Amanda Siebert is the author of The Little Book of Cannabis. Learn more about what led her to writing the book in this Q+A compiled by Greystone Books.
What inspired you to write The Little Book of Cannabis?
For many years, I’ve found cannabis to useful, not just in my own life, but for so many people in my community and around the world. I like the idea of showing people how beneficial its use can be, even if it’s something they might not completely understand.
Even though cannabis is used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, it remains highly stigmatized. What are some of the most common misconceptions about this unique plant?
Cannabis prohibition began less than a hundred years ago, so society’s idea that it is “bad” is relatively new. (Up until the early 1900s, its wasn’t uncommon to find cannabis tinctures in medicine cabinets throughout North America.) Also, cannabis use definitely does not kill brain cells! In fact, in a recent study, German researchers were able to show that cannabis has the potential to reverse aging in the brain. Finally, people who use cannabis aren’t stupid or lazy—I bet some of your favorite musicians, writers, directors, actors, filmmakers, and chefs enjoy cannabis from time to time. Equally unfair as the stigma against the plant is the stigma against the people who use it.
Many of us will be surprised to hear that seniors and baby boomers (50-70) are the fastest growing market in the cannabis industry. Do you know why there’s been such an increase in uptake among this age group?
There are a few reasons, but one large factor is because cannabis doesn’t come with as many side effects that accompany many conventional drugs. Plus, if people can find relief from their arthritis or glaucoma or Parkinson’s disease with one drug, cannabis, instead of five or six, it can make a big difference financially.
Cannabis is sometimes thought of as a “gateway drug” or entry point to future drug use, but in The Little Book of Cannabis, you argue that the opposite might be true. Can you explain?
Though it’s only recently been brought to the attention of the media, the idea of cannabis functioning as a sort of, ‘exit drug’ isn’t entirely new. As early as the 1970s, researchers in California were investigating whether or not cannabis could be used as an effective substitute for recovering alcoholics who were going through withdrawal. At that time, they found that when alcoholics supplemented with cannabis, they were more comfortable during withdrawal and less likely to relapse. That notion has been carried into the 21st century, and today scientists in North America have shown that cannabis could have similar applications for people suffering from opioid addictions and more. It’s even being employed at a modern treatment facility in California, called High Sobriety, where patients are allowed to consume cannabis while in recovery.
Do the different modes of cannabis consumption require different regulations? Are their effects known to vary in any significant ways?
While the different modes of consumption don’t require different regulations, the manufacture of certain cannabis products sometimes does. Canada, for example, will soon introduce special regulations for the production of concentrated cannabis and edibles—though the government says it could take up to one year after legalization for the changes to take effect. Edible cannabis—that is, cannabis in tinctures, concentrates, oils, or foods that are consumed orally—can certainly affect consumers in a different way than smoking can. Not only does it take longer for a user to feel the effects of an edible, the effects usually also last longer. And rather than feeling the effects cerebrally, edible highs are felt throughout the whole body. Similarly, “dabbing” cannabis concentrates like shatter, rosin, or wax—which can sometimes contain up to 90 percent THC—will definitely make a user feel more stoned than they would if they had stuck with a simple joint—which, on the high end, tops out at about 25 or 30 percent THC. Plus, because different strains of cannabis contain different amounts of certain cannabinoids, one strain might make you feel completely different than another strain. Finally, cannabis effects every person in a different way, which means that a strain that makes me want to take a nap might make you want to go for a run. The possibilities really are endless!
To write The Little Book of Cannabis, you interviewed some of the world’s top researchers, scientists, medical professionals, and consultants about the pros and cons of marijuana use. What was the most surprising thing you learned?
It’s hard to nail it down, but I think one of the most interesting things I learned was the relationship between cannabis and mental health. Many people believe that early cannabis use can lead to mental health issues, or that it can exacerbate anxiety—but in my research, I learned that these risks are often overstated, and that cannabis can be valuable tool for individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The idea that this plant has been written off in this regard for so long saddened me at first, but learning that minds are changing was uplifting.
Cannabis has been used as a health aid and comfort for thousands of years, yet relatively little is known about its effects on the body. Why are we so behind when it comes to the research?
One word: Stigma! It’s hard to research a plant that is so vilified, and it’s made even more challenging rigorous research standards set by governments that fear the plant is a risk to public health and safety. As cannabis accepted as medicine in more countries around the world, we’re seeing some of that stigma shake away, but every scientist I’ve spoken with says it’s been the biggest barrier to moving forward.
You recently became one of Canada’s first journalists dedicated exclusively to cannabis, joining the ranks of the Guardian’s Alex Halperin and the San Francisco Chronicle’s David Downs. Tell us: how, exactly, does one become a cannabis editor? Honestly, it sort of fell into my lap. Let’s just say it started when I got to interview one of the world’s most legendary cannabis users, Tommy Chong.
What is the most important thing you hope readers will take away from your book?
Cannabis isn’t scary! It’s a powerful plant with a purpose.