In an abandoned chocolate factory in Ontario, Canopy Growth is nurturing global ambitions. But could it thrive in Britain?
The musky aroma hits you from the car park at the headquarters of Canopy Growth, the worlds largest cannabis company.
Inside this nondescript warehouse an abandoned Hersheys chocolate factory in Smiths Falls, Canada awaits the stuff of a stoners wildest dreams. Myriad rooms teem with row upon row of bushy marijuana plants at various stages of maturity, under intense lamplight, swaying in the breeze of dozens of fans.
A staff member wheels past crates full of pre-rolled joints in their hundreds. Another trolley holds 25 large bags of high-grade dried cannabis bud, a kilogram each, with a combined value of roughly C$250,000 (150,000).
If anyone is the Willy Wonka of weed, its Canopy Growths co-chief executive, Bruce Linton.
Talking a mile a minute, his eyes gleam as he walks the halls of a facility that cost C$150m to build. When I started it was officially the worlds worst idea, because there was no market, he said. There were no regulations and there were officially no patients. I was reluctant to tell my mother I was starting a cannabis business. Now shes a cannabis patient, shes like a drug dealer advising all her friends.
In a timely illustration of how far the business and the image of cannabis has come, he takes a call from Americas home economics queen, Martha Stewart. Canopy has a deal with Stewart that envisages cannabis-infused chews for anxious pets. Martha, youre gonna hate this, I have to call you back. Canada legalised medical marijuana in 2001, but the recent weed boom was fuelled by a regulatory change in 2013 that effectively created a commercial market. Dozens of countries, including Germany, have brought forward their own medical marijuana legislation.
In 2018 Canada became the second country, after Uruguay, to legalise recreational use.
By catching the green wave, Linton has built, in under six years, a company valued by the stock market at 11.5bn, positioned to be the number one global player.
Though Canopy has yet to make a profit, revenues reached C$225m last year. More than half comes from its recreational cannabis brand Tweed, even though legalisation only took hold halfway through the year.
Its success is also transforming Smiths Falls, a former manufacturing town about 50 miles south-east of Ottawa in eastern Ontario, that was down on its luck. Smiths Falls is very conservative, says Tracy, who runs a taxi business. The devil himself could be running as a conservative candidate and hed win. Some people thought, Oh my God, were gonna be growing pot? Its employing so many people that theres no opposition now.
Built by the same Ontario folk who laid railroads and dug canals, Smiths Falls had lost big employers such as RCA, which pressed the first Beatles albums sold in North America. The Ontario Hospital School, a Stanley tools plant and a metalworks all followed suit, with Hersheys dealing the final blow by upping sticks in 2008.
The deputy mayor, Wendy Alford, used to work at Hersheys on the Reeses Peanut Butter Cup production line. She says that Canopy Growth taking over the site has been life-changing for the town.
The company employs 1,300 people, about 800 of them Smiths Falls residents, close to 10% of the population. There are indirect economic benefits, Alford says. Their security trucks needed new tyres, so they all go over to Hanks Tyres and thats just made his year. Hes hiring new people.
Some of the early staff have been enriched by stock options granted when its shares were worth one hundredth of todays price. Its like the Silicon Valley tech boom, albeit on a smaller scale.
Lately, it seems like people can’t stop talking about CBD. There has been a huge surge in all things CBD, from beauty products to dietary supplements—some companies even sell CBD-infused lubricant. When it isn’t already integrated into a product, CBD often comes in the form of an oil. The compound supposedly helps to alleviate a variety of conditions, including pain, anxiety, and inflammation. While cannabidiol (CBD) is safe and beneficial for treating these conditions and more, there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding this versatile compound. Increased interest in CBD has led to a surplus of CBD-related products hitting the market—which also means a surplus of misinformation. Let’s take a look at some of the most common CBD myths:
1. CBD Is “Non-Psychoactive”
When someone says CBD is non-psychoactive, they’re referring to the fact that CBD does not get users intoxicated, or high, like THC from the same cannabis plant does.
But to call CBD non-psychoactive is incorrect, since a psychoactive substance is simply one that affects the brain—not necessarily one that causes intoxication. A psychoactive substance can affect mood, cognition, and behavior. CBD has been shown to have antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects, so it is psychoactive because it affects mood and mental processes.
2. CBD Is Used For Medicine And THC Is Used for Recreation
The human body has an endocannabinoid system, meaning it produces its own cannabinoids. External cannabinoids from plants (called phytocannabinoids) can also influence the endocannabinoid system, where pain, inflammation, and other processes are regulated.
THC and CBD both work on the endocannabinoid system, THC directly and CBD indirectly, to unleash their effects. Both compounds are medically recognized to alleviate a number of conditions.
To call CBD the medicinal part of the plant and THC the fun part of the plant is far from the truth. Anecdotal and scientific evidence has long suggested that CBD works better with some THC present. Many medical marijuana patients use THC on a regular basis for conditions like chronic pain, glaucoma, nausea, and more. To ignore the years of medically verified uses for THC while embracing CBD would be ill-informed.
CBD has gained popularity because it has therapeutic effects without intoxicating the user, which appeals to many people hesitant to use cannabis. That doesn’t mean CBD is the only medicinal compound in the plant.
3. CBD Works Best When Isolated
The bulk of the CBD market is made up of either isolates or whole-plant extracts. Many mistakenly believe that isolating cannabidiol from the rest of the plant is the best way to get therapeutic effects, but evidence suggests that the opposite is true.
When using whole-plant extracts, all compounds of the plant are able to work synergistically with one another to boost their effects. Terpenes, the organic compounds that make up the taste and smell of cannabis, create a symbiosis with CBD and other cannabinoids in the plant, resulting in a stronger therapeutic effect.
CBD in its isolated form can still provide relief, but using full-plant CBD is more effective. This was shown in a 2015 study that stated, “Other components in the extract synergize with CBD to achieve the desired anti-inflammatory action.” The study also found that isolated CBD only worked in limited dosage ranges.
4. CBD Is A sedative
This is a confusing one, because a lot of people claim to use CBD to help them sleep. It can help with insomnia, as CBD relaxes the body, which can help you fall asleep faster. One study has even shown that CBD increases overall sleep time.
This does not make it a sedative, however. In fact, it’s been found to promote wakefulness, and many people consider their CBD dose to be energizing.
Those experiencing sedative effects from CBD may be able to attribute it to myrcene, a terpene found in high concentrations in many CBD strains. Myrcene is known for its sedation-inducing effects.
5. CBD Is Legal Everywhere In The United States
With CBD’s mainstream uprising, you might think that it must be legal everywhere. But the compound is still in a gray area when it comes to the law. Since the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is recognized as an agricultural tool and is no longer considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance. CBD derived from hemp is now legally in the clear anywhere in the country. However, marijuana-derived CBD’s legality depends on the state where it is being sold, and that state’s own cannabis laws.
To sum up, CBD extracted from cannabis (rather than hemp) is federally illegal, but may be legal at the state level. Hemp-derived CBD is legal everywhere in the United States.
This murky legality hasn’t had much effect on availability. CBD can be found just about anywhere these days, and it’s only growing in popularity. That makes it all the more important that you know fact from fiction when it comes to common CBD myths.
In states where medical marijuana is legal, doctors write fewer opioid prescriptions and patients consume lower doses
Legalization opponents call marijuana a gateway drug that leads users to more dangerous substances. But could it also be an exit drug that helps ease the opioids crisis?
The data is scarce, but the anecdotes are plentiful.
After more than a decade in the US air force, Jennifer Baxter needed foot surgery. It wasnt successful, and she had to have two more procedures to correct her severely disfigured, painful and mechanically incorrect foot.
Baxter had had surgeries before, and had taken opioids to recover. But, as she tells it, this time she connected with a civilian doctor known for his generosity with pain medication.
After receiving a medical retirement, Baxter was prescribed her 600 pills a month, including 480 oxycodone (a generic version of the opioid OxyContin), she said.
Soon the months oxycodone lasted only 21 days. She lost her career, gained an unhealthy amount of weight and contemplated suicide. I was watching the clock all day every day for three and a half years, she said.
She heard medical marijuana might be helpful and began using it in spring 2016. Balancing it with the slow-release morphine to stave off the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, she quit pills entirely in several months.
Today Baxter, 40, has a new life. She is engaged to be married. She volunteers with rescue animals and is involved in her church. She has lost weight and lives in Arizona, where she can legally obtain medical marijuana for her pain, PTSD and insomnia. She takes it nightly and sometimes during the day.
In 2017, a record 47,600 Americans died of opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The grim tally represents an increase of more than 10% from 2016, the previous record year. More Americans die from opioid overdoses than car crashes or gunshots.
It’s 4/20 baby!!! It’s Saturday, you’re lit, brain perfectly calibrated to toasted, sparking your joy, blowing smoke rings so on point it feels criminal not to share on your Instagram story.
But something stops you from posting. And it probably sounds like the voice of your D.A.R.E. teacher yelling about how posting pictures of pot online can get you arrested and ruin your career.
“Even if you just post one picture, it comes back,” said Anjela, who is very much not a D.A.R.E. teacher. Preferring to keep her full name separate from her online weed-sona, she’s better known as Koala Puffs, a weedfluencer with over half a million Instagram followers.
“You gotta be sure that’s where you wanna take your life before you post. Because you have to be able to take on the judgement that’s gonna come with expressing yourself.”
And if Musk, a person with endless Fuck You Money and fame, doesn’t have enough privilege to protect himself from online pot-shaming, who among us mortals does? Not even weed influencers can post to Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or Facebook without facing repercussions that feel like we’re stuck in 1998.
The cost of a pot-sona
In early 2018, YouTube went on what appeared to be a marijuana-based purge, deleting and giving strikes to swaths of weed influencers’ channels. Soon after, it started happening on Instagram. While both companies cited community and user policies about depicting, smoking, and selling drugs on their platforms, others theorized that the crackdown pertained more to advertisers’ trepidation after a litany of unrelated scandals from big names like Pewdiepie and Logan Paul.
But by and large, the fear of being publicly weed-friendly on social media isn’t about getting banned. It relates to the unique stigma of making cannabis part of your online persona.
Koala Puffs said the nine months after she quit her corporate job to pursue cannabis influencing was the hardest in her life. Her family, friends, boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s family couldn’t get behind her pro-bud rebranding.
“Nobody changed their minds until I was 200,000 followers deep,” she said. But to this day her mom still thinks she’s just outgrowing a college phase.
“I 100 percent still experience stigma from within my family,” said Arend Richard, who went from 420 YouTuber to cannabis CEO after launching The Weedtube, a weed-friendly alternative to YouTube that’s releasing a new app Saturday in response to the crackdowns. Granted, the weed stigma in his family is only exacerbated by their larger difficulty in accepting another aspect of his identity as a gay man.
“But I will say, if you want your family to not judge you for using cannabis, just start a cannabis company, and get it written up in Forbes,” he joked.
Since taking on the business side recently, though, even Richard went back and deleted over 200 posts from his Instagram. Because legitimate cannabis businessmen also need to avoid the stereotypes associated with the stoner label, which seems to stick like glue in an age when social media signifiers define so much of how other people perceive you.
Particularly, Richard doesn’t like to post himself in the actual act of smoking, even though a tutorial video teaching people how to smoke was what first began his path into cannabis influencing. That conscious curation is part of a larger shift in how people are expressing their cannabis use online.
“At first, over-consumption was kind of the game in the cannabis industry to get a following. You just did The Most,” said Richard.
When total prohibition was the law of the land in America, seeing copious amounts of weed, bongs, and blunts was an exciting novelty. But now it’s possible for just about anyone with enough money in certain states.
“We’re in the biggest change in trends for online cannabis communities right now, moving more toward positivity and less toward over-consumption,” said Richard.
Cannabis/beauty/wellness influencer and yoga instructor Brittany Tatiana (or sweettatas) quite literally embodies this positivity movement, by normalizing weed as a lifestyle choice on social media.
“We’re in the biggest change in trends for online cannabis communities right now.”
She got into weed influencing after a car accident left her with chronic pain. Unable to go back to her corporate job for six months, weed became her best alternative to the opioids doctors prescribed. At the time she’d already began dabbling with modeling and beauty influencing, building a following and doing promotion with a few brands.
But then she made the fateful decision to take the leap into letting her 420 flag fly. “I guarantee you I lost jobs and contracts because of it. Immediately,” she said.
“It’s been hard for me to represent my full self and not have people judge me based on what they see in one post,” Tatiana said. Straddling the more commercial beauty industry and the cannabis-friendly world is like walking a tight rope.
“It’s been a real battle with friends and brands. It’s a fine line to cross. So I just try to be conscious about what I post.”
Tatiana hesitates to post herself smoking too, for example. But overall, “it basically comes down to a day-to-day, case-by-case basis. Am I OK with how this post represents me? Do I believe in it? Would I want my younger self to post it? Is this true to who I am?”
She decides whether or not to post by thinking of her weed habits almost like a diet, or any other wellness lifestyle activity. Would she post a picture of a smoothie because it feels good and is part of her wellness regimen? Is that also the case for her marijuana-related post?
“It comes down to choosing how you’re gonna show it, and what cannabis means to you,” she said.
But the risk is always there, especially since the stoner label seems to dominate any other way you define yourself.
“I worry in general that it’ll put me in some sort of box that I don’t want to be in. Even though these days, it’s becoming a way bigger box.”
That caution should be part of everyday people’s process for posting 420-friendly stuff on personal social media channels, too — regardless of whether or not they live in legalized states like the influencers we talked to.
A 2015 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found that a vast majority (94 percent) of HR professionals with employees in legalized states still have formal policies against cannabis, with 73 percent in medical marijuana states and 82 percent in recreational states characterizing them as zero tolerance.
This strict approach might be showing signs of changing since 2015, though. More recent suggestions from the HR group advise companies to handle weed in the workplace with more nuance and care.
“We’ve yet to see robust employment protections be adopted across legal markets regarding an individual’s cannabis consumption,” said Justin Strekal, federal lobbyist at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. But there are some emerging cases, like a recent ruling in Massachusetts that sided with an employee suing his company for wrongful termination over medical marijuana.
Still, posting about weed is far more penalized in the workplace than, say, a post about happy hour with your coworkers.
When it comes to criminal persecution, aside from the occasional headline-worthy case, “there’s not an epidemic of law enforcement arresting individuals for posting about marijuana online,” said Strekal.
“But that still doesn’t change the fact that it’s their legal right to arrest an individual for smoking cannabis, especially in criminalized jurisdictions. And if you post evidence publicly that could be used against you in a court of law, you are volunteering evidence against yourself,” he said.
Even if the police aren’t out to get you, those kinds of posts can add fodder to other legal battles, like child custody. And looking at the racial divides for how marijuana is prosecuted in the real world, it’s likely that some of those biases translate into who’s more likely to get away with posting about weed, too.
The answer to whether or not it’s OK to be open about weed in your online persona depends on who you are.
“The application of law enforcement when it comes to cannabis is clearly racist. Full stop,” said Strekal, pointing to the ACLU’s famous report on how the war on marijuana is racially biased. The 2015 report found, “marijuana use is roughly equal among blacks and whites, yet blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.”
That also tracks with the general demographics of 420-friendly influencers which, at a cursory glance, tend to be disproportionately white and often female.
Largely, the answer to whether you should be open about weed through your online persona depends on who you are. Beyond profession, local marijuana rules, and your age, your IRL community is another major factor in determining whether or not it’s OK. Because, as Strekal pointed out, social media is mostly regulated by algorithms and abuse reports.
“So the biggest question an individual needs to ask themselves is how are my friends going to respond to this? Is my social bubble going to report this as abuse to these platforms?”
Tatiana agreed, saying that, “If you live in a community of churchgoers, they won’t respond well. And it’s going to get around. So it’s really a question of who you are, what you’re willing to stand up for.”
Taking the hit, for a cause
Interestingly, though, despite all these risks, repercussions, and cautions, lots of people still do get 420 friendly on main anyway. Just search 420 on your preferred social media platform. You’ll find plenty of weed content.
And an overwhelming majority of those posts will be positive, much like what researchers found when they tracked attitudes towards marijuana on Twitter between 2013 and 2016.
Anecdotally, it feels as if we all live under the hazy threat of social media leading to pot-shaming or worse in the real world. But statistically, positive social media chatter around bud just keeps getting danker.
That is the fundamental tension with cautioning people against sharing their weed consumption. While people should remain mindful of the repercussions, the truth is that fighting the stigma largely takes place in social spheres like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. At least that’s what some recent studies found, suggesting a link between positive social media and support for legalization.
Let’s be real
“People are making a point to be more open about it because they’re done with that shit. We can all see it for a lie now. And posting, like, ‘I’m smoking this joint,’ or ‘my mom takes CBD pills’ — that’s people taking back their power. That’s sending a message in and of itself,” Tatiana said.
As we all know, social media is never a perfect reflection of the world as it is. Like the #FOMO travel pics that dominate your Insta feed, posting is about creating a collective ideal.
Until marijuana is legalized on the federal level, no one can tell you it’s perfectly OK to be 420-friendly on main. At the same time, changing public perception by normalizing weed online just might be how we keep the wave of support for decriminalization and legalization alive.
Solving the issues around being weed-friendly online is a chicken and egg problem — or rather, a bud and the flower problem. Because in the world of social media, pretending we all don’t smoke weed is so damn tired — but wishing everyone on your feed a happy holidaze is totally wired.
(CNN)Legalization of marijuana, both for medical and recreational use, continues to spread across the globe even as the possible health risks (or benefits) are not fully known. Case in point, according to new research, people who use cannabis daily, as well as those who use high-potency weed, may be three times more likely to develop psychotic disorder than never-users.
Published Tuesday in the journal the Lancet Psychiatry, the new evidence is consistent with previous experiments that suggest heavy use and high THC concentration cannabis — a 10% concentration of THC (the psychoactive substance within cannabis) or higher — can be harmful to mental health.
“Psychotic disorder,” precisely, is what was studied, said Dr. Marta Di Forti, lead author and a clinician scientist at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London. “We are talking about people who meet diagnostic criteria [and] come to the attention of mental health services to receive treatment for psychosis. So they have to have symptoms of psychosis across the spectrum — so hallucination, delusion — that have lasted at least for a week.”
Daily use of cannabis
Currently, medical cannabis is legal in most European countries, though recreational use is only legal in the Netherlands, Spain (under certain conditions), and Czech Republic. Many countries, though, are discussing legalization. In the United States, 10 states and the District of Columbia allow recreational sales of marijuana, while 34 states allow medical marijuana use.
To understand whether there’s a connection between cannabis and psychosis, Di Forti and her co-authors looked at data from five countries in Europe — the UK, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Italy — and Brazil, where cannabis is illegal. They found 901 patients with a first-time episode of psychosis over a five-year period and compared them to 1,237 matched non-patients.
Daily use of cannabis was more common among patients with psychosis compared to the controls, they found. About 30% of patients reported using cannabis daily compared to just 7% of non-patient controls. And use of high potency cannabis was also more common among patients than controls: 37% compared to 19%.
Overall, people who used marijuana on a daily basis were three times more likely to have a first episode psychosis compared with people who never used weed, the researchers estimated. And this increased to five times more likely for those who daily used high-potency cannabis.
“High-potency cannabis contributes to incidence of psychotic disorder but doesn’t explain it completely,” explained Di Forti, noting that only some users develop a psychotic disorder and the reasons why not all cannabis users are equally susceptible is unclear. Still, the new study may be helpful with regard to medicinal cannabis, since some of those products may include small amounts of THC. For example, maybe psychosis should be listed among the potential side effects, she said.
The study results do not provide enough information for her to say “use only this amount, only this often” to remain safe. Still, she and her co-authors estimated that one in five new cases of psychosis may be linked to daily cannabis use, and one in 10 cases linked to use of high potency cannabis.
Dr. Robin Murray, senior author of the study and a professor of psychiatric research at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, said that “15 years ago nobody thought cannabis increased the risk for psychosis.”
Only gradually has evidence come out and shown that to be true, he said. Gradually, too, other explanations have been chipped away, he said: For example, some people might say that perhaps a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia led some people to use cannabis and this is the reason for higher rates of psychosis. But a study from Finland rules this out, said Murray: “There may be some genetic component but it’s not the major reason.”
In light of the new results, is legalized cannabis a good idea? “Personally, I think it’s much more important that people are educated,” said Murray. “Tobacco is legal, but we’ve seen the consumption plummet because there’s been a sustained educational campaign.”
Bloomfield was not involved in the new study. Nor was Dr. Adrian James, registrar at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who told Science Media Centre that the research is “good quality” and “the results need to be taken seriously.”
“Cannabis carries severe health risks and users have a higher chance of developing psychosis,” said James. “The risks are increased when the drug is high in potency, used by children and young people and when taken frequently.”
Dr. Philip McGuire, a professor of Psychiatry & Cognitive Neuroscience at King’s College London, told CNN that the study’s finding that cannabis use is higher among patients with psychosis is “not itself new.” Still the study “involves relatively large numbers of subjects and has controlled for other risk factors that might have accounted for the results” and in that way adds to what is known about marijuana, said McGuire, who played no part in the new research.
Cannabis contains two ingredients that have opposite effects on psychosis: THC induces psychotic symptoms and cannabidiol, known as CBD, reduces them, he explained.
His own research has shown that “if healthy volunteers are given THC this induces transient psychotic symptoms like paranoia. However, if volunteers are given CBD beforehand, this blocks the induction of psychotic symptoms by THC,” said McGuire.
McGuire and his co-researchers found that adding CBD to regular antipsychotic medication reduced psychotic symptoms in patients with schizophrenia. “When we used brain scanning to measure the effects of CBD and THC on brain function, we found that they have opposite effects on brain activity, which may explain why they have opposite effects on psychotic symptoms,” he said.
“The net effect of cannabis that contains both THC and CBD depends on the relative amounts of each,” he explained. “The cannabis that was available in the 1960s was relatively low in THC and high in CBD. However, these days illicit cannabis is often ‘high potency,’ with a high THC content and a low CBD content.”
“We are currently conducting research to define the ratio of CBD:THC in cannabis that is optimal for minimizing its psychotic effects,” he said.
Technically, medicinal cannabis describes any type of cannabis or cannabis-derived product prescribed for health reasons, but it is often taken in the form of cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil. In this case, 188 under-18s (mean age: 12.9 ± 7.0 years) on the autistic spectrum were treated with medicinal cannabis for six months between 2015 and 2017, the majority using cannabis oil that was 30 percent CBD and 1.5 percent THC.
At the end of the six months, only 15 percent of patients reported no or little change in symptoms. Around 30 percent reported significant improvements and 53.7 percent reported moderate improvements.
“Overall, more than 80 percent of the parents reported significant or moderate improvement in their child,” article co-author Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider, from BGU-Soroka Clinical Cannabis Research Institute, said in a statement.
In terms of a good quality of life, 66.8 percent of participants responded in the affirmative post-treatment, compared to 31.3 percent pre-treatment. Meanwhile, 42 percent of parents reported a positive mood before treatment and 63.5 percent reported positive mood after treatment.
There was also a noticeable improvement in the participants’ ability to dress and shower independently following the treatment. A little over a quarter (26.4 percent) reported no difficulty beforehand, but 42.9 percent noticed an improvement afterwards.
Meanwhile, good sleep jumped from 3.3 percent before treatment to 24.7 percent during active treatment and concentration improved from 0 percent before treatment to 14 percent during active treatment.
Roughly one in 59 children sit somewhere on the autism spectrum, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so this study is likely to be interesting news to both them and their parents. More work needs to be done to better understand the effect of the drug on children with ASD, but the results so far have been promising.
Not only has the treatment been effective in relieving some of the symptoms of ASD, but there also seems to be few side effects and those that do exist are relatively modest. For example, 1.6 percent reported sleepiness, 1.6 percent reported the bad taste and smell of the oil, 0.8 percent reported restlessness, 0.8 percent reported reflux, and 0.8 percent reported lack of appetite.
“While this study suggests that cannabis treatment is safe and can improve ASD symptoms and improve ASD patients’ quality of life, we believe that double-blind placebo-controlled trials are crucial for a better understanding of the cannabis effect on ASD patients,” co-author Dr Victor Novac of the BGU-Soroka Clinical Cannabis Research Institute.
In an airy Denver café populated almost entirely by young people staring at laptops, Travis Tyler Fluck—dressed in an orange velour jacket, over which is draped a thin braided lock of hair—takes out his phone and pulls up Craigslist. A quick search lands him on a post advertising $10 magic mushrooms, with a poorly lit photo of said mushrooms. A good deal for anyone but Fluck, who helped lead the ballot campaign to essentially decriminalize magic mushrooms in this city by making enforcement an extremely low priority, a measure that passed by the slimmest of margins early last month.
Instead of reaching out to the seller, he flags the post. After all, the measure says you can grow and possess mushrooms for personal use, but that doesn’t mean you can sell them. Selling on Craigslist is a bad look for a measure that a small majority of voters approved.
Kevin Matthews—director of Decriminalize Denver, which led the ballot campaign—arrives and sits down on a couch opposite Fluck, who shows him the post on his screen.
“Good,” says Kevin, who has used mushrooms, aka psilocybin, to treat his depression. “Have you noticed an uptick?”
“No,” Travis says. “I think there might be other people doing the same thing I'm doing and flagging them. We were like, Oh we should totally follow up with them and meet them. But I don't have time for that.”
Welcome to a murky new front in the war to bring psychedelics out of the shadows and into both legal recreational use and professional drug-assisted therapy. In recent years researchers have shown that psychedelics like mushrooms and LSD appear to treat a range of disorders, including depression and PTSD. The paradigm is so promising, in fact, that the FDA has granted MDMA breakthrough status in phase 3 trials, thus fast-tracking the approval process. Psilocybin itself is undergoing two separate clinical trials.
Meanwhile, the psilocybin decriminalization movement is snowballing at an incredible clip. Last week, the Oakland, California, city council voted unanimously to decriminalize a range of psychedelic plants, including mushrooms and cacti. And Oregon is considering a measure in 2020 to allow access to “guided psilocybin services,” while lowering penalties for possession.
The concern, as Michael Pollan—author of How to Change Your Mind, a recent book on psychedelic science—expressed in a piece in The New York Times last month, is this: The accelerating movement to decriminalize psilocybin risks a political backlash, which could derail that promising research. “It would be a shame if the public is pushed to make premature decisions about psychedelics before the researchers have completed their work,” he writes.
Taking too much psilocybin won’t kill you, but you can certainly overdo it and put yourself in danger. And we need far more research on how psychedelics might affect different individuals, especially those with serious conditions like schizophrenia.
How quickly is the push to decriminalize psilocybin progressing, exactly? So quickly that it’s even surprised psychedelics advocates. “The fact that it's happening so fast is kind of amazing,” says Brad Burge, spokesperson for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which leads studies of psychedelic therapies, including the aforementioned MDMA trial. “Here we have some of the very first policy measures ever to be proposed around the decriminalization of psychedelic substances and they're passing. This is so surprising, I've only just had a chance to start thinking about it.”
MAPS wants to realize the legalization of psychedelics for adult use. But it’s not so simple as legalizing and calling it a day.
“While it's definitely exciting, we also want to make sure there are notes of caution and there's adequate public education around the risks,” says Burge. When MAPS does psychedelic studies, the patient is under the constant supervision of therapists, who talk the subject through the experience. They’re free to move at their own pace and talk about past traumas, for instance. It’s a safe, comfortable, highly moderated space for a journey that can be jarring. Out in the wild, that experience may be harder to control.
Matthews and Fluck very much respect the power of psilocybin. So as a next step in Denver, they're ramping up education for first responders and city officials and users. “In particular working with law enforcement, and if they need more training on things like harm reduction,” says Matthews. “Like how to actually work with individuals who are under the influence, versus seeing that person as a threat and potentially giving them an injection of something to calm them down and strap them to a gurney with handcuffs. That doesn't help that person.”
In Oakland, the city government is going even further in its push to bring psilocybin into the mainstream. When its city council voted last week to decriminalize, it did so without pushback from local law enforcement, says councilmember Noel Gallo, who introduced the resolution.
“The police were very receptive, and did bring up: well probably in a year's time they've only dealt with 25 cases when it comes to psychedelic plants,” Gallo says. “But we all agree that's not a priority any longer. We have plenty of serious crime issues on our streets.”
It’s important to note that decriminalization in Oakland and Denver does not mean legalization, as both of their states have done with cannabis—police are just instructed to make psilocybin a low-level priority. In the eyes of the state and federal governments, this remains an illegal drug. You can possess psychedelic mushrooms for personal use, but you can’t go around selling mushrooms, on Craigslist or otherwise.
That is, at least not yet. “I think we're headed in the direction of how do we make this more available to the public?” says Gallo. “And I think that's where we're going to wind up in a year. Maybe our next move is we can market the product, sell the product, create different businesses out of these native plants.”
Which seems like it might attract regulatory ire. But then again, this is exactly how marijuana decriminalization started in the western US—though it’s worth noting that weed and psilocybin are two very different drugs with different risks. Indeed, Matthews and Fluck modeled their ballot measure after the one that decriminalized cannabis in Denver in 2005. “Oakland was also the first city to decriminalize, tax, and regulate marijuana, well before they could actually implement it,” says Burge. “Sure you could open a storefront and the city police aren't going to bother you, but a federal agent could come in there at any moment and put you in jail.”
With that precedent comes a familiar tension: Prohibiting cannabis use has made it excruciatingly difficult for researchers to study the drug. Marijuana doesn’t come without potential harms, one concern being something called cannabis use disorder, in which around 9 percent of users develop a dependency. But we don’t know a lot about that—much to the detriment of the public—because the government makes it as hard as possible to study such things.
Same goes with exploring the potential therapeutic charms and risks of LSD and MDMA and psilocybin. “It's a tension that plays out across medical marijuana, just as it does across medical psychedelics,” says Burge. “MAPS, for our part, we want to see legalization. We want to see legal adult use, and we want to see it available for use in therapy—with the very large asterisk that we need also to have this public education and enough research to know who it's good for, who shouldn't take it and who should.”
Whether the decriminalization of recreational use interferes with the research side of things remains to be seen. “Regardless of what Michael Pollan thinks, ballot initiatives are moving forward, and there's nothing stopping this,” says Matthews. “So what's important here is we're staying in communication and working with the researchers too.
“It's a small enough of a movement that we can all be connected and collaborate,” he adds. “At the end of the day, Denver is the first domino.”
It’s unknown when federal workers affected by the shutdown will be back at work, but there is one bit of good news: At least they can get some free pot.
A website called BudTrader.com, which bills itself as “the largest cannabis social media platform,” is offering to donate up to an ounce of the wacky weed to federal employees who are “unable to pay for their medical cannabis due to the Government shutdown,” according to a press release.
“I don’t think Federal employees are getting enough love and support, in these tough times, we want to extend the offer of a donation of medical cannabis to any Federal worker affected by the shutdown,” BudTrader CEO Brad McLaughlin said in the release. “We only hope our actions inspire larger companies to also try and help Federal employees affected by the shutdown.”
People who might qualify for the donations of dank should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A company spokesperson told HuffPost that federal employees need to show proof they have indeed been furloughed, and said BudTrader staffers are looking at social media pages for verification as well.
The website expects to fulfill any requests with the help of network of dispensaries all over North America.
In addition, the spokesperson said at least five cannabis doctors have offered to consult with furloughed federal employees who might need a medical marijuana prescription.
So far, federal employees aren’t exactly coming out of the weeds looking for free pot.
The spokesperson said only two federal employees have shown up at the company’s San Diego-area headquarters since the announcement was made on Tuesday.
One of those visitors got a vape pen while the other, a woman with a rescue dog currently on Prozac, received CBD doggy treats in lieu of the prescription medicine she can’t afford for the pooch.
Of course, there may be a good reason why the federal workers may not be attempting to score the free sensimilla.
On Election Day, a majority of Utah voters approved a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid coverage to an estimated 150,000 low-income adults. The Republican-led state Legislature has other ideas.
The Utah Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would toss out a grassroots-driven, voter-backed ballot initiative to offer Medicaid benefits to any Utahn earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (about $16,000 a year for a single person), paid for by raising the sales tax on certain goods from 4.7 percent to 4.85 percent.
The legislation instead would expand Medicaid to fewer people, enable Utah to receive less federal money for the program and impose limitations on benefits, including work requirements. And the entire plan hinges on a dubious promise of federal approval for aspects of the state Senate bill.
The Utah GOP clearly is prioritizing overturning the voters, considering the Legislature has been in session since just Monday and the bill made it out its Senate committee Tuesday and to the floor Wednesday. The fact that 53 percent of voters spoke in favor of a full Medicaid expansion at the ballot box in November is not swaying Utah Republican legislators, who have resisted the expansion since it became available in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act.
The Utah ballot initiative, known as Proposition 3, not only received majority support statewide but also in most state Senate districts, the Utah Health Policy Project reported. According to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis of the vote Wednesday, 10 Republican senators representing districts where a majority voted in favor of the expansion are supporting the bill to modify it, including the legislation’s main sponsor, Sen. Allen Christensen. A plurality of Utahns opposes changing the voter-backed policy, according to a UtahPolicy.com poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates.
“You’ve got to defer to the will of the people at some point,” said state Rep. Brian Frank, the minority leader of the Utah House of Representatives and one of 16 Democrats in the 75-member lower chamber of the Utah State Legislature. “We should not be doing anything to substantively alter that Proposition 3 in a way that delays the implementation one more day.”
The GOP bill sends a message to voters, King said: “We don’t really care what the people of the state of Utah want to do or say they want us to do at the Legislature. We’re going to do what we want to do. That’s very troubling to me.”
These actions by Utah Republican lawmakers are reminiscent of how then-Gov. Paul LePage (R) defied Maine voters last year by refusing to carry out a Medicaid expansion they approved in 2017. LePage’s successor, Gov. Janet Mills (D), has already begun the process of implementing the expansion. In Idaho, where voters also passed a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid, a conservative organization is challenging it before the state Supreme Court.
The GOP-led Congress devoted most of 2017 to attempting and failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with plans that would have left millions without health coverage. And in December, a federal judge ruled in favor of 20 GOP state officials who argued the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional in a lawsuit supported by President Donald Trump’s Justice Department.
The Utah Senate must vote again on the bill to significantly alter the Medicaid expansion enacted by voters, which it approved once this week against the opposition of all six Democratic senators and one of the chamber’s 23 Republicans. The state House is poised to act quickly on the legislation after the Senate is finished.
“It’s moving very quickly,” said King, who expects the Utah House will pass the Senate bill by the end of next week.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has not taken a public position on the Medicaid bill. In response to questions from HuffPost, Herbert’s office provided a statement from a spokesman.
“Gov. Herbert has long supported the kind of common-sense guardrails for Medicaid expansion that are being discussed in the legislature. Many were components of his proposed Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion in 2015; most of these were part of legislation that he signed into law last general session. His primary concerns are that the state honor the will of the voters to fill the hole in the social safety net by helping those under the poverty line without health insurance and to implement without delay,” Paul Edwards said in the statement.
Last week, Herbert said he believed the state should allow the expansion to move forward as approved by voters and then be revisited at a later date. During his State of the State address Thursday, Herbert said only that “the much-needed Medicaid expansion passed by the voters needs to be implemented in a fiscally sustainable way. And with some common-sense adjustments, I know that we can implement this program without delay.”
Because Republicans have supermajorities in the Utah House and Senate, however, the GOP would have the votes to override a veto even if Herbert decided to oppose the Medicaid legislation.
The Affordable Care Act calls for Medicaid benefits to be available to anyone earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, and the federal government finances at least 90 percent of the cost. This expansion was meant to be in place nationwide, but a 2012 Supreme Court ruling allowed states to refuse to participate. To date, 14 states have declined it. Utah, Idaho and Nebraska voters all approved expansion via ballot initiative last year, but the program is not yet in place in those states. Under the terms of the Utah initiative, benefits are supposed to become available April 1.
The Utah ballot initiative was straightforward in its approach by simply instructing the state to join the Medicaid expansion without any changes to the state’s existing program or the need for federal approval. The Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget assessed that the sales tax increase would raise more than enough money to finance the state’s 10 percent share of the expansion’s cost, although it noted that the revenue and costs in future years may not match up.
By contrast, the Utah Senate bill would trigger a complicated and uncertain process that would cover fewer people under Medicaid. The Senate began action on the measure before the Legislature’s budget scorekeepers could analyze the legislation’s effects, but it is designed to limit the Medicaid expansion’s reach. That’s despite the fact that the measure would leave the sales tax increase in place while also imposing a tax on hospitals that alone is intended to be large enough to cover the state’s entire share of the expense of Medicaid expansion.
Under the Senate legislation, Medicaid benefits would be available only to those with incomes below the poverty level, which is about $12,000 for a single person. Utahns with incomes higher than that would continue to have access to subsidized private coverage via the health insurance exchange in the state. Unlike the Medicaid expansion voters approved, the state would receive about 70 percent of the funding for the partial Medicaid expansion from the federal government instead of the 90 percent offered by a full expansion.
The bill lacks detail on many key elements of the modified expansion, leaving those to the state’s executive branch and federal officials to hash out. In order to maintain April 1 as the day benefits would come online, legislative Republicans are counting on all of that happening on an extraordinarily expedited basis.
“This entire thing is being rammed through the Senate and the House as quickly as possible. It is a sloppy piece of legislation that couldn’t be further from what voters wanted, and they’re rushing it because they know that they’re going against the will of voters, that they’re disrespecting voters by doing so,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of the Fairness Project, a Washington-based organization that supported Medicaid ballot initiatives in Utah, Idaho, Maine, Montana and Nebraska over the past two years.
It is a sloppy piece of legislation that couldn’t be further from what voters wanted, and they’re rushing it because they know that they’re going against the will of voters.Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of the Fairness Project
The Herbert administration would have to resolve all the outstanding questions the bill poses and the federal government would have to approve waivers for standard Medicaid rules in less than two months, which is much more quickly than it typically acts.
“Nothing about how the federal government moves and operates gives me much hope or assurance that you’re going to get a waiver at all, much less one in a time frame that is going to be less than 60 days,” King said.
Utah has even tried this before. Herbert signed legislation last year approving a partial expansion and submitted a request for approval to federal authorities. That would have covered about half as many people as a full Medicaid expansion. The state withdrew its application after the ballot initiative passed.
The new bill also calls for work requirements and for locking out enrollees who fail to meet them, but it does not specify what they would be and how they would be enforced. It also would cap enrollment for otherwise eligible Utahns if cost projections for the expansion exceed the amount of money appropriated for the year.
The attempt to overturn voters on Medicaid expansion comes a month after Herbert signed legislation to replace a medical marijuana initiative voters approved last year with a new law. In the aftermath of voters passing the marijuana and Medicaid measures, Utah lawmakers also are eying changes to the ballot initiative process to let the Legislature alter voter-backed policies before they take effect.
This article has been updated with a statement from a spokesman for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
“I’m thinking that this lady must have vaped this THC oil and got a high level in her system and (it) made her stop breathing, like a respiratory failure,” Montegut told The Advocate.
If true, Montegut’s claims would be the first in the U.S. But many experts remain doubtful given that no deaths – attributed solely to THC – have ever been reported despite billions of cannabis products consumed each year.
“We know from really good survey data that Americans use cannabis products billions of times a year, collectively,” said Keith Humphreys, a former adviser at the White House of National Drug Control Policy. “So, that means that if the risk of death was one in a million, we would have a couple thousand cannabis overdose deaths a year.”
Montegut, however, is standing by her report. She told The Advocate that the woman’s autopsy report “showed no physical disease or afflictions that were the cause of death. There was nothing else identified in the toxicology – no other drugs, no alcohol. There was nothing else.”
Bradford Betz is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @bradford_betz.