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A Journey Into Space

with Bill “Spaceman” Lee

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Today’s cannabis news often mentions former professional athletes advocating for cannabis law reform, starting their own cannabis businesses, or investing in the cannabis industry. 2019 saw headlines about CBD products being sold in stores like GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe for the very first time; two franchises whose primary consumers are athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Cannabis is not only commonly associated with athletes, it’s becoming mainstream in the athletic community, even though athletes have been consuming it almost secretly amongst themselves for a very long time. This means athletes consuming cannabis is nothing new, but professional athletes openly talking to the press about it is, unless you’re Bill Lee. 

Bill Lee is a baseball legend. He is a left-handed pitcher who played for the Boston Red Sox from 1969-1978 and then the Montreal Expos from 1979-1982. Lee was on the 1973 American League All Star Team. In his career, he pitched 119 winning games, with a lifetime ERA of 3.62 and was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2008 for pitching the most games as a lefty, and for having the 3rd highest win total by a left-handed pitcher. He plays ball to this day, and in 2010, at age 63, he set the record as the oldest pitcher to win a professional baseball game, only before beating his own record again at the age of 65 in 2012.  

Lee is famous for his comments to press as much as his successful career in America’s favorite pastime. At a time when the league was very conservative, Lee was seen as eccentric by being very outspoken about his opinions and ideologies, so much so, the press nicknamed him Spaceman. He was even outspoken enough to admit using cannabis to the press, which got him fined $250 by Bowie Kuhn, the MLB Commissioner at the time. In 1980, he was featured on the cover of High Times, where the cover stated, “What would happen if Bowie Kuhn levied a $250 fine against every player in baseball who smoked dope? Bill Lee says, ‘He’d be a rich man’.”

Their mandatory drug testing, I think, was flawed from the beginning.

This was one of the first times an athlete consuming cannabis was featured on the cover of a magazine, not only admitting to using cannabis himself, but suggesting lots of major league baseball players do too. The catch was, Lee never said he smoked cannabis, although he did smoke it. The story was, he sprinkled raw cannabis on his buckwheat pancakes, and Lee tells us, “When Bowie found out that I didn’t say I smoked it, he sent me a letter and fined me $250 for using it as a condiment, and I still have that letter.”

Looking back on his High Times cover feature, Lee said he never imagined cannabis would become an integrated part of sports in the future, as it’s starting to now. He says, “Only over the history of learning that the Chinese use the seeds back 3000 years ago, and the fact that it has been an integral part of our culture, I’ve found out that shamans and the witchdoctors, and everybody else had always used it. And then I always thought it had good properties. You know, everybody says it’s a gateway drug, but I’ve always found it as the drug that gets you off of everything else. It’s always kept me from drinking too much. I remember when I left Montreal, I bought an ounce of weed and I drove my Volkswagen bus all the way to California. When I got to California, I had no problems. So I’ve always thought that if it’s a gateway drug then it must be a gateway to the golden gateway.” Lee’s life story even took to the big screen in 2016, when he was played by Josh Duhamel, in the movie titled, “Spaceman.”

Lee actually first tried cannabis while attending the University of Southern California, where he roomed with long distance runners who smoked it. He doesn’t feel like their choice to consume influenced his decision to try it, but rather, “It just happened to be coincidental at that time, and the fact that they seemed to be able to run a lot better. I’ve always thought it definitely opens up your alveoli. Those sacks are there so you can relay more oxygen, and they tend to run very well. And you know what? That probably helps you handle the pain and the stress of running, through all the other ingredients in it, including the THC and the CBD. If you get a mixture of 50/50, you know, you could probably run all day. It tends to make you focus. People say you catch people staring off into the distance and everything else, but you know, when your heart is beating perfectly, you’re running, and you get that endorphin high, it seems like you can go forever.”

Another experience Lee had with plant based medicines and athletics, was with mescaline, a psychedelic compound extracted from different mescaline containing cacti. “I used to snort mescaline. I remember I ran six miles in a rainstorm when I got rained out of Minnesota one day. Peter Gammons (a famous American sportswriter) came up to me to interview me before the rain out and I was all wired up. I said, ‘Peter, you’ve got to take off that shirt. That pink line is jumping out at me’. He laughed and added, “I remember running through the rain drops with a smile on my face for six miles in Minnesota. One of the greatest runs of my life.”

This intertwined relationship between plants, cannabis, and sports continued, even when Lee first met his friend, Cheech Marin, one half of the iconic stoner comedy duo, Cheech & Chong. “We first met playing basketball. We used to play basketball on Wednesday nights. We played two nights a week down in Malibu in ’76. We would play pickup basketball, and then we’d go out and smoke a doobie. Then we’d head on home and do it all over again the next day.” Lee said, laughing at the memories. 

He also thought back to the inner baseball culture during his time of play, and how drugs like amphetamines and stimulants were readily available. “There was a bowl in front of everybody. Shoot, everybody was taking greenies and stuff, and I found out those were counterproductive to me. I believe that it forced people to throw too hard and not learn how to pitch. It was basically a drug because we drank too much and everybody would have to take your greenie just to make it back on the field the next day.”

This sounds a lot like the opioid problem we have in the NFL today. Sports teams pushing pills to keep their players on the fields to earn money for the franchise is nothing new. In mid December 2019, the MLB announced removing cannabis from its banned substance list in the minor leagues. It previously did not require mandatory drug testing for cannabis, but the minor leagues did. Lee’s opinion of the current culture of cannabis and drug testing in the MLB today is that, “They’re neanderthals (referring to the people managing the MLB). I mean, they’ve been slow to go to free agency. They’re slow to do this. Their mandatory drug testing, I think, was flawed from the beginning. All these people got kicked out of the game, the McGuire’s and the Canseco’s, and everybody else. But the problem is economics. That’s why we have the problems in our capitalistic system where we don’t take care of the poor. We don’t take care of the incarcerated. We don’t take care of a lot of people that we should and that’s why I’m more of a socialist. And I always will be, like Eugene Debs.”

Everybody says it’s a gateway drug, but I’ve always found it as the drug that gets you off of everything else.

Eugene Debs was an American socialist and five time candidate for President of the United States, representing the Socialist Party of America, in the early 1900’s. Lee himself entered the political arena when he ran as the Liberty Union Party’s candidate for Governor of Vermont, in 2016. He ran on a very left wing campaign, during which, he told TIME Magazine, “I’m an anti-prohibition guy. I think everything should be taxed, legalized.” Although Lee didn’t win the election, Vermont fully legalized recreational cannabis in July of 2018. It had been legalized medically in 2004, but Lee tells us, “Hell, it’s always been legal up here. No one’s cracking down on it. You know, as long as you treat your neighbor nice, we’re kind of a self-governing place. And where I live in the Northeast Kingdom, way up here, no one is going to get bothered. We haven’t been bothered here for 30 years.”

In reference to federal legalization, Lee said, “Everything in Vermont is going to hemp. Everything’s going that way. I think maybe the federal government will start legalizing it a little more, instead of coming down on it, and having this battle between state’s rights and federal rights.” Federal legalization is definitely something we can all hope for, and the future is looking promising with more states legalizing at the turn of every major election. 

Nowadays, when Lee isn’t openly sharing his opinions and views with the world, his hobbies include traveling, making baseball bats, and even making wine. He’s produced his very own brand of wine called Spaceman Wines, and makes his own bats made from wood sourced in Vermont. Even with his hobbies and advocacy for cannabis, no matter how busy he gets, nothing can keep him away from his true love, the game of baseball. To this day, Lee still plays in the Roy Hobbs League, and the Men’s Senior Baseball League. When it comes to his cannabis use, he says he doesn’t smoke as much as he used to. “I don’t think I’m the consumer that I used to be, that’s for sure. I do use CBD oil, a lot of that. Sometimes people give me edibles, and I take a puff every once in a while. It seems like everybody in the world wants to smoke with me”. 

After having the opportunity to learn more about the complexity of Bill “Spaceman” Lee, I believe we can all agree, he’s definitely someone you’d like to spark up more than just a conversation with, because you never quite know how deep into space Lee’s discussion will take you.

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Turmeric

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Turmeric is a root vegetable commonly used as a spice in various Indian and other cultures’ dishes. Turmeric is in the zingiberaceae family, as is ginger. The turmeric plant is native to the southeastern region of Asia and commonly harvested in places like India, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, and Taiwan. It is responsible for curry’s signature orange color, and its vibrant pigment will give essentially any meal an orange hue. 

Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin, and curcumin has been shown through research to offer anti-inflammatory and other therapeutic benefits. The scientific name for the turmeric plant is Curcuma Longa, and likely where the name curcumin comes from. When people are talking about the health benefits of turmeric, they are referencing curcumin so you may hear the two names used interchangeably. Curcumin is part of a group called curcuminoids, with curcumin being the most active and the most beneficial for health. Flavonoids are another substance found in various plants and give these plants their color. Curcumin is a flavonoid and is responsible for providing that bright orange color to turmeric. In addition to providing aesthetic value, flavonoids are also strong antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties.

The Journal of Biological Chemistry published a study done by Sanjaya Singh and Bharat B. Aggarwal of the Cytokine Research Laboratory at the world-renowned cancer hospital, M.D. Anderson. The study found that curcumin suppressed NF-κB, a protein complex responsible for controlling inflammatory responses. In other words, turmeric shuts off the body’s inflammatory response. Anti-inflammatories can be beneficial for many different ailments, including chronic pain and digestive disorders. A lot of CBD companies even put curcumin in their products because of its benefits. It is believed to be a synergistic pair with complementary therapeutic properties. The thought is that the two plant medicines are powerful on their own; as a combination, they can deliver even more anti-inflammatory and medicinal benefits. 

Many people simply add turmeric to their dishes as a way to easily incorporate it into their daily routine. It is pretty mild in flavor and can be added to many dishes without changing the overall taste too drastically. Some say that turmeric isn’t strong enough on its own to receive the anti-inflammatory properties that curcumin provides, and therefore recommend a curcumin supplement. Research varies on that, so in the end it is just up to personal preference and your doctor’s approval. Curcumin supplements come most available in capsules. Pregnant women can safely use turmeric as an addition to their food, but should avoid taking high-dosage supplements. Those who are interested in supplementing with curcumin products should talk with their doctor first. 

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center did another study in 2007 exploring curcumin for cancer treatment. The study found that curcumin inhibits ovarian cancer growth and angiogenesis (the development of new blood vessels). It does this by targeting and manipulating the NF-κB pathway, the same protein complex responsible for controlling inflammatory response. According to a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “The nuclear factor NF-κB pathway has long been considered a prototypical proinflammatory signaling pathway, largely based on the role of NF-κB in the expression of proinflammatory genes including cytokines, chemokines, and adhesion molecules.”  

The trend with curcumin seems to be it’s ability to control inflammatory responses in the body. It does this by multiple pathways, but a commonly researched one is the NF-κB protein complex. Because this pathway is able to be manipulated by curcumin to encourage anti-inflammatory expressions, its potential for successfully treating various ailments is there.

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Psilocybin + Magic Mushrooms

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When many think of plant medicine, specifically those plants with psychoactive effects, they think of “magic mushrooms,” or fungi containing psilocybin and psilocin that can cause hallucinations depending on the dosage consumed. In many states, there are active efforts to decriminalize these otherwise scheduled substances, lowering penalties for their use and possession. But what value do psilocybin-containing mushrooms offer? New research suggests a range of therapeutic and psychological value ranging from the treatment of substance abuse to anxiety and depression management.  

What are Magic Mushrooms?

Magic Mushroom use dates back to 10,000 BCE and references continue throughout the era. Their modern popularity began when the term “magic mushroom” was coined by two etnomycologists who learned of a Harvard study on local doctors in Mexico using these substances, noting the substance’s ability to affect the nervous system. These findings were eventually published in Life magazine in 1957, and the term became the universal reference for psychoactive fungi and truffles, specifically those containing high concentrations of psilocybin and psilocin.

Psilocybin & Psilocin: The “Magic” in Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybin and psilocin are part of a family of psychedelic compounds found in magic mushrooms. Psilocin is pharmacologically active, and psilocybin is converted into psilocin when consumed or activated. Similar in structure to serotonin, there are more than 50 species of mushrooms and a variety of truffles that produce both the precursor, psilocybin, and the psychoactive compound, psilocin. Unlike LSD, magic mushrooms do not affect dopamine receptors, solely targeting serotonin sites

How are Magic Mushrooms used?

Magic mushrooms are often used for recreational, therapeutic and medicinal reasons. “Effects range from mild feelings of relaxation, giddiness, euphoria, visual enhancement (seeing colors brighter), visual disturbances (moving surfaces, waves), to delusions, altered perception of real events, images and faces, or real hallucinations.” Recreationally, this is often known as “tripping.” As an alternative health option, these fungi are being used for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and trauma, as well as psychological disorders such as substance abuse disorders, and science is beginning to back the potential for these applications.

Research on Mushrooms

Evaluations of currently available scientific studies suggest a growing number of therapeutic benefits and treatment options. “In the past few years, a growing number of studies using human volunteers have begun to explore the possible therapeutic benefits of drugs such as psilocybin…looking at psilocybin and other hallucinogens to treat a number of otherwise intractable psychiatric disorders, including chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug or alcohol dependency.”

Magic mushrooms have been respected as a “safe & natural healing sacrament for millennia throughout Mexico, Central America and the world,” and are known to be beneficial for depression, recidivism (the tendency to repeat past transgressions), and encourages openness, creativity, as well as personal and spiritual growth. UCLA and NYC have done studies on the applications of magic mushrooms in the treatment of end-of-life anxiety and other studies have backed up the use of psilocybin and psilocin in the treatment of substance use disorders, depression (especially in cases of terminal conditions like cancer as well as treatment-resistant depression), and reducing depression and anxiety overall.

Best way for people to consume?

When it comes to the consumption of mushrooms, advice on dosage is about as specific as it was with cannabis under prohibition. Consumers must purchase on the black market and are subject to whatever may be available. 

“Recreational doses range from 1–5 grams of dry mushrooms depending on the species and individual strength of the specimens… After ingestion, the psilocybin is enzymatically converted to psilocin. Absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract, hallucinogenic effects usually occur within 30 minutes of ingestion with a duration of effect of 4–6 hours.” 

My recommendation as someone who has used magic mushrooms both for recreational and therapeutic purposes, is to grind the mushrooms into a fine powder and either encapsulate them in small increments and/or combine with lemon juice. Capsules will allow you to titrate your dosage as needed with a recognizable increment, while lemon juice will expedite onset time.  

The Legality of Magic Mushrooms

In the United States, psilocybin is a Schedule I controlled substance, with no accepted medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. In contrast, the Drug Policy Alliance states that “Physically, psilocybin mushrooms are considered to be one of the least toxic drugs known.” With that being said, local efforts such as Decriminalize Nature – Oakland and Decriminalize Denver have pushed for and successfully passed initiatives and legislation to reduce penalties and make enforcement a low priority, as was done in the early days of cannabis activism. This has spurred multiple local and international efforts to “Decriminalize Nature,” efforts that we learn more about in this month’s feature.

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Ginkgo Biloba

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Ginkgo biloba is an ancient tree; its roots originate in China. The ginkgo biloba tree is also sometimes known as the maidenhair tree or the Japanese silver apricot, and it produces a foul-smelling fruit commonly harvested for its seeds known as “ginkgo nuts”. Ginkgo nuts are popularly used in Asian cuisine. 

The ginkgo biloba tree’s fan-shaped leaves are used to make ginkgo biloba extract, a supplement traditionally used in Chinese medicine, but has since garnered the attention of cultures worldwide. The supplement comes in liquid extracts, capsules, and tablets. The leaves can also be dried to make tea. The type of ginkgo biloba extract supplement someone takes is all a matter of personal preference, and depends on the user’s already existing regimen. If you do not already drink tea, a ginkgo biloba tea may not implement easily into your lifestyle, thus a greater chance for inconsistency or erratic results. But if you take vitamins or other supplements regularly, after a doctor’s approval you can easily incorporate an additional capsule or tablet into your daily routine. 

The 16th-century Compendium of Materia Medica or Ben Cao Gang Mu is revered as the most comprehensive text ever written in the history of traditional Chinese medicine. This text reveals that ginkgo biloba seeds were used as a topical extract for antimicrobial purposes on the skin. Traditional Chinese Medicine also uses the leaves for tea and attributes it to soothing coughs and activating blood circulation, as well as other benefits like respiratory and digestive ailments. 

A common use for ginkgo biloba is to preserve memory and prevent cognitive decline. Dr. Hiroko Dodge of Oregon State University at Corvallis and his research team followed 118 people for three years aged 85 years and older, in good health, and showing no signs of dementia or memory loss at the beginning of the study. Half took ginkgo biloba and half took a placebo over three years. The patients taking it regularly had a 70% lower risk of developing dementia. According to the study, the other variables included considered “basic demographic variables including age, sex, years of education, and living arrangement (living alone vs living with someone).” 

The National Center for Biotechnology and Information published a study exploring ginkgo as a potential remedy for anxiety and, “The authors reported a significant improvement in psychopathological symptoms. Response rates were 44% in the high-dose group, 31% in the low-dose group, and 22% with placebo. Additionally, the percentages of clinically significant responses were 81%, 67%, and 38% for the high-dose, the low-dose, and the placebo groups, respectively.”2

A 2008 study reinforced the idea behind Traditional Chinese Medicine that ginkgo biloba improves blood circulation. The study shows ginkgo biloba extract to improve coronary artery circulation in patients with coronary artery disease. The study notes, “GBE (ginkgo biloba extract) treatment demonstrated a significant improvement in maximal diastolic peak velocity (MDPV), maximal systolic peak velocity (MSPV) and diastolic time velocity integral (DTVI) compared with controls.”3 In other words, ginkgo biloba extract is a great contender as a treatment to improve blood flow. 

Like cannabis and other medicinal plants, ginkgo has terpenes and flavonoids. Both of these compounds have therapeutic properties, and can provide anti-inflammatory benefits as well as being packed with antioxidants. Anti-inflammatory effects can serve many different ailments, especially relieving pain of various kinds. Antioxidants are thought to protect our bodies from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause harm to the body. Terpenes are also responsible for giving plants their unique and flavorful smell. Flavonoids are the compounds that give plants their vibrant and diverse colors, and are the largest group of phytonutrients. There are approximately 6,00 different types of flavonoids. 

A few years back, the National Toxicology Program released a detailed report on ginkgo biloba extract. It dissects the toxicity and carcinogenic properties of ginkgo biloba using rodent test subjects. The report made its rounds as proof that ginkgo biloba causes cancer, because the rodents developed cancer at high-rates over two year periods. Per the American Botanical Council, “Adjusted for bodyweight, dosage levels given to the animals were up to 55 to 108 times higher than levels of ginkgo normally ingested by human beings taking ginkgo supplements.” Many people have been using this report to warn against the supplement, but Bill J. Gurley, Ph.D., a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Arkansas School for Medical Sciences, Little Rock said, “Almost anything will create cancer in rats and mice when it’s fed to them at high doses for two years.” The American Botanical Council also claims the ginkgo biloba extract used in the rodent experiment was of lesser quality, and not meeting European standards. 

Though this seemingly negative research on ginkgo can be explained, it is still important to discuss any kind of supplement addition with your doctor, especially if you are on other supplements or pharmaceutical prescriptions.

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