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UCI Center for Student Wellness & Health Promotion Holds Workshop On The History of Cannabis

The UCI Center for Student Wellness & Health presented a workshop that informed students of the political history, scientific findings and modern understanding of cannabis on Oct. 28. 

The event began with a lecture from Abby Hyland, UCI’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Program Manager, on a brief history of cannabis in America and the political ideologies surrounding cannabis.

“After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Mexican immigrants flooded into the U.S., introducing to American culture the recreational use of cannabis … The drug became associated with the immigrants, and the fear and prejudice about the Spanish-speaking newcomers became specifically associated with the term marijuana,” Hyland said.

Due to conflicts of interest, Politician Harry J. Anslinger, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and philanthropist J.D. Rockefeller Jr soon became key figures in the cannabis industry. According to Hyland, these individuals played major roles in creating a negative public perception of cannabis by publishing false research claims, promoting mass propaganda campaigns and pushing for the illegalization of cannabis. 

Media portrayals of cannabis influenced the passing of The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 which imposed taxes on certain dealers and dealings of the drug. One of the examples Hyland mentioned was the film, Reefer Madness (1936), which promoted assumptions that cannabis caused “murder, insanity, death … [and an association] with rape as well.” 

“Officers also had the right to arrest those who possessed cannabis so really the federal government controlled who had access to cannabis,” Hyland said.

Despite the release of opposing research reports, which denied the exaggerated description of cannabis’ psychological and social effects under The Controlled Substances Act (1970), schedule one drug cannabis was federally outlawed for any use. Hyland said that this made the study of cannabis and its effects extremely difficult.

“The New York Academy of Medicine issued an extensively researched report declaring that, contrary to earlier research and popular belief, use of marijuana did not induce violence, insanity or sex crimes, or lead to other drug use. So they did their own research and found out that everything and all of the propaganda just wasn’t real and it wasn’t true… The Controlled Substances Act places all substances which were in some manner regulated under existing federal law into one of five schedules… Cannabis became a schedule one drug… it was officially outlawed, medical included. So scientists could no longer legally study it either.”

Hyland noted that cannabis is the formal term for the drug, and the slang word “marijuana,” is used to heighten racism. 

“The term marijuana was actually just a Mexican slang word, not even the formal term. Cannabis and hemp are the formal terms… American politicians and action-players used the term to induce fear associated with Mexican immigrants, really heightening racism at the time,” Hyland explained. “The term is associated with a false narrative of what the drug actually does to a user, so we don’t want to associate that term.”

According to Hyland, the idea of cannabis as a “gateway drug” is a misconception. 

“Most people who try cannabis never go on to use any other illegal drug … cannabis is actually an endpoint in drug use for most,” she said.

Hyland also detailed the routes of administration and explained how each would influence the drug’s time, course and intensity. Routes of administration include joints, blunts, glass pieces, dab rigs, dab or vape pens and edibles. 

She said, “The way someone administers cannabis strongly influences the time, course, and intensity of the effect.”

She followed this with a list of techniques to reduce lung harm.

“Using vaporizers that have pure cannabis distillate in them is going to be safer. The vaporizers are not harmful to your lungs if it’s pure cannabis distillate but make sure it is. Also, refrain from holding your hits in, it actually does not make you higher if you hold it in longer and you increase the amount of carbon monoxide in your lungs which is really bad. Also, never smoke leftover resin, so clean your glass pieces regularly after use,” she explained. 

Hyland reviewed medicinal properties such as the drugs’ treatment of severe pain and function as a bronchodilator, but warned users of the long-term effects of regular usage on brain development in individuals under the age of 25 and the potential of abuse. 

The UCI Center for Student Wellness & Health Promotion will be holding one other live workshop discussing “Prescription Drugs: How do They Work?” on Nov. 18 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. 

Rachel Vu is a Campus News Intern for the 2020 Fall Quarter. She can be reached at rnvu@uci.edu.