University of Kentucky Opens New Cannabis Research Center

The Bluegrass State’s flagship university is getting some green. In an announcement on Wednesday, the University of Kentucky heralded the opening of “a new center that will advance research on the medical use of cannabis.”

The “UK Cannabis Center,” as it is known, “will conduct research on the health effects of cannabis, including its risks and benefits when used to treat certain medical conditions.”

The center is the result of a bill passed by Kentucky lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear earlier this year.

“The legislature is interested in having us explore the conditions for which medical cannabis might be useful, as well as the most effective dosing and route of administration for each condition,” said Dr. Shanna Babalonis, who will serve as director of the UK Cannabis Center.

The announcement on Wednesday said that Babalonis is “an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and a cannabis researcher at CDAR, is increasingly recognized as a leader in the cannabis field and an expert on the topic of medical cannabinoids,” boasting “three active National Institutes of Health grants, totaling nearly $3.5 million, aimed at examining cannabis-opioid interactions, cannabis effects in those with opioid use disorder and the effects of cannabis on simulated driving performance.”

“The new center will allow us to expand our clinical research, particularly focusing on medical conditions that may be helped by medical cannabis,” Babalonis said in the announcement.

The bill that established the UK Cannabis Center was passed in the closing days of the Kentucky legislative session in April. Beshear, a Democrat, used a line-item veto in his signing of the legislation, striking out certain parts of the bill that he said would “limit the purpose of the center and dictate who the president of the University of Kentucky should consider appointing to the advisory board after giving the president of the university sole appointing power.”

Beshear said earlier this year that he was entertaining the idea of using executive action to legalize medical cannabis in the state.

“We’re going to explore that,” Beshear said in April. “It’s something that we will look at. Its time has certainly come.”

That didn’t sit right with members of legislature, including Kentucky state Senate President Robert Stivers.

“The public should be concerned with a governor who thinks he can change statute by executive order,” Stivers said in a statement in April. “He simply can’t legalize medical marijuana by executive order; you can’t supersede a statute by executive order because it’s a Constitutional separation of powers violation.”

The bill that established the UK Cannabis Center was viewed as a compromise by Republicans in the state Senate who were not ready to fully legalize medical cannabis treatment. A bill legalizing medical cannabis passed out of the Kentucky state House of Representatives in March, but the measure was never brought to a vote in the state Senate.

In the announcement on Wednesday, the University of Kentucky said that the bill “also requires UK to apply to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for a license to grow and cultivate cannabis,” and that if approved, “the center will be able to conduct agricultural research pertaining to optimal growing conditions.”

According to the announcement, “UK President Eli Capilouto recently appointed a multidisciplinary team of UK faculty members that will oversee the research center’s work and finances,” and the “12-member board includes an executive or steering committee that will work with Babalonis to establish the center’s research goals and agenda and make key financial decisions, and an advisory board to help guide and provide feedback on the center’s progress and overall direction.”

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Researchers Studying Psychedelic Drug as Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease

A Toronto-based biotech company is researching a new psychedelic drug as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, noting in a recent announcement that it has received approval from regulators in Argentina to commence a Phase ll clinical trial of the company’s novel psychedelic compound, BMND08.

“As we continue to move forward with our efforts in identifying indications where we can provide significant improvement in patients suffering from mental health, we are more than pleased to announce the approval of a Phase II clinical trial for our BMND08 novel drug candidate which may allow us to address a new line of development to attenuate depression and anxiety states in patients with Alzheimer’s-type cognitive impairment,” Alejandro Antalich, CEO of Biomind Labs, said in a statement from the company.

Biomind Labs is a biotech research and development company that is studying novel drugs and innovative nanotech delivery systems for a variety of psychiatric and neurological conditions. Using its technology, the company is developing new pharmaceutical formulations of the main psychedelic molecules, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, 5-MeO-DMT, and mescaline for the potential treatment of a wide range of therapeutic indications, with a focus on providing patients access to affordable and groundbreaking treatments.

“Since our inception, neurodegenerative diseases were on the list of indications we wanted to tackle. We can now address such indications using a novel approach that uses a fast-acting psychedelic molecule capable of providing relief to certain mood states when Alzheimer’s disease first appears in patients,” said Antalich. “After a thorough analysis on the potential benefit of using a psychedelic molecule to alleviate certain symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients, we concluded that the most suitable candidate from our portfolio was BMND08, an oral formulation of 5-MeO-DMT.”

Nearly Six Million American Seniors Live with Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes brain cells to atrophy and die. Nearly six million people in the United States aged 65 and older live with the disease, according to information from the Mayo Clinic. The disease is the most common cause of dementia, a continuous decline in cognitive function and social skills that affects the ability to function independently. Although medications may temporarily improve or slow the progression of symptoms, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. In advanced stages of the disease, complications from significant loss of brain function such as dehydration, malnutrition or infection result in death.

“Given the significant morbidity rate associated with Alzheimer’s disease such as agitation, apathy, sleep disturbances and anxiety, it became clear to us that novel approaches to treat Alzheimer’s-type cognitive impairment are urgently needed,” Antalich said. “The Phase II clinical trial will test Biomind’s psychiatry intervention-based model, allowing a rapid and feasible merge of fast-acting psychedelic medicines into clinical practices already in existence.”

The research is studying whether BMND08, a drug based on the natural psychedelic compound 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (also known as 5-MeO-DMT or simply DMT), is effective as a treatment for the depression and anxiety commonly found among patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The Phase ll clinical trial will be conducted in Argentina, where regulators gave approval for the study in May.

Previous studies have shown that more than 60% of patients with Alzheimer’s disease have also been diagnosed with depression. Treating a patient’s depression may also help treat or delay other symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease. An unrelated study showed that the antidepressant called imipramine may be effective in treating cognitive decline in patients with the condition. Although some research has studied cannabis as a possible treatment for the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, Biomind’s study is believed to be the first to test a psychedelic like DMT.

“While the current practice guidelines consistently refer to the management of symptoms as central to the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, the lack of established effective treatments continues to motivate us to generate novel therapeutic solutions,” said Antalich.

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The Role of Cannabis in Treating Long COVID

During a recent (and highly important) call with one of my publishers, I put the call on mute whenever I wasn’t speaking so I could projectile vomit. I was having a migraine, but the call was too important to reschedule. Unfortunately, while they may work for some, Sumatriptan, along with Topamax, Nurtec, and every other migraine medication doctors prescribed me, play into the accompanying nausea and I throw it up before any pain relief for my head (which hurt so badly I wanted to put a bullet through my brain) could set in. While I’m going to continue to see neurologists and (when I can get in, the waitlists are nuts) a long-term COVID specialist, the next time a migraine strikes, I’m sticking with THC gummies, honey. Thank god cannabis is also good for nausea.

I didn’t have migraines before I had COVID, which I got in 2020 from a friend, shortly after restaurants opened up but before there was a vaccine. I figured if restaurants could open, I could risk this respiratory disease; after all, I’m young, healthy, and never smoked tobacco, I even stick primarily with edibles when it comes to cannabis. What I, and the general public didn’t know, is that COVID affects the brain, too. According to The Washington Post, the blood vessels of our brains are lined with endothelial cells, which have angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors, a type of protein that the coronavirus latches onto. This causes such cells to become inflamed, which harms the blood-brain-barrier, inducing swelling and resulting injury. As a result, me, and many others, now have what’s called long COVID, symptoms or effects of the disease that last weeks, months, or as I can attest to, even years after first exposure.

“Primarily, what we’re seeing is long-term cognitive consequences,” says cannabis clinician Dr. Mikhail Kogan, who is part of the George Washington University faculty and the author of Medical Marijuana: Dr. Kogan’s Evidence-Based Guide to the Health Benefits of Cannabis and CBD. “Patients present with cognitive decline, and more severe cases present with outright dementia.” He says that common symptoms of long COVID include mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and pain, such as my migraines (which don’t help with anxiety, depression, or insomnia, you can imagine). Hair loss, brain fog, and changes in taste and smell are also common. For some folks, long COVID symptoms are totally out of the blue, but for others, it’s almost as if the SARS CoV-2 virus triggers latent conditions, or health problems they were predisposed to and the infection activated. “What happens a lot is that we uncover other problems when we start working with long COVID patients because we find that they’ve had other problems going on for a long time, but they were very mild, so nobody paid enough attention.”

Thankfully, as The Washington Post points out, while there are instances of older people getting dementia after exposure, these neurological injuries usually take place in younger folks, between the ages of 20 and 50, who never needed hospitalization. Eventually, the symptoms resolve for some people. But for others, they’re still reeling from the ongoing destruction.

David, 30, out of Enfield Connecticut, and his partner of 10 years first got COVID in late January of 2020. First, his partner picked it up after traveling across several states to pick up the couple’s new rescue dog, Ellie. David got COVID shortly thereafter. “Fast forward a tad I also get sick, we are bed bound, I needed to use walls and my bed frame to even hold myself up. It was like the flu, mixed with food poisoning, vertigo, and so much more. Jump ahead to 2021, we caught Delta in September,” David says.

Since then, after they got over “having COVID,” and were no longer contagious, the health problems persisted. “Over the past three years, we have realized a large accumulation of things wrong with us that just weren’t issues before. I have trouble breathing in intense heat and cold and I have a lot of coughing fits. Early results are pointing towards lung scarring. I also have Sleep Apnea, and my brain feels like it [has] aged 10-20 years. I have a horrible short-term memory now. I hurt a lot and am often exhausted,” David says. He adds that his partner has a similar list of symptoms, except more severe, in addition to POTS (Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) and Fibromyalgia. “Saying I am ‘better’ than my partner would be like saying if they were given a knife in a gunfight, but I was lucky because I got two knives in a gunfight,” David says. “I hope that makes sense.” It does. 

It’s not a happy story. David’s partner lost their job at a farm due to their long COVID symptoms, and he was no longer able to continue his job in consumer and fan services at LEGO mostly because of long COVID brain fog. “My work output was absolutely awful. If it weren’t for my job there, though, I wouldn’t have the healthcare we had access to for the past two plus years with my work insurance. To say that we would be in a worse position without that insurance would be an understatement. Long COVID has taken away A LOT from us,” David wrote to High Times.

He currently has been able to pick up one-off gigs in the video game industry. David has also found hope somewhere fun other than the video game industry: cannabis. “It helps keep me focused or at least my mind off negative thoughts brought on by long COVID. For me, but much more so for my partner, it helps settle nausea. My partner literally wouldn’t be able to hold down the first meal of the day for a time without taking an edible to help settle their stomach. And sleep, oh do I enjoy actually getting to sleep again since becoming a heavier cannabis user,” David says.

Cannabis is one of the few long COVID treatments that covers a plethora of symptoms rather than one. “Almost no patients present with one symptom, everybody presents with a package. And that package will usually include three to five symptoms. Cannabis is almost the only treatment I can think of that targets all of the symptoms. If a patient comes in with migraines, insomnia, anxiety, and nausea, it’s four medications versus cannabis,” says Dr. Kogan. He says CBD is the first line, but for most pain you want a little bit of CBG in the mix. Noting that this is based on experience, and more research is needed, he adds that CBG is very effective for chronic neuropathic pain when it’s specifically in the settings of anxiety and depression.

Unfortunately, this is tough to study. Not only are doctors still learning more about long COVID everyday, and only have a few years to work off of, but trying to get funding for cannabis research sucks until the Feds finally remove the Schedule I label. But don’t worry. As always, the science nerds find a way. In February of 2022, the UK’s NHS Research Ethics Committee and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory agency approved one of the world’s first scientific studies on the efficacy of cannabis to treat long COVID. The study is being done by the NGO Drug Science, founded by neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt, infamous (but correct?) for stating that horseback riding was more dangerous than taking ecstasy.

Drug Science recently wrapped up their Phase 2 trials. “It’s a feasibility study and we’re half-way through it so I can’t give you any results, but what I can tell you, is that those patients seem to be responding pretty well. There’s no drop out, which is great for a feasibility study. We now have over 3,000 patients who are submitting their data every month to us. What we see through that is that there is a statistically significant improvement in people’s health outcomes since they’ve been prescribed medical cannabis,” Drug Science’s CEO, David Badcock, told High Times over Zoom. They’re giving patients a full-spectrum high-CBD oil, with a small amount of THC, but not enough to produce a high, supported by the company BOD Australia.

According to Dr. Mikhail Kogan, “Most of our patients recover. And the reason they recover is that we don’t look at this the way medicine does. We don’t just prescribe particular treatment, what we say is let’s try to find out why you have these conditions. Let’s try to fix what’s underneath the symptoms.” The brain’s known for its neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt, change, and heal, so while there are plenty of horror stories, there’s no reason patients shouldn’t hope to get better over time.

“Cannabis helps elevate me to a place where I can just say, ‘You know what, your whole life has been trauma after trauma; just give this one the bird and help the two of you love and appreciate each day as best as you can,” David says.

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Why are cannabis trichomes shaped like mushrooms? Breaking the cuticle

Terps are double-edged swords. They include a family of cannabinoid acids and terpenes but are conversely toxic to cannabis plants. Thankfully, terp production occurs within trichomes — glandular hairs that cover your favourite frosty nugs. And trichomes have many tricks to prevent a toxic leak of cannabinoids and terpenes, which includes their mushroom shape. Almost […]

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What are the most active ingredients in hemp and cannabis?

Delta-9 THC is the most common active ingredient in cannabis. And CBD is the second most common on the market today. But are THC and CBD the first and second most active ingredients in cannabis? Two cannabis ingredients more active than D9-THC CBN (cannabinol) and delta-8 THC, byproducts of THC-acid or CBD, lightly agonize CB1 […]

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Doug Chloupek of Juva Life on the Coining of a New Cannabis Molecule

Due to the regulations on cannabis that are still in place thanks to its Schedule I listing, there is still so much we don’t understand about the plant and all its mysteries. Through their research, the team at Juva Life discovered two molecules coined JUVA-019 and JUVA-041, that hold enormous power to help heal inflammation. Doug Chloupek of Juva Life gave us the inside scoop on what his company has been learning about cannabis compounds and how it can change the landscape of cannabis.

Can you give me some background on the research you all have been doing on cannabis compounds?

I realized back in about 2013 that there were some fundamental flaws in the cannabis industry. I’ve been commercially running cannabis businesses since 2010 In California, including getting the first permit there for the first licensed research and manufacturing center in the state of California. Through the years, I have seen how, as much as you would have thought the industry has progressed, it’s really been somewhat stagnant.

The industry has had not been able to progress much because of regulatory issues and the federal government’s impedance on accessing cannabinoids. We have not really had the level or the caliber of non-cannabis people doing pharmacology and true scientific research at a level that’s really needed.

While we all know cannabis holds a therapeutic value, while we know anecdotally from working with patients for 15 years, we know cannabis can work well for neurologic issues, shakes, and Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, but these have all been anecdotal assessments. And so the real question that I never asked until some of my scientists came in with this outside, Big Pharma kind of perspective was: is there something in cannabis that is the mode of action or driver? What is the mode of action behind this?

So we started off and gave it one of the deepest dives in industry research, spent a couple years logging every compound in the cannabis plant, all the cannabinoids, flavonoids, all the acidic compounds, in order to learn more. We know with THC and CBD, while we think they have a high affinity for anti-inflammation and pain, on their own, they hold little to no therapeutic value. We wanted to find the mechanism that was making it all work.

Courtesy of Juva Life

A lot of cannabis folks are wary of pharmaceutical drugs because of the misinformation against cannabis and the greed of the industry. And then folks who rely on Western medicine are often wary of cannabis and other alternative medicine sources that have not been FDA-approved. How do you plan to bridge that gap?

To be perfectly honest, coming from my background, I am somewhat anti-Pharma, even though we eventually plan to sell our company so that the pharmaceutical industry can make medicine. The reason I say that is, we don’t have a healthcare state. Our pharmaceutical industry and our government have neglected human health in our society. We are a disease care state because sick people create disease, which creates a monetary monopoly over people’s bodily autonomy.

We need to get to a place where we have a healthcare system, and if we really cared about people’s health as a country, then we would be more active in encouraging people to be healthy. I come from the perspective of, we want to treat people at their root, so we can either prevent or remediate the diseases from happening instead of just waiting until it happens.

It’s always been a mission of mine to ensure that we can kind of bridge that gap because there is massive mistrust of Big Pharma from huge sections of our population, and there’s massive mistrust of this anecdotal, witch doctor feeling cannabis can sometimes have where it’s supposed to be able to fix everything.

What would you like the pharmaceutical industry to look like in the future?

I’d like to see the level of toxicity in pills that humans are either forced to take or need to take dramatically reduced so that when we have to take something, it is still natural or plant-based, whether it is synthetically made or naturally derived. That way, we can live healthier lifestyles on a day-to-day basis.

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How trichomes make terpenes and cannabinoids in supercell pathways

A study from the University of British Columbia froze trichomes with liquid nitrogen. Researchers peered into cryofixated Purple Kush cells with an electron microscope. Using modern techniques, they found new keys that better explain how trichomes make non-polar terpenes and cannabinoids without destroying plant cells. (1) Cannabis plants produce acidic cannabinoids, such as THCa or […]

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Climate Change and Cannabis: The Scary Truth

This Northern Hemisphere summer is witnessing an arc of fire sweeping across continents—and scientists view it as a grim harbinger of a very challenging future on Planet Earth. Anthropogenic climate change is the critical factor driving the conflagrations. Enter: climate change and cannabis.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres told ministers from 40 countries meeting to discuss the climate crisis in Berlin on July 18: “Half of humanity is in the danger zone, from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction.”

And from Northern California to the Rif Mountains of Morocco to the Balkans and Himalayas, many of the areas hit the hardest are world centers of cannabis cultivation. This clearly poses special challenges for an agricultural sector still struggling to win the legal space necessary for responsible and ecologically sound practices.

California Fires

Large areas of Northern California’s cannabis heartland, the Emerald Triangle, have been devastated by wildfires in recent years. This year the Triangle—generally defined by the counties of Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino—has thus far been spared. But fires encroach ominously on the enclave. Making national headlines is the Washburn fire in the Sierra Nevada, which has penetrated Yosemite National Park and threatens the famed Mariposa Grove, which protects more than 500 ancient sequoias.

But there have been fires closer to the Triangle. In mid-July the Peter Fire in Shasta County, which borders Trinity on the east, consumed over 300 acres, with three homes among several buildings destroyed in the town of Anderson. Then, in late July, the McKinney Fire in Siskiyou County, bordering Trinity on the north, became the biggest of the year so far, consuming 55,000 acres of the Klamath National Forest.

UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain tweeted that the Peter Fire “is another example of a fire in the wildland-urban interface that will likely have a modest final footprint but has the potential to be quite destructive within that footprint, given the number of structures in the path.”

Taking a regional view of how this year’s fire season is playing out, Swain tweeted: “Late-season precipitation kept things fairly damp across much of the northern third of California through late June… This helped suppress early-season wildfires across much of the state, although activity has recently picked up and…fuels (heavy brush/dead and down tress) are now at or near record dry levels once again.”

This alarming climate change and cannabis landscape can only be met with trepidation in the Triangle. In 2020, the August Complex, centering on Mendocino and Trinity, passed the one-million-acre mark, prompting coinage of an entirely new term: “gigafire.” In cannabis-producing homesteads, growers (both licit and illicit) were faced with the dilemma of whether to evacuate or stay to protect their crops. Many chose to resist evacuation orders, at great risk to themselves.

And last year, fires in Siskiyou County exacerbated social tensions over a recent influx of Laotian immigrant cannabis growers. One Laotian man evacuating from the fire zone was killed by police at a checkpoint, leading to protests. This June, Siskiyou again saw wildfires, although they were contained fairly quickly by CalFire responders. 

The Mediterranean to the Himalaya

A fire fighting water bomber dropping water on a forest fire on top of the Kozjak mountain in Croatia.

The climate change and cannabis scenes from Northern California are now reflected in northern Morocco, where wildfires have this month consumed more than 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of the Rif Mountains—the world’s most significant center of illicit cannabis cultivation. The provinces of Larache, Ouezzane, Tetouan and Taza—where Berber farmers produce hashish for the European market—have been devastated. Homes and farms have been lost to the flames, as well as large swaths of pine forest. Thousands of residents have been evacuated and, clearly, the state of global warming and marijuana is dire.

The most significant zone of illicit outdoor cannabis cultivation within Europe is the Adriatic coast of the Balkan Peninsula—also now being threatened by flames.

Wildfires in Dalmatia, the coastal strip of Croatia, have damaged ancient olive groves—as was noted with dismay by the olive oil trade journals. We may assume that illicit cannabis grows in the region have also been impacted. And further down the coast, in Albania—Europe’s largest producer of illicit cannabis by far—is witnessing wildfires, especially in the Mount Çika area of the south. Greece is sending emergency aircraft to help Albanian authorities fight the blazes.

These North African and Balkan fires are linked to the same extreme heat wave that has also meant devastating fires across large areas of Spain and France.

But the climate change and cannabis phenomenon stretches well into Asia. Fires began in Siberia in May, and Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered prompt measures—fearing a repeat of the destruction in the 2021 fire season. “We cannot allow a repeat of last year’s situation, when forest fires were the most long-lasting and intensive of recent years,” Putin said.

Kathmandu, Nepal’s air quality is now considered one of the worst in the world. PHOTO Ingo Bartussek

And fires are also sweeping Asia’s hashish hub of Nepal. Hundreds of fires across the country’s mountains caused Kathmandu’s air quality to become one of the worst on the planet in April and May. Scientists said the forest fires across Nepal and parts of northern India were the worst in the past 15 years. The European Union’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMSreported in April that fires in India’s Uttarakhand state, bordering Nepal, emitted nearly 0.2 mega-tons of carbon in the past month, a record since 2003. Of course, fires linked to global warming also exacerbate the greenhouse effect by releasing carbon into the atmosphere, in a vicious cycle.

The fires in the Himalayas ended with arrival of monsoons in June. But this carries its own risk. Dozens were killed in India and Nepal during last year’s particularly heavy monsoon season. In another vicious cycle, lands where forests have been destroyed by fire are vulnerable to erosion and even the collapse of whole mountainsides when the rains finally come.

Kathmandu’s National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Authority now warns that two million Nepalese are likely to be impacted by floods and landslides this monsoon season. Among those at risk are clearly many cannabis growers—who persist in their centuries-old pursuit despite fruitless efforts by the authorities to eradicate their crops.

This year’s monsoons have already brought disastrous flooding to Pakistan, where some 170 have lost their lives over the past weeks.

Cannabis Forests in Africa and South America

Cannabis plantation in Morocco’s Rif Mountains. PHOTO Stefano Zaccaria

In some places, cannabis cultivation appears to be actually contributing to the vicious cycle. In past years, forest fires in Morocco have been blamed on cannabis growers, who often start small fires to clear land for their crops.

Another major African marijuana producer is Kenya—despite having some of the harshest cannabis laws on the planet. February 2019 saw a huge wildfire that engulfed some 80 square kilometers of bamboo forest in a critical watershed of the Mount Kenya area. Authorities similarly blamed the blaze on outlaw weed growers clearing land for their crops.

Small peasant producers around the world typically use fire to clear wooded lands—whether they’re growing cannabis, corn or cassava. But for climate change and cannabis the impacts are compounded by its illegality.

In many countries of the Global South, peasants displaced from the agricultural heartland by big landlords and agribusiness are left to clear forests for their fields. But with cannabis, the threat of eradication and criminal charges provides an extra imperative pushing growers into marginal forested areas. This dynamic is certainly also seen in Paraguay, which in recent years has overtaken Colombia as South America’s top cannabis producer.

In January 2022, during the Southern Hemisphere summer, wildfires swept through southern Paraguay, consuming10,000 hectares of forest and grasslands. Some 200 head of cattle and sheep were lost, and grim videos showed the burnt and rotting carcasses of livestock strewn across the plains. As in California, this devastation is becoming an annual occurrence in Paraguay.

And the origins of the fires have again been traced to outlaw cannabis growers. In Paraguay’s 2020-21 summer, thousands of fires were registered across the country. The non-governmental organization Guyra Paraguay, which tracks forest fires, stated that all of them had been deliberately started, either “for agricultural reasons or to grow marijuana.” (Of course, growing marijuana is an agricultural reason.)

In October 2020, the Ministry of Environment announced that armed men linked to cannabis cultivation in southern Paraguay’s Caazapá National Park had prevented firefighters from containing the blazes in the area. The Paraguay fires are part of a larger dynamic of regional cannabis and climate change across South America, with the Amazon rainforest turning into savanna as canopy is lost and groundwater depleted, and, further south, the savanna turning into desert.

As Carbon Brief website sums up this process of desertification: “The combined impact of climate change, land mismanagement and unsustainable freshwater use has seen the world’s water-scarce regions increasingly degraded. This leaves their soils less able to support crops, livestock and wildlife.”

Legal agro-industries are certainly driving this as well, and can operate outside the law, especially in remote areas. Brazil’s cattle barons notoriously maintain their own paramilitary forces to usurp lands from peasants and indigenous peoples. But cannabis growers are effectively forced to operate outside of the law, to push the agricultural frontier deeper into the remaining forests, and to deal with militarized cartels instead of legitimate brokers. 

An Ecological Ethic for Cannabis Culture

A permaculture hill mound. PHOTO Naya Na

Back in the Emerald Triangle, a legalized cannabis cultivation sector faces the challenge shaping a sustainable model in a fire-prone region.

Lelehnia Du Bois is the founder and chair of Humboldt Grace, a community empowerment organization for the counties of the Triangle. Among its activities is the Fire Recovery Project, which raises funds for local families impacted by the conflagrations caused by climate change and cannabis. Du Bois is also involved in the Back-to-the-Land Project, which documents the history of the hippie colonists who first brought cannabis to the region in the late 1960s.

Du Bois is herself the offspring of the back-to-the-land generation and has been a licensed cannabis grower since 2005. Du Bois says she has seen the local climate change over the years she has lived in the Triangle. “It’s a lot warmer and drier than in my childhood,” she tells Cannabis Now. “I’m on the coast and the redwoods have brown in them, in the needles. I’ve never seen that before; it’s incredibly visible.”

She recalls that in her youth, folks would facetiously call the coastal fog “Humboldt County sunshine.” She adds: “The 30-somethings these days don’t even know what that means.”

Many of the area’s cannabis growers are trying to adapt. “We’re seeing a lot more people dry-farm, going back to the old sustainable methods—or regenerative, as they say today.”  Dry farming refers to cultivating without irrigation, drip system or other water diversions, but taking measures to preserve soil moisture. Du Bois points to the use of hügelbeds—a concept borrowed from European permaculture, in which crops are grown in mounds of decaying wood topped with compost and soil. The beds are designed to capture water as well as to fertilize.

“As a culture, we’ve gotten used to thinking the new ways are better. But as we go deeper into crisis, were learning to go back to the old ways, where you work with nature rather than extract from nature,” Du Bois says.

Some growers are simply using less than their allotted square footage of land under their state license. “That allows us to use less water, while growing a smaller amount of better medicine,” she says.

Duncan McIntosh is a former licensed cannabis grower in Trinity (he recently switched to strawberries and tomatoes) who is a county planning commissioner and president of the North Fork Grange—representing farmers along the north fork of the Trinity River. Today, this overwhelmingly means cannabis farmers.

He too notes how the local impact of climate change and cannabis has shifted. “Fires have been ravaging the Pacific Northwest for the past ten years, and it’s getting worse and worse. Last year, the Monument Fire burned a third of the county; the year before, the August Complex burned a third of county. Farmers lost water tanks and sheds and water lines to water their gardens.”

“Where fires used to burn tens of acres, they now burn hundreds of thousands of acres,” he adds. “The winters aren’t as cold as they were. The old-timers say the river used to freeze over—that never happens anymore.”

In McIntosh’s view, the effects of the greenhouse effect are “amplified by mismanagement of the forest.” Ironically, the dogma of total fire suppression has allowed undergrowth to build up, providing fuel for the devastating conflagrations of recent years and impacting global warming and marijuana.

The North Fork Grange is now managing the 80-acre Junction City Community Park with oversight of the Trinity County Resource Conservation District and a grant from CalFire. “We’re eliminating underbrush, relieving pressure on the groundwater to make the standing trees healthier and more robust, and more likely to survive fire,” McIntosh says.

They’re planning controlled “low-intensity” burns on the site to take out the remaining brush, after the bulk of it has been manually removed. This is to be undertaken together with the Watershed Center, a local environmental group, and the county fire department.

McIntosh calls the project “a rekindling of our connection with the element that’s fire, which is as much a part of our environment as water. The war on fire has been about as successful as the War on Drugs. It’s only amplified what they’re trying to suppress.” He’s hoping the US Forest Service will take up the idea for the much larger areas of the county that lie within the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

“We’re trying to get back to responsible stewardship of the land, from an economy of exploitation going back to the Gold Rush,” McIntosh says.

Du Bois portrays such efforts as part of a deeply rooted ecological ethic in the Triangle. “The back-to-the-landers who grew the weed before we called it ‘cannabis’ moved up here to be a part of nature, to live with the cycles, rather than destroying the place and being takers and extractors,” she says. “That’s what’s allowed us to care the plant for so long.”

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This is not your grandparents’ marijuana

This is not your grandparents’ marijuana. You’re going to hear that a lot if you haven’t already. Substitute grandparents for parents, and the meaning is the same. In the “good ole days,” like the 1960s and 70s, cannabis contained no more than 2% THC. By the 1990s, it was 4%. But now, in the legal […]

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Can this terpene prevent damage from nicotine?

Nicotine promotes focus and, unfortunately, cardiovascular stress. A recent study discovered that a terpene known as beta-caryophyllene prevents aortic damage caused by nicotine. And it did so by activating a cannabinoid receptor. Nature provides solutions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should roll a spliff. The study exposed mice to vaporized nicotine. (1) Researchers sacrificed […]

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