All posts tagged: cannabis

Cannabis tourism in California a womens wellness retreat with puff love

At the Ganja Goddess Getaway, yes, there are yoga classes and spiritual talks but the mother lode comes from the spliffs, edibles and pot-infused mocktails that aid the healing

Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan Mary Jane Smokewear, a woman with long, grey pigtails crawled towards me, offering a hit off a balloon bag inflated with marijuana vapours. I was sitting cross-legged under a Ganja Goddess Getaway-branded gazebo on a perfect California afternoon and it was the umpteenth time that day that a stranger had come over, unprompted, to share their weed.

The bag was just one way my fellow ganja goddesses were getting high. Plates piled with spliffs, giant blunts, laced caramel-pecan candies and fruity mocktails enhanced with pot-infused tinctures also made the rounds. At one point, I was handed a wizard pipe packed with a tiramisu. Where a domestic goddess might use cream and ladyfingers, a ganja goddess gets baking with alternating layers of green and hash.

This is a canna-holiday, California-style. After new laws permitting recreational marijuana use came into effect in the state on 1 January, canna-visionaries wasted little time integrating their product into the regions aspirational aesthetic. You can tour the sun-grown, craft cannabis fields of the norths Humboldt County while in Los Angeles marijuana chef Chris Sayegh plans to open the citys first high cuisine cannabis restaurant (working name: Herb).

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Mama Sailene Ossman, one of the getaways co-founders serves a weed-laced sweet treat.

The women-only Ganja Goddess Getaway bills itself as a wellness retreat with a (herbal) difference. The retreat itself is in the woods near the coast at Pescadero, about an hours drive south of San Francisco. At the end of a long dirt track, in a meadow surrounded by redwoods, I found about 135 goddesses engaged in a ritual of puff and pass. Twentysomething girls sporting cannabis-leaf-motif leggings shared bongs with middle-aged women dressed in loungewear. Others passed spliffs around the hot tub, lined up for henna tattoos, or got cannabis oil massages. Two friends who had followed the pungent aromas all the way from Chile snored peacefully through a Laughter Yoga class.

The getaways five co-founders are a diverse mix: CEO Deidra Bagdasarian is also the entrepreneur behind award-winning cannabis confection company Bliss Edibles, while event co-ordinator Trish Demesmin was an administrator at Oaklands cannabis business college, Oaksterdam, and is now president of a medical cannabis delivery company. Mama Sailene Ossman is the companys head of public relations and attributes her nickname to being famous for bringing the food and the weed, while married couple Kelli Valentine and Ciera Lagges complete the quintet, the former as in-house filmmaker, the latter as chief creative officer. Together, they all preach cannabis as a meditative and spiritual plant.

Bagdasarians vision for the getaway has changed since it launched in 2016 (when only women with a medical marijuana card could attend).

In the beginning, I just wanted it to be a good vacation, like a stoner-girl slumber party, she told me. Soon, however, she noticed the women were undergoing transformational experiences, So I wanted to foster a space where women can use cannabis as a tool for self-improvement.

Deidra
Deidra Bagdasarian, co-founder and CEO of Ganja Goddess Getaway

This makes the retreat less a group slump in front of Netflix and more a series of wellness seminars wherein the crowd passes weed around while listening to talks with topics such as Give Plants A Chance. During this, Bagdasarian recounted the inability of Prozac to assuage her depression. She railed against accepted norms of big pharma, sugar and a culture of chemicals. But cannabis, Bagdasarian said, was a healer. Everyone was paying attention until a butterfly flapped into the gazebo, drawing an en masse, distracted woooah.

Its true the women I met here werent just in it for the giggles. They all talked about how cannabis had helped them with ailments and conditions, such as depression, anxiety and insomnia. Many had travelled solo, from non-legal states including Nebraska, New Jersey, Georgia and Florida and they formed fast bonds, sharing in-jokes over breakfast and doing morning meditation together.

No ones judging, said a 35-year-old from Sacramento, when I asked what the appeal was. This is two days where I get to just be myself and focus on me. Like the majority of women I spoke to, she asked to remain anonymous, for fear of what her workplace, family and friends would think.

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Organisers must also be dextrous around legalities: they cant sell cannabis but they can give it away. Hence the getaways all-inclusive ticket, encompassing unlimited food and weed.

A lot of Americans are in the cannabis closet, Bagdasarian said. But here, they can meet their tribe. And cannabis, she added, is a useful facilitator. It lets you take your mask off. Women like being vulnerable and connecting. We give them a safe space where they can do that.

Safe, however, is a relative term given the United States tangled cannabis laws. In January, attorney general Jeff Sessions announced he was giving federal prosecutors carte blanche to go after cannabis growers, sellers and users who are violating the nations rule of law. The shock memo defied Obama-era policy to leave states that had legalised the drug alone. President Trump, however, recently promised to respect states rights on legal pot. More states are discussing going recreational this year, including Michigan, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Such ambiguity has stalled many California cities from writing rules that would grant cannabis tourism a green light. Its frustrating for Bagdasarian, who cites finding venues as her biggest challenge. Few places permit open consumption and cannabis businesses are blocked from promoting themselves on social media. Ticket seller Eventbrite recently cut ties with the getaway, citing federal law.

For this reason, the getaway is limited to private retreat centres, where camping is the most practical accommodation. In Pescadero, attendees shared 12-person bell tents or brought their own; there were also more comfortable, though higher-priced options, of a shared yurt with wood-burner and cots and dorm-style rooms in the main lodge. Organisers must also be dextrous around legalities: they cant sell cannabis but they can give it away. Hence the getaways all-inclusive ticket, encompassing unlimited food and weed.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Marissa SafontCannabis tourism in California a womens wellness retreat with puff love
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Lots of Doctors Recommend Weed Without Understanding It

If you go to a doctor and ask them to recommend you medical marijuana, don’t expect them to fully understand how the drug works, both for you as an individual patient and in general as a therapy. Because no one really does.

With more and more states legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use, cannabis is shedding its stigma and entering the mainstream. That means folks who’ve shied away from the stuff are getting better access, and exploring cannabis as a non-addictive treatment for ailments like pain. But that new interest is running smack dab into a big problem plaguing medical cannabis: The research on what marijuana can actually treat, what components of the plant matter, and how different patients respond to them, is severely lacking.

Just how much doctors are struggling with it becomes clear today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. A study reveals that half of surveyed oncologists say they recommended marijuana to patients in the last year. But half of those didn’t think they actually had sufficient knowledge to make those recommendations.

The biggest question for oncologists is what cancer symptoms cannabis can really treat. The survey found respondents split when it comes to the treatment of pain: A third of oncologists said cannabis is equally or more effective than standard pain treatments, a third said it was less effective, and a third didn’t know. “But there seemed to be clear consensus that medical marijuana is a good adjunct to standard pain treatment, so a good add-on medication,” says Ilana Braun, lead author and chief of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Division of Adult Psychosocial Oncology. In fact, two-thirds of respondents said it’d be a good supplemental treatment.

According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine—which last year published a massive, big-deal review of cannabis research—“there is substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.” It’s also been shown to help control nausea and vomiting.

Now, doctors have long prescribed a synthetic THC called dronabinol, aka marinol, for the treatment of nausea and weight loss. Problem is, side effects include paranoia and “thinking abnormal.” Beyond that, you wouldn’t want to try to get high on it because it’s missing the galaxy of other active compounds in cannabis. “If it worked—it rarely does work—but if it really did work it would be abused on the streets,” says physician Allan Frankel, a pioneer in medical cannabis. “For 15 cents a pill? That's how bad marinol is.”

The reason, Frankel says, is the so-called entourage effect, the interaction of dozens of other cannabinoids in marijuana like CBD (which is an extremely effective treatment for seizures, by the way) that may produce different therapeutic effects. So by that logic, with marinol, patients aren’t getting the full effect of the cannabis plant.

And that full effect would be? Well, nobody really knows—in part because the US government makes the stuff very, very difficult to study. In the eyes of the feds, it’s still a very illegal schedule I drug, the most tightly controlled category, and the DEA decides who gets crop to research. Researchers don’t have access to a variety of strains that might produce a variety of benefits, given different levels of CBD and THC and other compounds.

Even if you could study lots of different strains, it’s not always possible to tell what a patient is going to get at the dispensary. Flowers can be mislabeled, and the THC content of oils doesn’t always match what’s on the label. “Composition standardization is a giant mess,” says Jeff Raber, CEO of the Werc Shop, a lab that tests cannabis. “So for an ultra traditional doctor, I can understand where they're like, Man, we don't really know what that is, is that OK? It's not standardized like a pharmaceutical product.”

A doctor can’t just say, Take two marijuana pills and call me in the morning. And on a physiological level, we all handle cannabis differently. “Even if I tell everybody, go inhale a tenth of a gram, their inhalation depths and absorption rates are going to be different,” says Raber.

“Unfortunately, we are going a little bit blind,” says physician Bonni Goldstein, medical director of the Canna-Centers, which provides cannabis consultations for patients. “But what I'm finding in clinical experience is I learn from every patient, and so we try to use the scientific research that we do have.”

So doctors like Goldstein try to tailor cannabis as best they can for a patient’s needs. Her patients have the luxury of attentive, personalized cannabis consultations. “Someone retired who has cancer who doesn't have to get up in the morning and get somewhere may be able to take bigger doses during the day,” says Goldstein, “versus a mom of four who has kids in and out of activities, who has breast cancer.”

But your typical oncologist isn’t going to sit down with a patient for an hour to walk through their lifestyle and needs. So patients are left to experiment with dosages on their own, or consult with their local dispensary.

Because it turns out that dispensaries have some experience dosing cannabis. “Some of the top dispensaries that have been doing this for a while know this better than anybody else,” says Rob Adelson, president and CEO of Resolve, which makes a smart inhaler for medical marijuana patients. “There's still so much about the pharmacokinetics of this plant that we just don't know yet. So asking a doctor to come in to try to solve the problem without any more data than the dispensary has is hard.”

What Adelson sees cannabis promoting is a new paradigm of medical care. “We've heard this from many doctors, that they might not know about medical cannabis, might not want to promote it, and that a patient comes in and says, ‘I'd like to try it,’” he says. “And patients bring studies with them." That inversion of responsibility has its downsides: An elderly patient might not be aware of side effects like dizziness, for example. But at the same time, it's impossible to overdose. For better or worse, if doctors don't feel they have the knowledge to appropriately prescribe a drug, patients will fill that void.

More cannabis science

Read more: http://www.wired.com/

Marissa SafontLots of Doctors Recommend Weed Without Understanding It
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How do you move mountains of unwanted weed?

Oregon farmers have grown three times what their customers can smoke in a year, causing bud prices to plummet and panic to set in

A recent Sunday afternoon at the Bridge City Collective cannabis shop in north Portland saw a steady flow of customers.

Little wonder: a gram of weed was selling for less than the price of a glass of wine.

The $4 and $5 grams enticed Scotty Saunders, a 24-year-old sporting a gray hoodie, to spend $88 picking out new products to try with a friend. Weve definitely seen a huge drop in prices, he says.

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Across the wood and glass counter, Bridge City owner David Alport was less delighted. He says hes never sold marijuana this cheap before.

We have standard grams on the shelf at $4, Alport says. Before, we didnt see a gram below $8.

The scene at Bridge City Collective is playing out across the city and state. Three years into Oregons era of recreational cannabis, the state is inundated with legal weed.

It turns out Oregonians are good at growing cannabis too good.

In February, state officials announced that 1.1m pounds of cannabis flower were logged in the states database.

If a million pounds sounds like a lot of pot, thats because it is: last year, Oregonians smoked, vaped or otherwise consumed just under 340,000lb of legal bud.

That means Oregon farmers have grown three times what their clientele can smoke in a year.

Yet state documents show the number of Oregon weed farmers is poised to double this summer without much regard to whether theres demand to fill.

The result? Prices are dropping to unprecedented lows in auction houses and on dispensary counters across the state.

Wholesale sun-grown weed fell from $1,500 a pound last summer to as low as $700 by mid-October. On store shelves, that means the price of sun-grown flower has been sliced in half to those four-buck grams.

For Oregon customers, this is a bonanza. A gram of the beloved Girl Scout Cookies strain now sells for little more than two boxes of actual Girl Scout cookies.

But it has left growers and sellers with a high-cost product thats a financial loser. And a new feeling has descended on the once-confident Oregon cannabis industry: panic.

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The business has been up and down and up and down, says Don Morse, who closed his Human Collective II dispensary in south-west Portland four months ago. But in a lot of ways it has just been down and down for dispensaries.

This month, WW spoke to two dozen people across Oregons cannabis industry. They describe a bleak scene: small businesses laying off employees and shrinking operations. Farms shuttering. People losing their lifes savings are unable to declare bankruptcy because marijuana is still a federally scheduled narcotic.

To be sure, every new market creates winners and losers. But the glut of legal weed places Oregons young industry in a precarious position, and could swiftly reshape it.

Oregons wineries, breweries and distilleries have experienced some of the same kind of shakeout over time. But the timetable is faster with pot: for many businesses, its boom to bust within months.

Mom-and-pop farms are accepting lowball offers to sell to out-of-state investors, and what was once a diverse and local market is increasingly owned by a few big players. And frantic growers face an even greater temptation to illegally leak excess grass across state lines and into the crosshairs of US attorney general Jeff Sessions justice department.

If somebody has got thousands of pounds that they cant sell, they are desperate, says Myron Chadowitz, who owns the Eugene farm Cannassentials. Desperate people do desperate things.

In March, Robin Cordell posted a distress signal on Instagram.

The prices are so low, she wrote, and without hustling all day, hoping to find the odd shop with an empty jar, it doesnt seem to move at any price.

Cordell has a rare level of visibility for a cannabis grower. Her Oregon City farm, Oregon Girl Gardens, received glowing profiles from Dope Magazine and Oregon Leaf. She has 12 years of experience in the medical marijuana system, a plot of family land in Clackamas county, and branding as one of the states leaders in organic and women-led cannabis horticulture.

She fears shell be out of business by the end of the year.

The prices just never went back up, she says.

The
The prices just never went back up.

Cordell ran headlong into Oregons catastrophically bountiful cannabis crop.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) handed out dozens of licenses to new farmers who planted their first crop last spring. Mild weather blessed the summer of 2017 and stretched generously into the fall. And growers going into their second summer season planted extra seeds to make up for flower lost to a 2016 storm, the last vestige of a brutal typhoon blown across the Pacific from Asia.

That storm naturally constrained the supply even though there were a lot of cultivators, says Beau Whitney, senior economist for New Frontier Data, which studies the cannabis industry.

It kept supply low and prices high in 2017 even though the state was handing out licenses at an alarming rate.

It was a hot new market, Whitney says. There werent a whole lot of barriers to entry. The OLCC basically issued a license to anyone who qualified.

Chadowitz blames out-of-state money for flooding the Oregon system. In 2016, state lawmakers decided to lift a restriction that barred out-of-state investors from owning controlling shares of local farms and dispensaries.

It was a controversial choice one that many longtime growers still resent.

The root of the entire thing was allowance of outside money into Oregon, Chadowitz says. Anyone could get the money they needed. Unlimited money and unlimited licenses, youre going to get unlimited flower and crash the market.

As of 1 April, Oregon had licensed 963 recreational cannabis grows, while another 910 awaited OLCC approval.

That means oversupply is only going to increase as more farms start harvesting bud.

The OLCC has said repeatedly that it has no authority to limit the number of licenses it grants to growers, wholesalers and dispensaries (although by contrast, the number of liquor stores in Oregon is strictly limited).

Since voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, many industry veterans from the medical marijuana years have chafed at the entrance of new money, warning it would destroy a carefully crafted farm ecosystem.

The same problem has plagued cannabis industries in other states that have legalized recreational weed. In 2016, Colorado saw wholesale prices for recreational flower drop 38%. Washington saw its pot drop in value at the same time Oregon did.

The OLCC remains committed to facilitating a free market for recreational marijuana in which anyone can try their hand at growing or selling.

[The law] has to be explicit that we have that authority to limit or put a cap on licenses, says OLCC spokesman Mark Pettinger. It doesnt say that we could put a cap on licenses. The only thing that we can regulate is canopy size.

The demand for weed in Oregon is robust the state reeled in $68m in cannabis sales taxes last year but it cant keep pace with supply.

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A cannabis harvest at East Fork Cultivars, Oregon.

Whitney says its not unusual for a new industry to attract speculators and people without much business savvy.

Whenever you have these emerging markets, theres going to be a lot of people entering the market looking for profit, he says. Once it becomes saturated, it becomes more competitive. This is not a phenomenon that is unique to cannabis. There used to be a lot of computer companies, but theres not so many anymore.

Across rolling hills of Oregon farmland and in Portland dispensaries as sleek as designer eyewear shops, the story plays out the same: Business owners cant make the low prices pencil out.

Nick Duyck is a second-generation farmer and owner of 3D Blueberry Farms in Washington county. I was born and raised on blueberries, he says.

But last June, Duyck launched Private Reserve Cannabis, a weed grow designed to create permanent jobs for seasonal workers.

By starting up the cannabis business, says Duyck, it keeps my guys busy on a year-round basis.

He invested $250,000 in the structural build-outs, lighting, environmental controls and other initial costs to achieve a 5,000 sq ft, Tier I, OLCC-approved indoor canopy.

Ongoing labor and operational costs added another $20,000 a month.

Weed prices were high: Duyck forecast a $1,500 return per pound. If Duyck could produce 20lb of flower a week, hed make back his money and start banking profits in just three months.

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A gram of weed was selling for less than a glass of wine.

Octobers bumper crop tore those plans apart.

We got in at the wrong time, Duyck says. The outdoor harvest flooded the market.

By the start of the new year, Duyck was sitting on 100lb of ready-to-sell flower an inventory trickling out to dispensaries in single-pound increments.

So he turned to a wholesaler, Cannabis Auctions LLC, which holds monthly fire sales in various undisclosed locations throughout Oregon.

Weed auctions operate under a traditional model: sellers submit their wares, and buyers dispensary owners, intake managers and extract manufacturers are given an opportunity to inspect products before bidding on parcels awarded to the highest dollar.

Duyck sent 60lb of pot to the auction block in December. He had adjusted his expectations downward: he hoped to see something in the ballpark of $400 a pound.

It sold for $100 a pound.

The price per pound that it costs us to raise this product is significantly higher than the hundred dollars a pound, says Duyck. (A little light math points to a $250-per-unit production cost.) Currently, were operating at a $15,000-per-month loss, Duyck says.

If prices dont improve soon, Duyck says he wont be able to justify renewing his OLCC license for another year.

The dispensaries that are out there, a lot of them have their own farms, so they dont buy a lot of product from small farms like us Duyck says. If you really want to grow the product, you almost have to own the store also.

Middlemen store owners without farms are also suffering. Take Don Morse, who gave up selling weed on New Years Eve.

Morse ran Human Collective II, one of the earliest recreational shops in the city, which first opened as a medical marijuana supplier in 2010. At times, Morse stocked 100 strains in his Multnomah Village location.

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A cannabis crop. I think if we let it be a painful moment, and not try to cover it up, were going to be better off for it.

Morse lobbied for legal recreational weed and founded the Oregon Cannabis Business Council.

The shift to recreational was costly. With his business partner Sarah Bennett, Morse says he invested more than $100,000 in equipment to meet state regulations.

By last summer, new stores were popping up at a rapid pace. Morses company wasnt vertically integrated, which means it did not grow any of its own pot or run a wholesaler that might have subsidized low sales.

Competition around us was fierce, and the company started losing money, and it wasnt worth it anymore, Morse says. At our peak, we had 20 employees. When we closed, we had six.

Prices went into free fall in October: the average retail price dropped 40%.

Morse couldnt see a way to make the numbers work. Human Collective priced grams as low as $6 to compete with large chains like Nectar and Chalice, but it struggled to turn a profit.

When youre the little guy buying the product from wholesalers, you cant afford to compete, he says. Theres only so far you can lower the price. Theres too much of everything and too many people in the industry.

So Morse closed his shop: We paid our creditors and that was that. That was the end of it.

Despite losing his business, Morse stands behind Oregons light touch when it comes to regulating the industry.

Its just commercialism at its finest, he says. Let the best survive. Thats just the way it goes in capitalism. Thats just the way it goes.

Just as mom-and-pop grocery stores gave way to big chains, people like Morse are losing out to bigger operations.

Chalice Farms has five stores in the Portland area and is opening a sixth in Happy Valley. La Mota has 15 dispensaries. Nectar has 11 storefronts in Oregon, with four more slated to open soon.

Despite the record-low prices in the cannabis industry, these chains are hiring and opening new locations, sometimes after buying failed mom-and-pop shops.

The home page on Nectars website prominently declares: Now buying dispensaries! Please contact us if you are a dispensary owner interested in selling your business.

Nectar representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Mason
Mason Walker, the CEO of East Fork Cultivars.

Because the federal government does not recognize legal marijuana, the industry cannot access traditional banking systems or even federal courts. That means business owners cant declare bankruptcy to dissolve a failed dispensary or farm, leaving them with few options. They can try to liquidate their assets, destroy the product they have on hand and eat the losses.

Or they can sell the business to a company like Nectar, often for a fraction of what theyve invested.

This time last year, it was basically all mom-and-pop shops, says Mason Walker, CEO of Cave Junction cannabis farm East Fork Cultivars. Now there are five or six companies that own 25 or 30%. Stores are selling for pennies on the dollar, and people are losing their life savings in the process.

Deep-pocketed companies can survive the crash and wait for the market to contract again.

What this means is, the market is now in a position where only the large [businesses] or the ones that can produce at the lower cost can survive, Whitney says. A lot of the craft growers, a lot of the small-capacity cultivators, will go out of business.

Oregon faces another consequence of pot businesses closing up shop: leftover weed could end up on the black market.

Already, Oregon has a thriving illegal market shipping to other states.

US attorney for Oregon, Billy Williams, has said he has little interest in cracking down on legal marijuana businesses, but will prosecute those shipping marijuana to other states.

That kind of thing is whats going to shut down our industry, Chadowitz says. Anything we can do to prevent Jeff Sessions from being right, we have to do.

Ask someone in the cannabis industry what to do about Oregons weed surplus, and youre likely to get one of three answers.

The first is to cap the number of licenses awarded by the OLCC. The second is to reduce the canopy size allotted to each license Massachusetts is trying that. And the last, equally common answer is to simply do nothing. Let the market sort itself out.

Up
Up in smoke: opinions vary about what Oregon must do to address its weed surplus.

Farmers, such as Walker of East Fork Cultivars, argue that limiting the number of licensed farms in Oregon would stunt the states ability to compete on the national stage in the years ahead.

Were in this sort of painful moment right now, says Walker, but I think if we let it be a painful moment, and not try to cover it up, were going to be better off for it.

Walker and other growers hope selling across state lines will someday become legal.

Every farmer, wholesaler, dispensary owner and economist WW talked to for this story said that if interstate weed sales became legal, Oregons oversupply problem would go away.

Under the current presidential administration, that might seem a long shot. But legalization is sweeping the country, Donald Trump is signaling a looser approach, and experts say Oregon will benefit when the feds stop fighting.

The thing about Oregon is that it is known for its cannabis, in a similar way to Oregon pinot noir, Whitney says. For those who are able to survive, they are positioned extremely well not only to survive in the Oregon market but also to take advantage of a larger market assuming things open up on a federal level.

Looking for more great work from the Portland, Oregon, alt-weekly paper and website Willamette Week? Here are some suggestions:

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Marissa SafontHow do you move mountains of unwanted weed?
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Why It’s So Hard to Dose Weed

Cannabis is a notoriously finicky drug. Take the right amount and you get relaxation or euphoria, but take too much and it’s a long ride of paranoia. Which makes marijuana tricky for casual users, and potentially problematic for new users who want to use cannabis to treat ailments like pain.

It's difficult to quantify just how much of the drug you’re inhaling through a bong or vaporizer—especially because marijuana contains some 500 chemicals that interact in ways scientists are just beginning to understand. And really, how you end up feeling depends as much on your physiology and state of mind as it does on the plant.

But, some good news. For one, science only has more to learn about how marijuana works on the human body. And two, companies making cannabis devices are figuring out ways to tackle the dosing problem.

Take the Resolve One smart inhaler (formerly known as Breeze) for medical marijuana users who also happen to be data nerds, coming out in May. Think of it like the Keurig of cannabis: Insert a “Smart Pod” of marijuana and the device administers a precise blast of vapor. The device pairs with a smartphone app, where users begin by inputting their pain level. The inhaler calculates the right dose, followed by a drag. Ten minutes later, once the cannabis has kicked in, the app pings them to rate their pain again. This helps the user determine how effective the dose was.

And it helps Resolve One's maker, Resolve Digital Health, do the same: By gathering more and more data, it can build pain profiles. Some folks wake up in pain, for instance, while for others the pain builds throughout the day. So how might cannabis help mitigate these different experiences? How might the drug interact with other medications the person is taking? (Users are encouraged to log these in the Resolve One app.) How do other medical conditions factor into the pain problem? (You log these too.)

Resolve’s goal is to use data from Resolve One to help not only individual users, but to build a better understanding of how cannabis can treat pain. “I think patients of the future, and we're seeing it right now with cannabis patients, are data-empowered patients,” says Rob Adelson, president and CEO of Resolve. “They want information, they want to collect it, they want to share it, they want to compare it.”

Now, it’s clear that accumulating more and more data hasn’t cured cancer or helped humans figure out how to stop aging. But in the case of cannabis, scientists have so little detailed information about user responses that it makes sense to start looking. Especially because the effects of cannabis can vary wildly from user to user. Some people, for instance, can handle higher THC content than others without having a conniption. And how marijuana affects you can even vary based on how much food you’ve had that day, especially if you’re consuming edibles.

“It's going to take a long time for us to get to the level of knowledge that we all need to be at to understand how this plant works, specifically for very specific health conditions,” says Adelson. “But what we'll do is collect that data, and then put some of those insights and findings into clinical studies where we can go deeper into it.”

dosist

The uncertainty is especially challenging given how potent cannabis has become. One study found that THC levels have gone up three-fold since 1995, thanks to selective breeding. But patients may be more interested in high levels of CBD, the non-psychoactive component that could help treat ailments like epilepsy.

“Our focus is on mitigating the intoxicating effects of cannabis, which is a very different mindset than a lot of cannabis brands,” says Gunner Winston, CEO of Dosist, which makes dose pens. “A lot of people don't want to be intoxicated.”

The trick may be something called the entourage effect, the idea that the plant’s various compounds interact with one another to put a check on the psychoactive effects on THC. Specifically, you’d want a lot of CBD in there. Yet science hasn’t proved out this effect.

“I think the anecdotal mountain of evidence says that it does exist,” says Jeff Raber, CEO of the Werc Shop, a lab that tests cannabis. “But we don't know why or how or which ones are doing what.”

And that’s just when it comes to ingesting and inhaling cannabis. “We actually know very little about other modes of administration,” says UC San Diego researcher Igor Grant, who studies cannabis. “People talk about having skin patches and various kinds of gels. The work just hasn't been done to show whether that actually delivers the cannabis in the way that you would want in an effective dose.”

But as far as inhaled marijuana is concerned, companies like Resolve Digital Health and Dosist are starting to tackle the quantification problem, the former catering to patients and the later to a more general audience. And they’re betting that demand for a more predictable cannabis experience is only going up.

“People are asking for this,” says Winston of Dosist. “We can debate all day how much science has been done and should be done, but when you look across the country people are demanding cannabis for therapeutic purposes.”

Remember: Until there’s a fool-proof system for accurately dosing inhaled cannabis—and there may never will be—go low and slow. Your brain will thank you.

Read more: http://www.wired.com/

Marissa SafontWhy It’s So Hard to Dose Weed
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My Son Pioneered an Epilepsy Drug Derived From Marijuana. An FDA Panel Just Approved It

Yesterday morning a tall, lanky 16-year-old boy in a red polo shirt stood at a podium in front of a roomful of doctors, scientists, and regulators and told them about how a drug they were considering for approval had changed his life. “I had seizures for 10 years,” he said. “My parents tell me there were times I had seizures 100 times a day.” Now, he said, he has been seizure free for nearly two and a half years.

“I can understand what goes on at school,” he said. “And I can have adventures that never would have been possible before.” He told them about how seizure freedom enabled him to study to be a Bar Mitzvah in 2016. He told them about a school trip he’d just taken without his parents to South Africa—12,000 miles from home. And he said that he hoped to become a neurologist one day so that he could help other people with epilepsy. The audience, despite being told not to applaud speakers until the end, clapped anyway.

About an hour later, after about a dozen parents of epileptic children spoke of their struggles with the disease, the Food and Drug Administration panel of scientists and doctors voted 13-0 to recommend approval. The FDA is expected to render a final decision on the drug, Epidiolex, by June. One of the panelists John Mendelson, an addiction treatment executive and a UCSF professor said, “This is clearly a breakthrough drug for an awful disease.”

The whole event, which I watched on a live stream from my home office in Berkeley, was one of the thrills of my life. Sam is my son. He and my wife Evelyn both testified because Sam was the first person in the US to take Epidiolex back in December 2012. After trying more than two dozen medications, a crazy sounding diet, and corticosteroids that made Sam look like a cancer patient, Epidiolex—which didn’t even have a name when Sam tried it—was truly our last option to help him.

The author’s son, Sam Vogelstein, testified Thursday in Washington DC before the FDA’s advisory committee.

Evelyn Nussenbaum

I should mention that Epidiolex is derived from cannabis. Its active ingredient is cannabidiol, aka CBD, which is a chemical in the plant that doesn’t make you high.

The manufacturer, GW Pharmaceuticals, knew little about epilepsy back then. But Sam’s response was so extraordinary, their executives decided they needed to learn more about the disease, and quickly embarked on clinical trials. Sam actually tried the medicine in London under a doctor’s supervision. Such a trial in the UK was straightforward, whereas conducting it in the US would have been impossible because of our cannabis laws. Since then nearly 1,800 patients have tried it at US hospitals, with about 40 to 50 percent seeing greater than 50 percent reductions in seizures. That sounds small until you consider that admission to the trials required patients to have exhausted all other medicinal options. Officially, Epidiolex will be approved only to treat two of the most severe types of epilepsy, Dravet and Lennox Gastaut syndromes. But doctors will likely have the flexibility to prescribe it for other epilepsies too. Many epilepsy drugs are prescribed this way, known as off label. (Many patients, including Sam, are on more than one drug.)

The pending approval of Epidiolex isn’t just a big deal for me and my family. It’s a big deal for 3 million people in the US who have epilepsy, and, if approved elsewhere, 73 million people worldwide. Epilepsy affects about one percent of the world’s population, more than Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis combined. And yet for all humanities’ scientific prowess, only about two-thirds of people who take epilepsy medicines become seizure free. The imminent approval of a medication that might shrink the number of unresponsive patients is a major, even historic, development.

It’s also a big deal for cannabis research and by extension the cannabis legalization discussion. Epidiolex will be the first FDA approved drug derived from a cannabis plant. It can’t get anyone high because the manufacturer extracts all the THC during production.

To manufacture CBD, GW maintains tens of thousands of cannabis plants in hothouses all over the UK. It extracts the CBD from the plants in a lab, ending up with a 100 milliliter bottle of strawberry flavored sesame oil that it ships to the US.

A common refrain from cannabis opponents has long been that there is no scientific evidence that anything associated with cannabis can be medicine. And that’s been true because regulators and police worldwide make studying illegal substances like cannabis nearly impossible.

But to get this far in the FDA approval process, GW had to marshal the same scientific evidence of safety and efficacy that every other drug manufacturer must present. It created a medicine that was consistent from dose to dose, bottle to bottle, and batch to batch. It conducted all the required placebo controlled trials, administered by doctors in hospital settings. And those doctors published peer reviewed research in top medical journals like the New England Journal of Medicine. “It’s an honor to be participating in a (cannabis) decision based on science instead of politics," said panelist Mark Green, professor of neurology and anesthesiology at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, after the vote.

Indeed, it doesn’t require too much imagination to see how Epidiolex’s pending approval forces a public reckoning on how we think about cannabis nationally. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made no secret of his virulent opposition to the legalization of cannabis in any form. He has said that “good people do not smoke marijuana.” Yet, assuming Epidiolex gets formal FDA approval, he will have to weigh in through his supervision of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

At the moment, CBD is a Schedule 1 drug like cannabis. Its medical use—except in the specially approved trials that proved its effectiveness—is not allowed. The DEA must reschedule it before it can be sold. Technically, the DEA could refuse. But it would have to explain how it—a police agency—was in a better position to make that call than the FDA, an agency of scientists and doctors. An explanation would also be needed for neurologists, and the parents of millions of very sick children. The DEA can’t delay its decision either. By law it must rule within 90 days.

All that maneuvering would be moot, of course, if Congress decides to pass a law legalizing cannabis entirely, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer proposed last night. He is not the first senator to propose such a law, but he is by far the most influential to do it. “If smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody else, why shouldn’t we allow people to do it and not make it criminal" he told Vice News.

By now you are probably wondering what a family from California like us was thinking when it traveled to the UK to have their kid try a drug derived from a cannabis plant. Remarkably, that’s where you had to go to get pharmaceutical grade CBD back then. We tried to procure it from artisanal producers here for six months. Everything we tried turned out to be ineffective and sometimes fraudulent. Getting the CBD out of cannabis plant is complicated, expensive, and time consuming.

The artisanal CBD market is more robust today. There are some good, reliable preparations that are helping epilepsy patients who could not get into the GW trials. Hopefully they will force GW to keep Epidiolex affordable. But many parents have told me that in a perfect world they'd just go to the pharmacy to treat their kids' seizures. They have complicated lives, but simple needs. They want the same experience they get when they fill a penicillin prescription: a cure.

All of this made yesterday one of the best days in Sam's young life. Other parents thanked him for speaking for all the kids who were too sick to speak for themselves, and he felt like he was part of something bigger than himself. “And when I suggested that we made a good team as speakers," Evelyn said, “he said with a big grin, ‘You set ’em up. And I knock ’em down.’ ”

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Marissa SafontMy Son Pioneered an Epilepsy Drug Derived From Marijuana. An FDA Panel Just Approved It
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Im a pot evangelist: meet America’s dope queens

As more US states legalise marijuana, more women are stepping up to meet the need for weed. Meet the entrepreneurs cutting through the stigma

Like most other American industries, marijuana has traditionally been dominated by men. Overwhelmingly they grew it, they dealt it and they smoked it. Hopes that the legal marijuana industry would be more egalitarian than others have largely deflated. According to a 2017 survey, women hold 27% of executive positions in cannabis, only slightly more than in the country at large. Nevertheless, the plants status as a quasi-legal drug has created an opportunity for women to forge groundbreaking careers.

Cannabis businesses are obsessed with tearing down the stigma that continues to dog the plant. Many of the most ambitious companies want to make inroads with affluent adults and parents who dont use, or no longer use, cannabis; if the prevailing stereotype is that weed is a drug used by low-achieving men, the thinking is that women will be better at getting their husbands and boyfriends to use pot.

Thirty US states have legalized medical marijuana and it is among the countrys fastest-growing industries. Sales rose 33% last year, topping $10bn, even though only a few states, including California, Colorado, Nevada and Oregon, have robust industries, and product cant be transported across state lines. But compared with other lucrative industries, such as tech, it is far more open to people who lack highly specialised education and have lived unconventional lives.

There is immense interest in marijuanas potential as a medicine, but in most cases the evidence is more anecdotal than confirmed by mainstream science. Its far easier for a pot business to enter the more nebulous wellness category. Today, in every dispensary in the US, there are cannabis products packaged like high-end personal care products; and even pharmaceuticals, designed to convince women its OK to try cannabis.

Female entrepreneurs believe legalization will bring immense medical and social benefits. The five women who share their story here all photographed by Pietro Chelli in recent years are a doctor, a mother of a young child with cancer, and three very different entrepreneurs. Each in her own way is cutting through the stigma.

Cheryl Shuman, 57, Beverly Hills Cannabis Club, Los Angeles, California

I first tried cannabis in 1996, after I was sexually assaulted. Doctors had put me on anti-anxietals and antidepressants and they turned me into a zombie. I had got to the point where I didnt want to get out of bed. Eventually, my therapist said to me: Cheryl, with all due respect, you just have to smoke a joint. Only in LA, right? Until then Id been a good girl. Ive still never had a beer, never had a cigarette.

My therapist had his plants in his back yard and kept his stash in mason jars. He rolled a joint. I was impressed he could roll it with only one hand. I took the first puff and almost coughed my lungs up. By the second puff, I said: You know what, this is really great. I felt instantly better.

Instead of taking pills, I would just roll a joint every day. I told my kids, as I didnt want to lie to them. It was an entry to an underground society of professional, smart, dynamic, educated people, who use this for wellness. Who knew?

Today Im a pot evangelist. Ive spoken all over the world Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. Last year, I was only home in Beverly Hills for 16 days, and those were for events. My business now is basically being a matchmaker, pairing investors with exciting opportunities, ranging from biotech companies to branding, to a music festival. Its like being a real-estate broker I make things happen: What do you need?

Back when I first got involved in cannabis it was largely used by gay men to deal with the nausea and wasting of Aids. Ultimately, cannabis was legalized because of love for them. Many in the cannabis community have also had an experience similar to coming out of the closet the grass closet. Now we can hold our heads up high and lead an authentic life.

Tracy Ryan, 42, CannaKids, Los Angeles, California

Tracy
Tracy Ryan with her daughter Sophie: This wasnt a secret we could keep to ourselves. Photograph: Pietro Chelli/Institute

I got into this four and a half years ago, when my daughter Sophie was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. She was eight and a half months old. The doctors told us Sophies only chance to survive was a 13-month course of chemotherapy. Confronting this extremely difficult situation, my husband and I began to research ways to save our daughter. We decided that cannabis treatment was something we wanted to do alongside chemotherapy.

Sophie took her first dose of cannabis at nine months. It was on camera for a documentary, Weed the People, which premieres at the SXSW festival in Texas this March. Over the first 13 months, a tumor that wasnt supposed to shrink shrank by 95%. Thanks to the shrinkage, much of Sophies vision has been saved.

My husband and I knew this wasnt a secret we could keep to ourselves. Today, our company CannaKids has provided medical-grade cannabis to more than 2,000 children and adults in California. We dont look like what people imagine stoners to be. We love our kid and take care of her, and people listen to us.

Weve also partnered with Cure Pharmaceutical to fund cannabis and cancer research at the Technion Institute in Israel. We still dont know the right formula of cannabis and chemotherapy to address cancer. But research we support in mice has eliminated one type of pediatric cancer with cannabis alone. We hope to finalize the human tissue phase soon, then advance to human trials.

Since she was first diagnosed, Sophie has had several recurrences of her cancer. She has taken concentrated cannabis oil for four and a half years now. When her doctors at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles put her on an experimental drug that required her to stop additional supplements and medications, they advised that she continue taking cannabis.

She still receives chemotherapy, once every two weeks. She never fully lost her hair, but now has a full head of it. Shes in the 81st percentile for height and weight, and is in kindergarten with healthy kids her age. She has her own business cards and is a networker, like her mother.

Forget about the word weed, forget marijuana: these children are taking medical cannabis. We dont want kids stoned. We want them happy, healthy and ready to go to school.

Kristi Lee Kelly, 40, Marijuana Industry Group, Denver, Colorado

Kristi
Kristi Lee Kelly: When we started, patients rights were not clear. Photograph: Pietro Chelli/Institute

In 2009, I left Maryland and a career in advertising and marketing to join Colorados cannabis industry. I thought it would be a way to participate in something early on that would really make a difference in peoples lives.

Its been so long since then. Someone a long time ago likened cannabis to dog years a year in cannabis is like seven years doing anything else. At first, investment options were extremely limited, and politicians were unwilling to address the issue. Ive had 23 bank accounts closed.

I started as an owner, operator and investor in a vertically integrated group of medical cannabis businesses. This meant we grew the plants, manufactured them into vaping oil and other products and sold them at our dispensaries. Eventually we accomplished what we set out to do, and I sold my shares in the company. I have since turned to helping others actualise their cannabis aspirations.

When we started, patients rights were not clear. Could you have a card, consume cannabis and work? How did a doctors recommendation interact with the other aspects of your life? Now we have thousands of patient stories. The growing body of scientific and state data has demonstrated that this plant isnt causing the harm that some people said it would.

When we look at how this plant has come and gone over centuries, this is a 3,000-year-old journey, not one that is necessarily sensitive from one administration to the next. The long-term contribution this plant can make to humankind has been documented.

In cannabis, Ive worked with aspiring business owners, policymakers and investors. Im also working with a hemp technology company. In the gold rush, some of the most successful people were the ones who sold picks and shovels to prospectors. Part of what Im doing is figuring out what the picks and shovels are.

Colorado is the most mature policy environment in the world. We tend to confront business challenges first; we continue to expand the conversation around cannabis; were looking at the social impact. Last year, the Marijuana Industry Group forged an agreement with the state Department of Transportation and Lyft [a ride-share company] to offer discounted rides to impaired cannabis users. Our goal is to reduce the number of people who are dying as a result of impaired driving, no matter the substance.

Bonni Goldstein, 53, Canna-Centers and Weedmaps, Los Angeles, California

Bonni
Bonni Goldstein: Doctors are finally opening their eyes to the fact that cannabis is safe. Photograph: Pietro Chelli/Institute

My background is in pediatric emergency medicine. Its high-stress work. I was working the night shift at a major Los Angeles hospital and being a mother during the day. Eventually I got burned out and took some time off.

About 10 years ago, a friend asked me about medical marijuana. I wasnt for or against it it just wasnt on my radar. But as I looked into it, it became clear to me that it was valid science.

I watched my friend get a medical marijuana card. She was struggling with the side-effects of chemotherapy; shed take the nausea medicine and throw it back up. But she got a vaporizer and it helped. I dont feel high, I feel better, she said. The cannabis let her participate in her life. She could sit at dinner and talk to her children.

I was really intrigued, and started working part-time in another doctors medical marijuana practice. It was an established office, very nice and professional. The patients were everyday people who have problems. The vast majority had been prescribed prescription drugs for anxiety, depression, insomnia and chronic pain and struggled with the side-effects. They all said the same thing: cannabis was giving them the benefits of the drugs without the side-effects. I now have my own practice in a suburb of Los Angeles.

In August 2013, CNN journalist Dr Sanjay Gupta told the story of Charlotte Figi, a little girl with a severe seizure disorder. Gupta was convinced she had benefited from taking cannabis. It generated a lot of interest. The parents of children with disorders like Charlottes wake up every day knowing their child could have 45 seizures and end up in hospital.

Earlier in my career, I was the chief resident at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles; today, children with intractible epilepsy are a large part of my practice. The goal is seizure freedom for the child: we dont always get that, but the vast majority are seeing seizures reduced by 50% or more.

There is a change under way in the medical community. Doctors who listen to their patients are hearing these people stop asking for Vicodin, sleeping pills, benzodiazepine. I think doctors are finally opening their eyes to the fact that cannabis is safe; in a lot of cases it reduces or eliminates the need for prescription medicine.

Julie Berliner, 31, Sweet Grass Kitchen, Denver, Colorado

Julie
Julie Berliner: Cannabis is the most exciting industry. Photograph: Pietro Chelli/Institute

I graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2009 with a degree in education. It was tough looking for a job in the middle of the recession, but dispensaries were opening up in town. It really was the wild, wild west back then: there were no rules for who could open a shop, or where they could open it.

A friend who had a dispensary tried some chocolate-chip cookies I made and asked if Id be willing to turn them into cannabis cookies for him to sell. When I said OK, he handed me five pounds of weed and said, Here you go.

Id never made cannabis cookies before, but decided to use the traditional method of infusing butter in a crock pot. I started baking fresh cookies and walking them over to the store for packaging. Today, with all the rules, its impossible to sell cannabis cookies the day they were baked, but back then you could.

I also worked at the shop as a receptionist, to better understand the industry. I liked helping people to feel better, or have a great time.

In the summer of 2010, it became necessary to have a license. It cost $1,000; but more significant than the money was that I knew if I went down this road I wouldnt be able to go back. There were no school principals who would be intrigued by my time baking weed cookies.

It also became necessary to create a commercial kitchen. Very few property owners were willing to lease their space to cannabis, and I decided to build a transportable kitchen in a race-car trailer. It still needed a fixed address. When I met with a potential landlord he was an older man with big bushy eyebrows. I could tell it was going to be a hard conversation, but he agreed to rent me space for our cherry red mobile kitchen. He has come to be one of our strongest supporters. We now lease the entire building and use the trailer as a smoking room and an inspiring part of the tour for visitors.

Cannabis is still the most exciting industry, but its starting to slow down. In many ways thats a good thing: were all settling in rather than hanging on.

Alex Halperin writes a fortnightly cannabis column, High Time.

Commenting on this piece? If you would like your comment to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazines letters page in print, please email weekend@theguardian.com, including your name and address (not for publication).

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Dream catchers, succulents and joints: a visit to an LA cannabis shop

Catering to wealthy people, todays dispensaries aim to present the drug as part of a healthy lifestyle

Dream catchers, succulents and joints: a visit to an LA cannabis shop

Dream catchers, succulents and joints: a visit to an LA cannabis shop

Catering to wealthy people, todays dispensaries aim to present the drug as part of a healthy lifestyle

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The Dirty Secret of California’s Cannabis: It’s Dirty

This is a story about marijuana that begins in a drawer of dead birds. In the specimen collections of the California Academy of Sciences, curator Jack Dumbacher picks up a barred owl—so named for the stripes than run across its chest—and strokes its feathers. It looks like a healthy enough bird, sure, but something nefarious once lurked in its liver: anticoagulant rodenticide, which causes rats to bleed out, and inevitably accumulates in apex predators like owls. The origin of the poison? Likely an illegal cannabis grow operation in the wilds of Northern California.

Wired

“It's a mess out there,” says Dumbacher. “And it costs taxpayers millions of dollars to clean up the sites.”

Marijuana doesn’t just suddenly appear on the shelves of a dispensary, or the pocket of a dealer. Someone’s gotta grow it, and in Northern California, that often means rogue farmers squatting on public lands, tainting the ecosystem with pesticides and other chemicals, then harvesting their goods and leaving behind what is essentially a mini superfund site. Plenty of growers run legit, organic operations—but cannabis can be a dirty, dirty game.

Morgan Heim/BioGraphic/California Academy of Sciences
Morgan Heim/BioGraphic/California Academy of Sciences

As cannabis use goes recreational in California, producers are facing a reckoning: They’ll either have to clean up their act, or get out of the legal market. Until the federal prohibition on marijuana ends, growers here can skip the legit marketplace and ship to black markets in the many states where the drug is still illegal. That’s bad news for public health, and even worse news for the wildlife of California.

If you’re buying cannabis in the United States, there’s up to a 75 percent chance that it grew somewhere in California. In Humboldt County alone, as many as 15,000 private grows churn out marijuana. Of those 15,000 farms, 2,300 have applied for permits, and of those just 91 actually have the permits.

Researchers reckon that 15 to 20 percent of private grows here are using rodenticide, trying to avoid damage from rats chewing through irrigation lines and plants. Worse, though, are the growers who hike into rugged public lands and set up grow operations. Virtually all of them are using rodenticide. “At very high doses the rodenticides is meant to kill by basically stopping coagulation of blood,” says Dumbacher. “So what happens is if you get a bruise or a cut it you would you would literally bleed out because it won’t coagulate.”

And what’s bad for the rats can’t be good for the barred owl. How the poison might affect these predators isn’t immediately clear, but researchers think it may weaken them.

Scientists are used to seeing rodenticides in owl livers—but usually, those animals are picking off rats in urban areas. Not so for these samples. “When we actually looked at the data, it turned out that some of the owls that were exposed were from remote areas parts of the forest that don't have even roads near them,” says Dumbacher. When researchers took a look at satellite images of these areas, they were able to pick out illegal grow operations and make the connection: Rodenticides from marijuana cultivation are probably moving up the food chain.

The havoc that growers are wreaking in Northern California is worryingly similar to the environmental bedlam of the past. “We can't just take exactly the same historical approach that California did with the Gold Rush,” says Mourad Gabriel, executive director of the Integral Ecology Research Center and lead author of the study with Dumbacher. It was a massive inundation of illegal gold and mining operations that tore the landscape to pieces. “150 years down the road, we are still dealing with it.”

And Northern California’s problems have the potential to become your problem if you’re buying marijuana in a state where it’s still illegal. “We have data clearly demonstrating the plant material is contaminated, not just with one or two but a plethora of different types of pesticides that should not be used on any consumable product,” says Gabriel. “And we find it on levels that are potentially a threat to humans as well.”

Lab Rats

Across from an old cookie factory in Oakland, California sits a lab that couldn’t look more nondescript. It’s called CW Analytical, and it’s in the business of testing marijuana for a range of nasties, both natural and synthetic. Technicians in lab coats shuffle about, dissolving cannabis in solution, while in a little room up front a man behind a desk consults clients.

Morgan Heim/BioGraphic/California Academy of Sciences

Running this place is a goateed Alabama native named Robert Martin. For a decade he’s risked the ire of the feds to ensure that the medical marijuana sold in California dispensaries is clean and safe. But in the age of recreational cannabis, the state has given him a new list of enemies to test for. If you're worried about consuming grow chemicals like the owls are doing, it's scientists like Martin who have your back.

“We're trying to do it in legitimate ways, not painting our face or putting flowers in our hair,” says Martin. “We're here to show another face of the industry." Clinical. Empirical.

Labs like these—the Association of Commercial Cannabis Laboratories, which Martin heads, counts two dozen members—are where marijuana comes to pass the test or face destruction. Martin’s team is looking for two main things: microbiological contaminants and chemical residues. “Microbiological contaminants could come in the form of bacteria or fungi, depending on what kind of situation your cannabis has seen,” says Martin. (Bad drying or curing habits on the part of the growers can lead to the growth of Aspergillus mold, for instance.) “Or on the other side, the chemical residues can be pesticides, herbicides, things like that.”

The biological bit is pretty straightforward. Technicians add a cannabis sample to solution, then spread it on plates that go into incubators. “What we find is of all the flowers that come through, about 12 to 13 percent will come back with a high level of aerobic bacteria and about 13 to 14 percent will come back with a high level of fungi and yeast and mold,” says laboratory manager Emily Savage.

With chemical contaminants it gets a bit trickier. To test for these, the lab run the cannabis through a machine called a mass spectrometer, which isolates the component parts of the sample. This catches common chemicals like myclobutanil, which growers use to kill fungi.

Starting July 1 of this year, distributors and (legal) cultivators have to put their product through testing for heavy metals and bacteria like E. coli and chemicals like acephate (a general use insecticide). That’s important for average consumers but especially medical marijuana patients with compromised health. One group of researchers has even warned that smoking or vaping tainted marijuana could lead to fatal infections for some patients, as pathogens are taken deep into the lungs.

“This is why we have to end prohibition and regulate and legalize cannabis, so that we can develop the standards that everybody must meet,” says Andrew DeAngelo, director of operations of the Harborside dispensary in Oakland.

After testing, a lab like CW has to report their results to the state, whose guidelines may dictate that the crop be destroyed. If everything checks out, the marijuana is cleared for sale in a dispensary. “That gives the public confidence that these supply chains are clean for them and healthy for them,” says DeAngelo.

That safety comes at a price, though. To fund the oversight of recreational marijuana, California is imposing combined taxes of perhaps 50 percent. “They're too high,” says DeAngelo. He’s worried that the fees will push users back into the black market, where plants don’t have to hew to the same strict safety standards. “This shop should be a lot fuller than it is right now.”

And the black market gets us right back to the mess we started off in. Illegal cultivation is bad for consumers and bad for the environment. The only real solution? The end of prohibition. At the very least, the owls would appreciate it.

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Opioids prescribed less in states where medical marijuana legal, studies find

Two new studies have found a correlation using data from programs used by millions of older, poor and disabled Americans

The number of opioid prescriptions for the elderly and the poor declined in states where medical marijuana is legal, two new studies have found.

In one study, researchers at the University of Georgia, Athens, used data from Medicare Part D, a government-run prescription drug program for people older than 65.

They found prescriptions filled for all opioids decreased by 2.11m daily doses a year when a state legalized medical marijuana, and by 3.7m daily doses a year when marijuana dispensaries opened. Forty-one million Americans use Medicare Part D. The study analyzed data between 2010 and 2015.

In a second study, researchers at the University of Kentucky examined opioid prescription data from Medicaid, a government-run program for the poor and disabled. More than 74 million Americans use Medicaid.

That analysis found state medical marijuana laws were associated with a 5.8% lower rate of opioid prescribing, and states with recreational marijuana laws were associated with a 6.3% lower rate of opioid prescribing. That study used data from 2011 to 2016.

Both studies were published in Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.

The findings are likely to bolster legal marijuana advocates, who have long contended legal marijuana could curb the opioid epidemic.

Americas overdose crisis has claimed more lives each year since the early 2000s, when powerful opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin were aggressively marketed. In 2016, more than 64,000 people died of an overdose.

In a JAMA opinion piece accompanying the research, Drs Kevin Hill from Harvard and Andrew Saxon from the veterans affairs health system wrote that the research supports anecdotal evidence from patients who describe a decreased need for opioids to treat chronic pain after initiation of medical cannabis pharmacotherapy.

Marijuanas effect on opioid use remains contested. Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse found illicit marijuana use was associated with increased illicit opioid use. That study used data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which has produced analyses skeptical of the benefits of liberalizing marijuana.

Meanwhile, a 2014 JAMA Internal Medicine study would seem to support the new findings. That study found states with medical marijuana laws had higher overdose rates, but that those rates declined in years after medical marijuana laws were implemented, with an average 24.8% decline.

The Trump administration made curbing the epidemic a major public health target. Most efforts focus on criminal prosecutions of drug dealers, including emphasizing the death penalty and civil litigation.

The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, opposes efforts to liberalize marijuana access, and claimed marijuana fueled the overdose epidemic.

No new money has been allocated to the crisis since Trump took office. Further, Republican proposals for cuts to Medicaid would have disproportionately affected people in addiction treatment. Experts believe serious efforts to curb the epidemic will cost billions and will need to address bottlenecks in mental health infrastructure.

Both studies have limitations. First, the opioid crisis has touched every state in America, but there are regional variations. And marijuana laws vary significantly.

People who rely on Medicaid or Medicare Part D are generally poor, disabled and elderly, meaning the findings may not apply to the population in general. Further, it is unclear whether people avoided opioids when medical marijuana was available.

Many companies and states (via taxes) are profiting from the cannabis industry while failing to support research at the level necessary to advance the science, wrote Hill and Saxon.

This situation has to change to get definitive answers on the possible role for cannabis in the opioid crisis, as well as the other potential harms and benefits of legalizing cannabis.

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Dennis Peron, father of medical marijuana in California, dies at 72

Activist was prominent in San Francisco gay community and co-wrote California Proposition 215, legalizing medical pot

Dennis Peron, father of medical marijuana in California, dies at 72

  • Activist was prominent in San Francisco gay community
  • Peron co-wrote California Proposition 215, legalizing medical pot

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Marissa SafontDennis Peron, father of medical marijuana in California, dies at 72
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