Project CBD, the California-based nonprofit, has teamed up with Green Zone Japan, which advocates for medical cannabis research, to create a Japanese-language version of Project CBD’s educational website (projectcbd.org/ja).
The Japanese-language mirror site is officially up and running as of Nov. 5, 2020. It will be updated regularly as part of a collaborative effort to make cutting-edge information about cannabis science and therapeutics available to 130 million Japanese-speaking people at a time when cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychotropic cannabinoid, has taken Tokyo by storm.
Trendy CBD products have recently popped up in boutiques and coffee shops in several Japanese cities, where curious customers sip CBD-infused java and smoothies that are “THC-free,” in accordance with Japan’s strict prohibitionist policy that forbids even trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol. All Japanese CBD brands are required to import their hemp-derived THC-free products from other countries, where cultivating hemp and extracting CBD oil are legal.
“The majority of CBD products currently available in Japan are made with CBD isolates, with a small number of broad-spectrum products. Absolutely no THC is allowed,” explains Green Zone Japan Program Director Naoko Miki. “This is not ideal, but it is better than nothing.”
Harsh Penalties & High Hopes
Harsh penalties – up to 5 years in jail – for possession of small amounts of cannabis flower or hashish are currently the norm in Japan. When Japanese celebrities are busted for personal use, public shaming typically follows. “We are still very much in the Reefer Madness era,” Miki laments.
Green Zone Japan hopes that the positive impact of CBD will help to usher in a new era of Japanese drug policy that recognizes the therapeutic value of cannabis. “In fact,” says Miki, “we have witnessed one hemp-derived CBD product eliminate a six-month-old boy’s incessant epileptic seizures entirely.”
The child’s near-miraculous transformation prompted Japanese officials to deviate from prohibitionist orthodoxy by green-lighting a clinical trial of cannabis-based medicine for intractable epilepsy.
“If the trial yields a successful result, it will inevitably necessitate a discussion regarding reform of the Cannabis Control Act,” says Miki. Passed at the behest of American military officials in 1948 during the U.S. occupation of Japan, this antiquated, draconian legislation banned cannabis sativa and stigmatized a plant that was once highly regarded in Japanese culture.
A Sacred Plant
Cannabis has a long history in Japan, with archeological evidence of hempseed and hemp cordage discovered in human habitat remains going back several thousand years. This widely cultivated plant figured prominently in rituals and ceremonies, symbolizing purity and fertility in Japan’s indigenous Shinto religion. Hemp cloth adorns Shinto shrines and hemp stalks are still burned at festivals to honor ancestral spirits.
Cannabis was also respected for its therapeutic properties, and cannabis tinctures, referenced in the Japanese pharmacopeia, were prescribed to treat a range of conditions. A recent review article in the Journal of Pharmacopuncture examined the medicinal use of cannabis (flower, leaf, seed, and root) in the Meiji era of Japan (1868 to 1912) to alleviate pain and cure “digestive, respiratory, urinary, and nervous system diseases,” including “asthma, tuberculosis, gonorrhea [and] insomnia.”
But cannabis therapeutics and hemp cultivation fell out of official favor when Japan joined the global antimarijuana crusade after World War II. Miki of Green Zone Japan asserts that access to medical cannabis is a human rights issue, and she believes that CBD’s immense popularity could advance the cause of medical cannabis legalization in Japan.
“In the United States, CBD opened the door for medical cannabis to many people who had never been interested in it. I think the same thing is happening in Japan, on a smaller scale,” says Miki.
Green Zone Japan maintains that CBD and medical cannabis should be part of the same conversation. Dr. Yuji Masataka, Green Zone Japan’s co-founder and executive director, elaborates: “Lots of companies that are trying to sell CBD try to divide CBD from cannabis and we are trying to connect it. That’s our job. We recognize CBD as a part of medical cannabis.”
And that has also been Project CBD’s guiding principle and its mission – to educate people about CBD within the larger context of medical cannabis and human rights.