Thursday, February 19, 2015

Celebrating Disease at The Oscars, Instead of Combating It (with Cannabis)

When Julianne Moore (pictured) or Eddie Redmayne make their expected Oscar acceptance speeches on Sunday night, they ought to call for more research into the use of cannabis for the diseases that resulted in their award-worthy roles.

Redmayne and Moore both took the Golden Globe acting prize, him for playing the ALS-afflicted Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything" and her for portraying an Alzheimer's victim in "Still Alice."

Apart from offering meaty roles to actors, these diseases have nothing to recommend them. But cannabis has shown promise against both.

As documented in NORML's yearly booklet "Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Review of the Recent Scientific Literature," over 4.5 million Americans are afflicted with Alzheimers, and an estimated 30,000 are living with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's disease).

No approved treatments or medications are available to stop the progression of Alzheimers Disease (AD), and few pharmaceuticals have been FDA-approved to treat symptoms of the disease. A review of the recent scientific literature indicates that cannabinoid therapy may provide symptomatic relief to patients afflicted with AD while also moderating the progression of the disease.

Some experts believe that cannabinoids' neuroprotective properties could also play a role in moderating AD. Writing in the September 2007 issue of the British Journal of Pharmacology, investigators at Ireland's Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience concluded, "[C]annabinoids offer a multi‐faceted approach for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease by providing neuroprotection and reducing neuroinflammation, whilst simultaneously supporting the brain's intrinsic repair mechanisms by augmenting neurotrophin expression and enhancing neurogenesis. ... Manipulation of the cannabinoid pathway offers a pharmacological approach for the treatment of AD that may be efficacious than current treatment regimens."

Steven Hawking with Eddie Redmayne,
who plays him in "The Theory of Everything"
Recent preclinical findings indicate that cannabinoids can delay ALS progression. Writing in the March 2004 issue of the journal Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis & Other Motor Neuron Disorders, investigators at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco reported that the administration of THC both before and after the onset of ALS symptoms staved disease progression and prolonged survival in animals compared to untreated controls.

Experts are calling for clinical trials to assess cannabinoids for the treatment of ALS. Writing in the American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine in 2010, a team of investigators reported, "Based on the currently available scientific data, it is reasonable to think that cannabis might significantly slow the progression of ALS, potentially extending life expectancy and substantially reducing the overall burden of the disease."

Cannabis has also been shown to be helpful for chronic pain, which Jennifer Aniston's character suffers in "Cake." (She was nominated for other awards but snubbed by the Academy.) But even some veterans are being told they must choose between cannabis and prescription meds these days.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tiffany's...or a Toke? Holly Chose Shopping Therapy Over Marijuana

"I've had a little go at marijuana. It's not half so destructive as brandy. Cheaper, too. Unfortunately, I prefer brandy."

This is what Miss Holly Golightly said to the press after being arrested for carrying messages from imprisoned mobster Sally Tomato in the 1958 Truman Capote novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

The 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn (pictured) erased this, and all marijuana references, while retaining the plot that implicated Holly in a drug-dealing ring. After her arrest she loses her Brazilian boyfriend (with whom, in the book, she is pregnant. She miscarries while in jail.) Still she refuses to narc on her friend Sally, saying, "Testify against a friend I will not. Not even if they can prove he doped Sister Kenny."

Unlike in the movie, the book contains no happy ending for Holly, who Capote said was based on a real 17-year-old girl he knew (absent the Sally Tomato connection).

"I always knew she was a hop-hop head with no more morals than a hound-bitch in heat. She belongs in prison," stammered Holly's so-called friend who married her former beau Rusty Trawler when called for help. Ironically, marijuana is first introduced in the book when Holly describes to her neighbor Paul her fondness for Tiffany's as an antidote to the "mean reds" (anxiety):

"You're afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don't know what you're afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don't know what it is. You've had that feeling?"

"Quite often. Some people call it angst."

"All right. Angst. But what do you do about it?"

"Well, a drink helps."

“I’ve tried that. I’ve tried aspirin, too. Rusty thinks I should smoke marijuana, and I did for a while, but it only makes me giggle. What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away..."

The film was fine with depicting Hepburn as a bit of a prostitute, and Paul as a kept man (unlike the unnamed narrator in the novella, a working man who faced the draft when he lost his job). Marijuana wasn't completely taboo for movies at that time: it appears in Sweet Bird of Youth the following year (as a means by which Paul Newman's character tries to bribe the aging actress Alexandra del Lago) and it was similarly smeared in 1957's Sweet Smell of Success.

A Broadway play more true to Capote's book was mounted in 2012. London's Royal Albert Hall just announced on Valentine's Day it would host a "live" screening of the film, complete with orchestra, in June. They called Holly, with "gargantuan cigarette holder in hand – one of the most recognisable and arresting images in cinema." (She smoked strong Picayune cigarettes in the book.)

In the film, Holly mischievously waters a marijuana-like plant with a drink while standing in front of a mirror (shown). Later, just after the cat is entranced by Holly's twirling cigarette holder, a party guest is depicted laughing hysterically, then crying, at a mirror. A nod to marijuana's effects?

Capote said of marijuana, "Pot makes the most stupid people sound amusing—that's the best thing about it. They never turn mean, they laugh at everything, and they turn charming even if they are dull."  The author tried LSD twice, given to him by a doctor, when it was still legal. Hepburn was a heavy tobacco smoker who suffered from asthma and died of cancer at only 63.

Rather than being romantically involved with Holly as in the movie, in the book and life, Paul/Truman was her gay friend. He wouldn't speculate about Holly being a lesbian, but pointed out that 80% prostitutes are. Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar portraying Capote in 2005.

I got hipped to this from the forthcoming book, MaryJane: The Complete Marijuana Handbook for Women. (The book gets it a bit wrong attributing one of the marijuana quotes from Capote's book to Hepburn in the movie. But otherwise it looks like a delightful and informative read. It will be out on 4/20 and is available now for pre-order at Amazon.)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Madonna Brings Back Baal at the Grammys

Madonna continued her pop culture interpretations of ancient myths last night on the Grammys, cavorting in a bright red bullfighter's costume with a herd of male dancers wearing bull horns on their heads. Some commentators recoiled at the "Santanic" imagery of the piece, and they're not far off.

Throughout the Old Testament, prophet after prophet warns the children of Israel that God will bring misery upon them unless they cease to burn incense to worship the god Baal. Some scholars think that the “burnt offerings” that were made to Baal and his consort Ashtoreth were cannabis, mistranslated as “calamus” from caneh bosm (sweet or good cane) in scripture.

Baal was depicted, in some regions, as a horned god, and his horns were adopted for the Christian concept of the Devil.

In 1875 British General Charles Gordon, sent to suppress a Muslim revolt in the Sudan, wrote, “In the choice between God & Baal, they choose Baal.” He was beheaded by Muslim rebels (as depicted in the 1966 movie Khartoum with Charlton Heston as Gordon and Laurence Olivier as the Mahdi). Today we're obsessed with Balls.

Baal was also called Bel, a descendant of Belili, the Sumerian White Goddess. Jezebel, whose name means "where is Bel?" was a Phoenician princess in the 9th century who married Ahab the prince of Israel, but maintained her loyalty to Bel. To this day “a Jezebel” is a term applied to a fallen woman not to be trusted; it was the name of a Bette Davis movie wherein she betrays her fiancĂ© by wearing a red dress instead of a white one to a ball. But the name's been resurrected as a hip website for women. 

Elsewhere in the Grammys broadcast, Rihanna rocked with VIP Paul McCartney and Kanye West; Eric Church gave the most powerful performance since Neil Young's "Southern Man," and GaGa was good with Tony Bennett (but it shoulda been Amy). Tenacious D took Best Metal Performance and the late Joan Rivers was awarded her first Grammy. Finally, Sam Smith won best new artist and best song for aping Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down."

Excerpted in part from the forthcoming book Tokin Women, A 3000-Year Herstory from Evangelista Sista Press. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Super-Bowl Sundae: The Drug References & Boys and their Balls

I really just watch it for the cultural references, but the game this year is, I’ve got to admit, pretty thrilling so far.

The ads for the first half of this year’s Superbowl game featured Viagra pumping up a Fiat, Budweiser taking on craft beers, Walter White as “Almost Greg” in a pharmacy for Esurance, and Jeff Bridges wearing a Dudelike sweater and Om-ing for  Square Space. Katy Perry played the “Pepsi Halftime Show” but it was Coke that the Internet server technician spilled into the Matrix in an ad, making love from hate in a kind of LSD-in-the-water fantasy fulfilled (with the wrong substance).

Sadly, Perry replied when asked by Rolling Stone about smoking pot: "I can't do that stuff. I'd be like in the corner: 'Are you trying to kill me?!'" Can’t blame her in this violent society she’s bombarded with, starting with football itself. The program advertised appearing after the game is “Blacklist” with pyrotechnics as violent as they come, a Nascar bad-boy ad also had a firery crash, action star Danny Trejo played Marcia Brady sans her Snickers, and the ultra creepy "Shades of Grey" was advertised as inciting "countless" fantasies.

Perry’s a talented enough singer (she got me singing "Firework" with the autistic girl). But she had to turn her boobs into whipped cream canisters and her nipples into nozzles to get attention. For today’s show, she did up her life-giving breasts with nuclear symbols at Bikini Beach (pictured). She had good line at the press conference about her performance not being “deflating” (I suspect Bruce Vilanch’s hand). Perry is only the fourth woman to headline a Halftime show, counting Janet Jackson (with the famous “Wardrobe Malfunction”), Jay-Z's beatch Beyonce, and Madonna (who reached to Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra).

Perry's show was augmented with pothead Lenny Kravitz, whose “Stand By My Woman Now” was the most respectful song even written to female sex. While on tour in Croatia in 2005, Kravitz told Gloria magazine that he had smoked pot with Mick Jagger, calling it a "great privilege."

Missy Elliott, the first female Hip-Hop artist to appear at a Superbowl, brought the energy to a higher level than Perry did riding a monster mechanical tiger. Elliott confessed that she tried “a Jamaica brownie” on her trip in Jamaica in 2005 and told journalists at the press conference that she was high.

Jennifer Aniston in her Lip Flip with Jimmy Fallon backed the Seahawks because "We got the weed man" (even though New Englanders smoke more pot per capita than any other region). It's nice to see the 5' 11" black Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson holding his own with Giselle's husband, tying up the game by the half. Last year, Wilson became just the second Black starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl, and the shortest quarterback to have ever won a Super Bowl. (Wikipedia)

When Kurt Warner walked the Lombardi trophy in after the game, all the Patriots copped a feel on the metal ball. Meanwhile, our formerly macho cars are indeed getting a Viagra boost with fake engine noise (and no spare tires); and Rachel Maddow had the best bit ever on boys' fascination with balls, deflated and otherwise.

Perry's Firework Finale was stellar and for what was spent on it, we could probably have fed every hungry child in the world Superbowl Suppers for a month. Not to mention, the $9 million-per-spot ads, the $44 million Roger Goodell makes yearly for "a job a 2-year-old could do" and all the dollars down the drain on political "speech." When will we ever grow up?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Jim Croce and Cannabis

Jim Croce's wife and musical collaborator Ingrid describes evenings with Jim passing a joint around with friends, trading songs and stories in the 2012 biography I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story.

During one such session, Jim treated the group to his song "Careful Man," with a cigarette dangling from his lip:

I don't gamble, I don't fight,
I don't be hangin' in the bars at night,
Yeah, I used to be a fighter but
Now I am a wiser man.
I don't drink much, I don't smoke,
I don't be hardly mess around with no dope.
Yeah, I used to be a problem but
Now I am a careful man.

The Pennsylvania-born Croce was a working man's poet, and a master of the long phrase, penning lyrics like, "Now I got them steadily depressin' low-down, mind-messin', workin at the car wash blues" or "And the roller derby program said that she was build like a 'frigerator with a head." The artist remains current: a character on Amazon TV's Transparent "married" Croce at the age of 4; his song "Operator" was heard on the show's pilot program.

After Croce died in a tragic plane crash in September 1973, small amounts of marijuana were found on two of the other passengers. Ingrid had to sue for insurance payments the aviation company tried to deny her because pot was on the plane. She won, and now works as the chef of the San Diego eatery Croce's (pictured) where great music and a delightful atmosphere are to be found. Last Saturday, it was Jazz Brunch with the splendid guitarist Patrick Berrogain.

Croce's death came months after his song "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" hit #1 on the US charts, and one day before his single "I Got a Name" was released.  In "Hard Time Losin' Man,"  Croce displayed his wonderful sense of humor, singing:

Friday night, feelin' right
I head out on the street;
Standin' in the doorway
Was a dealer known as Pete.
Well he sold me a dime of some super fine
Dynamite from Mexico
I spent all that night
Just tryin' to get right
On a ounce of oregano.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Modern Marijuana Family

Tonight's Modern Family had a cute plot about the low-class marijuana dispensary owners who move next door to the uptight Claire and her doofus hubby Phil (pictured).

After their neighbors park a monstrous boat in their driveway against city code, Phil and Claire attempt to break (unleaded) banana bread with them and convince them to launch the vessel elsewhere. When negotiations break down Phil resorts to bringing his father to camp out with his RV on the street.

The plan backfires when Phil's dad (Fred Willard) and his senior buddies start partying with the offending neighbors. The next morning, the boorish boat owner buries the hatchet with Phil, only to find out Claire has "narced" them out. The episode might have been titled, "Can't we all just get a bong?"

Marijuana has popped up before on the show, as in this clip:

UPDATE 2/15: The Wall Street Journal has taken notice.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Queen Latifah Portrays Empress Bessie Smith

This is what I call near-perfect casting: Queen Latifah (pictured) playing Bessie Smith in the HBO biopic Bessie, to air this spring.

Born to a large, poor family in Tennessee, Bessie joined a traveling minstrel show at age 14 and was mentored by Ma Rainey. She was soon performing on stages all over the country as The Empress of the Blues. "She was unquestionably the greatest of the vaudeville blues singers and brought the emotional intensity, personal involvement, and expression of blues singing into the jazz repertory with unexcelled artistry," writes PBS on their Ken Burns Jazz page.

“Bessie Smith smoked ‘reefers’ throughout her career, as did many others in the music industry,” wrote Buzzy Jackson in A Bad Woman Feeling Good. “[S]he was more than merely famous, she was a living symbol of personal freedom: she did what she liked; she spoke her mind, no matter how outrageous her opinion; she flouted bourgeois norms and engaged in alcohol, drugs, and recreational sex.”

In 1933, Smith recorded “Gimmie a Pigfoot” featuring Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden. In the last verse, instead of asking for a pigfoot, Smith sings, “Gimmie a reefer”:

Queen Latifah (aka Dana Owens) has graced the airwaves, films and TV since her groundbreaking 1989 debut All Hail The Queen set the standard for female rappers, and paved the way for future women in hip-hop to make their way onto the charts. Her standout performance in the 2002 film adaptation of Chicago earned her nominations for an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a SAG Award. Her jazzy The Dana Owens Album was nominated for a Grammy in 2005, the year she hosted the awards show.

In 1996 she was arrested with marijuana and a gun in her car. The CHP officer who made the stop "asked Miss Owens if she had been smoking and she said yes."

Latifah was first offered the role of Bessie 22 years ago when she a "full-on rapper" who didn't know who Smith was. Now she says she identifies with her. "I know what it's like to play through the pain, to keep your head immerse yourself in music," she said.