Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Drug War Victim Billie Holiday at 100

"By the 1930s, even before marijuana was criminalized, Billie Holiday's name had become a kind of password among marijuana smokers who had formed an ad hoc network of users across the country," wrote Buzzy Jackson in A Bad Woman Feeling Good. "Whenever you went to different cities," Holiday's friend Marie Bryant remembered, "soon enough a guy would knock on your hotel door with a phonograph and Louis's [Armstrong] and Billie's records...and a little thing of pot....And this happened all over the country, a society of people who just loved Billie."

The popular singer-like-no-other, born 100 years ago Tuesday, began to smoke marijuana in the early 1930s when you could buy a couple of joints for twenty-five cents. (Source: Meg Greene, Billie Holiday: A Biography)

At the famous Cafe Society in New York City, "everyone in that group smoked pot," remembered trumpeter Doc Cheatham. "They had a little room off the bandstand and some, including Mary Lou [Williams] and Billie [Holiday], would smoke pot in there. They would put me outside the door in a chair smoking a pipe that would cover the fumes of the pot." (Source: Morning Glory, a biography of Williams by Linda Dahl).

At a 1937 recording session, John Hammond managed to convince a record company executive that the marijuana smoke he smelled wasn't a problem. The result was "considered among the greatest recording sessions in jazz history." Holiday's voice interplayed with VIP Lester Young's saxophone on "He Ain't Got Rhythm," "This Year's Kisses," "Why Was I Born" and "I Must Have That Man," and lead to a lifelong collaboration.

Holiday was hunted down by no less than Harry J. Anslinger, the first and longtime "drug czar" who engineered laws and international treaties banning marijuana. According to newly published research by Johann Hari, Holiday got  her first threat from Anslinger's FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics) after she recorded "Strange Fruit," a lament against lynching, in 1939. Anslinger assigned agent Jimmy Fletcher to track Holiday's movements; he tried nailing her but ended up becoming an admirer. "She was the type who could make anyone sympathetic because she was the loving type," wrote Fletcher.

Later, "Holiday's ability to consume drugs and alcohol was legendary." (Greene.) She took stimulants to get through her performance schedule and afterwards took pills, drank and smoked pot, eventually shooting heroin as well. No wonder: according to Hari's book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs her manager/pimp Louis McKay beat her so badly she would have to tape her ribs to go onstage. McKay sought out Anslinger and met with him in DC, agreeing to set Billie up for a bust for which she went to trial. Asking to be sent to a treatment facility, instead Holiday was forced to go cold turkey in jail while serving a year's sentence. Afterwards, she was stripped of her cabaret license as an ex-con and was unable to perform in any venue where alcohol was served.

But the persecution didn't stop there. Anslinger sent another agent, George White, to stalk Holiday in San Francisco, possibly planting drugs in her hotel room as he had with other women. “The hounding and the pressure drove me,” she wrote, “to think of trying the final solution, death.” Although a jury found her not guilty, the ordeal took a toll on her reputation and her health. Nonetheless, she refused to stop singing "Strange Fruit" even though other singers were too intimidated to do so.

At the age of 44, Holiday was hospitalized after collapsing, and was arrested again when narcotics agents claimed they found a small amount of heroin in her room. Pressuring her to reveal her dealer, agents confiscated her record player, radio, candy, and flowers and handcuffed her to her bed. Two policeman stood at her door and turned away friends who tried to visit. Suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, Billie was once more forced to withdraw from heroin without treatment. She died in her hospital bed on July 15, 1959.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How The Irish Invented Slang (for Marijuana)

We all know that the Irish saved civilization (or so says the bestselling book by Thomas Cahill). Now comes the book, How the Irish Invented Slang, by Daniel Cassidy, who postulates that many slang words for which even the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) can't name the origin were in fact based on Gaelic.

After a friend died and left behind his Irish dictionary, Cassidy took his wife's advice and learned a word from it every night, soon noticing how similar the pronunciations were to slang words.

Flipping through the book in a bookstore (yes, they still exist), I came upon the word "Gage," the term by which Louis Armstrong so lovingly referred to marijuana. Cassidy proposed the word comes from the Gaelic word "Gaid," pronounced gad, gadge or gaj, and meaning twisted twigs, rope, or hemp.

That Armstrong would have picked up on this slang fits with Cassidy's matches for jazz terms with Irish ones, including "Jazz" itself, another word the OED has no clue about. Jazz is the phonetic spelling of the Irish and Gaelic word "teas," meaning "heat, passion, excitement, and highest temperature," Cassidy asserts.

Another slang term Cassidy related to Irish is Hep or Hip, which is thought by some to come from opium smokers who sat on one hip. But its meaning "well-informed, knowledgeable, wise, in-the-know; smart, stylish" could some from a simple contraction of the Irish work "aibi," pronounced h-ab ("mature, quick, clever").

Grouch, which Chico Marx said related to a "grouch bag" in which the Marx Brothers carried marijuana, is also possibly from Irish origin, via the word "Craite" (tormented, troubled, vexed, pained; annoyed).

And finally "Dude," what stoners like to call each other, can be traced to the Irish "Dud" (pronounced "dood") meaning a foolish-looking fellow; a clown. See: How The Irish Invented Dudes. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Kardashian Spouse Enters Iboga Treatment Facility

Scott Disick, who has understandable issues with reality as the Reality-TV spouse of Kourtney Kardashian, has entered rehab of an unusual type, according to TMZ: he's gone to a facility in Costa Rica that uses the psychedelic plant Iboga in its treatment.

I remember when two hippies showed up at a drug policy conference years ago, to talk about their efforts to get Ibogaine (extracted from the Iboga plant) imported as a treatment for heroin addiction. They'd hit upon the idea while sitting around with a bunch of friends, talking about the most intense drug they'd tried in the 60s. "It must have been Ibogaine," one of them said, "because I never went back to heroin after that."As they described it, during the first eight hours of an Ibogaine trip you re-live your past, in the second eight hours you see your present, and in the last eight hours you rewrite your future. Read more about Ibogaine therapy.

Disick's problem seems to be mainly with alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson was dosed with the hallucinogen belladonna at Towns Hospital in 1933, leading to the revelation that enabled him to quit drinking. In his autobiography Pass It On, Wilson's description of the experience sounds psychedelic: "Suddenly, my room blazed with an indescribably white light. I was seized with an ecstasy beyond description." Wilson tried LSD in the 1950s (when it was still legal) under a doctor's supervision. He enthusiastically explored LSD's clinical use to treat alcoholism, encouraging his wife Lois to also try it. The organization Wilson founded ultimately objected and buried the research, much like the Catholic church left out the sacrament kykeon in its communion ceremonies, leaving only the meaningless vestiges. A new book reveals that today's AA works for less than 10% of its members, and is harmful to the others.

The Joe Rogan show recently featured an Iboga experience. 

Last August, Keeping up with the Kardashians showed Kris's mother M.J., who has cancer, taking some marijuana-laced gummy bears to help her appetite, and talking Kris into trying some for her neck pain. The two ladies are munching out and giggling it up until "Mr. Buzzkill" (Bruce Jenner) shows up.

In 2013, three Karsashians (Kim, Khloe and Kourtney) signed an open letter to President Obama calling for an end to the injustice of the war on drugs, along with 175 fellow entertainers, civil rights leaders, members of the faith community, business leaders and athletes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Heart's Wilson Sisters Rock (and Roll)

Ann and Nancy Wilson, who with the band Heart made songs like "Crazy on You" and "Magic Man" rites of passage for my generation of women (and beyond), are Culture Magazine's latest cool coup interview for their March issue.

Asked if the Seattle-based sisters were advocates for medical marijuana like fellow Culture Cover Girls Lily Tomlin, Melissa Etheridge, Margaret Cho, and Roseanne Barr, Ann replied:

"We think it should be legal in every state in the country! It’s obviously less dangerous and harmful than alcohol, and it has many good uses for people, especially people who are very ill, but also for people who suffer from anxiety, insomnia, or pain of different types. It’s just strange to me that we’re still even talking about it."

Along with 5.3 million others, you've probably seen the video promoted under the line, "Watch Ann & Nancy Wilson make Robert Plant cry" during their performance of "Stairway To Heaven" accompanied by full choir and orchestra at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors. Sing it, sistas.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Goddess Magu, the Hemp Maiden

Deep researcher Steven Hager posted an interesting Wikipedia page this morning regarding Magu (Chinese: 麻姑), a Taoist xian ("inspired sage," "ecstatic") whose name means Hemp Maiden or Goddess.

Magu’s name combines the Chinese character MA – which derives from a Zhou Dynasty ideograph showing plants drying in a shed – with GU, a kinship term for a woman also used in religious titles like Priestess. It’s been proposed that the name is related to the Old Persian word “magus” (magician, magi).

Ma Gu is often depicted flying on a crane, riding a deer or holding peaches or wine (symbols of longevity). She is associated with the elixir of life and is the protector of females. Before becoming immortal she freed slaves who were working for her evil father. She is often pictured on birthday cards in China, where cannabis has been continuously cultivated since Neolithic times and the saying, "When you see a deer you know Ma Gu is near," is common. Magu Wine is made in Jianchang and Linchuan.

Magu is called Mago in Korea and Mako in Japan, where a saying “Magu scratches the itch” harkens to her long, crane-like fingernails. Several early folktales from Sichuan province associate Magu with caves, and one describes a shaman who invoked her. She is said to have ascended to immortality at Magu Shan ("Magu Mountain") in Nancheng. A second Magu Mountain is located in Jianchang county.

Magu was also goddess of Shandong's sacred Mount Tai, where cannabis "was supposed to be gathered on the seventh day of the seventh month," wrote Joseph Needham in Science and Civilization in China (1959). Needham wrote, “there is much reason for thinking that the ancient Taoists experimented systematically with hallucinogenic smokes…at all events the incense-burner remained the centre of changes and transformations….” The (ca. 570 CE) Daoist encyclopedia records that cannabis was added into ritual censers. 

A modern Taoist sect called the Way of Infinite Harmony worships Magu and advocates for the religious use of cannabis (but its Wiki page was just deleted).

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.)