IfA Director Insists on Strong Hilo Astronomy Program

Guenther Hasinger, director of the Institute for Astronomy (IfA), really impresses me.

I first met him when I sat on the selection committee for the new IfA director. On that committee, I was looking for someone who would understand us here on the Big Island, and who would advocate for the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo astronomy department.

Hasinger just announced that undergraduate students at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (UHH) will get viewing time at Mauna Kea observatories for the first time, up to 16 nights per year.

You can read more about this in Saturday’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald:

Guenther Hasinger, IfA director, said it’s unusual for an undergraduate astronomy program to be granted dedicated viewing time. Typically, observing time is reserved based solely on the caliber of research.

But few programs sit at the bottom of one of the world’s top telescope sites.

“From my point of view, it is absolutely necessary to have a very strong astronomy program in Hilo,” Hasinger said.

“We want to ground the telescopes in the community.”

Read the rest


He impresses me for several reasons.

First of all, he was scientific director at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics near Munich, and received numerous awards for his research and contributions to space science. These include Germany’s most significant research prize and the international Committee on Space Research award.

Also, he wrote a book called Das Schicksal des Universums (Fate of the Universe), which explains astrophysics and cosmology to a wide audience. It won the Science Book of the Year award in Germany and was popular in Europe. I asked him how he did it. How does an astronomer write a book that’s popular with the general public? He told me he can relate to the average person. Right there I thought, “This is the guy for the IfA.”

And furthermore, before he applied for the IfA position, he went to a ceremony at Halema‘uma‘u to show respect. He didn’t talk about it in his official presentation; we had to drag it out of him.

Historically, the IfA is O‘ahu-centric. And here on the Big Island, we’ve always had to fight for anything we get. With Dr. Hasinger, we have someone who is respectful of the Big Island.

Hasinger advocates for growing the UH-Hilo Astronomy department.

“From my point of view, it is absolutely necessary to have a very strong astronomy program in Hilo,” he said in the Hawai‘i Tribune-Herald article.

Read the University of Hawai‘i Memo of Understanding about this change here:

Memo of Understanding



Part Three: Who Takes Medical Marijuana?

Cannabis has a long history of easing medical symptoms or conditions. The cannabinoids within cannabis have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.

Who takes medical marijuana? People trying to treat a great number of conditions.

They take it in various ways: as edibles, in capsules, as a lozenge, dermal patch, oral or dermal spray, in a liquid tincture, or by vaporizing or smoking dried buds.

In some countries, including the U.S., there are also synthetic cannabinoids available by prescription. These include Marinol (Dronabinol) and Cesamet (Nabilone).

Seizure Disorder

Dr. Jim Berg, of Hilo, talks about the now-famous case of a little girl in Colorado named Charlotte. The toddler, who had a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome, was having 300 grand mal seizures a week.

Doctors tried every possible medication, but none helped. Finally, when she was five, her desperate parents Paige and Matt tried medical cannabis.

From CNN:

Paige found a Denver dispensary that had a small amount of a type of marijuana called R4, said to be low in THC and high in CBD. She paid about $800 for 2 ounces – all that was available – and had a friend extract the oil.

She had the oil tested at a lab and started Charlotte out on a small dose.

“We were pioneering the whole thing; we were guinea pigging Charlotte,” Paige said. “This is a federally illegal substance. I was terrified to be honest with you.”

But the results were stunning.

“When she didn’t have those three, four seizures that first hour, that was the first sign,” Paige recalled. “And I thought well, ‘Let’s go another hour, this has got to be a fluke.’ “

The seizures stopped for another hour. And for the following seven days.

“It was extremely low in THC and very high in CBD,” says Berg. He says this was key. “With that ratio, you can take it in much higher doses, much more therapeutically. You would never be able to do that with high THC because you would get too stoned from it.”

Like CBD, the cannabinoid CBG is not psychoactive. “It seems to have very strong anticancer properties,” says Berg. “There’s a lot of hope regarding various cancers including brain stem tumors, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. There’s been a series of studies done on those specifically for CBG.”

Medical Marijuana in Hawai‘i

In Hawai‘i, medical use of marijuana is permitted for “alleviating the symptoms or effects of a qualifying patient’s debilitating medical condition.”

Hawaii Senate Bill 862 defines debilitating medical conditions as:

Cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or the treatment of these conditions;

A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following: cachexia or wasting syndrome; severe pain; severe nausea; seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy; or severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis; or

Any other medical condition approved by the department of health pursuant to administrative rules in response to a request from a physician or qualifying patient.

“And it also looks like CBD is probably going to be good for things like Alzheimer’s disease and for Parkinson’s Disease,” says Berg. “We’ve had many studies showing that it’s helpful. It’s probably both related to its pain-relieving qualities but especially its neuroprotective qualities.

“It seems to help the nervous system function better, both in the big picture of working between the structures in the nervous system in the brain and at a very local level both, in the peripheral nerves.”

Next week, a look at state-of-the-art medical cannabis research in Israel.

Also in this series:

The History of Cannabis

How Cannabis Works


Are You Familiar with the Concept of Security Cows?

Ben Adlin wrote a story on our new cannabis operation for leafly.com and in it he talks about our security cows.

Leafly calls itself “The world’s cannabis information resource” and publishes news and other information about the cannabis industry.

Here’s the article:

‘Security Cows’ Will Guard This Hawaiian Cannabis Farm

To keep his licensed medical cannabis crop safe, Hawaii farmer Richard Ha is going beyond the security measures — surveillance cameras, an alarm system — mandated by the state. He’s hired cows. Security cows. 

It’s not quite what neighbors had in mind when they asked whether guards would patrol the grounds of his new grow site, one of the first to be awarded a state license. But Ha believed that armed guards would do more harm than good. 

“We’re not going to have armed guards,” he told his neighbors, “because we’d end up shooting ourselves.”

…The grow site for Ha’s medical cannabis venture, Lau Ola, sits on a 40-acre plot lush with branches and undergrowth — ideal camouflage for burglars. The cows, he says, will act as enormous bovine lawnmowers, clearing brush and increasing visibility. 

“We know cattle ranchers,” Ha said. “It’s a win-win for us and them. They get to raise their animals, and we don’t have to do the weeding and maintenance, grass-cutting and things like that.”

Ha knows the cows aren’t exactly watchdogs. So to up the intimidation factor, sometimes Ha refers to the cattle as “wild bulls.” He even plans to post signs to that effect.

“Everybody’s afraid of bulls,” he explained dryly. “Nobody wants to be caught in a pasture with a wild bull.”

Lau Ola, security cows, Richard Ha

Read the rest of the story to get the full picture.

Lau Ola, security cows, Richard Ha

photo by Pikaluk – Flickr: One Gorgeous Cow, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1460977


Part Two: How Cannabis Works

Scientists understand more about how cannabis works these days than they used to.

Cannabis affects our brain the same way as does a naturally occurring brain chemical. Compounds in cannabis attach to cannabinoid receptors and help with pain and inflammation.

Researchers first identified the body’s cannabinoid receptors in the 1980s. At least two types of receptors, known as CB1 and CB2, are found throughout the body. Mostly they are in the brain and immune system.

“The most medicinal part of the plant is in the flower,” says Big Island physician Jim Berg. “That part of the plant produces most of the medicinal agents.”

Those medicinal agents in cannabis primarily fall into two categories – cannabinoids and terpenes.


Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that act upon cannabinoid receptors in the brain. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Natural Products, researchers have isolated at least 113 different cannabinoids in cannabis. They all have different effects.

  • Perhaps the best known cannabinoid is THC, which is cannabis’s primary psychoactive compound. This is what people who smoke marijuana for the “high” are reacting to.
  • Another cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD). “CBD is not very psychoactive,” says Berg. “So that’s the one that has a lot of medicinal properties without being intoxicating in any way.”


Terpenes, on the other hand, are volatile essential oils. The plant produces these primarily to protect itself from both insects and UV light. These essential oils have an odor, which is what gives cannabis its smell and flavor.

“Many other types of plants have terpenes as well. Some of the terpenes are found in mango, black pepper, and hops,” says Berg. Terpenes have medicinal properties wherever they are found. “Black pepper is strongly anti-inflammatory,” he says. “It can be used both topically and internally for that. Mango definitely has some of the properties, too.”

How cannabis works is by attaching to cannabinoid receptors. CB1 receptors are primarily in the brain, as well as the male and female reproductive systems, the eye and the retina. These impact the psychological effects of THC.

CB2 receptors are mostly in cells of the immune system, where they increase some immune responses and decrease others. Non-psychotropic cannabinoids can be a very effective anti-inflammatory.

Last week: The History of Cannabis
Next week: What conditions is medical marijuana commonly used for? 

Photo at top: Cb1 Cb2 structure. By Esculapio at the Italian language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14390100


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 www.alohapueo.org

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:  www.alohapueo.org

Like us on facebook:   PUEO

Follow us on Twitter:     @alohapueo  #alohapueo

email us:  infopueo@gmail.com


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.