Out of the smokey closet, no longer hiding out by the trash cans. The average American cannabis patient is not high, they are medicated and well. The leaf once drawn in the sand is now a fashion statement in support of the plant. Growers are farmers; dealers are healers - the language is changing, the people are healing.
An American Stoner... in Mexico
Clockwise: My dad, sister, and mom poolside at the Hotel del Sol in downtown Ensenada (circa. 1960s)
We’d drive the few hours from Redondo Beach in Southern California, stopping in Tijuana to lunch and shop; then make our way down the rough road to Ensenada, two hours from the border. We’d stay in the Hotel del Sol, still located in downtown, blocks from the marina where cruise ships now dock.
When I was a Girl Scout we’d hold clothing drives and my mom and dad would drive a few wide-eyed young girls across the border to Tijuana. We’d traverse down dirt roads into rows of cardboard shacks that lined the city’s perimeter at the time; handing out bags of clothes to those in need.
Being in that neighborhood and witnessing how they lived was a lesson in humility and empathy I couldn’t get anywhere else, and to this day I like to believe the act has left me with a giving and sympathetic heart.
I never feared coming down to Mexico, and still don’t. Though today’s Toll Roads down Highway 1 along the coast have stopped a majority of opportunities for policia collecting curb money. I don’t remember being afraid when dad was pulled over and made to offer up a twenty dollar bill to the policia for no good reason.
It was just life in Mexico as we knew it. The Mexican people who served us were good and kind. I never felt like a tourist, I always felt like I belonged – it was my home away from home, and still is.
Rag Weed, Tijuana Jail & Clarity
Ensenada jail, now a museum Photo: Sharon Letts
Years later I’d hear stories about a friend of my favorite Aunt, held in a Tijuana jail for attempting to smuggle weed across the border in the early 1950s. Evidently, it wasn’t his first time and wouldn’t be his last.
Rumor had it my Aunt helped him escape; making plans with him in visiting “concubine” quarters – the two of them conspiring on a thin, dirty mattress on the floor. I’m not sure how the whole thing played out, but he did escape to freedom.
At that time you could guess the THC probably measured in at around five percent, if that. I remember stepping out of the bathroom into the crisp morning air, with all my senses activated, and my third eye fully open.
I had been failing high school, unable to retain anything, with no diagnosis – just the instructions from a Principal from a test that I would “need to work harder than others to succeed.” That day I was able to focus on my school work for the first time, and three years later, at 19, I was first published as a poet.
To this day I’ve never written anything professionally without medicating, be it for television, newspapers, or magazines. It’s my Ritalin, and continues to help me focus on my work.
When you are a full-fledged patient, and have successfully replaced or supplemented prescription medications with cannabis, traveling can be challenging. If I have been in an area where I can't access something to ingest, in tandem with smoking, and a topical to complete, what's called the "entourage effect," I get symptomatic pretty quickly.
Thankfully, where there are humans, there is cannabis. As demonstrated in my essay, “An American Stoner in Paris,” even in a non-tolerant, illegal countries, cannabis is just a few friendly conversations away.
Mexico is no different. In fact, the people of Mexico have known about the medicinal benefits of cannabis long before the U.S. was a country. The indigenous peoples of the world have been using plant-based medicines – including cannabis – for centuries.
Alcohol-steeped infusions are common. A bottle of 96 percent alcohol can be purchased at farmacias and liquor stores, alike, for this purpose. Hot water steeping of herbs, either making what is called a poultice (Latin) of moistened fresh herbs in a pack on the skin; or steeping herbs in hot water for a tea, are the oldest infusions on the planet - and still practiced in Latin America.
Take away the industrial revolution and all that’s left are biological beings and plants. We are meant to have a symbiotic relationship with nature for food, medicine, shelter, and survival. Based on our modern-day ailments, alone, I’d say our relationship with nature is failing.
Pharmacies or “Farmacias” are popular in Mexico. Americans frequent them often, as no prescription is needed for most of the medications offered. Pain and sleeping pills are common purchases, with “Viagra” signs prominently displayed.
Photo: Sharon Letts
The most common herb added to everything from shampoo to herbal remedies is “Manzanilla,” or Chamomile, my favorite herb, mimicking cannabis without the THC (see essay "Good Medicine," and "Apothecary" page for more information on chamomile).
Costing around two dollars an ounce in the states for bulk flower, it’s also economical. Locals use it regularly in Mexico for myriad ailments, including sleep, digestive issues, pain, inflammation, infection – the list is as long as for cannabis. They also put it into shampoo, soap, and eye drops, as it mirrors cannabis as an anti-inflammatory and to stop infections.
Topical salve found in a farmacia in Ensenada, $20 U.S. Even with a bevy of beneficial ingredients listed, unfortunately, it was a weaker than what I can make at home.
According to a paper published within the National Institute of Health’s Pub Med site, the most commonly used herbs in Mexico are: Nopal (Opuntia ficus), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Chaparral (Larrea divaricata), Dandlion (Taraxacum officinale), Mullein (Verbascum densiflorum), Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Nettle or Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica), Passionflower (Passiflora incarmata), Linden Flower (Tilia europea), and Aloa (Aloa vera).
The farmacias seem to cater to tourists, but if you keep looking you’ll soon find many “botanica” shops, filled with plant-based medicines, bulk herbs, and combinations of plant-based remedies. Even the big grocery stores, like “Calimex” have homeopathic sections with bags of herbs, ready-made teas, herbal capsules, and salves.
Photo: Sharon Letts
An example of the cost difference of herbal remedies in Mexico and the U.S. are tinctures. A one ounce dropper bottle can cost upwards of twenty dollars or more at herb shops in the U.S., but are typically around two dollars for the same size bottle in Mexico.
A booth set up at a local weekly swap meet, just south of Ensenada proper in the agricultural region, hosted many small bags of seeds and dried herbs for medicinal use. The woman selling informed me that one bag of “Moringa” seeds, when shelled and swallowed with water, quells diabetes symptoms and more.
This, I thought, was worth researching and quickly found the site “I Love Moringa” online. Its home page boasts the plant is a “fast-growing, nutritious, delicious gift from God,” with every part of the plant used for cleansing and healing the body.
I bought a large bag of dried arnica to make salve, a bag of Moringa seeds for a friend with diabetes, and a bag of a combination of herbs for steeping, said to quell body temperature issues associated with menopause. Each bag was about 30 pesos, and with the current exchange rate of around $16.40 pesos to the dollar, an exceptional deal.
An American Stoner... in Paris
Photo: Sharon Letts