Cannabis Controversy

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Several weeks back I was doing a little Saturday morning reading before leaving for the workshop I was teaching that morning.  I was looking at the FDA’s website for any current “drug” news related to the herbal products industry (FDA definition of a drug includes all the teas, tinctures, etc that I brew at home to help with my own health)*.  I saw a release from June (2018) about cannabis.  It was in no way related to my workshop but a glaring contradiction caught my attention. I noticed that in June the FDA approved a drug with the isolated cannabidiol compound for use in seizures, but Cannabis sativa (marijuana) is still listed as a Schedule I drug.  Huh?

*The FDA is a fee for service organization that has become very expensive and prohibitive for smaller companies. Without the money they can’t gain the legal approval to bring their products to market, making it a bit of a hustle.  That said, they are our regulatory body and have a mission to protect consumers from dangerous drugs.  I always tread very carefully here so I will go no further with this commentary, other than to say that our construct is possibly not as unbiased and scientifically based as we would believe, however it is what we have.

Cannabis isn’t one of the most dangerous plants out there but it seems to be the most politicized (at least in the U.S). The secondary metabolites in Datura stramonium and Salvia divinorum have more of a hallucinogenic effect in humans than cannabis but they aren’t illegal and grow prolifically in North America. From a strictly botanical perspective, it makes no sense.

Additionally, certain strains of Cannabis have been used as the source of hemp, which was, according to The People’s History,

one of the most significant crops for mankind up until this last century…

Hemp was probably the earliest plant cultivated for textile fiber. Archaeologists found a remnant of hemp cloth in ancient Mesopotamia (currently Iran and Iraq) which dates back to 8,000 BC. Hemp is also believed to be the oldest example of human industry.

Hemp, which has historically had over 25,000 diverse uses ranging from paints, printing inks, varnishes, paper, Government documents, bank notes, food, textiles (the original ‘Levi’s’ jeans were made from Hemp cloth), canvas (artists canvases were used by the great masters) and building materials still remains banned in this country whose Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. With modern technical developments, uses have increased to composite boards, motor vehicle brake and clutch pads, plastics, fuels, bio-diesel and Eco-solid fuel. In fact anything that can be made from a hydrocarbon (fossil fuel) can be made from a carbohydrate, but the strong lobbies still manage to keep the growth of this useful crop banned and the public disillusioned.

The full article on the history of hemp is absolutely worth your time to read if you have any interest in this topic.

Between the botany and the history of the plant, I was perplexed and began wondering what it is that got this one plant to the point of being so controversial.  Why are we even having national conversations about this? Why is it illegal? From my opinion, it looks a bit like reading about Prohibition. (Note that this is not a discussion about addiction or crime, both of which can occur with any substance on Earth and merit their own discussions.)

Until recently, my knowledge of marijuana was limited to the “just say no to drugs” training in my schools in the eighties, the demonization by my family, church, and employers, and the military members that were kicked out for popping positive on drug tests because they smoked weed on leave. Having worked with DEA agents in my past life, I was well aware that crimes have been committed and people are in prison because of the illegal marijuana industry.  What I didn’t understand was why.  Let the research commence.

First, what’s the history?

Cannabis was commonly used in medicines prescribed by physicians in the United States and was not really given much attention as a plant any more special than many others. With the post Mexican Revolution wave of immigration, Mexicans brought with them the habit of smoking “marihuana”. Anti-immigration backlash began and by the 30’s FDR was pressuring lawmakers to outlaw the substance. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed, not criminalizing the use, but levying heavy fines on anyone selling the product. The American Medical Association (still the largest group of medical doctors in the United States) was completely against the legislation because they would be losing cannabis, a medically important drug. The first marijuana related arrests in the U.S. resulted in 2 men being sentenced to 18 months and 4 years at Leavenworth for failure to pay the tax. Scratching my head and thinking that the potheads have been right all these years. It really was about money and control all along. We are just now, nearly 100 years later, getting back to the point where we use cannabis as medicine, except this time many doctors are against it.

The FDA* had recommended several Schedule I research licenses to the DEA. Those were not approved at that time but there have been updates since that morning.  (Read all about it here).  Additionally, I was unaware that the DEA had taken steps to increase legal cannabis production back in 2016.  This is an excerpt from the article I just linked.

In 2016 the DEA approved a process to allow more cultivators to grow cannabis for research. More than 20 facilities have filed applications to become licensed cultivators, but the Justice Department, under Jeff Sessions, has blocked the DEA from processing the applications.

Cannabis was commonly used in medicines prescribed by physicians in the United States and was not really given much attention. With the post Mexican Revolution wave of immigration, Mexicans brought with them the habit of smoking “marihuana”. Anti-immigration backlash began and by the 30’s FDR was pressuring lawmakers to outlaw the substance. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed, not criminalizing the use, but levying heavy fines on anyone selling the product. The American Medical Association (still the largest group of medical doctors in the United States) was completely against the legislation because they would be losing cannabis, a medically important drug. The first marijuana related arrests in the U.S. resulted in 2 men being sentenced to 18 months and 4 years at Leavenworth for failure to pay the tax on the plant, not for possession or use of the plant itself.

Meanwhile, the traditional cultivation of hemp, dating back thousands of years, was taking a huge hit.  Under the pressure of multiple lobbyists, for example, DuPont, maker of petroleum based synthetic textiles (competitor), the government instituted enormous taxes on hemp, eventually banning it altogether later that same year (1937).  Interestingly, the U.S. government continued to import hemp due to its extensive, plant-based products that were useful in numerous industries. Just a few years later, the government doled out special grants to farmers to grow hemp to support the World War II war-time production.  The ban remained after the war.

We are just now, nearly 100 years later, getting back to the point where we can legally use cannabis as medicine (30 states plus Washington, D.C. at the time of this post), except this time many doctors are still against it. Despite the fact that hemp (mostly a plant carbohydrate) can be used for most of the same things as the less environmentally friendly fossil fuels, it remains banned.


After reading through all this research, I can’t help but notice some parallels to current events. Heavy waves of immigration, backlash, politicians playing on fears and passing legislation that benefits corporate interests more than the constituents… From drugpolicy.org,

The demonization of the cannabis plant was an extension of the demonization of the Mexican immigrants. In an effort to control and keep tabs on these new citizens, El Paso, TX borrowed a play from San Francisco’s playbook, which had outlawed opium decades earlier in an effort to control Chinese immigrants. The idea was to have an excuse to search, detain and deport Mexican immigrants.

That excuse became marijuana.

This method of controlling people by controlling their customs was quite successful, so much so that it became a national strategy for keeping certain populations under the watch and control of the government.  Sound familiar?  Would love to hear your thoughts below.

 

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The Truth About DIY Laundry “Detergent”

A recent horrifically nasty discovery about DIY laundry soap prompted today’s soapbox – see what I did there 😉  I warn you – it’s gonna be long.  That said, if you have ever made or considered making – your own laundry detergent, please take the time to read this.  If at the end you disagree, rock on. I did my part and warned you.

The Background

Like many people, I want to do the best I can for my family and the environment. That means that I often find myself asking Dr.Google how to DIY everything under the sun so I can limit the toxic chemicals contributing to our toxic load.  I’ve tried my hand at everything from candles to deodorant with varying rates of success.  Homemade household cleaners were one of the first things I tried and remain one of my favorites since many are effective, economical, and easy.

From DIY cleaners to essential oils, there was SO MUCH bad information out there.  So much misinformation being promulgated by well-meaning mommy bloggers with huge followings.  I had bought into plenty of it because I didn’t know any better.

I made my first DIY laundry detergent in 2013. That was also the year I banned paper towels and commercial cleaners for an entire year.  Needless to say, when I jumped on the crunchy bandwagon, I went hardcore. I took it to the extreme and wanted to DIY everything because DIY is better, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

The other thing that happened in 2013 is that, at the end of the year, I walked away from a halfway completed Master of Science in Telecommunications.  I just didn’t love it anymore and my husband encouraged me to pursue my passion.  A month later, in January of 2014, I started a Master of Science with American College of Healthcare Sciences (ACHS).  I took two semesters of graduate courses (to include one graduate level Aromatherapy course and two in Anatomy & Physiology) before realizing that I really needed to take some foundational undergraduate courses before taking higher level courses about theoretical application.  I spent another year with ACHS, completing programs in Natural Products Manufacturing, Aromatherapy, and Herbal Retail Management.  After ACHS I went on to a Master of Science at Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) in Therapeutic Herbalism.  I cannot speak highly enough about those programs.  Why is it relevant to this post (and brought up in a lot of my discussions)?  It’s because that training included very detailed education on herbs, fixed oils, and essential oils, their chemistry, their actions (based on chemical constituents), and understanding clinical studies and science.  It didn’t necessarily make me an expert on science but it definitely gave me the basics so I know when to ask a chemist, biologist, botanist, or medical professional for clarification.

And now, here we are.

I recently started making soap. It’s my current obsession because it is a blend of exact chemistry and artistry. I decided to make another batch of laundry detergent, using one of my pure bars of coconut oil soap.  In theory that is the height of crunchiness.  I pulled up the recipes I had previously used.  Here is the top rated hit Google delivers for the “DIY laundry detergent” search.  It calls for a bar of soap, borax, and washing soda. This is another top hit (#3). Same ingredients.  #2 contains the same 3 ingredients, plus baking soda, Oxi-clean and scent.  I have tried all three of these and liked them.  My clothes seemed mostly clean. I was willing to lower my standards a bit given the frugality and how much it appealed to my preferences for “natural” products.

While I liked them, I wasn’t in love with them.  They never completely got rid of the smell in our sweaty athletic attire and I was frankly way overcommitted (I know you’ve been there, too) and just didn’t have time to figure out the problem.  We’ve been using commercial detergent since I started my Master’s with MUIH in 2016.  With my new soap fully cured, I was ready to give it a go again.

This time around, with a better understanding of chemistry, the recipes didn’t make sense.  I did some more research and found this article.  I reached out to a friend of mine, a kick ass chemist with a master’s degree and a job working with chemicals all day.  I asked her to fact check the article since I am not a chemist. She verified almost everything in the article as true and then explained why these recipes may not work, and provided a whole lot of info.  I realized that, despite my best intentions, we had been wearing DISGUSTING clothing, that was neither clean or sanitary.  I was so grossed out that I decided to immediately write a post about this to warn all my well meaning friends.

So what’s the problem? There are actually a lot of reasons, scientifically, that this doesn’t work.

The details.

The bar of soap is the cleaning agent in these recipes.  The only cleaning agent in most of them. Soap is a combination of oil or fat with lye molecules that chemically reacted with water molecules in a process called saponification (that leaves no lye behind). Soap is designed for non-porous surfaces and requires friction (scrubbing) to rinse it away.  We will come back to the soap.

Borax, (B4Na2O7)

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From PubChem

Also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate. It is easily converted into boric acid, however that is a different substance than what is sold in Borax (a salt).  It has a lot of different biochemical uses (to include as a buffer), however in laundry it is used to soften hard water (if you are lucky enough not to have hard water you may not care about this part at all).  “Hard water” means that your water has a pH of over 8.5 (pH means “potential of hydrogen” if you didn’t know – okay fine, I admit it, I didn’t know).  The neutral range for water is 6.5 to 8.5.  The goal is to bring your water to as close to neutral as possible to prolong the life of your clothing.

Borax has a pH of 9.3.  It has two salt molecules and is also used to soften water, because the salt molecules (the Na) bind with the minerals in hard water, like Ma and Ca. This chemical couple is an insoluble substance that can be rinsed away (same concept as the oil from the soap trapping dirt and grime). For borax to dissolve and rinse away, you need heat. Agitation is not enough. Cold water will not work.

Washing Soda, (Na2CO3 ),

washingsoda
From PubChem

is also known as soda ash due to burned plant ashes being one source of the substance. It is an alkali chemical used as a water softener or degreasing agent. It is a salt of carbonic acid. The salt (Na) is the part that softens water. Washing soda has a pH of 11. That alkalinity makes it wonderful for removing grease stains from garage floors, tough fabrics, etc.  This is also supposed to help soften the water in the exact same way as borax.  The problem is that it requires a LOT of rinsing to rinse away. If not, it leaves an insoluble substance redeposited right on your clothes.  One rinse cycle is not going to remove this stuff in a standard washing machine.  Washing soda does not dissolve easily.  You should use either washing soda or borax.  You don’t need both, that’s silly and not very economical.  For hard water, I would personally choose Borax (lower pH = less caustic) over washing soda and just use warm to hot water.

Oxi-clean, is used for stain-boosting or presoaking.  It is actually not found in most “natural” recipes. It is included because it is found in the 2nd most popular recipe (per Google search as of 8/16/2018) for “DIY Laundry Detergent”.  While I personally think that this works quite well as a presoak, it is neither natural or “safe”.  The EWG gives it a big fat “F” while the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (link here) says,

Danger. Causes skin irritation. Causes serious eye damage. Toxic to aquatic life.

If you care about Flipper or your eyeballs, this is maybe not for you.

Scent is pretty self-explanatory. It is usually either in the form of fabric softener crystals or essential oils. Do I even need to discuss the synthetic fragrance in fabric softener chemicals?  Let me just point you to my post on candles and let’s call this topic done. Essential oils as scent?  Okay – this is a topic that I am most definitely qualified to talk about.

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Some essential oils work quite well to pretreat (lift) certain types of stains (grease). In the recipe itself? They may make your clothes smell good.  They are unlikely to have any other effect in your laundry, no matter what you have been told.  Think about the size of your washing machine, the amount of water in it, and then how much essential oil you are adding.  If someone quotes “studies” showing how antimicrobial they are, go read the study, look at the quantity used and the application method.  It is an absolute distortion of facts to cite those studies as a scientific basis for eos in your laundry.

If you are using essential oils for scent alone (because they are a far better alternative than fragrance), you may be totally happy with the outcome of the aroma after you wash your clothes.  If you use water that is hot enough to kill the pathogens lurking on your clothes (staph infection, anyone?) the heat will damage or destroy the essential oils. If you use a dryer, there is almost no chance the aroma will make it through the entire process intact.  If you are using them for smell alone, this doesn’t make much economical sense.  You would be better served putting them on/in a dryer ball where some would survive the process and leave your clothes smelling nice. Here is a lengthy, detailed scientific review of how light/temperature affect the structure of essential oils, and potential side effects of transdermal absorption of these mutated molecules.  My opinion is that if you find a combo that works for you and makes your clothes smell nice, it is far better to go that route than to use cheaper synthetic fragrance.  Just know that you are degrading any potential therapeutic benefit so the aroma can be quite expensive.

And now… the biggest reason for this blog post. 

Let’s talk soap.  Soap is designed to trap bacteria (with the oil) and allow you to rinse it off with water. The water is critical because you can actually remove a lot of germs with just water and friction, but you remove nothing with just soap. Let’s start simple.

Consider the quantity.  If one bar of soap goes in the total recipe and you are using one or two tablespoons of “detergent” per load, how much soap is actually in that? It’s fractions.  Maybe a 1/4 of a tablespoon of cleaner for an entire load of laundry? Would you use a drop of liquid dish soap for an entire sink full of dishes? That tiny quantity would not be enough to clean anything. Gross!

So let’s say you have figured out the right quantity to make sure there is enough cleaner in each load. Let’s say you even figured out the proper ratio of pH balancers (all the Borax and washing soda talk above) for your exact water to make the soap effective and prevent it from turning into something insoluble that leaves a film (this is the EXACT thing that we call “soap scum” in our showers).  Here is the critical thing I just didn’t understand: laundry soap is designed for washing boards, tubs, or washbasins, with the cleaning powered by humans through mechanical energy (good, old fashioned scrubbing!).  Modern washing machines do not generate that much friction, which is why laundry detergent exists.

The terms are often used interchangeably but they are NOT the same thing.  Soap can be made at home with a basic understanding of chemistry (hello, I do it!). Detergent requires a chemistry lab. Both contain surfactants but behave very differently in water.

Detergent, developed in labs when plant oils and animal fats were scarce during World War I, is free rinsing.  The minerals in hard water do not react with the detergent like they do with the soap.  If you have an energy efficient washer, worse, a front loader (like me), the agitation will not come close to the friction needed for the water to wash away the oil from the soap (that has trapped the gross stuff).  Ivory soap, pure coconut oil soaps, Castile soap are all still soap, no matter what you read on the blogosphere.

This concept is really, really important.  If I confused you or you don’t believe me, you can (and should!) read this chemistry site, this blog, or even this one. that explain the difference between soap and detergent and why they are NOT the same thing.

Regardless of the name, all of the DIY recipes are for laundry soap, not detergent.

Any remaining delusions I had about my ability to make laundry detergent were shattered after I realized that every single recipe uses soap and is therefore laundry soap, not a detergent.  Next came the reality that we had worn dirty clothes for the months (year?) I made our “detergent”.  We wore bacteria-laden clothing, with pollen potentially still trapped in the fibers of my highly allergic husband’s clothing, in the name of cheap and eco-friendly DIY cleaners for my expensive eco-friendly HE front-loading washer.

So think about what is on your clothes after multiple washes with your DIY “detergent”.  Do you wash your clothes on cold cycle? Cold water won’t dissolve the soap as well, either.  You may just be leaving chunky residue on your clothes and washer.  If you are still arguing at this point, I feel sorry for your bacteria and soap film covered family.

Let that all sink in.  If you’ve made your own “detergent” you may be feeling a bit queasy. If you are really brave and have a strong stomach, there is a photo gallery to show what was stripped off of clothes that were cleaned with homemade “detergents”.  It’s nasty. Don’t say I didn’t warn you first. Once you understand soap versus detergent, you know that these recipes do not work in a washing machine.

What can you do?

  1. You could wash your clothes by hand using laundry soap.
  2. You could wash your clothes in a washing machine with laundry soap and pretend you never read this article.
  3. You can try to tinker with the recipe. If you have soft water you MIGHT be able to use a DIY recipe and multiple rinse cycles to generate the friction to rinse off the soap oils.  When doing multiple rinse cycles you are using more energy but you aren’t polluting Mother Nature with the chemicals in detergent so the eco-friendly argument might still be in your favor. You would definitely have control of the chemicals you are using. You might even have clean clothes maybe.
  4. You can suck it up, like me, and buy commercial detergent. There are some “safe” ones out there if you do your research.