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Great moments in marijuana history are being revealed
David Bienenstock has made it his mission to keep the history of cannabis alive.
- Cannabis journalists David Bienenstock and Abdullah Saeed launched Great Moments in Weed History to share the history of marijuana.
- They cover hilarious and amazing weed tales about Willie Nelson. Louis Armstrong, Barack Obama, and Fela Kuti.
- In this interview with Big Think, Bienenstock says it's essential to keep the history of marijuana alive in the corporatized age.
Louis Armstrong was a prodigious sweater, though that was usually when he was blowing on his trumpet. Having just completed an international tour as a Goodwill Ambassador for the US government, he was waiting in line at customs at New York's Idlewild Airport in 1958. Until this day he had never had to wait in line to go through customs. As a representative of the government (and one of the nation's most beloved jazz musicians), Armstrong was usually waved through.
The problem was he had three pounds of marijuana stashed in his suitcase.
When then-Vice President Richard Nixon approached Armstrong, the politician had no clue why he was sweating so much. He only expressed his deep love for the artist. In a moment destined for the history books—and in this case, podcasts—Nixon asked Satchmo if there was anything he could do for him. Yes, Armstrong replied, carry my luggage through customs. That is how the man who became notorious for codifying Harry Anslinger's racist drug policing as the "War on Drugs" became a drug mule for his favorite musician.
That is only one of the many tales featured on the podcast, Great Moments in Weed History, hosted by cannabis journalists David Bienenstock and Abdullah Saeed. For Bienenstock, who started working as a cannabis journalist in 2002 (playing that role for both High Times and Vice), it's important to preserve the legacy one of the planet's most important plants. During a time when most headlines discuss how much money the cannabis industry is raking in, he wants to remind everyone what led to this point in history. As he told me last week,
"There's so many incredible cannabis history stories that if we don't tell them, I don't know who's going to. A lot of what's in the media these days is about who's going to make a lot of money with big businesses moving in. That's an important story, but it doesn't tell the story of what this community overcame and survived. The more I get into stories like Willie Nelson smoking a joint on the roof of the White House or Napoleon invading Egypt is how hashish got to Europe, you just realize that these stories are not just fun and interesting, but a really important and a big part of human history."
This community, of course, was saddened to learned that Willie Nelson recently announced he stopped smoking. Yet as his son confirmed, there are other means to enjoy cannabis, such as "vaping, edibles, gummies, drops, etc.," all of which his father will continue to partake in.
'Great Moments in Weed History' Is Your New Favorite Podcast | NowThis
If anyone has the right to get in on the cannabis industry, it's Nelson, along with perhaps Snoop Dogg—both men have started marijuana companies. The corporate attitude is why Bienenstock left High Times after serving for many years as the publication's Head of Content. He met Saeed while working on Vice Media's marijuana cooking show, Bong Appetit. Downtime allowed the two men to bond over joints and stories, a trend that has found new life on the podcast: they always record high.
Investing some money in DYI podcast equipment, they created Season One by talking about the cannabis-related tale behind one of Fela Kuti's most famous songs, "Expensive Shit," Carl Sagan's love of lighting up, Maya Angelou's overlooked love for sticky buds, and Bob Dylan smoking out the Beatles for the first time. Sure, Introducing… The Beatles is a fun album, but you don't get to Rubber Soul or Revolver without Dylan's influence. Even Kuti needed the good herb to transform from James Brown-meets-jazz cover artist to the creator of Afrobeat, arguably (in my opinion, inarguably) Africa's greatest musical contribution in the twentieth century. (Okay, it's in tough competition with Tuareg music, but that's for another time.)
Bienenstock doesn't want to lose this rich history in the face of the sordid history that legislation against cannabis has caused in the last century.
"I'm 100% against anyone getting arrested for cannabis for any reason. To the extent that we are stopping those arrests [due to legalization] is such an incredible thing, not just for people who smoke pot, but for everyone. That benefits society at every level. When I first started reporting on cannabis in 2002, almost every story was about people having their lives ruined, having their children taken away from them, having their doors kicked down in the middle of the night. Obviously, that still goes on, not just in certain States, but all around the world."
Which is why he keeps referring to cannabis as a "fight," given all that so many have endured over the last hundred years. That doesn't given the capitalist attitude toward marijuana legalization a free pass. Bienenstock might be all for taking criminalization off the books, yet how we approach the plant as a society matters, and some companies are getting it wrong.
"The buying and selling of cannabis has been going on as long as the buying and selling of anything else. But now we are moving it into a capitalistic system that I believe corrupts everything, at least in the way that we have it in the United States, where the richest and most powerful people have undue influence over everything. Now they want to have undue influence over cannabis. That's going to be a very tough fight. But I believe in this community. That's one of the recurring themes in the show. Every episode is about a different sort of triumph of the cannabis community."
The jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong, also known as Satchmo, shouts with delight as his fellow performer Edmund Hall takes a bow after a solo at a 1956 concert.
Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
After going DYI for Season One, the duo teamed up with Spoke Media for Season Two, putting some might behind the storytelling. The initial format had Bienenstock relating a historical tale that Saeed had no prior knowledge of. His reactions are in the moment—Flavor Flav's ad libbing to Chuck D's knowledge—making for a wonderful blend of education and humor. In the second season they split that format; Saeed now plays Chuck half the time, a flow they'll be continuing moving forward.
They cover familiar figures in enlightening deep dives during the latest season, including President Obama's involvement in the weed-smoking Choom Gang (he inhaled) and a memorable story that any fellow Gen Xer that grew up loving wrestling will adore: "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and The Iron Sheik getting high together.
Bienenstock doesn't reveal any of Season Three—it would ruin the surprise if Saeed happens to catch this article. We instead end our talk discussing CBD, the marketed wonder-drug that, as I've written about in this column, we should be skeptical of, not because of its wonderful therapeutic capabilities, but because companies are racing their horses while the carts haven't left the stable. Bienenstock introduces me to Project CBD, which he says is the premier destination for credible research on the cannabinoid.
Bienenstock also references a 2014 Vice article he wrote on families moving to Colorado to offer this substance to their children. The FDA-approved Epidiolex remains the only cannabis-related drug to legally be sold on the pharmaceutical market, but just five years ago families had to endure their young children's endless rounds of seizures. Efficacy rates are an important component in this movement, though Bienenstock warns about gas station tinctures.
"My biggest area of concern at this point is what is your source of CBD? If you're buying it at a gas station or a truck stop or Bed Bath & Beyond, where was that CBD derived from and is it actually in the amount that's on the packaging? If you're using CBD for 'wellness,' that's very different than if you're trying to treat a specific ailment. Even if that ailment is something like anxiety or chronic pain, it's hard to find information on what specific doses you should use."
When I follow up by mentioning my skepticism of the $10 CBD coffee at your local coffee shop, he replies by saying, "I think what you're talking about is the Carl's Jr. CBD hamburger." Just as with Great Moments in Weed History, our conversation ends with a laugh.
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
A recent study tested how well the fungi species Cladosporium sphaerospermum blocked cosmic radiation aboard the International Space Station.
- Radiation is one of the biggest threats to astronauts' safety during long-term missions.
- C. sphaerospermum is known to thrive in high-radiation environments through a process called radiosynthesis.
- The results of the study suggest that a thin layer of the fungus could serve as an effective shield against cosmic radiation for astronauts.
Shunk et al.<p>Additionally, the fungus is self-replicating, meaning astronauts would potentially be able to "grow" new radiation shielding on deep-space missions, instead of having to rely on a costly and complicated interplanetary supply chain.</p><p>Still, the researchers weren't sure whether <em>C. sphaerospermum</em> would survive on the space station. Nils J.H. Averesch, a co-author of the <a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.16.205534v1.full.pdf" target="_blank">study published on the preprint server bioRxiv</a>, told <a href="https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/fungus-that-eats-radiation-could-be-cosmic-ray-shield" target="_blank">SYFY WIRE</a>:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"While on Earth, most sources of radiation are gamma- and/or X-rays; radiation in space and on Mars (also known as GCR or galactic cosmic radiation) is of a completely different kind and involves highly energetic particles, mostly protons. This radiation is even more destructive than X- and gamma-rays, so not even survival of the fungus on the ISS was a given."</p>
International Space Station
NASA<p>To be sure, the researchers said more research is needed, and that <em>C. sphaerospermum</em> would likely be used in combination with other radiation-shielding technology aboard spacecraft. But the findings highlight how relatively simple biotechnologies may offer outsized benefits on upcoming space missions.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Often nature has already developed blindly obvious yet surprisingly effective solutions to engineering and design problems faced as humankind evolves – C. sphaerospermum and melanin could thus prove to be invaluable in providing adequate protection of explorers on future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond," the researchers wrote.</p>
Shannon Lee shares lessons from her father in her new book, "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- Bruce Lee would have turned 80 years old on November 27, 2020. The legendary actor and martial artist's daughter, Shannon Lee, shares some of his wisdom and his philosophy on self help in a new book titled "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- In this video, Shannon shares a story of the fight that led to her father beginning a deeper philosophical journey, and how that informed his unique expression of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do.
- One lesson passed down from Bruce Lee was his use and placement of physical symbols as a way to help "cement for yourself this new way of being, or this new lesson you've learned." By working on ourselves (with the right tools), we can develop the skills necessary to rise and conquer new challenges.
How to deal with "epistemic exhaustion."