The Healing Currents interview April 1997:

Cannabis and eco-spirituality.


Healing Currents Journal: What is eco-spirituality and how can we express it?

Chris Conrad: Healing the environment is connected with healing the self. It is spiritual pursuit and environmental consciousness working together for a healthier entity. My new book, Hemp for Health, deals with the ayurvedic concept of health as well as the orthodox allopathic approach to health.

In the late '70s and the '80s we believed that we could achieve peace on earth by virtue of seeking inner peace. It seems to me that also necessarily requires that we do karma yoga activism to achieve peace without in order to have peace within.

If you're living in a world where there is total injustice, how can you be at peace with yourself if not trying to change that injustice? If you're living on a planet that is being raped and murdered by what your society is doing, how can you have peace within without trying to maintain the integrity of the biosphere so future generations will be able to survive? The link between those two things was severed during the "me" decade. We are now at a point where we may be ready to recreate those connections. It is growing from the people.


HCJ: Young people frequently express their sense of despair about the state of the planet and their future.

CC: That desperation manifests in many ways, such as the increase in the numbers of young people smoking cigarettes. They realize there is a health risk but they don't feel they have a future anyway.

In the same way that the fifties generation felt they weren't going to survive the nuclear bomb, young people today see the relentless decimation of the earth's life-support systems. The hypocrisy&emdash;of demonizing and criminalizing cannabis, which has never killed anybody, while the government "regulates" how many tons of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals are dumped into our environment by any given industry&emdash;does not escape young people.


HCJ: Please discuss medical and industrial use vs. spiritual and personal use.

CC: The whole argument surrounding the issue of fiber versus fun in the cannabis hemp debate is a modality issue. It is wrong to lose track of the spiritual value of cannabis. The cannabinoids have been used by many philosophical/religious groups including Zoroastrians, Hindus, early Christians and Rastafarians.

I am a million percent in favor of making hemp shirts, paper and things that don't use the THC, but at the same time I am not ready to write off the implicit values of using the metaphysical or psychoactive compounds in the resin to advance spirituality. Within the context of the overall hemp debate, that is a point of controversy among a lot of people. I think that there is inherent value in using resinous cannabis for personal consumption.


HCJ: The medical use debate has produced popular legislation allowing medical use in both Arizona and California. The debate you refer to is whether we should legalize hemp and not legalize cannabis.

CC: Or legalize hemp so that it restricts farmers' abilities to select the seed lines that are best for their purposes, and instead force them to arbitrarily rely on a limited number of seed lines low in THC that also have other limitations and characteristics which may reduce their profitability to farmers.

In Hemp: Lifeline to the Future and in Hemp for Health I explore another important correlation that health and well-being are a matter of the use of healing substances, the mindset of the individual and the setting in which this all occurs. By using industrial hemp in ecologically sustainable production or manufacturing methodology technologies, you reduce a lot of the health problems that people have to deal with anyway, eliminating a lot of the toxins and thereby preventing people from getting sick in the first place.

One of the most obvious examples is using hemp as the raw material instead of timber. By not cutting down trees, we allow the forests to clean the air. At the same time the hemp crop takes carbon dioxide out of the air, also cleaning the air. Simultaneously, it produces the fiber (four times as much pulp per acre as does forest land) for making building materials and paper for which the trees would have been used. By using hemp instead of timber to make paper, manufacturers will be able to use cleaner technologies; making paper from trees is notoriously polluting, yet the manufacture of hemp paper doesn't use chlorine bleaches that produce dioxins. And it will follow that people are also going to insist upon cleaner technologies for other resources too.


HCJ: The main reason hemp paper is so expensive is the necessity to import the raw materials to make it. What are the uses of hemp for building resources?

CC: There is isochanvre which is almost a substitute for concrete or plaster because it can be cast or molded. As a building material it is utilized like cement, yet once it is in place it is a very lightweight insulative compound that is earthquake-resistant, has high wind resistance and is relatively soundproof, among other advantages. But it cannot hold structural weight, so builders could use fiberbeam to hold the structural weight of the building. Lignin is what actually holds the fibers together. The important thing is the hurd is actually called wood, making it a lot more clear that it can be used for the same things as timber is used for.


HCJ: The whole concept behind sustainability is that we need to be able to secure truly renewable, natural resources as locally as possible.

CC: The ecotopia concept is that a regional base is bio-sustainable and is able to produce the raw materials and industry. Regions will thereby maintain jobs and economic gains for their communities.

If you take a crop that grows every year and use that to build a house that will stand for 50-100 years, that is sustainable. You can keep that going for a long time. If you cut down a 500-year-old tree and make it into a daily newspaper that gets read once and is then thrown out, that is not sustainable at all.

Put that into the context of a geographic region, explore what the local needs are, what is able to be produced and how much economic gain there is for the people within that area, and you can see why hemp is such a valuable crop. The more it's utilized on site, rather than transported into our out of the area, the more value it will yield.


HCJ: Herman Daly, who is an expert on the economics of sustainability, says we don't pay for the environment right now. We pay for it in hidden costs and in ways we are not charged for. We need to start charging for the environment. It is common sense to use something that builds the soil while giving us an annual crop with which we can make all these various products.

CC: Prior to the industrial revolution, economics was based upon a gold standard. Most of the wealth of the merchant class came from an agrarian-based society, that actually produced farm crops which were used to make the materials, rather than taking natural resources, converting them into materials and then discarding them. Our society gets its economic wealth by cutting and taking&emdash;cutting trees, extracting minerals and fossil fuels and converting them. Within the last 150 years we and our forebears have used up many thousands of years of resources at an escalating rate, and we cannot continue to do it. We have a clear grasp of what needs to be done, but what is still lacking is the political will to make changes.

Society may wake up and question why would we want to put one out of every three high school seniors in prison. Society may realize that is not a good use of resources, and therefore rethink the drug war. That may be the opening we need to get industrial hemp grown on the farms. Common sense says that hemp doesn't belong in the drug war at all. Hemp is a farm crop.


HCJ: What do you mean by restoration, and what is hemp's role?

CC: We've moved beyond sustainability to the idea of restorative agriculture. What this means is not only are farmers able to maintain their crops without any further harm to the environment or loss of topsoil, but they do it in a way that actually increases the amount of topsoil, the overall value of the land, and restores the health and vitality of the land as they are producing the goods for society.

If you have soil that needs more humus, then hemp is a good crop to grow. If you have soil acidified by acid rain, there seems to be evidence that growing industrial hemp will restore its pH balance and enable other crops to grow on that soil again.

One thing that happens with clear-cuts is the wind travels through the lower parts of the trees. Once the canopy has been disrupted and there's no protection on the edge of the forest, the wind removes moisture from the forest causing an overall loss of viability within the entire system. If you grow hemp along the edges as a windbreak, that protects the moisture in the forest, allowing it to maintain itself.

If you grow hemp very densely for fiber crops or for windbreaks, that's going to make it more difficult for the next layer of trees to grow. If you grow hemp loosely scattered so it can feed the birds with its seed, add mulch to the soil, anchor the soil with its roots and provide shade to keep the soil from getting so hard, that allows the forest to naturally regenerate.

If, according to the timber industry, trees are truly a renewable resource, we should not have to cut a single 500-year-old tree; we should be harvesting trees that are 8 to 20 years old. They expect us to believe that they have managed forests to such a level that we no longer need to worry about them, but at the same time they can't seem to stop cutting the last of the old growth. Old growth is not renewable in clear-cut graveyards.

Working in the timber industry is a doomed profession. They should be creating a future for their children and looking into something that would be beneficial to society. They can be producing other products to create more economic security. The bottom line is once those trees are gone, the logging companies are not going to keep paying loggers to not cut trees. It is in their interest to maintain those trees, their future and find another way of making a living. I believe that hemp offers them opportunities.

The paper and construction industries have recognized the fact that there is a global fiber shortage. The loggers themselves can still be providing fiber. Growing, farming, producing and manufacturing things with hemp are noble professions and honorable trades.


HCJ: The history of hemp is tied into the spiritual, religious, political and economic well-being of the entire world. Can you highlight that history?

CC: There is a connection between the words culture and agriculture. The earliest beginnings of civilization were found in the farming tradition of communities that began to produce the materials they needed to stay in one place year-round.

The first major civilization was in China and the most important figure was Shen Nung, a philosopher and farmer. One of the first things he did was teach people how to grow hemp and to use cannabis as a medicine.

In India, Shiva spilled nectar and gave it to the people as a gift. When it spilled to earth it sprouted the hemp plant and several other herbs; they thought it had come by mistake from the gods.

In the Egyptian, Chinese and Mesopotamian cultures, hemp is one of their most important herbs. Zoroastrianism in Mesopotamia was the first monotheistic religion based upon communications via cannabis. Washington and Jefferson, our nation's founders, were hemp farmers. This is something we have in common with Hindu, Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures which led to western civilization. In our own society in the

United States of America, our founders were all involved with using hemp as a way of establishing national identity.


HCJ: The Declaration of Independence was printed on hemp paper, and much of the colonial economy was based on growing hemp and using it for clothing, oil for lamps and lubricants, for rope and other bindings, and for food.

CC: Also for paints and sealants.


HCJ: How is hemp used for food and medicine?

CC: From a nutritional point of view hemp seed oil is extremely valuable because it includes essential omegas. People have used hemp seed as a major food source throughout most of history, and most importantly during times of famine when there was relatively little protein in other food items available. Hemp keeps producing seed during times when other crops may fail. The seeds include eight essential proteins, three essential fatty acids, edestin which aids digestion, globulin which is a protein also found in human blood, and the hull which provides roughage to flush the digestive tract. They contain the essential proteins that can then be converted into other proteins. It has been scientifically demonstrated that it is possible to maintain life using nothing but hemp seed as a food source.

Subsequent to the elimination of hemp from the American diet, we have seen an increase in cancers and immunological health problems related to essential fatty acid deficiency. There is strong indication that by restoring the use of these EFAs we will be able to improve the health and overall well-being of society. Hemp is a superior source of essential fatty acids because the ratio of the compounds in hemp seed is very close to that which already exists in the human body.

Current research shows that people with AIDS need more protein than the average person because their bodies use it less efficiently. It is suspected that immunodeficient people need almost twice as much protein as the average healthy person. With cannabis seed you've got a very dense, usable source of protein in a very condensed form.

By consuming the resinous herb, an individual can stimulate their appetite and increase the amount of food intake. If you eat the hemp seed it bolsters your immune system, gives you that dense protein, and the EFAs your system is lacking to help your immune system. At the same time smoking cannabis will stimulate appetite, and control nausea and other side effects of chemotherapy and AIDS. There is no evidence to indicate that marijuana or hemp seed nutrition cures AIDS, but they do allow a person to live with AIDS or HIV more comfortably.

Another really important part is the THC which helps the person deal with depression. If they are feeling euphoric, hopeful and optimistic&emdash;like they can get over this and not be as obsessed with their condition&emdash;that will help them recover.


HCJ: How can we shift from a petroleum-based economy to a vegetable-oil- or plant-oil-based economy?

CC: Historically hemp seed oil has been used as a lubricant and a burning oil, since it is quite a good source of direct combustible energy. Current methods of fossil fuel extraction not only cause immediate damage to the earth but also taps into fuel sources that contain extraneous minerals we don't necessarily want in our air, like sulfur. Burning something with sulfur in it forms sulfur dioxide which combines with rainwater creating sulfuric acid or sulfurous acid which produces acid rain. And every few months there is an oil spill which becomes biggest oil spill ever. But a plant oil like hemp seed oil doesn't contain sulfur, hence no sulfur dioxide created when used as a fuel source. Vegetable fuel oils burn really clean. In a new system the whole aspect of cleaning up environmental disasters and any further environmental contamination will be eliminated.

One of the major obstacles the fossil fuel industry had to overcome to achieve world dominance was the fact that people didn't like how sooty, smoggy and dirty fossil fuels burned. They preferred plant oils. The Teapot Dome was one of the first overt examples of the private sector ripping off the taxpayers to get to the oil reserves. This has now become the standard operating practice where our federal government gives away our energy, environment and natural resources to corporations for a negligible price. Then we pay it two or three times:#1) our common natural resources are given to corporations who benefit from them; 2) corporations sell them back to us in the form of gasoline, heating fuels, electricity, wood products, etc.; and 3) society bears the cost of losing our natural resources, cleaning up the damages caused by the extraction and manufacturing processes, personal health crises, and environmental degradation.

Henry Ford's idea was to have his automobiles grown from the ground and powered out of the farms. His idea was to convert the byproducts of the stalk into a liquid fuel that would be used by cars. Basically he was talking about making an alcohol-based fuel. He built a car in 1941 in which most of the body was made out of plant fibers, particularly hemp fiber. It weighed about one third less than a regular car, used less energy, was stronger, lasted longer, was more dent resistant etc. The makers of Mercedes are currently experimenting using hemp fiber to make a car body.


HCJ: Hemp can grow in almost any climate thereby creating local economic sustainabilit

CC: Hemp's advantage is that it can be grown under more conditions, in a wider variety of climatic situations and geographic regions, than virtually any other plant. Hemp has so many versatile applications that when you grow a crop of it you can use the base fiber for textiles, the wood fiber for paper-making and construction materials, the leftover hemi-cellulose and other byproducts for making fuel and "plastics," and when you harvest the field you can allow a certain number of plants to remain standing to nourish the soil.

During WWII the factories processing hemp fiber into clothing, parachute webbing, threads for shoes, fire hoses and all the lubricating fuels for the airplanes and so forth (supporting the military effort to defend our freedom) were bringing in the hemp raw material and then processing it. The byproduct was enough hemicellulolytic material which they chose to burn as fuel to power their entire process, leaving them with a 50% energy surplus which they resold to the energy industry. The mill did not have any energy cost and they profited from the waste material.


HCJ: How else does hemp benefit the environment?

CC: The hemp root has a tap root that goes down three to seven feet that holds the soil, helps it survive drought, brings up minerals from the subsoil to the topsoil in order to improve soil structure and also has a fibrous rootball which decomposes and leaves little openings that aerate the soil making it more absorbent, softer, looser and easier to grow other plants in the future. That has an important value but unless there is a drought people don't think about it.


HCJ: Is the idea of utilizing hemp to reclaim desert being explored?

CC: I do believe that there is evidence that it can be done. It is a matter of getting permission. I made a proposal to the Haitian government to develop a hemp economic base as that island has been deforested and so much of the soil has been lost. We are recommending the use of hemp to restore topsoil, provide shade and protect moisture for restoring their forest.


HCJ: What is your vision of how hemp would be used on a daily basis in the future?

CC: We have to give people an alternative that works. In Hemp: Lifeline to the Future , "The House that Hemp Built" articulates the vision of people living in a house that is completely made of hemp&emdash;framing with hemp fiberboards, walls plastered with isochanvre, hemp carpets and curtains, weatherproofing with hemp seed oils and sealants.

This vision follows a person's day as they get up in the morning and have some hemp seed foods in their hemp-built home. Then they go into the garage and get into their car made of hemp and powered by hemp fuel. As they drive to their job, which is designing new technological systems to advance the uses of hemp, they drive past the hemp fields. In the evening they read their newspaper which is made of hemp paper. They smell the fragrance of the hemp fields and acknowledge the clean air and how the environment has been improved by the development of greenbelts of hemp around cities to remove the carbon dioxide from the air, and reflect how wonderful it is to live in a country where people have freedom of choice.

I think it is possible to have industrial hemp and medical marijuana and still have a police state. I want this country to be a free country. I think freedom means that adults (people over the age of eighteen) are allowed to make decisions for themselves, and that communities base their policies on the truth and the will of society rather than upon the special interests and greedy deceit of a few.

With Proposition 215 in California and Proposition 200 in Arizona the people are way ahead of the government. The leaders are in a situation where they have to scramble to catch up with the people. That is healthy.

What we see as results of the drug war are more younger children becoming abusive of drugs. That is a result of the basic core of governmental policies. It is not an unintended side effect. They are using these arguments as an excuse to suppress our individual freedom and social democracy. The American people should not acquiesce to that. No adult should go to prison for smoking marijuana for personal reasons. The government is wrong on its drug war policy.

Over the next few years there will continue to be an increase in hemp specialty markets as the infrastructure is created for the large-scale development of hemp products for the mass culture. Simultaneously understanding will develop as to the value of industrial hemp and the importance of medical marijuana that will destigmatize and eliminate the demonization aspect of the spiritual uses of cannabis. The prison industry is going to become so costly to society that eventually it will pull itself down by providing nothing of any value to society at an enormous cost.

Industries are going to either transfer their technological processes to utilize hemp or slowly replace old existing technologies with new sustainable ones. Ultimately, mutual interests in the survival of the planet and the health and well-being of our economy and ecology will prevail, and the old system will slip aside. This will be a phase-by-phase evolution which will probably result in a period of ten years for the restoration of farming hemp in the US and what the major directions will evolve use of hemp. Hemp will be used for industrial applications and also for overtly environmental ones, such as eliminating weeds from farm fields without chemical pesticides.

The continuing recognition of the need for a healthy planet is going to change the way that society values a lot of other things. We seem to value convenience when what we need to value is health, sustainability and job creation. Today using hemp to make paper bags is cost prohibitive, whereas cutting trees to make paper bags is ecologically prohibitive. Trying to sell products to people who don't have jobs is economically impossible.

Our government's blind commitment to ecological suicide for the sake of short-term profit for a small group of wealthy individuals with unwarranted power over policy is not a good model for the rest of the world to follow. What scares me is how close to the edge of environmental and economic disaster we are coming before deciding to turn it around. We know how to turn it around by using hemp as an eco-sustainable resource.


HCJ: How can people get involved in the hemp movement?

CC: Get involved with farming organizations and support the Agricultural

Hemp Association's campaign to pressure states to restore industrial hemp crops. This year at least ten states are going to introduce industrial hemp legislation, spearheaded by the AHA headed up by Colorado State Senator Lloyd Casey, who introduced the hemp bill in his state legislature in 1995 and 1996. Where there is hemp there is hope.