A New Sticky for the Other Kind of Icky-Icky

Sure, cannabis is natural—it’s a plant. Premium cigars are natural, too. But so are oral microbes. It’s time we excluded saliva from blunt rolling.

If presented with two blunts, freshly-rolled by Snoop Dog and the Grateful Dead, respectively, conventional cannabis-wisdom has it that you should accept both and zen out.

But pathogens “are a changin,” so from a holistic perspective, Snoop’s blunt is the wiser choice. He’s admittedly canine—his tongue bacteria is harmless.

There may be a new way to die, courtesy of oral-pathogenic bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis, i.e. P. gingivalis. Its enzymes coordinate the gingival biofilm responsible for gingivitis, the inflammation preceding gum disease. A study by pharma startup Cortexyme has also determined its complicity in Alzheimer’s by uncovering evidence of its enzyme-signature on diseased brain samples and its propensity for gum-brain translocation in mouse models. Good hygiene can prevent gingivitis, but it can’t eradicate P. gingivalis from our oral microbiomes; it’s a low-abundance species that presents in 25% of uninfected individuals.

P. gingivalis’ inherent powers—surviving on inhospitable surfaces like paper; exploiting human interactivity to proliferate; and withstanding antibiotic treatment—make it a villain to unbiased cigar aficionados who “puff, puff, pass” in social circles where blunts are sealed with saliva. Per cannabis lore, the fourth step of blunt rolling entails a few licks. But unlike tooth brushing and flossing, tongue scraping isn’t common practice; that blunt being passed likely harbors a myriad of microbes (e.g. P. gingivalis) and might be a Trojan horse for contagion. It correspondingly embodies a discrete risk of impairing cognition beyond the fabled “permastoned” stupor—of inducing premature senility in cannabis smokers.

Debunking the au naturel image of cannabis will acculturate smoking traditionalists and hippies to mindful and health-conscious usage. The real cannabis is introverted and guarded: its genetics are enigmatic; its flowers are reticently dry and apetalous; its print fossils are rare; and its aroma is repulsive. In fact, its evasiveness is the root of popular “420” mythology. Prevailing cultures will reflect the plant’s history with transcendental ceremonies and uninterrupted darkness—cultivating its psychoactive and medicinal properties has always required wizardry. Ancient Siberian warriors devised hot-boxed tents for recuperation; modern agriculturalists deploy robots to harvest buds for industry.

In truth, we don’t have a symbiotic relationship with cannabis. P. gingivalis’ capacity to barrel roll into our socialization of ganja demonstrates that plants are ultimately extensions of nature’s battlefield. Like the Lakota Sioux people, who revere smoking as a sacred act of cleansing, we should mediate our conjuring of THC and CBD. The flame is a mighty purifier, but in the face of predatory bacteria, Fire God is overmatched. Pioneers like Allen Staines, creator of RollsChoice, are intervening to protect an army of toking millennials from P. gingivalis and other pathogens. Allen’s flavorless and stainless adhesive pen is a safe alternative to saliva for sealing blunts—and a necessary adaptation for the ritual of getting high.

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