February 20th is “Thank You Plant Medicine Day” where we celebrate the benefits and healing properties of plant medicine.
Of course, this is a grassroots movement.
The United Nations decrees May 12th as the “International Day of Plant Health,” where they seek to raise global awareness on “how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect biodiversity and the environment, and boost economic development.”
Notice how “medicine” is missing from this list. As well as thinking we can sustain billions of people on a plant-based diet, the U.N. doesn’t consider psychedelic substances such as ayahuasca, psilocybin, and iboga to be medicine.
The U.N.’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs lists these substances as Schedule I drugs, which means they have a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical use.
Despite a growing body of research exploring the therapeutic potential of these substances, particularly for treating depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
The United Nations is as about as helpful regarding plant medicines as they were stopping George W. Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq.
So while others may focus on the popular plant medicines that produce psychedelic effects, I’d like to focus on five other plants we should thank. Some of these plants are so common we can easily take them for granted.
So today, on Thank You Plant Medicine Day, I thank these five plants that, without them, who knows where we’d be.
Thank You Plant Medicine Day: Cannabis
This one should be obvious, right? While Thank You Plant Medicine Day focuses on psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms, if you’ve ever ingested a large amount of THC, you know cannabis can become like a mild psychedelic.
But even if you’re microdosing THC, if you’ve ever had a stressful day at work, you know how cannabis heals.
And while CBD is barely psychoactive, let alone psychedelic, we have every reason to thank CBD-rich cannabis plants on Thank You Plant Medicine Day.
Whether it’s a double-blinded study showing that CBD can reduce anxiety, to promising research that CBD blocks a COVID infection, cannabis is perhaps the most versatile of our plant medicines.
Thank You, Cannabis.
Thank You Plant Medicine Day: Coffee
The coffee plant, also known as Coffea, is a shrub or small tree native to tropical regions of Africa. The fruit of the coffee plant is a small, red or purple berry called a coffee cherry, which contains two seeds or beans. The beans are harvested, dried, roasted, and then ground into a powder to make coffee.
Of course, I don’t have to tell you that coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world. Caffeine is a natural stimulant that helps increase alertness and cognitive function.
In fact, research has indicated that coffee can reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, liver disease, and some types of cancer. Studies have also linked moderate coffee consumption to lower heart disease and stroke risks.
And like cannabis, coffee is a rich source of antioxidants, which help protect against cell damage and reduce inflammation.
Where would we be without this essential plant medicine?
Thank You, Coffee.
Thank You Plant Medicine: Coca
Say what? Thank You, Plant Medicine, Coca? As in cocaine?
Traditionally, doctors used cocaine as an anesthetic for medical procedures. Today, they’ve replaced it with other “safer” anesthetics, which are more ideological than science-based.
Some studies have investigated the potential therapeutic uses of cocaine in specific medical settings. But given its reputation, most people aren’t thanking cocaine on Thank You Plant Medicine Day.
But why not?
Cocaine is a natural product derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America.
The coca plant has been used for centuries by indigenous people in South America for its stimulating effects. The leaves are chewed or brewed into a tea to alleviate fatigue, altitude sickness, and other ailments.
In addition to cocaine, the coca plant contains several other alkaloids, including caffeine, theobromine, ecgonine, and tropacocaine.
Researchers are currently studying these alkaloids for their potential use in treating pain, inflammation, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Unlike cannabis, cocaine tends to alter our mesolimbic pathway, which gives the substance its reputation as “highly addictive.”
Yet, I’ve used cocaine numerous times without needing to consume it daily. Some people I shared these experiences with were incapable of moderating like this. One was almost fired from his job because he stayed up all night doing cocaine.
But I also know people who have lost their jobs because they stayed up all night playing video games. And video games don’t “hijack” our dopamine pathways the way experts claim cocaine does.
Addiction has little to do with the pharmacology of the drug. Don’t let decades of drug war propaganda blind you to the medical and therapeutic uses of the coca plant.
Thank You, Cocaine.
Why Would I Thank Tobacco?
Continuing with our controversial Thank You Plant Medicine Day plants, tobacco is next. A plant almost nobody ever thanks or considers medicine.
And for good reason.
The CDC reports that 1,300 Americans die every day from tobacco-related causes. But when it comes to the drug war, some nuance is required.
1,300 Americans die every day from smoking chemically-enhanced cancer sticks. Can you imagine heading down to the dispensary for a pre-roll, but instead of pure cannabis, you got a joint mixed with sugars, cocoa, licorice, or menthol?
Finding “organic” 100% tobacco cigarettes and cigars is possible. But, even when you burn this plant, you’re inhaling hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, lead, benzene, arsenic, ammonia, and radioactive elements such as polonium-210.
So why include tobacco as part of Thank You Plant Medicine Day? Two reasons. And the first one should be obvious.
The same “experts” that warn us of tobacco smoke warn us of cannabis smoke for the same reasons. Some even suggest cannabis smoke is more deadly than tobacco smoke.
But not all cannabis is created equal. Likewise, if you’re growing tobacco for personal consumption, you have complete control over your plant health, including any use of pesticides.
As opposed to relying on Big Tobacco.
But the main reason I’ve included tobacco is its nicotine content.
Studies have suggested that nicotine may have some potential health benefits in isolation—for example, potential cognitive benefits, including improving memory, attention, and focus.
Researchers have also studied nicotine for its potential therapeutic effects in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
And, of course, the benefits of nicotine have to be weighed against the significant risks associated with smoking tobacco. Therefore, the most effective way to obtain nicotine benefits is through products like nicotine gum, lozenges, or patches.
Thank You, Nicotine.
Thank You, Poppy Plant?!
This might be the only blog online using Thank You Plant Medicine Day to thank the poppy plant, which is the plant that gives us opioids.
Aren’t we in an “opioid crisis?” Why the hell would I be thanking opioids?!
Of course, people with extreme anti-opioid positions probably don’t know much about this class of drugs.
Commonly used to manage pain, opioids work by binding to specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord. While opioids can be very effective at managing pain, they can lead to serious health problems if misused.
But aren’t they super addictive?
Have you ever been given morphine in the hospital? Add an acetyl group, and you’ve got heroin. Why would adding an acetyl group to morphine cause the substance to become super addictive?
What magical power is inherent in acetylation that turns medical-grade painkillers into street-grade people-killers?
And why did Vietnam vets, who used heroin recreationally during the war, return to America without undergoing treatment and recovery?
The fact is: opioids are extremely effective at managing pain. So much so that people who struggle with pain and suffering in their lives (whether mental or physical) tend to make their opioid consumption a daily habit.
For some people, particularly politicians, it’s easier to blame the country’s cost of living, inequality, and mental health issues on drugs, particularly opioids.
It’s an effective propaganda tool, but all it is is a scapegoat.
People are dying from drug ignorance and tainted supplies. On this Thank You Plant Medicine Day, I ask we shed the remaining vestiges of drug war propaganda and locate the real killer.
Thank You, Heroin. You may not be for me, but I won’t judge others who use you to find solace and relief.
Just as ayahuasca doesn’t appeal to me, I won’t judge you for doing what you feel is best for your life.
End the Drug War
Thank You Plant Medicine Day is an excellent way of promoting the different plant medicines and their use in our everyday lives. While the day started as a way of fostering psychedelic therapy, I’m weary of this bias for psychedelics and against “hard” drugs like cocaine or heroin.
Almost every plant on the planet can heal us or kill us. Even poison ivy has medical uses. Preliminary research suggests it may have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects and help treat arthritis and other inflammatory disorders.
So on this Thank You Plant Medicine Day, remember the underdogs. Anyone who’s been on a psilocybin trip knows its potential to resolve mental health issues.
But heroin as an end-of-the-day stress reliever? (The way some of us use cannabis?) Or cocaine as a fun, recreational stimulant to overcome social anxiety at a party? (The way some of us use alcohol?)
Thank You Plant Medicine Day shouldn’t be exclusive to psychedelics. A lot of plants have the potential to heal. And for that, Thank You.