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Updated: 3 years 4 weeks ago

Green Wave: Marijuana Initiatives Go Three for Four in Midterms

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 10:30
And there’s more good marijuana midterms news, too.

The expansion of legal marijuana continued apace in Tuesday’s elections, with medical marijuana initiatives winning in Missouri and Utah and recreational marijuana winning in Michigan. The only loss for weed came in North Dakota, where voters approved medical marijuana two years ago but weren’t ready to take the next step this year.

Michigan becomes the 10th state to legalize marijuana and the first one in the Midwest. With Missouri and Utah now joining the ranks, medical marijuana is now legal in 32 states.

In Michigan, the Proposal 1 legalization initiative was winning with 55.8 percent of the vote, with 96 percent of the vote counted as of Wednesday morning. The measure will legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in Michigan for adults aged 21 and older. It allows for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivation of up to 12 plants for personal use, while also establishing a legal framework for the licensing and regulation of marijuana businesses and products.

“The passage of Proposal 1 is a major milestone for marijuana policy reform in the U.S.,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and campaign director for the Yes on 1 campaign. “Michigan will be the first state in the Midwest to end marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated for adult use. Adults will no longer be punished for consuming a substance less harmful than alcohol, and rather than having to resort to the illegal market, they will be able to access it safely and legally from licensed businesses. In addition to the public health and safety benefits associated with regulating marijuana, the state will have a significant new stream of tax revenue. Michigan is going to demonstrate that regulating marijuana works, and it will set a strong example for other states in the region and around the country.”

“Western and northeastern states have led the way on legalizing marijuana, but the victory in Michigan powerfully demonstrates the national reach of this movement,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which through its lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, helped fund and played a significant role in drafting the initiative. “With such overwhelming public support for marijuana legalization, even including majorities of Republicans and older Americans, there’s only so long that the federal government can continue to hold out.”

In the past decade, Michigan has seen more than 200,000 marijuana arrests, the vast majority (84 percent) for simple possession. Those arrests won’t be happening anymore.

In Missouri, two of three medical marijuana initiatives won. Amendment 3, which would have imposed a 15 percent tax and set up a research institute benefiting its author, was easily defeated, while Amendment 2 had 65.5 percent support, and Proposition C had 56.5 percent. Amendment 2 was backed by both MPP and DPA.

“Thanks to the unflagging efforts of patients and advocates, Missourians who could benefit from medical marijuana will soon be able to use it without fear of being treated like criminals,” said MPP’s Schweich. “We hope lawmakers will implement the measure efficiently and effectively to ensure qualified patients can gain access to their medicine as soon as possible.”

In North Dakota, the cold wind of prairie conservatism and the Red Wave that swamped Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) was strong enough to overwhelm the Measure 3 legalization initiative. It managed to garner only 40.5 percent of the vote. Measure 3 was a grassroots effort with little outside support and strong and deep-pocketed opposition.

In Utah, despite the machinations of the Mormon Church and the state’s Republican political establishment, which sought to blunt support for Proposition 2 by promising to pass some sort of medical marijuana bill later this year, voters weren’t willing to wait. Prop 2 had 53.2 percent of the votes, with 76 percent of precincts reporting. Even in Deep Red Utah, medical marijuana wins.

Drug reformers pronounced themselves pleased with the results and pressed for federal action to end marijuana prohibition.

“This is yet another historic election for the movement to end marijuana prohibition. Voters have once again sent a message loud and clear that it is time to legalize and regulate marijuana,” said MPP executive director Steve Hawkins. “Marijuana has now been legalized for adult use in one out of every five states, so I think it’s safe to say federal laws are in need of an update. We hope the results of this election will inspire Congress to finally start addressing the tension that exists between state and federal marijuana laws in our nation.”

But wait, there’s more. Voters in a number of Wisconsin localities, including the population centers of Madison and Milwaukee, overwhelmingly approved non-binding referenda calling for marijuana legalization, while voters approved decriminalization in five out of six Ohio cities where it was on the ballot, including Dayton.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates embracing marijuana legalization (and broader drug reform), including Gavin Newsom (CA), Jared Polis (CO), J.B. Pritzker (IL), and Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM), all emerged victorious. The last two are especially notable since, as chief executives of as yet pot prohibitionist states, they can guide their states to legalization.

And in one of the sweeter outcomes of the Democrats’ retaking of the House, one of the biggest obstacles to marijuana reform in Congress, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), lost to Democrat Colin Allred, a supporter of marijuana reform. As chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions repeatedly blocked reform measures from advancing. But his time has come and gone.

All in all, election day was a pretty good day for weed.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug Reporter.

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New Study on Microdosing Psychedelics Shows Shows Why Scientists Are Excited About the Potential for Promoting Human Flourishing

Mon, 11/05/2018 - 13:23
A new study has found a correlation, but causation remains unclear.

A pair of Canadian researchers have just completed a study comparing people who microdose—the act of taking very small quantities of psychedelic drugs such as LSD or magic mushrooms—with those who don’t. They found that microdosers scored higher on key measures of mental health and well-being.

The researchers, Thomas Anderson of the University of Toronto and Rotem Petranker of the University of York, found that microdosers scored higher on measures of wisdom, open-mindedness, and creativity, while scoring lower on negative traits, such as dysfunctional attitudes and negative emotionality. The pair pronounced their initial results as “very promising.”

But how do you measure wisdom or creativity or negative thinking? In this case, the researchers defined wisdom as implying considering multiple perspectives, learning from mistakes, being in tune with emotions and other people, and feeling a sense of connection. By these measures, microdosers are wiser.

Similarly, the researchers used a well-validated measure of divergent thinking to measure creativity. In this exercise, subjects were given two common household items—a brick and a knife—and told to find unusual uses for them. Microdosers did better at this task, coming up with more unusual, useful, and unique uses for the odd couple of objects than non-dosers.

Likewise, to measure dysfunctional attitudes and negative emotionality, the researchers asked subjects to respond to statements about such attitudes (“my value as a person depends greatly on what others think of me,” “if I ask a question, it makes me look inferior”) and found that microdosers were less likely to agree with what they called such “unhealthy beliefs.”

It’s worth emphasizing that microdosing is done at doses so low that users experience not hallucinations but instead very subtle changes. A hundred or two hundred micrograms of LSD will have people tripping brains, but microdosers are generally taking only between five and 20 micrograms, and are able to go about their daily business unimpaired.

Despite a paucity of science supporting the trend, microdosing has gone big in the last few years and is touted for self-enhancement and mental health. AlterNet wrote about the trend three and a half years ago, and it has only spread since then. A year later, Wired magazine described young professionals in San Francisco and Silicon Valley microdosing to enhance their creativity and focus, and to gain a competitive advantage.

Two recent books have also brought positive attention to the practice. Ayelet Waldman’s A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life showed how microdosing saved her marriage, while Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind also made sympathetic note of the trend.

But the science has lagged behind the popular acclaim. As the researchers note, “No experimental study has evaluated psychedelic microdosing, and neither did we.” Their study was aimed at generating hypotheses, not testing them.

“Our results are promising,” they wrote. “As promising as they seem, we don’t know whether microdosing actually caused any of these differences.”

They say that randomized placebo-controlled trials are necessary to drill down definitively on the effects of microdosing. Still, they are excited and looking forward to more research: “Microdosing research, alongside full-dose psychedelics, promises an exciting future for clinical science and the study of human flourishing.”

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Get Out the Recovery Vote: Addiction Is a Political Issue — And It's Time to Organize

Sat, 11/03/2018 - 15:11
Services vital to helping millions of Americans get healthy and stay alive are at risk in the midterm elections

If you are one of the 23 millions Americans in recovery or with a history of addiction, your rights are on the ballot next week. Substance use disorder is a pre-existing condition. Voting to protect your recovery, and promote healthier communities, is key to ending the drug epidemic.

Before I became a recovery activist, I spent a decade in active heroin addiction. I’ve lost more than two dozen friends to this disease. Before I got sick, I was a community and political organizer, passionate about making a difference. I know firsthand that grassroots political efforts can impact our laws and our national attitude in significant ways. It’s time to bring that awareness to the stigma of addiction and end the crisis that’s killing our communities.

I believe that the answer to ending the addiction crisis is political engagement. That’s why I’m on a mission to register and engage one million recovery voters by 2020. Recovery can and should be a number one issue for voters: it affects all of us.

The math is on our side. With 1 in 3 American households impacted by this public health crisis, we can take a page from other social justice movements. For example, in 1996, 27 percent of Americans supported equality for LGBT people. That number rocketed to over 67 percent in 2018. The 2018 number correlated with fewer hate crimes, less stigma, and a lowered death rate due to AIDS. The acceptance of LGBTQ people was due to direct action and activism by the gay community. Now, we’re seeing the same progress in the recovery community. People in recovery are sharing their stories, coming out and sharing their recovery status, and showing their faces. The results of these action will take time. But I am confident they will lead to a better, healthier, and more inclusive America.

We have a long way to go. 58 percent of Americans surveyed in an October 2017 PBS poll stated that they do not believe addiction is a public health crisis. Yet, the data doesn’t lie. Addiction is a silent killer, and is present in almost every home in America. Our offices, gyms, community centers, churches, social organizations, and schools all include people with substance use disorder. Recovery is not possible unless we include and support people with this illness. Until then, we’ll continue to lose the people we love to this highly treatable disease.

Although the media focuses largely on opioid use, substance use disorder is a mental health disorder with serious health consequences. Recovery-specific healthcare includes a broad spectrum of support services, including inpatient and outpatient treatment, medications like methadone or naltrexone, recovery coaching, harm reduction, safe recovery housing, and mental health therapy. Those services, which are vital to helping millions of Americans get healthy and stay alive, are at risk in next week’s midterm elections.

The candidates you select in the voting booth are looking at healthcare. That means all healthcare, especially pre-existing conditions like substance use disorder. Losing access to recovery services could be lethal to people who are at risk. There are 23 million Americans in recovery -- and another 22 million who need help right now. If we all voted and stood up for recovery, we could end the national drug crisis overnight. We’d get access to funding and healthcare services that keep our friends, family members, and loved ones alive and well.

Almost every candidate will say that they care about recovery, but few have an actual plan for ending the addiction crisis. What do they have in mind? Longer jail sentences, more severe punishments, mandatory drug testing? Those approaches don’t work, and candidates that are truly supportive of recovery understand that we need access to shame-free healthcare, resources like peer recovery supports and evidence based treatment, and reliable harm reduction strategies. Almost 200 people die every single day from a drug overdose: what are our elected officials doing to make the death toll zero?

We must end the drug epidemic. It is a public health crisis that, in a single year, killed more people than died in the Vietnam War. Addiction is more lethal than AIDS, and ends more lives than breast cancer.

Because our nation still struggles to address recovery, we are losing an entire generation. America’s overdose death toll makes national headlines, but politicians have been slow to address this health crisis as what it is: a natural disaster that’s killing our families and our economy. Since 2001, the opioid crisis' direct costs have topped $1 trillion, according to Altarum, a healthcare research nonprofit. These include massive economic losses in healthcare, criminal justice, legal, and lost workplace production/participation. Yet, for every dollar we invest in treatment and recovery, we save $4 in healthcare costs and $7 in criminal justice costs. From an economic standpoint, recovery is a solid investment in America’s future.

So, how do you know which candidates care about recovery? The recent vote in Congress to support the package of bills to fight the opioid crisis passed almost unanimously. The Support for Patients and Communities Act passed 99 to 1. It’s clear that recovery has strong bipartisan support, in Congress and the White House. But when we talk about recovery as a public health issue, it’s harder to tell what side someone is on.

Looking more deeply at protecting people with pre-existing conditions like addiction, cancer, pregnancy, or mental health disorders, it’s clear that politicians are divided. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is also called Obamacare, was nearly repealed last year. Many of the 43 senators who voted to “repeal and replace” the ACA are running for office again in the midterms. They’ll likely move to end protection for Americans with substance use disorder. Candidates who see addiction as a moral failing are not on our side. Nor do they care about investing in recovery in our towns and communities.

Recovery is a healthcare issue and must be protected if we’re going to end the drug epidemic. We can’t fight addiction if we don’t fund recovery supports and call out the stigma that keeps 90% of people affected by the disease from seeking any kind of medical help for their illness. As a constituency of consequence, we have the numbers. We just need to get organized. Our lives matter. So do our voices, in and out of the voting booth.

I’m looking beyond the talking points and rhetoric on November 6 and putting recovery first. Will you?

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Wow! The Mexican Supreme Court Just Issued a Major Win for Marijuana Legalization

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 10:58
The U.S. is about to become the only country in North America that hasn’t freed the weed.

In an earth-shaking development, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the country’s prohibition of marijuana use, possession and personal cultivation is unconstitutional. The decision came in a pair of cases challenging the ban on weed, and because these rulings mark the fifth time the court has ruled similarly, the opinions are now legal precedent in the country.

The high court in Mexico City based its decision on constitutional protections of individual autonomy.

“The fundamental right of the free development of the personality allows adults to choose—without any interference—what recreational activities they desire to undertake and protects all the activities necessary to make that choice.…The effects of marijuana consumption do not justify an absolute prohibition of its use,” the court held.

But the court also noted explicitly that the right to grow, possess, and consume marijuana “is not absolute and the consumption of certain substances can be regulated.”

That means it will be up to lawmakers to come up with rules around the legal use of marijuana, as well as any move toward a regulated, legal marijuana market in the country. And that is likely to happen: Parties backing President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who is supportive of marijuana legalization, control absolute majorities in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

In its rulings, the high court ordered the federal health regulatory agency, COFEPRIS, to authorize the use of marijuana by adults who choose to do so, but it also added, “albeit without allowing them to market it, or use other narcotics or psychotropic drugs.”

Mexico has already decriminalized both pot possession and the possession of personal use amounts of other illicit drugs.

Coming less than two weeks after Canada’s marijuana legalization came into effect, the striking decision by the Mexican Supreme Court is only going to add to the pressure to advance federal marijuana legalization here in the U.S.

“This is extraordinary because it is taking place in one of the countries that has suffered the most from the war on drugs,” said Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “With marijuana already legal in Canada, now both of the U.S.’s neighbors will have legal marijuana, making the U.S. federal government’s prohibition of marijuana even more untenable.”

If the Democrats take control of the House next week, expect to see a strong push for federal legalization, along the lines that Congressional Cannabis Caucus founder Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) laid out earlier this month. If the Republicans retain control of the Senate, as is widely expected, the upper chamber would be a tougher nut to crack—but GOP senators may want to reflect on the fact that, according to the most recent Gallup poll, support for legalizing weed is at an all-time high of 66 percent, and even 53 percent of Republican voters now are on board.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug Reporter.

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Bad News From Brazil: The Right Populist President-Elect Will Be Absolutely Horrid on Drug Policy

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 15:31
Brazilians elected Jair Bolsonaro, “the Trump of Brazil,” as their next president on Sunday.

The far-rightist Jair Bolsonaro won Sunday’s presidential election with 55 percent of the vote. The victory by a man called by some “the Trump of Brazil” promises to push Latin America’s largest democracy to the right in many arenas, including drug policy, where his past pronouncements place him firmly in the camp of murderous anti-drug reform authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has presided over a war on drug sellers and users that has left more than 20,000 dead at the hands of police and shadowy vigilante death squads.

Despite a highly divisive candidacy that included repeated derogatory comments aimed at gays, women, black people, and indigenous peoples, his victory over the Workers’ Party, which has been tarnished by corruption scandals, was decisive. Bolsonaro will act as if he has a mandate from the voters to enact his extremist policies, among them extraordinarily repressive drug policies.

Thanks to London-based Talking Drugs, we have a very clear idea of just how extreme Bolsonaro will be on drug policy. Saying the bloody-handed Duterte “did the right thing for his country,” Bolsonaro seeks to emulate him, saying repeatedly that police should kill people suspected—not convicted—of drug trafficking.

He has also vowed to intensify an already militarized crackdown on drug offenses, deepening the human rights and public health crises that drug prohibition has already inflicted on the country.

Police and the military already work together to raid, arrest, and, too often, kill people allegedly involved in drug trafficking, especially in the favelas, the urban slums home to millions of the country’s poor. Brazil’s murder rate is 27 per 100,000 people, four times the global average and higher than the rates of neighbors such as Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru—all cocaine-producing countries. Brazil is the world’s second-largest cocaine-consuming country, after the United States.  

Domestic drug consumption has been on the rise for years in Brazil, and although there have been legislative attempts to decriminalize drug use, drug users continue to be criminalized, contributing mightily to Brazil’s ranking as the country with the world’s fourth-largest prison population.

Bolsonaro wants to heighten the repressive approach. He has detailed plans to increase the involvement of the military in drug law enforcement, including targeting schoolchildren. “It would be good to have the military in the schools,” he said, because “in the streets, in the schools even, the bandidos [bandits] sell drugs and smoke marijuana openly.”

Speaking of maconha [Brazilian slang for marijuana], Bolsonaro isn’t too fond of that, either. In fact, he sounds positively deranged on the issue. Legalizing marijuana, as neighboring Uruguay has done, would “benefit traffickers, rapists, and hostage takers,” he charged, without bothering to cite any supporting evidence of his claims and in direct contradiction of the Uruguayan experience.

And in a bizarre interview with El Pais, the homophobic Bolsonaro even claimed that using drugs makes people gay. When the journalist who interviewed him published the piece, Bolsonaro accused him of being gay, too.

He demonstrates a very Trumpian tendency to play fast and loose with the facts to try to score ideological points. He has linked illegal drug use to liberal governments, claiming that “drug use is prominent in countries under liberal administrations, such as Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico, and Venezuela.” But Honduras has been ruled by rightists since 2010, and Mexico’s current president is a member of the center-right Institutional Revolutionary Party.

All of this doesn’t bode well for progress on progressive drug policies in Brazil. In the past, there have been strong, public health-based initiatives to provide harm reduction services to drug users, including a very successful program created by then Sao Paolo Mayor Fernando Haddad. His With Open Arms program provided drug users with housing, daily meals, access to health care, and the opportunity to earn money by doing cleaning work. The program was a success in reducing drug-related harms, but has been dramatically slashed by his successor.

Haddad was the last candidate standing between Bolsonaro and the presidency, but the country’s swing to the right overwhelmed him. While the immediate future for progressive drug reform in Brazil looks grim, the one bright spot is that, like Trump, Bolsonaro tends to make bold, yet vague, pronouncements, often with little follow-through. Let’s hope his tough talk on drugs is more bluster than actual concrete policy shifts to the right, but hope isn’t going to win the day. Brazilians concerned about human rights, public safety, harm reduction, and drug law reform are going to have to mobilize to protect what limited gains they have won and to prevent sliding backward by embracing harsh, failed, last-century drug policies.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Categories: News Feeds

Trump's Plan to Fight the Opioid Epidemic Includes a Major Giveaway to this Pharmaceutical Giant

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 12:40
“The push in this administration is for new drugs, things that make pharmaceutical companies rich.”

On October 24, President Donald Trump signed a package of bills into law aimed at addressing the overdose crisis, dubbed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. But critics say it might as well be called the SUPPORT Indivior Act—a reference to the maker of Suboxone (active ingredients: buprenorphine and naloxone) and Sublocade, the recently approved injectable version of the drug, designed to last a month. (Indivior projects Sublocade’s annual sales will eventually reach $1 billion annually.)

The pharmaceutical giant, which has been fighting the introduction of generic versions of Suboxone for years, and is also the defendant in a lawsuit alleging that it used fraudulent marketing tactics, openly celebrated the new law.

In a press release, Indivior CEO Shaun Thaxter called the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act “critical in the fight against the increasing number of human lives lost to opioid overdose in the United States every year.” The legislation includes a number of measures that will directly benefit his company, particularly regarding Sublocade.

For example, over the summer Indivior blamed “friction in the new distribution and reimbursement model” covering injectables for its decision to cut its first-year revenue projections for the drug by half. The law signed by Trump rectifies some of these issues. It allows specialty pharmacies to distribute injectable medications to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). It also permits healthcare practitioners who are not waivered to prescribe oral versions of the drug to administer injectable OUD treatments, meaning they won’t be subject to a cap on the number of patients they can treat.

One of Indivior’s main competitors, Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, has been fighting an uphill battle to get its own injectable buprenorphine/naloxone formulation through FDA approval. But for now the only other drug that would potentially benefit from the new law, the monthly injectable opioid antagonist Vivitrol, is not subject to a patient cap.

Why Is Methadone Access Being Overlooked?

Some addiction experts point out that “evidence-based treatment” for opioid use disorder is increasingly becoming synonymous with the use of buprenorphine/naloxone formulations like Suboxone, despite the fact that it’s not a one-size-fits-all therapy. Meanwhile a much cheaper and effective OUD treatment drug—methadone—has been all but sidelined in the discussion on expanding access.

“The push in this administration is for new drugs, things that make pharmaceutical companies rich,” said Alison Knopf, editor of the journal Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly, and a contributing writer at Addiction Treatment Forum. Pharmaceutical and health product companies spent over $280 million on lobbying in 2017. While Indivior is responsible for only a tiny percentage of that total, its lobbying spending has risen rapidly in recent years:

Knopf, who has been covering opioids for three decades, bristles at the fact that no one is working to reform the archaic and often counterproductive rules governing outpatient treatment facilities (OTPs).

These tightly regulated clinics are the only option for those seeking treatment with methadone. However, a hodgepodge of onerous regulations makes it almost impossible for some clients to benefit from the drug, which (at proper maintenance doses) has a success rate of 60-90 percent.

To take just one example, while federal guidelines allow for 28 days of take-home doses, states and even individual clinics are allowed to establish their own, stricter, guidelines. In Pennsylvania, for instance, state law prohibits clients from receiving more than six consecutive take-home doses. And some are made to wait far longer than the federally recommended three months in treatment to get two take-home doses per week.

Meanwhile, most clinics continue to regularly test clients for marijuana use (even though it is only mandated under federal guidelines at the time of admission to an OTP). And they frequently deny take-home doses to clients based on positive results for THC—in spite of the fact that medical marijuana has been shown to improve outcomes for OUD patients.

“[OTP clients] put up with all kinds of indignities due to ridiculous laws,” said Knopf. “They go to work, have families, are in recovery, and nobody pays any attention to them. Methadone saved them, and they know it. They wish they could have the freedom to pick it up at a pharmacy, like buprenorphine”

Now, however, a bigger issue still is catching some Suboxone patients, and even their doctors, off-guard.

Suboxone No Panacea in the Fentanyl Crisis

When Suboxone was approved in 2001, primarily to treat heroin dependency, America was still five years away from its first multistate fentanyl crisis, which claimed more than 1,000 lives in at least four states in 2006 and 2007. A decade later, heroin has all but disappeared from some drug markets, particularly in parts of the South and Midwest that are bypassed by long-established heroin trafficking routes. Even where it hasn’t, street heroin is increasingly saturated with fentanyl or fentanyl analogs.

Unlike methadone (a full opioid agonist), buprenorphine is a partial agonist and has a dosage ceiling. Some users say they’re finding that Suboxone induction from the higher-potency fentanyl now common on the street is difficult, if not impossible.

During more than a year of reporting on Philadelphia’s drug culture, I’ve met dozens of active heroin users who are being prescribed Suboxone or its generic equivalent. Almost invariably, they sell the drug in order to buy more-powerful fentanyl. Many are also homeless—and housing stability is probably the most critical component of holistic recovery.

But some physicians say something else could be going on.

“Fentanyl has a tighter binding than Subs so it’s way easier to break through Subs,” said Dr. Aaron Blackledge, founder of Care Practice—an outpatient clinic in San Francisco. In other words, according to Blackledge, while buprenorphine is strong enough to kick an opioid like heroin off the brain’s receptors, it may be no match for high-purity fentanyl—to say nothing of even stronger analogs of the drug, like carfentanil. “And then with the transition to Subs there is this strange disassociation that comes with getting on Subs. [Like an] out-of-body experience. It may depend on how you take it. I have [patient] do it with microdosing.”

“I know methadone is hard to come off, but it’s the only thing that seems to work for me.”

Jullian, a middle-aged heroin user from New Jersey who used to intermittently switch to Suboxone bought on the street to take a break from the daily risks of illicit drug use, told Filter that as his body became more accustomed to fentanyl, the buprenorphine became less effective.

“It just stopped working for me,” he said. “There was a time I would take 2 mg at start of the day and be pretty much fine, but then it started not working the same. The last time I took it I was literally sick for four days.”

Recently, when Jullian decided he was ready to quit heroin for good, he opted for daily trips to a methadone clinic rather than visit a Suboxone doctor. “I know methadone is hard to come off, but it’s the only thing that seems to work for me.”

And yet, despite years of research demonstrating that methadone is a safe and highly effective, there’s not a single proposal in Congress aimed at loosening, or at least unifying, methadone treatment.

Passing Up an Obvious Path Forward

Meanwhile millions continue to be pumped into research and development for new drugs to treat opioid use disorder. One drug maker has even claimed that its product could work by targeting the brain’s memory centers to prevent users from fixating on the good times associated with past drug use—a phenomenon known as “euphoric recall.

Rather than exploring mind erasure as an alternative, an urgent priority should be to expand methadone access—in ways such as allowing patients to be dosed at their local pharmacy, like in Canada, or at the very least requiring that states apply federal take-home policy. In treatment dollars alone, methadone reform could save taxpayers millions. According to one report, the cost of a 100-milligram dose of the drug is just 78 cents; the average wholesale cost of a 30-day supply of 8 mg Suboxone is more than $250. And then there are the lives we could save.

The government’s failure to take this obvious path is unfathomable—or at least it would be, if we didn’t ask ourselves who profits from the status quo, and how much influence they wield.

Categories: News Feeds

Mexico’s Cartels Have Gotten So Big, They Act Like Governments

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 06:00
Narcos know about winning hearts and minds, too.

Mexican villagers impacted by a tropical depression that hit the northwestern state of Sinaloa in September are saying “Thank you, El Chapo!” after receiving much-needed donations of mattresses and electric stoves attributed to imprisoned Sinaloa cartel leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera.

Despite being the head of one of the most violent and powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world, El Chapo still retains popular support, especially in his home state of Sinaloa. That’s in part because, like some other drug traffickers, the Sinaloa cartel has taken care to reach out to local populations, especially when the state has failed to provide critical services.

Colombian Medellin cartel head Pablo Escobar, for example, built up a political base by building soccer fields and housing developments in Medellin in the 1980s. Other Mexican drug traffickers have taken a similar approach to building popular support. The notorious Zetas handed out Christmas gifts to the poor in 2014 in Nuevo Laredo, and added food to the presents last year.

The Mexican cartels are also notorious for boosting local economies with outrageous spending on multi-day fiestas and for providing “narco alms”—cash donations to local priests and parishes to fund public works and church activities—in bids at winning popular support. Such giving created a scandal in 2010, when it was revealed that a church with a stunning 65-foot cross built in a working-class barrio of the central Mexican city of Pachuca bore a plaque thanking Zetas head Heriberto Lazcano for its construction.

In this latest instance of narco-public service (and public relations), a video and several photos of villagers praising Guzman, who is now jailed in New York City awaiting trial in federal court, appeared on social media late last week.

The media images showed mattresses and boxes of electric stoves plastered with a large sticker of a cap emblazoned with “JGL,” the initials of El Chapo’s full name. The video also accused the state secretary of social development, who is responsible for disaster relief (SEDESOL), of handing out dirty, roach-filled mattresses to villagers whose homes were flooded in the storm.

“The victims from the previous rain storm in La Platanera and who were ‘aided’ by @SEDESOL with old mattresses were not forgotten by Mister Joaquin,” the social media user wrote.

In the video, shot in the town of Sanchez Celis, villagers standing beside their new mattresses smiled and praised El Chapo. One woman looked directly at the cell phone camera, then blurted out, “Thank you, Chapo Guzman.” Another woman sent her blessings to the cartel head.

Another social media post from the same user showed a truck carrying mattresses emblazoned with the JGL image.

The September storm caused devastating flooding in 43 towns and 31 communities in Sinaloa, leaving three dead and forcing 1,500 people to flee for their lives. When they returned home, they found their personal belongings and furniture ruined by the storm.

El Chapo isn’t the only family member trying to burnish the cartel’s image by doing good works. His wife, U.S. citizen Emma Coronel, appeared in a video last year helping to prepare boxes filled with non-perishable goods for victims of the September 2017 Puebla earthquake that left 370 dead and 6,000 injured. Then she went back to buying Prada purses and throwing lavish, Barbie-themed birthdays parties for her daughters.

Mrs. El Chapo’s lifestyle is light-years away from the muddy streets of rural Sinaloa, but the folks there are still enjoying their new stoves and mattresses courtesy of her husband.

Here’s the video:

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Can Hallucinations Lead to Post-Traumatic Growth?

Sun, 10/28/2018 - 07:01
The clinical psychologist Lily Dixon and her team detail the experiences of seven people who have lived with verbal or auditory hallucinations; amid the struggles, the researchers report, their journeys have also taken them to some positive places.

Contemplate how a person’s life would be changed by starting to hear or see things others can’t. Now imagine it could offer something good. A research team from Hull University and associated NHS trusts in the UK suggest that, among the tumult, hallucinations can also offer opportunities for growth. Writing in the Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy this year, the clinical psychologist Lily Dixon and her team detail the experiences of seven people who have lived with verbal or auditory hallucinations; amid the struggles, the researchers report, their journeys have also taken them to some positive places.

The five men and two women, aged 28 to 53, were recruited from mental-health services. Some had begun experiencing hallucinations in childhood, others later in life. The researchers interviewed them about how the experience had affected them and their relationships, the challenges they had faced, and what they expected from the future.

The interviewees were united in seeing the arrival of their hallucinations as an unwelcome shock. They were something to be hidden so as to avoid stigma. ‘I don’t want to accept it’s schizophrenia because it will always be branded, I’ll always be branded with that name, and if you tell anyone you’ve got schizophrenia they automatically think that you’re a mental case and that you’re going to kill them,’ said ‘Sophie’, one interviewee (real names are not used in the paper). She felt that to remain herself, she had to reject the experience: ‘I’m trying to separate the person, I like the person that I am when I’m not hearing voices.’ A commonly held early belief was that getting better meant reducing or eliminating the hallucinations. Blur out the visions, silence the voices.

But over time, the interviewees found their focus had shifted. ‘Steve’ reported an event that stuck in his head: ‘I remember being at my best friend’s house and she said: “Well why don’t you just talk to them,” y’know the voices, rather than sitting around or arguing, so I did and I spoke to them so I went “Hello” and they go “Oh hello, you finally talking to us?” and I was like what?!

Making that step from denial and conflict to engagement had consequences for ‘Steve’, who felt that the voices were ‘more helpful now than disturbing … it’s like I’ve got a lot of friends I talk to every day’.

Others echoed this idea that when the hallucinatory experiences were faced, rather than fended off, the possibility of value could emerge. So much so that the prospect of shedding them no longer felt like a cure. ‘A lot of people say, what if I could change things but I’m not sure I would, y’know, if, I’ve just learnt to accept that it’s part of me now,’ said one interviewee. Another said that without his hallucinations, he would feel ‘hollow’.

Exactly what good could come from hallucinations? The answers were hard to pin down because no interviewee felt that they were an unalloyed good, and they didn’t want to tempt fate through naive optimism. One note was the self-fortification that comes from continuous battle. ‘Debbie’ said tentatively: ‘I haven’t let it beat me … it’s made me more tougher … the voice has given me more strength, and it’s, sort of like, made me into the person I am, stronger.’

Another positive thread was that the hallucinations brokered a change in perspective towards others, and even toward experience itself. ‘I show more empathy maybe, more than I used to,’ said one interviewee. Another described how ‘it’s changed the way I see others, think about other attitudes and the way I’ve seen myself.’

This self-scrutinising comment from ‘Paul’ gives an especially expansive take: ‘I think I’d have been a lot more destructive rather than constructive if I maybe wasn’t hearing or seeing things … I think it’s changed my outlook on, on certain things, y’know, of just sometimes learning to sit and watch the world go by, rather than trying to beat the world.’

What facilitated this apparent journey from dismay to bittersweet growth? The reports suggested that belonging, acceptance and emotional support – simply to have had ‘somebody listening’ – had been critical. But the journey sometimes also required movement against prevailing winds: one interviewee counselled: ‘Don’t give up on wanting to become yourself, rather than your society or whatever, forget all of them, forget everything else, you’ve got to be comfortable with yourself.’

The quality of professional services was also crucial: clinicians offering alarm and stigma were seen as a common obstacle. The support that seemed most useful was based on the introduction of techniques such as mindfulness and relaxation, and engagement with the Hearing Voices network, which showed patients that they were not alone. This normalisation and engagement meant that having an atypical experience of reality no longer sundered the interviewees from society, but offered a different role where that experience had a part to play.

This isn’t a simple story. Participants continued to see their hallucinations as something that hindered them, but it was now tempered by the possibility of enrichment. Dixon’s team recommend that professionals, friends and family (but particularly clinicians) who are close to people having such experiences should avoid stigmatisation, and support them wherever they are at, understanding that a complex relationship with reality does not make the person any less whole.

This is an adaptation of an articleoriginally published by The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest.

Alex Fradera

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

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Ricki Lake on 'Weed the People': 'It’s Not About Getting High, It’s About Children Dying of Cancer'

Sat, 10/27/2018 - 04:04
“It was hard to find oncologists to talk on camera about this,” says executive producer Ricki Lake

“Weed the People” is director Abby Epstein and executive producer Ricki Lake’s timely and compelling documentary about using cannabis oil as an alternative medicine for children with cancer. The film features half a dozen case studies of babies and teens who take this form of medical marijuana to reduce tumors. It is, as one believer states in the film, “not a cure, but an extension of life.”

Weed is still classified by the DEA as a Schedule I drug, and as the film explains, the government has a medical patent on marijuana, which seems hypocritical. Moreover, while in America, research on the effects that cannabis has on treating cancer have been minimal — most studies show the negative, not positive effects — in countries like Israel and Spain, there are encouraging findings about the drug’s healing properties.

“Weed the People” follows several families benefiting from cannabis treatment to track their progress. The film also showcases women on the front lines including Mara Gordon, co-founder of Aunt Zelda’s, which creates and sells cannabis oils to patients, and Dr. Bonni Goldstein a medical director at Canna Centers, who lectures on the efficacy of cannabinoid therapy.

Salon spoke with executive producer Ricki Lake about cannabis oil, its efficacy, and her new film “Weed the People.”

The film talks about a drug policy issue being a human rights issue. It is one of four documentaries you’ve produced on social issues, after “The Business of Being Born,” “Breastmilk” and the forthcoming “Sweetening the Pill.” Why have you become an advocate for these causes?

I shifted gears post 9/11. I was doing my old talk show back then and had my second son homebirthed two months before 9/11. I became a mother on my own terms, and then two months later I was back on my show where it was, “My baby daddy thinks I’m a whore!” So, I soul searched about what I cared about. I wanted to make a difference. So, I went on a journey with Abby [Epstein], invested my own money, and used my personal homebirth footage — which I never expected to show anyone — to make “The Business of Being Born.” I felt I had to do that, and the impact that film had was major. Protocols have changed in hospitals because of our film.

With cannabis, it wasn’t my medicine, or my cause, but my husband passed away, and it was his passion. He was on the path to learn about CBD [Cannabidiol] even before Sanjay Gupta on CNN. We met a little girl who was 30 lbs., and 6 years old and, this is crazy, but we moved her and her family into our house and took her to osteopaths and a cannabis doc. She’s not in the film, but “Weed the People” comes from our personal experience and natural curiosity. It is fulfilling to make these films. They are important and hard to finance, but in the end, we have something that can be the tipping point.

What prompted you to investigate this alternative medicine in general and as a treatment for kids in particular?

It’s my [late] husband Christian’s legacy. That’s what makes the project so important to me. There are enough films about drug reform, and legalization, etc. This was about the kids and following the stories, and hopefully to get change to happen. We did it specifically to take the stigma away. It’s not about legalization, regulation, or getting high; it’s about children dying of cancer and the heroic docs and scientists putting their time into this. We followed some adults, like a mom with Stage 4 cancer who has surpassed life expectancy, but it was to look at the medicine. Scientists can’t do science because it’s a Schedule I drug. But [medical marijuana] has been used to treat many innocuous ailments, such as anxiety and pain, and now it’s used to shrink tumors.

How did you find the authorities interviewed in the film; what were the criteria for the case studies featured?

That’s more Abby’s work, but many we got through word of mouth. We met with cannabis makers, dispensaries, and through doing the film we went to ASA, the Americans for Safe Access Conference, in DC, and we met Dr. Donald Abrams and Dr. Sunil Aggarwal. We had great luck with these amazing people who are so knowledgeable about the plant. They’d lead us to others. It was hard to find oncologists to talk on camera about this. We’d meet them, and then they’d hear it is about cannabis and shut the doors. 

One of the things I appreciate about this industry is how parents are learning more than the doctors; Sophie’s mom, Tracy, becomes a “momcologist.” Her desperation prompts her to seek out treatments to save her child’s life. It’s not unlike the AIDS crisis where the LGBT community educated themselves about treatment to help themselves because the government wasn’t providing them any support. What observations do you have about how folks in this industry — and these parents — are working to educate themselves and society, especially in light of the lack or published research on the topic?

I think in this day and age we have to advocate for ourselves, period, in the health industry. We need to go in and demand what we want. They work for you. Mothers know about their bodies and babies. You have to dig, and there are bogus stories and bad medicines and its challenging, but with more states legalizing marijuana, it’s shifting. Its slow, but it’s starting to happen. This film will be a good tool to have so families will know what to look for. We’ll be inundated with, “Where do I go for my kid? What is available? What are the laws? And what strains work for what cancer?" In Israel, you can narrow down what’s working for prostate or breast cancer. 

What’s interesting to me about medical marijuana is the business side. This mostly exists as an underground/black market economy, albeit one that has support of some oncologists. There is an interesting development when Mara is told one of her patients has found a cheaper source. Jim, a firefighter profiled in the film, raises money through a fund so he can continue his daughter’s treatment. How much of this story is follow-the-money?

Mara is no longer makes medicine in her kitchen. She’s got a lab now. But she is not getting rich. She is only charging for the bud. She lives a humble life and it is one about being of service. There are stories of grows, but taxes in California are [steep], and a lot has changed because it became legal. They can’t sell CBD in California. All these shifts are happening. They are working it out. 

Let’s talk legality. The treatment apparently is not illegal in states where medical marijuana is permitted. There is, however, a case in the film where a family must move to California from Chicago to take part in treatment they could not get at home. Can you talk about this issue, which is as much about access, government regulation, and to an extent, money?

I think it’s all of the above. It’s crazy that that family in the film had to move. Part of it was is the kind of cancer he had. He ran out of donors, so people broke the law to be angel donors and send it in the mail so he could get a better quality of life.

California has the best conditions for making the medicine and it’s legal. Dr. Bonni Goldstein is freaking hero. She has turned her entire practice into pediatric cancer. Tracy Ryan is a warrior and what she achieved with her daughter, and her being so proactive and building a business to help other families is really inspiring.

What about the ethics of this alternative medicine? Should a 14-year-old, like Chico in the film, be getting a medical marijuana kit for his birthday?

Yes. I clearly think so. People might have an issue with it. As his mom says, “If you told me I would buy my son grow equipment…” It sounds crazy, but if you look at Chico at the beginning of film and then at the end because of cannabis, he’s the poster child for this medicine to do something for one’s quality of life. People audibly gasp when they see his transformation.

As I watched the film, I was convinced by the successful treatment in some patients, but I also questioned how much of this is hope and faith-based, and how much can be proven? Mara talks about dosing, and an increase in the amount of oil given to baby Sophie may be what helps her. There is research being done abroad that cannabis is effective. And we hope that it is safe. Should we remain skeptical?

With epilepsy, you can study a child having 100 seizures a day and give them cannabis oil and then see him have three. Cancer you can’t see in such a black and white way. We have anecdotal results of five and a half years of these children. They are starting to do cannabis/cancer studies in UCLA, but we need more scientific studies, so hopefully that will be coming soon.

So, is it difficult to go from being an interviewer on a talk show to being interviewed about the films you are producing?

These films are provocative, and I am able to use the platform I have achieved at a talk show host to be able make these films. I don’t have an agenda. I am grateful for my past career and the work I’m getting to do now.


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There Is an ‘Elegant Way’ to End Global Marijuana Prohibition

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 14:45
It works within the UN’s global anti-drug treaty scheme. It’s called inter se modification.

Uruguay legalized marijuana in 2013. Canada legalized it last week. In doing so, both countries put themselves in violation of the UN anti-drug treaties that are the legal backbone of global drug prohibition.

Not much happened. That’s because those treaties are toothless; they have no effective enforcement mechanisms. The global anti-drug bureaucrats at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Narcotics Control Board can write irate memos criticizing Ottawa and Montevideo, but that’s about it. They have done so, and Canada and Uruguay blithely ignored them.

Still, the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its 1971 and 1988 addenda are global agreements, and while an argument can be made that countries that want to legalize marijuana should just ignore that provision, there is a counterargument to be made that it is better to modify or creatively interpret the existing global framework than to merely brush aside the anti-drug treaties.

Now, the good folks at the Transnational Institute’s (TNI) Drugs and Democracy program have come up with what they call “an elegant way” to end global marijuana prohibition. It’s called inter se modification. Instead of ignoring the tension between national-level legalization and the treaties, using this strategy would “resolve those treaty tensions and enable progressive and sustainable change at the global level.”

What inter se modification does is allow two or more signatory states to the UN conventions to enter into an agreement among themselves alone. As TNI explains in the video below, a group of countries—say Canada, the Netherlands, and Uruguay—could agree to an inter se modification agreement on how marijuana cultivation should take place, how international pot commerce should be conducted, and education and public health policies, among others.

“These three countries would basically create a mini-treaty of their own, while at the same time respecting the rights and obligations of all state parties that do adhere to the UN drug control conventions,” TNI explains. “If other countries wish to legally regulate cannabis after this mini-treaty is agreed on, they are free to join the group and enjoy the benefits accordingly.”

Here we have a way to legalize marijuana at the national level without breaching the UN treaties. Instead the treaties’ provision on the illegal marijuana would simply be hollowed out over time as country after country eventually joins the inter se modification agreement. Maybe then there will come a tipping point where the treaties themselves can be amended to reflect the new global reality.

Here’s how TNI explains it all:

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Marijuana Midterms: How the Prospects for State-Level Legalization and Medical Marijuana Are Looking

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 14:30
Less than two weeks out, a couple of these races are turning into nailbiters.

With less than two weeks to go to Election Day, it’s looking like a mixed picture for state-level marijuana policy initiatives. There are two states—Michigan and North Dakota—with marijuana legalization on the ballot, and there are two more states—Missouri and Utah—with medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot.

It’s possible that all four will pass, but it’s looking more likely in Michigan and Missouri than in North Dakota and Utah. In North Dakota, well-funded opposition may drown out the legalization message, while in Utah, late maneuvering by the Mormon church and state political leaders is undercutting support from what had previously appeared to be a measure cruising toward victory.

Here’s a quick recap of the initiatives and their prospects.


Michigan is poised to become marijuana legalization’s Midwest breakout state. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has qualified a marijuana legalization initiative, Proposal 1, for the November ballot.

The measure would legalize the possession up to 2.5 ounces of pot for personal use and up to 10 ounces at home, as well as allowing for the personal cultivation of up to 12 plants and the fruits of that harvest. It also creates a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, with a 10 percent excise tax at the retail level in addition to the 6 percent sales tax. The measure would give cities and counties the option of allowing pot businesses or not.

The initiative looks well-positioned to win in November. It had been holding steady at 61 percent support as late as May, the kind of polling numbers initiative and referendum experts like to see at the beginning of the campaign because they suggest that even with the inevitable erosion of support in the face of opposition attacks, the measure still has a big enough cushion to pull off a victory.

Support had indeed declined in the final weeks of the campaign as limited opposition finally emerged, but a September Detroit Free Press poll still has it winning with 55 percent of the vote and only three percent undecided and a September Detroit News poll had it winning with 56 percent.


Missouri voters will be able to choose from not one, not two, but three separate medical marijuana measures when they go to the polls in November. Two are constitutional amendments; one is a statutory initiative that could more easily be modified by the legislature.

Amendment 2, sponsored by New Approach Missouri, would allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis for any condition they see fit. Registered patients and caregivers would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants and purchase up to four ounces from dispensaries per month. Medical cannabis sales at dispensaries would be taxed at 4 percent.

Amendment 3, sponsored by Find the Cures, would let doctors recommend medical marijuana to patients who have any of a specific list of qualifying conditions (while regulators would be able to add more conditions in the future). The retail sales tax on medical marijuana would be set at the much higher rate of 15 percent. Funds would be used to support research with the aim of developing cures and treatments for cancer and other diseases.

Proposition C, backed by Missourians for Patient Care, also outlines a list of specific conditions that would qualify patients to legally use medical cannabis. Sales would be taxed at 2 percent.

An August poll conducted by TJP strategies had support for amending the state constitution to allow medical marijuana at 54 percent.

There has been no more recent polling, but with 93 percent of the nation backing medical cannabis in an April 2018 Quinnipiac University poll, it’s likely that Missouri isn’t going to buck the trend. The fundraising also points toward a successful campaign. Both New Approach Missouri and Find the Cure have raised more than a million dollars over the course of the campaign and both still have tens of thousands of dollars banked for the final push. The only ballot committee opposed to both campaigns, Citizens for Safe Medicine, was just registered last month and has reported no donations or expenditures.

North Dakota

This year, a grassroots group, Legalize ND, managed to get enough signatures to get Measure 3, the Marijuana Legalization and Automatic Expungement initiative, on the November ballot.

This is a radical initiative. It would legalize all forms of marijuana for adults by removing marijuana, THC, and hashish from the state’s controlled substance schedules, and it sets no limits on the amount of marijuana people could possess or how many plants they grow. It also provides for the automatic expungement of criminal convictions for anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime that would be legal under the measure.

And it does not create a framework for regulated marijuana sales, nor does it set any taxes. Creating a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce would be up to the state legislature.

Legalize ND faces the toughest odds. While a June poll, commissioned by Legalize ND and conducted by the Florida-based Kitchen Group, had the initiative winning 46 percent to 39 percent, with 15 percent undecided and a poll this month, also commissioned by Legalize ND had it winning with 51 percent to 36 percent, two other recent polls have support at under 40 percent.

It also faces the toughest organized opposition, which is heavily out-fundraising it. While Legalize ND has raised less than $30,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, the national anti-marijuana lobbying group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) has provided 100 percent of the contributions to Healthy and Productive North Dakota, an amount totaling more than $156,000.

A separate anti-initiative committee, North Dakotans Against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, which represents business groups and is headed by the director of government affairs for the state Chamber of Commerce, has raised $86,000. If Legalize ND can pull off a victory, it will be sweet, indeed, but it’s looking like an uphill battle.


Sponsored by the Utah Patients Coalition, the medical marijuana statutory initiative, Proposition 2, has qualified for the November ballot. The bottom-up effort comes after the state legislature has refused to advance meaningful medical marijuana legislation.

Under the measure, people who suffer from one of a list of designated qualifying medical conditions could receive a medical marijuana card with a physician’s recommendation. That would entitle them to possess up to two ounces of marijuana or any amount of a marijuana product with up to 10 grams of THC. Patients could not grow their own unless they live more than 100 miles from a dispensary. And the patients cannot smoke marijuana.

A Utah Policy poll released in September had support for the measure at 64 percent,
with even Mormons generally breaking with the church leadership on the issue. But
after that poll was released, state political leaders, advocates, and the Mormon church announced they’d agreed on a medical marijuana plan that lawmakers would consider in a November special session. That has, to some degree, cut the legs out from under the initiative.

A Salt Lake Tribune poll released last week had support dropping to only 51 percent, with 46 percent opposed. What looked like a cakewalk just a few weeks ago has turned into a nailbiter.

There you have it. Marijuana could go four for four this year, but it’s not at all at done deal, and we may end up having to settle for only three or maybe even two out of four. Going only 50-50 on marijuana initiatives would be the worst performance of the modern era. Let’s hope 2018 doesn’t earn that distinction.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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The Trump Administration Put Out a New Video About Opioids — and It Gets Just About Everything Wrong

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 10:42
There are better ways to fight back against addiction.

A new campaign—from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Truth Initiative and the nonprofit Ad Council—has live-streamed a woman’s detox from opioids in a cubic “treatment box” to NYC passers-by. It then released a video including clips of the woman’s detox, interspersed with melodramatic music, commentary from “experts” and pedestrians’ gawking reactions.

It’s all part of a larger campaign titled “The Truth About Opioids.” Ironically, that’s the opposite of what this stunt delivers.

“It’s wrong in about every possible way it could be wrong. It’s really bizarre,” says Maia Szalavitz, addiction journalist, Filter contributor and author of Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction.

So what’s the problem? First, the choice to center withdrawal for shock value is misguided. The video opens with the young woman, Rebekkah, writhing and moaning (accompanied, of course, by the sound of a heart pounding). Stark text announces “Opioid Withdrawal Day 01,” followed by a list of symptoms. “This drug addiction has taken everything and everyone I’ve ever loved away from me,” she says. “Everything.”

“I’m the most camera-shy person in the world,” says Rebekkah, “but if making my detox public is gonna help somebody, even literally just one person, I’m all for it.”

Unfortunately, as Szalavitz reminds us, “There’s no evidence that scare tactics prevent people from becoming addicted.” Both ONDCP and the Truth Initiative (best known for its anti-smoking ads) have long legacies of employing such tactics.

ONDCP was formed in 1988 under President Reagan, during Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. It has a history of investing tons of money in ineffective anti-drug ads. In 2006, the Government Accountability Office concluded that the $1.2 billion spent by ONDCP on anti-drug ads “was not effective in reducing youth drug use, either during the entire period of the campaign or during the period from 2002 to 2004 when the campaign was redirected and focused on marijuana use.” Ironically for an office focused on addiction, ONDCP suffers from its own—persisting in spreading inaccurate and useless messages, despite clear negative consequences.

The new video “doesn’t even mention that actually the most effective treatments for opioid addiction do not require you to go through withdrawal,” says Szalavitz. “And those treatments are methadone and buprenorphine used long-term. There is no reason to focus on somebody suffering withdrawal … The thing that people don’t understand about addiction, they think if people can just get through withdrawal, they’re cured.”

Misleadingly, the video portrays getting through withdrawal as an end point. “This woman implies this is the first time she’s ever been through withdrawal, which is extremely unlikely,” says Szalavitz, who has written about her own experiences with addiction as a young person. “I probably did it fully six times. The problem is not gettingoff, it’s staying off.”

The video makes it seem like withdrawal is the hard part, while ignoring the underlying reasons many people use drugs to begin with. “If the reason you are using opioids is because you have psychological conditions and they help you feel better,” says Szalavitz, “and if you don’t deal with whatever that is and [learn how to] cope with it, you’ll end up relapsing.”

In fact, at one point in the video Rebekkah does say, “I have a lot of self-image issues and my mind doesn’t tell me anything nice.” But the video does not make any reference to therapy or other plans to address underlying mental health struggles.

“This young lady is at extremely high risk of relapsing at this very moment,” says Szalavitz. “She has lost her tolerance to opioids, is not being given effective medication and this suggests that the only way [out of addiction] is to go through a ‘spiritual void’—do we talk about this with any other illness? Do we show cancer patients in the worst part of chemotherapy?”

With it’s abstinence-only, “just say no” mentality, the video feels outdated: “You could have seen this exact same video in 1988,” Szalavitz says.

In addition to its reliance on shock-and-scare tactics, another problem is the video’s singular focus on a young, thin, white woman who conforms to the dominant culture’s beauty standards. She says she started using opioids at age 14 after she hurt her ankle during cheerleader practice, and was prescribed pain pills by her doctor. This innocent white middle-class victim narrative is perfected by the end of the video, when Rebekkah says wistfully: “I want that white picket fence.”

At one point in the video, “Dr. Reitman,” an “addiction specialist” chimes in to hit home the point that this is happening to a white, middle-class attractive cheerleader: “Her addiction really started very innocently,” he says.

The video props up the idea that addiction only deserves our attention and compassion when it affects white middle- and upper-class families, who, unlike people of color or poor white people, are not to blame for their struggles. According to Szalavitz, it’s “The innocent white narrative, I didn’t do anything wrong, my doctor gave me this—and boom, I was shooting heroin.”

Beyond indulging in racist and classist tropes, the video sends an inaccurate message about how addiction usually works. It hammers home the idea that young, innocent Rebekkah was somehow tricked into addiction—”I trusted my doctor to take care of me and make me better” she says sadly. “The decision to go the doctor and not get the surgery—that’s the worst decision i made in my whole life.”

This perpetuates the media’s beloved myth about the opioid crisis; one that has stubbornly persisted despite all evidence to the contrary. As Szalavitz wrote in “What the Media Gets Wrong about Opioids” for the Columbia Journalism Review in August:

The “relatable” story journalists and editors tend to seek—of a good girl or guy (usually, in this crisis, white) gone bad because pharma greed led to overprescribing—does not accurately characterize the most common story of opioid addiction. Most opioid patients never get addicted and most people who do get addicted didn’t start their opioid addiction with a doctor’s prescription. The result of this skewed public conversation around opioids has been policies focused relentlessly on cutting prescriptions, without regard for providing alternative treatment for either pain or addiction.

The majority—80 percent—of people with addiction start by using drugs that were not prescribed to them, typically obtained from a friend or family member. “I would like to know how [Rebekkah] knew where to find heroin when her pain prescription ran out,” Szalavitz says. “Most pain patients don’t do that, don’t have a clue … 70 percent of people who develop opioid addiction have used drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine in the past. For a naive user, never having bought drugs on the street, to go straight to buying heroin on the street is very unusual. Only 3.6 percent of people who have opioid addictions ever try heroin.”

That’s not to say that pharmaceutical companies are blameless—companies like Purdue lied about Oxycontin. But the myth that most people get addicted to heroin through legally prescribed opioids has severely hurt pain patients by forcibly cutting them off from medication they need. It also suggests that people who start using in other ways may deserve blame.

The problems with the video don’t end there. Rebekkah’s fedora-wearing recovery coach, Blythe, adds some words of wisdom about the causes of addiction: “[Rebekkah] is spiritually void and that’s ok—that’s where she’s supposed to be.” She also reinforces Rebekkah’s white innocence, saying euphemistically: “this disease does notdiscriminate at all…it doesn’t matter what town you live in.”

Blythe begins crying, and makes clear the connection between her own past addition, Rebekkah’s current struggle, and the path of recovery that she hopes Rebekkah will follow: “Today I have a life— I’m free.”

But as Szalavitz points out, the recovery coach narrative is another way the video goes wrong. “Their only vision of recovery is that recovery coach,” she says. “If I were to make a commercial for recovery, I would show people in jobs that are not related to recovery. A lot of people in active recovery don’t want to become that, and most people in addiction don’t go on to become counselors or coaches. There’s nothing wrong with doing that important work. But you want to show recovery in its variety, not just the stereotype.”

Szalavitz stresses that she’s not blaming the woman in the video. “She believes she is doing the right thing.” Rather, it’s ONDCP and the companies behind the campaign that are to blame. “I think it’s exploitative to put somebody in literally the earliest moments of recovery on display like that. I don’t know how much money they spent on this; it does not look cheaply produced, it must have cost something to rent that little weird box in the middle of the city. All that could have been spent on naloxone, medication treatment to people who need it.” (The video is one of a four-part “multi-million dollar” campaign funded mostly by Facebook, Google, YouTube, NBC Universal, Amazon, Vice and Turner.)

Szalavitz and others have been trying to push back against the incorrect narratives around the opioid crisis perpetuated by the media. But a campaign like this is disheartening to say the least. “It drives us mad to see we’re just repeating the same thing over and over,” she says.

The video urges: “Know the truth. Spread the truth.” We can do so by fighting back against this campaign.

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Two New Polls Suggest Pot Prohibition's Days Are Numbered

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 10:58
Gallup and Pew both report record levels of support for marijuana legalization.

Two of the country's top polling organizations have released surveys this month showing support for marijuana legalization continues to increase and is now at record highs. A Gallup poll released Monday had support at 69 percent, while a Pew Research Center poll released two weeks earlier had support at 62 percent.

The Gallup figure is up two points over last year, while Pew is up one. More impressively, the percentage of people supporting legalization nationwide has doubled since 2000, when both polls reported support at only 31 percent.

"There is a growing sense among the U.S. population that it is time to end our nation's failed experiment with marijuana prohibition," responded Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "People are sick and tired of adults being treated like criminals simply for consuming a substance that is, by every objective measure, less harmful than alcohol. Americans are more informed about cannabis than ever before, and they can now see that regulation is a viable and effective alternative to prohibition."

Gallup's levels of support are slightly more favorable toward legalization than Pew's, most likely due to methodological differences. In addition to the seven-point spread between the two on legalization, Pew, for example, reports a majority of  Republicans still opposing legalization, while Gallup reports a first-time Republican majority in favor.

Pro-marijuana majorities can now be found across every demographic measured in the Gallup poll. Not only 53 percent of Republicans, but 71 percent of independents and three-quarters of Democrats want to free the weed, now even older Americans do, too. For the first time, a majority of those aged 55 and over (59 percent) support legalization, along with nearly two in three adults between 35 and 44 and a whopping 78 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds.

And support for legalization is now truly nationwide in the Gallup poll. As recently as 2010, only the West reported a marijuana majority, but now support is at 65 percent in the West, Midwest, and South, and even two points higher in the East.

The Pew poll found a few demographic groups not reporting majorities for legalization. In addition to Republicans, only 48 percent of Hispanics, 43 percent of white evangelicals, only 39 percent of the "Silent Generation" (people over age 75) could get behind it. But all other races, age groups, religious denominations (and atheists), and educational levels reported majorities for legalization.

The poll numbers reflect an increasing acceptance of weed as the country grows accustomed to the idea of marijuana being sold in stores (and taxed!) instead of in back alleyways. Nine states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of the Northern Marshall Islands already have legal marijuana, and another 21 allow for medical marijuana.

Four more states are voting on marijuana next month; Michigan and North Dakota on legalization, and Missouri and Utah on medical marijuana. And pot could play a role in the congressional races, too. The Democrats are already embracing it, and Republicans risk being left in the lurch.

"There are not many issues out there that enjoy majority support among both of the major political parties and in every region of the country," said MPP's Hawkins. "This support is consistently translating into wins at the ballot box, and it should further motivate elected officials to take action at the state and federal levels. Hopefully, lawmakers are paying attention to this clear trend in public opinion. If they ignore these poll numbers, they do so at the risk of seeing a drop in their own."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.









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One Key Congressman's Bold Plan to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Next Year

Sun, 10/21/2018 - 22:18
What a difference a midterm election can make.

Last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) unveiled a plan for a Democratically-led House to push through federal marijuana legalization by the end of 2019. In aneight-page memo to the House Democratic leadership laid out his roadmap to ending Reefer Madness.

Blumenauer isn't just any old congressman. The longtime stalwart marijuana reformer is the founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and a leading voice in the fight to bring marijuana out of the shadows.  And he's ready to do it once Congress gets back to work in January.

"Congress is out of step with the American people and the states on cannabis," Blumenauer wrote in the memo, citingpolling showing 69% of registered voters support legalizing marijuana. "We have an opportunity to correct course if Democrats win big in November. There's no question: cannabis prohibition will end."

Most projections have the Democrats taking back control of the House in November.  The Senate is a different story, with the odds against the party being able to overcome Republican control this year.

Winning the House is critical. During the current Congress, progress has been stymied by House Republican leaders, who haveblocked floor votes on dozens of cannabis-related amendments.  Not one marijuana reform bill has gotten a House floor vote in the past two years.

If the House goes Democratic and the party can push a legalization bill through that chamber, Blumenauer argues, then pressure will mount on even a GOP-controlled Senate, where there is already growing bipartisan support for reform.

But Senate Republicans aren't the only potential obstacle. The current House Democratic leadership hasn't exactly been chomping at the bit to make freeing the weed a priority next year.

But while there is majority support for ending marijuana prohibition among House Democrats, the party's leadership has so far appeared lukewarm to the idea of prioritizing the issue in 2019.

When Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was asked about pushing cannabis reform next year, he replied that top Democrats "haven't talked about that," and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the frontrunner for House Speaker if the Democrats win, seems willing to defer to President Trump on the matter.

"I don’t know where the president is on any of this," she said. "So any decision about how we go forward would have to reflect where we can get the result."

But despite his notoriously pot prohibitionist attorney general, President Trump may not get in the way of marijuana legalization. As a candidate in 2016, he pledged to respect state marijuana laws, and earlier this year, as part of a deal with pot state Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), he told Gardner he would back "a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states' rights issue once and for all."

Democrats need to be prepared to act when Congress reconvenes next year or risk giving Trump a freebie, Blumenauer warned.

"Democrats should lead the way," he wrote. "If we fail to act swiftly, I fear as the 2020 election campaign approaches, Donald Trump will claim credit for our work in an effort to shore up support—especially from young voters. Democrats must seize the moment."

Beginning in January, the Democrats need to get moving, Blumenauer counseled.

"For too long, under Republican leadership, these issues have not been allowed to be fully debated. We must change that approach. Almost every standing House committee has jurisdiction over some aspects of marijuana policy. Within the first six months, these committees should hold hearings, bring in experts, and discuss possible policy fixes," he wrote.

Blumenauer is calling for the numerous hearings by March, including:

  • A House Judiciary Committee hearing on descheduling marijuana;

  • A House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on safe and equal access to medical marijuana for veterans;

  • A House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on marijuana research;

  • A House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the unequal and unfair taxation of marijuana businesses; and

  • A House Administration Committee hearing on access to financial services for candidates who support marijuana legalization.

From April to June, Blumenauer wants relevant committees to "start marking up bills in their jurisdiction to responsibly narrow the marijuana policy gap—the gap between federal and state marijuana laws—before the end of the year."

Those issues would include addressing the racial injustices of the unequal application of federal marijuana laws, protection of state marijuana laws, removal of barriers to marijuana research, civil asset forfeiture protections, job protections, access to financial services, and equal taxation for marijuana businesses, among others.

Blumenauer wants to see bills addressing these issues passed by August, and then movement to get a legalization bill through the Congress by year's end.

"With the marijuana policy gap diminished, after months of hearings and markups, the House should pass a full descheduling bill and work with Senate allies to guide the bill through Senate passage," he wrote. "Our chances in the Senate depend both on the November elections and increased public pressure following House passage. While the Senate has been slower on marijuana policy reform than the House and the American people, it now has almost 20 introduced bills in an effort to catch up with the House. We must build on this momentum."

If all goes well, Blumenauer predicts, "By the end of 2019, marijuana will be legal at the federal level, and states allowed to responsibly regulate its use. The federal government will not interfere in state efforts to responsibly regulate marijuana use within their borders."

All of this, though, starts with winning the House in November. As Blumenauer notes, with even Donald Trump having signaled support for a state-regulated approach to marijuana, "the only obstacle standing in our way is the Republican leadership in Congress."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.











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Fentanyl Involved in Half of All Fatal Overdoses: Here Are the States Most at Risk

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 17:36
The super-powerful synthetic opioid is cheap… and deadly.

First it was pain pills driving the opioid overdose epidemic, then it was heroin. Now, it's the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Last year, fentanyl was implicated in roughly half of all overdose deaths, and there is no sign that the problem is abating.

The drug is inexpensive and easy to manufacture and smuggle. It comes from chemical factories in China and makes its way to the U.S. either through online purchases shipped via the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, and other private carriers; smuggled in bulk through ports; or shipped to Mexico in either final or precursor form, where it is then diluted with fillers, marketed as heroin or other illicit drugs, and then smuggled into the U.S.

Fentanyl is about a hundred times more powerful than morphine. A quantity the size of a match head would kill most drug users. It's been around since the 1980s—the "China White synthetic heroin" overdose clusters in the late 1980s were actually fentanyl—but has really come onto the scene in the last five years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl took off in 2013, driving what the agency calls the "third wave" of the opioid epidemic, after prescription pain pills and heroin. In 2012, fentanyl was involved in only 6 percent of the 41,000 fatal drug overdoses that year, but it was involved in half of the 72,000 overdose deaths last year. In raw numbers, that's a jump in fentanyl overdose deaths from about 2,500 deaths in 2012 to a whopping 36,000 deaths last year—a more than tenfold increase.

But those deaths aren't spread evenly across the country. The percentage of fatal ODs involving fentanyl is only in the teens on the West Coast and in the intermountain West, a far cry from the situation on the East Coast and Appalachia. In six states, fentanyl is implicated in more than 60 percent of all overdose deaths. Here they are in rank order:

  1. Massachusetts, 85 percent

  2. New Hampshire, 83 percent

  3. Maine, 66 percent

  4. Rhode Island, 65 percent

  5. Ohio, 64 percent

  6. Maryland, 60 percent

It appears that New England is the epicenter of the fentanyl death crisis, but its impact is also being strongly felt in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. In addition to the six states above, the following states also report fentanyl being involved in more than half of all fatal overdoses: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming, as well as Washington, D.C.

While drug users everywhere need to be keenly aware of the possibility of fentanyl-contaminated illicit drugs (and even counterfeit pain pills), it is clear that addicts in Boston or Bangor face a greater threat than those in Bakersfield or Boise. Still, everyone involved in using illicit powders should be taking steps to protect themselves. Two of the most effective street-level interventions are having the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone on hand and resorting to drug testing via the use of fentanyl test strips, which can quickly and easily alert users to the presence of the drug.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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This Amazonian Psychedelic May Ease Severe Depression

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 08:04
A new study may offer hope for sufferers of depression.

“Leon” is a young Brazilian man who has long struggled with depression. He keeps an anonymous blog, in Portuguese, where he describes the challenge of living with a mental illness that affects some 300 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Leon is among the roughly 30 percent of those patients with treatment-resistant depression. Available antidepressant drugs like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors do not alleviate his depressed mood, fatigue, anxiety, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.

new study may offer hope for Leon and others like him. 

Our team of Brazilian scientists has conducted the first randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial of ayahuasca – a psychedelic drink made of Amazonian plants. The results, recently published in the journal Psychological Medicine, suggest that ayahuasca can work for hard-to-treat depression

The ‘vine of the spirits’

Ayahuasca, a word from the indigenous Quechua language, means “the vine of the spirits.” People in the Amazonian region of Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador have for centuries used ayahuasca for therapeutic and spiritual purposes.

The medicinal beverage’s properties come from two plants. Banisteriopsis caapi, a vine that twists its way up to the treetops and across river banks of the Amazon basin, is boiled together with Psychotria viridis, a shrub whose leaves contain the pyschoactive molecule DMT

Starting in the 1930s, Brazilian religions were founded around the use of ayahuasca as a sacrament. By the 1980s, the ayahuasca ritual had spread to cities across Brazil and the world

Ayahuasca first became legal for religious use in Brazil in 1987, after the country’s federal drug agency concluded that “religious group members” had seen “remarkable” benefits from taking it. Some people who drink ayahuasca describe feeling at peace with themselves, God and the universe.

For our study, which took place at Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, researchers recruited 218 patients with depression. Twenty-nine of them were selected to participate because they had treatment-resistant depression and no history of psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, which ayahuasca use may aggravate

These 29 people were randomly assigned to undergo a single treatment session, in which they were given either ayahuasca or a placebo substance to drink. The placebo was a brownish liquid, bitter and sour to the taste, made of water, yeast, citric acid and caramel colorant. Zinc sulphate mimicked two well-known side effects of ayahuasca, nausea and vomiting.

The sessions took place in a hospital, though we designed the space like a quiet and comfortable living room. 

The acute effects of ayahuasca – which include dream-like visions, vomiting and intense introspection – last for about four hours. During this period, participants listened to two curated playlists, one featuring instrumental music and another with songs sung in Portuguese.

Patients were monitored by two team members, who provided assistance to those experiencing anxiety during this intense emotional and physical experience.

One day after the treatment session, we observed significant improvements in 50 percent of all patients, including reduced anxiety and improved mood. 

A week later, 64 percent of the patients who had received ayahuasca still felt that their depression had eased. Just 27 percent of those in the placebo group showed such effects. 

Building on past evidence

Our findings support a 2015 Brazilian clinical trial on the potential of ayahuasca as an antidepressant. 

That study, led by Dr. Jaime Hallak of the University of São Paulo, likewise found that a single ayahuasca session had a fast-onset antidepressant effect. All 17 participants reported that depression symptoms diminished in the first hours after ayahuasca ingestion. The effect lasted 21 days.

This study received significant attention from scientists. Its promising conclusions were limited, however, because there was no control group of patients who received a placebo drug.

In clinical trials for depression, up to 45 percent of patients who take a placebo may report significant benefits. The placebo effect for depression is so strong that some scientists have questioned whether antidepressants really work.

Dr. Hallak and other researchers from the 2015 University of São Paulo study were part of our follow-up clinical trial.

Religion turned science

These two studies, while preliminary, contribute to a growing body of evidence that psychedelic drugs like ayahuasca, LSD and mushrooms can help people with difficult-to-treat depression.

But because these substances are illegal in many countries, including the United States, their therapeutic value has been difficult to test. Even in Brazil, using ayahuasca as an antidepressant remains a fringe, informal enterprise.

Leon, the Brazilian blogger, discovered the drug doing internet research. “Desperate” to find solutions for his intractable condition, Leon decided to take part in an ayahuasca ceremony at a Santo Daime church in Rio de Janeiro, one of several Brazilian religions that use ayahuasca as a sacrament. 

The church does not track its membership, but the União do Vegetal, a similar faith, has approximately 19,000 membersworldwide. 

These religious organizations are among many groups across the Americas that harvest indigenous traditions around natural psychedelics. They believe psychoactive plants like ayahuasca, peyote or psilocybin open people’s minds to metaphysical realms and deeply meaningful experiences. 

This spiritual knowledge is now being translated into the language of science, as researchers in Brazil, the United StatesCanada and beyond begin rigorous medical evaluations of these substances. 

The healing power of the psychedelic experience

Leon’s blog provides an excellent description of his ayahuasca experience

At times, he conjured visions – dream-like scenarios that offered rare insight into the relationships in his life. At other times, Leon experienced “a feeling of ecstasy and a deep sensation of a manifesting inner spirituality.”

We believe that these effects are critical to why ayahuasca works.

Participants in our study responded to the Hallucinogen Rating Scale, which helps translate these ineffable experiences into numbers. Participants who took ayahuasca scored significantly higher on that questionnaire than those who drank a placebo. 

Those who described the most abundant visual, auditory and physical effects during their ayahuasca trip had the most prominent depression reduction benefits seven days later.

Ayahuasca is not a panacea. Such experiences may prove too physically and emotionally challenging for some people to use it regularly as treatment. We have also observed regular ayahuasca users who still suffer from depression.

But, as our study demonstrates, this Amazonian sacred plant has the potential to be used safely and effectively to treat even the hardest to treat depression.

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Oh, Canada! Marijuana Is Now Legal in Great White North

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 15:43
Canada becomes the second country and the first G7 member to free the weed.

As of Wednesday, October 17, marijuana is legal in Canada. Our northern neighbor becomes the second country to fully legalize weed (after Uruguay led the way in 2013), and the first major industrial power to do so.

While the Liberal-dominated federal parliament passed the C-45 legalization bill earlier this year, October 17 marks the beginning of legal marijuana sales and commerce. Under Canada's federal legalization, there will now be an overarching national regulatory framework, but each province establishes its own system of licensing and regulating marijuana businesses.

Like liquor laws in the U.S., Canada's provincial marijuana laws will have some variation. In some provinces, such as Alberta and British Columbia, licensed producers will store their product in government-regulated warehouses, then ship it to retail pot outlets and online customers. Others, such as Newfoundland, will have growers ship directly to stores or to customers through the mail. Ontario, the country's most populous province, will at first only have mail deliveries because the new Conservative provincial government rejected a plan for state-owned stores in favor of privately held shops. Ontario doesn't expect to have any licensed pot shops open for business until April.

Marijuana consumers will pay a federal tax of $1 per gram or 10 percent, whichever is higher, with the federal government keeping one-fourth of those revenues and returning the rest to the provinces. The provinces can also tax marijuana sales, and consumers will have to pay local sales taxes on top of that.

Wednesday's roll-out of the legal pot system isn't exactly starting with a bang. Only about 100 pot shops will be open across the country of 37 million, and only one in the entire province of British Columbia. Many, many more will be coming as the provinces finalize regulatory approaches and potential operators get their permitting in order.

There won't be any edibles for sale for now; marijuana-infused foods and concentrates are expected to be available sometime next year. In the meantime, what's on offer will be buds, capsules, tinctures, and seeds.

That Canada has now legalized marijuana is a very big deal, American marijuana and drug reform groups say.

“Canada’s move to legalize marijuana is a historic rebuke to the disastrous global war on drugs, which has ruined millions of lives,” said Hannah Hetzer, global marijuana policy analyst for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Many countries are searching for innovative approaches to drug policy that emphasize health and rights, rather than repression. By taking this bold and principled step, Canada will likely become an inspiration for many other countries,” she said.

“The legalization of marijuana in Canada, and the likely changes we will see on drug policy in Mexico under its new government, make the United States federal government's prohibition on marijuana even more untenable. It's long past time for Congress and the administration to take action on this issue,” Hetzer concluded.

"Canada is setting a strong example for how to end marijuana prohibition at the national level and replace it with a system of regulated production and sales that is largely governed at the local level," said Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project.

"The Canadian model is rather similar to what many envision for the U.S., and in many ways it mirrors what is happening here, as states have taken the lead in regulating commercial cannabis activity," Hawkins continued. "The big difference—and it is a critical difference—is the blessing provincial governments have received from their federal government. It is time for Congress to step up and take similar action to harmonize our nation's state and federal marijuana policies."

Indeed, Canada's full federal legalization is going to provide an edge for Canadian marijuana companies and researchers compared to the U.S. Even though nine states, including California (which has more people than Canada), the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands have legalized weed, the continuing federal prohibition on marijuana and its continuing classification as a Schedule I drug continue to create a significant hurdle for U.S. pot businesses and research efforts.

America's loss could be Canada's gain, Hawkins said.

"As just the second country and the first G7 nation to end marijuana prohibition, Canada has positioned itself as a global leader for cannabis business and development. As the U.S. continues to face federal roadblocks to cannabis-related medical research, Canada could very well become the world leader in discovering new cannabis-based medicines. The country has already begun to experience some of the economic benefits that come with being one of the first nations to establish a legal marijuana market for adult use. It won't be long before it begins to see the public health and safety benefits that stem from replacing an illegal market with a regulated one," he explained.

"Canada is going to generate significant revenue, create all sorts of jobs and business opportunities, and become the world leader for cannabis-related research and development," Hawkins continued. "Hopefully Congress will take notice quickly and that competitive American spirit will kick in sooner rather than later."

We'll see about that after the next elections. In the meantime, Canada is going to take that competitive advantage and run with it. And Mexico's president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is making noises about legalizing marijuana south of the border. Wouldn't it be ironic if the United States turned out to be the last country in North America to free the weed?

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug Reporter.

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How This Red State's Cruel Meth Laws Are Putting Women Behind Bars in Record Numbers

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 22:26
In South Dakota, testing positive for drugs is a felony.

Like other Great Plains states, South Dakota has a methamphetamine problem. But it's becoming increasingly evident that South Dakota also has a problem with the way it deals with meth.

Because of its strict drug laws, the state is seeing a dramatic spike in women being sent to prison for meth. According to a new report from the non-profit news organization South Dakota News Watch, the number of women in prison in the state has jumped 35 percent since 2013, while the male prison population has increased at only one-quarter of that rate. Nearly two-thirds of all women prisoners in the state are there for non-violent drug offenses. The state now has the fourth-highest incarceration rate for women in the country, trailing only Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kentucky.

Overall, about one-third of all inmates in the state are doing time for drug-related offenses, the majority of them for simple drug possession. That's a higher percentage than most other states, where drug offenders tend to make up somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of the inmate population.

The high drug-related incarceration overall and for women in particular stems less from the prevalence of drug use than from the conservative, largely rural state's reaction to it. South Dakota has not responded to decades of failed war on drug policies by reforming them, but by doubling down on them.

The state has not moved toward the defelonization of drug possession, as at least 16 other states have. Instead, it has moved in the opposite direction. South Dakota has mandatory sentencing laws that include prison not only for the manufacture and distribution of meth but also for simple possession.

State lawmakers and cops have long favored tough drug laws, and they are still at it. This year, state Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) guided bills through the legislature that heighten penalties for meth dealing and increase sentences for dealers whose clients overdose and die.

But the state's most notorious and contentious drug law—one that is sending hundreds of people to prison—is the state's "possession by ingestion" statute. Otherwise known as an "internal possession" law, the statute allows for a felony conviction if a drug test reveals the presence of illicit drugs in a suspect's system. (The law also applies to marijuana, but the penalty for testing positive for pot is only a misdemeanor.)

The strictest in the nation, that law was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2004. Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers filed a measure that would have slightly tweaked the law by removing marijuana, but that bill was killed by a unanimous vote in the first committee that heard it.

As of August, about nine percent of the male prison population and an astonishing 21 percent of the female prison population was doing time for unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance. That's right: More than one out of five women prisoners in South Dakota is behind prison bars for nothing more than having used drugs.

South Dakota law enforcement and lawmakers may be happy with the status quo, but the man who actually runs the prison system isn't. State Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk told South Dakota News Watch that the cops' and courts' proclivity for busting and imprisoning women on drug charges is creating an expensive and ineffective cycle of imprisonment, release, and recidivism.

"We seem to think that locking individuals up is going to solve their addiction problem," said Kaemingk, a former drug officer. "They’re coming to us in corrections and we’re thinking that solves the problem, and I think in many cases it makes the problem worse."

Criminalizing addiction, especially among women who are mothers, Kraemingk said, creates a situation where the children are more likely to end up in prison themselves. He pointed to national studies showing that up to 80 percent of children who have parents behind bars will end up there themselves.

"Imprisonment in South Dakota is generational," Kaemingk said. "The females behind prison walls have experienced that as a child. The generation we have back there now as inmates experienced the same things when they were children."

Ironically, the state is sending these women to prison for long enough to disrupt their lives and child-rearing situations, but not long enough to actually take advantage of drug treatment programs already in place in the state prison system. A meth-centered treatment program in use in the men's prisons takes 15 months to complete, but the women going to prison for meth possession—internal or otherwise—average sentences of only eight months.

Kraemingk and other relatively enlightened actors in the state are pushing for enhanced treatment opportunities and expanding drug courts, among other measures, to better deal with the situation, but nobody seems to be talking about not involving these women in the criminal justice system in the first place. A first step would be getting rid of that hideous "possession by ingestion" statute. The next step would be defelonization or outright decriminalization of drug possession in the state. Drug use absent harm to others should not be the state's business.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.


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Here Are 10 Economic Sectors Impacted by Legal Marijuana

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 13:36
The spread of legalization is sending ripples through the economy.

Marijuana legalization continues to spread. It's already legal for adults in nine states (including California, the nation's most populous), and medical marijuana is legal in 30. Canada goes legal next Wednesday, and we could see two more medical marijuana states, Utah and Missouri, and two more legalization states, Michigan and North Dakota, on Election Day. And New Jersey is on the path to legalizing it via this legislature by year's end—if all goes well.

The biggest impact of marijuana legalization has to be in the criminal justice system, where hundreds of thousands of people who would have been arrested for pot possession were not arrested, and will not be arrested. But marijuana is also now a big legal business, with recent research reports estimating the industry will reach the $20 billion mark by 2025.

And legal marijuana is having a disruptive impact on any number of economic sectors, from advertising to farming to booze, and more. Public and private investment in new forms of ingestible marijuana is up, marijuana startups are popping up everywhere, and financing for pot companies more than doubled last year. Meanwhile, more traditional industries, including medicine, banking, agriculture, and others, are beginning to incorporate marijuana into their products and business strategies.

There’s also been a large uptick in public and private investment in new, safer forms of ingestible marijuana, while cannabis startups—focused on everything from therapeutic applications to cultivation techniques—are also cropping up. Financing to cannabis companies more than doubled in 2017.

The good folks at the market analysis and intelligence firm CB Insights have taken a close look at where the impact of marijuana legalization is most likely to be felt. Below are 10 economic sectors CB Insights identifies as being altered by legal weed.

1. Health Care. Marijuana is revolutionizing the way some ailments are treated, from forms of epilepsy to chronic pain—and beyond. The FDA recently approved the use of CBD to treat two forms of epilepsy. States that have legalized medical marijuana report falling rates of opioid prescriptions. Marijuana's cannabinoids, CBD in particular, are drawing increasing attention from researchers, as they examine its potential for treating other conditions, including neuropsychiatric disorders, anxiety, and cancer. And CBD is just one of more than a hundred cannabinoids contained in the plant, leaving plenty more exploring to do for researchers seeking medical applications for the plant.

2. Pharmaceuticals. With the spread of legal medical marijuana and its use to treat pain, anxiety, sleep disorders, and other medical conditions, the pharmaceutical industry is likely to take a big hit—as much as $4 billion a year, according to a University of Georgia study. That's why a number of pharmaceutical companies are moving to incorporate marijuana into their strategies. Just in the past month, Sandoz Canada became the first major pharmaceutical company to affiliate with a marijuana producer. And then there are firms such as GW Pharmaceutical, which recently made history when the FDA approved its full-plant prescription drug Epidiolex.

3. Wellness & Beauty. With the spread of legalization, marijuana is becoming more openly integrated into consumer products, especially those focused on health and beauty, with CBD oil in particular attracting a lot of attention. Its proponents claim it offers relief from pain, anxiety, and depression, as well as possessing anti-inflammatory and anti-acne properties. It's making its way into beauty and makeup products as well, including mascara and lip balms. CBD oil also has potential applications for athletes and people looking to boost workout performance. Lord Jones, for example, makes a popular body lotion to soothe "sore muscles, joint pain, and skin conditions."

4. Packaging. Who knew? Marijuana legalization has been big business for the packaging industry. Packaging for pot products is highly regulated, typically with requirements for tamper-proofing, resealable odor-resistant bags, and opacity. The multitude of different marijuana products, with differing packaging requirements for different products, has also contributed to the rush of new companies entering the market, including manufacturers of innovative packaging products, such as tins, slide boxes, joint tubes, tamper-proof tincture bottles, and more.

5. Banking. Because marijuana remains federally illegal, the big nationwide banks that dominate the industry won't touch pot industry money. That's creating an opportunity for smaller, localized banks and credit unions to bridge the gap, and more than 400 local banks and credit unions have taken on marijuana-related clients—a number that has more than tripled since 2014. California even toyed with the idea of creating its own state-chartered bank to handle pot cash. That bill died, but if legalization spreads further without the federal government making room for pot banking, a state marijuana bank could become a reality.

6. Agriculture. The non-psychoactive variety of marijuana known as hemp is threatening to alter the landscape of the agriculture industry. It only requires half as much land as cotton to produce a ton of finished textiles, and hemp's applications are seemingly endless. It can be used for clothing, durable textiles, rope, side panels in automobiles, building, and much, much more. Right now, the biggest market for hemp growers is CBD oil products, but that is going to change.

7. Billboard Advertising. Legal pot has been a real boon to the billboard industry, in part because state laws limit signage at retail locations and in part because marijuana gets excluded from paid advertisements on social media platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter. In Los Angeles, MedMen pioneered the use of mobile billboards, employing trucks wrapped in advertising to drive around the city. Billboards are old school, but they are relatively inexpensive, and they get a lot of eyeballs. The industry couldn't be happier with legal pot.

8. Food. Marijuana edibles are a big and growing business, too. Californians spent $180 million on marijuana-infused food and drinks last year, accounting for 10 percent of all pot sales in the state. That figure was up to 18 percent by early this year. It's not just California, either: in Colorado, edible sales tripled from 2014 to 2016, while in Washington state, edible sales jumped 121 percent in 2016. Companies such as Colorado-based Dixie Elixirs are leading the way with product lines that include truffles, chocolate bars, mints, juices and many more, but expect plenty of competitors for this lucrative market to emerge.

9. Alcohol. For alcohol companies, marijuana is a competitor, but it could also be a solution for declining global sales. Beer, wine, and spirits companies are looking to expand their offerings through marijuana-infused beverages. Constellation Brands (Corona Beer) just invested $4 billion in Canada's Canopy Growth Company, while British spirits maker Diageo (Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Guinness, and Baileys) has been holding talks with at least three other Canadian pot producers. Also, various cannabis beverage companies are looking to rival beer, and beer companies are taking note, partnering with pot businesses to create special brews.

10. Law. While marijuana legalization means less work for prosecutors and defense attorneys, it also means more work for attorneys who specialize in the intricacies of state marijuana laws. The National Cannabis Bar Association, founded in 2015, now has 400 members, and law firms are shifting their practices to focus on the industry. With tight, closely written regulatory regimes, state marijuana laws are fertile ground for attorneys who can help businesses navigate the hurdles.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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'Go Be a N----- Somewhere Else': ACLU Files Lawsuit Citing San Francisco Police's Documented History of Vile Racism

Mon, 10/08/2018 - 12:42
The city by the bay has been a hotbed of illegal race-based policing. This is just the latest example.

San Francisco's Tenderloin is a heavily populated, racially mixed neighborhood in the heart of one of America's iconic progressive cities. Yet when the San Francisco Police Department and the DEA targeted the neighborhood to crack down on drug dealing between 2013 and 2015 as part of "Operation Safe Schools," the only people they managed to roll up were black.

When 37 black defendants—and no defendants of any other race—got hauled away, nobody noticed. That is until the defendants started showing up looking for federal public defenders. The federal public defenders noticed, and they began making noise about racial disparities and selective enforcement of the drug laws.

Their charges only grew louder with the posting in 2015 of undercover police surveillance video to YouTube revealing a police officer muttering "fucking BMs," police code for black males, as he monitored a group of young men on the street. The video also apparently showed an undercover informant turning down drugs being offered by an Asian woman to instead buy drugs from a black woman.

In January 2017, 12 of those charged in the operation won a discovery motion from a judge who found there was "substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement" in their arrests. Instead of allowing the proceedings to continue so a full accounting of police conduct could occur, prosecutors instead dropped the charges.

At the time, the presiding judge, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen, made clear that while he was granting the dismissals because they were in the best interest of the defendants, he was concerned that doing so would prevent the allegations of police bias from being aired.

"These are serious issues, serious allegations regarding claims of discriminatory enforcement patterns," Chen said. "I think the defendants in this case have raised a very substantial prima facie case that, at the very least, raises some serious questions that would warrant a response and a full airing of the issues."

Now, a year and a half later, the ACLU of Northern California on Thursday filed a federal civil lawsuit on behalf of six of those rolled up in the busts. The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs were targeted because of their race and cites a survey of Tenderloin drug users to bolster its case. That survey found racial diversity among Tenderloin drug sellers. About half were black, but 20 percent were Latino and 17 percent were white.

The lawsuit is "an opportunity to hold the actors in the San Francisco Police Department and the city itself accountable for the police department’s longstanding practices of engaging in racially discriminatory law enforcement," said ACLU attorney Novella Coleman, who is representing the plaintiffs.

It's also about financial relief for the plaintiffs, Coleman allowed. "The court will determine how to monetize that," she said.

Not an Anomaly

Racially biased policing is nothing new in San Francisco. In fact, as Ezekiel Edwards, director of the national ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, pointed out in a post announcing the lawsuit, the city has the dubious honor of setting precedent for the idea that law enforcement targeting people based on their race is unconstitutional. In an 1886 case, Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the city attempted to deny laundry permits to Chinese people while granting them to non-Chinese. Such an action could only be explained by the city's "hostility to the race and nationality" of the applicants, a violation of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the evidence that the city's penchant for targeting non-whites for harsher treatment remains intact just keeps piling up. Numerous studies in the past few years have documented racially biased policing practices, including a 2002 ACLU report on SFPD racial profiling and a city-commissioned study by a national expert on biased policing.

Those studies uncovered a range of bias-related problems and made concrete recommendations for reform. Those were ignored. As the rotten policing practices festered, more reports detailing racial and ethnic disparities across the criminal justice system came out in 2013 and 2015.

Then, in 2015, as "Operation Safe Schools" was winding down, SFPD was hit by a new scandal when officers were caught exchanging racist text messages. Some used the N-word, others referenced cross burnings. Officers were caught calling black residents "savages," "wild animals," and "barbarians," and one officer told his sergeant "All n------ must fucking hang." Another officer sent a text with an image of a white man spraying a black child with a hose above the caption "Go be a n----- somewhere else."

That finally got the attention of city fathers—as well as the Obama-era Justice Department. The city district attorney convened a Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement that documented SFPD's history of racially disparate enforcement and concluded that it was "in urgent need of important reforms." In 2016, the Justice Department weighed in with its own report finding that the department still engaged in racially biased policing, especially around traffic stops and police use of deadly force.

It's Not Just San Francisco

The ACLU's Edwards concisely makes the case that San Francisco is no exception when it comes to racially biased policing:

“Unequal treatment by race is commonplace among police departments large and small in cities across a range of ideological leanings. This is the reason for the racial profiling lawsuits filed in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Maricopa County, Arizona. This is the motivation, prior to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for Justice Department consent decrees seeking to end racially discriminatory police practices in Seattle; Los Angeles County; New Orleans; Baltimore; Newark; East Haven, Connecticut; and Ferguson, Missouri. This is why the ACLU has found racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests across the country, in drug possession arrests more broadly, in stops and frisks in Boston, in seatbelt enforcement in Florida, and in arrests for low-level offenses in Minneapolis.”

When will things ever change?

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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