By Doug Fine
As he prepared to distribute the first of 100,000 specialized cannabis seedlings in a limo once owned by Ferdinand Marcos, the last thing Denver's Bill Althouse was worried about was money. This is important, since the debut of his "Free For All" cannabis delivery project, which he invited me to witness on a recent early spring afternoon, hinged on gratis distribution.
"You're in sync with (Colorado's cannabis-legalizing) Amendment 64 if you give it away," the 61-year-old engineer told me as, without fanfare, he launched what he considers to be a landmark project that is part humanitarian outreach and part viable scientific field research.
No, Althouse is not one of the venture capitalists poised to profit from the end of the Drug War. His priorities are closer to those of sourdough starter. Only instead of bread, what he was delivering in his vegetable oil-powered limo this chilly day was a mother plant that had tested high in a non-psychoactive cannabinoid (component of the cannabis plant) known as cannabidiol, or CBD.
Althouse recognized from personal experimentation that high-CBD cannabis strains have helped dramatically ease his own PTSD symptoms. So, with Colorado's 2012 legalization of adult use of cannabis, Althouse relocated to the Rocky Mountain State because he'd come up with a plan to help other sufferers.
"The idea is to deliver CBD-rich cannabis plants across Colorado, and let the cloning and healing begin," he told me in the upscale Denver outskirt of Lakeland. He was struggling down his front yard path while clutching a bushy, deep green cannabis plant. "And for people who are already healthy adults, study after study shows CBD to be a cancer fighting tool, part of any adult's health maintenance regimen. You should be throwing the flowers from this lady in your morning shake."
The strain Althouse had chosen to distribute is called Harlequin. The mother plant I was now watching him stuff into the back seat of the limo (we'll call her Rebecca) tested at eight percent CBD (and three percent THC, the psychoactive and thus most famous of the 90 known cannabinoids).
Now, I learned in our first hour together that Althouse could cite dozens of studies from around the world that confirm CBD's health benefits in areas far beyond the psychiatric. In fact, I heard about (and later confirmed) studies that showed promise in areas ranging from pain reduction to mood elevation to tumor cytotoxicity (cancer cell destruction). One example that's received a lot of attention is a 2010 study by researchers at the California Pacific Medical Center that showed rodent breast cancer cells wiped out by CBD.
But because even he acknowledged that cannabinoid research is in his infancy (thank you, Drug War), Althouse wants to see the Free For All distribution provide baseline data for what is in effect a massive scale field study into CBD's mental health benefits.
"Because of the thousands of lives torn apart by legal psychotropic pharmaceuticals, I'm going to encourage Free For All participants to be part of growing the CBD database," Althouse told me as he hopped into the 1979 Mercerdes stretch. Whether or not this massive, cream-colored pleasure conveyance had its sheepskin seat covers installed by a Filipino dictator (this I couldn't confirm, but everything else Althouse told me was true), I saw right away that this was going to be the most comfortable journalistic ride I'd ever enjoyed. The suspension alone was like a massage.
Yes, at least he would be making his deliveries in style. Displaying a profound understanding of media relations, Althouse played chauffeur and sat me down a mile back on a sofa next to the Rebecca. About half my size, she sat in her five-gallon pot, waving at me with every pothole while a light snow sent confetti flakes around me outside.
As we shot out into Mile High Traffic, I couldn't fully hear him until I told him to speak up, since Althouse at first didn't recognize how loudly he had to shout for sound to reach me in the different county that I occupied on the limo's rear couch. But eventually I grasped that he was explaining his theory about why CBD-rich cannabis plants were likely to work well for PTSD symptom mitigation - or even syndrome recovery.
"If you've got anxiety issues to begin with, a lower THC level - not a negligible one, but a lower one - combined with the high CBD is probably what you're looking for. When the data are in, we might see it turn out be a cannabinoid ratio issue, like we see with Omega fatty acids in our diet."
His choice of first Free For All delivery was a no brainer for Althouse, the kind of guy who can make himself look ready to give a presentation to venture capitalists (or the AMA), but usually chooses not to. Turns out there was an Iraq veteran friend of his, Tim, who might benefit from, well, anything non-pharmaceutical that could help with some of the PTSD-related issues that are wreaking havoc in his post-service life.
"If it works, it could help me get my life back," the goateed, 30-something Tim told me when we arrived at his Colorado Springs home. He said I could use his real name, but, speaking in an incredibly open manner that reflected his desperation, he was so dang forthcoming in the hour we chatted that I thought it better to not cause him to regret that decision.
"The pharmaceuticals I've been given are basically torture," Tim told me at his kitchen table. "I spent a month without seeing daylight at one point. I've been a zombie."
He pointed at a stack of nearby disk golf Frisbees. "I want to be out doing that again." Then he pointed to an even nearer weekly pill box. "Not that."
This echoed the tale of pain and PTSD medication woe I'd heard from many veterans in the course of my research for my recent book about the coming Drug Peace economy, Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution.
And yet it struck Althouse as he fired the Marcos-mobile up for the return ride, that the health maintenance promise of CBD might have the widest impact on overall American health care costs as the Drug Peace Era begins. After all, he pointed out, healthy living has long been documented as the best way to keep medical expenses down. If Americans substitute cannabis for the immensely dangerous and expensive-to-society alcohol in social situations, he believes we're likely to see tens of millions saved in the public safety sphere.
"I see CBD as a nutritional supplement," my chauffeur told me. "In Colorado and Washington, people no longer have to wait to get sick before they can benefit from it."
Before we'd left Tim's house, Althouse had hauled the well-coddled Rebecca from the limo to Tim's kitchen. There, they clipped and transplanted two seedlings. The Free For All plan is one of those "then I told two friends, and they told two" viral efforts that Althouse hopes will bring millions of Rebecca plants into American lives.
Inside Tim's house, the hopes were more personal. "It'd be nice to have my husband back," Tim's wife told me as we said goodbye. Tim was standing right next to her, nodding.
For more information on the cannabis Free For All, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.