Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Rastas Were Right

#reggae
Jacob Miller (left) w/ Bob Marley

While modern medicine is still struggling with acknowledging the full medical benefits of cannabis, the Rastafarians have known since the dawn of their religion, which centers cannabis as a holy sacrament somewhat similar to how Catholics view wine.  The 2019 documentary Weed the People highlights the anti-cancer effects of cannabis in actual living children, while the older Rick Simpson "Run From the Cure" film has a similar theme of treating serious disease with cannabis. 

But Rastas have been touting the holy weed's anti-cancer effects since at least the 1970's in songs like Jacob Miller's "Healing of the Nation".  He opens by asking the minister why: 

"You no fight 'gainst the rum head/
You no fight 'gainst the wine head/
You no fight 'gainst the cigarette smoking/
When you know, when you know these things give cancer."

While scientific studies are just now starting to prove definitively that certain compounds in the cannabis plant have anti-tumor effects, Rastas have somehow known this gem of wisdom decades already.  Pretty impressive for a people who largely live in utter poverty, many in shacks with dirt floors & surrounded by government-sanctioned violence.  Miller's song closes with the lines:

"Natty dreadlocks know, natty dreadlocks know
Knowing the truth, the truth that collie bud cure cancer, yeah"

That's the thing--they didn't just view cannabis as a fun, feel-good drug or even a mere religious sacrament.  They relied on it as part of their first aid kit in many impoverished homes where more costly medicines were out of reach.  So in that way they were honestly promoting it as a health tonic as well as all the other good things we use weed for.  Rastas view cannabis as the "burning bush" of the Bible & believe several passages instruct man to use it for our needs.  They also believe it was growing at King Solomon's grave.  It's smoked to aid in meditation & in large group "Reasoning" sessions where spiritual & Biblical topics are discussed.  But even prior to that it was used for health reasons on the Jamaican island; brewed into tea or mixed with tobacco. 

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Trenchtown neighborhood of Jamaica

Not only that, Rastas were among the first to persistently & pointedly call out the hypocrisy of legalizing certain drugs like cancerous cigarettes & deadly alcohol while demonizing cannabis.  Peter Tosh opens his song "Bush Doctor" with the words "Warning: the Surgeon General's warning.  Cigarette smoking is dangerous...dangerous.  Hazard to your health.  Does that mean anything to you?" before encouraging listeners to legalize marijuana.  While rock bands were pushing cocaine & chain smoking cigs, these chill Black dudes were peacefully promoting--with science!--the use of an herb with vast healing properties.  (That's not to say there weren't some groundbreaking white bands doing a lot for legalization or some bad Jamaican dudes making the herb look bad...there were.  It's just rare to see the reggae artists get credit for being among the first to speak on this issue in such a thoughtful manner).

There were also lines in reggae songs about it curing "glaucoma" which turned out to be dead-on.  Glaucoma was one of the first conditions medical marijuana was approved for in the 1980's by the federal government--which was still after the Rastas sang about it.  Bob Marley surprisingly sang few words about the herb for how much he smoked, but his wise man-of-few-words interviews show he was more of a lead by example type anyway.  Bob's wife & reggae legend Rita Marley recorded the inescapably catchy "One Draw" in 1981, a time when women in reggae talking about smoking herb weren't exactly common.

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Discusses the medical benefits of weed, including treating open-angle glaucoma

None of this seems groundbreaking in the year 2019, but back when a single marijuana seed or stem could land you in jail or get you beaten bloody by police, speaking the truth could put your safety in danger.  The 1980's were plagued by Ronald Reagan's black helicopter raids on marijuana crops in California & paraquat-spraying on Mexican-grown weed.  (Yes, they were literally trying to POISON smokers with a pesticide so deadly it's one of the leading substances used to commit suicide around the developing world).  Paraquat is in a group of pesticides long thought to cause Parkinson's disease, so who knows how many Baby Boomer smokers from those days might be only suffering the effects now as Parkinson's is an age-related disease.  The paraquat-spraying programs took place in the late '70s & again in 1988

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Actual warning about paraquat from the Village Voice

And ganja certainly wasn't legal in Jamaica despite their sunny disposition toward it in music.  Users were forced to hide out in the bush to smoke & dump their stash if pulled over by police just like the rest of the world.  Peter Tosh's popular anthem "Legalize It" was outright banned from airplay in Jamaica in 1975 when it was released.  During the One Love Peace Concert of 1978, Mr. Tosh dared to light a spliff onstage & go on a tangent about legalizing the good weed, which earned him a brutal beating in Kingston by police a few months later.  He sustained major head injuries & was never the same afterward, suffering hallucinations & nightmares until his untimely murder in 1987.

Incarceration skyrocketed when Reagan took office

For people who lived & preached so much peace, many of Rastafari's messengers died tragically young.  Bob Marley survived an assassination attempt in 1976 but succumbed to melanoma in 1981*; Peter Tosh was murdered by a thuggish hanger-on in 1987; Jacob Miller was killed in a car accident in 1980.

* One flaw in the Rasta ideology was that cancer should not be treated by amputation or "Western medicine" as Marley put it.  Instead of amputating his cancerous toe, he opted to have a skin graft & treat his cancer with "de meditations of me chalice pipe" which proved to be fatal.  By the time he decided to go ahead with chemo it was far too late; the cancer had metastasized throughout his body.  The decision to keep making music & touring instead of taking a break to focus on his health can be blamed largely on his record label & Rasta mentors, both of whom discouraged him from doing anything that'd slow down the money train.  But he really had a core belief that he could meditate away the cancer with the help of ganja, which was sadly a fool's game.  He's in good company though:  Steve Jobs also pursued alternative medicine options until his cancer was too far gone to treat with proven methods. 

While weed is extremely helpful for boosting appetite & morale when facing a terminal illness like cancer, it's no substitute for evidence-based therapies like radiation, chemotherapy & immunotherapy.  Perhaps in the future we'll have some cannabis-derived treatments for certain kinds of cancer like the types it's proven helpful for in the lab, but for now you'd be endangering your life to skip the doctor-prescribed treatments that have been proven to actually work.  They're crude but they're the best we've got.  Still, there's some evidence that concentrated cannabis extracts applied directly to tumors of certain types might help destroy them, which the bush doctors of Jamaica sang about in the '70s...sort of.  Gotta give credit where credit is due. 

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Children of the Ethiopian Coptic Church partaking

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