An ad for “Hasheesh,” circa 1863 made extravagant claims.
An ad for “Hasheesh,” circa 1863 made extravagant claims.
An ad for “Hasheesh,” circa 1863 made extravagant claims.
An ad for “Hasheesh,” circa 1863 made extravagant claims.

Here’s how 19th century snake-oil purveyors advertised a remedy for whatever ails you:

“Hasheesh Candy, The Eastern Gunjah of Enchantment, or Oriental Exhilarant and Nervine Compound. A pleasurable and harmless stimulant confectionized for Nervousness, Debility, Confusion of Thoughts, Loss of Appetite, Depression of Spirits, Nervous Headache, Chills and Fever, Impotence, Nervous Debility, Want of Vitality, etc.”

Afflicted Sufferers: Try It.

Seekers after Pleasure and the Marvellous: Try It.

And here’s how a local medical marijuana dispensary describes its products today:

Ghost OG: Fairly mellow to start off, not a very strong buzz … It does, though, seem to be an effective bud. While this has only a bit of couch lock, tactile sensations do seem to be increased. Works great as an anti-nausea, anti-emetic and appetite stimulant. Also works with muscle spasms, chronic pain.

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Champagne: Quick starter, immediately felt in the head. This is our most popular sativa and wanted by all that come in contact. Champagne is a motivational medication but can be slightly racy. A very clean and euphoric high that can relieve back pains. Great for nausea, anti-depression and is often used for migraine relief during the day. Very popular with a taste of champagne that will leave your taste buds wanting more. 

Peanut Butter Buddha: Second Place winner at the High Times Cannabis Cup! Peanut Butter chocolate, pretzels with 200mg THC oil. Incredibles produces all of its Marijuana THC Extract in house to make sure we have complete control over the entire process start to finish. We have perfected our process to consistently make the safest pharmaceutical grade Marijuana THC Extract possible, while activating 98%+ of the available cannabinoids. 

While today’s purveyors of Peanut Butter Buddha might not agree, the tone and content of their product descriptions closely resemble those of 19th century snake-oil salesmen. A full page from about 1863 in “The Good Samaritan and Domestic Physician” extols the virtue of hasheesh oil for everything imaginable, including “insipient (sic) constipation, whooping cough, diphtheria, melancholy, sexual debility and apoplexy.”

If marijuana is legal for medical purposes in more than half of the states, why can those who produce and sell the demon weed make the same anecdotal, unproven claims as those of their unregulated predecessors?

Prescription and non-prescription medications are tightly regulated, forcing pharmaceutical companies to eschew any claims that have not been clinically proven. Manufacturers of medical “supplements” carefully avoid medicinal claims, categorizing their products as food supplements of unproven efficacy.

But marijuana salespeople can say whatever they want. That’s because their products fall into a legal Neverland, where the very illegality of all things cannabis stymies regulation.

As far as the feds are concerned, marijuana still is a Schedule 1 controlled substance. The Drug Enforcement Administration lists more than a hundred of them. To make the list, a “substance” must “have a high potential for abuse and have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” There must also be “a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.”

Cannabis and THC are both on the list, as are heroin, LSD, PCP, MDMA, Psilocybin, Peyote, methamphetamine and a host of synthetic opiates.

Any substance so listed cannot be the subject of clinical trials, since it is by definition “unsafe to use under medical supervision.” And the Food and Drug Administration can’t formulate rules for its use, or restrain the claims of those who sell/distribute/grow it, since their activities are inherently criminal.

Leading toward research

In Colorado, where voter-initiated constitutional amendments legalized first “medical” marijuana and then retail sale of cannabis products, state officials haven’t moved to rein in the industry’s extravagant claims. On the website of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, a document titled “The Health Effects of Marijuana” takes a grim view. Light up, and you can expect “slower reactions, dizziness, trouble thinking, learning and remembering, confusion, anxiety, panic or paranoia, fast heart rate, increased blood pressure, less interest in normal activities, hunger, dry mouth, red eyes and psychosis.”


The state doesn’t test marijuana, but it’s moving sluggishly toward regulating medical reefer madness.

[/pullquote]This is a medicine? Alas, there’s nothing that the good folks at CDPHE can do about it, because “marijuana is a natural product that doesn’t have to be tested.” The screed’s anonymous author also sourly notes that marijuana “may help reduce symptoms of certain medical conditions.”

The state doesn’t test marijuana, but it’s moving sluggishly toward regulating medical reefer madness.

A grant program, approved by CDPHE in May, will fund independent research “regarding the efficacy of marijuana and its component parts as part of medical treatment. The grant program shall be limited to providing for objective scientific research to ascertain the efficacy of marijuana as part of medical treatment and should not be construed as encouraging or sanctioning the social or recreational use of marijuana. The grant program shall fund observational trials and clinical trials.”

The state’s fiscal interests are not well-served by having the existing two-tier marijuana sales system. Retail marijuana is subject to a 15 percent state excise tax and a 10 percent state sales tax, while medical marijuana buyers pay only the state’s uniform 2.9 percent sales tax.

Moreover, local jurisdictions can impose their own taxes and fees on retail sales. Such disparity practically guarantees that retail marijuana will be substantially more expensive than its medical counterpart.

“Red cards” enabling patients to obtain medical marijuana are only slightly more difficult to obtain than Costco cards. One need only see a physician (helpfully recommended by your provider of choice), fill out forms specifying your medical condition (“lower back pain” is a winner), pay a $15 state fee and $60 to the doctor, and you’re in business.

But the state is not amused. Retail marijuana taxes for fiscal 2013-2014, estimated by state budgeters at $33.5 million, came in at $12 million. That shouldn’t have surprised officials at the Department of Revenue, who had released a study several months before titled “Market Size and Demand for Marijuana in Colorado.” The study concluded that “heavy users” (defined as individuals who use marijuana daily) make up 22 percent of users but account for 67 percent of all consumption.

Those heavy dopers, it would appear, aren’t dopes — they stayed with their medical providers rather than migrating to more expensive retail outlets.

Possible strategy

So what’s the solution? One state legislator, assistant House Majority leader Dan Pabon, D-Denver, thinks he knows.

“I think it’s worth looking at the taxation on the recreational side,” he told the Denver Post last week, “but also looking at the rules and regulations on the medical side.”

“Looking at rules and regulations” might include more oversight of red cards, increased regulatory charges and fees coupled with lower recreational tax rates. The cost of registering for a red card, originally set at $100, has declined to $15.

Yet state lawmakers and regulators must take care that they don’t kill the golden goose. Cracking down on medical marijuana might drive heavy users back to illegal outlets, thereby reducing state tax collections even more. But absent formal federal recognition of state actions regarding marijuana, including removal of marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances, cannabis users, growers, sellers and regulators will remain in legal limbo.

As English writer and logician Lewis Carroll wrote a few years after the promoters of hasheesh oil published their ad, “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Sounds familiar.


  1. Mr. Hazelhurst misses the point. Yes cannabis is a Schedule 1 narcotic but this is not how it should be classified. Cannabis prohibition stems from the cotton growers need to get rid of Hemp as a competitor.It was also seen as a way to control blacks and Hispanic’s as they were the main users of cannabis in the early part of the last century. There have been many studies done in other countries that show the medical benefits of Cannabis. Even my highly conservative state of Utah has allowed limited use of cannabis oils to help with childhood seizures.
    I would put forth that if alcohol was a new product just being looked at by the government it would not be approved for consumption.Part of the process in getting rid of prohibition is getting rid of the stereotypes associated with cannabis. Mr. Hazelhurst seems to be part of the old guard on this subject, starting with a conclusion and writing the article in a manner that supports it.

  2. This editorial is just another blathering diatribe by an author who only looks at the truth he wants to see, rather than the full truth.

    For example, there are numerous studies showing the medical benefits of cannabis for seizure disorders, going back to at least the 1940’s in this country. My son is living proof that cannabis heals, seeing a 75+% reduction in seizure duration solely from non-psychotropic cannabis oil.

    But the author fails to provide any mention of positive benefits. In Colorado Springs, numerous pediatric patients are using cannabis oil for medical reasons and some are seeing 100% seizure reduction. Your opinion unfortunately disregards the truth and immense quality of life improvement for these children. Your opinion is an assault on pro life for children previously suffering, having exhausted other medical options.

    If you don’t believe me, maybe you will believe the National Institutes of Health patent on the health benefits of cannabis, just one example: Or is the NIH just a “snake oil salesman” too?

  3. I couldn’t agree more, with either of the previous comments. This is definitely another example of starting with a conclusion, then writing an arguement to support the conclusion. I highly doubt the author of this article is also a doctor, so his opinion on the matter is irrelevant. By definition, I thought journalists were supposed to be unbiased, and simply provide the facts of a situation or story. Whatever happened to those days? Our government is responsible for regulation, so why are the sellers being blamed. Like every other business in this country, left unregulated, wouldn’t be doing the exact same thing. That’s the nature of the capitalistic beast. Maybe one day, people will learn how to coexist peacefully. Live and let live my friends. Live and let live.

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