Embassy Headlines, Issue 140


Cancer is a death sentence for some sufferers.

The suffering is intensified when you know there is some relief but it is illegal.

Cannabis prohibition is continuing to cause needless suffering for those who benefit from the medicinal qualities of the herb. How many more victims of cancer will suffer before prohibition ends?

The Embassy Headlines are a selection of recent articles from news services and media sources primarily concerning Cannabis issues, the consequences of prohibition and the challenges for law reform. Here are the selected headlines for this week.

Death of Dan Haslam offers chance to re-examine drug laws [The Age]

Following the death of Dan Haslam, the man who helped make medicinal marijuana trials a reality in NSW, we should take a moment to reflect on our drug laws. Dan, with the support of his family, conducted a brave campaign to be allowed to use cannabis to mitigate the worst side effects of his cancer treatment and to lead a dignified life. The introduction of cannabis for medicinal use is an important step in the move away from prohibition towards regulation.  A move away from prohibition and towards regulation would undoubtedly reduce spending on drug law enforcement significantly. This, in turn, would cover any additional costs needed for mental health spending should it be required. We need to recognise prohibition for what it is; an outdated and ineffective way to deal with drugs. By initiating research into regulation rather than prohibition options we will begin to discover new ways to control our drug problem. If one steps away from the relentless idealism of a “drug free society” one can move toward a more pragmatic approach that looks at how we, as a society, should spend our money on dealing with issues of drug dependence and mental health. New solutions need to be discussed, proven and acted upon. Dan’s campaign to allow people to live and die with dignity should not be in vain.

Impending Bali executions rely on mistaken ideas about drugs [The Conversation]

The impending execution of Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran has led to an impassioned public debate about capital punishment. But some of the reasons being used to justify the executions just don’t hold up under scrutiny. Proportionality – the notion that punishment must fit the crime – is a fundamental principle of criminal law. The argument for executing Chan and Sukumaran holds the death penalty is proportionate because they voluntarily participated in the illicit drug trade, which wreaks havoc on the social fabric. There are two key assumptions being made here. The first is that Chan and Sukumaran are directly responsible for the harms – including deaths – associated with illicit drug use. The second is that people who use drugs are especially vulnerable to drug traffickers, so society must protect them. According to this way of thinking, death penalty for drug smuggling deters would-be ringleaders from planning similar drug operations, and protects some of society’s most defenceless citizens. But these assumptions aren’t supported by evidence.

Queensland sergeant quits after found with ice, steroids [Brisbane Times]

A Queensland police sergeant has resigned after he was caught with methamphetamine, steroids and sleeping pills. Kester Clyde Elliott, 36, pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Wednesday to possessing dangerous and restricted drugs and a glass pipe. Magistrate Bronwyn Springer imposed a $600 fine, telling Elliott he should have known better and that he would have to find a new job. “This is an unfortunate position that you’ve found yourself in,” she told the disgraced policeman. No conviction was recorded. Elliott will remain at the police service on desk duties until his resignation takes effect in June.

A Father’s Desperate Plea [Medical Marijuana 411]

A father desperate to treat his child with safe medical marijuana has staged a dramatic stunt, walking in the front door of a police station and demanding he be arrested. Michael Lambert, who shared his story with The Leader at November’s medical marijuana symposium in Tamworth, was carrying a mature cannabis plant and a number of seeds when he calmly strode to the counter of Gosford Police Station last week. Mr Lambert’s three-year-old daughter Katelyn is living with Dravet syndrome, a form of catastrophic epilepsy that causes her to suffer regular and severe seizures. A growing body of evidence from parents of epileptic children shows cannabis oil, which has virtually none of the compound that gets users “high”, can profoundly reduce seizures. Mr Lambert is part of an army of Australian parents risking criminal prosecution to ensure their children receive the most effective medical care by using the oil. Concerned about the quality of his daughter’s black-market oil and incensed he could not travel with it because it was illegal, Mr Lambert challenged Gosford police to arrest him last week. The cannabis plant and seeds were seized but Mr Lambert was not arrested.

Sniffer Dogs Remain Most Adorable Form of Ineffective Drug Policy [SBS]

The New South Wales Police have named Sniffer Dogs as the most adorable form of ineffective drug policy for the third consecutive year. The cute and beloved puppies police used as justification for random searches narrowly beat out raids by the Australian Federal Police and stigmatising of addiction as the most aesthetically pleasing way of not actually addressing modern drug use. This third win is considered historic as it marks the first time sniffer dogs have consistently delivered results, drawing praise from Police Commissioner Elliot Blend. “These dogs are good for everyone,” the Police Commissioner argued. “Usually they target the wrong people so no one gets arrested, the people who are smuggling drugs tend to ingest huge amounts before the dogs approach meaning they have an incredible night if they don’t die, and the police get a relaxing night off where they’re not addressing any of the real threats facing the community.” The dogs have been the subject of some controversy recently as activists argue that sniffer dogs are inaccurate up to 72% of the time, with only 2% of people searched being charged with possession. Campaigners told the Backburner this figure is somewhat equal to throwing a rock at a crowd and arresting whoever is hit by it for possession of a rock used in an assault. However, even the most ardent of activists can’t deny how cute the puppies look when falsely accused of drug smuggling. “We have to remember they’re still part of the militaristic arm of the government,” said Tom, an ardent campaigner against the dogs. “They’re just such a cute little militaristic arm. They’re such a sweet and friendly little attack by the state on personal liberties.

Number of crimes committed by methamphetamine addicts ‘truly frightening’, WA’s top judge says [ABC]

Justice Martin said a fundamental problem with methamphetamine, as opposed to heroin, was that meth led people to behave irrationally and do things they could not explain…. Justice Martin said the justice system was not enough of a deterrent to people using methamphetamine. “We’ve been throwing the book at offenders for a long time; upper level dealers have been getting very heavy sentences, 10 years plus, for more than a decade now,” he said. “But the fact is that they have not reduced the spread of the drug, and it has continued to prosper and flourish. What it tells you is that people have an inflated view of the criminal justice system to change behaviour. By the time people get into the courts, it is a bit like shutting stable door after horse has bolted. Really police and courts must continue to do what they are doing, in terms of punishing people who deal in this drug, but fundamentally this is a public health problem. I think we need a community response.”

More than 1 million Australian children affected by the drinking of parents or carers [ABC]

More than one million Australian children are adversely affected by their parents’ or carers’ alcohol abuse, a new report has revealed. The report – titled The Hidden Harm: Alcohol’s Impact on Children and Families and launched by Rosie Batty today – found that 10,000 children were in the childcare protection system because their parents or carers abused alcohol. It also found that 140,000 children were badly affected by their parents’ or carers’ alcohol consumption. The chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Michael Thorn, said 47 per cent of child protection cases involved alcohol. He said state and federal governments needed to develop new policies to tackle the problem.

Ongoing res­earch into medical cannabis should not stop it being made available now, experts say [Courier Mail]

The need for ongoing res­earch into medical cannabis should not stop it being made available to patients in Queensland, experts say. Phytochemistry consultant Justin Sinclair said a framework to introduce, ­administer and supply medicinal cannabis for select ­patients should be a government priority. “We don’t need TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) approval to use this drug,” Mr Sinclair said. “We need to decriminalise the use of it for medicinal purposes, we need our health professionals to learn how to use it effectively and we need to make this medicine part of our doctors’ ­arsenal of treatments.”

Congressmen Introduce Bills to Regulate and Tax Marijuana Like Alcohol at the Federal Level [MPP Blog]

U.S. Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced separate bills Friday that would regulate marijuana like alcohol and tax it at the federal level, respectively.Rep. Polis’s bill would replace the federal government’s current marijuana prohibition model with a regulatory model similar to the one in place for alcohol. States would decide their own marijuana laws, and a federal regulatory process would be created for states that choose to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana for adult use. Rep. Blumenauer’s bill would tax marijuana at the federal level.

Vaporizers, vibrators and more among items included in 2015 Oscar gift bags [The Cannabist]

Marijuana’s relationship with Hollywood award shows is a rich, if semi-discreet one. Remember Susan Sarandon admitting she was high at all of those high-profile award ceremonies? And what about a seemingly stoned Sarah Silverman at the 2014 Emmys, showing off her vape pen to E! red carpet host Guiliana Rancic? (The video of Silverman is so worth the 150 seconds.) When the 2015 Oscars land on Feb. 22, all of the best actor/actress, supporting actor/actress and director nominees will walk away with Oscar gift bags that include marijuana vaporizers, vibrators and more valued at $125,000, according to niche marketing firm Distinctive Assets, which assembles the gift bags separate from the Academy.

Dr. Bronner’s hemp icon, soap magnate Ralph Bronner has died [The Cannabist]

Ralph Bronner, the self-proclaimed “not normal” soap magnate behind the hemp-formulated Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, died Tuesday, according to the Bronner family. Bronner, the first son of Dr. Bronner’s creator Emanuel H. Bronner, died “from complications of a heart attack he suffered over the weekend,” according to the Bronner family. The mood at the company’s headquarters Wednesday morning was sorrowful, according to one representative who said Bronner’s death “seemed to come out of nowhere.” Bronner, the multi-million dollar soap company’s executive vice president and spokesman, was 78 years old.

Medical Marijuana Patients In California Are Being Denied Organ Transplants, But That Could Soon Change[Huffington Post]

Justin Turley has suffered from cirrhosis, a degenerative liver disorder that keeps him in near-constant pain, for 13 years. Shortly after his diagnosis, frustrated by the side effects of pharmaceutical medications he said turned him into a “zombie,” he started using medical marijuana to treat his symptoms. “I was able to eat again; I could deal with the pain and not have to be completely removed from social situations,” the San Diego resident told The Huffington Post. “It helped me alleviate my problems without all the complications.” Turley’s doctor told him that he would eventually need a liver transplant in order to survive, so he scheduled an appointment at University of California San Diego Medical Center to learn more. There, he unabashedly told the physician evaluating him that he used medical marijuana in accordance with California’s state law, which passed in 1996. She replied that as long as he continued to use cannabis, he would be kept off the transplant list. “I volunteered the information,” Turley said, adding that the doctor who wrote his medical marijuana recommendation had lectured at UCSD in the past about using cannabis to treat pain. “I didn’t realize this was a taboo subject. I’m a legal patient.” Turley is one of what advocacy group Americans for Safe Access estimates to be hundreds of medical marijuana patients throughout California being denied organ transplants that could save their lives. But that may soon change. Earlier this month, Assemblymember Marc Levine (D) introduced legislation that would explicitly protect these patients from being kept off transplant lists because of their cannabis use. “It’s incredibly unfair that people who are following the rules, who are deathly ill and trying to relieve their symptoms, are suddenly denied an organ transplant,” Levine said. “There’s no medical reason why these patients should be stigmatized or denied a life-saving opportunity.”

Vermont To Legalize Recreational Marijuana? [MedMen]

“The Green Mountain State” and New England maple syrup hub—could become greener in other ways with pioneering Progressive party state legislator Senator David Zuckerman’s submission of Senate Bill 95. If approved, the bill would constitute the first recreational marijuana law passed by a state legislature and not by popular vote. Sen. Zuckerman’s thoughtful digestion of Vermont’s decade-old medical marijuana program along with careful study of other states’ marijuana laws are steps all policy-makers should take to further advance marijuana law reform for the benefit of the people and the state at large. Under S.95, Vermonters 21 and up could possess up to one ounce of recreational marijuana and the state would tax $25.00 per young plant sold by cultivators, and $40.00 per ounce of flower/buds and $15.00 per ounce of other non-flower marijuana products sold retail, all while offering a safer alternative to alcohol and tobacco, far more dangerous drugs with no prescribed medicinal value. If passed into law, smoking in public would remain banned—an honorable compromise for concerned citizens.

Anti-marijuana group suing Colorado over legalisation of cannabis [The Guardian]

A Washington DC-based anti-marijuana group has teamed up with two Colorado business owners to sue the state over its recent legalisation of cannabis. On Thursday the pressure group, Safe Streets, filed two federal lawsuits, one jointly with a hotels group and the other with a couple who own a horse ranch in Pueblo County. The suits are designed to “close down the illegal marijuana industry”, according to a release on the group’s website. In one of the suits, plaintiffs Michael Reilly and Phillis Windy Hope Reilly name Colorado governor John Hickenlooper as a defendant, as well as the Pueblo County commission and liquor and marijuana board. The New Vision Hotels Two suit claims: “Marijuana businesses make bad neighbours. They drive away legitimate businesses’ customers, emit pungent, foul odors, attract undesirable visitors, increase criminal activity, increase traffic, and reduce property values”. It goes on to say that New Vision’s injuries are “especially acute because many of its guests are youth ski teams and families with children”. Both suits also target local cannabis businesses and those running them; the New Vision Hotels group targets a company called Medical Marijuana of the Rockies, while the Reillys target a company called Alternative Holistic Healing as well as the development company that apparently built its facility.

The new ganjapreneurs: welcome to Oregon’s hip marijuana dispensaries [The Guardian]

In keeping with the rest of the city’s ‘artisanal’ economy, a new dispensary in Portland is not just selling pot – it’s selling an experience. But is the professional veneer enough to convince federal officials of their legitimacy? You might expect someone running a pot dispensary to have few reservations about legalising marijuana in Oregon, but Lauren Terry is of two minds. “As a manager, I think this business will probably be fine. As a patient, I worry about new taxes. I worry about growers.” Terry knows the business inside out. But like many working at the retail end of the industry, and many patients, she is nervous about how Salem will reconcile the coming world of legalised recreational sales with Oregon’s large, innovative medical marijuana industry.  Brooklyn Holding Company, the brand-new venture where Terry works, is a marker of the industry’s developing sophistication. The look of Portland’s first “theme dispensary” has been painstakingly curated. The day we spoke, Terry was wearing a white brocade dress and a flapper-style headband made from tiny mirrors held together with crocheted wool. Her genial, mustachioed boss, dispensary co-owner Jeff Myers, hovered nearby in a bowler hat. Before he realised his dispensary dream, he was a blue-collar tradesman. Today he and Terry look like they just stepped out of a sepia-toned photograph.  Both are at the forefront of a new generation of “ganjapreneurs” dragging marijuana retailing out of its tie-dye-and-rasta rut and into the retail and cultural mainstream.  The shop itself is a mash-up of decorative idioms from the turn of the 20th century to the 1930s; it’s a similar vibe to the one favoured by other Portland hipster institutions. One state over in Vancouver, Washington, the big recreational dispensaries can have an antiseptic feel; Myers is betting that Portland’s fastidious consumers will appreciate his store’s blend of locavore authenticity and studied historical artifice. He’s not just selling pot – he is selling an experience, and it’s one that is in keeping with the rest of the city’s “artisanal economy”.

Baked Alaska [The Economist]

Smoking cannabis becomes legal on 24 February in Alaska, the latest state to lift its prohibition of the drug after Colorado and Washington, which took the plunge last year. Alaskans over 21 can now grow up to six of their own plants, share up to an ounce (28g) of harvested pot, and smoke as much as they like in private without breaking the law. Selling the stuff commercially will become legal next year, once the state authorities have hammered out a set of rules to regulate the business. Alaska’s 750,000 residents aren’t going to turn the pot business on its head. But two things about the state make it an interesting case study for weed-watchers. One is that it currently has some of the most expensive marijuana in America. The price of pot is closely linked to proximity to Mexico, which has historically provided most of America’s cannabis. That is bad news for Alaskan tokers, who live a very long way from the Rio Grande. According to Narcotic News, a pharmacological journal, a pound of good marijuana costs between $2,500 and $4,000 in Alaska, making it the priciest place to get high after Hawaii. In El Paso, Texas, you can buy a pound of freshly imported Mexican stuff for as little as $200, though it probably won’t be as potent. (If these prices sound ridiculously cheap, remember that we are dealing with the wholesale market. By the time those pounds have been divided into ounces, and then eighths, prices are much higher.) The high price of illegal pot in Alaska means that the legal market ought to be able to undercut the street dealers pretty easily. In Colorado, where illegal cannabis is much cheaper than in Alaska, licensed dispensaries sell a product that cannot quite beat the illegal sort in terms of price (though it eclipses it in terms of quality). This means that getting high is no cheaper than it was pre-legalisation, though it is much easier and less risky. We won’t know until next year exactly how much legal marijuana will cost in Alaska, but it seems likely that, unlike in Colorado, it may work out a fair bit cheaper than the illegal sort. This will make it a good case study on how price affects demand. If the price drops will Alaskans smoke more?

Poll: Colorado still shows strong support for marijuana legalization [The Cannabist]

More than 13 months after recreational pot sales first started in Colorado, residents of the state still support marijuana legalization by a definitive margin, according to a newQuinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday. When asked, “Do you still support or oppose this law?” 58 percent of respondents said they support the pot-legalizing Amendment 64 while 38 percent said they oppose it. Men support legalization (63 percent) more than women (53 percent). And among the 18-34 age demographic, of course, there was more support of legal pot (82 percent) than among voters 55 and older (50 percent against). “As for pot, (Colorado voters) remain neither cold nor hot,” Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, said in a statement. “Voters still think it was a good move to legalize recreational marijuana, but few admit to joining the ranks of new ‘imbibers.’ ”

Nick Clegg backs cannabis use for medicinal purposes [Telegraph UK]

People should be free to use cannabis to help alleviate medical problems, Nick Clegg has said despite government advice warning it can “harm your mental health”.  The Deputy Prime Minister said politicians should make it “easier” for people suffering pain to access the drug when there is proof it could help.  It comes after new King’s College London research found the most potent form of the drug – known as “skunk” – was so powerful it tripled the likelihood of having a psychotic episode.  Mr Clegg criticised the use of skunk because of its mental health implications but appeared to endorse the idea of legalising the drug for certain uses.  Pushed by a caller if he believes “we need access to legal medical cannabis”, Mr Clegg replied: “Basically I agree with you.”

Jamaica decriminalises marijuana [The Guardian]

Jamaican lawmakers have passed an act to decriminalise small amounts of marijuana and establish a licensing agency to regulate a lawful medical cannabis industry on the island. After several hours of debate legislators in the lower house on Tuesday gave final passage to drug law amendments that make possession of up to 2oz (56.6g) of marijuana a petty offence that would not result in a criminal record. Cultivation of five or fewer plants on any premises would be permitted in Jamaica, where the drug has long been culturally entrenched but illegal. The law paves the way for a licensing authority to be set up to deal with regulations on cultivation and distribution of marijuana for medical, scientific and therapeutic purposes. Rastafarians can also legally use marijuana for religious purposes for the first time on the island where the spiritual movement was founded in the 1930s. Tourists prescribed medical marijuana abroad will be able to apply for permits at a cost authorising them to legally buy small amounts of “ganja”, as it is known locally. Peter Bunting, the island’s national security minister, said the Jamaican government did not plan to soften its stance on transnational drug trafficking or cultivation of illegal plots. “The passage of this legislation does not create a free-for-all in the growing, transporting, dealing or exporting of ganja. The security forces will continue to rigorously enforce Jamaican law consistent with our international treaty obligations,” Bunting said in parliament.

Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say [Washington Post]

Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use. Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine. And all the way at the bottom of the list? Weed — roughly 114 times less deadly than booze, according to the authors, who ran calculations that compared lethal doses of a given substance with the amount that a typical person uses. Marijuana is also the only drug studied that posed a low mortality risk to its users.

How scientists rank drugs from most to least dangerous — and why the rankings are flawed [Vox]

There’s a very common drug-policy talking point that’s meant to convey the absurdity of the war on drugs: alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, even though alcohol is legal and marijuana is not. Perhaps the biggest supporting evidence for this point is a 2010 study published in The Lancet that ranked alcohol as the most dangerous drug in the United Kingdom, surpassing heroin, crack cocaine, and marijuana. That study has drawn widespread media attention, appearing in outlets like the Washington Postthe Guardianthe New Republic, and here at Vox. Although drug policy experts generally don’t dispute the assertion that alcohol is more dangerous than pot, the study, led by British researcher David Nutt, is quite controversial. Experts see the rankings as deeply flawed, largely because they present the harms that come from drugs in a rather crude, one-dimensional manner. Even Nutt has acknowledged that the study is imperfect. This may seem like a petty academic squabble, but it’s quite important as researchers and lawmakers try to advance more scientific approaches to drug policy. Finding the best method to evaluate the risks of drugs is much more complicated than assigning numeric rankings.

Skunk’s psychosis link is only half the cannabis story [New Scientist]

Opponents of cannabis use have this week seized on the results of a new study in the UK that highlights the dangers of ultra-powerful “skunk” cannabis. The research suggests that skunk users treble their risk of psychosis compared with non-users, and quintuple it if they use skunk daily. But New Scientist has found that another purified extract of cannabis is showing great promise as a potential drug to prevent or treat psychosis. The evidence is growing, to the point where purified cannabidiol is being tested as a possible treatment for psychosis in people with schizophrenia. A company called GW Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, UK, is testing it in 80 individuals with schizophrenia split between the UK, Poland and Romania to see if it reduces their risk of psychosis. David Nutt of Imperial College London, who has argued for decriminalisation of cannabis, believes that skunk would disappear if governments or states made consumption legalby overseeing its production and regulating its sale, supply and content, as is happening in Uruguay and the US state of Colorado. “Prohibition has created the monster of skunk,” he says. “The solution is to regulate cannabis trade.”

Dissecting the Latest Cannabis-Psychosis Frenzy [Talking Drugs]

The recent hoopla over a London study linking the use of high potency cannabis with first-episode psychosis only strengthens the case for regulating the drug — and for the media to be more responsilbe in their coverage of such issues. The study in question — published in The Lancet — found that those presenting with psychosis in south London were more likely to have used strong cannabis regularly, rather than have never used the drug, something which certain media outlets distorted into fear mongering, sensationalist dross. With the dust now settled following last week’s media frenzy, it’s worth looking at some of the key points to take away from the study and its aftermath.

Do Marijuana Vaporizers Offer A ‘Healthier’ High? [Inquistr]

With marijuana being legalized in more states, it was only a matter of time before vaporizers, or e-cigarettes, began to be used to smoke pot. In a review of marijuana vaporizers, the Wall Street Cheat Sheet noted that the rise in e-cigarettes and vaporizers used for smoking nicotine — or “vaping” — in the past few years has created a $1.5 billion industry. Now users have begun swapping out e-juice, or liquid nicotine, for liquid pot, and marijuana vaping is on the rise, also. The Inquisitr reported in June, 2014, that the first vaporizer designed exclusively for marijuana hit the market — an electronic joint from Dutch inventors and marketed by the company E-Njoint. The vaporizing liquid sold by the company comes without THC, the chemical in marijuana that causes a high, and users must add their own – usually by just refilling the e-joint with pot leaves and smoking it. But supporters of marijuana vaporizers claim that users can get a “healthier” high by putting their own THC concentrate in a tank type e-cig. And though there are few studies related to marijuana vaping specifically, there have been several which suggest that vaping in general is healthier than smoking – both marijuana and cigarettes. One of the most popular concentrates is CO2 oil, which is a concentrate created by using pressure and carbon dioxide to separate the marijuana plant material. Leafly reports that the CO2 method is the most effect way of reducing cannabis to its essential compounds. The oil it produces can be “smoked” in the popular portable vaporizer pens used for nicotine consumption, but one of the industry’s bestselling products is a pre-filled, disposable cartridge containing the oil mixed with polypropylene glycol, the same liquid used in nicotine “e-juices.”

Researchers report that the acute use of cannabinoids depresses motor neuron activity [Medical Press]

Why does the habitual marijuana user have difficulties speaking, breathing or swallowing food? Is it true that people who use marijuana may suffer acute lack of motor coordination? Does the use of cannabis cause muscular weakness? The answers to these and other similar questions are explored by the researchers of the NeuroDegeneration and NeuroRepair Group of the University of Cadiz, directed by professor Bernardo Moreno, and who recently published a study related to this topic in the prestigious journal Neuropharmacology. This study reveals that synthetic analogues of the psychoactive compounds of marijuana significantly reduce the activity of motor neurons. To fully understand the importance of this discovery, it is necessary to bear in mind that up until now there were no studies focusing on this subject. All the work known to date related to cannabis and its effects had been based on the psychomotor mechanisms (the higher central nervous system) and there was no study focused on describing the direct impact of cannabinoids on the motor neurons that control the muscles. Therefore, the researchers decided to work on this topic using the motor hypoglossal nucleus that controls the movements of the tongue as a model, given that “the tongue is an important muscle used in respiratory phenomena, including speech and swallowing food.

Women twice as likely to see pot as risky: Ten-year decline in perception of marijuana risk [Medical Press]

A study on the perceived risk of regularly using cannabis and the characteristics associated with these perceptions found that non-white, low-income women over the age of 50 were most likely to perceive a risk in using the drug. Least likely were those 12 to 25 years old, with a high school diploma or more, and a total family income above $75,000. The study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health with colleagues at Johns Hopkins University is the first to describe changes across time in perceived risk of regular cannabis use in the U.S. population 12 years and older. Results are published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Data from 614,579 individuals who took part in the 2002-2012 National Survey on Drug Use showed that past-year daily cannabis use has increased significantly between 2002 and 2012. The results also show that in 2002 participants were significantly more likely to associate risk with regular cannabis use compared to individuals interviewed in the years 2008 through 2012. In 2002, 51 percent of all survey participants believed there was a great risk associated with regular cannabis use versus 40 percent of participants in 2012. Findings were adjusted for sex, age, race/ethnicity, education, total family income, past year cannabis use status, and survey year. Regular use of marijuana was defined as once or twice a week. “The changing perception about marijuana risk may at least partially be explained by the increasing number of states that legalized medical marijuana during 2008 and after,” said Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health.

Marathons and marijuana: The loneliness of the long-distance dopehead [The Australian]

The gruelling sport of ultra­marathon has fostered a ming­ling of two seemingly opposite camps: endurance jocks and potheads.  “If you can find the right level, (marijuana) takes the stress out of running,” says Avery Collins, 22, a professional ultramarathoner. “And it’s a post-race, post-run remedy.” The pain-reducing benefits of marijuana may make it esp­ecially tempting to ultramarathoners, who compete in races that can go far longer than the traditional 42km of a marathon. Ultramarathon is one of the fastest growing endurance sports; there were almost 1300 races in the US and Canada last year, up from 293 in 2004, according to UltraRunning Magazine. Ultramarathons can stretch for more than 300km, and typically crisscross mountainous terrain. Runners endure intense pain in their muscles and joints. Competitors often quit after losing motivation, matched with the boredom of running for up to 24 hours straight. “The person who is going to win an ultra is someone who can manage their pain, not puke and stay calm,” says veteran runner Jenn Shelton. “Pot does all three of those things.” Shelton says she has trained with marijuana in the past but decided to never compete with the drug for ethical reasons, expressly because it enhances performance. The phenomenon isn’t easily quantified because even in the US state of Colorado, which legalised marijuana, ultra runners who use mariguana decline to go on the record. But it is a common topic on blogs, which debate whether marijuana improves performance, particularly because of its capacity for blocking pain. The drug is now legal for medical use in 23 US states plus the District of Columbia.

Cannabis: A New Frontier in Therapeutics [International Business Times]

A conference on the therapeutic potential of medical cannabis was organized by the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) in San Jose, California. The event was held as part of the 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, which brought together experts from North America and the UK. The main aim was to allow the participants to share their view points and facts on the medical cannabis. Amidst the ongoing debate regarding the use of recreational marijuana and the analysis of its potential healing properties, this discussion holds a lot of value as it provided different angles and perspectives on the debate itself. It also shed light on the pros and cons of making marijuana a credible option for patients. Dr. Mark Ware, director of clinical research at the Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit at the MUHC in Canada, stated that an advancement of our understanding on the role of cannabis was highly essential. He specified that research and education were needed not just for patients but for physicians and policy makers as well. “I don’t think that every physician should prescribe medical cannabis, or that every patient can benefit but it’s time to enhance our scientific knowledge base and have informed discussions with patients,” Dr. Ware stated. The press release by the McGill University State Centre states that several jurisdictions worldwide have given allowance to medical cannabis for those suffering from severe conditions. The production, distribution, and authorization however, has been made stricter. Though most believe that there is not enough evidence to support the view on the therapeutic effects of cannabis, an ingredient of cannabis tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), “has been approved as pharmaceutical drugs.”

Medical Marijuana May Soon Get Kosher Stamp of Approval [Jewish Daily Forward]

Kosher marijuana could soon be available to Orthodox Jews in New York State — but only on doctor’s orders. Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of the Orthodox Union’s kosher certification agency, said he has held “preliminary discussions” with several companies interested in obtaining a kosher seal of approval for medical marijuana. The move comes as legalization of cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes spreads across the country, with many of the leading pro-legalization activists, philanthropists and entrepreneurs drawn from the Jewish community. Although Orthodox rabbis appear to have accepted the medical benefits of cannabis, they remain much more cautious about recreational marijuana. Most Orthodox rabbis say it’s strictly prohibited. Such a view marks a clear divide between Orthodox Jewry and progressive Jews who support across-the-board regulation of pot. Ean Seeb, one of the owners of the oldest marijuana dispensaries in Denver, Colorado, where marijuana was legalized in 2012, compared Jewish marijuana activity today with Jewish involvement in the prohibition-era alcohol industry, gambling during the early years of Las Vegas and the civil rights movements of the 1960s. Seeb, a regional board member of the Anti-Defamation League and the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society, said: “We have shown here in Colorado that you can effectuate social change without the world crashing down on you.” Seeb was one of several Jews who led the charge for marijuana legalization in Colorado, including Steve Fox, a lawyer, and Mason Tvert, the executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation. Nationwide, Jewish philanthropists including Men’s Wearhouse founder George Zimmer and billionaires George Soros and Peter Lewis have funded legalization efforts.

TV Experiments With Pot [Wall Street Journal]

Legalization further complicates the age-old debate about whether drug use on screen drives drug use among audiences. Seeing lots of characters smoking pot as a matter of routine can have a cumulative impact on viewers, especially young ones, argues Steve Pasierb, president and chief executive of the non-profit Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.  “Right now, marijuana’s hot. One of the biggest dangers of this is the normalizing force, that message that causes kids to overestimate how many people are [smoking pot] and to think they’re the only ones who aren’t. This is not a nanny state thing—‘the more we show this stuff the more kids are going to turn into reefer heads’—we’re just talking about the natural progression of how young people process the media,” Mr. Pasierb says. TV has long been a lens for society’s shifting attitudes on drugs. In a 1967 episode of “Dragnet,” a pot-using character (a computer programmer wearing a suit and tie) debates cops Joe Friday and Bill Gannon, predicting, “Marijuana’s going to be like liquor—packaged and taxed and sold right off the shelf.” Later, a pot party ends in the accidental death of his child. Sales of retail and medical marijuana in the U.S. reached $2.7 billion in 2014, up 74% from the year before, according to a new report published by the ArcView Group, a market research firm. The vast majority of sales occurred in California (49%) and Colorado (30%). Total legal cannabis sales could hit $10.8 billion by 2019, the report says.  The marijuana lobby is concerned about the sudden interest from television. “We’re working against multiple decades of ‘Reefer Madness’-style propaganda that we have to try and dispel,” says Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group founded in 2011. She says the organization often plays matchmaker, steering TV producers toward pot retailers and other members most likely to represent “role model” businesses.


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