Sunday, September 17, 2017

Queen Caroline Murat and the Treason of Images

Caroline Bonaparte was born in 1782, some 13 years after her brother Napoleon. At the age of 17, she married Napoleon's General Joachim Murat, a dashing, charismatic soldier.

Murat had commanded the cavalry during the French Egyptian expedition of 1798 under Napoleon. It was during the French occupation of Egypt that many of the soldiers—including, I contend, Alexandre Dumas's father—discovered hashish and brought it back to France.

In 1808, the Murats were made King and Queen of Naples and in 1814, Joachim signed a treaty with Austria in an attempt to save their throne, an act Napoleon regarded as treason.

This is the same year that Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres painted his very interesting portrait of Caroline Murat (above). Unlike earlier portraits that depict her as a dewey, maternal creature, Ingres dresses her in a serious black dress and hat, the plume of which mimics the smoke emitting from an image of Mt. Vesuvius(?) erupting in the background. Her gaze is forceful, knowing. She stands at a table, almost an altar, on which Egyptian imagery sits.

Also in 1814, Ingres scandalized the art world with his painting La Grande Odalisque, which was commissioned by Caroline. Nearly every art historian writes about how the painting broke with Ingres's formal realism by elongating the body of the nude. No one else seems to have noticed the striking resemblance of the model to Caroline: the same knowing eyes; the pert, upturned mouth; the glowing skin for which she was reputed.

If the painting was thought to be modeled on the Queen of Naples, painted the same year that she and her husband betrayed her brother, that would have been quite the scandal indeed. Adding to that are the hints in Caroline's portrait pointing to smoke and Egypt. Napoleon himself was an early prohibitionist about hashish; perhaps like the Vietnam war generals of late he discovered it made his men too peaceful.

Odalisques were harem girls, often depicted holding a hookah in the mid 1800s (e.g. Delacroix's Women of Algiers). Tucked away at the feet of the woman in Ingres's painting is a pipe holding what well may have been hashish, and what looks like an incense burner emitting smoke. She is holding a fan, the handle of which looks like the mouthpiece of a hookah. Indeed, her elongated body could be said to resemble a pipe, with emphasis on the bowl (buttocks).

It makes me wonder if Magritte's 1929 painting "La trahison des images" references Ingres's Odalisque when it declares, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." Why, of all objects, did Magritte choose to paint a pipe? Of course, it works as a surrealistic statement ("This is not a pipe; it's a painting of a pipe"); but does the treason (trahison) in the image perhaps refer to Mme. Murat's treason? Une pipe is also slang for a prostitute; was Caroline being disparaged by either painting, or both? (Because as we know the surest and easiest way to disparage a woman is to call her a whore.) Or was the fact that Ingres painted a pipe at his model's feet scandalous?

Historically, French paintings often had political intent. I remember my high school French teacher impressing upon me what a sensation Jacques-Louis David's painting The Death of Marat caused in 1793. Ingres studied with David, and the model's pose in his Odialisque is similar to David's Portrait of Madame RĂ©camier.

Caroline was related to Tokin' Woman Violette Murat; actor Rene Auberjonois (Father Mulcahy in M*A*S*H) is a direct descendant.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Nevada To Launch Campaign Against Pre-Natal Marijuana Use

The state of Nevada has decided, based on the news that 4% of pregnant women now admit to using marijuana, to launch a public-relations campaign to "highlight the potential harm the drug can do to a fetus."

Oddly, the Sheldon Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review Journal article announcing the campaign cites as its rationale a 17-year-old study, which found that "6-year-olds born to a mother who had smoked one joint or more daily in the first trimester displayed less ability to comprehend concepts in reading and listening — and by age 10 they had lower reading, math and spelling scores than their peers. It also found that children exposed to marijuana’s major psychoactive element — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — in the womb were more impulsive and less able to focus their attention than other 10-year-olds."

The study they cite looked at women "of low socioeconomic status. At the first interview, the median family income was $350 per month...At 10 years postpartum [from 1994 through 1997], the median family income was $1245 per month. Sixty-two percent of the women worked and/or studied outside of the home and, on average, they had 12.2 years of education."

Researchers found that "women who used one or more joints of marijuana per day during the first trimester were significantly more likely to be single, African-American, more hostile, drink more alcohol, and use more illicit drugs (other than marijuana) than were women who did not use marijuana during the first trimester....These same factors characterized moderate to heavy marijuana users at the third trimester of pregnancy. In addition, third trimester moderate to heavy users had significantly less education and smoked more cigarettes than abstainers."

The study concluded that, "The correlations between prenatal marijuana use and the covariates included in the analytical models were low to moderate. At 10 years, the variables with the highest correlations with prenatal marijuana use were work/school status, maternal custody of the child, and current use [not use while pregnant] of marijuana and cocaine. ...Other variables that significantly predicted more problems on the SNAP subscales included male gender, African-American race, more child hospitalizations over the past year, more siblings, poorer environment as assessed by the HOME-SF, more maternal hostility and depression, less maternal coping ability, and current maternal cigarette smoking. In addition, children who were not in maternal custody and children exposed to alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy had more peer problems."

So it seems this is one of the many studies that were found not to properly adjust for confounding factors, as described in an October 2016 study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, "Maternal Marijuana Use and Adverse Neonatal Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis," which found that the moderate use of cannabis during pregnancy is not an independent risk factor for adverse neonatal outcomes such as low birth weight.  Read more.

From: Katrina Mark, Mishka Terplan, Cannabis and pregnancy:
Maternal child health implications during a period of 
drug policy liberalization, Preventive Medicine (2016)
The Nevada article also claims, "Research on the effects of marijuana use during pregnancy is scant."   However, a May 2017 review of the literature—"Cannabis and pregnancy: Maternal child health implications during a period of drug policy liberalization"—published in the journal Preventive Medicine concluded, "There is ample evidence concerning the health effects of cannabis during pregnancy," noting that over 800 human studies have been performed yearly on the topic since 2000. Read more.

To its credit, the Review-Journal does mention Melanie Dreher's 1994 study on Jamaican mothers which concluded that marijuana-using mothers gave birth to developmentally superior babies. The article adds: "Dreher’s study made little impression on the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Both advise against marijuana use during pregnancy because of the studies linking it to cognitive impairment and academic underachievement. Both organizations also recommend that mothers with THC in their systems do not breastfeed."

Absent in all of these analyses is the conclusion Dreher made that the relative acceptance of marijuana in Jamaican society had much to do with her results. One can only hope that acceptance of cannabis in the US will ultimately lead to similar results.

But meanwhile, NIDA refused to fund a follow-up study on Dreher's results and Nevada's powerful alcohol distributors are battling to control the marijuana market. So don't expect a public awareness campaign on the dangers of using alcohol, or tobacco, while pregnant anytime soon, even though studies suggest those substances have a much greater effect on fetal health than cannabis.

Also see: NORML's Fact Sheet on Maternal Marijuana Use

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Psychedelic Pioneers Peggy Hitchcock and Susi Ramstein

Peggy Hitchcock in Dying to Know
The new documentary Dying to Knownow on Netflix, interviews Margaret "Peggy" Mellon Hitchcock, heiress to the Gulf Oil fortune, about her involvement with LSD.

Hitchcock heard that Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert were looking for research subjects while at Harvard, and she volunteered to try the then-legal experimental drug. "It really confirmed a lot of things that I had hoped were true, that I had sort of glimpsed at various times in my life, that there was a larger reality than what my everyday, humdrum experiences were," she says.

Along with her brothers Billy and Tommy, Peggy made their Millbrook estate in upper New York available to Leary and Alpert (aka Ram Dass) after Alpert was kicked out of Harvard for giving psilocybin to an undergraduate student.

"As an intimate friend to both Leary and Alpert, Peggy was instrumental in establishing a communal living and research community in Millbrook, NY once Leary and Alpert left Harvard. Peggy convinced her brothers to allow the two professors to live and conduct their unfettered and continued research into the effect of psychedelic substances on the personalities of willing participants," reads her bio on the movie's website.

It's especially interesting because Peggy is the great grandniece of former US Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, and her mother Margaret's first husband may be at the source of the persistent and unverified rumor that a niece of Mellon's married Harry Anslinger, the first US drug czar.

Anslinger was married to the former Martha Denniston (1886-1961). There are no Dennistons in the Mellon family tree, but Harry Alexander Laughlin (1838-1922), son of James Laughlin of Jones & Laughlin Steel Co., married an Alice B. Denniston on 9/10/1860. (A later relative was James Laughlin IV, publisher of New Directions who was influenced by Gertrude Stein.)

Peggy's mother Margaret Mellon (1901–1998) was married to an Alexander Laughlin Jr. on 6/21/1924. Attending the wedding were both sitting Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon and Miss Alice Denniston Laughlin, "wearing a frock of gold crepe and a hat of brown straw," along with her grandmother Mrs. James B. Laughlin (the former Alice B. Denniston), "in white crepe with satin thread embroidery and a hat of orchid straw," according to the Pittsburgh Daily Post. So Anslinger apparently married into Pittsburgh society, if not directly into the Mellon family.*

Margaret was widowed and subsequently married polo player Tommy Hitchcock (the model for Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby) on 12/15/1928, and Andrew was at that wedding too. Whether or not she was a model for Daisy Buchanan, thought to be based on Fitzgerald's wife Zelda, is unknown. It must have been quite the family scandal when the Hitchcock kids sided against the drug war.

Narrated by Robert Redford, Dying to Know is produced and directed by Gay Dillingham, and also interviews researcher Joan Halifax, who along with Stan Grof pioneered psychedelic therapy for terminal cancer patients in 1967. Andrew Weil is interviewed in the film saying of those studies, "A guided psychedelic experience in a dying person often enabled that person to drastically cut doses of opiates for pain relief, which kept consciousness clear, and often greatly facilitated communication with family and friends and made the dying process easier."

This is the second psychedelic documentary produced by a woman of late: Connie Littlefield wrote and co-directed The Sunshine Makers about LSD chemists Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully, also viewable on Netflix.

And finally, it turns out Albert Hofmann wasn't alone on the bicycle ride that marked the first LSD trip on April 19, 1943: he was accompanied by his lab assistant, 21-year-old Susi Ramstein, who on June 12 of that year became the first woman to take LSD. According to Erowid.org, "She initially took a 100 mics—a higher dose than either Albert's co-worker Ernst Rothlin or his supervisor Arthur Stoll had tried—and she had a good experience. And although everyone working with Albert took acid at least once, Susi tried it two more times in order to help out with establishing some standards for the medical use of LSD."

Hats off to these female psychedelic pioneers, and the women who document their contributions.

*Researcher and activist Doug McVay has another connection: Thomas Mellon, Andrew's father, married Sarah Jane Negley (b. 1817) in 1843. Union Trust was established by Thomas's son Andrew W. Mellon in 1889. Samuel Philip Gerst was an assistant treasurer at Union Trust, worked there 43 years. Gerst's sister Sarah Margaret (b. 1874) married Edward C. Negley. Martha Kind Denniston Leet Anslinger's mother was Florence Gerst (b. 1861).

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Nellie Bly and Marijuana in Mexico

Stories have been circulating of late on social media about Nellie Bly, the intrepid reporter who went around the world in only 72 days, and also posed as a mental patient to report on conditions in women's asylums at a time when most female journalists were writing society columns or arts reviews.

Around 1885, at the age of 21, Bly traveled from her hometown of Pittsburgh to Mexico as a foreign correspondent. Her dispatches were gathered in a book, Six Months in Mexico, in which she describes courtship, wedding ceremonies, the popularity of tobacco smoking, the legend of the maguey plant (from which pulque and mezcal were made), and the habits of the soldiers, including an early description of their marijuana use:

"The soldiers have an herb named marijuana, which they roll into small cigaros and smoke. It produces intoxication which lasts for five days, and for that period they are in paradise. It has no ill after-effects, yet the use is forbidden by law. It is commonly used among prisoners. One cigaro is made, and the prisoners all sitting in a ring partake of it. The smoker takes a draw and blows the smoke into the mouth of the nearest man, he likewise gives it to another, and so on around the circle. One cigaro will intoxicate the whole lot for the length of five days.”

The only earlier mention of marijuana in English that my research fellows and I can come up with—courtesy of Isaac Campos, author of Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origin of Mexico's War on Drugs—is this description of the Chichimec people's customs, from the 1874 volume by Hubert Howe Bancroft, "The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America":

"When a young man desires to marry, his parents make a visit to those of the intended bride, and leave with them a bouquet of flowers bound with red wool; the bride's parents then send round to the houses of their friends a bunch of mariguana, a narcotic herb, which signifies that all are to meet together at the bride's father's on the next night. The meeting is inaugurated by smoking; then they chew mariguana, during which time all preliminaries of the marriage are settled. The following day the resolutions of the conclave are made known to the young man and woman, and if the decision is favorable, the latter sends her husband a few presents, and from that time the parties consider themselves married, and the friends give themselves up to feasting and dancing."

For five days, it would seem.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Olivia Newton-John Opens Up About Cannabis

In news that went 'round the world in places as far-flung as the Kansas City Star, singer Olivia Newton-John told Australia's The Sunday Telegraph that she is using "legal and easily obtained" medical marijuana in her home state of California to treat cancer.

“I use medicinal cannabis, which is really important for pain and healing,” she says. “It’s a plant that has been maligned for so long, and has so many abilities to heal."

“I will do what I can to encourage it,” she added. “It’s an important part of treatment, and it should be available. I use it for the pain and it’s also a medicinal thing to do — the research shows it’s really helpful.”

It's hard to think of a more wholesome international star than Newton-John. So fresh-faced she played a high school girl in the 1979 movie Grease at the age of 29, the Aussie beauty's first hit was Bob Dylan's "If Not For You" (which I contend may have been written about marijuana). Along with singing sentimental songs like "I Honestly Love You," she asked her audience, "Have You Never Been Mellow?" and tried to break out of her good-girl image with "Let's Get Physical" (which was more about exercising than sex).

It was during a tennis game at the home of the songwriter for "Physical" that Newton-John first noticed back pain, which turned out to be her cancer metastasized to the sacrum of her back, 25 years after she underwent treatment for breast cancer.

"As far as I am concerned, my pain level is gone,” she says following her treatment. “I had terrible pain — I was limping and walking like a duck and a penguin for a while, [but] that part of it is gone."  

Newton-John in front of the ONJ Cancer Wellness and Research Centre
Newton-John's daughter Chloe Lattanzi owns a cannabis farm in Oregon, and her husband Joe Easterling is the founder and president of Amazon Herb Company, which sells botanical supplements from the rainforest. After marrying in 2008, the bride and groom attended a private Incan spiritual ceremony on a mountaintop in Peru, according to Biography.com.

“I don’t want to scare women that it [cancer] could happen again, but it can, you don’t know why,” says Newton-John. Indeed, some chemotherapy drugs can cause leukemia years later, but breast cancer survivors are seldom screened for it.

"Cancer survivors are as common as Grease fans at her concerts," noted the Daily Telegraph. She has founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Melbourne and will host the ONJ Gala on September 8 and a fundraising walk on the 17th.

UPDATE: Olivia has revealed that her husband grows medical cannabis for her.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kathy Bates Stars As a Dispensary Owner in New Netflix Series

Actress Kathy Bates, who recently said she shared "some good sh##" with Susan Sarandon and Melissa McCarthy, is starring as a lawyer-turned-dispensary-owner and advocate in the new Netflix series "Disjointed," set to premiere on August 25.

I caught a taping of the show's pilot last year, and found it witty, charming and quite funny. Bates's character Ruth and her son, an MBA, do battle over the future of the business, with her wanting to keep it focused on healing and her son focused on profits. It’s a somewhat accurate depiction of what’s taking place in the cannabis industry today.

You can see for yourself in the trailer below:



Bates also played a marijuana-smoking lawyer in the 2011-12 series "Harry's Law," and portrayed Alice B. Toklas's lover Gertrude Stein on film in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." She told AARP Magazine—which dubbed her "Smokin'"—that she's enjoying playing a sexier role for a change, and that marijuana "helped tremendously" to ease nausea and chronic pain from her cancer treatments.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Amazon's "The Last Tycoon" Misses the Marijuana

Kathleen and Siva in the 1976 film The Last Tycoon
The makers of the Amazon Prime series "The Last Tycoon" say they seek to make it an authentic representation of F. Scott's Fitzgerald's last, unfinished Hollywood novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, set and written in the 1930's. But right out of the gate the series demotes its female love interest from a goddess to a waitress. And it erases Fitzgerald's intriguing, possible references to marijuana and the drug experience.

One of the characters in Fitzgerald’s book calls Hollywood “a mining town in lotus land,” a reference to the Land of the Lotus Eaters from Homer’s The Odyssey, where explorers get lost in a drug-induced stupor to forget the horrors of war.

In the novel, Tycoon’s main character, producer Monroe Stahr, first sees his love interest Kathleen Moore floating on a studio-made head of Siva that had become dislodged from a set in an earthquake. To this day, worshippers in India drink bhang (a drink made with cannabis) to celebrate Siva’s the marriage of Siva to the goddess Parvati.

That night, cameraman Pete Zavras attempts suicide by diving off an office building on the studio lot. “I knew he’d gone to pot,” says Stahr. When asked why he’d done it on the lot, Zavras replies, “Before the oracle. The solver of the Eleusinian mysteries.” Those were the Greek rites whose attendees worshipped the grain goddess Demeter and took the mind-altering drug kykeon, thought to be related to LSD (derived from ergot, a mold that grows on grain crops).

In the novel, when Stahr goes to Kathleen’s door, she says, “I’m sorry I can’t ask you in. Shall I get my reefer and sit outside?” (A reefer is also the name of a sailor’s coat.) Kathleen is next described sitting at a long white table that “became an altar where the priestess sat alone.” Like the similarly blonde Faye Greener in Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust (also written in 1937), Kathleen personified the mysterious, sacramental and unattainable love object and Stahr worshipped at her altar.

Monroe first sees Kathleen in Amazon's Tycoon
Stahr—who takes Benzedrine, alcohol, and an unnamed medicine from a bottle in the book—meets Kathleen at his house, where he has had a strip of grass brought in from the prop department. Kathleen laughs and asks, “Isn’t that real grass?” Stahr replies, “Oh yes—it’s grass.” The scene is reminiscent of one in Fitzgerald’s 1925 book The Great Gatsby, the first novel about a drug dealer. After Gatsby sends a servant to mow his neighbor Nick’s lawn, Nick tells him, “The grass is fine.” “What grass?” asks Gatsby, before saying, “Oh, the grass in the yard.”

In the made-for-Amazon version there's a head of Siva, but Kathleen doesn't get near it. Instead she meets Stahr as a waitress fetching a sandwich.

In one upside to the series, a woman is revealed to be a better scriptwriter than her husband. Of a scriptwriter on the movie lot, Fitzgerald wrote:

Out the window Rose Meloney watched the trickle streaming toward the commissary. She would have her lunch in her office and knit a few rows while it came. The man was coming at one-fifteen with the French perfume smuggled over the Mexican border. That was no sin—it was like a prohibition. 

Who smuggles French perfume over the Mexican border, and calls it a prohibition? Rose is a flower like marijuana, which was called Santa Rosa or Santa Maria in Mexico. Her surname that starts with an “M,” like marijuana.

Jeanne Moreau in The Last Tycoon (1976).
The reference to knitting may have come from Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s 1857 book The Hasheesh Eater, wherein he describes a hashish-induced vision of a crone knit of purple yarn. In Food of the Gods, Terrence McKenna connects the expression “spinning a yarn” to hemp’s dual purpose as a fiber and an intoxicant leading to flights of fancy.

The character called Rose in the Amazon series is no writer, but rather a cheating wife (played by Rosemarie DeWitt, who was a lot better as a pot smoker in Mad Men — until those writers turned her into a hard drug addict). Lily Collins tries as the ambitious Celia, but Theresa Russell was much more interesting in the 1976 movie version of Tycoon that cast Very Important Pothead Robert Mitchum as the studio chief and VIP Jack Nicholson as the labor leader. The best thing about the movie version wasn't De Niro as Monroe but rather Jeanne Moreau as the diva Didi opposite VIP Tony Curtis. Moreau just died at age 89, probably so she could roll in her grave over Jennifer Beals trying to play her role.