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WATCH: Psychedelics Could Impact the Future of Humanity

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 11:21
Click here for reuse options! The potential for psychedelics to aid humanity's future was a major theme at Psychedelic Science 2017.

In a new mini-documentary (posted below), researchers, artists, therapists, students and other participants in the international Psychedelic Science Conference stepped aside to talk about the larger implications of psychedelics research and the historic conference. I worked with a small team to help create the film for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), aimed at highlighting the larger themes moving through the conference. 

The film's interviewees paint a portrait of hope for the future of humanity, hinging on a paradigm shift in the way our society views mental health, and how we relate to each other and the planet.

“We cannot have peace in this world until we have peace within ourselves,” says Liana Sananda Gillooly, outreach manager for the cannabis industry investment network ArcView Group, near the beginning of the film. She is standing in front of a series of visionary art paintings hanging in the Marriott Hotel in downtown Oakland, Calif., where the conference took place.

“Sure, you can go and do vipassana meditation and do yoga for years and do these other healing modalities, but right now for the times that we live in, [psychedelics are] providing this avenue, this way in, that is faster and quicker and more immediately effective," Gillooly says.

Various psychedelic-assisted therapy studies, backed up by neuroimaging research, are showing that psychedelics are sometimes capable of safely reversing psychological issues that previously seemed impenetrable. Government-approved studies have been taking place across the globe, looking at MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder, and LSD for anxiety and psilocybin (the active ingredient in “magic" mushrooms) for addiction, among others. Across the board, studies have been turning over unprecedented results.

A big theme at the conference and in the mini-doc is the question of humanity’s future. Given our mental health crisis, the blatant neglect of our natural environment and the rise of greed-driven world leaders who have lost touch with basic human values, conversations buzzed through the conference about whether psychedelics could help rewire human awareness before it’s too late.  

At the conference’s opening remarks, Czech researcher Stanislav Grof, a founder in the field of transpersonal psychology and a long-time psychedelics researcher, discussed the grave realities facing our species in a talk titled "Psychedelics and the Future of Humanity."

Watch the mini-documentary on the Psychedelic Science Conference 2017 below:

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"He Hasn't Done Anything": Trump-Backing Recovering Opioid Addict Fears She's Been Duped

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 10:44
The president's campaign trail talk about dealing with addiction hasn't translated into effective policy.

President Donald Trump vowed multiple times to fix the opioid crisis that has ravaged communities across America, but so far opioid addiction recovery advocates feel very underwhelmed by his efforts.

CNN has talked with some recovering opioid addicts who believe that the president has ignored their concerns ever since taking office this past January.

Erin Canterbury, a 39-year-old New Hampshire mother and a recovering prescription painkiller addict, told CNN that she voted for Trump after hearing him talk about his own family members’ struggles with addiction. However, four months into his presidency, she’s disappointed Trump hasn’t taken any significant actions to address the crisis.

“He hasn’t done anything thus far,” Canterbury, a chief ambassador for Reliance Treatment Centers in New England, told CNN. “I don’t want to say I completely regret it. But he hasn’t done anything.”

Dean Lemrire, a recovering addict who tells CNN he “reluctantly” backed Hillary Clinton this past fall, said that Trump has taken the wrong approach to fighting the opioid crisis.

“If he had really asked and listened to anybody close to the issue, they would tell him that he has done everything wrong so far,” he said.

Two of Trump’s actions have proven alarming to addiction recovery addicts: The savage cuts to Medicaid in the American Health Care Act and an administration memo that proposed decimating the Drug-Free Communities Support program.

“Uncertainty is sort of the mood of the movement here in New Hampshire,” explained treatment advocate Tym Rourke. “We are working to build our state’s capacity, to build the workforce, but it is hard to do that in a moment where the services we have built could potentially be at risk.”

Additionally, former New Hampshire Republican lawmaker Joe Hannon tells CNN that he’s worried about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to ramp up drug war-style enforcement policies that won’t fundamentally treat drug addiction.

“We have had a war on drugs for quite some time now and it is not getting better with what we are doing so I am not sure the same old approach is the answer,” he said.


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7 Countries That Beat an Overdose Crisis

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 11:42
While other countries are succeeding in reducing the number of opioid overdose deaths, U.S. rates are rising.

It’s no secret that there's a drug overdose crisis in the United States. Opioid overdose deaths have risen 255% from 1999 to 2015. The US has failed to beat the opioid epidemic with drug courts, 12 step rehabs, and even medications like Vivitrol. However, seven other countries have overcome a huge drug overdose crisis very cheaply using technology which is more than 50 years old. Their secret? They have made methadone, an extremely cheap drug which costs less than a dollar a day for a maintenance dose, readily available to everyone who needs it. Rather than mandating expensive and stigmatizing methadone clinics, they allow any patients who need methadone to take their doses in their doctors’ offices or even at pharmacies... for free!

In order to find out what works and what doesn't work in fighting an overdose crisis, I looked at data from 33 countries which have published detailed data about drug dependence, overdose, and treatment responses over a long period of time. A major overdose crisis was defined as more than 2.0 drug poisoning deaths per 100,000 person years. Long term success was defined as a greater than 40% reduction in overdose deaths for a minimum of nine years. Seven countries were successful at greatly reducing overdose deaths: Australia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland (Full details of my analysis can be found at

The Seven Biggest Successes

Why were these seven countries successful when the US has failed so miserably? The overwhelming commonality was that all seven countries had extremely good access to opioid substitution therapy (OST). The majority of clients take their dose of methadone or buprenorphine in pharmacies or doctors' offices instead of methadone clinics in five of these countries: Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland. Only in Greece are clients required to come to a specialized clinic to dose, although in Italy clinic dosing is the norm and pharmacy dosing is the exception. However, Greece and Italy have clinics everywhere so that it is no hardship to get to the local clinic to dose; a solution which is impractical in a country with a population as dispersed as the US.

Importantly, opioid substitution therapy (OST) is essentially free to patients in six out of seven of these countries, Australia being the exception. OST is available for anyone who needs it, and there are generally no wait times, so patients are not in danger of overdose while they wait for treatment. Also, patients are not kicked out of treatment if their urine tests positive for other drugs: treatment is the priority, not punishment.

In Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, and Switzerland OST can be initiated in doctors' offices. Greece, Italy, and Norway require that OST be initiated at a specialized treatment center. Once OST is initiated, however, it is usually continued by doctors in office practice in Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland. Only Greece requires attendance at a specialized treatment clinic (OTP) to continue OST.

Some of these countries also have instituted other initiatives to reduce overdose deaths; however, none of these are as widespread and long established as OST.

Drug consumption rooms (DCRs), sometimes called safe injection facilities, undoubtedly save lives but there just aren't enough of them yet. Australia has one DCR (opened 2001), Germany has 24 (the first opened in the early 1990s and they became legally sanctioned in 2000), Luxembourg has one (since 2005), Norway has one (since 2005), and Switzerland has 12 (since 1986). There are none in Greece or Italy. DCRs alone could not have been the factor which turned around the overdose crisis in these countries, although they are extremely important lifesaving programs.

Heroin assisted treatment (HAT) is another lifesaving measure, but out of the seven countries under discussion, only Germany and Switzerland currently allow HAT. Housing first initiatives aimed at reducing homelessness also undoubtedly decrease drug use and drug overdose deaths, but rates of homelessness in the seven successful countries vary greatly. Take home naloxone (THN) programs are also successful at combating overdose, but they are only found in four of the seven successful countries. The one common factor in the success of all seven at beating the overdose crisis is easily available OST.

The evidence suggests that cheap or free and easy access to OST is the most fundamental building block needed to reverse an opioid crisis. Once that foundation is in place, countries will benefit by adding drug consumption rooms, heroin assisted treatment, take home naloxone, and housing first programs to it. But without affordable and accessible OST these other programs alone are insufficient. The way to make OST affordable and accessible in the US is with office based prescribing and pharmacy dosing of methadone. This costs less than a dollar a day for the medication itself and is much less stigmatizing than waiting in line at a methadone clinic.

The Five Biggest Failures… And We’re Number One!

In five of the countries that failed to overcome a major overdose crisis, the death toll is spiraling out of control. Unfortunately, the USA is the biggest failure at combating opioid overdose death.


The USA is the worst of any country investigated in this article in terms of overdose deaths. The rate of opioid overdose death in the USA increased 255% between 1999 and 2015. The number of opioid overdose deaths (T40.0-.4,.6) went from 8,050 (2.88 per 100,000) in 1999 to 33,091 (10.3 per 100,000) in 2015. As Jones et al. (2015) have noted in detail, OST coverage is quite inadequate in the US. For many people, OST is not covered by insurance and patients are forced to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket.

The regulations for initiation and dosing of methadone in the US are completely different from those for buprenorphine, unlike most countries in the world which treat these two substitution medications the same. Buprenorphine is far more accessible because it is far more expensive and results in huge profits for pharmaceutical companies, while methadone is cheap.

The US has no drug consumption rooms and no HAT. The homelessness rate is fairly low (0.18%) and several housing first initiatives have been put in place. Tiny harm reduction agencies do an excellent job of distributing take home naloxone, but it is not enough. Naloxone has been made over-the-counter in 14 states, but that leaves 36 states where you can only get naloxone with a prescription.

The federal government needs to change the laws to allow office-based methadone initiation and pharmacy-based methadone dosing, and to subsidize OST so that it is free for all. This is proven to be a best practice by the seven countries that have been successful at reversing the opioid crisis: the US should put aside outdated ideology and adopt the policy that saves lives.


Sweden is the second worst country for overdose deaths. Sweden’s percentage of increase is essentially the same as that in the US, but the current death rate (6.3 per 100,000 for all drugs) is much lower. The rate of overdose death in Sweden increased 256% between 1999 and 2014. Sweden has a 'zero tolerance' policy for the use of illicit drugs while on OST, so many patients are kicked out of treatment, putting them at greater risk for overdose. There has been a decline in the number of clients in OST since 2011. Clients must go to a specialized OTP clinic to dose and to initiate treatment with both methadone and buprenorphine; there is no office-based or pharmacy-based dosing or initiation of either.

Sweden has no drug consumption rooms, no take home naloxone, and no HAT. Sweden has high rates of homelessness (0.36%) and inadequate drug user housing. It should come as no surprise that Swedish overdose deaths are out of control.

UK (England and Wales)

The opioid overdose death rate increased 35% in England and Wales between 1999 and 2015. More shockingly, it increased 51% between 2012 and 2015 and the rate for all drug overdose deaths increased even more over this period. In 2010 the government of the United Kingdom decided to replace the highly effective harm reduction approach to drug use which had been in place for decades with a more politically popular "recovery" approach focused on abstinence, and in so doing precipitated a major public health crisis.

Given the resounding failure of abstinence-based US drug policy, it is tragic that these policies have been imported to the UK. Prior to 2010, the UK did a relatively successful job of reducing or at least containing overdose deaths. It has the mechanisms in place such as pharmacy dosing and office prescription of OST, as well as take home naloxone and HAT. The UK should return to the policy of allowing people to stay on OST as long as necessary, rather than trying to force them off methadone and buprenorphine as is current policy.


Drug overdose death rates increased 183% in Lithuania between 1999 and 2014. The number of deaths went from 37 (1.0 per 100,000) in 1999 to 87 (3.0 per 100,000) in 2014. OST in Lithuania, whether methadone or buprenorphine, can only be dispensed at specialized clinics. OST coverage is poor. A 2007 report estimated there were 5,458 problem opioid users in Lithuania; in 2014 only 585 clients were in OST. This is less than 11% of those in need of OST. 95% of opioid treatment admissions in Lithuania are for heroin. In 2014 in Lithuania 479 OST clients (82%) were receiving methadone and 106 (18%) were receiving buprenorphine.


Drug overdose death rates increased 40% in Finland between 1999 and 2014. The number of deaths went from 119 (2.3 per 100,000) in 1999 to 176 (3.2 per 100,000) in 2014. Rates actually peaked in 2012 when there were 213 deaths (3.9 per 100,000) and then fell 18% in the following two years; however, there don't seem to have been any major policy or treatment changes which account for this drop.

Although pharmacy dosing of methadone is legal in Finland, only about 7% of people in OST have been given a pharmacy contract and the other 93% must go to a specialized clinic to dose. It is estimated that there were 13,836 problem opioid users in Finland as of 2012, but as of 2014 only 3,000 were in OST, giving a rate of coverage of only 22%. Overall, access to OST in Finland is poor.

Countries Where Overdose Has Leveled Off, or That Have Had Short Term Success

Denmark and Ireland have seen a leveling off of overdose death rates. This can be largely attributed to easier access to OST.

Austria, Estonia, Malta, Croatia and Slovenia have seen short term reductions in overdose deaths. For more information on countries where overdose has leveled off or that have seen short term success, please see my full article at

Conclusion and Recommendations

Cheap and easy access to OST has repeatedly proven effective at stemming or reversing an opioid overdose crisis. The cheapest, least stigmatizing way to reach the most people is with pharmacy-based dosing of methadone. This costs less than a dollar a day. And yet, the “solutions” pushed by drug courts, mental health professionals and popular culture are the worst possible approaches: 28 day rehab or incarceration. Both 28 day rehab and incarceration raise the odds of overdose death exponentially. Graduates of 28 day rehabs are 30 times more likely to die of overdose than active heroin users.

Meanwhile, OST with methadone is cheap, effective, and could cut down on stigma if pharmacy dosing were available. In 2007 a pilot study of office-based prescribing and pharmacy-based dosing of methadone was conducted in the US. Patients, pharmacists and doctors alike were extremely satisfied. The solution that worked in the seven most successful countries can be implemented here in the US.

People on methadone can lead productive lives even while being treated. More people would accept treatment if they knew they could access the medication they need in a non-stigmatizing environment like a pharmacy.

Cheap and easy access to methadone is the bedrock that must be in place so that drug consumption rooms, heroin assisted treatment, take home naloxone programs, and housing first initiatives can have a firm foundation. Only once the US follows the example of the seven most successful countries and implements pharmacy dosing of methadone will we stem the tide of the opioid overdose epidemic.


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How Smoking Weed Can Help Ease the Crack Epidemic

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 11:21
Research done in Vancouver shows that using cannabis may enable people to consume less crack. That would be a good thing.

North America is in the midst of a drug overdose disaster. In British Columbia, Canada, where nearly 1,000 people died of overdose in 2016, officials have declared a public health emergency.

While over-prescription of painkillers and contamination of the illegal opioid supply by fentanyl, a potent synthetic analgesic, are at the heart of the problem, opioid users are not the only ones at risk. Public health officials in BC are warning that fentanyl has been detected in many drugs circulating on the illicit market, including crack cocaine.

The possibility of opioid overdose is an unusual new threat for people who use crack, which is a stimulant. Its consumption, either through smoking or injection, is not necessarily deadly.

If misused, though, crack can certainly cause health harms, including cuts and burns from unsafe pipes. Sharing pipes can also transmit infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. In the long run, frequent and heavy crack consumption may contribute to psychological and neurological complications.

Despite the estimated 14 to 21 million cocaine users worldwide, the majority of whom live in Brazil and the United States, scientists have yet to find an effective medical treatment for helping people who wish to decrease problematic use of the drug.

Cannabis-assisted treatment

Now Canadian scientists are working on an unconventional substitution for it.

Research done by the BC Centre on Substance Use in Vancouver shows that using cannabis may enable people to consume less crack. Could marijuana become to crack what methadone is to heroin – a legal, safe and effective substitute drug that reduces cravings and other negative impacts of problematic drug use?

Between 2012 and 2015, our team surveyed more than 100 crack cocaine users in the city’s Downtown Eastside and Downtown South neighbourhoods. These are poor areas where crack is common among people who use drugs. We found that people who intentionally used cannabis to control their crack use showed a marked decline in crack consumption, with the proportion of people reporting daily use dropping from 35% to less than 20%.

Data for this study, which was recently presented at the Harm Reduction Conference in Montreal, were drawn from three open and ongoing prospective cohorts of more than 2,000 people who consume drugs (not necessarily just stimulants). They were the Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study (VIDUS); the AIDS Care Cohort to Evaluate exposure to Survival Services (ACCESS); and the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS).

We used harmonised procedures for recruitment, follow-up and data collection. Individuals in these cohorts were recruited through snowball sampling and extensive street outreach in the Downtown Eastside and Downtown South areas.

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has a history of innovative harm reduction responses to drug use. Emma Kate Jackson/flickr, CC BY

First, we asked participants if they had substituted one drug for another in order to control or slow down their consumption. A total of 122 participants (49 from VIDUS, 51 from ACCESS, and 22 from ARYS) reported that they had done so at least once in the last six months. These were the subjects included in our analysis, contributing to a total of 620 interviews over three years.

When we analysed these participants’ crack use histories over time, a pattern emerged: significant increases in cannabis use during periods when they reported they were using it as a crack substitute, followed by decline in the frequency of crack use afterwards.


Our findings are in line with a smaller case-series study in Brazil that followed 25 treatment-seeking individuals with problematic crack use who reported using marijuana to reduce cocaine-related craving symptoms. Over a nine-month follow-up period in that study, conducted by Eliseu Labigalini Jr, 68% of participants had stopped using crack.

As in our study, in Brazil cannabis use peaked during the first three months of follow-up, with only occasional use of cannabis reported in the six months after that.

Qualitative studies in Jamaica and Brazil also indicate that crack users frequently self-medicate with cannabis to reduce cravings and other undesirable effects of crack.

Other research has shown that long-term cannabis dependence might increase cocaine cravings and risk of relapse. Rather than contradict findings from Canada, Brazil and Jamaica, these discrepancies suggest that patterns of cannabis use and dependence, and the timing of self-medication with cannabis, may play a role in individual outcomes.

Building on the finding from this preliminary study, the BC Centre on Substance Use is planning more research to confirm whether using cannabis might be an effective strategy for people seeking to reduce their use of crack or other stimulants, either as harm reduction or as treatment.

Canada’s recent move to legalise and regulate marijuana should facilitate this work. For decades, stigma and prohibition have blocked rigorous scientific evaluation of cannabis. Now these obstacles are beginning to disappear, enabling our team to better understand and unlock the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 13:05
Under Jeff Session's watch, horrific sentences will only increase.

Larry Yarbrough was sentenced in 1997 to life without parole for the sale of one ounce of cocaine. It’s hard to imagine someone being sentenced to that much time for such a small amount of drugs. But under the new guidance from Attorney General Sessions we will see more sentences like this handed out. Just last week Sessions told prosecutors to charge drug offenders with the harshest possible sentences they could give allowing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines to kick in in federal cases.

Through the hard work of supporters who advocated for Larry’s release, last year Gov. Mary Fallin gave Larry a commutation of his sentence. This allowed him to see the parole board who then denied his release despite Larry being at deaths door from a very serious heart condition.

On May 16 2017, Yarbrough appeared again before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board and this time he was finally granted parole. He will be released in about a month.

Larry was a non-violent offender who was serving a life sentence for an ounce of cocaine. He has been married for 42 years to his wife Norma and has 5 children and 13 grandchildren. Before his incarceration, Larry and Norma owned and operated a popular BBQ restaurant in Kingfisher where he was known for giving back to his community. During his incarceration he has been a model inmate and has received commendations from the Department of Corrections and nonprofits for training guide dogs for the blind and disabled.

His story is featured in an upcoming documentary Voices in a Jailhouse : The Larry Yarbrough Story which examines and in-depth view of the Prison Industrial Complex. The documentary reveals the racism that exists in cases like Larry Yarbrough.

Several years ago I wrote about Larry in a piece titled “How Three Joints and an ounce of Coke Got an Oklahoma Grandfather Life without Parole.” Larry has had many supporters helping him regain his lost freedom. This includes his lawyer Debbie Hampton, Dennis Will, activist Gwendolyn Black and former Oklahoma Senator Connie Johnson. According to Sen. Johnson, Larry Yarbrough’s case is an excellent example of disproportionate and unfair sentencing. Compared to sentences received by others for similar amounts of the same drugs (an ounce of powder cocaine and three marijuana cigarettes), Yarbrough’s life-without-parole sentence is clearly excessive.

Larry’s case is one of many that was featured in a report by the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU ) titled A Living Death: Life without Parole for Non Violent Offenses. The report documents thousands of cases of individuals who are sentenced to die in prison for non-violent crimes. It also points out that family members of those sentenced also suffer as prison does not end at the prison wall, it extends far beyond touching many lives.

Mark Faulk an advocate for Yarbrough for many years told me by email of the great news. He said “We are elated that Larry Yarbrough will get to live out the remainder of his life with family and friends, and we hope this victory will provide a road map for others in his situation to find a path to freedom.”

He goes on to say “you know the system is horribly broken when we are celebrating the freedom of a black man in Oklahoma who was wrongly convicted, spent 23 years in prison, and is now in a wheelchair, and the very next day a white police officer in Tulsa is acquitted after killing another unarmed black man. There is still no justice in our justice system.”




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One Cop's 'Feelings' Are All It Takes to Get Charged for Drug Use in America

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 11:44
Police trained in "drug recognition" can spot drug use even when it isn't happening. And then you go to jail.




Suppose you’re driving home from work when a police officer pulls you over for swerving in the road. Maybe you’re sleepy, or perhaps you were trying to avoid hitting a squirrel. You stop the car, and the cop comes to your window. “Good evening, ma’am,” he says. “I’m concerned that you’re driving under the influence, and…

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The Next Lethal Drug Threat Is... Caffeine?

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 11:28
It's not the traditional cuppa joe that you have to watch out for.



It’s easier than ever to die of a caffeine overdose

Just stick to coffee Coffee is just one of many ways we're now getting our caffeine Pexels A large diet Mountain Dew, a cafe latte, and some kind of energy drink—that's the caffeine cocktail that apparently killed 16-year-old Davis Allan Cripe last month in South Carolina, according to news reports. We don’t ordinarily think of caffeine…

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The Man Who Made Orange Sunshine: Remembering Acid Chemist Nick Sand (Watch)

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 19:32
His mission was to "turn on the world." He didn't quite get there, but he did turn on millions to the wonders of LSD.

Nicholas Sand died over the weekend at the age of 75. He deserves to be remembered for his role in ushering in the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s. While not nearly as well known an acid exponent as Dr. Timothy Leary, who advised a generation to "tune in, turn on, and drop out," Sand and his partner in crime, Tim Scully, made it possible for millions to do just that, or at least, to get their hands on a tab of LSD.

Sand and Scully were the mad chemists behind a legendary form of acid—the Orange Sunshine that blew the minds of millions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The idea was to turn on a nation, and with their production run of 4 million hits of the potent psychedelic, they were well on their way. For Sand, it was fulfilling a mission.

"My first experience with taking acid changed everything," Sand explained in a 2015 documentary about his life as an LSD chemist.  "I was floating in this immense black space. I said, 'What am I doing here?' And suddenly a voice came through my body," Sand continued. "'Your job on this planet is to make psychedelics and turn on the world.'"

That documentary, The Sunshine Makers (now available on Netflix), recounts Sand' life, from his upbringing as an authentic Brooklyn red diaper baby (Dad was a Communist fired from the Manhattan Project after being seen with a Soviet intelligence agent; Mom was a Communist Party activist), through his years as chemical wunderkind, first cementing a reputation for fine home-made DMT and then teaming up with Scully in the Orange Sunshine adventure, and on to his years in Canada as a fugitive from American justice for his psychedelic caper.  

Scully was no slouch either, having worked as lab partner with the near-mythical acid chemist Owsley Stanley, and in fact, it was Scully who taught Sand how to make LSD. Between them, they planned of producing 750 million hits of Orange Sunshine to create a revolution in consciousness, or, in Sand's own words, "a new world of peace and love."

The law stopped them before they got that far, but, as the New York Times noted contemporaneously, their Orange Sunshine, touted as the purest of the time, "showed up wherever hippies gathered: at Grateful Dead concerts, in California communes, in Indian ashrams, in the hashish havens of Afghanistan."

Although Scully had gotten out of the game after narrowly beating an earlier lab bust, Sand continued cranking out the Sunshine until 1973, when he wasa busted, bringing Scully down with him. At the time of his arrest, Sand still had a flowchart Scully had made showing the steps for producing LSD, and that was enough to make Scully equally culpable in the feds' eyes.

Scully accepted a 20-year federal prison deal, but Sand balked at a 15-year sentence, instead going underground and eventually slipping into Canada, where he spent the next 20 years devoting himself to his life's work: making LSD. But his luck eventually ran out, he was caught, and ended up doing six years in prison.

The law may have managed to cage him for a while, but it couldn't change Nick Sand. He emerged just as insistent on his calling to "turn on the world."

"I have a vision to bring a new level of consciousness" to the human race, he wrote in 2001. "That is what I will continue to do to my last breath."

At least he lived long enough to see the renaissance of the psychedelic vision he both lived by and helped turn into a cultural fact. Nick Sand was a true pioneer. 

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Debunking the Latest Viral Pot Paranoid Theory

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 13:17
Legal marijuana is not sending teens to the ER, contrary to scaremongering headlines.

"Legalized pot sends more teens to the ER in Colorado, study finds." So claimed CBS News and numerous other mainstream media outlets this month in response to a May 4 American Academy of Pediatrics press release. But in actuality, no published study exists. And the data highlighted in the AAP presser provides little evidence to substantiate these alarmist headlines.

In fact, what headline writers across the country inaccurately referred to as a "study" was no more than preliminary data presented during the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco. These data sets, which assessed year-over-year trends in the prevalence of marijuana use among patients ages 13 to 21 who were admitted to the emergency room of a Colorado children’s hospital, have yet to be peer-reviewed or accepted for publication in a scientific journal. Yet one would have to skip to the final sentence of mainstream media coverage like this in order to be aware of these facts.

Furthermore, despite the misleading headlines, the data never addressed the question of whether marijuana played a causal role in patients’ ER admissions. Rather, researchers simply reported an increase in the number of ER patients who acknowledged either having used pot in the past or who tested positive for it on a hospital authorized urine screen. But this result is likely because Colorado hospital staff is placing a greater emphasis on marijuana detection today than they did a decade ago. Furthermore, it is likely that patients are more willing to acknowledge their use of cannabis to hospital employees now, post-legalization, than they were when pot was illegal.

Nevertheless, researchers opined that their data provides new evidence to support the claim that the legalization and regulating of marijuana for adults is having a “significant public health impact on adolescent populations.”

But more well established research casts serious doubt on this claim. For example, state survey data compiled by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment dismisses the notion that teens’ use of marijuana has increased in the years following legalization. In fact, youth marijuana use rates in Colorado are lower today than they were in 2009 — several years prior to the establishment of adult use regulations. National survey data similarly refutes allegations that more young people are engaging in the problematic use of cannabis. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the number of adolescents reporting marijuana-related problems declined by 24 percent from 2002 to 2013.

In addition, legal cannabis products sold by Colorado retailers are seldom making their way to the underage market. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Studies of Alcohol and Drugs, licensed retailers strictly adhere to statewide regulations forbidding sales to minors. It determined, "Compliance with laws restricting marijuana sales to individuals age 21 years or older with a valid ID was extremely high and possibly higher than compliance with restrictions on alcohol sales.” Authors concluded, "The retail market at present may not be a direct source of marijuana for underage individuals.” Studies from other jurisdictions also report no link between the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries and increased pot use by teens.

Moreover, studies have largely failed to identify a significant causal link between marijuana use and ER visits. Specifically, researchers at the University of Michigan analyzed patterns and correlates of drug-related ER visits in a nationally representative survey of 43,093 residents age 18 or older. They reported, "[M]arijuana was by far the most commonly used (illicit) drug, but individuals who used marijuana had a low prevalence of drug-related ED [emergency department] visits.” A Canadian study published this month in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence determined that marijuana use did not increase subjects’ likelihood of hospitalization in the hours immediately following its use. Other studies assessing drug use patterns in smaller cohorts have even reported that cannabis use is inversely associated with injury risk.

This is not to say that cannabis use is without potential risk, particularly in instances where it is consumed by younger or more naive subjects. Marijuana can elevate blood pressure and in some users trigger tachycardia (rapid heart beat). Higher potency cannabis may also cause paranoia and other feelings of dysphoria. In patients with certain pre-existing psychiatric disorders, there also lies the potential for pot to exacerbate a psychotic episode. Any of these side effects may result in an ER visit. However, these sort of severe adverse reactions to cannabis are atypical. Further, none of these conditions are life-threatening and the symptoms almost always subside after a few hours.

Nevertheless, retailers and regulators in legal cannabis states ought to take steps to try and mitigate consumers’ risk of experiencing such unpleasant reactions, many of which are the result of overconsumption. These steps include better product labeling, potential limits on THC potency per serving in edible products, and greater efforts to encourage consumers to moderate their cannabis intake — particularly if they are consuming pot-infused edibles or concentrates. Such efforts are not only in the best interest of public safety, but they will also result in greater consumer satisfaction and awareness.

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'The Pill Mill of America': Where Drugs Mean There Are No Good Choices, Only Less Awful Ones

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 11:35
For six days in Portsmouth, Ohio, I keep trying to fool myself. Eventually, I am unable to just watch and listen.

Portsmouth, Ohio, once known for making things (steel, shoes, bricks), is now known for drugs, and labeled by some as the “pill mill of America”. The city peaked at 40,000 people in 1940, and as it emptied of factories and jobs – some made obsolete, some moved away – it also emptied of people and hope.

Now it is a town half the size, filled with despair and filling with drugs.

On my first night in town, a beat-up car parks next to me, positioned in the darkness cast by my van. The passenger, a middle-aged woman, injects the driver in the neck. He stays still, head tilted to expose a vein, as she works the needle in, while two young boys play in the back seat.

Done, they pull away as I try to fool myself into thinking I didn’t see what I saw.

For six days in Portsmouth, over three trips, I keep trying to fool myself. Eventually, I am unable to just watch and listen.

Portsmouth is beautiful. It lies along the intersection of the Ohio and Scioto rivers, ringed by sharp hills. It has plenty of well-kept neighborhoods filled with people doing fine, yet living here also means being constantly reminded that things are not all well.

In a fast food parking lot, a small group is hanging out, smelling of alcohol, sweat, and piss. On the fringe, under the shade of the awning, a man leans against a shopping cart filled with empty cans, blankets and children’s toys. The cart also holds two small children, one boy and one girl.

Stunned, I go inside to collect my thoughts and watch. A woman in dirty clothes and a tiny pink backpack comes in to clean up and buy food. She hands the food to the man and children, before heading to the roadside, where she stands with a cardboard sign saying: “Homeless Hungry Anything Helps”.

I go outside to talk to the man. James (his name has been changed) is 39, and the woman with the sign is Meghan (her name was also changed), the mother of the two children, aged two and three.

The cart smells, the blankets inside damp and dirty. The kids sit still as we speak.

James is polite and soft spoken, his focus shifting between the kids in the cart and Meghan on the corner. He explains that they were evicted a year and a half ago for “non-payment” and after a stint in a shelter, they took to the street. When I ask him how he can be on the streets with two kids, he clarifies: “We ain’t really homeless right now. We crash in a shed behind the house of a friend.” I ask him if the shed has water and heat and he smiles and says: “We have a cord we run out to the shed. It has been warm the last three nights, so that’s good.”

I tell him I am a reporter writing about drugs and poverty, and ask him if there is anything I can do to help. He smiles and says no, they are all fine.

I continue to see them over the next few days along a commercial strip, Meghan standing by the side of the road holding her sign, staring straight ahead, her expression vacant, while James pushes the cart with the kids in it, collecting bottles and cans. Sometimes he stops to let them play.

One afternoon I run into him in the McDonald’s bathroom, filling plastic bottles with water to clean his children.

Outside I ask him more questions about his situation, and he tells me his history with drugs. “I was born in Portsmouth and raised around drugs. Everyone used them. My father drank, and I started drinking when I was a teenager. Then started Percocets when I was 19. Then I moved to the harder stuff like Oxy 80s, then heroin.” I ask him if he still uses drugs, “No, I don’t. Well, only Suboxone [an opioid medication used to treat opioid addiction]. I buy it from the street since I don’t have a prescription.”

Most drivers ignore the family. Police pass without stopping. One woman drops off two slabs of bottled water, and a minister inquires about their condition, but otherwise they are unseen. I think about calling child protective services, but it is clear James cares and is attentive. I also assume I am missing part of their story. Surely others have called. Perhaps others have inquired more than I have. Perhaps things are more complicated than what I see.

Besides, there is so much visible pain in Portsmouth, it is hard to focus on any one situation.

A few blocks across the railroad tracks from James and his family is an area with dope-sick women walking a loop around emptied warehouses, smiling and waving at some cars, hiding from others.

Kayla (her name has been changed), 36, calls to me from the passenger side of a parked car. She is dressed in sweatpants and a windbreaker. The driver, Michelle, 32, is dressed in pajama bottoms and a flimsy low cut shirt. They ask if I am a photographer. I tell them yes. Kayla smiles: “You found the hoe stroll.” They both look exhausted, dirty, and sick. “We haven’t had a date today and need a fix bad.”

Kayla started using pills after high school, then moved to heroin, and then four years ago “started prostituting”. I ask her if she is comfortable talking. “Sure, as long as you don’t take a picture of my face. I don’t want my family to see. This is degrading.”

I ask her about Portsmouth. “There is nothing to do here but drugs. You around family members who use, around friends who use. When you start using drugs you are accepted for who you are, including your imperfections. For many people, myself, that is hard to stay away from.”

They sit in the car, listening to the radio, both picking at sores, riffing on their lives. “Being out here, sucking men for money for drugs, this is degrading. I have no interest in sex nymore. I hate men. I just want to get clean and get out of this place.”

While we talk an older woman, in her late 60s, parks across the street, and then leans against the hood while she smokes. Michelle and Kayla watch her. “She is working the streets. At that age! Daaaaaaaamn.” A pickup truck with a huge American flag decal covering the back window pulls up to her, slows down, and the older woman approaches the truck.

Jen Medve, 35, knows the loop well. She walked and worked it for seven years. When I ask her about it she is simple and blunt: “It was horrid. Just horrid.”

She has recently cobbled together a different life, put herself in rehab, gotten off drugs, and is focused on being a mom for her one-year-old daughter, her sixth child.

Her daughter Cricket (“I like unconventional names”) clings tightly to her as she tells of being pulled into drugs and sex work. “I ran away at 14 because of abuse and ended up in a foster home. Then I bounced around.”

Once the drugs began (Vicodin at 24) it progressed to heroin (“everyone was doing it”), and then sex work. “I had to do dope so often I couldn’t maintain a regular job. I started prostituting after awhile. It was either that or be sick. Everybody knows where the girls are and I lived in the area, so anytime I tried to walk guys would try to pick me up.”

Eventually, when she was desperate enough, Jen “just went with it”.

I first meet Kimberly Conley, 19, as she sits outside a downtown rehab clinic, gossiping with friends. She stands out. She is happy, shy and sweet, not having succumbed to the hardness and cynicism that can come with addiction.

Hearing her speak is jarring. She tells a rough story in a gentle voice: “I was born a premie – addicted to crack, to a mom addicted to crack who died from heroin in 2015. December 11, 2015. It was like her seventh overdose. My dad? He was in prison for cooking meth. He has been in prison five or six times. I started weed at 12, pills and heroin and meth at 13. At 15 I got pregnant with my first child. I just had my second child.”

She was adopted at the age of one by her grandmother, Vickie, who she still lives with in a trailer on a hill. I drive up to meet them, navigating through a working class neighborhood of small homes, trailers and lots of dogs.

I find them sitting on the porch, gossiping, and laughing. Vickie is blunt, friendly, and sharp-toughed. She offers me a soda, and when I ask for a diet, she laughs. “Who do you think you are. A model? I may be fat, but I can lose the fat, but when you are ugly, you can’t lose the ugly.”

She is retired after 28 years as a cook in the school system. When I ask if there are drugs around, she laughs. “Oh honey yes, this is Portsmouth. This is the armpit of Ohio.” She points to the neighborhood, “Everything around here is dope-town. Xanie’s, Oxy’s, meth, we got it all. Nothing for kids here. When I was young we had dances at the community centers. Now they have nothing. No work around here unless you are a nurse, or a doctor, or lawyer.”

Vickie doesn’t do drugs (“except for my smokes”), and so she has become the de facto mother for an entire neighborhood, a calm center in a tornado. That tornado eventually pulled Kim in. “When I adopted Kimberly I promised her mom I would keep her in her life. Biggest mistake I made.”

Kim gets up to chase after a child and comes back. “I would go hang out at my mom’s trailer, with all my cousins. We would play there, spend evenings there. It is where my mom got me on heroin. At 13. My mom was doing it. Everyone was doing it. I wanted to do it because I thought it would be fun.”

Her grandmother pulls her onto her lap. “Ain’t she the smartest and prettiest thing. She is still my baby girl. Now I want her to get out and see how other people live the good life. If you are young you better leave Portsmouth, or else you will get into drugs.”

Kim smiles and hugs her grandmother. “I graduated with honors from high school. I want to join the army and get away. Far far away. There are so many drugs here. I just don’t want to be a part of it.”

During my time in Portsmouth I cannot stop thinking about James, Meghan and their kids. I ask everyone about them (including people at the rehab clinic), and many know of them.

When I ask if anyone has called child protective services, or why the police haven’t stopped them, I get variations of, “they probably have”, or “I assume someone else has, so I haven’t”. Everyone ends with a version of, “not sure it will do much good though, since everyone is just so overwhelmed”.

Portsmouth is overwhelmed, and in danger of becoming far worse. It is in danger of becoming a place so saturated with drugs that the shocking becomes normal. It already is a place where people roll their eyes at ambulance sirens, mouthing “another OD”. It already is a place where some men pester and proposition dope-sick women for sex. It already is a place where some kids’ childhoods are traumas to be navigated.

Portsmouth is now a town where you see two dirty kids being pushed around in a shopping cart.

The last afternoon I find James playing with his children beneath a flowering tree and I ask once more if there is anything I can do. He says no. I ask him why he keeps the kids with him, and he smiles: “I was raised around drugs. I don’t want that for my kids.”•••

I get in my car and I think of everyone I met in Portsmouth, and all the pain I have seen and heard. I think of Kim up on the hill with her grandmother, telling me: “What do I want most? To get away from here, have a job, a home and then kids. I want the fairy tale ending.”

I call the Scioto County Children Services and tell them about two kids in a shopping cart. And then I sit, turn on the radio, and feel like complete utter crap. I feel like complete utter crap my entire drive home, when I get home, and as I write this.

After a few weeks, I call to follow up. I am told by Dr Lorra Fuller, the executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, that “the children are safe” but beyond that she cannot speak on case specifics, only procedural generalities.

“When we get involved with families with active drug use or homelessness, we achieve safety for the children. Which means we may help the family find residence, or we make take the children into custody, or place them with a relative, or foster care.”

I don’t feel good about what I did. I came in, saw a lot of pain, and then dealt with it by making a call to possibly have someone’s children taken away. Then I left, a luxury most people in Portsmouth don’t have.

I also don’t believe I had a choice. I had come to document Portsmouth and found a great deal of despair, including two kids being pushed in a shopping cart near the side of the road. Ignoring them would have been lying about the problem.

Once I got closer they appeared to need professional help, so I called for the expertise of child protective services. Not calling would have been denying what I saw.

That is the thing about poverty and drugs. There are no good choices, only less awful ones.

  • Scioto County Children Services currently has about 220 children in custody, up from about 88 five years ago. They take donations, either directed for use to all their families and children, or a particular family.
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Dr. Carl Hart’s Life Threatened for Speaking Out Against President Duterte

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 07:20
A racist cartoon featuring Hart was also published in the Manila Times.

On May 15, I was invited to appear on Democracy Now, along with Dr. Carl Hart, about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his controversial new plan to have prosecutors across the country throw the book at drug offenders and charge them with the fullest extent of the law. This includes using mandatory minimum sentencing laws which handcuff judges and prevent them from looking at the totality of facts within a particular case.

Before going on air, we sat and caught up with what we were doing. Carl is a board member of the Drug Policy Alliance and the chair of the Department of Psychology and a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. He also is the author of High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society.

Carl told me that he just returned from the Philippines, where he participated in a two-day drug policy forum conference. Hart spoke out against President Rodrigo Duterte’s insane drug war policy which has resulted in crimes against humanity. He has promoted the cold-blooded murder of many. CNN recently reported that Duterte has approved the murder of more than 8,000 drug users and sellers by Philippine police.

During the conference, Dr. Hart spoke out against Duterte’s assertion that methamphetamine (shabu) damages and shrinks the user’s brain and causes users to commit violent acts. Hart countered these assertions and said that there were no scientific facts to support this.

Duterte, nicknamed “the Punisher” by Time magazine, quickly spoke out against Hart in a Philippine newspaper story in which he made several crude remarks. Duterte, in response called Dr. Hart a fool, saying his statement about “shabu” was based on an American forensic study.

“Of course shabu fries the brain,” Duterte insisted. “And a human rights rapporteur and a psychology professor can go on honeymoon if they don’t believe it.”

Duterte was referring to Agnes Callamard, a United Nations Special Rapporteur who is a stern critic of Duterte’s war on drugs. In the past the Philippine government invited Callamard to conduct an investigation on the alleged human rights violations committed in connection with the drug war and implemented conditions including being questioned under oath by Durtere. This did not materialize and Sen. Francis Pangilinan urged the administration to formally invite Callamard for an official visit to the Philippines without any conditions.

When Dr. Hart revealed his own drug use during his visit he began to get death threats against him via social media. A racist cartoon featuring Hart was also published in the Manila Times. Fearing his life was in danger, Dr. Hart cut short his planned two week visit and left after only five days to return home.

The question I ask is how President Trump could invite this madman Duterte to the Whitehouse to speak with him when it is a known fact that the president of the Philippines engages in this type of behavior. In response Carl said “ Duterte’s ignorance is only surpassed by those who support him or invite him to the White House.”

Dr. Carl Hart was very brave to go to the Philippines and directly challenge Durterte’s actions. We need more concerned Americans like Hart to speak out against the drug war and tyrants like Durterte who support it.

This story was originally posted on the Drug Policy Allianceblog.

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A Neuroscientist Explains Why We Need Ecstasy and Ketamine in Place of Prozac and Xanax

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 12:25
If we can overcome myths about addiction and "recreational" drugs, we can address root causes of drug abuse, such as emotional suffering.

What can doctors do to ease emotional pain? The physicians of ancient and medieval times found many plants and plant-derived substances (ie, drugs) that soothed mental as well as physical ills. Rarely did they draw a line between the psychological and physiological benefits of their remedies. Modern medicine has confirmed the overlap of bodily and mental maladies through painstaking research, and yet treatment for psychological problems lags far behind a cascade of stunning advances in the treatment of physical ills – advances that have doubled the human lifespan and improved our quality of life immeasurably.

It’s not that medical science has completely ignored psychological problems. In the Unites States, anxious housewives of the 1950s and ’60s were plied with Valium and Librium (‘mother’s little helpers’). For those with more serious disturbances, powerful antidepressants and antipsychotics were developed. But these medicines had significant side-effects: emotional flatness, somnolence, and physical limitations. Currently, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac and Zoloft have evolved as a silver bullet for the treatment of depression and anxiety. SSRIs are the drugs most frequently prescribed for Americans aged 18 to 44, at a rate four times greater than 25 years ago, while their use has doubled in the United Kingdom over the past decade. We’ve staked a great deal on these chemicals.

Yet a large number of well-controlled studies, and the meta-analytic research that puts them in perspective, find that SSRIs (compared with placebos) have little or no benefit for people with mild to moderate levels of depression. Their utility for severe depression is still subject to debate, with many studies showing little or no improvement, and a definitive impact on anxiety disorders has not been demonstrated. Nor are SSRIs free of serious side effects, including sexual dysfunction, rapid weight gain and, most troubling, suicidal ideation, especially in younger patients. SSRIs have not lived up to their promise.

The question is whether there are drugs that can relieve emotional or psychological problems effectively and reliably, without debilitating side effects. Historically, humans have relied on a panoply of drugs to remedy emotional concerns. Our Victorian-era ancestors used opiates (eg, laudanum) to minimise anxiety, melancholia and sleep problems. Opiates are still acknowledged as the most effective defence against pain – and also anxiety, in limited circumstances (eg, routine colonoscopy). The indigenous people of South America have long bolstered their physical and mental endurance with coca leaves; and early 20th-century Europeans (such as Sigmund Freud) used its derivative, cocaine, to sharpen their wits. Self-actualisation, presumably an overall boon to mental health, has been enhanced with natural psychedelics (eg, peyote, ayahuasca) throughout the Americas for at least 1,000 years. And the youth of more recent times (re)discovered the value of cannabis in extending their aesthetic, social, even intellectual horizons.

But these drugs are almost universally banned. To use them as correctives for psychological concerns is anathema to Western medicine, and to society at large. They’re for getting high, not for getting well, and their use is met with repudiation and punishment.

The accepted narrative is that drugs used for ‘recreational’ purposes are dangerous: their most serious consequence (if they don’t kill you first) being addiction. According to the American Medical Association, the National Institutes of Health, and other authorities, brain changes caused by the recurrent use of illegal drugs become hard-wired and permanent. Addicts are rendered dysfunctional in relationships, blind to accepted realities, and incapable of controlling impulses – reason enough to withhold recreational drugs, not only from prescribing doctors but from researchers who might study them further.

The argument sounds straightforward. But addiction is no simple matter. For one thing, the brain changes associated with addiction are observed whenever people repeatedly pursue highly attractive goals, in sports, religion, business, politics, romantic love – even shopping! Second, addiction is neither automatic nor chronic. No more than 10 per cent of those taking opioids for pain get addicted (it’s less than 1 per cent for those with no history of dependent drug use). And of those who do get addicted, about half quit within four to five years, and almost everyone quits eventually. Cocaine addicts stop, on average, four years after their first snort. Those smoking cannabis daily quit, on average, six years after starting. Contrary to popular opinion, most people identified as drug dependent do recover, and most do so without any formal treatment.

But let’s look more closely at society’s response to the problem of addiction. Doctors readily prescribe analgesics (both opioid and non-opioid), methylphenidate (Ritalin), tranquilisers and antidepressants, even though all are known to be addictive. SSRIs (eg Zoloft) and anxiolytics (eg Xanax) are hell to get off because of withdrawal symptoms. So addiction is considered an acceptable risk in medicine. In society at large, addiction is not sufficiently problematic to attempt banning alcohol or tobacco, even though the average duration of alcohol dependence is 16 years, and only half of those dependent on tobacco quit in 30 years. (You’re far better off addicted to cocaine or pot.)

Perhaps the most startling revelation from addiction studies is that addiction isn’t about drugs. Many people develop all-consuming relationships with activities, identities, and even people. Gambling is considered a more serious social problem than substance use in much of the UK and Australia. Sex addiction, compulsive internet use, gaming addiction and various eating disorders are common responses to the frustration, loneliness and existential malaise suffered in contemporary life. Addiction is part of being human. However, when it comes to drug use, addiction is vilified, and those defined as addicts are stigmatised, excluded or incarcerated.

Once we bypass the myths about addiction, our capacity for medicating emotional problems looks remarkably different. There are obvious places to start. Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms is neither toxic (in any dose) nor addictive. For those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, psilocybin is shown to reduce symptoms significantly. Studies have catalogued the relief of end-of-life anxieties, alcoholism and depression with psilocybin. But doctors cannot prescribe it.

Current treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder involves reliving the traumatic event and re-experiencing the fear it elicited. But ecstasy (MDMA) reduces the amygdala’s response to threat, thereby minimising the impact of reliving the experience. Ketamine, a well-known ‘party drug’ has been shown to relieve depression with one administration, reliably and safely (though for a limited time), yet research on its clinical efficacy is grindingly slow because of legal hurdles.

Instead of worrying so much about addiction, which tends to correct itself when life becomes tolerable, maybe we should worry more about the sources of emotional suffering. Depression not only hurts, it kills. Anxiety drives people to intractable isolation and fertilises stress-linked diseases. Yet the idea of prescribing opioids, cocaine, ketamine, ecstasy and other illegal drugs to help people feel ‘better’ is, currently, heretical. Are we concerned that people might feel too good? We’d rather stick to antidepressants of minimal therapeutic impact, not because they guard against addiction – they don’t – but because of a puritanical aversion to supplying unearned happiness and, along with it, a deep-seated belief that people who suffer emotionally should just get over it.

Addiction is a side issue. Emotional suffering is the real problem, and it’s complicated. In today’s world, the pressure to meet the expectations of success lead to anxiety, a sense of failure, guilt and depression. Inequality leaves people feeling inferior, envious and sometimes desperate. Depression and anxiety are umbrella terms that obscure enormous diversity in the causes and consequences of emotional pain.

If we’re going to treat psychological suffering as effectively as we treat pneumonia and broken bones, we’d better think outside the box of antidepressants that stupefy, and anxiolytics that dull the senses. We might start by exploring the options that human nature gravitates toward when left unfettered: drugs that help different individuals feel good in different ways. Stripped of stigma or the prospect of arrest, moved out of clandestine labs and back alleys, and prescribed with sensitivity and compassion, these drugs can do a lot of good.


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Here's New Jersey's Plan to Legalize Weed Once Christie Is Gone

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 12:12
Democratic state Senator Nick Scutari has filed a marijuana legalization bill, so the state will be ready once the anti-pot governor's term ends.



Here's N.J. lawmaker's plan to legalize recreational marijuana after Christie leaves

TRENTON -- A state lawmaker introduced legislation on Monday that would legalize marijuana in New Jersey, saying he was laying the groundwork to pass a new law almost as soon as Gov. Chris Christie leaves office. Sen. Nicholas Scutari's bill would make New Jersey one of a small but growing number of states where marijuana is…

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6 Ways People Are Consuming Marjiuana Without Smoking It

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 15:50
There are alternatives to inhaling burning plant matter.

Smoking it is traditionally the way we've consumed marijuana, but lighting a plant on fire and inhaling the results isn't everybody's favorite activity. In fact, smokers of anything are increasingly shunned because of the noxious fumes and odors. And we won’t even get into those burn holes in your clothes.

While firing up a joint or a bong is unlikely to go extinct any time soon because of social pressure, there are ways to enjoy the herb without going all Cheech & Chong. They may or may not get you high (depending on the product), but you will be consuming weed without smoking it. Here are six ways to do it:

1.Infused Foods (Edibles)

We've come a long way from the days of hippie kitchen brownies with green vegetable matter in them that left consumers melted into their couches. Cannabis cuisine is exploding as big name chefs and back country artisans alike try their hands at psychoactive concoctions ranging from gums and candies to chocolate bars, cookies, and just about everything else imaginable. There are recipes out there for pulled porkMac & cheesecaramel corn, and even foie gras, and with cannabis-infused butter, creative home chefs can join the pros in letting their imaginations run free.

Consumers should be aware of dosage in order to avoid the dreaded Maureen Dowd syndrome, in which the New York Times columnist famously over-indulged in cannabis chocolates to ill effect. Fortunately, regulators in pot- and medical marijuana-legal states are generally on the ball and are requiring labelling information about what's in those goodies. Read those labels!

2. Beverages

Who needs a cup of coffee and a joint when you've got infused coffees already preloaded with cannabis goodness? And if you're in trendy West Hollywood, you can go out and enjoy a nifty—if spendy--cannabis cocktail. More working class types can indulge in a cannabis-infused beer, although, sadly, it will contain not THC, but only non-psychoactive cannabinoids. And thanks to companies like Dixie Elixirs and its competitors, there are whole lines of THC-laden sodas and lemonades.

3. Tinctures

Or you can go old school with tinctures, a favored 19th and early 20th Century form of administering marijuana. Tinctures are basically weed soaked in alcohol over a period of days, with the mixture shaken once a day before straining out the vegetable matter and leaving a concentrated dose of cannabis suspended in the alcohol. And we are talking concentrated: Typical tincture doses are measured in drops. Tinctures are also the basis of various sprays, which allow users to simply squeeze and squirt a THC or CBD tincture into their mouths. You can make tinctures yourself or you can go to an increasingly number of tincture and spray manufacturers, such as Denver-based Buddy Boy.

4. Vaporizers and Vape Pens

Vaping isn't just for tobacco users, and it's just about as close to smoking as you can get without actually inhaling burning plant matter. Hand-held vape pens and stay-at-home vaporizers alike both work by heating small amounts of marijuana (or oil) just enough to vaporize them—not enough to actually combust them—creating a smoke-like vapor that contains the THC and/or CBD but not the nasty chemicals associated with smoking. Vape pens are quite popular, being easy to carry and conceal (and use surreptitiously, being nearly odorless), while bigger vaporizers, such as the Volcano and the futuristic, egg-shaped Herbalizer can take a place of honor on your coffee table. Vaping gives you the nearest thing to the pot-smoking experience without the smoke.

5. Skin Care Products

You won't get high off marijuana-infused skin care products, such as hand lotions, shampoos, and similar products because they are mainly made from low-THC hemp plants, and you won't stink of weed, either, because these products are also infused with natural scents such as citrus, lavender, and mint.  But you will be using a marijuana-based product and enjoying its therapeutic benefits, and you'll probably smell good, too.

6. For Women Only

We've heard that weed enhances lovemaking, but companies such as Foria have taken it to a whole new level. Foria produces vaginal suppositories packed with 60 milligrams of THC and 10 mg of CBD and generates user feedback like "I was truly in awe of this weed butter vagina experience." And that's just part of its woman-centric product line. Meanwhile, Whoopi Goldberg has gotten into the action by teaming up with award-winning edibles maker Maya Elisabeth to create Whoopi & Maya, which focuses on "cannabis-infused salves, balms and edibles designed to relieve menstrual pain and discomfort."

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Recent Poll Shows NFL Players Are Increasingly Concerned About Opioid Use and Addiction

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 12:49
They're fervently anti-marijuana, but league doctors are encouraging opioid use.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. Illicit drugs have plagued our country for decades but there is a new form of addiction taking a foothold in this dark statistic, and it’s legal.

Each year, over 20,000 deaths are attributed to opioid overdose as a result of prescribed painkillers. Opioids are the most commonly prescribed method of pain management, for anything from neck pain to knee surgery. But the addictive qualities of opioid-based painkillers are a Russian Roulette for patients.

According to a recent survey of over 150 NFL players, use of chemical painkillers in the NFL is extremely common, even encouraged by league physicians.

91% of current/former NFL players surveyed said they had taken opiate-based painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and propoxyphene for pain. 45% of players surveyed said they have felt pressured into using chemical painkillers by team doctors, staff, and teammates. Many also admitted to using chemical painkillers recreationally after their introduction to them by a physician.

Opioids are the strongest and fastest form of pain management available. NFL doctors often inject painkillers directly to the affected area for quick relief, allowing the player to return to the field more quickly.

These opioids not only come with a laundry list of side effects including sedation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, tolerance, and respiratory depression, (to name a few); they are also extremely addictive. Almost 70% of NFL players polled have, at some point in their treatment, been concerned about their own unhealthy dependence on opioids., the nation’s largest medical marijuana online marketplace, conducted the 38-page study after CEO, Brad McLaughlin, was made aware of the problem by former NFL player and Super Bowl champion, Marvin Washington.

Washington, an advocate for a safer form of pain management in the league, was quoted as saying, “If there's one sport that should legalize medical cannabis, it’s professional football. The unique compounds found in marijuana (CBD especially) can protect the brain as well as treat inflammation, insomnia and pain. CBD/Medical cannabis is a terrific alternative to prescription opiates."

And the majority of players polled on the survey agree with Washington. According to the survey, 89% of both former and current NFL players feel that medical marijuana should be an alternative for injury pain management. 85% of players stated they would use fewer chemical painkillers if they were permitted access to medical marijuana.

However, the NFL strictly prohibits the use of cannabis, in any form.  A positive, or missed drug test results in fines and/or suspension, even in states where the drug is legal both medically and recreationally.

Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, has been criticized by medical marijuana advocates for dragging his feet on reconsidering policy where medical marijuana is concerned.

Brad McLaughlin, CEO of, has been a vocal advocate for the many uses of medical marijuana. “If cannabis, which does not have the addictive qualities of opioids and chemical painkillers, can be used as an alternative to these physically destructive medications, why wouldn’t the league adjust policy to use it? Unless player safety is not their highest concern.”

McLaughlin continued, “With the recent slew of medical marijuana legalizations and the epidemic of opioid addiction, the NFL rules must be rewritten. We need a safer way to manage pain for these players and the NFL is ignoring the obvious solution of medical marijuana because of its ties to pharma and alcohol big business. This means that, much like the concussion controversy, the NFL may be focusing on their bottom line more than the well-being of their players.”

But policy reform within the league may not be as far off as Goodell implies. A source from NFLPA said, “The NFL and the NFLPA are well aware of the challenges and side effects that come with treating pain with opiate based pain killers. The NFLPA plans to make medical cannabis a priority in collective bargaining negotiations."


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Neuroscientist Carl Hart and Activist Tony Papa: We Need to Stop Jeff Sessions from Escalating the Racist War on Drugs

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 12:38
Even Rand Paul noted, "Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long."

In an escalation of the war on drugs, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded two Obama-era memos that encouraged prosecutors to avoid seeking inordinately harsh sentences for low-level drug offenses. He also instructed Justice Department prosecutors to pursue "the most serious" charges for all drug offenses. Former Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the move, saying, "The policy announced today is not tough on crime. It is dumb on crime." Under the Obama administration guidelines, the number of drug offenders given mandatory minimum sentences plummeted, contributing to a 14 percent decline in the total federal prison population. We speak to Carl Hart, chair of the Department of Psychology and a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, and former anti-drug-war activist Anthony Papa, who was sentenced to two 15-years-to-life sentences for a single, nonviolent drug offense.

Watch Part I:


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from San Francisco, as we continue to travel the country covering the movements changing America. We turn right now to the Trump administration’s escalation of the war on drugs. On Friday, Attorney General Sessions spoke at the Department of Justice headquarters as he rescinded two Obama-era memos that encourage prosecutors to avoid seeking inordinately harsh sentences for low-level drug offenses.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: Going forward, I have empowered our prosecutors to charge and pursue the most serious offense, as I believe the law requires, most serious, readily provable offense. It means that we’re going to meet our responsibility to enforce the law with judgment and fairness. It is simply the right and moral thing to do. ... And we know that drugs and crime go hand in hand. They just do. The facts prove that so. Drug trafficking is an inherently dangerous and violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t file a lawsuit in court. You collect it with the barrel of a gun.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Sessions has long backed lengthy prison sentences and mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, including for marijuana use, which is now legal for either medical or recreational purposes in many states.

Sessions’ escalation of the so-called war on drugs was met with widespread outcry. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under President Obama, told MSNBC in a statement, "The policy announced today is not tough on crime. It is dumb on crime." Under the Obama administration guidelines, the number of drug offenders given mandatory minimum sentences plummeted, contributing to a 14 percent decline in the total federal prison population. Sessions’ announcement comes at a time of growing bipartisan support for sentencing reform. In recent years, the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress and the right-leaning FreedomWorks have partnered with groups as varied as the Koch Industries and the NAACP to bridge ideological divides and push for reduced mandatory minimums for low-level nonviolent drug offenses.

Well, for more, we’re joined by two guests in New York. Anthony Papa is author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency. He’s an anti-drug-war activist, painter and author. In 1985, Anthony Papa agreed to deliver an envelope of cocaine in a police sting operation in return for $500. His first—his first and only criminal offense cost him a 15-year-to-life sentence. In 1996, Papa won a sentence commutation from then-New York Governor George Pataki. In 2016, Papa received a pardon from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. He’s believed to be the first person in New York state history to receive both a sentence commutation and a pardon. And we’re joined by Carl Hart, chair of the Department of Psychology and a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. He’s the author of High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society. Professor Hart just returned from the Philippines, where he participated in a 2-day drug policy forum conference.

Tony Papa, Carl Hart, welcome to Democracy Now! Carl Hart, first respond to what Jeff Sessions is doing, this escalation of the war on drugs in the United States.

CARL HART: Well, let’s just be clear. I mean, one of the things that—we’ve heard some outrage about what Jeff Sessions is doing. But let’s be clear: Everybody knows that the war on drugs, as has been fought since the 1980s, has had a disproportionate negative impact on specific community: black communities, Latino communities. Everyone knows that. So, what Jeff Sessions is doing is engaged in—or he’s advocating being engaged in racial discrimination. So let’s call Jeff Sessions what he is. Jeff Sessions is a racist, if he takes on this action. It’s clear. We know it. So let’s stop playing around with it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Anthony Papa, what is your understanding of what the attorney general is calling for right now?

ANTHONY PAPA: Well, you know, Amy, I agree with Eric Holder: This is totally dumb on crime. To go back to a failed—a proven failed policy and to enact—you know, to tell prosecutors to convict people at the harshest possible sentence is totally wrong. I’ll use myself as an example, you know, first-time, nonviolent offender. I was actually sentenced to two 15-to-life sentences under the Rockefeller drug laws in New York state, which was mandated by mandatory minimum sentencing, the same mandatory minimum sentencing laws that became in the federal system, that now Sessions wants the prosecutors to use to sentence even low-level, nonviolent drug offenders or even people who are addicted to drugs to many, many years in prison. It’s a proven fact that this policy wasted billions of dollars, and, more importantly, many human lives were wasted in this action in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Carl Hart. So, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has released this memo that tells Justice Department prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges for drug offenses. So, explain exactly how this changes policy and what it will mean.

CARL HART: Well, what it means is that he—well, as you know, under Eric Holder, Eric Holder has suggested—or his memo said that we shouldn’t engage in those mandatory minimums. So he gave judges flexibility, whereas Jeff Sessions is encouraging the judges to go back to mandatory minimum. What that means is that people will get harsher sentences for drug-related violations now. And what that means ultimately—as Papa has said, we all know the drug war didn’t work. That’s not entirely true, because the drug war did work for certain segments of our population. And that’s where the crux of this policy really needs to be interrogated. It allows—Jeff Sessions is allowing us or is using drug policy to separate the people who we like from the people who we don’t like. And it provides a way to go after those people we don’t like, usually poor minority folks, without explicitly saying we don’t like those people. And that’s how drug law—that’s how drug law or drug policy has been enforced in this country. And so, if we allow Sessions to turn back the hands of time, then shame on all of us. The blood is on all of our hands, because we know the consequences of his proposed actions.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, Jeff Sessions’ view on drugs have a long history. He famously was quoted as joking in the 1980s about the white terrorist organization the KKK that he thought they were "OK, until," he said, "I found out they smoke pot." Your response to this, Carl?

CARL HART: Well, that’s an interesting thing, because one of the things that has happened in the country since that time, we now have eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana use. And those states were concerned that Jeff Sessions would come after them, on the one hand. Jeff Sessions has not come after them, because there’s a lot of money involved, and there are a lot of wealthy white people involved in this. Now, I don’t want to pit white people against other groups in the country, but let’s just be honest about this. And he won’t go after them. I know people have some anxieties about that, but Jeff Sessions is ignorant, but he’s not stupid. And so he won’t go after those folks.

So, even though he made his comment about marijuana, we should see actually what his actions are. I mean, he can make these comments to kind of give a wink and nod to the people who are supporting him, so he lets them know that "I’m against drugs," but he’s not going after marijuana. He’s going after all the other sort of drug offenses. And I hope the people who are engaged in the marijuana industry and this business make the connection about how their substance was once vilified—it’s no longer vilified in the United States, particularly as these states liberalize their marijuana policy. I wish they make the connection, so they can see the hypocrisy. Like before 2012, we were arresting people for marijuana in Colorado, in Washington and those other states. We’re no longer doing that. Now we’re saying it’s OK. It was always OK. It’s just that our laws were not in line. Now we’re doing—now we’re arresting people for things like cocaine, heroin and those sorts of things, sending people to jail for extended periods of time. Now, this is not to say that we should legalize drugs. That’s not the argument here. We certainly should not be sending people to jail for those extended periods that Jeff Sessions is advocating for. And he’s doing so because he’s going after people who we don’t care for in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul criticized Sessions’ change in drug policy. Paul, who’s a doctor, said, quote, "Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long. Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice." Rand added, "Instead, we should treat our nation’s drug epidemic as a health crisis and less as a 'lock ’em up and throw away the key' problem." That’s the Republican senator, Rand Paul. Dr. Hart?

CARL HART: I agree with Rand Paul on that point. But, you know, we have to be careful about our language in terms of epidemic, because all of those sorts of things kind of provide cover for folks to behave like Jeff Sessions. If we’re really concerned, for example, like the opioids and heroin, we need to tell people how to stay safe, if we’re worried about overdose there. About 13,000 people die every year from heroin-related overdoses, whereas 35,000 people die from automobile accidents. We don’t ban automobiles. Instead, we have regulations, and we try to make sure that people stay safe. We have speed limits. We have seat belts. We have all of these sorts of things. But with the opioids, we’re talking about arresting people. And by the way, for the opioids, at the federal level, 80 percent of the people who are arrested are Latino and black. And we know this. And so, if we want to be smart or if we want to save our people or help people, we would not take the approach of someone like Jeff Sessions, who is—who wants to take us back to the 1980s and experience all the bad things of the ’80s.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Papa, before we go, can you briefly tell us what happened to you, the amount of time you served in prison, and what this change could mean now?

ANTHONY PAPA: Well, I spent 12 years of a 15-to-life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. And, you know, I brought an envelope with four ounces of cocaine from the Bronx to Mount Vernon, was roped into a police sting operation—20 cops came out of nowhere—placed under arrest, did everything I could do wrong, and I wound up getting sentenced to two 15-to-life sentences for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense, under the mandatory provisions of the Rockefeller drug laws.

The mandatory minimum sentencing is a poison that has broken the criminal justice system. This is a fact. Under President Obama, he tried to fix this broken system by incorporating changes. And Eric Holder, in his memo in 2013, said to prosecutors, "Don’t use mandatory minimum sentencing laws." Now, Sessions is reversing this policy. And we’re in for a hard, hard, long road to hoe, because people are going to be put in prison, nonviolent offenders. The prisons are going to be flooded. They’re going to break the banks of many states in the federal system, incarcerating low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. And many of those offenders have substance abuse problems, and they needed to be treated medically, not punitively. And to have Sessions come out with this law is a travesty of justice. And I hope that they realize this mistake and they don’t follow through on this memo that he wrote, telling prosecutors to use mandatory minimum sentencing laws and to throw the book at low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, no matter, you know, how small the crime is.

President Trump recently invited Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to visit the White House, despite criticism from human rights groups over Duterte’s so-called war on drugs, during which thousands of people have been extrajudicially killed by police and vigilantes. Our guest, neuroscientist Carl Hart, recently attended a drug conference in Manila. He had to leave the Philippines after his life was threatened.

Watch Part II:

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Dr. Carl Hart, I want to ask you about the Philippines, where you just came back from. President Trump recently visited—invited Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to visit the White House, despite massive criticism from human rights groups over Duterte’s so-called war on drugs, during which thousands of people have been extrajudicially killed by police and vigilantes. Can you tell us what you found there?

CARL HART: When I was in the Philippines, the thing that I discovered is that it’s a lot worse than I originally thought it was. Duterte operates in intimidation. And so, not only is he the problem, but there are other political officials who are afraid to speak out. They are the problem. And Duterte has taken a page out of the 1980s U.S. drug war, in that he’s using drugs to separate people, the issue of drugs to separate the poor people from the people who have means. And he is allowing or providing the environment so people could kill, as you pointed out, kill people who are engaged in drug use and in drug trafficking. And people are afraid to speak out against this wrong, because Duterte has no qualms about having people’s lives be threatened. In fact, I discovered that people are being killed for as little as $100. It ranges from about $100 to $500 to have someone killed. And so, actually, I left the Philippines early because my life was threatened, because of me speaking out against what Duterte was saying about drugs and what he’s doing. And so, we have it bad in the United States, but the Philippines, I have never seen anything like the Philippines.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Hart, explain more what happened to you and then your response to President Trump, to the shock of many, inviting the Philippines president, Duterte, to the White House.

CARL HART: So I gave a talk basically saying that what Duterte had said—he said that methamphetamine shrinks your brain, and this provided justification for people to kill people who use methamphetamine. And I said that was ludicrous. There’s no science to support that. He was upset about it. He responded. His people online, they responded with threats and that sort of thing. I didn’t think my statement was controversial, but turns out it was, because this is justification for killing people.

Now, for Trump to invite Duterte to the United States, given that this sort of thing is happening, it’s just consistent with what Trump has been doing. Trump has been—has shown himself to be the most ignorant president that we’ve ever had. He has shown himself to be the one that disregards law more so than any other president we’ve had. So it’s just consistent. It would be nice if Democrats and people who are in power, particularly people who know something about the law, to figure out a legal way to restrain him or get rid of him. It’s just inappropriate for him to behave like that at that level.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Carl Hart, I want to thank you for being with us, chair of the Department of Psychology, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, author of High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society. Professor Hart just returned from the Philippines, where he was threatened with his life. And Anthony Papa, thanks so much for being with us, author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency, anti-drug-war activist, painter and author. Thanks so much for joining us.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the massive Palestinian hunger strike. We’ll speak with the son of the leader of that strike, the son of Marwan Barghouti, who’s been imprisoned by Israel for more than 15 years. Stay with us.



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Burning Issue: The Cannabis Industry Has a Pesticide Problem

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 11:25
How many pyrethrins do you want on your pot?

As cannabis is legalized for medical and recreational use on a state-by-state basis, safety regulations regarding cannabis products are becoming increasingly important. One aspect of safety regulations involves setting maximal allowable limits on pesticides. Such regulations are particularly significant given that medical populations, including young and immunocompromised patients, are among the intended consumers of cannabis products.

The cannabis industry has a pesticide problem – actually, many problems. A number of studies have reported high levels of pesticides on cannabis samples taken from the medical markets in Washington and Colorado [Russo p66Sullivan]. There have been cannabis product recalls in both states and in Canada because of pesticide infractions.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets pesticide standards and tolerance levels nationally. But the EPA has not approved any pesticides specifically for use on cannabis because it is a federally illegal substance. So, as of now, it’s up to each state to decide on a single “action limit” for each pesticide applied to cannabis. An action limit refers to the maximal allowable level of a pesticide. This limit is reported in units of parts per million (ppm). A 1 ppm limit on a pesticide means that up to 0.0001% of the product’s weight can be from the pesticide.

A state cannot set a pesticide action limit that is more permissive than regulations for general use on food crops established by the EPA. In some cases, the EPA’s limit for food products is adopted by state marijuana regulators. But in other cases a stricter limit is determined by the level of quantification that can be “reasonably achievable by analytical chemists” [APHL p15]. In other words, action limits are often based on the ease of detecting chemicals rather than a prioritization of their dangers.

The same limit for a particular pesticide applies whether a product is meant to be smoked, vaporized, or ingested – even though different modes of administration can dramatically change the toxicity of the pesticides. Cannabis is still consumed primarily by smoking. Yet there is next to no information on the health effects of burning pesticides. This information vacuum is likely attributable to lobbying by the tobacco industry. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the “EPA does not assess intermediate or long-term risks to smokers because of the severity of health effects linked to use of tobacco products themselves” [GAO].

In other words, because cigarette-smoking is already known to be harmful, federal officials decided that it’s not important to understand the adverse health effects of inhaling combustible pesticides. Consequently, state regulators are lacking crucial information about many pesticides. Two pesticides used in the cannabis industry, myclobutanil (generally sold as Eagle 20) and pyrethrins, underscore the inconsistency of current pesticide regulations.


Pyrethrins are a natural family of six pesticides produced by chrysanthemum. They break down quickly in sunlight or heat. They are highly toxic to aquatic life but have low toxicity to warm blooded animals, including humans. The EPA maintains that pyrethrins do not pose a chronic risk for mammals (including humans), except potentially for people who regularly spray them on crops [EPA p9]. In commercial products, pyrethrins are generally sold with piperonyl butoxide (PBO), a compound that synergizes with pyrethrins, allowing them to be effective at lower doses. Pyrethrins should not be confused with pyrethroids, synthetic chemicals that are as different from pyrethrins as THC is from synthetic “spice” or “K2” bath salts.1

The action limit for pyrethrins is 1 ppm in every state that has set pesticide regulations for marijuana. California recently released proposed regulations, setting the pyrethrin limit at 0.7 ppm for edibles and 0.5 ppm for other cannabis products.2 Hearings will be held on this proposal four times in the month of June. The regulations can be found here

But the European Food Safety Administration (EFSA) has concluded that it is safe for humans to ingest up to 0.4 mg pyrethrins per kg bodyweight every day [EFSA]. By this estimate, an average 135 pound human consuming state-approved cannabis could ingest 55 pounds of product in a day without toxicity due to pyrethrins.3 This calculation can be inverted, and an action limit can be determined from the maximal amount of cannabis products used in a day. For example, if one assumes that no one ingests more than 1% of their body weight in cannabis products (about 1.1 pounds for an average human), then 40 ppm is a stringent enough action limit to prevent pyrethrin toxicity, according to the EFSA.

While the European Food Safety Administration’s limit for pyrethrins does not take into consideration the synergistic toxicity between pesticides, it does provide a viable starting point to base action limits on safety.

Burning pesticides

The toxicity of myclobutanil highlights the importance of considering how a cannabis product is consumed. When heated myclobutanil decomposes into hydrogen cyanide, a toxic compound that causes neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular, and thyroid problems at concentrations of 0.008 ppm [MSDS]. Smoking or vaping cannabis tainted with myclobutanil residue is a bad idea. This pesticide is now banned for use on cannabis in Oregon [Farrer p11]. However, in Nevada up to 9 ppm of myclobutanil is allowed on cannabis as of January 2017 [DPBH].

Since smoking is still the most preferred method of consuming cannabis, it is essential to know the safety of pesticides when heated. Vaporization leads to temperatures around 200˚C, while burning causes temperatures above 400˚C. Unlike myclobutanil, pyrethrins likely break down into two safer chemicals when heated without burning: chrysanthemic acid and a rethrolone. This breakdown may be reduced in the oily solution of a concentrate. When smoked it is not clear how pyrethrins will decompose and how dangerous these chemicals will be.

There’s ample reason for state officials to be cautious and to err on the side of safety with respect to pesticide regulations. But being stringent without a basis in science may have the unintended effect of pushing cannabis cultivators to use harder-to-detect pesticides that are more toxic.

It is paramount to study the effects of heating pesticides. Lacking pertinent data, regulations should at least be geared toward reducing the use of pesticides that we know burn to highly toxic compounds, and regulations should give some leeway to pesticides and growing practices that are safer. Moreover, regulations need to be malleable, so that as research provides us with a better understanding of pesticide toxicity, regulations follow suit.

Copyright, Project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.


1 Pyrethroids account for 30 percent of global pesticide use, according to Chinese researchers at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. Known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, pyrethroids have been linked to early puberty in boys, which can stunt growth and cause behavioral problems. Exposure to pyrethroids also increases the risk of testicular cancer in men and breast cancer in women.

2 California's proposed regulations do account for some differences between ingesting and vaporizing pesticides. However, this is because compounds enter the bloodstream through the lungs much more easily than they pass through the digestive tract. They do not consider the effect of heating solvents or pesticides. Moreover, in their reference to exposure limits for solvents regulators confuse two different units. The short-term exposure limit (STEL), applicable to acute inhalation, can be measured in ppmv or mg/m3. Ppmv stands for parts per million by volume, which is sometimes written "ppm". Limits on cannabis are given in ppm by weight, which is measured as the grams of adulterant per million grams of cannabis product, or µg (microgram) of adulterant per gram product. The relevant ppmv in the lungs is not simply the ppm contamination on cannabis. The relationship between ppmv and ppm depends on the volume of the lungs and the amount of cannabis product inhaled. The concentration (in mg/m3) of adulterant inhaled is approximately L*c/V, where L is the limit in ppm, c is the amount of cannabis used in grams, and is the volume of the lungs in liters.

3 The relationship is as follows: Let b be the individual’s body weight in kg, L the regulatory limit in ppm, A the acceptable daily intake in mg pyrethrins/kg bodyweight, and C the maximum amount of cannabis consumed by any individual per day in grams. 1 kilogram is equal to 2.2 lbs. Safety would mean that these variables satisfy:

≥ 10-3 * C

Substituting = 62 [kg], = 1 [ppm], and = 0.4 [mg/kg], we see that ≤ 24,800 [g] or C ≤ 54.7 lbs.

On the other hand, if we suppose that ≥ 0.1 C (that the individual consumes less than 1% of their bodyweight in cannabis each day), the limit must satisfy ≤ 40 [ppm].





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Paradigm Shift: Police Chief Quits Job After 16 Years to Grow Pot

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 11:09
The times they are a-changin'.

Hancock, MD — Police Chief T.J. Buskirk recently resigned from the Hancock police department after 16 years and will be taking a new job at a very unlikely place. The former chief will be taking a job with Harvest of Maryland LLC, a marijuana firm that will be breaking ground in his town very soon. Buskirk is quitting the police force to work for a company that grows pot — a plant that has lands tens of thousands of Maryland residents behind bars each year.

Buskirk said that this is a good business decision that will be good for him and his family. He will be taking a position as director of security and safety for the company.

“It’s a good career move,” he said.

“It was tough. It was tough printing it off. … I can’t say enough things about this wonderful town,” Buskirk said during his resignation meeting at the Hancock Town Council on Wednesday night.

Mayor Ralph Salvagno responded to the resignation, saying that “We’re very grateful for your service and for the fact that you will not be far away.

Buskirk will be one of 124 new workers who will now be employed by Harvest of Maryland, and the company predicts to be paying $4.5 million into the community in payroll each year.

Medical marijuana laws have moved slowly in Maryland, with many dispensaries waiting for approval, but Buskirk is ready to get in on the ground floor — likely after watching how lucrative the industry has been in other markets.

According to the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association, the state sold over $11 million dollars worth of marijuana in the first week of legalization. The sales in Oregon on the first week actually outshined both Colorado and Washington state where the plant was legalized just a few years ago.

Ironically enough, if Buskirk attempted to do a job like this across state lines, he would be putting himself on the wrong side of the law and risking arrest. Meanwhile, people are getting arrested for marijuana every single day, even in the state of Maryland where Buskirk plans to be working.

The laws regarding marijuana may be improving, but things are far from perfect and many people are still suffering from the laws that are still on the books. Even in the state of Maryland, only 15 cultivation licenses will be issued, which means anyone else who attempts to grow marijuana will be arrested, despite the changing laws in the state.

Luckily, Buskirk is an example of changing attitudes in law enforcement.

This may sound strange, but large numbers of police officers have been speaking out against prohibition in recent years.

Surprisingly, there is a significant number of police officers in the US who are working to end prohibition because they have recognized that it does not work and that it causes numerous other problems in society, namely crime and gang violence.

One of the leading groups of law enforcers working to end the drug war is LEAP or Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.  According to their official website, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is an international 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization of criminal justice professionals who bear personal witness to the wasteful futility and harms of our current drug policies. 

Sadly, however, there are still many police who see financial benefits from the war on drugs, and many more who have refused to look past the propaganda.



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A Decade of Militarized Drug Policies in Mexico: More Violence, More Human Rights Violations

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 23:16
51 people die every day in Mexico's war on drugs, but neither drugs nor drug trafficking are decreasing, while human rights violations have soared.

Mexico decided over ten years ago to militarize their drug policies and rely on the armed forces to conduct counter-narcotic operations and other public safety tasks. The so-called “war on drugs” has taken since then a very real dimension in the country.

Shortly after taking power in December 2006, President Felipe Calderon ordered a military offensive against the country’s drug cartels that eventually involved tens of thousands of troops undertaking tasks that should normally be performed by civilian forces. In only a matter of days, more than 30.000 soldiers were deployed in different cities around the country. This number has grown to over 96,000 soldiers carrying out public security tasks. Keeping drugs away from Mexico’s children has been a central justification.

In addition, police corporations all across the country have adopted military techniques, training and equipment for the conduct of their daily activities, including counter-narcotic operations. Former or active military commanders are also in command of police corporations at different states or municipalities.

Since then, violence has spiralled and insecurity remains a source of intense concern. According to available information, more than 150.000 people have been killed since 2006, reaching an average of 51 people violently killed every day. However, it is not clear how many of these are directly related to organized crime and operations conducted by security forces. Moreover, since President Peña Nieto took office four years ago, the administration stopped informing how many of these deaths were committed by the armed forces, and it remains a classified information.

Yet, despite a heavy reliance on the armed forces and criminal law to stop the use of drugs and drug trafficking, neither of these has decreased over the years. Actually, the age of first consumption keeps decreasing, reaching now children as young as 11 years old. In addition, the associated risks and harms of using drugs have risen with a corresponding increase in human rights violations.

According to the National Commission on Human Rights, complaints of human rights violations against the armed forces rose more than 900% during the first three years of the “war on drugs” alone. Arbitrary detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions are only part of the abuses that have been documented across the country.

Torture and other ill-treatment are the second most commonly reported human rights violations before the National Human Rights Commission, only after arbitrary detentions. Reports of torture have shown a sustained increase since 2006. The Federal Attorney General’s office informed me that the number of complaints about torture filed at a federal level more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, from 1,165 to 2,403.

Torture and other ill-treatment have for decades played a central role in policing and public security operations by military and police forces across Mexico. Victims of torture and other ill-treatment are often forced to “confess” to being part of a drug cartel or involved in other crimes such as kidnapping or drug trafficking. At times, security forces torture detainees and plant evidence on them in order to obtain information about drug cartels or make them incriminate other detainees.

Women in detention are at particular risk of torture and other ill-treatment. The vast majority of women detained in federal prisons are first time offenders, mostly imprisoned for drug-related crimes. Women are perceived as the weakest link in the trafficking chain by the authorities, seen as an easy target for arrest as drug cartels often recruit women from marginalized backgrounds to carry out the lowest and most dangerous tasks.

In a survey conducted by Amnesty International with 100 women in detention, 72 were reported to have been subjected to some form of sexual violence during arrest, including, in many cases, the use of rape as torture. Out of all the women who reported the involvement of the army or the navy in their arrest, 80% reported being raped.

This is the case of Claudia Medina, a young woman from the state of Veracruz who was arrested by marines in 2012. After breaking into her house, they took her to the local naval base with her hands tied and blindfolded. There, she was tortured using electric shocks and beatings, and was later raped and left tied to a chair in the scorching afternoon heat. The next day, she was blindfolded again and transferred to the office of the prosecutor, where she was interrogated and pressured into signing a statement without being allowed to read it. She was accused of being part of a dangerous criminal gang caught with arms and drugs. All the evidence against her was fabricated and the authorities ignored her claims that she was tortured. She was acquitted and released years later, but no one has been prosecuted for these acts.

The initial wave of disappearances was much more marked in the northern states of Mexico, in the border with the US. But gradually, more and more cases have emerged in other states and it is now extended throughout the country. According to official figures, there are more than 30,000 people whose whereabouts remain unknown. Half of these disappearances have occurred during the last four years.

While it is not clear how many of these were the victims of enforced disappearance in which the authorities have been involved, the response of the authorities has been completely flawed.Enforced disappearances have also soared since 2006. Thousands of people have disappeared or gone missing since the “war on drugs” began, many believed to have been abducted by criminal gangs. However, many enforced disappearances have been committed by the police and the military, sometimes acting in collusion with criminal gangs.

One of the most recent and emblematic cases is the enforced disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, in September 2014. Rural school teaching trainees were travelling to Mexico City from the southern state of Guerrero on five buses when they were stopped and shot at by police and other unidentified individuals. The students got off the buses to try to escape, but the attack continued and three people were killed. A number of students were detained and subjected to enforced disappearances. The authorities' “official” version has claimed that local police handled the students to a local gang who then burnt the bodies of the students in a local rubbish dump and then threw their ashes into a nearby river.

However, an investigation conducted by independent experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has proved that this theory is impossible, but we still don’t know the truth of what really happened, and the fate and whereabouts of the students remain unknown. Experts have suggested, as a line of inquiry, that one of the buses in which the students were travelling might have contained a large package of heroin to be trafficked to the US.

Children and young people have been particularly impacted by the militarized response to drugs in Mexico. Adolescents and young people have been engaged at all stages of the drugs supply chain, exposed to organized crime, sexual exploitation, violence and drug enforcement.

The killings have included cases where children have died at military checkpoints, such as that of the Almanza boys, killed by army forces in 2010 while the family was on their way to the beach for a holiday in the state of Tamaulipas. As they passed through the military checkpoint, they reduced their speed and soldiers allowed them through to continue their journey. But a few meters down the road, soldiers opened indiscriminate fire against the car they were traveling in, killing Bryan and Martin Almanza, aged five and nine.

Despite the authorities' justification (based on the welfare of children) the militarization of public security, combined with a zero-tolerance approach to drug use, have contributed to increased violations of the rights of children. Since the war on drugs began, there have been increased attacks on children and their parents, leaving thousands dead and tens of thousands orphaned. Even drug rehabilitation centres have been attacked, directly targeting young people who use drugs, and many schools have been caught in the crossfire, resulting in a significant drop in school attendance for fear of violence.

Most of these cases remain shrouded in impunity. It is estimated that over 98% of all crimes committed remain unresolved, and estimates also suggest that complaints are only presented in around 20% of all crimes. Impunity for human rights violations is even worse.

When a complaint is lodged with the authorities, cases are rarely investigated and those responsible are almost never prosecuted, let alone brought to justice. The almost absolute impunity enjoyed by perpetrators acts as a strong incentive to commit more crimes and sends a message that the authorities tolerate such acts. Some families have told Amnesty International that the main reason they did not report human rights violations to the authorities because of a prevailing sense of fear, resulting from the complete lack of trust in the authorities and the widespread influence and collusion with organized gangs.

President Peña Nieto has sought to draw a line with the previous administration and change course. During the campaign and first years in office, he promised to put an end to the “war on drugs”, reduce rates of violence and change the way in which drugs are regulated. But four years into his administration, little has changed. The army is still on the streets, violence has not decreased, and neither have human rights violations.

In this general context of violence and militarization, human rights defenders exposing all of these violations and demanding truth and justice, including victims and their families, have found themselves at the forefront of the attacks, both from organized criminal groups and the authorities. They have faced increased threats, harassment and intimidation. In some cases, human rights defenders have even been killed because of their pursuit of justice.Of even greater concern is the fact that the administration has, for the past few months, been pushing a bill that would normalize the presence of the army in public security, particularly in the fight against drug cartels. If passed, the bill would allow the army to investigate crimes, collect evidence from crime scenes, conduct mass surveillance and even intervene in public demonstrations.

This is why projects like “Anyone’s child” are so relevant in today’s Mexico. Wider support from the international community of human rights defenders and victims of the “war on drugs” is another tool to increase their visibility and ensure their protection. It is precisely these type of efforts to boost international solidarity that can contribute to putting an end to this context of violence and promote a change in policy that ensures human rights are fully respected and protected.Mexican authorities have done little to protect human rights defenders and to fully guarantee the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparations. Instead of recognising the crucial role played by them, the authorities have engaged in public defamation campaigns that delegitimize their work and put them at increased risk.

This blog is adapted from a speech given by Daniel Joloy, Amnesty International, at the launch of the Anyone’s Child Mexico interactive documentary and has been republished from their website. Anyone’s Child have developed an interactive documentary with Mexican families living on the front-line of the global drug war. Discover how this war has failed in Mexico by listening to the stories of the families it affects most.


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The Evidence Is Overwhelming: Cannabis Is an Exit Drug for Major Addictions, Not a Gateway to New Ones

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 14:30
People dependent on cocaine, opioids and other prescription drugs could ease out of their addictions with cannabis.

It is time for politicians to put to rest the myth that cannabis is a gateway to the use of other controlled substances — a theory that is neither supported by modern science or empirical data. 

Over 60 percent of American adults acknowledge having tried cannabis, but the overwhelming majority of these individuals never go on to try another illicit substance. Further, nothing in marijuana’s chemical composition alters the brain in a manner that makes users more susceptible to experimenting with other drugs. That’s why both the esteemed Institute of Medicine and the Rand Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center conclude that "[M]arijuana has no causal influence over hard drug initiation."

In contrast, a growing body of evidence now exists to support the counter notion that for many people, pot serves as a path away from the use of more dangerous substances, including opioids, alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine, and tobacco.

For example, in jurisdictions where marijuana use is legally regulated, researchers have reported year-over-year declines in opioid-related abuse and mortality. According to data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, deaths attributable to both prescription opiates and heroin fell by 20 percent shortly after marijuana legalization and by 33 percent within six years. Overall, the study’s investigators concluded, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.” Data published this past April in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence also reports a dramatic decline in opioid pain reliever related hospitalizations following legalization.

Patients’ use of other prescription drugs has also been shown to fall in states where marijuana is legally accessible. Newly published data from both the United States and Canada finds that patients curb their use of anti-depressantsanti-anxiety drugs and sleep aids after initiating cannabis use—a reality that is quantified in their spending habits. According to researchers at the University of Georgia’s Department of Public Policy, Medicare recipients residing in medical marijuana states spent millions less on prescription drugs as compared to patients with similar ailments in non-legal states. Patients’ spending on Medicaid related services is also significantly lower in cannabis-friendly states. 

Emerging data also indicates that pot use is associated with reduced cravings for cocaine. Writing last month in the journal Addictive Behaviors, investigators at the University of Montreal and the University of British Columbia reported that subjects dependent on crack cocaine subsequently reduce their drug use following the intentional use of cannabis. They concluded: “In this longitudinal study, we observed that a period of self-reported intentional use of cannabis … was associated with subsequent periods of reduced use of crack [cocaine]. … Given the substantial global burden of morbidity and mortality attributable to crack cocaine use disorders alongside a lack of effective pharmacotherapies, we echo calla for rigorous experimental research on cannabinoids as a potential treatment for crack cocaine use disorders.”

The findings replicate those of a prior Brazilian study which also determined that the therapeutic use of cannabis mitigates crack cocaine cravings and consumption. 

Empirical data also reinforces this contention. Specifically, Americans’ use of cocaine has fallen dramatically in recent years, during which time the percentage of adults acknowledging using cannabis has risen.

Scientific data also suggests that cannabis may reduce some people’s cravings for alcohol and tobacco. For example, clinical trial data from the United Kingdom finds that subjects administered cannabidiol, an organic cannabinoid, reduces their cigarette smoking by 40 percent compared to participants provided a placebo. Data published earlier this year in the International Journal of Drug Policy reported that over ten percent of Canadian medical cannabis patients acknowledge using pot in lieu of tobacco. 

Survey data from the United States reports even larger declines in cannabis users’ consumption of alcohol. According to a May 2017 study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, over 40 percent of medical cannabis dispensary members acknowledge reducing their alcohol intake. A 2014 literature review published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism adds, “While more research and improved study designs are needed to better identify the extent and impact of cannabis substitution on those affected by AUD (alcohol use disorders), cannabis does appear to be a potential substitute for alcohol.”

Finally, for those seeking treatment for drug dependency, cannabis may also play a positive role. In fact, studies report that pot use is predictive of greater adherence to abstinence among heroin dependent subjects, and those who consume it occasionally are more likely to complete their treatment regimen as compared to those who not.

In light of this scientific evidence, combined with a growing number of Americans’ first-hand experience with cannabis, it is hardly surprising that public confidence in the ‘gateway theory’ is waning. According to survey data compiled in 2016 by, fewer than one in three US citizens agree with the statement, “[T]he use of marijuana leads to the use of hard drugs.” Among those respondents under the age of 65, fewer than one in four agree. Public opinion data provided earlier this week by Yahoo News finds even less support, with only 14 percent of adults expressing “significant concern” that cannabis “leads to the use of other drugs.”

In short, both scientific and public opinion reject the contention that marijuana use promotes the use of other drugs. It’s past time for public officials to renounce this rhetoric as well.

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