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Keith Stroup

50 Years NORML

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In the cannabis community, Keith Stroup is a legend. He is the founder of the longest standing consumer advocacy group in the nation, NORML – the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In 2020, NORML celebrates 50 years as an organization. Stroup’s long hair is reminiscent of his past, present, and future. Now, at age 75, he has fought for the freedom of cannabis longer than many staking claims in this industry have been alive. GRAM sat down with Stroup to hear how it all started, the struggles of legalization, his personal journey with the plant, and where he thinks cannabis laws are headed in the future. 

In his third year of law school at Georgetown University, Stroup was offered a job serving on the National Commission for Product Safety. Two years went by and Stroup worked alongside Ralph Nader. He recalls, “It was at this time, I really began to learn about public interest law. In the process of working at the commission, I became enamored of the concept of using your law degree to make an impact on public policy.” 

Two people greatly shaped and influenced Keith Stroup in 1970. First Ralph Nader, “He didn’t smoke marijuana, all the young aids that worked for him, known as ‘Nader’s Raiders’ all consumed like I did. Ralph was a straight guy, but I was influenced by him using his law degree to directly affect public policy. Secondly, I read a book about that time by Ramsey Clark called “Crime in America.” He had recently retired as the US Attorney General, and I greatly admired him. He was here in Washington and he proposed legalizing marijuana and in time he became an antiwar activist. I admired Ramsey enormously from a distance,” Stroup explains. 

Stroup’s personal opinion of politics had become somewhat radicalized due to the antiwar movement during the Vietnam war. He tells us, “I don’t think I would have ever had any interest in starting a public interest group to support marijuana, but the antiwar movement showed me that marijuana was seen as a symbol of resistance—it was a way to say, not only do we not like your war in Vietnam, there are a lot of other things in current policy that we don’t agree with.” By now Stroup was 27 and past the drafting age. He knew he wanted to do something in public interest law. He began to wonder if he wanted to use his law degree to develop a program to legalize marijuana. He sat down with a few friends and began to create the concept for an organization that could accomplish such a task. In late 1970, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was formed. 

Stroup began contacting mutual friends in an effort to contact Ramsey. Stroup tells us, “I was nervous I was making a damaging career decision by starting NORML. I finally had my opportunity to sit down with him, and he told me two things: ‘Do it, it’s important, someone has to do it so don’t hesitate, just move forward. Second, do it now when you are young so if it doesn’t work out, you can pick yourself up and start over, you can still have a fulfilled life.’ We ended up forming a tight relationship, and Ramsey served on the Board of Directors for NORML for the first decade we were in operation.”

In late 1970, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was formed.

One of the other ways Ramsey would influence Stroup was by the connections and introductions that he would receive. Stroup was asked if he had reached out to the Playboy Foundation to try and receive funding. Stroup exclaims, “Now I knew what Playboy was. Any young man my age hid that magazine under their mattress but I had never heard of this foundation.” Before Stroup reached out to the foundation, he was very nervous about taking money from them, so he asked Ramsey his opinion about using their funding. His answer helped Stroup make the right decision. “Ramsey explained to me that when he traveled around the country speaking and giving lectures, ‘almost never does someone ask me a question based on a book I have written, but almost every time someone asks questions to me because of the interview I did in Playboy magazine.’” Stroup knew what he needed to do.

Playboy ended up being the primary source of funding for NORML during the 1970’s. The first donation was the modest amount of five thousand dollars. Stroup could tell they really believed in what they were trying to do. The foundation told Stroup to take the money and show them what he could do. Within a year, the foundation committed to $100,000 a year and two full page ads for the organization to seek public support. 

NORML’s goal has always been the same, marijuana smokers should be treated fairly in all aspects of their lives. The 70’s were highly influenced by the marijuana commission established as a provision for the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. In the words of Stroup, “This was a terrible act and is to this day.” 

The latter half of the 70’s was spent traveling around the country providing expert testimony in decriminalization cases. “In 1973, Oregon was the first to adopt, and then by 1978, we had a total of 11 states that had decriminalized marijuana. At that point, we thought we were well on our way to nationwide decriminalization. We underestimated the reality that public opinion sometimes changes direction,” said Stroup. According to Gallup during their first poll in 1969, 88% of the public were opposed to marijuana policy. “I think we may have made it to 24% approval by 1977, and then it started to go down again just a point or two a year.”

Without question, I roll and smoke joints.

The 80’s brought the Reagans and the Just Say No program. Stroup tell us, “The focus became ‘what will happen to the children?’ And, that if it’s not good for children, then it is certainly not good for adults. Now if you think about that, it’s absurd. There are things that are appropriate for adults that are not appropriate for children.”

For 18 years, no laws were changed—not a single statewide victory. The next big moment for marijuana policy came in 1996. That victory was the medical use of cannabis in California. During those 18 years of inactivity, the public came out of the fog about the medical possibilities of marijuana. “Part of this was due to the AIDS epidemic. People were becoming more vocal that marijuana was helping them, then the focus became the medical side. Once California did this voter initiative, we were able to start picking up other states. The 90’s finally showed the uptick in support, and it has only continued,” said Stroup.

“All of our early progress was by voters. By the 2000’s, we began seeing a change legislatively as well. Citizens can draft what you feel to be a perfect bill. When you are dealing with the legislature you can create something unique. However, 26 states do not offer voter initiatives. Those states still do policy the old fashioned way.”

Things really started moving in 2012. Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21. Policies went into effect by January 1, 2014. Stroup said, “As we near the end of this decade, we now have enough public support that we are starting to pass laws through legislature in places like Vermont and Illinois, and we are close in New Jersey and New York. This decade is when we finally reached, 5 national polls where 65-68% of Americans now want to fully legalize cannabis. We now enjoy the support of 2 out of 3 Americans. 50% have smoked at some point in their lives, but only about 14% are actual users. We are winning this not because of the marijuana smokers but because we have won the hearts and minds of nonconsumers as well.”

In the fifty year history of the organization the ideals of NORML have not changed. 

Stroup tells us, “We were founded as a consumer lobby. What has changed is the consumer side of the issue. For example, making sure products are tested; we have always wanted to make sure the products were safe and secure to use. Years ago, before it was no longer a crime, the idea of testing was outlandish. Criminal prohibition needed to change first. Now, the need for social clubs is a thing. We also want to protect workers’ rights and child custody issues and DUI laws are now an issue too.” 

Stroup continues, “I believe that we are still working through reefer madness, the repercussions of 80 years of government propaganda and exaggerations. My contemporaries and I were taught it was an evil drug. We were taught the gateway concept. Although there is less and less of that every year, there will still be members of the legislature that continue to oppose initiatives, and their reasons are still antiquated. 

The re-education is necessary. It’s not that we have better arguments, we have better data, and we have now outlived our opponents.”

Stroup’s personal journey with cannabis is a budding fifty plus year relationship. As the aging process comes into play, his use of the plant continues day to day. In addition to the recreational desire to consume, it has also provided Stroup alleviation from an epileptic condition for many years. “I had my first seizure at the age of 65, one of the things that cannabis has always been known for is an anti-seizure medicine. So I called my friend and colleague, Dr. Greenspoon, at Harvard and said, ‘I can’t figure out what is happening.’ He said to me, ‘You would have been having seizures all of your life, but you’ve been taking the strongest anti-seizure medicine known to man.’”

This decade is when we finally reached, 5 national polls where 65-68% of Americans now want to fully legalize cannabis.

“As you get older you have more aches and pains, and anyone can imagine how comforting the casual use of marijuana can be if you are an older person. If you have a doctor trying to make you take 5 or 6 pills a day and all of the pills have different side effects. Then there is a plant that can help so much, without the side effects. But even more so, it can take an ordinary experience like walking the dog or playing a round of golf and turn it into an extraordinary experience. It’s no longer just ordinary. It enhances the quality of life and makes the free time of retirement far more enriching and rewarding than it would otherwise be.” 

Everyone has a preferred method of consumption and for Stroup it has always been joints. He tells us, “Without question, I roll and smoke joints, I don’t use a pipe, vape, or shatter, or anything like that, and that is my own personal preference. I love cleaning the marijuana by hand. I still roll torpedo shaped joints like my friend Willy Nelson. I like the feel of it on my lips. For me, flower is the way to use marijuana. For me, it is the healthiest way to just roll the joints. I will use topicals too. If I scratch my arm or something, that is what I reach for in my medicine cabinet.”

Stroup leaves us with his advice to future cannabis consumers, advocates, and activists,

“It is terribly important we understand our place in the universe and that we understand what this fight is all about. It is really only about personal freedom. All people who are active in this journey, keep that in mind. Prohibition has been ingrained in our lives; it’s not just a matter of do we consider marijuana consumers criminals. Now, it’s whether or not we treat them fairly in all aspects of their lives. Most individuals do not want the government deciding. Without question, the most fortunate thing I ever did was to get caught up in the antiwar movement and become radicalized so that my mind was open to the concept of trying to legalize marijuana.”

We are winning this
not because of the marijuana smokers but because we have won the hearts and minds of nonconsumers as well.

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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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