Interview with renowned Cannabis researcher Melanie Dreher

Listen to the half hour interview here


APRIL 24, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

Well, this week we’re going to hear an interview with Melanie Dreher, PhD. She’s also a registered nurse and a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing. It was such an honor to have the chance to sit down with her and to get this interview, and I hope you folks enjoy it. Before any ado can possibly be furthered, let’s get to it.

Could you tell me who you are and what you do?

MELANIE DREHER, PHD, RN, FAAN: Melanie Dreher, and I am Dean Emeritus at Rush University, and I’m a cannabis researcher, four decades of cannabis research.

DOUG MCVAY: Doctor Dreher, there is so very much that I could be asking you about, and in so little time. Just, well, what inspired you? This is probably a big question, too, but I’ll do it. What inspired you to make cannabis, I mean, I don’t know if saying making cannabis your career is the right way to say it. What inspired your interest in this plant?

MELANIE DREHER, PHD, RN, FAAN: Oh, it was purely by accident. I was a graduate student at Columbia University. My professor decided to send me to Jamaica to do an ethnographic study and recruit subjects for a medical study.

And it was 1969. It was when Neal Armstrong first set foot on the moon, and 400,000 of my best friends were in Woodstock, which is where I really wanted to be. And, I ended up on a mountaintop, having no experience with cannabis, never having been to Jamaica, and not knowing how to do ethnography. So I was perfectly qualified for a career as an ethnographer in cannabis research.

And that was the beginning. And, from there, we — my first study there was really looking at the amotivational syndrome, which was a very popular concept in the early Seventies, suggesting that cannabis use made people lose their interest in productive activities, drop out, drop out of college, not being able to finish simple tasks, et cetera.

And the reason I selected that as my doctoral dissertation was because I had just spent the summer before in Jamaica where men and women were using cannabis to help them work harder.

So, something was going on here, and it warranted a cross-cultural study. So I ended up doing a study of rural farmers, and sugar cane workers, and the nice thing about studying sugar cane workers is that their productivity is measured in the tons that they cut, because that’s how they get paid.

And, after a year of — I’m sorry, yes, actually two years working with cane cutters and measuring their productivity, and getting to know them as people in a certain context, I discovered that actually there was no difference in their productivity. So whether they smoked cannabis or whether they didn’t, men were working hard.

But if they believed that cannabis was helping them work harder, that was a good thing.

So, while I was there, I also discovered that women were preparers of cannabis tea and medicines that they would give to their families and children, in many ways, to help the children work harder. They made sure that children had a cannabis tea before they went to school, and especially if they were taking a test, they wanted their children to be able to concentrate. And they did that by preparing them tea.

So I did a tiny study that was then published in an education journal on whether the children who had cannabis tea performed better academically than children who didn’t have the tea. And, the result that, and I’m not — wasn’t sure we’d get this result, but in fact, the children who performed better in school were the tea drinkers.

And, I think, one of the good things about doing this ethnographic work is that you come out of the laboratory and study natural behavior in its natural context, and understand why cannabis was working in this instance.

And certainly the mothers and fathers who cared enough to make sure that their children would partake of their, you know, limited, little store of cannabis, were also the mothers and fathers who made sure their children had clean uniforms to wear, and pencils, and notebooks to go to school with, and that they were actually attending school more often.

So it was, cannabis tea was part of a complex of good parenting. Interestingly, we asked the teachers ahead of time which children, they did not know whether the children were getting tea or not. We asked them which children they thought would be getting the tea.

And of course, the teachers were representing middle class, they disapproved of giving cannabis tea to children, and got it completely wrong. The children that they thought were the high performers were indeed the high performers, but they were not the children that they thought were drinking tea.

So, it was an interesting little study that then led on to working with mothers, and a few women had actually begun smoking, which was out of sort of the cultural order of Jamaica.

And at that time, the United States was still reeling from the thalidomide event, and were very interested in the substances, the teratogenic factors of all substances that women were using during pregnancy.

So I was able to get the March of Dimes to fund a small study, looking at the — at the effects, the neonatal and perinatal effects of cannabis exposure during pregnancy. And we used thirty cannabis using women and thirty non, and they were matched for age and parity, and socioeconomic status.

And that study also engaged the Brazelton Neonatal team from Harvard, and they helped administer that schedule, to look at children’s neurological and behavioral — babies, neonates, neurological and behavioral performance.

And counterintuitively, one day, the children — babies, in both groups, were non-differentiated. I mean, we didn’t — we could not find anything that would distinguish the exposed babies from the non-exposed babies on the Brazelton Scale.

At one month, the exposed children performed significantly better on every variable of the Brazelton Scale. And we were very surprised. We didn’t think we’d ever get anyone to publish it. In fact, Pediatrics did publish it a little bit later, in 1995, and interestingly, we got no pushback at all. I thought there would be letters coming in, how can you say this doesn’t make a difference. It was totally silent.

It was not until 20 years later that all of a sudden this became an important study. But in the meantime, pregnant women who use marijuana found this study, and they used this study, and it got, you know, circulated among other pregnant women. So it did have an enormous impact.

Frankly, that little study is probably — made us rockstars among cannabis users today and advocates of cannabis. It was very well conducted, we worked hard, we got it right.

And once again, by looking at this behavior in context, as opposed to the laboratory, we could see that differences between the two samples that had nothing to do with age or parity or socioeconomic status, but really how they functioned economically, where most of the smoking mothers, or the using mothers, were not in conjugal unions. They were self-supporting.

Listen to the entire interview here

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