This past summer the French food and drug office, the Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament, greenlighted limited medical cannabis trials inside France, something that’s been illegal since 1953.
Many have applauded the move as an important first step toward rational, public health-oriented cannabis regulation in France. The Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament similarly praised the trial for its groundbreaking efforts to produce “the first French data on the efficiency and safety” of cannabis for medical therapies.
This is all well and good. However, when it comes to cannabis, a peculiar historical amnesia seems to be gripping French medicine. These trials are not the nation’s first efforts to produce scientific data on medicinal cannabis products. Far from it.
‘A drug not to be neglected’
During my research into the history of intoxicants in modern France, I found that in the middle 19th century Paris functioned as the epicenter of an international movement to medicalize hashish, an intoxicant made from the pressed resin of cannabis plants.
Many pharmacists and physicians then working in France believed hashish was a dangerous and exotic intoxicant from the “Orient” – the Arabo-Muslim world – that could be tamed by pharmaceutical science and rendered safe and useful against the era’s most frightening diseases.
Starting in the late 1830s they prepared and sold hashish-infused edibles, lozenges and later tinctures – hashish-infused alchohol – and even “medicinal cigarettes” for asthma in pharmacies across the country.
Throughout the 1840s and 1850s dozens of French pharmacists staked their careers on hashish, publishing dissertations, monographs and peer-review articles on its medicinal and scientific benefits.
French epidemiologist Louis-Rémy Aubert-Roche published a treatise in 1840 in which he argued hashish, administered as a small edible called “dawamesk” taken with coffee, successfully cured plague in seven of 11 patients he treated in the hospitals of Alexandria and Cairo during the epidemic of 1834-35. An anti-contagionist in a pre-germ theory era, Aubert-Roche, as most physicians then, believed the plague an untransmittable disease of the central nervous system spread to humans via “miasma,” or bad air, in unhygienic and poorly ventilated areas.
Aubert-Roche thus believed, mistaking symptom relief and luck for a cure, that hashish intoxication excited the central nervous system and counteracted the effects of the plague. “The plague,” he wrote, “is a disease of the nerves. Hashish, a substance that acts upon the nervous system, has given me the best results. I thus believe it is a drug not to be neglected.”
Physician Jacques-Joseph Moreau de Tours, organizer of the infamous Club des Hachichins in Paris during the 1840s, likewise heralded dawamesk as a homeopathic wonder drug for treating mental illness. Moreau believed insanity was caused by lesions on the brain. And also believed that hashish counteracted the effects.
Moreau reported in his 1845 work, “Du Hachisch et l’aliénation mentale,” that between 1840 and 1843 he cured seven patients suffering mental illness at Hôpital Bicêtre in central Paris with hashish. Moreau wasn’t totally off-base; today cannabis-based medicines are prescribed for depression, anxiety, PTSD and bipolar disorders.
Despite the small sample size, doctors from the U.S., the U.K., Germany and Italy published favorable reviews of Moreau’s work with hashish during the late 1840s and across the 1850s. One praised it as a “discovery of much importance for the civilized world.”
Though physicians in France and abroad touted dawamesk as a miracle cure, they also complained about the inability to standardize doses due to the variation in the potency of different cannabis plants. They also wrote about the challenges posed by the common adulteration of dawamesk, which was exported from North Africa and often laced with other psychoactive plant extracts.
In the early 1830s several physicians and pharmacists in the British Empire attempted to solve these problems by dissolving hashish in alcohol to produce a tincture. By the middle of the decade, French practitioners followed suit. They developed and marketed their own hashish tinctures for French patients. One pharmacist in Paris, Edmond de Courtive, branded his concoction “Hachischine” after the infamous Muslim assassins often associated with hashish in French culture.
The popularity of hashish tincture grew rapidly in France during the late 1840s, peaking in 1848. That was when pharmacist Joseph-Bernard Gastinel and the aforementioned De Courtive engaged in a legal battle over the patent – then known as the “right to priority” – for tincture manufactured though a particular distillation method. “L’Affaire Gastinel,” as the press termed it, caused an uproar in French medical circles and occupied the pages of journals and newspapers in Paris for much of that fall.
To defend his patent, Gastinel sent two colleagues to argue his case to the Academy of Medicine in October 1848. One, a physician called Willemin, claimed that not only did Gastinel devise the tincture distillation method in question but that his tincture provided a cure for cholera, also thought to be a disease of the nerves.
Though Willemin was unable to convince the Academy of Gastinel’s right to priority, he did convince doctors in Paris to adopt hashish tincture as a treatment against cholera.
Physicians in Paris didn’t have to wait long to test Willemin’s theory. A cholera epidemic erupted in the city’s outskirts just months later. But when hashish tincture failed to cure the nearly 7,000 Parisians killed by the “blue death,” doctors increasingly lost faith in the wonder drug.
In the following decades hashish tincture fell into disrepute as the medical theories of anti-contagionism that underpinned the drug’s use against the plague and cholera gave way to the germ theory and thus a new understanding of epidemic diseases and their treatment. During the same period, physicians in French Algeria increasingly pointed to hashish use as a key cause of insanity and criminality among indigenous Muslims, a diagnosis they termed “folie haschischique,” or hashish-induced psychosis. Heralded as a wonder drug only decades before, by the end of 19th century the drug was rebranded as an “Oriental poison.”
Lessons for today
These earlier efforts to medicalize hashish in 19th-century France offer doctors, public health officials and policymakers today several important insights as they work to return cannabis-based medications to the French market.
First, they must work to dissociate cannabis intoxicants and medicines from colonial notions of “Oriental” otherness and Muslim violence that ironically underpinned both the rise and fall of hashish as medicine in France during the 19th century. As scholar Dorothy Roberts astutely argued in her 2015 TED talk, “race medicine is bad medicine, poor science and a false interpretation of humanity.”
Doctors and patients also must be measured in their expectations of the benefits of medicalized cannabis and not overpromise and then deliver lackluster results, as happened with hachichine during the cholera outbreak of 1848-49.
And they must remain mindful that medical knowledge unfolds historically and that staking the new career of cannabis as medicine on contested theories could hitch the drug’s success to the wrong horse, as happened with hashish after the obsolescence of anti-contagionism in the 1860s.
But if France were to engage its colonial past, reform its prohibitionist policies and continue to open up legal room for medical cannabis trials, perhaps it could again become a global leader in this new medical marijuana movement.
The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.
Virus Triggers Huge Spike in Weed Deliveries For Cannabis Co
(TMZ) — The coronavirus pandemic is causing folks to get more of their essentials delivered to their homes … and one major marijuana company is seeing green.
Select Cannabis, one of the biggest retailers of cannabis oils and concentrates, is raking in the dough from deliveries … the company’s marketing reps in Los Angeles tell TMZ the coronavirus has business booming.
The cannabis giant tells us it’s seeing 4 times as many delivery orders than normal since the COVID-19 outbreak — yes, you can get dank delivered in Cali — and there’s also been a 50% increase in customers purchasing vape products. The most popular items — edible gummies and vape pens.
It’s kinda funny, and a telling sign of the times … Select Cannabis tells us they’re pushing a new motto to encourage users to keep themselves safe in the face of a deadly and contagious virus … “Puff, puff, no pass.”
Sage advice, stoners.
Prop 64: DA Announces Dismissals of 66K Marijuana Convictions
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Code for America has announced that nearly 66,000 marijuana convictions eligible for relief under Proposition 64 will be dismissed as part of their cutting-edge partnership.
Today’s action marks the completion of the five-county Clear My Record pilot to clear marijuana-related convictions eligible for relief under Proposition 64. The other counties in the pilot include San Francisco, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Contra Costa.
In total, these five pilots will help reduce or dismiss more than 85,000 Proposition 64 eligible convictions. “The dismissal of tens of thousands of old cannabis-related convictions in Los Angeles County will bring much-needed relief to communities of color that disproportionately suffered the unjust consequences of our nation’s drug laws,” Lacey said. “I am privileged to be part of a system dedicated to finding innovative solutions and implementing meaningful criminal justice reform that gives all people the support they need to build the life they deserve.”
“Today’s action marks the completion of our California Clear My Record pilot, through which we will have helped to dismiss and seal more than 85,000 marijuana convictions across the state,” said Evonne Silva, Code for America’s Senior Program Director of Criminal Justice. “This is a clear demonstration that automatic record clearance is possible at scale and can help to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs. Looking forward, Code for America stands at the ready to help all California counties provide this much needed relief in advance of the July 1, 2020 deadline.”
Prosecutors this week asked a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to dismiss 62,000 felony cannabis convictions for cases that date back to 1961.
The District Attorney’s Office also sought the dismissal of approximately 4,000 misdemeanor cannabis possession cases that included cases filed in 10 Los Angeles County cities: Los Angeles, Long Beach, Torrance, Pasadena, Inglewood, Burbank, Santa Monica, Hawthorne, Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach.
Approximately 53,000 individuals will receive conviction relief through this partnership. Of those, approximately 32% are Black or African American, 20% are White, 45% are Latinx, and 3% are other or unknown.
Proposition 64 identifies three health and safety code sections that qualified for resentencing: cultivation of marijuana, possession for sale of marijuana and sales and/or transport of marijuana, all felonies. The law also includes dismissing possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor.
District Attorney Lacey used additional criteria to go beyond the parameters of the new law to ensure the greatest number of dismissals. Those expanded parameters include persons who are 50 years or older, haven’t had a felony conviction in the past 10 years or have successfully completed probation for cannabis convictions.
Based on this criteria, Code for America created a unique algorithm for the office in order to fast-track the identification of eligible convictions. This technology can analyze eligibility for thousands of convictions in seconds, alleviating the need for DA staff to go through state criminal records one by one to evaluate eligibility, saving time and significant resources.
AB 1793 Implementation
In California, all county District Attorney’s Offices are required to implement AB 1793 by July 1, 2020. Earlier this year, Code for America launched its new Clear My Record Application and Implementation Blueprint, available at no cost and open source to all California counties.
These resources allow every District Attorneys’ Office to expedite and streamline review of Proposition 64 convictions. The Clear My Record Application allows District Attorneys to securely and accurately evaluate eligibility for convictions by reading and interpreting criminal history data from the California Department of Justice.
Code for America has received an overwhelming interest from counties in accessing these resources to carry out the law. Code for America stands ready to work with counties that have not yet used this technology to help them automate the record clearance process and provide relief as required by law.
Record Clearance for the Digital Age
The current record clearance process was not designed to reach everyone who is eligible. With the current petition-based process, each person seeking relief must petition the court to clear their records, but this is a time-consuming, expensive, and confusing process. It is no surprise, then, that only 3% of those eligible for relief under Proposition 64 have received it.
Code for America’s pilot partnerships have set the standard for the statewide implementation of AB 1793, which tasks prosecutors with affirmatively reviewing convictions eligible for dismissal or reduction under Proposition 64.
This novel approach also creates a blueprint for the future of record clearance for remedies beyond Proposition 64 – the development of policy and technology that expands, streamlines and automates the record clearance process at scale. Code for America has been making it easier for people to remove eligible convictions from their records through Clear my Record technology since 2016.
To find out if your record has been cleared
To find out if your record has been cleared, or for more information about this initiative, contact the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office by phone at (323) 760-6763 or visit http://pubdef.lacounty.gov. The Public Defender’s Office will reply to all inquiries.
About Code for America
Code for America believes that government must work for the people, and by the people, in the digital age, starting with the people who need it most. It builds digital services that enhance government capabilities, and helps others do the same across all levels of government. It organizes thousands of volunteers across nearly 80 chapters nationwide who improve government in their local communities. Their goal: a 21st century government that effectively and equitably serves all Americans.
Learn more at codeforamerica.org.
Weedy Award Finalists to be Announced Feb 28 by Founder
HOLLYWOOD (Green Market Report) — WeedWeek founder and Editor Alex Halperin has created the Weedy Awards and the winners will be announced on February 28 in Hollywood.
Halperin said he wanted the awards to reflect his company’s desire to recognize excellence within the industry and to advance the idea that the industry should be diverse in its ownership and respectful of the environment.
The nomination process was akin to a reverse American Idol. The initial list was created through a nominating process with an all-star cannabis industry panel of judges to pick the winners. More than 500 people submitted the nominations.
The judges were given the top five vote-getters from the public nominations process and they narrowed it to three finalists. The judges include: Dale Sky Jones, Executive Chancellor […]
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This Just In…
- Petition Circulating to Ask Judge to Keep Ed Buck in Jail
- RAGE is Latest Venue to Fall Victim to the Pandemic
- Koretz Won’t Back ‘Uplift Melrose’ Plan
- Man Sentenced for Hit-and-Run Death of Pedestrian on Sunset
- Beverly Grove Man Charged for COVID Relief Loan Fraud
- County Hospitals Receive 300 iPads for Patients to See Family
- Processions to Cedars Will Salute Healthcare Workers on National Nurses Day