Smoke Signals: interview with Martin Lee, author of new book on the social history of marijuana

At Dangerous Minds today, something you really must read: Michael Backes, head of R&D of medical marijuana concern Abatin, interviews Martin Lee, author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana - Medical, Recreational and Scientific.

Lee's book is a fascinating new "chronicle of the chronic," as our pals at Dangerous Minds put it. He is also the co-author of Acid Dreams, a social history of LSD. Lee is also co-founder of Project CBD, which "spearheaded the alternative cannabinoid movement in California to make medicinally important varieties of cannabis containing cannabidiol (CBD) more widely available."


Backes: What do you feel are the most recent interesting developments in the use of cannabis as a medicine?

Lee: During the past two decades, scientific research into marijuana’s molecular pathways have opened up whole new vistas of understanding human physiology and biology. Much of this research validates the experience of medical marijuana patients. The discovery of the “endcannabinoid system,” which includes receptors in the brain and throughout the body that respond pharmacologically to marijuana, has revolutionary implications for medical science. Researchers are mining the rich pharmacopeia of the marijuana plant, which includes hundreds of medicinally active compounds, not just THC, the high causer.

Cannabidiol (CBD), for example, is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that protects the brain against alcohol poisoning, shrinks malignant tumors, stimulates adult stem cell growth, and prevents the onset of diabetes in lab animals — without causing a “high.” CBD also counters the psychoactive effects of THC. What’s more, CBD has no known toxic side effects. CBD, in combination with other cannabis compounds, harbors enormous therapeutic potential.

Read the rest at Dangerous Minds blog.

Backes is a big proponent of science, and a foe of woo. For clarity, his position is not that people with cancer should drop medicine and just toke away or mainline cannabis oil, á la Rick Simpson.

I respect Backes' take on MMJ and medical science, and we both agree that in addition to legalizing marijuana, America needs to legalize marijuana science now.

Full disclosure: I think Backes is a genius. And, I am a medical marijuana patient at Abatin, and I use their products to help me cope with the side effects of the cancer treatments I'm going through: chemo, radiation, and the like. All of which was blessed by my oncologist, who I also think is a genius.



  1. Its a shame you felt a need to stab at Rick Simpson.
    Otherwise, good stuff.
    I hope you get well, quick!

  2. I know this doesn’t have much to do with anything, but that guy looks pretty baked in that photo. Looks like they caught that photo between fits of stoned laughter. Which, I think is pretty great. 

  3. “Backes is a big proponent of science, and a foe of woo. For clarity, his position is not that people with cancer should drop medicine and just toke away or mainline cannabis oil, á laRick Simpson.”

    If I remember correctly, Rick Simpson’s main position is that there should be more scientific testing done on cannabis as a cure for cancer. He doesn’t even talk about other treatments, let alone advocate that people stop taking them.

    Basically he got the idea to test cannabis oil for his skin cancer after hearing a radio report about a scientific study, and then after it cleared up his skin cancer he started lobbying to get more science done. He doesn’t strike me as being especially well-educated about science, but calling him out as being anti-science or pro quackery makes no sense.

    Yes his recommend regime is completely arbitrary, but it’s also free and open source, so there aren’t really any grounds to complain there.

    1. Rick Simpson is a really brave guy that is trying to help sick people.  My only criticism of his approach is that by claiming “cure” he’s going farther than he should, since he can give false hope to people who can’t risk a single bad bet.

      Michael Backes

  4. I would *highly* (not even really a pun, but yes, a pun) suggest reading Acid Dreams.  It is not just the best drug history text I have ever read, it is the best history text I have ever read period.  It combines great research and citations with some of the best and most engaging writing I’ve seen from an academic book.  Definitely going to buy the new one.

  5. It’s nice to see this, just as the Feds are now cracking down on MM and closing dispensaries here in SF. In a coordinated attack, the IRS, DEA, and the DOJ led by Northern California US Attorney Melinda Haag have elevated Medical Marijuana to a Federal law enforcement priority in California, threatening dispensary operators with hefty prison time and court injunctions unless they shutter their operations. It’s a huge step backward, and it will force this recently tax-paying and regulated trade back underground.

    It seems our current administration isn’t as MM friendly as it once claimed to be.

    1. The eternal optimist might see this as the DEA et al. trying to make big pushes while they still can because they think Obama might actually go for legalization once he’s guaranteed a second term. 

      They still have a couple of months to kick in skulls at dispensaries before Obama can put a stop to it without serious political repercussions. 

      Do I actually believe that? Not sure, but… one can “hope”. 

  6. In the last few years it seems a number of athletes have been banned from competing because they took marijuana. Is it just because it’s illegal, or are there any benefits to taking it (increased relaxation / focus etc.)? It’s good to hear that the earlier ban in 2009 didn’t stop Michael Phelps in the olympics though. 
    (Olympic great Michael Phelps aims to end career on high)

  7. Xeni, I’ve got late stage mucinous bronchoaveolar carcinoma.  My first chemo cycle nearly killed me.  I was semi-comatose and turning blue from anoxia. I was bed-ridden and in great pain for over three months. It was over a month before I was strong enough to resume chemo.  I’m now doing better.

    During the worst part of my illness, I was arm-twisted by a friend to try some canabis oil from a dispensary. I’m in Washington state. The oil was badly contaminated with some solvent used in extraction. It was toxic. Later the dispensaries near here were all busted. That was not a bad thing.

    People need to know that there are a lot of different types of cancer and they require different treatments. Canibinoids are not a tumor-shrinking panacea for all kinds of cancer. Currently, there’s no regulation of these products for purity and the experimental work falls far short of what’s required for FDA approval.

    This means legalization and FDA approval – particularly on-lable approval for specific cancers – are necessities of safe and effective treatment. Unless that happens, no gravely ill person should be badgered about their treatment decisions by unqualified well-wishers.

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