Work in Process

Started 1-1-1990 about

Being loaded here and finally released to the public for the first time, 8-14-2013


The Cannabis Years


For me, there was never that period I could call the “Cannabis years.”

Why not?

Well for a good part of my life I had seizures to deal with, which I got rid of back at the end of October of 1993 or 1994 (will fill this date in more accurately later).  But during this time, the seizures had resulted in my removal from an MD program, my need to undergo neurosurgery (left anteromesial TLE) on December 19, 1988 to eliminate the problem, and my need to find my way back into the world of the employed and finally graduate school.  Following my return to the lab 3 months post-op, the initiation of my teaching career in June, a few legal bouts with the past medical school for suing me due to my departure with outstanding debts, numerous arguments with npos devoted to epilepsy about this and subsequent failures of the system, a couple of early arguments with ADA about my rights to go back to college, and six unsuccessful graduate school applications over three years, I made it off SSI, back into college and on with my career.

For me, while having the seizure problem, losing control of one’s total mental state wasn’t the way to go.  The same was true for the post-seizure years, and for getting back to college, and for getting on with my career.

Now I know there are people out there with seizures who are going to claim that cannabis helps them keep their seizures and mental status in check, and helps to prevent the emotional turmoil of having epilepsy from getting the best of me.

Well, that was not my cup of yagi tea so to speak.

Those who know me know that for more than 15 years I had this banisteriopsis growing in my one bedroom apartment situated on the third floor of the house —  an apartment with a roof slant as one of its walls, a north facing a skylight window, and just the right walls needed to scatter light and let the place heat up enough to make a tropical vine like yagi think it was at home.

I/We got this plant from South America. I say ‘we’ because a half dozen or so shoots were cut and brought back to the U.S. by a friend who was doing some of the first plant tissue culturing work, mostly in Orchids–Richard.  My cutting was the only one of four in the Portland area to survive and I held onto it for the next 17 years.  On a good day in July, this plant would creep up the stucco wall and creep across the matching ceiling, one foot per day, until it climbed 6 or 7 feet, crossed over another 8 or more feet to the east facing window, and then start making its  way down to the windows  on the west side of the room.  Its vine was about 3/8 in diameter, with 8-15 inch bare stems, and paired 8-10″ leaves when mature coming off the nodes.

The plant became even happier about ten years later, when two of the three windows were replaced by a door leading to a deck installed for fire escape related reasons.  We could sit on that deck and gaze towards Mt. Tabor Park to the east, view Mt. Hood, and have Banisteriopsis creep out the remaining window for several feet up the wall behind you–it did this regularly, year after year.

Even my landlady liked to ask about the plant.  She knew I wasn’t much of a toker or drinker of the drinks that could be made from this crop, and that every year I cut it back.  Once I even gave her a stash of it “just to have” she said, but of course I knew she would give it to her son even later.  (One son, Mark, had severe head trauma from an MVA at 17 years of age, ten or so years before, and she gave it to him to keep him “mentally stable” so to speak; but she had two sons and Mark wasn’t always the one using it).

Usually I gave the bundles of twigs to other friends as well–I can recall Doug for one (an expert mushroom/hemp plant tissue culturing man)–he was a student whom I did not as of yet know that grew cannabis on the side, a War Veteran Jay who was also my student, and Mike the President of Oregon Mycological Society, and Glen–a local beer brewer and naturopath living nearby.  (I couldn’t say no to beer, especially a his special dark brew with Hyssop).

I recall the very first time I got feedback about how this plant was “tested”, told later to me during one of my classes on the evolution of these plant chemicals, by the “plant growing expert”, Doug.

Around September of 1989, a local grower sent we a stash of “stuff grown in his basement” . . . . by regular mail!!!!  The association of this event with ‘Doug’ wasn’t immediately affirmed.

It was encased in aluminum foil wrap, and had no return address.  The envelope was the smallest normally used–about 3.5″ by 6.5″–with bubble wrap included as a part of it.

That stash lasted me a year or two.  In other words I never tried it, not even taste it.

One day a friend from Humboldt came over, Mike, who found the old stash in my collection of teaching herbs, and asked me what I was doing with that much.  I told him he could have it, an invitation which he next took advantage of, right then and there and during the days that followed.  (I think that’s why he turned to picking ‘shrooms on the west coast–no, not those ‘shrooms, the edible ones–nothing better than replacing possible life in Staten Island once again by life in a cabin in the woods just outside Bandon, Oregon!)

The second time I came face to face with Cannabis is how I got into my work on hemp fiber.  Immediately preceding this event, I had given several talks on plant tissue culturing, and everyone in the region was into fiber for paper–“saving the Old Growth Forest”.  I was into the other uses for plants–their secondary products–my focus was on taxol from the local yew tree (which was a success, and reviewed elsewhere).

I had a plant tissue culturing friend who got through a patent and obtained funding from investors to culture a grass and use it to make paper at an old office building in downtown Portland, just west of the urban center, a couple of blocks from the UFO museum–his trick was using a specific bacterial/yeast culture to break it down into pulp. (Ultimately, his industry was a success.)

The Oregon Graduate School professors were also just into fiber and paper; at the Town Hall show (KATU hosted by Jack Faust) on bioengineering, this prof /researcher and I argued a little about the value of PTC (plant tissue culturing) in making medicines, something other than fiber–he told me my goal was impossible to reach; I told him his interests were an under-use of the technology.  (On that show however, I did correctly predict the development of the Canola, then called Low-Erucic Acid Rapeseed Oil, and the ownership of its genetic and utility rights patents by Canada.  See the show if you don’t believe me.)

With all of this very recent past, when I found the cannabis in Mt. Tabor Park, I just had to figure out what to do with it for my classes.  For this reason, one day, I was caught with the stash some local basement hemp growers whom I never knew threw out in the park.  Guess they got wind that they were about to be searched.

The best thing is, they got rid of all of their plants, roots and all, with flower pots, potting soil and fertilizer, and the unusable remains of their plants, and left behind piles of trimmed leafless stems and branches all over the heavily wooded east face of Mount Tabor park.

That first morning, jogging along the road on the east face, I ran by it and saw all the large flower pots, looked over the wall and downhill into the trees, and saw what could have been two or three hatchback car loads worth of plastic ware, planting trays, cordage, and defoliated plants.

I had no idea what to do at first.  So I back tracked my route, until I found a garbage can with a clean black garbage bag, snatched the bag and went back to the cannabis, and spent about an hour breaking it apart into smaller sections and loading them up the bag.  I recall counting about 45 plants.  All of this, of course, was with the intention of extracting the hemp fiber from this plant.

Next I started heading home.  Planned my route on how to get there fast, directly over the cinder cone of the ark, along rougher side trails through the woods.  I passed by just one jogger.  My plan was to take the side roads, avoid the 2 or 3 police car and popular jogging routes, in case anyone could smell me passing by.

The problem was, it was now approaching 8 am.  People were starting to appear for their regular daily jogs about the reservoirs.  One of them was a naturopath, who lived nearby and who was the husband of one of the most famous herbalists of the US and Canada.  ‘He knew a bag of bundled up herbs when he saw one’ one might say.  Or in this case–smelled them.

It took him about a minute to notice that stinky skunk-like smell.  Then, he saw the stem sticking out where holes were unintentionally pierced into the bag.

He of course then inquired about the herbs I was collecting, referring to the content of the bag.

His eyes kept wandering to my left side.  I’d try to shift the bag, but it was too well placed on my shoulder.  No way I was going to move it much without stuff popping out even more or the bag tearing open I figure.

So, I told him it was some plants I had collected . . .  but nothing else.

He said okay, smiled, and after another minute or two, that was that.

We both said our farewells and I continued my walk home.  Based on the smirk on his face I knew he knew. No doubt he told the rest of his friends about this as well.

‘Where did I get it?’ I bet they were wondering from that point on.  Where in the park could I have planted it?

When I got home I set it in the dining room on the table.  It probably sat there about 24 hours.

When my neighbor from western states chiropractic came home, she could smell it.  As could her neighbor Ron.  Both said you could smell it from the sidewalk below when you walked by the house.

So I double bagged it for the night.  Put it in the eaves with small doorways leading into them at the based of the slated ceilings.

It got pretty bad, so by evening I stashed it in the eaves outside the door heading into my apartment.

The next morning, the landlady knew, and tracing the smell, she came up to my place for a visit.  I had just cleaned the stems more, stripped their bark a bit, and placed them in a very large plastic paint pail, the kind that holds 10 or so gallons.

She told me she actually liked the smell (as did I by then, when diluted it was less reeking and such).  She allowed me to move the container out into the back yard, where I filled it with water, to start fermenting the stalks for their hemp fiber, all of this for a summer program I was teaching on natural products from plant.

The pail top was sealed except for the one inch opening in it.  Every now and then she would go out just to get a whiff of it, then reseal it so the neighbors couldn’t really tell.  Being underwater, the fragrance was now very well controlled.

The next few times that smell hit the air, was when I brought my bag of hemp to the class to show my students.  It did impart a very recognizable odor to the classroom and entire third floor hallway of the older Science building.  But this was the least used building, and used mostly for lectures like for my chemistry classes and a beer brewing class held just before mine.   That beer class saved my scalp so to speak–no one knew which of the two of us were responsible for the odor of the building, and most thought it was the stinky beer brewing demonstrations.

I was never sure if that professor before  me could afterwards tell what I had brought in, like the next morning or next time he taught.  He too had the chemical structures on the board related to my work–he taught classes on the sesquiterpene-diterpene bearing plant–Humulus lupulus or Hops–cannabinol and humulin are very similar in structure, stench, and behaviors.

Fortunately I also had a history of bringing Durian to the class room each year, mostly for the heck of it.  That also stunk up the third floor periodically.  And there was my coumarin rich Achlys or vanilla leaf from the woods there that I researched in my lab for ten years–I brought that in to demonstrate the sequence for making it smell up the place (you detach it from the root and a natural series of enzyme events kick in and in twenty minutes it fills the rooms with the sweet, creamy vanilla smell, that most people enjoy.)

Obviously, once you understand it was time for me to teach my classes again on natural products, smells like these weren’t necessarily extraordinary and so the smell of something like cannabis did not set off any alarms, mentally or even as some form of surveillance and investigation by campus security (besides, if security was there, it was usually my lab they needed to check–for 15 years I researched alkaloids from Ranunculales, Berberidales and relatives, which included the fascinating Papaverales–i.e. Papaver or Opium).

Outside the classroom and off-campus, the reputation I had with Cannabis came more as a supporter of natural products.  There were some other local businesses like the hemp products sellers I became good friends with.  (Got a lot of packs, knapsacks, belts, and other items that way.)  There was also that legalize hemp campaign I’d occasional wander by.

The earliest instigator of this bill I tended to avoid, but still visited at least monthly. (Floyd’s popularity was reduced by his medical / disability history unfortunately, but Denver, Colorado had a similar movement that took over reins for this social movement.)

Once the first store was opened that sold only hemp products, its Manager Jeff asked me to write these essays on hemp.  I decided it was time to tackle that product, now that the Chicle was done.  And so these essays came to be over the next nine months.

One year later, Cannabis Hemp products were one of the most popular new products in the local arts and crafts stores and events in Portland.  Jeff opened his store in the building next to Portland Saturday market.  The first non-fiber products that became hits were the incense and perfume products, and the hemp oil products, like hikers’ bars.

Things were still a little uncertain this early in my career. (It was my second or third year in academia as a professor).  Asking around, and talking with the Department Head, I decided I’d be better off waiting for a while before releasing anything like this.