks, the short-lived but acclaimed TV series that was NBC's more thoughtful answer to That 70's Show.

In Grandma's Boy, Cardellini plays Samantha, a project manager at a video game company dealing with a bunch of geeky guys, including a pothead game tester named Alex who's living with his grandmother (Doris Roberts from Everybody Loves Raymond). Significantly, Alex isn't apologetic about his pot use. He admits he wasn't much of an accountant, but he shreds at his new job, especially after smoking a phattie. Samantha turns out to be a smoker herself, and she's soon the life of the party.

 Most surprising (and delightful), Alex's grandma and her friends have their fun when they accidentally drink some tea made with his stash. Shirley Jones, in her dancingest role since Pepe (1960), gets in on the fun and makes out with a grateful geek. And Shirley Knight, who played the heavenly Heavenly Finley in Sweet Bird of Youth, wherein Paul Newman tries to bribe an aging actress over her hashish use, gets to be a senior woman who enjoys it without ramifications in the "My Grandma Drank All My Pot" scene (above).

The film, directed by Nicholaus Goossen (of Trevor Moore's "High in Church") makes it until the final scene without a single negative reference, and then it's not too bad. No one has to quit smoking pot to get the girl, because the women are all cool too. Too bad Roberts couldn't smoke on Raymond because Peter Boyle, who played her husband, was a pot smoker (and was the best man at John Lennon and Yoko Ono's wedding).

Freaks and Geeks is also on Netflix. The series that launched Seth Rogen and James Franco put out mixed messages on pot, no doubt under the heavy hand of the censors. Cardellini's character Lindsay, a smart girl looking to be bad, tries smoking in her bedroom and gets a look of self awareness on her face for an instant, but just then her Dad knocks on the door and sends her babysitting, and she gets paranoid. In the season finale, her guidance counselor (an old hippie radical from Berkeley) turns her on to the Grateful Dead and she has to choose between a summer filled with academics or fun.

Cardellini was also seen as Velma in the Scooby Doo movie, in Brokeback Mountain, and recently as Don Draper's neighbor/lover in Mad Men. She's in the new Avengers movie, too.

Busy Phillips, who played Kim in Freaks and Geeks, appeared on the wine-soaked ABC/TBS series Cougar Town. Its finale earlier this year was titled "Mary Jane's Last Dance," wherein everyone says "What?" to weed when Chick (for Chico?) brings it up. 

UPDATE 2019: Cardellini "reaquaints" Christina Applegate to marijuana in "Dead to Me" on Netflix.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Day John Denver Died

John Denver: Country Boy,” a documentary produced by BBC in 2013 to commemorate Denver's 70th birthday, aired on PBS earlier this year and is the being promoted on Netflix in time for the anniversary of the singer's death today. Claiming to tell the full story, the film nonetheless skips over Denver's admission of pot smoking and his use of psychedelics.

The film points out that Denver, who projected a wholesome innocence, was known for his catchphrase “Far Out.” Early footage of him singing an anti-Ku Klux Klan song with the Chad Mitchell Trio reveals his politicization, and he’s also shown with Peter, Paul and Mary singing his song, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” a tune that became an anthem for US boys flying off to Vietnam.

Denver told reporters at a 1976 press conference in Sydney, Australia, "Sure I enjoy hashish. I use it. I have a lot of fun with the stuff. But it's like alcohol. You shouldn't let it get out of hand." According to High Times magazine (March 1976),  "One shocked religious leader in Arizona called for Denver to be deported immediately. A newspaper columnist described the candid quote as '. . . like Billy Graham announcing he was going into Blue Movies'."

Denver’s writing of the song “Rocky Mountain High,” now an official Colorado state song, is covered in the film. But the origin of the lyric, “And they say that he got crazy once and he tried to touch the sun,” about an LSD trip he took, is omitted. Denver wrote in his autobiography Take Me Home that the song wasn’t just about tripping, saying, “It was also about exhilaration, freedom and morality.” He added, "Exploring inner space had become as important to my generation as the exploration of outer space."

Annie and John Denver
The filmmaker interviewed Denver’s first wife Annie, she of the wedding favorite “Annie’s Song.” In the film, both she and John talk about how the song was written, when John took to the ski slopes near their Aspen home after the couple had a fight. John’s description made me wonder whether he’d had a puff to enhance his physical activity on that day, since he says, "Suddenly I was hypersensitive to how beautiful every thing was." His thoughts lead to the first line, “You fill up my senses.”

The only nod to Denver’s marijuana smoking comes at the end of the film, when his lyric “while all my friends and my old lady sit and pass a pipe around” from the song from “Poems, Prayers, and Promises” is heard.

Later Denver, a victim of his own ambition/need for acceptance whose music was excoriated by rock critics, succumbed to drinking and had several drunk driving arrests. He was only 53 when his plane plunged into the Pacific Ocean near Monterey, California on October 12, 1997.

"Sure he was a hippie, but he was one the whole family could enjoy," read his obituary in the Guardian.

Film of Denver on Jacques Cousteau’s boat demonstrates his support of Cousteau, through proceeds of his song “Calipso.” Denver was appointed by Jimmy Carter to work on hunger in Africa, akin to the moment God chose him to spread his word in the movie “Oh, God!” 

 See a clip of the film:

Taffy Nivert, co-author of "Country Roads," is shown here with Denver singing VIP Merle Haggard's  "Okie from Muskogee" including a verse that hammers home the point that it's a parody song.

Read more about John Denver.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Breast Cancer and Cannabinoids

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an event sponsored by the manufacturer of Tamoxifen that leads to strange sights like NFL teams playing in bright pink shoes, gloves, or helmets (shown).

Just in time for the Big Pink, the National Cancer Institute, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has finally updated its website to admit that cannabinoids have anti-tumor effects in pre-clinical studies.

The page says:

Studies in mice and rats have shown that cannabinoids may inhibit tumor growth by causing cell death, blocking cell growth, and blocking the development of blood vessels needed by tumors to grow. Laboratory and animal studies have shown that cannabinoids may be able to kill cancer cells while protecting normal cells.

A laboratory study of delta-9-THC in hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) cells showed that it damaged or killed the cancer cells. The same study of delta-9-THC in mouse models of liver cancer showed that it had antitumor effects. Delta-9-THC has been shown to cause these effects by acting on molecules that may also be found in non-small cell lung cancer cells and breast cancer cells.

A laboratory study of cannabidiol (CBD) in estrogen receptor positive and estrogen receptor negative breast cancer cells showed that it caused cancer cell death while having little effect on normal breast cells. Studies in mouse models of metastatic breast cancer showed that cannabinoids may lessen the growth, number, and spread of tumors.

A laboratory study of cannabidiol (CBD) in human glioma cells showed that when given along with chemotherapy, CBD may make chemotherapy more effective and increase cancer cell death without harming normal cells. Studies in mouse models of cancer showed that CBD together with delta-9-THC may make chemotherapy such as temozolomide more effective.

Many animal studies have shown that delta-9-THC and other cannabinoids stimulate appetite and can increase food intake.

Also, NORML has just updated its Emerging Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids booklet, a review of scientific studies, which says, "Preclinical studies demonstrate that cannabinoids and endocannabinoids can also inhibit the proliferation of other various cancer cell lines, including breast carcinoma... and uterus carcinoma," citing sources such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

NORML reported in 2011 that the non-psychotropic plant cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) "completely prevents" the onset of nerve pain associated with the chemotherapy drug Paclitaxel, which is used to treat breast cancer, according to preclinical data published in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia.

In an interview that aired on October 16, 2005 on "Dateline NBC," Melissa Etheridge said that she smoked medicinal marijuana to help with the side effects of chemotherapy during her treatment for breast cancer. In October 2007, actress Polly Bergen appeared on Desperate Housewives, peddled pot brownies to her daughter with cancer. But recently, a Florida jury has convicted a man who faces 35 years for growing 15 marijuana plants he says were to help his wife survive breast cancer.

Breast cancer survival rates are, thankfully, very high at early stages, so there is reason to be aware. But like so many things, we tend to go overboard with the emotional pleas and ignore the facts. NCI notes that despite promising preclinical studies (known about since the 1970s), there are still no human studies into cannabinoids and cancer. Awareness of that fact might actually lead to a cure.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Helen Hunt Takes Us on a Wild "Ride"

Written and directed by actress Helen Hunt (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, What Women Want) the movie Ride now on Netflix is full of wit, heart...and, surprisingly, pot smoking.

I confess I'd watched it, not knowing about Hunt's involvement, because I'd watch Luke Wilson (Idiocracy, The Family Stone, Bongwater) in anything. He's typically endearing here as Ian, the surfing instructor to Hunt's character Jackie, a high-powered New York editor who follows her wayward son Angelo to California and ends up on a quest of her own.

The 52-year-old Hunt, who has surfed for 10 years, is thrilling to watch as her character learns to surf in the film. And her rapid-fire dialogue, reminiscent of her role as the quintessential modern wife in TV's Mad About You, is refreshingly honest and direct. (Only a woman could write the line, spoken while arguing with her adult son: "Because one adult came out of the other adult's vagina.")

After Jackie tries some pot possibly belonging to her son, she really begins to open up, confronting past issues long bottled up and better able to express her emotions. I confess I wasn't expecting that.

Inevitably, it gets heavy-handed in parts, as when Ian refuses to smoke and Angelo gets turned off by a role model who turns out to be a pot dealer.

As the film states about the ending to the story Angelo is writing, "It just has to be surprising and inevitable." So is Ride. So is life.

In 1980 Hunt played a schoolgirl who smokes pot and is unable to write a book review (ironically, of Moby Dick) on the TV sitcom The Facts of Life. Possibly this was one of the sitcoms that was bribed by the federal government to churn out anti-drug propaganda. Charlotte Rea, who played the housemother in the series who berates Hunt's character over her pot smoking, accidently doses the ER cast at their Christmas party in 2008 with her special brownies, made for a friend in chemo.

Now Available: Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Eleusis and the Equinox

Demeter of Knidos, c. 350 B.C.E.
I am reminded, as we ring out the Hebrew year 5775, that the fall equinox is also the time of the nine-day pilgrimage to Eleusis in Ancient Greek times, for the Eleusinian Mysteries—the Burning Man or Grateful Dead concert of its day that honored the grain goddess Demeter. 

In 440 BC the historian Herodotus observed Scythians (among them the Amazon Women) using cannabis ritualistically, around the time Greek playwrights Aristophanes and Orestes wrote about the Eleusinian mysteries in their plays.

"The Frogs by Aristophanes (405 B.C.E.) involves the sybaritic Dionysus as the new god of Eleusis. Some scholars think the play focuses on the exiled general Alcibiades, who stole the Eleusinian sacrament kykeon from the temple of the grain goddess Demeter, and started partying with it at orgies at his home....." (excerpted from Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory).

In Roman times, Demeter became known as Ceres or Pomona. Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman orator who gave us the enduring maxim, “Let the punishment fit the crime” wrote:

For it appears to me that among the many exceptional and divine things your Athens has produced and contributed to human life, nothing is better than those [Eleusinian] mysteries. For by means of them we have transformed from a rough and savage way of life to the state of humanity, and have been civilized.” 

Nonetheless, in 392 AD, the Romans outlawed the Mysteries.

According to legend, a king of Thessaly named Erysichthon ordered all trees in the sacred grove of Demeter to be cut down in order to build himself a feast hall. As punishment, Demeter inflicted him with insatiable hunger, driving him to exhaust all his wealth and finally, in abject poverty, devour his own flesh. It seems to me humanity is on that same path.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sponsor a Tokin’ Woman for an exciting new book project

UPDATE: Ellen Komp, the author of Tokin Women, will premiere the book at the Women Grow event in Rohnert Park on September 10, and the Bay Area Cannabis Author Showcase in Oakland on September 17. 

Pre-orders are now being taken.  

I’m going to print with the book “Tokin’ Women: A 4000-Year Herstory” featuring short biographies of over 50 ganga goddesses from Ishtar to Miley Cyrus (list below). Each biography will be accompanied by a photo or illustration. See sample pages

To go into print, I need high-resolution images and I want them to be as extraordinary as these women are! I’ve found many photos in public domain, and have combed various sources and come up with prices for the images I’d like to use that require licensing.

I need a $150 sponsor for this great Dean Chakley photo of Chrissie Hynde.

Angels receive credit (if desired) and 3 copies of the book.

I found photos of each of these women for $75:

Barbra Streisand
Sue Mengers
Jennifer Aniston

Supporters at this level will receive 2 copies of the book.

I found some bargain shots of these ladies for only $33 each:

Joan Rivers
Roseanne Barr

Sponsors for these photos will receive one copy of the book.

I can bill you through my PayPay account, whether or not you have PayPal (just provide your email address). Donations can also be made to:

Ellen Komp
Evangelista Sista Press
POB 5172
Berkeley, CA 94705

If there’s extra green energy about, I could use donations of any amount for printing and shipping costs. I will also be making the book available for pre-orders very soon. Alternatively, if anyone has photos they can donate to this project, please let me know! And if anyone is able to help promote the book, please contact me.

This work is the culmination of over 10 years of research, much of it published on this blog or at www.VeryImportantPotheads.com. My aim, as always, is to broaden our knowledge base and raise awareness. With California heading for a ballot initiative in 2016, we’ll need women’s votes now more than ever!

When I give presentations on my research, women come up to me and say, “You’ve made me feel a part of something.” Here’s a great chance for all of us to be a part of Herstory. If you’d like to know more, or set up a PayPal payment, please write ellen@veryimportantpotheads.com

Miley Cyrus is sponsored by Liana Limited
Sarah Silverman is sponsored by Green Rush Consulting
Lily Tomlin is sponsored by Giggle Therapeutics
Oprah Winfrey is sponsored by Paradigm Cannabis Group 
Elizabeth Taylor and Karen Silkwood are sponsored by M&M Aldrich.
Maya Angelou is sponsored! 
Whoopi Goldberg upgrade is sponsored!

Susan Sarandon has been sponsored!

The Tokin Women are:
Princess Ukok
Helen of Troy
The Queen of Sheba
Hildegarde von Bingen
Harriet Martineau
George Eliot
Ada Clare
Louisa May Alcott
Queen Victoria
Mary Todd Lincoln
Helena Blavatsky
Maud Gonne
Isabelle Eberhardt
Gertrude Bell
Marie Laurencin
Alice B. Toklas & Gertrude Stein
Violette Murat
Iris Tree
Josephine Baker
Isak Dinesen
Bessie Smith
Billie Holiday
Mary Lou Williams
Tallulah Bankhead
Sarah Vaughan
Anita O’Day
Lila Leeds
Candy Barr
Margaret Mead
Grace Slick
Janis Joplin
Mama Cass Elliot
Barbra Streisand
Sue Mengers
Elizabeth Taylor
Linda McCartney
Karen Silkwood
Maya Angelou
Jennifer Aniston
Whoopi Goldberg
Chrissie Hynde
Susan Blackmore
Patti Smith
Sarah Palin
Melissa Etheridge
Oprah Winfrey
Lily Tomlin
Jane Fonda
Sarah Silverman
Roseanne Barr
Joan Rivers
Susan Sarandon
Barbara Ehrenreich
Cameron Diaz
Kacey Musgraves
Miley Cyrus

“The known literature of women’s experiential involvement with what we today call recreational drugs can now be extended to include more famous with this new anthology of freshly discovered Tokin Women texts by an amazing blogger-sleuth.”
–Michael Horowitz, co-editor of Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady and Sisters of the Extreme 

“This book by dedicated ‘herstorian’ Ellen Komp explores the use of cannabis by women throughout the ages. Readers discover that the world’s most famous women used this herb for food, fiber, and medicine, and that behind every great woman is a little bit of cannabis.”
–Debby Goldsberry, High Times Freedom Fighter of the Year (2011)