Walking around my neighborhood in East Oakland, I see many plants with psychoactive components. Through the educational materials provided by Personal Plants, a website devoted to DIY cultivation kits for entheogenic plants, I’ve learned that the ice plants in my neighbor’s yard are more than just a hearty ground cover with daisy-like purple flowers, they also contain the hallucinogenic chemicals DMT and 5-MeO-DMT. The morning glories climbing on a fence across the street started from seeds that produce drug effects similar to LSD. The strange exotic-looking passion fruit flowers that I’ve loved since I was a child come from roots that can be used in place of other psychoactive plants in ayahuasca brews. In 2019, Oakland decriminalized entheogenic plants to promote “healing, knowledge, creativity, and spiritual connection,” but in my neighborhood, people are more likely to grow these plants for decorative purposes. Just like cannabis, to bring about the psychoactive elements of these botanicals, they must be processed and consumed. Simply having them around is not a danger to my community. In fact, being able to freely grow them by allowing homegrown and personal gardens is seen as a way to empower the community and provide equitable access to their healing properties.
“The Oakland community behind this initiative believe it is an inalienable right to develop their own relationship with nature, both as a measure of personal liberty and to embrace what it means to be human on Planet Earth,” the Oakland initiative decriminalizing entheogenic plants reads. “Decriminalizing nature provides individual and community sovereignty to explore different levels of the human experience, including mystical and spiritual states of consciousness.”
Like other plants with psychoactive properties, the cannabis plant is not dangerous. To take that further, having children around cannabis plants is not unsafe. Some allergic reactions can occur from being around weed plants—the most common is a skin irritation that can also happen from brushing up against the glandular trichomes on the leaves, stems, and flowers of tomatoes—but the plant is pretty harmless.
Recently there was news out of Pennsylvania—where cannabis is allowed for medical uses, but homegrow is not—that a man was charged with allegedly growing cannabis at his home where he lived with his three small children. The report from the local news played the story like the kids having “easy access” to the two tents of cannabis was something to cause alarm. The truth is the children were never in any danger from the plants. As any stoner knows, for cannabis to express the psychoactive effects caused by the cannabinoid THC, it has to become “activated.” While the raw cannabinoids present in fresh leaves and buds can be beneficial to boost our endocannabinoid system by addressing things like inflammation, they are non-intoxicating. When cannabis is harvested, it has to be dried and cured to address its moisture content.
Then the cannabinoids must be activated with heat through smoking, vaping, dabbing, or cooking. This process, called decarboxylation (a chemical reaction that alters the structure of raw cannabinoids by removing a carboxyl ring), ensures the THCA becomes THC to produce a “high,” but it also activates other beneficial cannabinoids such as CBD, which is CBDA in its raw form.
The problem with the news out of Pennsylvania (which state Representative Chris Rabb tweeted was “one of the more alarmist & off-kilter local news headlines I’ve seen in a while.”) was the misunderstanding of the danger the plants seemingly posed to the children. But even Rabb doesn’t quite get the nuance of the fact that these were cannabis plants, not processed rolled-up buds that came with a lighter and instructions simple enough for the young children to follow. “What’s next? ‘Beaver county man leaves liquor cabinet unlocked with his children at home,’” Rabb subtweeted.
Cannabis is an extremely beneficial plant and has proved to be so even for young children with specific medical needs. It is not completely harmless however, too much THC can cause heightened anxiety. High in THC, edibles can cause vomiting, dizziness, difficulty walking, a rapid heart rate, drowsiness, confusion, and breathing difficulties. Also, some long-term users can develop cannabis hyperemesis syndrome, which leads to severe bouts of vomiting (sometimes with screaming at the same time, called “scromiting.”). All these potential drawbacks occur because of the consumption of THC. The plant itself is not the problem and is not something to be feared or, as it happened with cannabis, only grown inside behind locked doors in secured facilities.
I wish I saw more cannabis plants growing freely in my neighborhood. In 2017, Sunset Magazine took the forward-thinking stance of suggesting incorporating marijuana plants into garden design, even going as far as saying to use cannabis as a garden backdrop to add texture and color. Many flowers, such as daffodils, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and lilies are toxic and, therefore, can be harmful to children. In the same way, we shouldn’t fear children being around a backyard grape arbor that could later be turned into wine, we should eliminate the idea that growing cannabis around children puts them in danger. If anything, it’s the criminal element of the plant that can cause safety issues. Homegrow should be a human right.