by Geoff Olson

On a sunny Friday afternoon I knock on a brightly painted red door of an East side Vancouver house. Stephen Gray, author and co-organizer of the upcoming Spirit Plant Medicine conference in Vancouver, welcomes me into his small home office.

I ask him about western culture’s conflicted relationship with plant medicines of traditional societies.

“A hundred years ago you could walk into an apothecary or any little pharmacy and get dozens of varieties of cannabis tinctures and oils and capsules and God knows what – without a prescription as far as I can recall. It wasn’t until the thirties in Canada in the twenties in the United States that it became illegal and it was done for a number of nefarious reasons,”  the goateed writer observes.

Plants have been used to effectively treat dozens if not hundreds of ailments for thousands of years. Proof of their efficacy is the isolation or synthesis of the active ingredients for use in pharmaceutical drugs.

It’s a long list. Horse chestnut for treatment of inflammation, quinine for malaria, autumn crocus for gout, may apple and rattlebox for cancers, false hellebore for hypertension, nasturtium for bronchitis, holy thistle for liver disorders, foxglove and lily of the valley as cardiotonics…on it goes.

Without the Gaian pharmacy of traditional societies, there would have been a lot less in modern medicine’s armoury.

Then there are the nonaddictive psychotropic plants, such ayahuasca, peyote, and iboga, which have been traditionally used for healing purposes under carefully prescribed ceremonial settings.

In most industrialized nations, possession and use of such mind-altering plants remains either illegal or languishes in a legislative fog. Yet something of a scientific revolution has been occurring over the past decade, with mounting clinical evidence that psychoactive compounds – used under controlled conditions with expert guidance – can offer long-term relief to sufferers of PTSD, drug addiction, alcoholism, and terminal illness.

As Gray noted, it was only until recently that reefer madness reigned supreme in both pop culture and establishment medicine. Yet the benefits of cannabis for a wide spectrum of health conditions are now widely documented in peer-reviewed scientific literature.

The author likes to call cannabis “the people’s plant.”

“It doesn’t belong to anybody other than everybody, so to speak. You can muck with it and make single molecule compounds out of it. But ultimately if you just leave the damn thing alone it’s a plant and it can’t be patented,” he observes.

The war on drugs predates the 20th century, back to the medieval-era demonization by the church of folk medicine as witchcraft. The “scientific reductionist view” hasn’t been much better, having been “very hard on natural plant medicines and spirituality altogether,” Gray adds.

“Once people see that cannabis is a benign plant with a lot of medical benefits they can open their mind up to the little add-on that it also has this 10,000 year history of being a spiritual ally, and ‘oh, wait a minute, there are other plants like that that do that to?’”

One relatively recent, overarching term for such psychotropic substances is “entheogens,” which means literally, “awakening the divine within.” Yet the ancient notion of a healing continuum embodying plants, persons, and the planet doesn’t filter easily through a post-Cartesian mesh.

However, attitudes are changing – judicially, medically, and cross-generationally. Grey mentions how his 94-year old father, who never touched weed before, is about to get a prescription for medicinal marijuana.

“Human brains are just loaded with cannabinoid receptors,” the author observes, adding cannabis has no LD50, which stands for the threshold of a lethal dose at which 50% of users would die.

The lack of evidence for neurotoxicity makes cannabis “potentially the thin edge of the wedge” in rehabilitating the status of other traditionally-used plants and fungi, Gray insists. They need to be understood for their power in effecting the mind/body complex and approached with both caution and respect for their aboriginal sources, in legalized or decriminalized contexts.

The author believes the 6th annual SPM conference has “our strongest roster of speakers yet,” including artist/ethnobotanist Kathleen Harrison and the “Fox News Medicine Hunter” Chris Kilham, whose program broadcasts in dozens of countries.

The conference runs from Oct. 28 to 29 at the Buchanan Building at UBC. Further details at

The Vancouver Courier, Oct. 20



by Geoff Olson

It’s easy to make virtuous statements when you’re not even in the official opposition.
“The Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a pipeline,” Justin Trudeau tweeted in 2013. Now that the Liberal leader is Prime Minister, apparently the GBR its just the place to slap down an LNG pipeline.

In 2012 Jody Wilson-Raybould attended a protest against development of the Site C dam (which is integrally connected to LNG development). As Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, she admonished the Tories for a plan that threatened to run “roughshod over Aboriginal title.”

Now justice minister in Trudeau’s cabinet, Wilson-Raybould is keeping mum on the topic.

Earlier in October, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna parachuted into Richmond with two other cabinet members to announce the fed’s approval of the Pacific Northwest LNG project, with 190 conditions attached.

If it goes ahead – a big if – the projected LNG project will ratchet up hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in northeast B.C., which the journal Seismological Research Letters has identified as cause for 90 percent of 3.0-plus Richter scale earthquakes in the area. A Harvard study linked U.S. shale gas operations with a huge ten-year spike in global concentration of methane – a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than CO2.
You don’t even have to buy even to the authorized narrative of climate change (I’m looking at you, physics professor Freeman Dyson) to question the Rube Goldberg economics in play.

A few years back Petronas CEO Shamsul Azhar Abbas demanded tax concessions as a precondition to proceeding with LNG operations in B.C. Suddenly, premier Clark’s much-ballyooed “$100 billion prosperity fund” shrank to a numerically nondescript “chance… not a windfall” in the 2014 throne speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Judy Guichon. “The core services this government provides need to be protected,” she added.
At that time, the B.C. government’s boardroom romance with Petronas started to resemble Stockholm Syndrome.

In demanding tax concessions from B.C., Petronas was simply practicing the kind of “free trade” brinksmanship that pits one nation’s treasury against others. But to be fair to the company, they were dealing with a tough fiscal reality: the Asian spot market price had plunged from $18.50/mmBtu in 2012 to below $11/mmBtu in 2014. (LNG prices have dropped more than 70 percent in the past two years.)

Additionally, a 2013 internal audit by Petronas of their Malaysian operations reported “catastrophic” safety issues involving “severe” corrosion of pressure containers and lack of staff training. So there’s that troubling aspect of this low-margin industry, too.

When asked last week by CBC’s Carol Off for evidence that the Pacific Northeast LNG project will prove to be viable for BC taxpayers, deputy premier Rich Coleman responded “there are studies done on worldwide markets on a regular basis by differing groups…we know each decade what level of capacity will be required.”

That takes balls to say. As in crystal balls. It suggests there are dependable extraction/depletion projections for the entire planet, many years into the future – and/or the global oil and gas market is manipulated from the very top into perpetuity. But with a noncompliant Sinosoviet player in the energy chess game, let’s give this commodity sooth-saying a probability of around 15 percent, with a margin of error of who the frack knows.

So this is the plan. We’re prepared to lock the province into a 25-year tax and regulatory regime, which future governments will have to observe or pay compensation to Petronas. The claimed effects of fracking were noted above. And in part because natural gas liquefaction requires enormous amounts of energy, the province will ratchet up hydroelectricity capacity by developing the Site C Dam, with $9 billion dollar hit to the BC taxpayer.

Petronas will ship liquefied Canadian gas from its planned Prince Rupert terminal to Asian markets that already have natural gas suppliers in closer proximity. Yet currently the traditional energy sector is globally under pressure from glutted markets, cost-competitive alternative energy technologies, divestment campaigns, and indigenous resistance to environmentally-compromising resource extraction.

It’s all a smokey plume in the form of a question mark. Petronas has yet to make a final decision, and other private players have either bowed out or are playing waiting game on provincial investment. The B.C. LNG economy remains as vapourous as the Cheshire Cat’s grin.

The Vancouver Courier, Oct. 6