Fibre, food, fuel, Medicine, Religion, Law
Drug risks, Harm reduction through Regulation
Alcohol, Tobacco, Speed, Opium, Coffee, TV
Psychoactive Hemp, Marijuana prices in Japan, How many users?
Hemp is also one of oldest and one the most important fibre and oilseed plants. Hemp and marijuana are from the same plant species but are not necessarily the same substance. Most industrial hemp is unsuitable as a drug. Varieties of the plant grown for fibre and seed are usually low in THC (< 1% THC) and high in CBD which counteracts the THC, making these plants completely unusable as a recreational drug. Industrial hemp is explicitly exempt from international drug treaties. Under international drug treaties industrial hemp need not be subject to stricter regulations than spinach or tomatoes. Horticultural purposes are also exempt.
The word "drug" as used by drug abuse experts in English-speaking countries means any substance with an effect on the central nervous system. This does include alcohol, nicotine in tobacco and caffeine in coffee and tea. It also includes marijuana and various other prohibited substances. All these substances have physiological effects on the central nervous system and all can be used harmfully.
There's been a law against almost any substance that people take for pleasure, somewhere, sometime. Alcohol was prohibited in America in 1919. Marijuana was legal there until 1937. Tobacco was the first drug ever to be banned in Japan (in 1603), even before opium (1846). Both tobacco and coffee were prohibited in many parts of Germany in the 18th century. That doesn't mean those laws did much good. Most modern "drug" prohibition laws only came into being as recently as after the two World Wars and the driving force behind them came from the USA. Some of these relatively new laws prohibit plants that for thousands of years had been cultivated and used with little or no harm to society.
Marijuana is often called a "soft drug" because it is far less dangerous than heroin, cocaine or "speed", the substances that most people think of when they hear the word "drug". Many drugs experts consider marijuana less harmful to your health than alcohol and tobacco. According to these scientists, cannabis is about as addictive as coffee.
The United Nations estimate that despite the harsh penalties in force in most countries, there are 145 million recreational cannabis users worldwide, about 2.5% of the world population. More people worldwide use cannabis than live in Japan. On a worldwide basis cannabis is by far the most popular illegal drug. In most developed countries as many as 15-50% of young people have tried it while some 3-10% of the population currently use cannabis, most of them not daily.
While many Japanese still think of taima or marifuana as an addictive narcotic and little is mentioned about it in public life, use of marijuana is certainly spreading in Japan. As many as one in 50 Japanese may have used it already. In the eye of the law all these people are criminals and they could go to prison if caught.
The Japanese public needs accurate information on the effects of drugs to chose the best policy to address harm from any drug abuse. People need to know why marijuana became illegal, what it's effects are and if severe criminal sanctions against growing, possession and sale of the plant are the best way of reducing harm to society and to individuals.
In many ways the effects of marijuana are much more subtle than those of alcohol. Even in high doses the sense of balance is not affected and speech is not slurred. Often there is remarkably little external evidence of use of the drug as users behave fairly normally. Marijuana may reduce anxiety and relax the user while at the same time intensifying experiences of the senses, such as sound, taste or touch. This often leads to the "munchies", a suddenly stimulated appetite. Cannabis tends to make people laugh more and often they like to engage in long conversations. People don't tend to feel bored as easily and their feeling of self-worth improves. It may reduce inhibitions without being associated with increased aggression as alcohol is.
Experience of time is slightly distorted, for example leading people who drive under its influence (something that we do not encourage!) to drive more slowly as they over-estimate their own speed (see an Australian study for a comparison of the traffic accidents risks of alcohol and cannabis).
Cannabis temporarily affects short term memory so users might be a little forgetful while the drug is effective. They don't always remember what they talked about in those conversations. Memory function returns to normal within a few hours.
As normally used it does not cause what are commonly called hallucinations. You don't see or hear things that aren't there. You don't forget who you are or where you are. You still know that you are under the influence of the drug.
With smoked marijuana the effects start within seconds and last one to four hours while with orally ingested marijuana the effects start after about an hour and can last from two hours to a whole day. The effects generally wear off more quickly than with alcohol, but they last longer than with tobacco, which is why marijuana smokers smoke far less than tobacco smokers. After the effects wear off there is no hangover and there are no withdrawal symptoms.
Marijuana is not effective for all people. Many who try it don't experience any effects at all. For others the effects are experienced as unpleasant and they never try it again. With novice users, excessive doses and in unpleasant surroundings there can be panic reactions, but all effects safely wear off within a few hours.
Though there is some concern about long term effects of smoke in general, marijuana as such is non-toxic and it does not harm the brain, liver or other organs. None of the risks associated with smoking (primarily bronchitis) apply to marijuana consumed in food (e.g. cookies, tea).
There is no known case of a single person ever dying from an overdose of marijuana. It is safer to take too much marijuana than too much aspirin, a common over-the-counter medicine. 50 doses of aspirin are lethal, but it takes an estimated 40,000 doses of marijuana.
Even though cannabis was grown on each of the major islands on the Japanese archipelago there was no record of abuse problems with the drug. During the Meiji and Taisho era drug hemp from India could be freely imported, as it was in all major Western countries during the 19th century, when Indian hemp was commonly used medically. During the 17th century the Tokugawa shogunate (military government) had once tried to ban cultivation and use of tobacco. Opium smoking was banned during the late Edo era, yet hemp had at no time before American occupation been illegal in Japan. We don't think this was because all Japanese was non-psychoactive. There are several reasons to believe that psychoactive cannabis was available before 1948, but the availability simply never led to problems. There was no valid reason to prohibit the possession and cultivation of this natural plant. Marijuana prohibition was a break with millennia old Japanese culture.
From as early as 1912 the U.S. has tried to export its domestic drugs policy and forced other countries to emulate it even though it has been anything but a model of success. Since the late 19th century America has experimented with prohibitions of various substances and, not by coincidence, in most cases the prohibited substances happened to be associated with specific ethnic minorities that were unpopular at the time. The first US federal drug law specifically targetted Chinese immigrants. Japanese and Chinese were called the "Yellow Peril".
These minorities then became the target of a racist propaganda campaign by the "yellow press" newspapers which depicted marijuana as a "killer weed", a drug so dangerous that it would turn ordinary people into crazy blood-thirsty killers. The public was told that marijuana drives people insane and makes them uncontrollably violent. None of the claims that led to marijuana prohibition was ever substantiated, but when the claims were repeated often enough people believed them anyway.
The 1937 "Marihuana Tax Act" that followed was a drug prohibition law dressed up as a tax law to avoid it being declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, (which threw out the law anyway, in 1969). It was the first federal law against marijuana in 300 years of history of a country whose first and third presidents, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, had both grown marijuana on their farms. By criminalising marijuana, Blacks and Hispanics could now easily be arrested, jailed and intimidated. The Marijuana Tax Act was an instrument of racism, pure and simple. The drugs laws provided a tool for persecuting ethnic minorities, just like with alcohol prohibition.
When marijuana was banned in the USA there was no credible evidence that its use caused any significant problems. When the 1937 "Marihuana Tax Act" was prepared even Dr Woodward, the representative of the American Medical Association (AMA) objected to prohibiting the drug and asked where the evidence for its harmfulness was.
Essentially marijuana was banned because that provided a tool for harassing the people amongst whom its use was popular, such as ethnic minorities and Jazz musicians. In the 1960s when marijuana became popular amongst young people in the West and in Japan the same drug laws provided a convenient tool to harrass anti-war protestors. Nowadays 70% of all marijuana arrests in Japan are amongst people under 30, people who have little power or status in Japanese society.
Every major inquiry into marijuana ever conducted, from the report of the Indian Hemp Drug Commission in the 1890s in the British colony of India to European and Australian studies one century later, has come to the same conclusions: That marijuana is a relatively benign drug and that criminalising its users does more harm than good. Some examples:
Many of these drug studies and others are available in part or in full on the internet.
The government doesn't want to change the law either, since the fear of arrest is useful. It makes many citizens stay quiet. Politicians like citizens who don't cause them trouble and so does the police. Politicians can always use drug abuse as an excuse for all kinds of social problems that they are unwilling to address. By playing on people's fears of drugs politicians can justify new laws that ristrict civil liberties and give the state more power. Simply put, drug prohibition creates fear and fear helps to manipulate and control people. That's why this sad situation has become self-perpetuating.
Good introductions to the subject of drug prohibition are:
Here is some information about specific drugs in Japan: