Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 6 – Manipulation Of The Endocannabinoid System)

Marijuana – An Exploration

Part 6 – Manipulation Of The Endocannabinoid System Via Cannabinoids


I decided to kick off the newly emerging year AND decade by tackling another segment of the marijuana project. This time, endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system.

The Endocannabinoid System

One surprise that I encountered in my research was how little is currently known about the endocannabinoid system generally (let alone what is available). This network of receptors and their cannabinoids came to light in 1988. And with research into cannabinoids being heavily restricted pretty much right up to the tail end of the 2010s, the field has advanced very little in the past three decades. Like every other area of research concerning cannabis, the legitimate research data is now years (if not decades) behind the uncontrolled public experiment that is legalized marijuana.

Something a pot alarmist would say? Maybe.

However, it is far more of an indictment of countless politicians and other leaders that have stood in the way of cannabis research. Many of which now trot out the “But there is no research! This is unprecedented!” argument against legalized marijuana.

I have said more than enough about the idiocy of a previous generation of busy idiots, however. On to the good stuff.

What do we know about the Endocannabinoid System so far?

We know that there is no part of the body of which is not touched by the ECS. The main three components of the system are:




The body manufactures endocannabinoids (also known as Endogenous Cannabinoids). In total, there are three different types of cannabinoids.




So far, only two types of endogenous cannabinoids are known.

Anandamide (AEA)

2 Arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)

The primary role of the endocannabinoid system is homeostasis. Though both endocannabinoids can be detected, the precise levels that constitute an average concentration of each are not currently known. Part of this is due to the fact that the body manufactures endocannabinoids as needed.

Endocannabinoids serve as agonists, binding to endocannabinoid receptors located throughout the mass of the body. These receptors keep tabs on activity outside of cells, triggering a response if activated by a cannabinoid of any kind.

The two primary endocannabinoid receptors that we know of so far are:

CB1 Receptors (in the central nervous system)

CB2 Receptors (in the peripheral nervous system, particularly within immune cells)

Since endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor, the effect all depends on where the location of the receptor. And which endocannabinoid links with it.

Enzymes in the endocannabinoid system break down endocannabinoids. The main two that we know about so far is:

Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (breaks down AEA)

Monoacylglycerol Acid Lipase (breaks down 2-AG)

The endocannabinoid system is integral to the following processes:

  • Appetite and digestion
  • Metabolism
  • Chronic Pain
  • Inflammation (and other immune system processes)
  • mood
  • learning and memory
  • motor control
  • sleep
  • cardiovascular function
  • muscle formation
  • bone remodelling and growth
  • liver function
  • skin and nerve function
  • reproductive system function

How does cannabis play into all of this?

It’s all about the receptors.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the well known main cannabinoid of the cannabis plant, has the powerful ability to bind to both CB1 and two receptors. Thus driving the various effects of THC intoxication (not all of them desirable).

Research is underway to create a version of THC which is more endocannabinoid system friendly. In people like me terms, the effects you desire without those you don’t. For the medical community, the resulting compound could end up being far safer than many alternatives (particularly in the area of pain relief. Imagine not ever needing opioids!). For me, no more paranoid walks down dark streets four blocks from my house. And for the world of recreational marijuana in general, the possibility for . . . Endless possibilities.

Marijuana and THC strains that people can consume without the risk of accidentally triggering schizophrenia?

What about CBD?

At the moment, the mechanisms through which CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system are unknown. Researchers know that CBD does not bind to either CB 1 or 2 receptors. However, the picture beyond these findings is not as clear.

One is that CBD may interact with metabolic enzymes and cause them to be less effective, leaving endocannabinoids active for more extended periods. Another is that they may bind to a receptor that has yet to be found. Even with all of the unknowns, research still shows promising results when it comes to treating pain, nausea and other characteristics of multiple conditions.

There is also a hypothesis that considers the possibility of the newly discovered endocannabinoid system as being the missing link for many illnesses that don’t otherwise have a clear origin. This general condition is known as endocannabinoid deficiency. Reduced levels of endocannabinoids may manifest in abnormalities.

A few examples of such possibilities are:

  • Undiagnosed migraines

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

As significant a role as the endocannabinoid system plays in our functioning; we still have a lot to learn.

What a fascinating time the coming decades are going to be.

Closing Notes

In the time between deciding to write this segment of the project and concluding, two potential problems came to light. One came to light last October when a research study discovered lowered sperm count in male daily cannabis users (compared to their non-using counterparts).

The other, released just yesterday (January 23ed, 2020), highlights an active link between cannabis use and increased potential for certain cancers of the head and neck. Researchers identified the mechanical pathway in which THC was activating, which resulted in unchecked growth of cancerous cells.

In hindsight, the above may NOT be endocannabinoid system related (I’m not an MD). But I’ll cover it anyway for the sake of honesty.

When considering the 2 cases above, remember how little we know about this area of human physiology. Not smoking cannabis (or otherwise ingesting cannabinoids) may be a good idea if you are trying to have children or at risk for the cancers outlined above. However, I caution everyone else from reading too much into this.

The way that scientific studies often get covered in the media is problematic as it is. When you add the fear, ignorance AND bad faith reporting which often goes into marijuana complication reporting . . . you get the picture.

These examples are used strictly to illustrate the time period in which this was written. I don’t know when future readers will find this post, so as such, I want it to be taken in the current context of research (we’ve hardly scratched the surface!).

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 5 – Synthetic Marijuana)

Synthetic Marijuana

Since I first came across this substance (well, phenomenon) a number of years ago, it annoyed me. A substance that shady marketers have dubbed Synthetic Marijuana. Back when I first was made aware of it (2009 or so), it was commonly referred to in the media as Bath Salts and by a few other pseudonyms which have likely evolved over the oncoming decade. Back then, sold everywhere from drug paraphernalia shops to C-stores, this stuff seemed easier to obtain than aspirin. Or even healthy food (depending on where one resides in the US of A).

I can put a timeline on it because I first learned of this substance through a segment on the Dr. Oz show. Something that is significant, because I was an avid viewer of Dr. Oz (and The Doctors) for a span of only a year or 2.

In a nutshell:

  1. I wasn’t transitioning any of the information from said shows into my everyday life anyway, so I questioned why I was watching in the first place.

  1. I started to see inconsistencies and problems in the material presented, particularly with regards to Dr. Oz’s program.

I list all my reasons for tuning out in the following post, published in June of 2014. The other 2 are follow-ups, of sorts.

Getting back to the topic of this piece, again, this whole phenomenon was irritating to me. Were talking rubbing 2 pieces of Styrofoam together, or scrapping long fingers down a chalkboard level irritation. All because of the preventability of it all.

Before I go down that road, I should first give my readers somewhat of an idea of what we’re dealing with. The name is really all you need to know. It’s basically synthesized cannabinoid compounds which are made and sold in bulk quantities online, sourced out of Asia. Though many of the compounds are rendered illegal (nothing sold back in 2009 is likely to be lawful now), evading this is as simple as tweaking the formula. Turning this into an endless game of Cat and Mouse between authorities and criminals.

Aside from homeless populations (due to its low price), teenagers were the largest cohort thought to be obtaining this substance. Likely because it is easier (and far less risky) to purchase than, anything else. While I would NEVER argue that marijuana is harmless or benign as a rule of thumb, given the choice of the 2, the best option is clear.

Indeed, I would rather minors not be experimenting with potentially dangerous substances at all. However, assuming prohibition is going to make this happen is delusional thinking at it’s finest. In fact, on par with the assumption that abstinence-only education is going to scare kids out of promiscuous behaviour. It might make parents feel better (“Let’s just put aside this, pesky, difficult little problem . . .”), but it sure as hell isn’t helping minors.

Marijuana, particularly the often ultra high THC/negligible CBD containing strains of today’s marketplace, are not harmless for the developing brains of children. But they are also generally not the misunderstood packets of who knows what that make up the synthetic marijuana marketplace.

There is something to be said about the purity argument (“
You can’t trust that your weed has not been chemically altered before you buy it!”).

I don’t disagree. However, the same goes for anything you buy or consume, legal or prohibited. Indeed, those skirting the law have less incentive to focus on the safety of the end user. None the less, life is fraught with risks, one of them being contamination of one’s consumables.

Keeping marijuana (and really, any commonly sought after substances) at the level of prohibition actually makes the job of quality control more difficult. Unlike food and drug manufacturers that track product production with batch numbers and expiration dates, there is no such tracking of illicit substances. As such, while a food or drug maker can issue a recall based on said numeric tracking codes, the best authorities can do to curtail the distribution of tainted licit substances is PSA campaigns on the local news. Campaigns that are often very easy to overlook due to the fact that almost ALL interaction with the public on the subject of drugs comes across as paranoid propaganda. The government cried wolf too many times over the years. So now all they can do is watch as versatile synthetic compounds, tainted party drugs, and god knows what runs increasingly rampant everywhere.

Do I blame ill-informed PSA campaigns for all of today’s drug whoa’s?

Of course not. There is a whole slew of socio-economic factors at work here. However, I don’t think it helped the situation. Not just the overtly dramatic demonization of the illicit, but the market-driven risk reduction of the truly dangerous. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that opioid addiction is now a common term pretty much no matter where one looks.

Getting back to the original topic (synthetic marijuana), it should be noted that this is not encompassing of the whole picture. While synthetic marijuana is a big part of it, it exists alongside some legalized derivatives under the umbrella term Synthetic cannabinoids. Though the 2 are not often mentioned alongside one another, there are legally available and prescribed synthetic cannabinoids. One is Dronabinol (marketed as Marinol or Syndros), which is approved for use an appetite stimulant, antiemetic (prevents vomiting and nausea), or sleep apnea reliever. Though available in the US, it is no longer available in Canada (I assume due to cannabis-derived options drying up the market).

Other legally synthesized cannabinoid agonists include:

Sativex– Known medically as nabiximols, it is a spray that delivers measured concentrations of both THC and CBD. It’s approved for the treatment of some symptoms of multiple sclerosis and advanced cancer pain.

Cesamet– Known as nabilone, it’s approved to treat chemotherapy-induced vomiting.

Though these are under the umbrella synthetic cannabinoids, I suspect that they make up a very small part of the whole picture (compared to the illegal synthetics).

While so-called synthetic marijuana has been available online since 2004, later variations of the substance are typically very different than those from the early days. Though the older varieties were primarily derived to produce similar effects to marijuana, newer variants often don’t keep this focus. Due to the constantly changing nature of the substance (sometimes even on a batch to batch basis!), all effects (both the positive AND the negative) can be hard to pin down.

Whilst this stuff does not seem to be as easy to get as it was back in 2008/2009 when the newly created epidemic was in its infancy (not to mention that I suspect vaping may take a big chunk out of its market share), it’s still occasionally in the news. While it’s price will almost always be lower than that of marijuana (wherever one procures it), I can’t help but think that easier access will eventually destroy its marketability. If I use alcohol as a comparison, people living in jurisdictions allowing legal marijuana tend to buy less alcohol. I suspect it’s due to the nature of the intoxication. Marijuana tends to be far less rough around the edges than alcohol, and this is almost certainly going to be the case with synthetics too. And marijuana will almost always have the natural element to its advantage. It’s part of a plant, as opposed to synthesized god knows what.

As long as one makes the healthy alternative hard to access, these substances will always have a dominant place in any given market. It’s cheap to produce, fairly easy to sneak past customs checks (border security can’t check everything. The economy would grind to a halt!). But most importantly, people would not be chasing chemical based marijuana alternatives if the real thing weren’t so hard to get.

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 4 – CBD)


It’s time to move on to another (in a way, THE other) cannabinoid of importance in relation to this discussion. That cannabinoid is CBD. A cannabinoid that is increasingly characterized by its absence in a great many strains of unregulated marijuana crops being sold these days. Granted, strains lacking the cannabinoid to various degrees are available legally. The difference being that in this avenue, you KNOW and can make a choice. As opposed to being tied to whatever your dealers can scrap out of their supply chain. Which tends to be the good stuff.

It’s just the law of the market. There is far more money in high potency strains for repeat users than there is in more mellow CBD heavy stains for novice to infrequent users. Or to put it another way, yet another area in which the decades-long status quo has created a huge problem for society.

One good example of this is the extreme scaremongering argument that is “Marijuana = Schizophrenia!”. It is true that there can be an association. However, did you know that CBD has a role to play here as well? In particular, that it’s absence is a big reason why high potency THC strains can serve as a trigger to problems far from just the mere munchies?

I love Marketplace. The show is worth ten times its cost in educational value. It was this episode that initially turned me onto the important role in which CBD plays, to begin with.

Though legalized marijuana and THC products are relative newcomers to the market (well, the above ground market), CBD has been available even previous to legalization in some areas. Since it’s not inherently psychoactive, many jurisdictions didn’t object it being derived or sale. Granted, the finished product had to stay a threshold of 0.5 to 4% THC content (depending on the locality) in order to remain legal.

Unsurprisingly, this substance (particularly CBD oil) is starting to make a splash in the alternative health scene. Though the cannabinoid mirrors THC in the lack of detailed information that we have on the substance, this has yet to stop snake oil salesman from making bold claims about its medicinal properties. Some that go all the way to citing it as a cure to autism.

Part of this is the hands-off nature in which supplements are regulated in the United States, and elsewhere. It’s easy to get your foot in the door when there is no one standing guard. FDA and Health Canada’s regulation for supplements is a joke.

As proven by marketplace!

So, much like marijuana, the same obvious rules apply here. Don’t let the overzealous and unethical capitalists get the best of what can be a useful and therapeutic substance.

But on with the show.

While anyone with any knowledge of the marijuana plant knows about it’s most notable chemical property (Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for the rest of us), few know about its sister chemical property (Cannabidiol, or THC). THC is responsible for the more euphoric traits associated with marijuana consumption.

However, THC is also increasingly thought to be a trigger when it comes to mental issues typically associated with marijuana use (everything from anxiety to the schizophrenia connection). Which is where it’s longstanding sister property CBD comes in. Whilst THC is psychoactive, CBD seems to play the role of a sort of regulator when it comes to the THC intoxication experience. If I understand it correctly, it allows for the high without the potentially mentally risky rough edges associated with primary THC exposure only.

Alone, cannabidiol already has many usages in the medical field. It is at times utilized as a pain reliever. It also has been found to have positive effects in terms of mitigation of epileptic seizures. It is also utilized as an anti-nauseant for use in cancer patients. At a glance, it would seem that the uses mirror those attributed to THC. The big difference being the lack of psychoactive properties.

The National Institutes of Health has an even more fascinating list of conditions that are positively influenced by CBD exposure.





-Multiple Sclerosis

-Neurodegenerative Disorders (Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Tourette’s, Alzheimer’s)





-Cardiovascular Disorders



-Metabolic Syndrome related disorders

Some overlap with what I already mentioned. But a whole lot more. Including some quite unexpected listings. None the less, all patients potentially benefit from what is known as Cannabinoid Agonists/Antagonists/Cannabinoid Related Compounds.

Let’s unpack that.

Cannabinoid Antagonist – Also known as an anti-cannabinoid, this is a cannabinoidergic drug which binds to cannabinoid receptors, preventing activation by the bodies native endocannabinoids. These include antagonists, inverse agonists, and antibodies to cannabinoid receptors.

Inverse Agonists – These bind to the same receptor as an agonist, but elicits a response that is opposite to that of an agonist.

Cannabinoid Related Compound – While harder to nail down than the previous 2, it looks to be anything originating from the cannabis plant. Therein are at least 400 compounds, 80 of which are unique to the cannabis plant alone. All of which react to the human endocannabinoid system in different ways.

It seems that CBD is a very useful property all to its own. However, I suspect that it is often lumped in with it’s far more commonly known sister property THC. I can attest to this myself, as the distinction certainly wasn’t exactly clear to me at first glance (even as a pro-cannabis proponent!). But I suppose this will get better with time and public exposure. Whilst the capitalists will certainly market the differences, hopefully, the research side can keep up.

I opened this piece with the bold claim that was the seemingly unknown Yin and Yang relationship between THC and CBD, as played out in the marijuana plant. I have yet to quantify this claim with anything but speculation. So I shall take care of that issue now.

It looks like CBD’s previous role (as it stands much of the time, these days) was in modulating receptor signalling associated with THC, helping to mitigate the anxiety or paranoia sometimes related to THC intoxication. One of the ways in which this is accomplished is by activation of serotonin receptors (which reduces anxiety). I would hazard to guess that this is also the reason why it is utilized in the treatment of schizophrenia.

For a more in-depth analysis of the science surrounding CBD (it is both fascinating and in its infancy!), visit:

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 3 – Addiction)

Part 3 – Addiction

Next, on the docket, we have addiction. Or rather the very important question that is, can marijuana be addictive?

Anything other than an automatic “YES!” would likely set off many a guidance counsellor, police officer, social worker, or anyone else with a distinctly distant relationship with the substance. This is not to say that they all don’t have a point. More, their interactions with many of these substances tend to be under negative circumstances. Police officers, guidance councillors and social workers would not be in the picture if those they were protecting were keeping it together. Though, as is insinuated by my use of italics, their presence can at times be reactionary.

So, is marijuana addictive?

Yes. But as in pretty much all other areas of life, there is a nuance curve.

One of the first areas one has to explore is the type of addiction one is dealing with. As explored a bit in the previous section, marijuana is known not to be a chemically addictive substance. Its addictive traits are thought to be strictly psychological. And whilst there can be withdrawal symptoms for heavy users, they are not dangerous (unlike those associated with say, alcohol or opiates). It works by way of the dopamine reward system, but there is no requirement of continued consumption to avoid harmful withdrawal symptoms.

Whilst I do take the anecdotal experiences of the agents of influence (police officers, social workers) in our society into consideration, reactionary rhetoric based on the horrors of drug use is hardly a helpful argument. It’s but a red herring. Given that with or without the presence of substances to abuse, there will always be irresponsible people.

In short, one can no more solely blame marijuana (nor any other substance, really) for neglectful parenting then one can blame a single gun for the perpetration of a school shooting. In either situation, disregarding all (or much of) the background nuances of the given situations is helpful for nothing but pushing an agenda. It does not serve to help current (or future!) victims of the same circumstance. It just ensures that there will always be more.

Nuance may not be an easy pill to swallow as a Red Pill argument, but tackling it is the only way to finding an eventual satisfactory middle ground.


Moving onto the science of addiction, I turn back to the United States’s National Institute Of Health. If the question is “Can marijuana be an addictive substance?”, it would appear that the answer is yes. But, again, with a bit of a caveat. They only use the word addiction to describe the most severe of cases.

It is thought that around 30% of all marijuana users have some form of a marijuana use disorder, with users starting before the age of 18 being four to ten times more likely to develop the disorder (compared to users who started using as adults). Dependence on the drug can be characterized by the following withdraw symptoms:

  • irritability

  • mood and sleep difficulties

  • decreased appetite

  • cravings

  • restlessness

  • other physical discomforts

All of which typically peak after one to 2 weeks after ceasing use of marijuana.

The addiction vector appears to occur when the brain adapts to the constant presence of large amounts of cannabinoids in the body, causing the reduction in the production of (and a growing sensitivity of the body towards) the bodies native endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.

The endocannabinoid system is a large part of the bodies nervous system, tasked with the regulation of many aspects of mammalian stasis. Marijuana works by mimicking the bodies own endocannabinoids, thus achieving the many both positive and negative traits for which it is known for. Addiction is defined by the NIH as when marijuana use is pursued even if it has negative ramifications in other areas of life. Which is a fair definition, given the information.

There is much controversy when it comes to the term
Marijuana Addiction. One just has to be aware not to use the words Addiction and Dependence interchangeably. Those that take their research or representation jobs seriously will know this and act accordingly. Those that don’t . . . you now know how to spot.

When it comes to the development of a marijuana use disorder, the numbers are favourable (albeit in a good way). It is thought that only 9% of users will develop a misuse disorder (with that number rising to 17% for users that started in their teens). While that can be an eye-opening number on its own, consider opioids. Or more, this first sentence from the mayo clinic’s webpage titled How Opioid Addiction Occurs:

Anyone who takes opioids is at risk of developing an addiction. Your personal history and the length of time you use opioids play a role, but it’s impossible to predict who’s vulnerable to eventual dependence on and abuse of these drugs. Legal or illegal, stolen and shared, these drugs are responsible for the majority of overdose deaths in the U.S. today.

A better way to explore this drug (instead of just following the addiction route) could be to look at its long term effects. After all, alike sugar, not being addicted to a substance doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s presence in the body in benign.

Most animal (and an increasing number of human) studies agree that marijuana use during the development of the fetus can cause long term (and possibly irreversible) changes to the developing fetus’s brain chemistry. Being that the changes seem to be most pronounced in adolescences (with the endocannabinoid system still in the process of forming new synapses during this stage of life), the connection would seem to be well founded. However, human studies leave a lot to be desired when other variables are considered (such as the usage of other drugs in combination with cannabis).

But there is hope.

The NHI is funding a major study on the subject, the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Over a period of 10 years, it will track it’s participants right from pre to post marijuana usage phases. The goal is to get a clearer picture of the effects of cannabinoids both with and without the presence of other substances.

However, that study just began in 2018, and thus we are waiting until 2028 for anything definitive (well, ANYTHING). And so it goes for any studies related pretty much in any way towards marijuana, THC, CBD and anything else related therein. Kind of a sad state of affairs to be in. But, it is what it is. The show must go on.

In the meantime, I suppose the only thing we can do in play gatekeeper to marijuana information trickery. Make sure those in the old status quo are refuted when using misleading or deceiving arguments. But also make sure our proponents (the capitalist element!) aren’t stretching or manipulating the facts for the sake of making a profit.

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 2 – Gateway Substances)

Part 2- Gateway Substances

Owners of pizza parlours and convenience stores the world over, agree. Marijuana is definitely a gateway substance.

With that out of my system, my first area of exploration is, I will admit, based on an anecdotal conversation with a former addict of alcohol. In talking about this, he cited both the addiction potential of cannabis as well as it’s status as a so-called Gateway drug. For those unfamiliar with the term, it essentially refers to any substance that is thought to be a stepping stone towards more potent substances. Even that description seems extraordinarily nuanced, given that I’ve never seen the concept utilized outside the context of cannabis. Well, aside from in my past explorations of the topic of drugs.

When I consider the concept of a Gateway substance, several things come to mind. Interestingly, almost none of them involve the consumption of marijuana. In one case, it involves the procurement of the drug, however.

I will start with something that has been apparent to me for a long time (albeit anecdotally). The first drug that I considered as a gateway substance has always been alcohol. This is based around personal experience with various intoxication levels of both substances, and knowing how these don’t differ much from the common experience. Marijuana tends to induce a relaxed mindset (though paranoia and bad trips can happen). On the other hand, alcohol tends to greatly reduce one’s inhibitions in many situations. Not to mention the well-known phenomenon of magnifying underlying personalities (most noticeable when it comes to aggressive types). A concept poked fun at by a fridge magnet that I picked up in Nashville that reads “Instant Jackass. Just Add Beer”.

While the loosening up trait of alcohol can be seen as useful for less outgoing people (like myself, frankly), the trade-off of this is apparent in the last paragraph. Not to mention, the very reason why I have always listed alcohol as Gateway drug #1. Can these chemically reduced inhibitions lead to people trying even more potent drugs?

Marijuana tends to be the next step up from alcohol, but what about beyond this?

Here, I indeed acknowledge that there does seem to be a hierarchy of sorts when it comes to Gateway intoxicants. And Marijuana does indeed seem to have a place on the hierarchy. Where I deviate from most people, however, is where on the hierarchy I place marijuana. While most people have been conditioned to see marijuana as step #1, it is typically step 2 for me (if not 3, or even 4!).

Marijuana as step 2 was just explained. When it comes to step 3, I have to start one rung below alcohol, at caffeine. Whilst it has always been present in one form of food or beverage or another forever, the emergence of energy drinks in the past 20ish years has solidified their place in the hierarchy. Certainly so, after I thought I was having a heart attack after pounding back 2 Redbull’s in the span of an hour and a half at an old job. Don’t get me wrong, I still drink them on occasion. Just . . . not more than 2 in a day.

I bring this up on account to the continued marijuana is not a benign argument, as vocalized by layman and experts (including some MD’s) alike. Indeed, this shouldn’t be a marijuana-selling point. However, it’s hard for me not to think that highly caffeinated energy drinks aren’t being perceived as being far more benign than marijuana, just on account to how they are retailed. Be it from a dealer or behind an age limit, marijuana retail has always had an err of caution to it.

Energy drinks . . . not so much.

A brilliant example of this is the types of events and people that these companies tend to sponsor. Generally, extreme sporting events and athletes at the top of their game. Back when George St Pierre was in his UFC heyday, he was sponsored by NOS energy. Something that bothered me at the time, being that I doubted someone in such peak physical condition would have a place in that regiment for highly surgery and caffeinated sugar water.

In an old job, I once limited a teenager to purchasing just 4 of 12 energy drinks be put on the counter. I didn’t have to do this, by law. Had I sold the beverages to the teen and something happened, I (and my employer) would likely not be liable. But even so, such is a flimsy excuse reminiscent to that of a pharma company that accidentally addicts millions of its patient customers.

Either way, caffeine is my typical Gateway #1 drug for good reason. But having said that, it is really the first potential gateway substance? Or is there another substance that is even more prominent than caffeine?

What about sugar?

Though it is often paired with caffeine when consumed (be it in coffee, soda, or energy drinks), it’s consumption does not mandate the presence of caffeine. It is well known that food companies use sugar (and to a smaller degree, salt) to make all kinds of food products irresistible. Where things get fuzzy, however, is where the line between irresistible and addictive lies.

In fact, even this little thought experiment is filled with uncertainty. Based mainly on the uncertainty as to whether sugar (salt?) could or should be considered to be a drug. Can a substance which is not a drug still retain truly addictive properties? More on the topic on which I had originally set out on, can a non-drug be a gateway substance to more pharmacologically potent substances?

For the sake of this paper, my consideration of sugar is indeed, just a thought experiment. For the time being, I consider Caffeine to be gateway #1.

Having said that, however, there now exists some new substances on the market of which are comparatively as easy to obtain as both caffeine AND unregulated marijuana.

Both bath salts (or synthetic marijuana) and vaping solutions are becoming more and more popular within the younger demographics. This could skew this entire Gateway hierarchy (or add more branches than the traditional single one).

Another substance that I am completely overlooking which may also play a part in this matrix (though increasingly less so on account to flavouring bans and vaping) is tobacco (nicotine). Does this fit into this paradigm, or is it it’s own thing? Does smoking cigarettes make one more likely to smoke weed, or is that mostly just a consequence of social connections?

In any case, whether or not there truly are Gateway substances or drugs, the scope has to be more encompassing than of just marijuana. On account of this, I have broken this section of the long form up into several sections so as to explore some of these branches in as much detail as I can.

Part A

This next thought of how marijuana could play the part of a gateway drug actually involves its absence within a given marketplace. Or to put it another way, it’s lack of availability through the same underworld channels which have plenty of other types of substances to unload. I will state up front that, yes, this is also somewhat based around anecdotal observations within my life experience.

Though it has been years since I have last consumed marijuana in any way (I don’t even really drink alcohol all that often), I still remember the conversations with the drug dealers. Not
my conversations with the drug dealers, mind you (I was never more into the scene than passively in social situations). More like overhearing friends and acquaintances calling up their given handful of contacts retailing their desired herb. Though they more often than not had no Green to offer, Rock, Snow or Ice was never hard to find. For everyone outside the lingo, in order of appearance:

  1. Marijuana

  2. Crack

  3. Cocaine

  4. Meth

This time of my life was a time of change and experimentation.

To put it in context, I had lived most of my previous 16 or 17 years with the mindset towards drugs (and of course, those of whom take them) that is not unlike a current day Jeff Sessions. I had absorbed that drugs were bad news, as were the people that did them. Though one of my closest friends was a user (pot smoker. I use the word because my ignorant mind auto equated with a crack smoker), he fit the mould of what such a person looked like in my mind. As such, my inner narrative wasn’t questioned. That is until I found out that another fairly close friend of mine (of whom DIDN’T fit the profile) was also a regular dope user.

In the coming year or so, this would happen once more with another close friend. Interestingly, the same one who got me into smoking by way of little flavoured cigarillos. This was around 2006. Unsurprisingly, movements towards bans on flavoured tobacco products started in 2009, with bans starting to roll out across Canada in 2010. And as of October 1st, 2017, menthol products are also banned across Canada.

Quite the downer that is, considering a part of my pain had just activated with the thought “I am REALLY craving a menthol smoke now!”. Shucks.

Either way, this was also around the time when I would leave home and live with a roommate for the first time. A roommate who enjoyed smoking marijuana, drinking and otherwise partying. Even despite living here, it took some time before I finally get the courage to try the stuff for the first time. After which it actually became a desired experience.

It was here, where I overheard the phone calls. Observing my roommate (or someone else present at the time) cycle through their list of dealers looking unsuccessfully for marijuana. It made me think back to my previously sheltered existence, seeing articles in the paper or stories on the evening news of our local police force boasting about busting dealers and confiscating tens of pounds of weed. The kids are safer because now there is less marijuana available for them to buy on the street, they said.

Meanwhile, in an apartment filled with young stoners, phone calls to many dealers uncover the availability of almost every other common drug BUT marijuana.

So, did we find some?

Yes. But not before being offered a laundry list of other more harmful substances first. Be it Ice, Snow, Rock, or good ole E. Or as it seems to be called these days, Molly. Though THAT may well be something else entirely (I’ve been out of the loop for close to a decade).

Either way, in this instance, marijuana could very well serve as a Gateway substance. However, if my hunch (as insinuated) is correct, the reason for this status IS the very war being waged on its distribution in the first place. Prohibition should have been an excellent example of what happens when you attempt to artificially smash a market with a shitload of money left of the table. In an ideal world, no, teens should not be smoking marijuana. But since we don’t live in an ideal world, is having them resort to meth, crack or cocaine any better?

You can not claim to be for the safety of children if you can not answer that question honestly.

Thankfully, the majority here in Canada have finally gotten the memo and this problem has started to be dealt with. Granted, we are very early in the transition process (as of this writing, it hasn’t even been a year since legalization). The bulk of marijuana sales are still happening through illegal channels, thus kids are (in theory) still not safe. However, the saturation of fentanyl, methamphetamine and other more powerful drugs tends to (rightfully) occupy more police time than marijuana. Thus, whilst not ideal, the teens might not be as vulnerable to something much worse than ANY strength of cannabis.

In time, I suspect that the modern day underground Cannabis economy will go the same way as the underground alcohol economy after the cessation of prohibition. Price, variety, and primarily convenience will eventually drive the majority of consumers to legal sources. Without the demand, all the problems that came with the illegal suppliers go away along with their economic viability.

Unfortunately, I suspect that this will just mean many will make the switch to producing or selling other substances without legal competition. This is an unfortunate side effect of legalization. However, it is also a sign that simple marijuana legalization really doesn’t go far enough.

Part B

Which is why I am of the opinion that ALL drugs ought to be legalized. Or at the very least, decriminalized. Indeed, that is a very bitter pill for even a legal weed accepting society to swallow. However, it is not without precedent.

A good methodology that I would follow would be the to completely decriminalize everything, then transition the money that was once designated for the elimination of drugs towards treatment. Rather than treating addictions (and whatever underlies that symptom) by just rounding up the junkies and throwing them in the slammer, let us show our fellow human beings some care and compassion. And when I say treatment, I don’t necessarily mean your typical faith-based 12 step program either.

Should they play a part in the solution to the rampant fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other drug epidemics?


Should that be the ONLY option that is well funded?



The system of which I was eluding to earlier (decriminalize everything, focus on treatment) is actually the current status quo of Portugal. Having found itself in the midst of multiple drug epidemics at the same time during the 80s on account to its geographical location (among other economic and demographic factors), the nation found itself with a very serious problem in need of drastic action. And drastic action was indeed the action that the nation’s leaders took.

And it would seem that they were successful.

Since decriminalization, lifetime prevalence rates (which measure how many people have consumed a particular drug or drugs over the course of their lifetime) in Portugal have decreased for various age groups.

-students in 7th–9th grades (13–15years old) – 14.1 per-cent in 2001 to 10.6 percent in 2006.

10th–12th grades (16–18 years old) –27.6 percent in 2001 (the year of decriminalization) to 21.6 percent in 2006.

In fact, for those two critical groups of youth (13–15 years and 16–18 years), prevalence rates have declined for virtually every substance since decriminalization (see Figures 4 and 5).33

Interestingly, that white paper was published by Glenn Greenwald for (or VIA, however these things work) The CATO Institute. Though I’m not a big fan of either entity, but data is data.

Part C

And finally, we come to the darkest corner of the Gateway drug rabbit hole. Opioids. Poppies on steroids.

By now, it’s safe to say that Opioid addiction is a pretty common phenomenon in all corners of the western world. A big part of this prevalence I suspect lies with manufacturers misinforming doctors about the addiction potential of these medications. This no doubt causing otherwise good MD’s to make bad calls, thus turning a routine back or neck injury into a slippery slope into addiction hell.

In the places where greed and medicine are legally allowed to coexist, the former often became a big factor in the choice of prescription. Be it little perks or huge paydays, the end results are often the same. The patient is the loser.

Thus, my final contestant for the Gateway Drugs competition should be obvious. In fact, blatantly apparent. All you have to do is listen to one of the hundreds of stories originating from people that ran out of legitimate prescriptions, only to look to the black market to keep getting the fix they now needed.

No, not the fix they desired, like every marijuana smoker. I am indeed saying the fix they needed. Because chemical dependency is a very different beast than marijuana addiction, which is thought to be less chemical dependency than it is a physiological dependency (a characteristic also shared by Nicotine, Cocaine, Methamphetamine and some others, interestingly enough). This is not to say that long term users of any of the above substances won’t run into withdrawal symptoms (fatigue, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and trouble eating are common). It’s more that those withdrawal symptoms tend to be much less severe (or in some cases, life-threatening) than those related to substances such as opioids and alcohol.

Part D

I must now admit defeat. Everything I said was wrong. It’s time for me to go to medical school because I don’t know a fucking thing about Cannabis, cannabinoids, addiction or how gateway substances work.

Well, sort of.

As it turns out, there does indeed seem to be a connection between cannabis use and the development of what researchers term alcohol use disorders. As shown in some studies, those who used cannabis without a previous alcohol use disorder tended to end up with the condition, and those with the condition previously tended to have it get more intense. Scientists hypothesize that the condition is due to a process of the cannabinoids priming the brain (known as cross-sensitization) both for enhanced effects of further cannabinoid use, as well as that for other drugs.

Whilst many readers may be tempted to hop out of their rolly office chairs and shout “HA!”, I encourage you to wait. The results of these studies not only show that most of those users don’t move onto heavier drugs (unlike prescription opioids!), but also that cross-sensitization is not unique to marijuana. Alcohol and Nicotine are also shown to demonstrate a similar response.

It should also be noted that the source above states what would seem to be obvious . . . people that are vulnerable to drug use are most likely to stick with what is easy to obtain, and that social interactions with other drug users tend to influence these choices. Or to put it in the way of every guidance councillor ever:

Beware the follies of peer pressure! Just say no!”

Having said that, I can’t help but think that my life is a perfect example case of such. Well, sort of. No one has ever truly pressured me into doing anything I didn’t want to do (well, short of dragging my ass into work far more often than is healthy). Every previously defined red line crossed was indeed voluntary. None the less, without having the right people with the right connections present, I may well have not had the chances that I did. As it happened, however, not only were they properly connected, but they were also people I felt comfortable around.

Though they (and really, I) didn’t know it at the time, this may well have been the inspiration for my truly open mind. Without them, I may well have turned out to be just another Jeff Sessions clone.

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 1 – Intro)


In the past 3 to 5 years, few issues have gained more traction than the state of marijuana legislation in many nations. In the United States alone, legislation has gone from common sense status quo to overly draconian relic of a bygone era in the span of around 4 or 5 years (with medical marijuana breaking the ice in many states even before this). And as of 2018, Canada has federally followed suit (with medicinal marijuana being available for at least a decade previous already).
Despite not being a regular user of marijuana, this (along with marriage equality) has been an issue I’ve done what I could to forward since coming of age. As such, it’s nice to see both making headways in the wider world. Even if painfully slowly.

Speaking of the painfully slow forward momentum, the gains that have been made are not without resistance. Much of which is likely based on outdated (or flat out false!) information regarding all aspects of the substance at hand. While this is a bit of a strawman, one needs to look no further than the media to find people who SHOULD know better, talking out their asses. I highlighted a perfect example of this phenomenon HERE.
While the piece is fairly long (I was commenting on an article), it quoted at least 2 MD’s who seemed far more interested in sticking to medicine as they know it than in learning new ways to help patients. This is indeed, an assumption on my part. Even so, however, you will notice the bias demonstrated in their views. The most obvious example of this being making mountains out of molehills. Taking problems with the Canadian system as it stands NOW, and seemingly making no attempt at voicing a possible solution. Despite the fact that I came up with a few of my own. Despite NOT being an MD.

Misinformation (and just old biases) towards marijuana are everywhere, however. Whilst it is annoying when some of the professionals in which people trust with their health and well being are so prone to bias, it is what it is. Marijuana is essentially coming out from a state of taboo so we will be fighting the scourge of misinformation for AT LEAST many years to come. Scientific research has a long ways to go in catching up, which is unfortunate, being that:

1.) The lack thereof is often a source of this misinformation and bias

2.) The plant has massively evolved even under the paradigm of the war on drugs. Legal cultivation practices are going to speed up the process, branching off into who knows how many secondary avenues

Will the researchers ever catch up?

The last point is less stated out of fear than it is out of annoyance. The fact that next to no research has been allowed to commence involving marijuana is a continuing sore spot with me, on account to the stupidity of it all. It would seem to be yet another case of us starting 10 steps behind for no better reason than ideological bias.

In this long form project, I will attempt to explore the many avenues connected to the subject of Marijuana and drugs in general. Despite always having an interest in this subject, some of these branches have been surprising even for me. As of now, I don’t know how many parts this project will have, nor am I following a timeline. It’s just an open-ended piece that I will continue working on until I run out of information.

I hope that this project is useful (or at least, interesting) to read. As usual, any comments, concerns or otherwise can be voiced in the comments section(s).