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CANADA: Canadians weigh in on Conservative ruling in favour of kitniyot

Bot - Cannabis - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 01:06 Solomon Israel: Reporter covers marijuana full time for Winnipeg paper ... (Tue Dec 05 02:06:19 2017 PST)
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CANADA: Raid on Sydney medical marijuana dispensary angers clients - Local - News - Cape Breton Post

Drug News Bot - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 01:06 (US) Raid on Sydney medical marijuana dispensary angers clients ! Local ! News ! Cape Breton Post Raid on Sydney medical marijuana dispensary angers clients Campbell was one of three people charged in conjunction with a raid of two Cape Breton Medical Cannabis (CBMC) locations and two residences. (Tue Dec 05 02:06:43 2017 PST) [$drug_related(100%), $drugwar_propaganda(70%), $explicit_propaganda(70%), $addiction(60%), $propaganda_theme2(70%), $propaganda_theme3(50%), $propaganda_theme5(60%), $moral_imperative(100%), $illegal_drugs(100%), $drugs(95%), $compassion_club(100%), $harm_reduction(100%), $methadone_maintenance(100%), $chemicals(100%), $plants(100%), $analgesic(100%), $intoxicant(100%), $opioid(100%), $medical_cannabis(100%), $narcotic(100%), $methadone(100%), $cannabis(100%), $various_drugs(95%), $incarceration(100%), $youth(60%), $school(100%)]
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CANADA: Canadians weigh in on Conservative ruling in favour of kitniyot

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INTERNATIONAL: Jamie Dimon - The Irish Times

Drug News Bot - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 01:04 (US) Are cryptocurrencies just for drug dealers and murderers? (Tue Dec 05 01:04:39 2017 PST) [$drug_related(100%), $drugwar_propaganda(100%), $propaganda_theme1(100%), $propaganda_theme2(50%), $propaganda_theme3(50%), $propaganda_theme6(50%), $dehumanization(50%), $illegal_drugs(100%), $drugs(90%), $various_drugs(90%), $various_illegal_drugs(100%), $school(100%)]
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INTERNATIONAL: Bitcoin: French economist predicts day of reckoning

Drug News Bot - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 01:04 (US) Cryptocurrency facilitates crime and is part of 'libertarian offensive' - Jean-Michel Naulot Are cryptocurrencies just for drug dealers and... (Tue Dec 05 01:04:39 2017 PST) [$drug_related(100%), $drugwar_propaganda(100%), $propaganda_theme1(100%), $propaganda_theme2(70%), $propaganda_theme3(70%), $propaganda_theme6(60%), $illegal_drugs(100%), $drugs(90%), $drug_reform_party(55%), $various_drugs(90%), $various_illegal_drugs(100%), $aggrandizement(85%)]
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CANADA: Young video game addict reaches out for help - The Belleville Intelligencer

Drug News Bot - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 01:02 (Canada) My son also suffered from video game addiction when he was growing up. (Tue Dec 05 02:02:20 2017 PST) [$drug_related(100%), $drugwar_propaganda(100%), $propaganda_theme1(75%), $addiction(60%), $propaganda_theme2(100%), $propaganda_theme3(50%), $illegal_drugs(100%), $chemicals(100%), $euphoric_stimulant(100%), $stimulant(100%), $cocaine(100%), $school(100%)]
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Portugal's Radical Drug Policy Is Working. Why Hasn't The World Copied It?

Alternet - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 01:00
Since it decriminalized all drugs in 2001, the Iberian nation has seen dramatic drops in overdoses, HIV infection and drug-related crime.

When the drugs came, they hit all at once. It was the 80s, and by the time one in 10 people had slipped into the depths of heroin use – bankers, university students, carpenters, socialites, miners – Portugal was in a state of panic.

Álvaro Pereira was working as a family doctor in Olhão in southern Portugal. “People were injecting themselves in the street, in public squares, in gardens,” he told me. “At that time, not a day passed when there wasn’t a robbery at a local business, or a mugging.”

The crisis began in the south. The 80s were a prosperous time in Olhão, a fishing town 31 miles west of the Spanish border. Coastal waters filled fishermen’s nets from the Gulf of Cádiz to Morocco, tourism was growing, and currency flowed throughout the southern Algarve region. But by the end of the decade, heroin began washing up on Olhão’s shores. Overnight, Pereira’s beloved slice of the Algarve coast became one of the drug capitals of Europe: one in every 100 Portuguese was battling a problematic heroin addiction at that time, but the number was even higher in the south. Headlines in the local press raised the alarm about overdose deaths and rising crime. The rate of HIV infection in Portugal became the highest in the European Union. Pereira recalled desperate patients and families beating a path to his door, terrified, bewildered, begging for help. “I got involved,” he said, “only because I was ignorant.”

In truth, there was a lot of ignorance back then. Forty years of authoritarian ruleunder the regime established by António Salazar in 1933 had suppressed education, weakened institutions and lowered the school-leaving age, in a strategy intended to keep the population docile. The country was closed to the outside world; people missed out on the experimentation and mind-expanding culture of the 1960s. When the regime ended abruptly in a military coup in 1974, Portugal was suddenly opened to new markets and influences. Under the old regime, Coca-Cola was banned and owning a cigarette lighter required a licence. When marijuana and then heroin began flooding in, the country was utterly unprepared.

Pereira tackled the growing wave of addiction the only way he knew how: one patient at a time. A student in her 20s who still lived with her parents might have her family involved in her recovery; a middle-aged man, estranged from his wife and living on the street, faced different risks and needed a different kind of support. Pereira improvised, calling on institutions and individuals in the community to lend a hand.

In 2001, nearly two decades into Pereira’s accidental specialisation in addiction, Portugal became the first country to decriminalise the possession and consumption of all illicit substances. Rather than being arrested, those caught with a personal supply might be given a warning, a small fine, or told to appear before a local commission – a doctor, a lawyer and a social worker – about treatment, harm reduction, and the support services that were available to them.

The opioid crisis soon stabilised, and the ensuing years saw dramatic drops in problematic drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime and incarceration rates. HIV infection plummeted from an all-time high in 2000 of 104.2 new cases per million to 4.2 cases per million in 2015. The data behind these changes has been studied and cited as evidence by harm-reduction movements around the globe. It’s misleading, however, to credit these positive results entirely to a change in law.

Portugal’s remarkable recovery, and the fact that it has held steady through several changes in government – including conservative leaders who would have preferred to return to the US-style war on drugs – could not have happened without an enormous cultural shift, and a change in how the country viewed drugs, addiction – and itself. In many ways, the law was merely a reflection of transformations that were already happening in clinics, in pharmacies and around kitchen tables across the country. The official policy of decriminalisation made it far easier for a broad range of services (health, psychiatry, employment, housing etc) that had been struggling to pool their resources and expertise, to work together more effectively to serve their communities.

The language began to shift, too. Those who had been referred to sneeringly as drogados (junkies) – became known more broadly, more sympathetically, and more accurately, as “people who use drugs” or “people with addiction disorders”. This, too, was crucial.

It is important to note that Portugal stabilised its opioid crisis, but it didn’t make it disappear. While drug-related death, incarceration and infection rates plummeted, the country still had to deal with the health complications of long-term problematic drug use. Diseases including hepatitis C, cirrhosis and liver cancer are a burden on a health system that is still struggling to recover from recession and cutbacks. In this way, Portugal’s story serves as a warning of challenges yet to come.

Despite enthusiastic international reactions to Portugal’s success, local harm-reduction advocates have been frustrated by what they see as stagnation and inaction since decriminalisation came into effect. They criticise the state for dragging its feet on establishing supervised injection sites and drug consumption facilities; for failing to make the anti-overdose medication naloxone more readily available; for not implementing needle-exchange programmes in prisons. Where, they ask, is the courageous spirit and bold leadership that pushed the country to decriminalise drugs in the first place?

In the early days of Portugal’s panic, when Pereira’s beloved Olhão began falling apart in front of him, the state’s first instinct was to attack. Drugs were denounced as evil, drug users were demonised, and proximity to either was criminally and spiritually punishable. The Portuguese government launched a series of national anti-drug campaigns that were less “Just Say No” and more “Drugs Are Satan”.

Informal treatment approaches and experiments were rushed into use throughout the country, as doctors, psychiatrists, and pharmacists worked independently to deal with the flood of drug-dependency disorders at their doors, sometimes risking ostracism or arrest to do what they believed was best for their patients.

In 1977, in the north of the country, psychiatrist Eduíno Lopes pioneered a methadone programme at the Centro da Boavista in Porto. Lopes was the first doctor in continental Europe to experiment with substitution therapy, flying in methadone powder from Boston, under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, rather than the Ministry of Health. His efforts met with a vicious public backlash and the disapproval of his peers, who considered methadone therapy nothing more than state-sponsored drug addiction.

In Lisbon, Odette Ferreira, an experienced pharmacist and pioneering HIV researcher, started an unofficial needle-exchange programme to address the growing Aids crisis. She received death threats from drug dealers, and legal threats from politicians. Ferreira – who is now in her 90s, and still has enough swagger to carry off long fake eyelashes and red leather at a midday meeting – started giving away clean syringes in the middle of Europe’s biggest open-air drug market, in the Casal Ventoso neighbourhood of Lisbon. She collected donations of clothing, soap, razors, condoms, fruit and sandwiches, and distributed them to users. When dealers reacted with hostility, she snapped back: “Don’t mess with me. You do your job, and I’ll do mine.” She then bullied the Portuguese Association of Pharmacies into running the country’s – and indeed the world’s – first national needle-exchange programme.

A flurry of expensive private clinics and free, faith-based facilities emerged, promising detoxes and miracle cures, but the first public drug-treatment centre run by the Ministry of Health – the Centro das Taipas in Lisbon – did not begin operating until 1987. Strapped for resources in Olhão, Pereira sent a few patients for treatment, although he did not agree with the abstinence-based approach used at Taipas. “First you take away the drug, and then, with psychotherapy, you plug up the crack,” said Pereira. There was no scientific evidence to show that this would work – and it didn’t.

He also sent patients to Lopes’s methadone programme in Porto, and found that some responded well. But Porto was at the other end of the country. He wanted to try methadone for his patients, but the Ministry of Health hadn’t yet approved it for use. To get around that, Pereira sometimes asked a nurse to sneak methadone to him in the boot of his car.

Pereira’s work treating patients for addiction eventually caught the attention of the Ministry of Health. “They heard there was a crazy man in the Algarve who was working on his own,” he said, with a slow smile. Now 68, he is sprightly and charming, with an athletic build, thick and wavy white hair that bounces when he walks, a gravelly drawl and a bottomless reserve of warmth. “They came down to find me at the clinic and proposed that I open a treatment centre,” he said. He invited a colleague from at a family practice in the next town over to join him – a young local doctor named João Goulão.

Goulão was a 20-year-old medical student when he was offered his first hit of heroin. He declined because he didn’t know what it was. By the time he finished school, got his licence and began practising medicine at a health centre in the southern city of Faro, it was everywhere. Like Pereira, he accidentally ended up specialising in treating drug addiction.

 A nurse hands out methadone to addicts in Lisbon. Photograph: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

The two young colleagues joined forces to open southern Portugal’s first CAT in 1988. (These kinds of centres have used different names and acronyms over the years, but are still commonly referred to as Centros de Atendimento a Toxicodependentes, or CATs.) Local residents were vehemently opposed, and the doctors were improvising treatments as they went along. The following month, Pereira and Goulão opened a second CAT in Olhão, and other family doctors opened more in the north and central regions, forming a loose network. It had become clear to a growing number of practitioners that the most effective response to addiction had to be personal, and rooted in communities. Treatment was still small-scale, local and largely ad hoc.

The first official call to change Portugal’s drug laws came from Rui Pereira, a former constitutional court judge who undertook an overhaul of the penal code in 1996. He found the practice of jailing people for taking drugs to be counterproductive and unethical. “My thought right off the bat was that it wasn’t legitimate for the state to punish users,” he told me in his office at the University of Lisbon’s school of law. At that time, about half of the people in prison were there for drug-related reasons, and the epidemic, he said, was thought to be “an irresolvable problem”. He recommended that drug use be discouraged without imposing penalties, or further alienating users. His proposals weren’t immediately adopted, but they did not go unnoticed.

In 1997, after 10 years of running the CAT in Faro, Goulão was invited to help design and lead a national drug strategy. He assembled a team of experts to study potential solutions to Portugal’s drug problem. The resulting recommendations, including the full decriminalisation of drug use, were presented in 1999, approved by the council of ministers in 2000, and a new national plan of action came into effect in 2001.

Today, Goulão is Portugal’s drug czar. He has been the lodestar throughout eight alternating conservative and progressive administrations; through heated standoffs with lawmakers and lobbyists; through shifts in scientific understanding of addiction and in cultural tolerance for drug use; through austerity cuts, and through a global policy climate that only very recently became slightly less hostile. Goulão is also decriminalisation’s busiest global ambassador. He travels almost non-stop, invited again and again to present the successes of Portugal’s harm-reduction experiment to authorities around the world, from Norway to Brazil, which are dealing with desperate situations in their own countries.

“These social movements take time,” Goulão told me. “The fact that this happened across the board in a conservative society such as ours had some impact.” If the heroin epidemic had affected only Portugal’s lower classes or racialised minorities, and not the middle or upper classes, he doubts the conversation around drugs, addiction and harm reduction would have taken shape in the same way. “There was a point whenyou could not find a single Portuguese family that wasn’t affected. Every family had their addict, or addicts. This was universal in a way that the society felt: ‘We have to do something.’”

Portugal’s policy rests on three pillars: one, that there’s no such thing as a soft or hard drug, only healthy and unhealthy relationships with drugs; two, that an individual’s unhealthy relationship with drugs often conceals frayed relationships with loved ones, with the world around them, and with themselves; and three, that the eradication of all drugs is an impossible goal.

“The national policy is to treat each individual differently,” Goulão told me. “The secret is for us to be present.”

Adrop-in centre called IN-Mouraria sits unobtrusively in a lively, rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood of Lisbon, a longtime enclave of marginalised communities. From 2pm to 4pm, the centre provides services to undocumented migrants and refugees; from 5pm to 8pm, they open their doors to drug users. A staff of psychologists, doctors and peer support workers (themselves former drug users) offer clean needles, pre-cut squares of foil, crack kits, sandwiches, coffee, clean clothing, toiletries, rapid HIV testing, and consultations – all free and anonymous.

On the day I visited, young people stood around waiting for HIV test results while others played cards, complained about police harassment, tried on outfits, traded advice on living situations, watched movies and gave pep talks to one another. They varied in age, religion, ethnicity and gender identity, and came from all over the country and all over the world. When a slender, older man emerged from the bathroom, unrecognisable after having shaved his beard off, an energetic young man who had been flipping through magazines threw up his arms and cheered. He then turned to a quiet man sitting on my other side, his beard lush and dark hair curling from under his cap, and said: “What about you? Why don’t you go shave off that beard? You can’t give up on yourself, man. That’s when it’s all over.” The bearded man cracked a smile.

During my visits over the course of a month, I got to know some of the peer support workers, including João, a compact man with blue eyes who was rigorous in going over the details and nuances of what I was learning. João wanted to be sure I understood their role at the drop-in centre was not to force anyone to stop using, but to help minimise the risks users were exposed to.

“Our objective is not to steer people to treatment – they have to want it,” he told me. But even when they do want to stop using, he continued, having support workers accompany them to appointments and treatment facilities can feel like a burden on the user – and if the treatment doesn’t go well, there is the risk that that person will feel too ashamed to return to the drop-in centre. “Then we lose them, and that’s not what we want to do,” João said. “I want them to come back when they relapse.” Failure was part of the treatment process, he told me. And he would know.

João is a marijuana-legalisation activist, open about being HIV-positive, and after being absent for part of his son’s youth, he is delighting in his new role as a grandfather. He had stopped doing speedballs (mixtures of cocaine and opiates) after several painful, failed treatment attempts, each more destructive than the last. He long used cannabis as a form of therapy – methadone did not work for him, nor did any of the inpatient treatment programmes he tried – but the cruel hypocrisy of decriminalisation meant that although smoking weed was not a criminal offence, purchasing it was. His last and worst relapse came when he went to buy marijuana from his usual dealer and was told: “I don’t have that right now, but I do have some good cocaine.” João said no thanks and drove away, but soon found himself heading to a cash machine, and then back to the dealer. After this relapse, he embarked on a new relationship, and started his own business. At one point he had more than 30 employees. Then the financial crisis hit. “Clients weren’t paying, and creditors started knocking on my door,” he told me. “Within six months I had burned through everything I had built up over four or five years.”

In the mornings, I followed the centre’s street teams out to the fringes of Lisbon. I met Raquel and Sareia – their slim forms swimming in the large hi-vis vests they wear on their shifts – who worked with Crescer na Maior, a harm-reduction NGO. Six times a week, they loaded up a large white van with drinking water, wet wipes, gloves, boxes of tinfoil and piles of state-issued drug kits: green plastic pouches with single-use servings of filtered water, citric acid, a small metal tray for cooking, gauze, filter and a clean syringe. Portugal does not yet have any supervised injection sites (although there is legislation to allow them, several attempts to open one have come to nothing), so, Raquel and Sareia told me, they go out to the open-air sites where they know people go to buy and use. Both are trained psychologists, but out in the streets they are known simply as the “needle girls”.

“Good afternoon!” Raquel called out cheerily, as we walked across a seemingly abandoned lot in an area called Cruz Vermelha. “Street team!” People materialised from their hiding places like some strange version of whack-a-mole, poking their heads out from the holes in the wall where they had gone to smoke or shoot up. “My needle girls,” one woman cooed to them tenderly. “How are you, my loves?” Most made polite conversation, updating the workers on their health struggles, love lives, immigration woes or housing needs. One woman told them she would be going back to Angola to deal with her mother’s estate, that she was looking forward to the change of scenery. Another man told them he had managed to get his online girlfriend’s visa approved for a visit. “Does she know you’re still using?” Sareia asked. The man looked sheepish.

“I start methadone tomorrow,” another man said proudly. He was accompanied by his beaming girlfriend, and waved a warm goodbye to the girls as they handed him a square of foil.

In the foggy northern city of Porto, peer support workers from Caso – an association run by and for drug users and former users, the only one of its kind in Portugal – meet every week at a noisy cafe. They come here every Tuesday morning to down espressos, fresh pastries and toasted sandwiches, and to talk out the challenges, debate drug policy (which, a decade and a half after the law came into effect, was still confusing for many) and argue, with the warm rowdiness that is characteristic of people in the northern region. When I asked them what they thought of Portugal’s move to treat drug users as sick people in need of help, rather than as criminals, they scoffed. “Sick? We don’t say ‘sick’ up here. We’re not sick.”

I was told this again and again in the north: thinking of drug addiction simply in terms of health and disease was too reductive. Some people are able to use drugs for years without any major disruption to their personal or professional relationships. It only became a problem, they told me, when it became a problem.

Caso was supported by Apdes, a development NGO with a focus on harm reduction and empowerment, including programmes geared toward recreational users. Their award-winning Check!n project has for years set up shop at festivals, bars and parties to test substances for dangers. I was told more than once that if drugs were legalised, not just decriminalised, then these substances would be held to the same rigorous quality and safety standards as food, drink and medication.

In spite of Portugal’s tangible results, other countries have been reluctant to follow. The Portuguese began seriously considering decriminalisation in 1998, immediately following the first UN General Assembly Special Session on the Global Drug Problem (UNgass). High-level UNgass meetings are convened every 10 years to set drug policy for all member states, addressing trends in addiction, infection, money laundering, trafficking and cartel violence. At the first session – for which the slogan was “A drug-free world: we can do it” – Latin American member states pressed for a radical rethinking of the war on drugs, but every effort to examine alternative models (such as decriminalisation) was blocked. By the time of the next session, in 2008, worldwide drug use and violence related to the drug trade had vastly increased. An extraordinary session was held last year, but it was largely a disappointment – the outcome document didn’t mention “harm reduction” once.

Despite that letdown, 2016 produced a number of promising other developments: Chile and Australia opened their first medical cannabis clubs; following the lead of several others, four more US states introduced medical cannabis, and four more legalised recreational cannabis; Denmark opened the world’s largest drug consumption facility, and France opened its first; South Africa proposed legalising medical cannabis; Canada outlined a plan to legalise recreational cannabis nationally and to open more supervised injection sites; and Ghana announced it would decriminalise all personal drug use.

The biggest change in global attitudes and policy has been the momentum behind cannabis legalisation. Local activists have pressed Goulão to take a stance on regulating cannabis and legalising its sale in Portugal; for years, he has responded that the time wasn’t right. Legalising a single substance would call into question the foundation of Portugal’s drug and harm-reduction philosophy. If the drugs aren’t the problem, if the problem is the relationship with drugs, if there’s no such thing as a hard or a soft drug, and if all illicit substances are to be treated equally, he argued, then shouldn’t all drugs be legalised and regulated?

Massive international cultural shifts in thinking about drugs and addiction are needed to make way for decriminalisation and legalisation globally. In the US, the White House has remained reluctant to address what drug policy reform advocates have termed an “addiction to punishment”. But if conservative, isolationist, Catholic Portugal could transform into a country where same-sex marriage and abortion are legal, and where drug use is decriminalised, a broader shift in attitudes seems possible elsewhere. But, as the harm-reduction adage goes: one has to want the change in order to make it.

When Pereira first opened the CAT in Olhão, he faced vociferous opposition from residents; they worried that with more drogados would come more crime. But the opposite happened. Months later, one neighbour came to ask Pereira’s forgiveness. She hadn’t realised it at the time, but there had been three drug dealers on her street; when their local clientele stopped buying, they packed up and left.

The CAT building itself is a drab, brown two-storey block, with offices upstairs and an open waiting area, bathrooms, storage and clinics down below. The doors open at 8.30am, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Patients wander in throughout the day for appointments, to chat, to kill time, to wash, or to pick up their weekly supply of methadone doses. They tried to close the CAT for Christmas Day one year, but patients asked that it stay open. For some, estranged from loved ones and adrift from any version of home, this is the closest thing they’ve got to community and normality.

“It’s not just about administering methadone,” Pereira told me. “You have to maintain a relationship.”

In a back room, rows of little canisters with banana-flavoured methadone doses were lined up, each labelled with a patient’s name and information. The Olhão CAT regularly services about 400 people, but that number can double during the summer months, when seasonal workers and tourists come to town. Anyone receiving treatment elsewhere in the country, or even outside Portugal, can have their prescription sent over to the CAT, making the Algarve an ideal harm-reduction holiday destination.

After lunch at a restaurant owned by a former CAT employee, the doctor took me to visit another of his projects – a particular favourite. His decades of working with addiction disorders had taught him some lessons, and he poured his accumulated knowledge into designing a special treatment facility on the outskirts of Olhão: the Unidade de Desabituação, or Dishabituation Centre. Several such UDs, as they are known, have opened in other regions of the country, but this centre was developed to cater to the particular circumstances and needs of the south.

Pereira stepped down as director some years ago, but his replacement asked him to stay on to help with day-to-day operations. Pereira should be retired by now – indeed, he tried to – but Portugal is suffering from an overall shortage of health professionals in the public system, and not enough young doctors are stepping into this specialisation. As his colleagues elsewhere in the country grow closer to their own retirements, there’s a growing sense of dread that there is no one to replace them.

“Those of us from the Algarve always had a bit of a different attitude from our colleagues up north,” Pereira told me. “I don’t treat patients. They treat themselves. My function is to help them to make the changes they need to make.”

And thank goodness there is only one change to make, he deadpanned as we pulled into the centre’s parking lot: “You need to change almost everything.” He cackled at his own joke and stepped out of his car.

The glass doors at the entrance slid open to a facility that was bright and clean without feeling overwhelmingly institutional. Doctors’ and administrators’ offices were up a sweeping staircase ahead. Women at the front desk nodded their hellos, and Pereira greeted them warmly: “Good afternoon, my darlings.”

The Olhão centre was built for just under €3m (£2.6m), publicly funded, and opened to its first patients nine years ago. This facility, like the others, is connected to a web of health and social rehabilitation services. It can house up to 14 people at once: treatments are free, available on referral from a doctor or therapist, and normally last between eight and 14 days. When people first arrive, they put all of their personal belongings – photos, mobile phones, everything – into storage, retrievable on departure.

“We believe in the old maxim: ‘No news is good news,’” explained Pereira. “We don’t do this to punish them but to protect them.” Memories can be triggering, and sometimes families, friends and toxic relationships can be enabling.

To the left there were intake rooms and a padded isolation room, with clunky security cameras propped up in every corner. Patients each had their own suites – simple, comfortable and private. To the right, there was a “colour” room, with a pottery wheel, recycled plastic bottles, paints, egg cartons, glitter and other craft supplies. In another room, coloured pencils and easels for drawing. A kiln, and next to it a collection of excellent handmade ashtrays. Many patients remained heavy smokers.

Patients were always occupied, always using their hands or their bodies or their senses, doing exercise or making art, always filling their time with something. “We’d often hear our patients use the expression ‘me and my body’,” Pereira said. “As though there was a dissociation between the ‘me’ and ‘my flesh’.”

To help bring the body back, there was a small gym, exercise classes, physiotherapy and a jacuzzi. And after so much destructive behaviour – messing up their bodies, their relationships, their lives and communities – learning that they could create good and beautiful things was sometimes transformational.

My uncle and heroin: ‘What surprises me most – you have no teeth’ | Sarah Resnick Read more

“You know those lines on a running track?” Pereira asked me. He believed that everyone – however imperfect – was capable of finding their own way, given the right support. “Our love is like those lines.”

He was firm, he said, but never punished or judged his patients for their relapses or failures. Patients were free to leave at any time, and they were welcome to return if they needed, even if it was more than a dozen times.

He offered no magic wand or one-size-fits-all solution, just this daily search for balance: getting up, having breakfast, making art, taking meds, doing exercise, going to work, going to school, going into the world, going forward. Being alive, he said to me more than once, can be very complicated.

“My darling,” he told me, “it’s like I always say: I may be a doctor, but nobody’s perfect.”

A longer version of this piece appears on Research and travel for this piece were made possible by the Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award

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The Assassination of Fred Hampton, Surveillance of Civil Rights Leaders, and Harassment of Black Lives Matter Just Business as Usual for Law Enforcement

Alternet - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 16:34
Click here for reuse options! The criminalization of drug use is an easy excuse to surveil and control populations.

On this day 49 years ago, Fred Hampton, Black Panther Party of Self-Defense State chairman, was drugged and assassinated by the Chicago Police Department (with the assistance of the FBI). Just another day of law enforcement doing its job.  

In the United States, the role of law enforcement is to maintain “law and order” first and foremost. Moreover, law enforcement, especially the FBI, has historically played a major role in stifling social movements that seek to disrupt or dramatically alter the social order of the US.

From the violent strike-breaking and union-busting of the late 19th and early 20th century, to the surveillance of anti-war and civil rights leaders during the Vietnam era, to the imprisonment of Black Panther Party members and other political prisoners that continues to this day, US law enforcement does an especially good job of quelling the dissidence of oppressed peoples, no matter how peaceful the leader.  

Take Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Lauded today as the shining example of peace, equality and the “proper” way to protest, MLK was targeted and jailed by local police and surveilled by the FBI from December 1955 until his assassination in 1968.

The US government doesn’t take well to unrest, and the creation of laws and their ultimate enforcement are the prime means of subduing any agitation. The war on drugs is a prime example of this, as described in this infamous quote by Nixon aide John Ehrlichman:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” 

The criminalization of drug use is an easy excuse to surveil and control populations. In the effort to restore and maintain law and order, blacks and Latinos are policed, arrested, incarcerated and criminalized at disproportionate rates for drug use and sales, despite the fact that white people sell and use drugs at the same, if not slightly higher, rate.  

The collateral consequences of this mass criminalization include the destruction of families, disenfranchisement rates that mirror those of the Jim Crow-era, school-to-prison pipelines, the creation and perpetuation of an economic and social caste system, and modern day slavery. Targeted traffic stops, violent SWAT raids and incessant racialized searches, known as stop-and-frisk, in search of drugs are daily reminders that the drug war is the justification to create a police state of black and Latino communities in order to maintain and control these populations.

The mass policing and criminalization does not stop at local law enforcement. Just as the FBI labeled the Black Panther Party and other civil rights organizations and leaders “black extremist groups” and surveilled and infiltrated their ranks, the FBI’s creation of the category “black identity extremist” (following the emergence of groups like Black Lives Matter and celebrities like Colin Kaepernick who speak out and protest against police brutality and mass criminalization), is just history repeating itself.  

Moreover, the Trump administration is doing all in its power to be harsher on enforcing our racist drug laws. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement of $12 million grant funding for state and local law enforcement in an effort to combat the opioid crisis, money that could be better used to increase access to evidence-based treatment, illustrates the longstanding truth: maintaining law and order comes before saving lives.

Today, as we remember the life of an electrifying liberator, let us not forget the truth of his death. Fred Hampton was murdered by the Chicago Police Department as he lay in bed drugged and unconscious next to the pregnant mother of his child. The FBI, with use of an informant, coordinated this attack. His death was an act of police brutality. His death was government-sanctioned murder. His death was an assassination. Most of all, his death was law enforcement doing its job.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.

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Aphria set to be Shoppers Drug Mart's cannabis supplier with new agreement -

Google - Cannabis - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 15:27

Aphria set to be Shoppers Drug Mart's cannabis supplier with new agreement
The deal comes after many months of discussions and is subject to Health Canada approving the application of the chain's parent company, Loblaw Companies Ltd., to dispense medical marijuana. Loblaw applied for a licence in October 2016, but neither ...
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Former head of RCMP drug squad now leads national marijuana business -

Google - Cannabis - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 14:29

Former head of RCMP drug squad now leads national marijuana business
The Canadian government is setting the gold standard for the cannabis market, he adds, leading to international growth potential — and challenges. Ogden predicts his former RCMP colleagues will be busy on the cannabis file for a long time. “It will be ...
Marijuana and meth seized during Wellington traffic stopThe Journal Pioneer

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Dozens rally at Sydney courthouse after marijuana dispensary busts -

Google - Cannabis - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 13:53

Dozens rally at Sydney courthouse after marijuana dispensary busts
More than 50 people rallied at the courthouse in Sydney, N.S., today in support of three people charged following marijuana seizures at homes and businesses late last week. Police said two of the four Sydney locations raided on Friday were illegal ...
Raid on Sydney medical marijuana dispensary angers clientsCape Breton Post

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As Kratom Use Surges, Some States Enact Bans

Alternet - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 12:48
An estimated 3 million to 5 million people are using kratom and reporting positive results, but some states are bringing down the ban hammer.

CARRBORO, N.C. — On a sunny November afternoon in this quiet college community, a steady stream of customers walks through the doors of a local cafe called Oasis for a cup of an increasingly popular herbal beverage. The menu offers coffee, black tea, beer, wine and pastries, but nearly everyone opts for a $5 mug of kratom (pronounced KRAY-dum).

A powder ground from the leaves of an indigenous Southeast Asian tree related to the coffee plant, kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) offers pain relief and mood enhancement, similar to prescription painkillers.

Advocates say the substance, which does not depress the respiratory system and therefore presents little to no overdose risk, could help reduce the nation’s reliance on highly addictive and often deadly prescription painkillers. Some addiction experts also argue the plant could be used as an alternative to methadone, buprenorphine and Vivitrol in medication-assisted therapy for opioid addiction.

Used for centuries to fight fatigue, pain and anxiety in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Thailand, kratom was rarely taken in the United States until recently.

Now, with growing concerns about the dangers of prescription painkillers, an estimated 3 million to 5 million people are using kratom and reporting positive results, based on information from retailers. But worries that the unregulated plant product could be abused for its mild euphoric qualities and users could become addicted are spurring federal officials to issue public health warnings — and a handful of states and cities to impose bans.

Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have banned kratom, along with at least three cities — Denver, San Diego and Sarasota, Florida. Legislation was considered last year in at least six other states — Florida, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina.

Animal studies have shown that kratom use may lead to addiction. But user surveys indicate that although the herb can be habit-forming, withdrawal symptoms are no worse than those encountered when quitting coffee, sugar or certain herbal supplements. Withdrawal symptoms, which typically last three to four days, include muscle aches, cravings, a runny nose, restlessness and mood swings.

The Drug Enforcement Administration last year said it intended to classify the herbal supplement as an illegal Schedule 1 drug, along with heroin, LSD and marijuana. But after public demonstrations, letters from Congress and a petition with more than 142,000 signatures, the agency put the proposal on hold.

Last month, Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb issued a public health warning, citing 36 deaths in which kratom was present, but not necessarily the cause. About 50,000 Americans die of drug overdoses each year. In addition, the FDA, which has been seizing imports of kratom at U.S. ports since 2013, stepped up import enforcement.

The agency also cited a 10-fold increase in kratom-related calls to poison centers between 2010 and 2015 — from 26 calls to 263, out of roughly 2.2 million calls a year. And Gottlieb warned about the unknown risks of using kratom to treat opioid addiction, saying he fears some kratom may have been laced with opioids, and that the FDA needs to conduct more study on the plant’s potential benefits.

In response, the American Kratom Association, a Colorado-based advocacy and lobbying organization, issued its own analysis of FDA data on adverse drug events, calling the kratom numbers “incredibly insignificant in the broader context” of drug-related deaths and adverse reactions.

All Kinds

At Oasis, no one seems concerned about the hubbub in Washington. Owner Robert Roskind says the controversy has only improved business by focusing attention on what he says is still a little-known plant with huge benefits and few drawbacks. “Except for the rare upset stomach or lightheadedness, it has helped nearly everyone,” he said. “And it’s cheap. I have about 300 customers and most come here several times a week. Some buy take-home packages.”

With subdued lighting, soft music and mystical artwork, Oasis has a peaceful vibe. Customers are happy to talk about their reasons for taking kratom, and they vary widely.

A group of University of North Carolina students from nearby Chapel Hill sit on floor pillows in a corner, reading and working on laptops. Kratom sharpens their focus when they need to study for an exam, one student said. “It’s like coffee without the jitters.”

A 27-year-old tattooed chef from Brooklyn said he started drinking kratom to relieve withdrawal symptoms after he decided to quit heroin on his own three months ago. A conservatively dressed 22-year-old fraternity brother said kratom has helped him stop binge drinking.

A woman in her 40s, recovering from brain cancer therapy, says it relieves her anxiety and improves her sense of well-being. Two women who work with preschoolers say it lowers their stress level. And a 29-year-old construction worker says it keeps his fibromyalgia symptoms, including pain and fatigue, at bay so he can get up and work every day.

Even among the diverse crowd here at Oasis, Bob Whyte, a well-dressed 80-year-old businessman from Chapel Hill stands out. A self-described straight-laced “boy scout,” he said he’s been drinking kratom three times a day to relieve severe back pain from failed surgery.

“I’d been taking tramadol and hydrocodone consistently for two years when I found out about kratom,” he said. Whyte said his doctors didn’t want him to keep taking the highly addictive prescription painkillers, and they had no objections when he told them he was switching to kratom.

At first, Whyte said he was a little fearful about trying the plant-based medicine. Roskind gave him a kratom brownie and suggested he eat half of it at home.

“I picked a day when I wouldn’t be driving and sat on the front porch and had half a brownie. I waited a half-hour and felt fine, so I had the other half. That’s when I had a little happy moment there on the porch,” he said sheepishly.

Since that July morning, Whyte said he’s figured out what dose is best for him — enough to bring his pain down to a tolerable level without feeling drowsy. Now he says he’s telling everyone he knows about kratom.

Research Needed

Despite rave reviews from kratom users, most physicians and researchers argue that research using human clinical trials is needed to accurately determine the leaf powder’s potential harms and benefits. They also insist that oversight of commercial sales of the plant is needed to ensure consumers are getting high-quality, uncontaminated products.

But scientists and other stakeholders differ about whether sales of the plant should be curtailed in the meantime.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine argued in comments to the DEA last year that the whole botanical product, like the powder sold at Oasis, should be made illegal to prevent people with addictions from trying to use it to recover. Since three FDA-approved medications exist that have proven safe and effective, using kratom to treat opioid addiction presents an unnecessary risk for people with addictions, the group said.

At the same time, they recommended that what appears to be the plant’s primary active ingredients, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, should remain legal so they can be researched for their pain relief and addiction treatment potential.

Oliver Grundmann, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, has surveyed kratom users and found that very few report becoming addicted and most use it to treat chronic pain, mental health conditions and drug addiction.

“I’m questioning whether we are doing any good by banning kratom,” Grundmann said. If states and the federal government make kratom illegal, he said, it would not only slow the progress of research, but it would also leave many kratom users no choice but to switch back to painkillers or heroin. 


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How to Save Lives in the 'Overdose Capital of America'

Alternet - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 12:31
A new documentary streaming on Netflix is a window into what it’s like to be on the front lines of the opioid crisis.

Heroin(e) is a powerful film that follows the stories of three women in Huntington, West Virginia, who are battling the opioid crisis on its front lines. Drug addiction is so common in Huntington, the “overdose capital of America,” that it’s weaved into the fabric of everyday life. In one scene, paramedics work to revive an overdose victim at a convenience store while people step around the commotion and move along the checkout line as if nothing is happening.

Fire Chief Jan Rader is the first responder who carries not only the film, but also the weight of the crisis in her community as she works to save as many people as possible and get addicts into long-term recovery. Judge Patricia Keller is part mother-hen, part school principal, doling out encouragement and discipline with equal compassion. Necia Freeman, a volunteer with a local church group, drives around at night providing food, shelter and help to those teetering on the edge.

Opioid overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, having killed 64,000 Americans in 2016, a 17 percent increase from the previous year. President Trump had promised to designate the crisis a “national emergency,” which would have prompted more federal dollars to help. Instead, he recently declared it a “public health emergency,” to the consternation of his critics.

I spoke with filmmaker Elaine McMillon Sheldon, who co-produced Heroin(e) with the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Chief Jan Rader about the growing epidemic, treatment options and making the film.

Titi Yu: Chief Rader, what did you think about the president’s announcement and how do you think it will affect your work as a first responder?

Jan Rader: Well, I guess we will see. In my mind it’s a good first step and I hope it’s backed up with more to come. Certainly opening up telemedicine in the rural communities is a help, because we do have a lack of providers. Bringing in [federal grant funds to target those with opioid addictions, part of Trump’s declaration] is going to help that, but it’s going to take further steps to deal with this epidemic.

TY: From your perspective, what does that look like? Is it more money?

JR: It’s such a complex issue. We’ll just take probably anything. But in our area, the No. 1 issue is that we have a bottleneck at detox. In Cabell County, with a population of 96,000 people, we only have eight detox beds. That’s important, because people have to go into detox before they go into recovery.

The other problem is that the eight detox beds we do have are not medically assisted, and we desperately need them to be. It’s almost inhumane because if they don’t die from detoxing off of opiates, they wish they were dead. So if we had medically assisted detox we’d have a lot more people willing to detox and get into long-term care.

Elaine McMillon Sheldon: And also Naloxone right, Jan?

JR: Oh yes, we use any and all Naloxone donations that we get. That’s where I would hope that Big Pharma would step up to the plate. You have to be alive in order to get into long-term care. Naloxone’s key to keeping people alive.

TY: So tell me more about Naloxone; what does it do?

JR: Opioids latch onto receptors in the brain that actually suppress the respiratory system. And if you stop breathing, or you’re not breathing sufficiently for five to six minutes, then you’re brain dead. Then the heart stops working. It’s critical to get to people as quickly as possible when they overdose. What Naloxone does is it knocks the opiate off those receptors so they start breathing again. That is key, and sometimes [people] wake up instantaneously.

TY: How expensive is Naloxone?

JR: You know, my department is quite poor. So for me to carry Narcan [the brand name for Naloxone], I have to accept donations. If we don’t have Narcan, we provide rescue breathing until Cabell County EMS arrives. For a nasal dose, you’re talking about $50 a dose. We had Evzio [a naloxone auto-injector], and those are [as much as $4,500] a box and there are two doses in the box.

The good thing about our area is that not only did our health department start applying [for] grants so first responders can carry Naloxone, but they were also handing out free Naloxone to friends and families of those suffering from substance use disorder. Over 1,100 lives have been saved without intervention from first responders. For parents with an adult child that’s suffering from substance abuse disorder, they at least can sleep a little better at night knowing that they have a reversal drug to give to their own child if they overdose. So I think we need to continue to supply as much Naloxone to the general public as we possibly can.

TY: So Elaine, what prompted you to want to make this film?

EMS: You can’t live in West Virginia and not know that this problem has been impacting us for many years. Today, because of the headlines, everybody knows what’s going on here. But we’ve been experiencing this crisis since the ’90s, with the pill mill and then with heroin. I grew up in Logan, West Virginia, where right down the street a so-called doctor from another state set up shop in a cinder block building with no furniture, and had a woman just sitting there with a full bag of prescriptions, handing them out, day after day.

So this is part of growing up here. You knew it was happening. Once I got to high school and then college, it started taking classmates from me. We started seeing more people either dying or imprisoned for felonies such as robberies, to get drugs. Some of my friends have had their children taken away from them and put in the foster-care system. I didn’t want to speak about this subject for a long time because the majority of the media focuses on the bleak and dire circumstances of an addict. I don’t have it in me to put that kind of suffering on screen. I wanted to produce something that would hopefully guide us forward.

When I met Jan, Patricia and Necia, I found them very inspiring. They make Huntington a part of the West Virginia that we should be proud of, a leader in the state. The film was a chance to not only highlight the women doing this work but also what the average citizen can do to help save a person’s life or to help make change. I think we need more stories like these today.

TY: There was a scene where Jan says she’s worried about how the younger medics are dealing with the increase in the number of deaths they see every day. I imagine there are moments that must have had a profound impact on you as well.

EMS: I was really conflicted about that. I talked to Jan quite a bit about all the ethical choices around filming someone hitting rock bottom. That is not something we took lightly, and honestly it was quite difficult for me. And if it wasn’t for us focusing our efforts on the first responders including Jan, I don’t know that I could have done that. But I was filming people who were helping save a life and that gave me the motivation to keep on filming. What I’ve seen is nothing compared to what first responders have to deal with day in and day out.

TY: Can you tell us a bit more about the court-appointed drug rehab program?

JR: Judge Keller, who by trade is a family court judge, is an amazing person. She doesn’t get paid to do drug court; she just does it on her own, pro bono. She really cares about individuals and she’s not willing to give up on people when they screw up. I can’t speak for her, but we have had many conversations on her goals. I look for Judge Keller to do wonderful things as a family-court judge, because if we treat one person, the triggers are still there in the family. But if you treat the whole family, then you really tackle it from a holistic point of view — you’re doing away with the triggers. A lot of people are unsuccessful in long-term treatment because they get better and then they go right back into the same household with the same family members nagging them or not understanding. There’s so much collateral damage and family members need counseling and treatment also, whether they’re using or not. I looked at some models in New England where they do a home health-care model with addiction counseling. They treat people in their homes with their family units and it’s quite successful.

EMS: When we talk about addiction, I think one of things for me is the tremendous brain drain from the state. Young people leave every day and our death rate is higher than our birth rate. But what scares me is that we have such a high population of young people who are addicted. Once they do get clean, it’s really hard for them to return home. I’ve been making a film about four guys going through recovery and the ones that return to the same environment they left didn’t do well.

TY: Jan, in a very emotional scene, you thanked Mickey, an addict, for teaching you more than he would ever know. What did you mean by that and how has doing this work changed your life?

JR: I was very blessed; I grew up in with a family who loved me and provided for me. I never had to want for anything. We weren’t rich, but we always had food in our bellies and clothing and things like that. I was never beaten or mistreated and my parents always gave back to their community. So starting out as a first responder — and I’m an old medic and I went to nursing school — I was never taught anything about what addiction truly is. And there was a lot of ignorance surrounding substance use disorder.

But Mickey in particular — he’s such a nice guy. My education has come through dealing with the Mickeys of the world and dealing with those with substance use disorder. It’s like there has to be a better way. Why are we treating people poorly? Why are we not embracing them and trying to lift them up? And Mickey, I had him as an overdose case multiple times and he was a very belligerent user. He would get very angry when we would catch him using. And that’s how I knew him. I’d get an overdose call, and when I see Mickey’s address, I would think, “Oh this is gonna be a doozy.”

[Phone rings in the background] We have an overdose right now, just so you know.

Mickey’s a man who started using at age 8. His mom was getting drunk and high and he had no life. All he knew was getting high until he was 34 years old, when he got clean. He’s super intelligent and funny. He let go of all that anger that he had. They always say that drugs kill your brain cells. Well, I can’t imagine how smart he would be or what he would have been able to accomplish had he not suffered like that as a young boy. He was physically and sexually abused when he was growing up. And it’s just like, “How in the world can he be that resilient?” I can’t imagine that I would have survived that. What an amazing person to go through that. And now he’s healthy, he’s happy and he’s involved in his children’s life, which he had never been before. And Mickey teaches us so much about humanity. I mean, who am I to judge? I didn’t take an oath to judge; I took an oath to save lives. I just saw him the other day, happy as he can be. His wife was just diagnosed with cancer for the second time. They were in recovery together and now they are clean together. It’s just a humbling experience to know people like Mickey.

TY: So I guess the question is, and I think you’ve already answered it in a way, but: How do you stay hopeful?

JB: How dare I say that I’ve had a bad day because I’ve seen three overdoses when somebody lost their child or their sister or their wife or husband. How dare I think I had a bad day, you know what I mean? Now if I have a bad day, somebody else always had a worse day. I know not all first responders look at it that way, but maybe someday they’ll connect the dots and realize, “You know what, I don’t have it so bad,” because I really, truly believe that every one of us is just one bad time of our lives away from addiction.

TY: Elaine, do you have thoughts on that as well? About being hopeful, because despite the bleakness of the topic, you made a very hopeful film.

EMS: I think one of the reasons I was drawn to Jan, and the other women too, is trying to understand how they stay hopeful. And I think we give up on people too easily. What I love about what they’re doing here in Huntington is the belief in a second chance and a third chance. It’s really remarkable to see Jan even on a bad day find purpose in what she’s doing. It’s a lesson on being a good person and a good people within humanity take care of each another.

One of the reasons why I think addiction has taken over so many communities is that we’ve lost each other. We live isolated from each other, and our society is at a point where we feel like we don’t need another. I think seeing a crisis like this shows us how much we really do need one another.

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Teen marijuana use may lead to bipolar symptoms later on - Medical News Today

Google - Cannabis - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 09:07

Medical News Today

Teen marijuana use may lead to bipolar symptoms later on
Medical News Today
A new study fills this research gap by examining how cannabis use among teenagers is linked with hypomania in early adulthood. The research was led by Dr. Steven Marwaha, a clinical academic psychiatrist from the University of Warwick in the United ...

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Marijuana stocks are yesterday's news as Canada gripped by bitcoin fever - The Globe and Mail

Google - Cannabis - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 08:05

The Globe and Mail

Marijuana stocks are yesterday's news as Canada gripped by bitcoin fever
The Globe and Mail
Canada's stock markets are no strangers to investing fads, with cobalt, lithium and marijuana stocks all bubbling higher this year. The country's TSX Venture Exchange has been dubbed the "wild west," the penny stocks among its more than 1,700 listings ...

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Heavy marijuana use linked to rare vomiting illness - CNN

Google - Cannabis - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 03:11


Heavy marijuana use linked to rare vomiting illness
There is no cure other than to quit using marijuana, and many patients are skeptical that cannabis is making them sick, so they keep using it and their vomiting episodes continue. Doctors can do little to relieve the symptoms, since traditional anti ...

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