A woman smokes a blunt as a friend takes her picture at the 4/20 marijuana holiday in Civic Center Park in downtown Denver April 20, 2013. Thousands of marijuana enthusiasts gathered in Denver on Saturday for an annual weekend celebration of cannabis, the first such assemblage since Colorado voters legalized the recreational use of pot last fall.
Norbert Nagel, Wikimedia Commons
Medical marijuana gets all the headlines, but many legal weeds have traditions as medicines too. Although homeowners often consider these plants as lawn outlaws, weeds can serve as a floral pharmacy. However, would-be patients of the plants should consult a doctor before self-medicating.
Cichorium intybus, the light blue flower frequently seen along roads, provides the main commercial source of the compound inulin. Patients take inulin to fight high blood fats, including cholesterol and triglycerides, according to WebMD. Research published in Diabetes & Metabolism Journal suggests that inulin intake benefits women with type-2 diabetes by reducing the rate of blood sugar increase after eating. Inulin promotes the growth of certain bacteria in the intestines. While some believe this can help digestion, others suffer serious flatulence when the inulin-fed bacteria build up.
Some people add the dried and roasted root to coffee. Chickory coffee is especially popular in New Orleans.
Böhringer Friedrich, Wikimedia Commons
Trifolium pratense contains chemicals known as isoflavones. These chemicals can act like the female hormone estrogen in the body. Doctors have examined the clover chemicals as a treatment for hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. However, doctors warn that women with a history or risk of breast cancer should avoid isoflavones, since estrogen-like chemicals have been associated with increased incidence of some cancers.
H. Zell, Wikimedia Commons
Silybum marianum has a 2,000 year history as a liver medicine. Modern research has looked at thistle extracts as a treatment for alcohol-induced liver damage. Substances in milk thistle, particularly the chemical silymarin, may protect the liver from damage after a person takes an overdose of other medications, including acetaminophen (Tylenol). Milk thistle may also be an antidote to poison from the deathcap mushroom (Amanita phalloides). Animal studies found that milk thistle completely counteracted the poison if given within 10 minutes of poisoning, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Muffet, Wikimedia Commons
Native Americans used the milkweed (Asclepias sp.) as a contraceptive, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The milky, white sap that gives the plant its name served to remove warts. However, milkweeds also contain chemicals known as cardiac glycosides. These chemicals can cause severe illness in humans and livestock. Monarch butterfly caterpillars eat milkweed and build up high concentrations of glycosides, which makes the insects nasty tasting to predators.
Tony Hisgett, Wikimedia Commons
Ancient Greeks and Romans used horsetail (Equisetum arvense) to stop bleeding, heal ulcers and wounds, and treat tuberculosis and kidney problems. My wife drinks horsetail tea to flush out her body’s system and help lose weight. The tea has a mildly bitter flavor, similar to chamomile. Research published in Ethnopharmacolgy found that horsetail tea increases urination which corroborates my wife’s contention that the plant is a diuretic, or a substance that increases urination. However, doctors recommend taking a multivitamin when drinking significant amounts of horesetail tea, because it can flush nutrients, such as vitamin B1, thiamin and potassium, out of one's system as well.
J. Carmichael, Wikimedia Commons
In the past, Europeans used remedies made from dandelion (Taraxacum sp.) roots, leaves and flowers to treat fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine take dandelions for stomach ailments and breast problems, such as inflammation or lack of milk flow. Dandelion leaves taste similar to spinach and contains vitamins A, B, C, and D, along with iron, potassium, and zinc.
Uwe H. Friese, Wikimedia Commons
Urtica dioica can put the hurt on an hiker in shorts, but historically the plant has served to treat aching muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis and gout. People still use the plant to treat joint pain, and some studies have suggested that the plant can treat arthritis. Another study found that capsules of dried stinging nettle may reduce the symptoms of hay fever. Europeans frequently use stinging nettle root to treat bladder problems. Boiled nettle makes a side dish similar to collared greens.
For those who brush alongside stinging nettle, a remedy to the sting is often found growing nearby. Applying crushed up dandelion, horsetail, Aloe vera, jewelweed or the leaf of a dock or lock plant can counter the acid in the sting.
Forest and Kim Starr, Wikimedia Commons
Like many of the medicinal weeds in this list, purslane (Portulaca oleracea) also makes a healthy snack. The plant contains a high content of omega-3 fatty acids. I ate some that grew in my yard and found it was somewhat sour. A little bit was good, but too much would be overpowering in a salad. In traditional Chinese medicine, purslane treats genito-urinary tract infections. Research published in Phytomedicine found that the plant reduced problems with cognition in older mice.
Robert Steers/NPS, Wikimedia Commons
Since the age of the ancient Greek doctors have used plantains (Plantago sp., the weed in sidewalk cracks, not the fruit) to speed wound healing. In the training manual Survival, Evasion and Recovery, the U.S. Department of Defense recommends plantain as a poultice on wounds or as a nutrient-rich tea to treat diarrhea.
Julia Adamson, photographer in the Saskatoon area, Wikimedia Commons
Traditionally, healers use burdock (Arctium sp.) to clear toxins from the blood and increase urination, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The plant also is used to treat skin ailments, such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis. The leaves and roots of burdock are edible and contains inulin, like chicory, so they may aid digestion and/or cause a nasty case of flatulence. Burdock also contains high quantities of antioxidants that can prevent damage to cells.
Marijuana users in Colorado and Washington are counting down the hours before the western US states become the first to legalize recreational pot shops on January 1.
Blazing a trail they hope will be followed in other parts of the United States, cannabis growers and others are also rubbing their hands, while tax collectors are eying the revenue the newly-legalized trade will generate.
Enterprising companies are even offering marijuana tours to cash in on tourists expected to be attracted to a Netherlands-style pot culture -- including in Colorado's famous ski resorts.
"Just the novelty alone is bringing people from everywhere," said Adam Raleigh of cannabis supplier Telluride Bud Co.
"I have people driving in from Texas, Arizona, Utah... to be a part of history.
"Over the last month I have received somewhere between four to six emails a day and five to 10 phone calls a day asking all about the law and when should people plan their ski trip to go along with cannabis," he added.
Medical marijuana is already legal and regulated in 19 US states, and has been allowed in some cases for the past 20 years. And in most of them, private consumption of cannabis is not classified as a crime.
But Colorado and Washington are creating a recreational market in which local authorities will oversee growing, distribution and marketing -- all of it legal -- for people to get high just for the fun of it.
The market is huge: from $1.4 billion in medical marijuana in 2013 it will grow by 64 percent to $2.34 billion in 2014 with recreational pot added in Colorado and Washington, according to Arcview Market Research, which tracks and publishes data on the cannabis industry.
Both states legalized recreational consumption of marijuana in referendums in November last year, but new rules coming into force on January 1 allow cannabis shops.
A budtender pours marijuana from a jar at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary, on July 25, 2012 in Los Angeles.David McNew/Getty Images
In Colorado, famous for its Rocky Mountain ski resorts, officials this week issued 348 retail marijuana licenses including for small shops which from January 1 can sell up to 28 grams of pot to people aged 21 or older.
Washington state authorities have received applications for 3,746 marijuana business licenses, including 867 retail licenses, according to The Seattle Times newspaper, which urged caution in an editorial.
"Legalization of marijuana (is) a seismic change in drug-control policy, perhaps the biggest since the end of alcohol prohibition. Supporters and skeptics need to take a deep breath," it said.
Colorado's branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said everyone will benefit.
"It will mean jobs, tax revenue for the state and local jurisdictions, increased tourism, and a developing progressive new industry in Colorado," NORML attorney Rachel Gillette told AFP.
"It will also have an impact in that marijuana sales will be brought out of the shadows and the black market," she added.
Michael Elliott, head of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, noted that Colorado has licensed medical marijuana businesses since 2010, but said the influx of tourists for recreational use of pot could lead to shortages.
"It's tough to know whether supply will meet demand, mainly because it's tough to know the impact of tourism on this new market," he said.
"It looks like demand will exceed supply, so I anticipate that prices in Colorado will go up ... But as time goes on, more businesses will open meaning there will be more supply," he added.
Telluride Bud Co's Raleigh compared decriminalizing pot shops to legalizing same-sex weddings, which are now allowed in more than a third of US states.
"Give it six months, and when other states see that the sky didn't fall and the revenue we are producing, I believe this will spread just like gay marriage," he said. "You just can't stop the will of the people."