Literatus: Four-twenty

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

THERE is a controversial celebration in North America, which certain cliques remember annually on April 20. They called it “four-twenty” (written as “420”). It is “Cannabis Day.” The name originated from the genus of the outlawed Cannabis sativa. We know this plant here as the addictive drug marijuana.

There have been moves among these North American countries—particularly the United States, Canada and New Zealand—to have the legislature recognize it as a plant for “clinical use” (to treat certain diseases).

You may have heard about the strong lobby behind it. However, you may have not known that this movement originated from the codeword “420,” which a group of teenagers coined in 1971 in San Rafael, California. They called themselves the “Waldos.” Moreover, the codeword was actually the time in the afternoon—4:20 p.m.—when they would meet regularly and smoke pot.


Steve Hager, editor of High Times newspaper, made this codeword popular when he called for 4:20 p.m. as the “socially accepted time of the day to consume cannabis.” From then on, lobbying to have it declared as a medical compound and studied for clinical use started.

Let us make this clear: Marijuana is not chemically the same as the fresh cannabis plant. The most abundant bioactive component of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). In marijuana, the principal psychoactive compound is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The difference is not of genus or species, but the physical state of both.

Marijuana is dried cannabis. When the cannabis stock (flowers, leaves, and/or stems) are sufficiently heated or dehydrated (e.g. air-dried or under direct sunlight), the harmless THCA becomes the addictive THC.

Medical cannabis is grouped into two, based on its species. Medical sativa (C. sativa) is known for it euphoric high effect, making it useful as daytime medical cannabis.

Medical indica (C. indica) has a largely sedative effect, making it preferable as nighttime medical cannabis. In fact, one of the first (if not the first) cannabis drug available today is called Sativex.

Beneficial effects often sought by people include a sense of elation (euphoria), relaxation and increased appetite. The downside is worth considering though: decreased short-term memory; impaired motor skills; feelings of paranoia or anxiety; and no less serious, increased risk of schizophrenia.

I hope the cannabis “medicalization” will not reach the country. Moves to legalize contraception and abortion are complicated enough to add another headache upon Filipinos. The good news: current attitude among law enforcers worldwide looks at legalization as a foot in the legal doorstep for drugs. Should cannabis becomes legal, why not other addictive stuff too?

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 16, 2014.


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