Cannabis in the age of anxiety

To the extent that we can still speak of a war on drugs, it has been lost.

words jonathan mahon-heap source index issue nº01; buy it here now

The earliest attested cannabis ban arrived in 1300s Saudi Arabia, yet it is a debate NewsHub and TV1 hash out nightly. By 2025, the cannabis derivative industry of CBD is conservatively projected to hit USD$16 billion in the United States. Cannabinoids are the new thing — though they are a mouthful. Grass is easy, but has a musty feeling to it. Cannabis is vegetative, organic. It attends the same robust college of wellness such as ‘probiotic’ or ‘collagen’.

We live in an age of anxiety, something felt on a bone-deep level, with half the U.K. population reporting high anxiety during the lockdown, and 60 per cent of Americans reporting trouble sleeping. Already, the fridge of a Westmere café now reads more like an L.A. wellness clinic than the sugar-packed joys of my youth; probiotics, prebiotics, and collagen cans all glisten with promise.

Cannabis needs no introduction, but CBD still does. The New York Times is profoundly distracted by it, running ‘A Hidden Origin Story of the CBD Craze’, ‘What Are the Benefits of CBD’, and ‘Can CBD Really Do All That?’. By all that, they mean, quite a lot. The FDA has asked marijuana and CBD companies if they could please stop bragging about their health benefits (which include, but are not limited to, treating anxiety, depression, chronic pain, IBD/IBS, fatigue, addiction, and cancer).

Our competing pulses of self-care and financial preservation in this economy are thrown up by the wellness industry, in which CBD
is emerging as the leading player. After all, nicotine never did find its way into gummies, soft drinks, chocolate, oils, tinctures, candles, and protein bars, in the same fashion as CBD has. There are plenty of double-blind studies on CBD, confirming some benefits (as an effective treatment for those with epilepsy, or late-stage cancer pain), denying others.

I spoke to Aureila Ora, a local CBD provider, who accepts orders via email and Instagram DMs, and Holly Wright, co-founder of local cannabinoid start-up Organic Genetics. Their talking points were remarkably similar. Aureila told me her health journey led her to be “passionate about CBD, because I’ve had a bad experience through the pharmaceutical model… The doctors told me I would be on medication for the rest of my life. I’m now not on any.” Likewise, Holly’s experience watching her grandparents suffer at the end of their lives drove her to find “a better way”.

“There’s just so much potential for New Zealanders from it.” Holly said, and while “no products have been finalised” by Organic Genetics, as they tangle through policy with the Ministry of Health, she does mention capsules, tinctures, and mouth sprays. Aureila spoke frankly, but did not dismiss other alternatives, saying “I’m not discrediting the doctors or the pharmaceutical industry.” To Holly and Aureila, the liberating spray of CBD in an anxious age is something to which New Zealanders should be allowed to access. After all, Holly laughed, ”Everyone that we know
in California uses it.”

Indeed, Martha Stewart feeds CBD gummies to her pitbull, Kim Kardashian West hosted a CBD-sponsored baby shower, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP platform charts “4 CBD Cocktails to Impress your Guests With” (consider, for example, combining the refreshing duo of cucumber and ginger with the chill factor of your favorite cannabinoid). The impression from afar is that CBD oil is ubiquitous, is good, is here to stay, under all of its guises.

It is the promiscuity of the product that can be an issue. Yasmin Hurd, director of the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai in New York City, found in a double-blind study that CBD reduced both cravings and cue-based anxiety for recovering heroin addicts. But in her statement to The New York Times, she said: “CBD is not a scam. It has a potential medicinal value, but when we are putting it into mascara and putting it into tampons, for God’s sake, to me, that’s a scam.”

In a new contagion of fear surrounding us, the emergence of a product closely affiliated with smoking and lung disease seems poorly-timed. New cannabis-focused marketing companies spring up all the time to stoke such cynicism — Havas Creative Group, one of the largest advertising firms in the world, launched their offshoot in July. This is where the art of marijuana marketing steps in, and it’s one few yet practise in New Zealand.

Helius and Organic Genetics are the first two major start-ups of their sort. Going on Helius’ website, you feel you’ve seen sites like this before. An open palm proffers a seedling. ‘Wellness’ and ‘empowerment’ loom in soft sans serif. It’s a place you come to learn, with separate tabs for ‘Newsroom’, ‘Explore’, ‘Resources’, ‘Learn’, and even ‘More’ sections on its site. A constellation of news sites have interviewed its founders. The possibility of knowledge and wellness hovers before you — all you have to do is dive in. This is the bingo scoresheet of a good start-up, a slickly Silicon way of selling something new.

The names of both attend to the same aesthetic. Organic Genetics has the nonthreatening and vaguely scientific connotations you would hope, and Helius feels at once chemical and ancient (Helius was the Greek God of the sun). The copy of both sites invites you to embark on a journey. They are a resource. It is an invitation for you to begin, for your life to start, for you to feel what it means to feel well. There is even a Helius Index, charting the strength of products from ‘C1’ to ‘T3’.

They mention “The potential power of the plant”, which sounds great, it sounds like something we can simply tap into, as though we can unhook ourselves from the ballast of modern life by plunging our hands back into soil. We are getting more well, we are getting better, we are getting to the place where the grass is always greener. Everyone from Ariana Huffington to Gwyneth Paltrow is proffering the cure. And it does not feel like an extravagance, this dollop of a few drops within a mocha or a smoothie bowl, it is just an attendant symptom of being alive amid a global crisis, at home in a world on fire, and so on.

The Age of Anxiety is a phrase cribbed from W.H. Auden’s Pulitzer-prize winning dramatic poem, in which he describes a time where: “The lights must never go out/The music must always play/Lest we should see where we are.” A common anxiety afflicts the three characters of Auden’s poem, and, to him, this is the necessary result of the modern condition. This condition has not changed since Auden’s poem was published in 1947, and we are still tapping our toes to the music, still wanting not to feel, and not to think. Our self-care impulse is bolstered by the same economy that generates it. “Where are we?” Auden asks. What a terrifying thing to ask.

This week, I finished writing and researching and speaking to people. I logged off, everything, the alphabet of tabs drained from view, and sat staring at the blank desert sands of my template laptop screensaver. I fiddled. I felt the sense of relief, as though a very loud noise had stopped, and I could hear silence again, except it wasn’t the same silence, and not quite as silent as before. An inchoate noise began to fill the void instead. I felt restless. I picked up my phone, did a cursory trawl of accounts, and sent Aureila a message: “What would you recommend for anxiety?”

“CBD is not a scam. It has a potential medicinal value, but when we are putting it into mascara and putting it into tampons, for God’s sake, to me, that’s a scam.” ­— Yasmin Hurd, director of the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai in New York City.

“Holly and Aureila, the liberating spray of CBD in an anxious age is something to which New Zealanders should be allowed access. After all, Holly laughed, “Everyone that we know in California uses it.”

OUR STORY ON CANNABINOIDS FEATURES IN INDEX ISSUE Nº01
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