As we put material from our back issues online, we’re replacing some black-and-white photos with pix in living color.  This one of Drew Foster smoking a joint “chillum style” reminds us of the powerful woodcut by Frank Ciecorka, the raised fist of protest that became a movement logo in the 1960s. Drew, who had recently arrived in the East Bay from Arizona, explained the technique and why he used it:

This is the way I always hold a joint, because I’m fearful of diseases that can be transmitted by saliva, and very social as a smoker. I lost my best friend to hepatitis C last year. It really took me by surprise when he came down with it.  He wasn’t a needle user and he wasn’t an alcoholic and he wasn’t sexually promiscuous… A lot of cannabis users are suffering from hepatitis C —it’s epidemic in the Bay Area— so I’m not taking any chances.

I take my left palm and leave it open. I make a loose fist with the right hand and slide a joint between the index finger and middle finger. You cover the bottom of your palm and wrap your fingers to form a cup with your two thumbs touching. Your other hand should be solid and you’ve got this hollow spot which causes a vacuum when you suck. The smoke will go through the only open spot, around your thumb and index finger.

A chillum is a simple pipe —a small clay funnel that Hindu priests used for smoking. If you look at the East Indian population, and Jamaicans, they smoke chillum-style, usually putting the pipe between their fingers. They didn’t have papers. They’d often use damp herb and put a coal on top so it vaporizes and they’re not sucking butane.  It’s very reverent, too (putting the joint up to his forehead).  Offering a hit to the deity.

My friend —White Dog— stopped smoking to qualify for a liver transplant program. He was someone whose life centered around the herb and he gave it up to get on this program because he wanted to live. Liver disease is terrible and if cannabis is helping people, they should not be pressured to get off it. My friend gave it up and his quality of life started to dip immediately, which affected his other organs. He died one week after his gall bladder shut down. I had to be the one to send him off. He was so tied to this and so devout as a vegan, even, he really walked a straight line. He died on 4/20. White Dog —he gave the most to our movement and took the least. That’s how he lived. The man never had a house or a car but it never stopped him from getting around the world. He got to pray in places where religious leaders aren’t allowed. —Drew Foster

Reassurance Regarding Saliva

The clinicians we asked about hepatitis C transmission gave  reassuring responses, along the lines of Andrew Weil’s: “Hep C is not transmissible by saliva.  It may be healthy not to share joints to avoid colds and flu, but I don’t think it’s a hepatitis risk.”
One doctor forwarded the conclusions of a recent Spanish study: “HVC-RNA is detectable in the saliva of over 50% of patients with chronic hepatitis C. The infectivity of the HVC particles detected in the saliva has not been determined, though it may be deduced from epidemiological studies that their potential for transmission, if it exists, is extremely limited. There has been no documented case of HVC transmission in a dental clinic.”   Castro Ferreiro M, Hermida Prieto M, Diz Dios P. [Sporadic transmission of hepatitis C in dental practice]  Med Clin (Barc). 2004 Sep 4;123(7):271-5.

Patients being turned down for liver transplants after testing positive for cannabis is pure punishment —there is no medical basis for it. Cannabis does not damage the liver. For many people it is an alternative to the drug that does —alcohol. The hospitals and insurance companies practice a moralism that’s punitive unto death.