Say what you want about Las Vegas, but there's no denying that Sin City lives up to its larger-than-life reputation. Nonstop entertainment, check. Garish lights, check. Smoky casinos bustling with big winners and hopeless dreamers, check and check. But one thing the Civilized team didn't expect to stumble upon while visiting Las Vegas last month was ancient medical marijuana. But that's what we found when we stopped by the Erotic Heritage Museum on Sammy Davis Jr. Drive, right across from Trump Tower.
The Erotic Heritage Museum is best known for hosting burlesque shows, erotic art and provocative exhibits that challenge taboos and educate about the history of human sexuality. And that includes medical marijuana, which has been part of women's reproductive health for millennia, according to the venue's cannabis exhibit.
Wedged between the museum's wall of placards recalling key moments in the fight for civil liberties in America, and a gallery of current and historic forms of contraception is a nook filled with useful information on the role cannabis has played in human sexuality for ages. Women have used cannabis to treat menstrual pain since at least 2737 BCE. And cannabis became a popular aphrodisiac in India in the 7th century BCE.
The museum even has a fragment of an ancient tablet that recorded a recipe for a cannabis topical used for treating the after-effects of childbirth.
It might seem strange to see a cannabis exhibit mixed with erotic art from the Weimar Republic to props from a 'Star Wars' porn parody, but _*title says it's part of the museum's mandate to celebrate civil liberties and combat social stigmas.
"We like to inform people and do away with myths and misperceptions and just give people the plain facts," _* told Civilized. "We're really big on civil liberties. When you're an adult, you should be able to do whatever you want with your body, and if that includes recreational marijuana, drugs, alcohol, sex - that's your choice as an adult. As long as you're not harming anyone else, live and let live."
Skellenger* added that Nevada's decision to legalize recreational marijuana has also made cannabis a hot topic in Vegas.
"With the new laws, it's a popular subject. It's on the news every week locally, so we like to inform people," she explained. "Ignorance breeds hate. And if you have some information, then you're less likely to actually hate. You can dislike something. Maybe not even agree with it, but not have that level of hate due to ignorance."
Skellenger's* mission to change minds about cannabis at the museum began with her co-workers.
"Quite honestly, when I started here, my co-workers didn't have as open of a mind toward the cannabis plant. And the more I informed them, the more open they've become and have actually tried some cannabis products. Granted, not THC products, but they've tried CBD balms and oils and said, 'Wow, this really works.' And I'm like, 'That's why it's been here forever! Just sayin!'"
Skellenger* never needed that sort of convincing. She grew up around the cannabis plant and never heard of the anti-cannabis stigmas until she encountered the D.A.R.E. program.
"I'm actually a third-generation grower — my great grandfather was a hemp farmer," she explained. "I've worked for three cultivation facilities here in town. So it's something I'm really familiar with. Something I grew up with. I didn't know cannabis was a drug till I was 10 years old and in the D.A.R.E. program and they told me so. Until then, it was medicine. And after I started doing some research, the more I found out we have had this symbiotic relationship with cannabis since our existence began. We exist because of it, and it exists because of us."
So it wasn't hard to get her onboard with legalization when Nevada voters cast ballots on the issue in 2016. But she is disappointed that it took so long to finally repeal prohibition.
"Going back to the beginning of human civilization, cannabis was the first cultivated plant that we actually grew and harvested on purpose," she said. "So it kinda goes into how it's interacted with our lives - emotionally, mentally, civically. It's across the board. You can't get rid of it. And you can't stop people from doing what they want to do. It's a desire, it's a need, it's been proven safe for decades and decades. Even in 1976, when Jimmy Carter tried to decriminalize. Legalization was way overdue."
And Skellenger* thinks thousands of lives might have been saved had America moved ahead with reform back in '76.
"If we had decriminalized it then, we wouldn't have the opioid issues and violence issues that we have now," she added. That's part of the message that she wants to get across to the canna-curious as well as opponents of cannabis legalization.
So far, the cannabis exhibit and the museum as a whole have gone over well with patrons. When asked if there was any negative backlash, Skellenger* said "nothing over the cannabis display. And even in the museum, we rarely get anything more than some idiot kid with a prank phone call. That's about it."
And that's surprising given the sort of tourists who wander around that area of Vegas.
"Because we're right across from Trump Tower, we get some fans of his in here," Skellenger* noted. "And a lot of times, initially, when they come in, there's a lot of giggles and smirks. And these are older people acting like grade-school kids. Like hee-hee. But once they go through and get educated, it opens their minds. They'll actually make comments. Like, 'I didn't know the facts behind this' or 'Hey, could you explain this further?' And our staff is always happy to explain further or at least point someone in the right direction for more information."
The cannabis exhibit has been open for just over a month now, but Skellenger* is already eager to expand it.
"This is just the beginning," she told Civilized. "I would like to get more display factors. So that as it's describing the different drinks and the balms and the ancient uses for it - I'd like to have something there just so you have more of a visual effect of what those concoctions that they were using looked like. Because we're a historical museum, we wanted to focus on how we used it over the centuries. We know what cannabis does now."
But one aspect of cannabis culture history will be left in the past: stoner stereotypes.
"In the museum itself, we try to keep everything very informative and science-based, so we didn't want to give cannabis that goofy appeal. That's nonsensical information," Skellenger explained.
The Erotic Heritage Museum is open from 11 AM to 7 PM on Monday through Wednesday, and from 11 AM to 10 PM on Thursday through Sunday. Admission is restricted to adults 18 or over. For more information, check out the museum's website here.