The Cannabinoid Messenger

In recent years it’s been learned that cannabinoids are released from the cell to which signals are being sent, travel back to the cell doing the sending, and convey “tone it down.” There’s something satisfying about the likeness between how cannabinoids work on the neuronal level -toning down signals depending on the need downstream- and their overall modulating effect on the mind and body.

A Scientific American article reprinted in the Spring 2005 O’Shaughnessy’s explains this “retrograde messenger” process in detail. Even before the biochemists reached their current level of understanding, Tod Mikuriya, MD, inferred from the effects cannabis has on people that its mode of action was unique and that it modulated multiple systems within the body. Mikuriya presented a poster at the 2001 ICRS meeting explaining why “sedative,” and “hallucinogen” were inadequate descriptions, and proposing that cannabis be categorized as an “easement” and listed on a schedule of its own.

He also urged that cannabis be grandfathered into the U.S. formulary on the grounds that its safety and efficacy had been established prior to its being banned in 1937. “Back to the future,” is a slogan he often employs. A retrograde messenger indeed.

The research that needs to be done, obviously, is figuring out which components of the plant cause which effects, so that plants can be bred with desired cannabinoid ratios. There are California growers capable of doing this -keen to do it- all they need is access to an analytical test lab.

Cannabis therapeutics will come into its own as a specialty and research in the field will flourish when growers are allowed to develop strains featuring cannabinoids other than THC. It seems ironic -given that THC is the psychoactive component in cannabis, responsible for the unacceptable side effect, “euophoria”- that Prohibition is preventing patients in California from developing alternative strains.
What Will the Raich Ruling change?

O’Shaughnessy’s is a journal I produce for a small but growing group of doctors, who share it with their patients. The Spring ’05 issue appears at a time when the medical marijuana movement/industry has been expanding rapidly -more patients getting approvals from more doctors, more dispensaries opening up and down the state, more people growing their own medicine and feeling relatively safe thanks to a series of court rulings -including a federal-court ruling that protects the right of doctors and patients to discuss cannabis on First Amendment grounds.

Yet the Supreme Court ruling in the Raich casts an ominous shadow. In a commonly discussed worst-case scenario, the Court rules for the government and the DEA begins raiding California dispensaries and growers. Everyone’s terror level, including patients’ and doctors, goes to code red. The movement/industry stops expanding as millions of Californians who could use cannabis beneficially and economically but have yet to request a doctor’s approval are dis-couraged and decide not to try.

For patients who grow their own medicine, however, or do so through a co-op, a negative Raich decision changes nothing but the political atmosphere, according to most lawyers willing to venture a prediction,.

An attorney who has respectful relations with the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco advises, “The feds don’t have the resources to go after individual patients. Their attitude is, ‘If they’re big or if they get in our face, we’re going to go after them. ‘So don’t be big and don’t go public. Don’t have a huge grow. Don’t have a website. Don’t do things the feds might interpret as taunting. Respect the federal sentencing guidelines. Grow fewer than 100 plants and you should have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

This jibes with the view of organizer Pebbles Trippet and attorney Omar Figueroa, whose article on landmark California cases argues that patients’ and caregivers’ protections under state law are very solid. “collective, cooperative cultivation” can be conducted on a scale very unlikely to incur the wrath of the feds, according to Trippet.

Anticipating an interest in co-ops, we asked a business specialist how they work. A bona fide cooperative abides by certain key principles, starting with one person, one vote. The members pay to belong to the co-op because they want certain things to happen (for example, a Ventura orange grower joins Sunkist to reach the New York market). Members vote for a board, the board has a manager, the manager gets paid.

The original food co-ops in Northern California wanted to have organic food and had to be in control of their business to assure it. Today the food co-op in Davis is a big supermarket, but it’s still a co-op. At the end of the year, after all the expenses of the co-op have been paid out, members get a patronage refund -a precise fraction of the grocery store’s surplus, based on how much they spent there.

In a cannabis cultivation co-op, caregivers are allowed to get reimbursed for their expenses (water, fertilizer, electricity, lights and, arguably, money set aside in anticipation of legal costs); and to be reasonably compensated. No court has yet to address the definition of “reasonable compensation.” Our adviser thinks it might be in the $50,000-$70,000 range, which makes psychological sense in that it’s not more than a DEA agent makes.

“Some people don’t want to go co-op because they think they’ll lose control,” says our business specialist. “But it’s the most protection, including protection from the feds. No one’s going to go after patients.”

The state law created in 2003 by SB 420 explicitly promotes “collective cooperative cultivation” projects. Some activists now entertain the hope that the DEA, by picking off a few big operators, will impose a “mom-and-pop” character on the medical marijuana industry. “You may say that I’m a dreamer”


State of the Movement Spring 2005

The contents of the historic Spring 2005 O’Shaughnessy’s follow. The paper is distributed through doctors’ offices and cannabis dispensaries. To order by mail, send $5 to CCRMG, po box 9143, Berkeley, CA 94709. Having us send one to your doctor is a finite, practical organizing step.

o Vioxx and Cannabis -One Kills, The Other Doesn’t

o Cannabis Use in Adolescence: Self-Medication for Anxiety (O’Connell)

o Activists’ Cases Riding on the Outcome of Raich (Harrison)

o Cities and Counties Impose Restrictions But Cannabis Clubs Keep Opening (Gieringer)

o Landmark Rulings in the Implementation of Prop 215 (Figueroa and Trippet) Why “collective, cooperative cultivation” will be possible in the wake of the Raich decision thanks to precedents established in ITAL People vs. Mower, Baez, Bianco, Fisher, Galambos, Fishbain/White, Jones, Tilehkooh, Konow, Spark, Chavez, Arbacauskas, Conant v. Walters, Bearman v. Superior Court of Los Angeles, END ITAL and Senate Bill 420

o Letter to a Chief Probation Officer (Denney)

o On The Persecution of Pain-Treating Physicians (Fisher)

o Note to a Soldier re Cannabis and PTSD (Mikuriya)

o Reduced Use of Pharmaceuticals -A Recurring Theme (Hergenrather) o Medical Board Watch (Lucido) Report on 4 Meetings

o Dr. Wolman Comes Out

o How Cannabinoids Work (from Scientific American)

o Practitioners Perspective and A Cautionary Tale (Lucido)

o Cannabis Trimmer Attributes Illness to Pestidide

o Can a Trade Group Set Standards for Production and Distribution?

o Petitions ‘R’ Us -UMass Seeks License to Grow; Update on Rescheduling Efforts

o Medical Marijuana and Biochemical Balance (Melamede)

o Approval as a Botanical Drug (by an FDA Insider) o Another Indication for Sativex -But is GW Getting the Runaround?

o Marijuana and AIDS: a Four-Year Study (Brown, Smulin, Corral)

o ASA Asks Return of Property, Sues CHP for Disrespecting Prop 215

o Cannabis Trimmer Attributes Her Illness to Pesticide o California to Issue ID Cards (Komp)

o The Allowable Quantity Expert (Conrad)

o “Orgies of the Hemp Eaters” reviewed by Michael Aldrich

o Ricky Williams Does 60 Minutes

o Correspondence and Commentary

FRED GARDNER can be reached at

Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at