Internal Illegalities?

Pollan, M. 2002. The botany of desire: A plant’s-eye view of the world. Random House. New York, NY. pp.  113-179 (Ch. 3).

This chapter of The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan explores yet another plant with a long history of human involvement, not for its beauty nor nutrition, but for its equally coveted and feared psychoactive effects- the cannabis plant. Through first-hand recounts, interviews with experts of various disciplines, excerpts from the works of great philosophers, and relevant historical facts, Pollan tells the long, ever-changing story of marijuana and mankind’s dysfunctional on-again-off-again relationship with it.

Pollan covers many topics in this chapter: he humourously recounts his early, albeit minuscule, attempts at marijuana growing, then goes on to explore the rises and falls of marijuana popularity in the West, the pointlessness and futility of America’s “War on Drugs,” marijuana’s connections with past and present religions, his observations of the sophisticated modern cultivation of marijuana plants, the reasons why humans (and other animals) are compelled to alter their perceptions of reality, and the possible biological origins of those alterations when propagated by the consumption of psychoactive drugs.

Marijuana has been on my mind a lot this week, having also done some of my own research on it for my Power Point presentation for lab, but I’ll have to take this time to gingerly admit that it is usually on my mind anyway, or at least usually in it. I don’t know if this is necessarily an appropriate place to admit it, but hey, it is my blog!

“Memory is the enemy of wonder, which abides nowhere else but in the present.”

This has been my absolute favourite reading of all this semester. This chapter, along with some of the reading I did for my presentation, has actually brought me some insight as to why – biologically, that is – I may enjoy indulging in the devil’s lettuce that I had never really considered previously. Pollan’s description of marijuana use being a way for humans to “forget” the mundane aspects of their everyday lives and be present in the moment is very accurate, for me at least. I can be an extremely anxious person with an often hypersensitive perception of the world around me and thoughts that are usually cycling between the “what-ifs” of past and present, and I am rarely fully, consciously present in the physical space that I occupy on Earth (while sober, I mean). I didn’t really think of it this way until after this reading, but I now know that is likely why I enjoy my time indulging so much. It brings me into a fully present state, a state in which I can appreciate myself and my immediate surroundings, without worry of things to come or what has already passed… and if it does that for me, it likely does for others. So I ask, should government and legality have the right to forbid us those profound feelings? It does, but it most definitely should not.

Aside from my personal reasons, I still agree entirely with the ideas Pollan brings forth in this chapter. The fact that a single plant, a weed!, has caused so much turmoil and terror and show of force in North America is absolutely stunning. The amount of people who are spending more time in prison for simple possession of a personal amount of marijuana than those who have committed violent crimes is so absolutely illogical that it makes my brain hurt (but pretty much anything concerning laws and government can make my brain hurt!). In addition, the mere fact that humans (and other animals) have receptors for cannabinoids and, in fact, produce our own versions of the compound producing similar effects, should be able to solve the long-standing question of “is it ‘bad‘ or not?” But unfortunately, for some reason that also hurts my brain to try to understand, science is still not a widely accepted form of reasoning (especially in the realms of law and government) in much of the world, so we must endure …

In my personal opinion, everyone should have the option to benefit from a little “cognitive dysfunction” now and then!

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Capsaicin… So hot right now

Hanson, T. 2015.  The triumph of seeds.  Basic Books.  New York.  ch. 9.

This chapter from The Triumph of Seeds is, in usual Thor Hanson fashion, a smooth and delightful blend of history, biology, and storytelling. This particular chapter is regarding the history of chili peppers. First Hanson describes Columbus’ journey to Costa Rica in search of spices, and then, with some help from Noelle (the “mycobiolost who likes spicy foods”), he goes on to describe the botany of chilies and their spicy active ingredient, capsaicin.

Although I am no history buff, I am still a little embarrassed to admit that I was not actually aware that Columbus’ voyages were in search of spices and foods, and not just for the sake of finding new lands. After this reading, I learned that Columbus basically popularized chili peppers! And for that reason, and that reason alone, I have now become a fan of Christopher Columbus because I can’t say it enough: I LOVE HOT SAUCE!

I actually DID read all three assigned chapters, but I knew that I just had to write about this chapter because I am such a huge fan of spiciness (I’d give up coffee for hot sauce without question!) and I could not imagine enjoying (most) foods without it! I completely identified with Noelle the mycologist (and Josh, too!) as I have also always been one to stash a bottle of hot sauce at my work place or even go so far as to carry a small bottle in my bag when travelling. My boyfriend rolls his eyes at me every time we are at a restaurant and I end my order with, “And can I get some hot sauce on the side, please?”

I obviously really enjoyed this reading, not just because of the general topic but because I actually learned so much about something that I hold so near to my heart and just realized I was essentially clueless about. My absolute favourite part of this chapter was Hanson’s summary of how we taste (more like feel) capsaicin and its physiological effects. Our bodies literally translate capsaicin contact with actual cell-damaging heat. While this isn’t really surprising from a biological viewpoint, it still blows my mind and it will be something I think about with every spicy bite I take in the future.

I am serious about hot sauce and I must be excused now because I can’t stop daydreaming about how AWESOME it would be to be a part of something called the “Chili Team” and having the job of finding chilis in Bolivia! Some people have it allll figured out!