The History of Cannabis

Take away all the politics and cannabis is just another plant. The history of cannabis being used medically is extensive, though; people have used it for its medicinal qualities for thousands of years.

So what’s the difference between “cannabis” and “marijuana?”

“Cannabis” is an old word. It’s the name of the genus of the flowering plant that is indigenous to Central and South Asia, and the Greek, Persian and Hebrew languages all have variants of it.

The more recent term “marijuana,” a word used more commonly in the U.S., probably derives from slang. The 1937 U.S. Marihuana Tax Act legitimized the word.

Whatever you call it, the history of cannabis use, both for medicine and ritual, goes back thousands of years.

Ancient History of Cannabis

In around 2700 BC, the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was prescribing cannabis tea to treat gout, rheumatism, malaria, and poor memory. Hindus in India and Nepal used it thousands of years ago. Ancient Assyrians used it in religious ceremonies.

Just twelve years ago, in China, archaeologists found a leather basket full of cannabis leaf fragments and seeds next to a mummified shaman they dated at around 2,500 to 2,800 years old. There’s evidence of cannabis use in Egyptians mummies that lived in around 950 BC.

And the South African Journal of Science says that, more recently, pipes dug up from William Shakespeare’s garden in Stratford-upon-Avon contained cannabis.

Jim Berg, M.D., who has offices in Kona, Ocean View and Hilo, is physician to about half the Big Island patients with medical marijuana cards. He says the ancient Chinese used cannabis for what they called “unsettled spirit.”

Long Ago Experts

“The Chinese had some interesting ways of calling schizophrenia and bipolar, mental illness, ‘unsettled spirit,’” he says. “So cannabis would settle the spirit and help calm people down, and help them get better sleep.

“The Chinese really had some interesting names. Like they said that hot phlegm obscured the portals of the mind. They used cannabis to clear the hot phlegm and to clear the portals.”

He says that by the time of Huangi, the “Yellow Emperor” of China who reigned from about 2697 to 2597 BC, “they had a very sophisticated system and their pharmacy was actually quite advanced.

“I would put their pharmacists up against our pharmacists any day, because we’re scientifically based but they were practically based. They would go pick their plants. They would have to prepare all their medicines and use them, and then they would get the direct feedback from the people.” The history of cannabis, he says, includes its use for childbirth in the Middle East.

In America

In 1619, King James I decreed that every colonist in the Virginia Company grow 100 hemp plants. Hemp is a non-psychoactive variety of the Cannabis sativa plant. Its fibers made rope, sails and clothes. Hemp was legal tender in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland.

Cannabis was used extensively in medicines and was extremely commonplace in the U.S. between 1850 and 1937, says Berg. “We have well-documented use of it being used by doctors then,” he says. “In fact, we can easily say it was the most prescribed medicine in this country for people before 1937.”

“It was used for sedation and as an anesthetic for doing basic procedures. It was used for depression, and it was used, most importantly, for sleep. It was in sleep tonics. It was in pain medicines. I think sleep and pain are probably the most traditional reasons cannabis were used over the years in this country – people trying to deal with their pain issues.

“And this is all stuff that was totally legal at the time. People could just buy from the guy down the street, or the guy in the wagon. Of course, there were probably many people who got addicted to the opiate in it. That was probably why it got to be such a big seller.”

Cannabis was mixed with other herbs, and often with opiates.

“Eventually, both the opiates and the cannabis became illegal, but until then they were used by moms and pops, by kids. It was in cough syrups. It was in good, old-fashioned tonics, just to help you feel better.”

Government Changes

When the U.S. Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, there was suddenly an excise tax on cannabis. People could only use it for authorized medical and industrial uses.

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act passed, replacing the 1937 Tax Act. That’s when drugs were classified into different schedules for the first time. Cannabis and some other drugs became “Schedule 1.” This meant they had a high potential for abuse, had no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and there was a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision. It became illegal at the federal level to use a Schedule I substance.

(However, a synthetically prepared type of cannabis, Marinol, is commonly used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy and appetite loss caused by AIDS. It went on the Schedule III controlled substances list.)


It was significant to the way many Americans view medical marijuana, says Berg, when neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta went on CNN a couple years ago. He did a series of investigations about cannabis and its medical properties. Among other things, he showed kids with seizures treated with cannabis that has high-dose CBD (the compound with medical benefits) and low-THC (the psychoactive part). Their seizures responded remarkably.

For instance, a young girl named Charlotte went from having 300 seizures a week, some of them two to four hours long, to just one or two a month.

“There is now promising research into the use of marijuana that could impact tens of thousands of children and adults,” writes Gupta, “including treatment for cancer, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s, to name a few. With regard to pain alone, marijuana could greatly reduce the demand for narcotics and simultaneously decrease the number of accidental painkiller overdoses, which are the greatest cause of preventable death in this country.”

Hawaii’s legislature voted to make medical marijuana legal in 1999. This change took effect in 2000.


DOT Turns Over Palekai to Youth Education Group

On Monday, the Hawai‘i State Department of Transportation signed over about four acres of land at Keaukaha’s Palekai, formerly known as Radio Bay, to the non-profit group Keaukaha One Youth Development.


The 12-month revocable permit will allow Keahi Warfield and others in the community, including Patrick Kahawaiola‘a, president of the Keaukaha Community Association, to spearhead a community project to restore the double-hulled navigating canoe Hokualaka‘i.


The terms of the revokable permit are for twelve months, and then the Harbors Divison has the option to extend for an additional 30 calendar days. Extensions beyond the 30 days will require Land Board Approval.

It was a beautiful, breezy sunny day when the signing ceremony took place, outside next to the bay. Hokualaka‘i was on one side of the gathering and Mauna Kea was a backdrop across the bay on the other. Community members, legislators and employees from the Department of Transportation were present.


Keahi Warfield, who runs a children’s after-school program there on the site, said Keaukaha is an ocean community, and the purpose of the non-profit is to ensure children understand ocean activities.

Hawai‘i State Senator Lorraine Inouye spoke about the transfer of Palekai being unusual and a special day for the community.


“Rarely do you see this kind of transfer happen between the state and a community,” she said. “It’s nice to know agencies and the state respond to a community’s request.”

patrick kahawaiolaa

Kahawaiola‘a spoke too, calling it a momentous occasion and a first. “We will have to live up to the example so more partnerships like this can be made throughout the State.”

They will, he said. “We are fierce Keaukaha people. We will work hard and we will show you what we can do.”


GMOS Safe, Dennis Gonsalves a Big Island Hero

After an enormous amount of research, the verdict is in: GMO foods are safe. The Big Island’s Dennis Gonsalves, who designed the virus-resistant Rainbow papaya, is a hero.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine examined almost 900 studies, conducted over the past 20 years, and heard from 80 speakers.

The Academies’ mission is to provide “independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions.” They say there is no evidence GMO crops cause human health risks or environmental problems. Details  here.

But still, here in Hawai‘i, I am ashamed. One of our own saved the papaya industry with genetic engineering and we just threw him under the bus.

Dennis Gonsalves is a Hawaiian and retired professor of plant pathology at Cornell University. He was at the forefront of developing the virus-resistant Rainbow papaya. His work brought the Big Island’s dying papaya industry back from the brink. Without it, we flat out would not have a papaya industry today.

Did you know that people from all over the world fly Dennis Gonsalves in for help? They honor him and ask him for help with their crop problems.

Here, though, our own people demonized and sacrificed Dennis. It makes us Hawaiians look like idiots.

GMO Hysteria

Remember back in late 2013 when the Hawaii County Council voted on whether or not to ban genetically engineered crops? It was near-hysteria. The County Council brought in a yogic “flyer” with no scientific credentials to testify about GMOs. They refused to listen to our own scientists. We actually had to listen to the self-proclaimed GMO “expert’s” testimony for 45 minutes.

Amy Harmon wrote a very good article for the New York Times about that time. She wrote about County Council member Greggor Ilagan and his impressive effort to actually research genetic engineering.

Now the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine confirms that GMOs are safe, and we know that our County Council was wrong to approve a ban on them.

We’ve gone from anti-science hysteria to knowing GMOs are safe, but there’s a native Hawaiian casulty — a local guy from Kohala that people all over the world honor.

We should be praising Dennis. We should be holding him up for young people to be inspired by. He’s a hero and I’d like to see us honor him. It was very shortsighted and unfair that we did not stand up for him. We should all be ashamed.


Big Island Education: How to Help Our Children Soar

Are you interested in Big Island education and helping our children? This note from Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities, Inc (PUEO) shows you how to help:

Mahalo for all of your support.  We had a great turnout at the Contested Case hearing in Hilo last Friday.  However, you should know PUEO is more than just a participant in the Contested Case.  We are a IRC 501(c)(3) non-profit actively engaged with our community in providing educational opportunities for our children. We already have started our programs and there are more in the works.  For more information, check out our website

If you click on Support Us, you will see that you can order tee-shirts and make a donation.  If you received a tee shirt from us last week, you may want to consider making a small donation via paypal to cover the costs.  The actual cost of our first run of shirts was $15. Of course if you would like to donate more, we would be 😁!

Please tell your friends about PUEO!  Please volunteer.  We could use support in programs for all of our children.  Mahalo & Aloha!


“Let our children soar!”

Connect with us

Stay tuned with our website:

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Follow us on Twitter:     @alohapueo  #alohapueo

email us:


Better Farming Through Soil Full of Microbes

I’m always saying, “If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.” It’s very basic. But what’s also basic is that if the soil is healthy, the plants will grow.

Nobody wants to need pesticides to grow their food, but you need some way to keep the disease and pests away from the plants. Using pesticides is expensive, and it’s something most farmers just would rather not do.

Now scientists are talking about how microbes in the dirt may protect plants just as our own immune system protects our bodies. They are discovering that there is a real similarity between soil immunity and a human’s immune system.

From The New York Times:

Researchers divide our immune responses into two types: an all-purpose defense against invaders, and precise assaults on specific enemies. Soil microbes seem to rely on a similarly two-pronged strategy.

When soils are loaded with microbes, they use so many nutrients that it’s hard for a lethal blight or other pathogen to gain a foothold. Some may manage to survive, but they don’t flourish — or wreak havoc on plants.

When scientists heat up soil and kill its native microbes, pathogens begin to grow, feasting on the nutrients in the soil and eventually attacking plants.

Along with this general defense, soil microbes can also target individual species of pathogens. Scientists have found that a strain of Pseudomonas bacteria, for instance, can protect wheat from a fungal disease called take-all root rot.

It’s a complex business, and scientists are finding farmers may be able to encourage plant-protecting microbes in their fields. And they might also be able to breed crops that are better at producing needed microbes. Read more in the New York Times article.

This is important research and could be very helpful for farmers. It’s along the same lines that Korean Natural farmers and other soil health proponents are utilizing.


Judge Grants PUEO Right in Telescope Hearing

Retired Judge Riki May Amano has allowed 20 individuals and groups, including PUEO, to become parties in the upcoming Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) contested case hearing.

PUEO stands for Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities. It’s a non-profit we formed that is dedicated to enhancing the educational opportunities of Hawaii’s youth.

Here’s a Hawaii Tribune-Herald article about Judge Amano’s decision.


Our group felt compelled to participate because of the decision’s impact on future generations. We also want the discussions to include keiki education.

This is great news. Allowing everyone in will result in a more robust and better-rounded discussion of the issues.


The contested case hearing results from a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling on the TMT’s 2011 conservation district use permit. The court ruled the Board of Land and Natural Resources should not have approved the permit before hearing all evidence.


VIDEO: Why I Support Thirty Meter Telescope

I hope you’ll watch this short video. It’s about why I support building the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea.

We formed the non-profit group PUEO to support education – primarily, but not exclusively, for native Hawaiians. It was formed for the very long run.

On video, I talk about how I became aware of rising oil costs and how much we rely here on oil.  We are so dependent on tourism. I thought about how we had better diversify our economy.

There is a direct relationship between education and family income. This is why we push education. And the TMT is already helping with it.

There’s a time we need to stand up for what’s right and be counted. And it’s not an adverserial situation. We just want our voices heard. Why can’t we have both cultural respect as well as taking care of the folks on the lowest rung of the economic ladder?

TMT photo courtesy TMT International Observatory


Treating Girl’s Seizures With Medical Marijuana

If you only watch one video all year, you should watch this about medical marijuana.

Jari Sugano is a hardworking and serious extension agent at UH Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. I respect her a lot.

Some years back, I heard she had a child with severe seizures.

I wondered how she handled that while working hard as an extension agent. But she did. Her reputation never diminished.

Then I heard marijuana was helping her daughter MJ. I considered Jari the least likely person to grow marijuana. I continued to follow her story from afar.

When it seemed like we might get a dispensary license, I wanted to acknowledge Jari’s story. She was my inspiration. The week before licenses were awarded, I took several of my team members to meet Jari. It was important for me to go before licenses were awarded.

Whether or not we got a license was not as important as acknowledging Jari’s strength and inspiration.


No Problems with Pesticides, No Need

Several experts have come out saying many of the recommendations made by a fact-finding group that studied potential pesticide hazards on the west side of Kaua‘i last year are likely not needed.

And then there was an editorial saying just that in yesterday’s Hawaii Star-Advertiser:

Editorial| Our View
Don’t overreact to pesticide study

June 9, 2016

A fact-finding mission to determine whether pesticides used by large agricultural operations on the west side of Kauai cause harm to humans and the environment found no smoking gun. So it would be difficult to justify spending millions of taxpayer dollars to implement all 28 of the panel’s policy recommendations….

Read the rest

And a news story from the Star-Advertiser last week:

State officials, experts question the practicality of group’s pesticide report

By Sophie Cocke, June 5, 2016 

State regulators and experts in the fields of health and environmental science say that many of the recommendations put forward by a joint fact-finding group convened to study the potential hazards of pesticide use by large agricultural operations on the west side of Kauai likely aren’t useful, would cost millions of dollars annually and in some cases exceed state resources and expertise.

The study group, originally composed of nine Kauai residents with diverse backgrounds, and facilitated by mediation specialist Peter Adler of consulting company ACCORD3.0 Network, spent months sifting through scientific research and health data to evaluate whether there is any indication that pesticide use on the west side of Kauai is harming the environment or human health….

Read the rest

The report, released last week, found no evidence that pesticides are making people sick on Kaua‘i or posing any significant environmental risk. However, it put forth 28 recommendations for continued monitoring and studies.

Peter Adler, who spearheaded that fact-finding group last year, spoke to us at the Department of Agriculture on Tuesday and afterwards, people in the audience spoke up. Two of three people who resigned in protest from that fact-finding group were present and said they did not think the fact-finding was fair or justified. They thought it was one-sided, which is why they resigned from the group. They were very persuasive.

Then on Sunday, Bruce Anderson, formerly the director of the Department of Ag and now  administrator for the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Divison of Aquatic Resources, was quoted about this in the above Star-Advertiser article.

He said he does not agree that the huge expense and efforts are needed. He pointed out that the recommended monitoring would likely cost millions of dollars per year. I find Bruce very credible.

“The bottom line was that there were no problems found,” he said, “and it is hard to justify the extraordinary expense involved in long-term monitoring of air, water and other exposures to pesticides. There is nothing really unique about the west side of Kauai. It’s an agricultural area, pretty much the same as other agricultural areas.”

I come to the same conclusions as Bruce.

Last summer, several of us from the Department of Agriculture went to Kaua‘i to see how the seed companies were performing under their voluntary “Good Neighbor” policy. This is a policy where they voluntary refrained from spraying close to hospitals and schools, etc.

We met with some of the large seed companies, and the senior level executives spoke, then the mid-level people, but I didn’t just listen to the bosses. I listened to the folks on the ground who were implementing that policy, and asked them questions, and found that their answers supported what the bosses said.

It seemed to me that the Good Neighbor Policy was very reasonable, and the way they were carrying it out seemed to make a lot of sense from a farmers’ point of view. Frankly, I came to the conclusion that it seemed like a very good program.


Why Are Robots Assembling on Hawaii Island?

For the first time, the State Championship event for Hawai‘i high school VEX robotics will be held on the Big Island.

The championship event in January 2017, which, appropriately for the astronomy-oriented Big Island, is called “Starstruck,” will host 30 to 36 high school VEX robotics teams from throughout the state. Winning teams from the State Championship event will qualify for the World VEX Championship games, to be held in April 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Last year, 31 Hawai‘i robotics teams participated at the World Championship, including eight middle and high school VEX teams. Kohala High School won the Judges Award. Twenty three VEX IQ elementary and middle school teams participated last year, including Kea‘au Elementary School.

Teams are already designing and programming robots to meet the 2017 games challenges. Schools interested in joining VEX VRC or IQ should email Art Kimura, Education Specialist at UH Manoa’s Hawai’i Space Grant Consortium, as soon as possible.

Volunteers are needed for the January 6th championship event. Organizations and individuals are needed for judging, refereeing, scorekeeping, announcing and queuing. To volunteer, contact Art Kimura with your organization affiliation, if any, and t-shirt size. Volunteers receive lunch, drinks and a t-shirt.

To qualify for the State Championships, teams must first qualify in tournaments to be held on Onizuka Science Day (January 28, 2017; volunteers and sponsors are still needed for that day as well). VEX VRC middle and high school qualifying robotics tournaments will be held at Waiakea Intermediate and Kohala High. VEX IQ Crossover elementary and middle school qualifying tournaments will be held at Waiakea Elementary, Kealakehe High School and UH Hilo.

VEX VRC and IQ robotics are the fastest growing robotics programs in the world with more than 16,000 teams. Last year Hawai‘i had 238 teams, and it’s projected to have least 300 in the near future, representing more than 30 percent of the state’s schools. This is due to an infusion of state labor work force development funds, says Kimura, who thanks Representative Mark Nakashima.

“Robotics would not be possible in Hawai‘i without the generous support of the community and the hundreds of volunteers, including team mentors,” says Kimura.

“On the Big Island, the early and continuous support of the Thirty Meter Telescope and Sandra Dawson has increased schools’ and communities’ access to scholastic robotics. Statewide, the Hawaiian Electric Companies and the aio Foundation have generously provided support where we have experienced a 300 percent growth in VEX IQ robotics in just two years. We are one of only ten states to show a +50 team increase in one year, and on a per capita basis, we lead the nation in participation.”

This October, an international robotics competition called the Pan Pacific Championship will be held on O‘ahu. It will include more than 20 teams from China, Taiwan, Korea, New Zealand and Canada as well as Hawai‘i.

“We thank the generous support of the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Hawaiian Electric Companies, the County of Hawai‘i (Research and Development), and Kea‘au High School, to make it possible for the Big Island to host the Starstruck State Championship tournament,” says Kimura.

Kimura says if the Mauna Kea Outreach Committee, UH Hilo, or any other Big Island organizations would like to help support the State Championship tournament, they can email him at Sponsors’ logos will be on the volunteer t-shirts and the championship banners awarded to winning teams. Sponsors are also provided with a sponsor table at the tournament.