The Trouble with Nature - Part 1
23 September 2021 | Warning - Contains strong language and explicit drug references
It's another two-parter. Part 2 follows immediately after part 1 (uncannily enough). If you can't see part two, click on 'older' (bottom right) or 'contents' (top right).
The current ongoing movement extolling the virtues of natural products is all well and good, but it has its drawbacks. Just because something has come from Nature's bounty doesn't always mean it's good for you. I posit deadly nightshade, death cap mushrooms, puffer fish, and polar bear liver for starters. Then, of course, there are all those cute little pathogens, the likes of bubonic plague, cholera, ebola, malaria and, of course, covid - all products of Nature in all her bounteous glory.(1)
Frequently complementing the 'Natural is good' philosophy is a vituperative denunciation of 'chemicals' and a vehement loathing of anything (and anyone) who has ever been within two hundred metres of a laboratory- fifty kilometres if it's a genetics lab.
"We don't want to put any chemicals in our bodies" they bleat, pitifully. God give me strength. Their whole bodies are made of bloody chemicals. Everything's made of bloody chemicals.
I'll stop that right here. The whole business warrants a dedicated posting of its own, and the subject matter of this one has already been booked.
I have, however, recently experienced the vagaries of natural remedies personally, specifically regarding herbal medicine. Don't get me wrong - I haven't undergone a brainectomy and become an avid follower of the inane pronouncements of the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow. Why on Earth would anyone take health advice from a raving narcissistic nutjob whose knowledge and understanding of science and medicine is firmly rooted in the Dark Ages and whose daytime job is dressing up and playing let's pretend?
You may be aware that I was diagnosed with Parkinson's about a year ago. Since then, the medics have been experimenting on me with different combinations of drugs, trying to hone the regime to a best fit for my particular genetic make-up. That's the main problem with treating conditions such as this - you're messing around with some pretty fundamental biochemistry and physiology, and genetic variation means that everybody reacts differently, so the whole tangled web of cause and correlation, effect and side-effect, ends up as an exercise in trial & error cunningly disguised with white coats and clipboards.
Now, I would hate you to think that I've stuck a colander on my head and joined QAnon, but there was one area that the medics couldn't readily investigate because of obstacles put in their way by The Government:
There is some evidence, far from watertight, I admit, that cannabis can alleviate many of the symptoms of Parkinson's, and ease some of the more unpleasant side effects of Parkinson's meds. It's not impossible for researchers to investigate these phenomena, but to be allowed to do so, they have to jump through a byzantine assault course of bureaucratic hoops.
I don't suffer such constraints. So I could set up my own mini Cochrane Review (2) and investigate this fascinating little area of study without having a battalion of Home Office heavies and undercover policemen breathing down my neck and editing the final report so that it better reflects what they think is public opinion but what is, in reality, a hotch-potch of saloon bar prejudices culled from the owners and editors of the tabloid press.
I would like, at this juncture, to pre-empt the inevitable deluge of snide, sneering, cynical accusations of hidden agendas and assure both of our readers that this is in no way an underhand attempt to justify a return to the wayward hedonistic habits of my gloriously mis-spent youth; a feeble and disingenuous ploy to give some moral credence to my lapse back into indolent stonerhood. Before this current apostasy, I had spent 45 years without so much as a tantalising whiff of the stuff.
Mind you, neither was it an altruistic and unbiased attempt to establish objective scientific fact.
Not with a sample size of one.
And not even single blind, let alone double blind.
And no way of accurately measuring dosage.
Or objective, accurate and repeatable means of measuring effect.
Nope. All in all, the whole enterprise serves as an unsurpassable example of truly appalling experimental design.
"So why do it then, you plonker?" I hear you ask, your voices straining with hoarse incredulity. That, mes petites chouchous, is a very good question, and one to which I will respond as soon as I can think up an answer that's even half-plausible. Don't hold your collective breaths.
However, to return grudgingly to the narrative, consider point 3 in the above list of omissions, failings, and faux pas, namely no way of accurately measuring dosage. This is not, primarily, a matter of a lack of suitable equipment - accurate balances and all the other equipment essential to carrying out a full titre - although that certainly doesn't help. No, the major problem here is that I was working with natural materials and natural materials are, by their very, well, nature, inconsistent. Every time something reproduces, a load of genetic cock-ups (3) occur, resulting in genetic variation.
This is a good thing as it gives evolution something to get its teeth into, but it's a pain in the arse if you're trying to measure out doses of dope.
The sensible course of action here (which, surprisingly, I adopted) is to start low and gradually build up. This was not made any easier by our chosen means of administration, namely, to make a fridge-full of weed-enhanced chocolate brownies and to weigh out the doses on kitchen scales which were accurate +/- 2g (If we were lucky). Nevertheless, we persevered and established the most effective method of preparation and the optimum dosage for maximum suppression of tremor and least psychoactive effect (4).
Successive subsequent batches of raw material produced pretty consistent results, and therein lay the seeds of my downfall. I grew blasé and hubristically confident. My impatience was my Nemesis. Historically, I had employed a dose escalation regime, starting with one gramme of cookie, which is about the size of a communion wafer, or a rose petal if you object to the religious reference. When this had no effect, which was always, I tried 3g the next day, then 5 etc until it had the desired effect. This was invariably between 11 and 13 grammes of cookie, equivalent to about 1/12 of a gramme of cannabis bud, which is about 1½ sunflower seeds worth.
Admirably anally retentive though this procedure may be, it is not without its snags. Primary amongst these is that all calculations are founded on the total mass of plant material, not on the mass of the active ingredients. These latter values could be easily obtained were we to lash out five years' worth of pensions on a mass spectrometer and a gas chromatograph. Powerful though these toys are, they were unable to survive Liz's power of veto, and we had to resort to back-of-the-envelope calculations and educated guesswork.
Another irritation was that with each new batch, we had a fallow period of a week until the dosage built up to effective levels. This wouldn't do at all, so we (= 'I') decided to give the first four days dosage a miss and start at 7g, half the normal effective dose, thus saving over half the fallow time. All we had to do was make up the cannabis butter with the new batch as usual and start the process at 7g of cookie, only a sunflower seed's-worth of flower buds.
What could possibly go wrong?
(1) OK - the origins of covid are as yet moot. We'll leave it in both camps pro tem.
(2) The Cochrane Foundation is the gold-standard test for medical research. If a theory, study, claim, or piece of research is supported by The Cochrane Foundation, then you can be pretty confident in it.
(3) or should the plural be 'cocks-up'?
(4) Ironically, this approach is in diametric opposition to what my intentions would have been fifty-odd years ago.