What Amsterdam Knows That We Don’t: 3 Startling Facts about Marijuana

In the 1970s, Amsterdam made a concerted effort to separate what they considered “hard” drugs from “soft” drugs. While marijuana consumption is still technically illegal, local authorities do not enforce the law if consumers are partaking in designated coffee shops and are purchasing cannabis with the intention of consuming it immediately. This policy has made the city a popular tourist destination over the last three decades. However, neighboring countries France and Germany have raised concerns that individuals visiting Amsterdam might be bringing the drugs back with them, causing the city to reevaluate its policies. Today, cannabis coffee shops are only allowed to sell products containing the drug to Dutch citizens.

In the Netherlands, 105 municipalities have at least one of these coffee shops, out of 443 in all. Interestingly, these shops are not allowed to sell alcohol. The program has been deemed a success, with many of Amsterdam’s historic districts rendered largely drug-free. By allowing entrepreneurs to sell the drug legally, the city has taken many dealers off of the streets. However, there is pressure from the aging population to limit the number of coffee shops that sell weed. In fact, in the ’90s, there were over 400 such shops. Today, that number stands at less than half. Dutch cannapreneurs blame the change on conservative leadership and a more aggressive stance on drugs overall. Ironically, this may place the US at the forefront of drug legalization, positioning the country to reap the drug tourism that Amsterdam has enjoyed for decades. Regardless of whether Amsterdam’s drug views devolve, here are the facts that led those pioneering lawmakers to shift gears in the early ’70s.

Our Ancestors Valued Medical Marijuana

There is ample evidence that ancient humans from virtually every culture valued cannabis for its medicinal qualities. Granted, ancient peoples the world over used a great many botanicals for a variety of purposes—sometimes just to get high—but cannabis enjoyed a long stint as a folk remedy for several ailments. Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, circa 2900 BC, believed that cannabis brought harmony to the body, balancing the yin and yang. It was a later emperor, Fu Hsi , who credited the plant with an ability to stave off pain.

As early as 2000 BC, cannabis—referred to as “bhang”—is referred to in Indian sacred texts. Specifically, the Atharvaveda refers to the plant as “sacred grass” and names it one of India’s five holy plants. Marijuana was used heavily as a cure-all, and it was regularly offered to the god Shiva. Mixed with milk, it was used as an anesthetic. According to several experts, the Bible mentions the plant as an ingredient in a holy anointing oil in the book of Exodus.

By 1213 BC, the Egyptians were using cannabis as a treatment for glaucoma and inflammation. In that same year, Ramesses II died and was ceremonially mummified. Upon examining the mummy, scientists found the pharaoh’s wrappings laced with cannabis pollen.

Cannabis is a Viable Treatment for Dravet Syndrome

Dravet syndrome is a debilitating disease that afflicts children as young as two years old. The illness is a severe form of epilepsy, and its victims can sometimes suffer hundreds of seizures a day. Each seizure damages the brain, and the prognosis for affected children is poor. Traditional epilepsy medications such as Convulex and Diamox XR have little effect on the illness, and they come with dangerous side effects. The disease typically becomes chronic at age two, with periods of remission before that age. However, beyond the age of two, severe developmental issues emerge as the brain is unable to cope with the constant barrage of seizures. Walking, speech and social interaction can all be delayed or impaired entirely.

There is mounting anecdotal evidence that CBD oil, derived from cannabidiol—a chemical found in cannabis—can effectively manage the symptoms of Dravet syndrome. CBD oil is low in THC, which is the psychoactive component in marijuana. This makes it possible for children to take the oil orally without getting high. Several parents of affected children have reported that the oil reduces seizures from hundreds a day to only a handful. Many of these parents have banded together to put pressure on the government for more research into the medicinal qualities of marijuana. Currently, marijuana is a Schedule 1 substance, and the federal government does not acknowledge that it has any medicinal qualities. To facilitate CBD oil usage as a treatment for Dravet syndrome, Colorado growers the Stanley Brothers have produced a strain that’s exceptionally high in cannabidiol and practically devoid of THC. The strain is dubbed Charlotte’s Web, after Charlotte Figi, one of the first children to be treated with CBD oil.

Low Risk of Addiction

Contrary to popular belief, cannabis does not carry a high risk of addiction. Research indicates that only around 9% of heavy users become severely addicted, and that cannabis addiction is psychological in nature, and not physiological. This implies that individuals who turn to cannabis chronically do so to escape stress, but that the addiction is easier to break than those produced by harder drugs, such as opium and cocaine. According to Leslie L. Iversen, author of The Science of Marijuana, between 10% and 30% of heavy users will experience some form of withdrawal if they cease use suddenly. However, according to research published by Andrew R. Morral in the journal Addiction, marijuana cannot be said to be a gateway drug. The research implies that individuals who graduate to harder drugs will do so regardless of whether or not they’re introduced to marijuana early in life.