August 2017

Senate committee delivers major blow to Jeff Sessions’ war on weed

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved an amendment that will protect state medical marijuana programsan apparent rebuff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions hard-line stance on cannabis.

The amendment would prevent the Department of Justice from using resources to prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers if they are following state law. A House of Representatives version of the bill has also been introduced.

The amendment comes as Sessions has taken a harsh stance on marijuana, which an increasing number of states have legalized for both medical and recreational use. Twenty-nine states currently have medical marijuana laws and a recent poll found 94 percent of voters support adults using marijuana legally for medicinal purposes.

In fact, Sessions wrote a letter to the committee not to pass the amendment last month, arguing that it would restrict the Department of Justice.

I believe it would be unwise to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime, Sessions wrote.

Sessions has vehemently opposed marijuana legalization.

A task force Sessions created to review drug enforcement is expected to release findings soon, and he has rolled back sentencing guidelines that were enacted by former Attorney General Eric Holder, who stressed giving leeway to drug offenders.

Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project, a marijuana lobbying group, said the vote on Thursday was indicative of a larger trend occurring across the country.

What was expected to be a very successful vote passed on an overwhelming voice vote, while opposition to the Leahy amendment was literally a whimper, Murphy said in a statement. That sound we heard in the Senate was the sound of a waving white flag as the federal war on medical marijuana patients and providers winds down.

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A pot shop in Maine is giving away weed to people who help clean up the town

Weed, dude.
Image: JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images

A pot shop in Gardiner, Maine is offered up residents a free bag of weed in exchange for a little bit of community service.

Bring us back the full trash bag, and we give them a gift of cannabis, Dennis Meehan, owner of Summit Medical Marijuana in Gardiner told USA Today.

Inspired by a similar tactic used in Colorado, Meehan and his family are attempting to help clean up the town, while simultaneously putting a good face on the newly formed cannabis industry in Maine.

Speaking on the town in Colorado that did something similar, Meehan said, They had a great response to this. So I was hoping to do the same thing in Maine.

All you have to do is fill up with a bag of trash collected around the town, bring it to the store, and they’ll give you a bag of weed.

USA Today reports that a “few dozen” people have already turned in their bags of trash for weed, but he hopes to expand cleanup days statewide.

The state of Maine voted to legalize recreational cannabis in the November election, which went into effect earlier this year. Gifting cannabis is currently legal under Maine law, as long as the recipients are 21 years of age and older.

Philanthropic ventures are quite common in the cannabis industry as it attempts to shift its image from a culture of partying to a lifestyle and medicinal brand.

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Jeff Sessions wants Congress to let the DOJ go after medical marijuana patients

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants Congress to give him the authority to go after medical marijuana patients and distributors by rejecting federal protections that give states the right to legislate on the issue themselves.

As it stands, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment of 2014 bans the use of federal funds to enforce marijuana prohibition as legislated under the Controlled Substances Act.

With the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment set to expire in September, Sessions complained in a letter to congressional leaders in May that the laws inhibit and restrict the Justice Departments ability to prosecute individuals and urged them not to renew the protections.

That letter was obtained and published on Monday by journalist and drug policy reform activist Tom Angell.

Addressing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the attorney general points to the nationwide opioid epidemic and argues that the laws aid transnational drug organizations and dangerous traffickers who threaten American lives.

In response to these arguments brought against renewing the amendment, drug advocacy organizations have pointed to statistics verified by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which suggest that states which legalized medical marijuana have, in fact, seen an average 25 percent decline in opioid deaths.

Sessions, however, has opposed marijuana legalization throughout his political careerhaving infamously joked that he believed the Ku Klux Klan were OK until I found out they smoked pot. He alsoslammed former President Barack Obamas drug reform as a tragic mistake.

By contrast, even during the campaign trail, President Donald Trump has been consistent and vocal in his commitment to states’ rights when it comes to marijuana.

While in Colorado last July, where recreational marijuana use is legal, Trump told a reporter on KUSA-TV: “I wouldnt , no I wouldnt do that I think its up to the states, yeah. Im a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”

Now, in his term, permission to override state-level marijuana law is exactly what Trumps attorney general is requesting.

Read Sessions letter in full below:

H/T Washington Post

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Senators Vote To Extend Medical Marijuana Protections, In Defiance Of Jeff Sessions

A congressional committee voted Thursday to extend protections of state medical marijuana programs against federal interference, in defiance of a request from Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year urging his former colleagues to abandon the policy.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment, introduced by Sen.Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), that would add a clause to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) fiscal year 2018 budget that blocks the Department of Justice from using funding for federal prosecutions of medical marijuana providers that are legalized by individual states or jurisdictions.

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico have all enacted medical marijuana laws (17 other states have laws allowing limited use of cannabidiol, or CBD, the non-psychoactive ingredient in pot that holds promise for therapeutic use). Despite the majority of states efforts to move away from prohibition,the plant remains illegal at the federal level.

Lawmakers have been renewing the medical marijuana provision, commonly known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits DOJ from prosecuting state-legal medical marijuana operations, in every consecutive budget since it first passed in 2014. The amendment requires annual renewal and has been every year since it first passed.

Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit unanimouslyruledthat the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment blocks federal officials from prosecuting state-legal marijuana operators and patients.

This vote is not only a blow against an outdated Reefer Madness mindset, it is a personal rebuke to Jeff Sessions. Tom Angell, chairman of drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority

But the move stands in contrast to Sessions earlier stated wishes. Sessions, a vocal opponent of marijuana and progressive drug policies, senta letter to Congress in Mayurging them not to renew the protections into next year.

I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime, Sessions wrote in the letter, firstreported by MassRoots Tom Angell.The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.

Now, if the CJS budget is ultimately approved in the full Senate, the bill, along with the medical marijuana amendment, will go to a special committee to reach a compromise with the House. If a budget is not approved by the end of September, the previous amendment will be automatically renewed for another year.

This vote is not only a blow against an outdated Reefer Madness mindset, it is a personal rebuke to Jeff Sessions, Tom Angell, chairman of drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, said in a statement.The attorney general, in contravention of President Trumps campaign pledges and of public opinion, specifically asked Congress to give him the power to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers who are following state laws. A bipartisan group of his former Senate colleagues just said no.

Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project, strongly urged Congress to include the amendment in its final budget.

Even if you are one of the few people who dont support medical marijuana, states should still have the right to help their most vulnerable residents, Murphy said in a press release. They should not have to worry about the Department of Justice interfering.

Despite Sessions retrograde views on the plant, the trend of state-level legalization reflects a broader cultural shift towardacceptance of marijuana, the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States.National support for marijuana legalization has risen dramatically in recent years, reachinghistoric highsin multiple polls.Medical marijuana in particular enjoys extraordinary support. A Quinnipiac poll from earlier this year found that94 percent of Americanssupport allowing adults to use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it.

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Medical marijuana might stand a chance in the NFL

The NFL is looking into weed for pain management.
Image: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The NFL has been clear with its views on marijuana use within the professional football league: nope.

Last year, a player was suspended for using weed to cope with Crohn’s disease all because marijuana falls under the league’s controlled substance policy, with no exceptions for medical use.

But that could be changing soon.

The Washington Post reported late Monday that the NFL has offered to work with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) to study the effects of marijuana use for pain management. The union has been working on its own marijuana study.

The news about a potential collaborative study comes shortly after a massive study from Boston University on the chances of suffering brain damage in the form of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, from playing the sport.

According to the WaPo, the NFL wrote a letter to the players association and offered to work together. Joe Lockhart, NFL executive vice president of communication, told the news outlet, “We look forward to working with the Players Association on all issues involving the health and safety of our players.”

We reached out to the NFLPA for additional comment.

This isn’t an official change in policy or anything close to it. But this is a first step toward the NFL opening up to the possibility of using marijuana for chronic and acute pain management.

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This Is How Much Weed You Should Smoke If Youre Trying To Relieve Stress

Marijuana can be a fickle little drug.

For some people,a few hits will transport them into a state of pure bliss and relaxation, while for others, just one puff might send them into a downward spiral of anxiety and paranoia.

Given its (mostly) illegal nature, the effects of marijuana are pretty difficult to study in a controlled, scientifically reliable way.

But one new studyfrom the journal has shed some light on the dose-dependent qualities of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the main psychoactive chemical in pot and how the drug relates to stress relief.

With her colleagues, Emma Childs, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, studied 42 healthy participants between the ages of 18 and 40, all of whom had some experience with using cannabis, but didnt usethe drug on a daily basis.

The subjects were randomly separated into three different groups in a double-blind fashion, meaning both the participants and the researchers didnt know who belonged to which group.

One group received a low dose of THC (a capsule containing 7.5 milligrams of the compound), another group received a moderate dose (12.5 milligrams of THC), and the third set of subjects were a placebo group, meaning they received a capsule containing no THC at all.

All subjects participated in two four-hour tasks at the University of Chicago, with each individual ingesting their assigned doses of THC before each session.

For the first session, participants dedicated 10 minutes to prepping for a mock job interview. Then, they met with lab assistants for a five-minute interview, and were subsequently told to count backwards by subtracting 13 from a five-digit number (which lasted five minutes).

Given that I can barely figure out how much money to give the cashier at Taco Bell after partaking in a bit of the green stuff, Id imagine this task probably seems impossible to do when youre stoned.

Or, as Childs put it, she and her colleagues considered the task to be very reliably stress-inducing.

During their second session, subjects met with lab assistants once again, but this time, they were simply asked to discuss a favorite movie or book for five minutes, and then play a quick game of solitaire.

For both sessions, the participants were required to rate their stress levels and to describe how they felt about each task. Researchers also looked at their physiological measures at different intervals, such as participants blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol (a stress hormone) levels.

The subjects who received 7.5 milligrams of THC reported feeling less stress after the more challenging task, compared with those who received the placebo capsule.

Those who were given the moderate dose of THC said theywere in a more negative mood both before and throughout that task, which they were also more likely to describe as threatening and challenging.

Interestingly, the researchers found no significant differences among participants in terms of heart rate, blood pressure, or cortisol levels at any point before, during, or after each of the two tasks.

Childs explained the results of the study,

Our findings provide some support for the common claim that cannabis is used to reduce stress and relieve tension and anxiety.

At the same time, our finding that participants in the higher THC group reported small but significant increases in anxiety and negative mood throughout the test supports the idea that THC can also produce the opposite effect.

Of course, theres still so much we dont know about the effects of cannabis, let alone the relationship between the drug and anxiety levels.

In 2014, researchers at Vanderbilt University discovered cannabinoid receptors in a part of the brain involved in anxiety regulation and the flight-or-fight response.

Plus, another 2014 study found that, of about 100 patients surveyed who use medical marijuana, half of themreported relief from feelings of stress and anxiety.

So, theres a clear correlation brewing somewhere here, but unfortunately, its pretty difficult for researchers to obtain permits to study marijuana, so itll be awhile before we can really see any longterm trends in this research.

In the meantime, maybe we should just consider pot to be a kind of Goldilocks drug not too much, but not too little, either.

You have to get the dose.

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Could weed be used to treat period pain?

There are reports cannabis will be approved by New York legislators to treat period pain. The evidence is unclear, but that doesnt mean the drug can be ruled out

According to reports this week, marijuana is about to be approved to treat period pains by legislators in New York. Cannabis is already allowed for medicinal use in 29 American states for a variety of conditions such as cancer, HIV or Aids, severe nausea, seizures and persistent muscle spasms (for example with people who have multiple sclerosis). Could period pains really be joining that list, and is there any evidence that it works?


It is certainly clearly stated in bill number A582: Medical marijuana can alleviate many of the painful effects of dysmenorrhea. The bill also states that Not only will this improve womens wellbeing and productivity during menstruation, but it will advance New York State in one of the countrys fastest growing industries. So cannabis will help women, and industry too. Its win win.

Except that Dr Penny Whiting, the lead author of a large systematic review in Jama on the medicinal uses of cannabinoids confirms my suspicion that there is no research showing that cannabis relieves period pains though she points out that because of the lack of research, theres also no evidence it doesnt work … Her review found moderate evidence that cannabinoids work for chronic pain and spasticity (severe cramps such as in multiple sclerosis) and low quality evidence that it relieves nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy and sleep disorders. Another review published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found similar results.

Period cramps are caused by the release of prostaglandins that trigger muscle cramps in the uterus. These cramps reduce the blood supply to the uterus and cause painful spasms. Theres not much in the medical armoury to help dysmenorrhea. There are oral contraceptives that stop ovulation and therefore prostaglandin production, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (that inhibit prostaglandins being made) or paracetamol. Meanwhile, in Colorado and California women can use marijuana tampons made by Foria which smell of cookie dough. The tampons combine two active ingredients from cannabis tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The cells lining the vaginal wall absorb the cannabinoids and may block the nerves from carrying pain signals to the brain. Local absorption is also meant to reduce any psychoactive high from the drug.

Theres anecdotal evidence from women that these cannabis tampons work within 20 minutes. However, they are not available legally in the UK. And like any drug, cannabinoids can have side effects. Writing in the BMJ, Dr Giles Newton-Howes, of the University of Otago in New Zealand argued the case for making it easier to conduct trials for the use of cannabis at medicine. He says that we can only speculate on their usefulness for dysmenorrhea. But its welcome speculation at that.

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Cory Booker to introduce sweeping marijuana legalization bill

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) will introduce a bill that would make marijuana legal in the United States.

The Marijuana Justice Act would amend the Controlled Substances Act by taking marijuana out of it and allow for marijuana-related offenses to be expunged. It also encourages states to legalize marijuana.

Our countrys drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed, Booker said, according to They dont make our communities any saferinstead they divert critical resources from fighting violent crimes, tear families apart, unfairly impact low-income communities and communities of color and waste billions in taxpayer dollars each year.

Bookers bill would also create a community reinvestment fund that would be used to establish a grant program to reinvest in communities most affected by the war on drugs by having job training, reentry services, expenses related to expungement of convictions, public libraries, community centers, youth programs, and health education programs.

While the bill is not likely to be passed with a Republican-controlled Congress, it is yet another sign of changing views on cannabiseven in Congress. While debate swirls atthe federal level about legalization, several states have made marijuana possession legal.

Another hurdle is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has said on numerous occasions that he is vehemently opposed to legalization of marijuana and even (falsely) claimed it was as dangerous as heroin, which has become the epicenter of a nationwide opioid epidemic.

While Sessions may have a hardline view of marijuana, most Americans dont feel the same way. An overwhelming numberof people polled by Quinnipiac University poll in April supported medical marijuana use, while 60 percent of people believed marijuana should be legalized outright.

Bookers bill is single most far-reaching marijuana bill thats ever been filed in either chamber of Congress, Tom Angell, the head of Marijuana Majority, told Vox.

More than just getting the federal government out of the way so that states can legalize without DEA harassment, this new proposal goes even further by actually punishing states that have bad marijuana laws, he said.

Booker is expected to discuss his bill at 12:30pm ET on Tuesday on his Facebook page.

Update 1:02pm CT:We live in a country where we swear this idea and we believe very strongly that we are to be a country of liberty and justice for all, Booker said in his Facebook announcement. One way in which we have not fulfilled that promise, that ideal, is through our criminal justice system.

Booker, who has made criminal justice reform a major platform, said the War on Drugs has spiked the federal prison population over 800 percent, and there was not equal application in the criminal justice system.

We in this country have gone and persecuted the drug war not on everyone, but have focused it on the most vulnerable people in our communities, Booker said.

Later in the livestream, Booker said it was hypocritical of members of Congress who readily admit using drugs to allow drug laws that target people of color and people from lower-income communities.

Booker said his bill does not currently have co-sponsors but hopes to convince other members of Congress to sign on soon.

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Holy smoke! The church of cannabis

As congregations dwindle, a new religion is lighting up Denver, Colorado. Aaron Millar joins the elevationists of the International Church of Cannabis who worship the weed

It started, naturally, with a group of friends smoking a joint. Steve Berke, a graduate of Yale University, was temporarily living in an old church in Denver, Colorado. His estate agent parents had bought the 113-year-old building with the plan to turn it into flats. He and Lee Molloy, as well as a few friends, had just moved from Miami to capitalise on Colorados lucrative marijuana market. But then, in the words of Lee: We started having these stupid, fantastical conversations. What if we kept it as a church? So Steve convinced his parents to give him the building and, nine months later, on 20 April 2016 4/20, as its known in the United States, the unofficial potheads holiday (because its 4.20pm somewhere, right?) the International Church of Cannabis opened its doors with its own chapel, theology and video game arcade.

From the outside all appears normal: red-brick towers, blocky turrets, a classic city church in an otherwise leafy suburb of Denver. But there are giveaways. The three front doors and arched window facade have been spray-painted with silver galaxies and bright, happy-face planets. The work of legendary painter and graphic artist Kenny Scharf, who has exhibited in the Whitney and New Yorks Museum of Modern Art, it looks more like the backdrop for an illegal 90s rave than your typical parish church. But its indicative of the coup that Elevation Ministries, the non-profit company that Steve and Lee co-founded to set up the Church of Cannabis, has managed to pull off.

That mural would probably buy you next doors house, Lee says, letting me in. But they got it for the price of an air ticket for Scharf, a few days skiing and the loan of a jacket. People love fantastical ideas.

Perfect peace: guests of the church relaxing in the hangout room. Photograph: Ryan David Brown for the Observer

The original plan was to open it to the general public, but because Colorados current pot law only allows smoking in private clubs, it is, for now at least, a members-only affair. To date they have more than 1,400 on their list. They open the doors from Thursday to Sunday for smoke-free public viewing, with private cannabis services held on Friday nights. It seems to be growing.

Thats not surprising. Medical marijuana was legalised in Colorado in 2000 the first state to write it into its constitution. By 2009 dispensaries began popping up around the state and legalisation of recreational use soon followed in 2012. It has, for the most part, been wholeheartedly embraced. In 2016 Colorado sold more than a $1bn of weed, created thousands of new jobs and collected almost $200m in additional tax revenue. A church dedicated to cannabis may seem strange to us, but in Colorado it might just be the next logical step.

But there have been detractors. Currently, three of the founding members, including Lee, are under citation for two charges dating back to their opening 4/20 event: the first for breaking the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, which bans smoking in public places, and the second for breaking a state law that forbids marijuana consumption outside private homes and clubs. They refute the claims, and officials admit that they appear to have been adhering to the law since then, but a court date is pending.

Dan Pabon, from the states House of Representatives, goes further: in a recent interview with the New York Times he said that the new church offends both religious beliefs everywhere, as well as the voters intent on allowing legalisation of marijuana in Colorado. He introduced an amendment that would ban pot use in churches, but to date it has failed to gather support. Overall, though, official opposition seems to be dwindling. Daniel Rowland, spokesman for the Denver city office, says: As long as they operate within the law and dont offend their neighbours, theyre free to do what they want.

Lighting up: Lee Molloy, co-founding member, smokes a joint on the main stage. Photograph: Ryan David Brown for the Observer

But what of those neighbours? Peter G Chronis, writing in local paper the Denver Post, said he felt blindsided angry that the project was done in secret and that the neighbourhood didnt have a chance to voice concerns prior to its completion. Parking and noise, rather than the consumption of marijuana inside, still seem to be the major worries, as well as the possibility that attendees will drive home stoned. But Lee is hoping to turn them round: arranging volunteer days through their church, to help make a positive impact in the community. Last Saturday they were out collecting rubbish from local streets. For now, at least, there seems to be a tentative truce.

But putting all beliefs and disputes aside, what everyone can surely agree is that they have transformed a near-derelict building into a staggering work of art. Every single surface has been painted in vibrant patterns of red, blue and green, geometric prisms with mythological creatures, stars and eyes hidden within. At the back wall, two dream-like Dali-esque giants sit cross-legged as if lost in meditation. It feels like a hallucination, someone says beside me, eyes careening upwards. Its like being swallowed by a Pink Floyd album cover. Perhaps most impressive of all is that it was created spontaneously without a sketch or a plan. This was another freebie: they flew Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel over and bought him a bunch of paints, then he started work in one corner and painted whatever he dreamed up until he finished. It took him just six days he rested on the seventh.

As the service begins we are encouraged to get to know each other: people spark up joints and pass them around. Long wisps of smoke float to the ceiling and cover the congregation in a flowery shroud; splutterings of coughs and giggles, the sharp intake of breath on all sides. There are about 30 of us in all, a mixed bag of misfits ranging from a self-proclaimed pothead granny, whose eyes appear to move independently of each other, to a couple of Harold & Kumar wannabies taking selfies at the altar. And then theres Lee: a former Bible quiz champion, raised in a strict evangelical Christian home, he has the credentials of a preacher if not the look: bushy hipster beard and long messy hair, dark bags under his eyes and the whiff of old smoke on his shirt. It feels more like the start of an AA meeting than a spiritual encounter. But then he starts to speak.

Time out: arcade games in the downstairs lounge, where members can also play ping pong. Photograph: Ryan David Brown for the Observer

Being an elevationist [the term theyve coined for the theology of the new church] means being an explorer, Lee begins. Our spiritual journey is one of self-discovery, not one of dogma. We believe there is no one-path solution to lifes big questions. This is simply a supportive place for each one of us to find a pathway to our own spirituality, whatever that may be. Think of it like the pick n mix of belief. There is no doctrine, no creed, no scripture or book. Simply choose bits of whatever world religions work for you, or make something up yourself, mix it all together, and see if it tastes good. There are as many pathways to being an elevationist as there are elevationists, Lee says. Spirituality shouldnt be a prescription; it should be an adventure. Its about seeking, not being told what to find.

Its an idea that will strike a chord with many people. Church attendance in the UK is on the decline. Last year only 1.4% of the population attended Sunday Anglican services the lowest level ever recorded. There is a significant demographic of people who simply cant relate to organised religion or outright oppose it on principle. Being able to explore your own path, within a supportive space, could help fill that widening spiritual deficit.

But heres where they may lose you. That journey of self-discovery, says Lee, is enhanced by ritual cannabis use. We have been programmed to behave and think in certain ways, he says. Cannabis helps elevationists tear down those false realities.

Its easy to baulk. Does watching Star Trek and eating peanut M&Ms count as a spiritual path? But, in fact, cannabis use has long been part of religion, from ancient Chinese shamans to modern-day Rastafarians: inducing altered states of consciousness has been a cornerstone of belief since time immemorial. And even without drugs, whether its spinning Sufi dancers or drumming voodoo priests, or even just simple prayer or meditation, taking the mind to a higher plane has always been a road to the divine, whatever you may conceive that to be.

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More Than 100 People Overdosed On Synthetic Marijuana In One Pennsylvania County

Over just three days in a single Pennsylvania county this month, more than a hundred people reportedly overdosed on a type ofsynthetic marijuanaknown as K2.

Between July 7 and July 10, 102 people in Lancaster County were treated for K2 overdoses, according to CNN. By July 14, an additional 56 people suffered similar afflications, bringing the total number of K2 overdose patients in the county to 158 in just one week.

C. Robert May, director of Lancaster Emergency Medical Services, said none of the overdoses were fatal but patients symptoms were sometimes serious.

Were seeing very sick patients, individuals who have very low blood pressure, are unconscious, and theyre getting admitted to intensive care, May told CBS News. He added that the influx of overdose patients was taxing to local hospitals that are already well above capacity.

Asked to explain the troubling increase, May said a dip in the availability of heroin may have contributed to a spike in demand for the synthetic drug. Either that, he said, or just some bad K2 has hit the street.

Unlike real marijuana, which is an organic drug that has never been reported as the sole cause of a fatal overdose, synthetic marijuana can be very dangerous and even deadly.

Typically composed of shredded plant material sprayed with lab-made cannibinoids the same psychoactive compound found in organic weed synthetic marijuanais far more powerful than the real McCoy, Barbra Roach, a Denver-based special agent at the Drug Enforcement Administration, said in an earlier HuffPost interview.

Its often impossible, however, to tell just how strong a dose of synthetic marijuana will be.

[Some] could be 1-to-800 times more powerful, some are 25 times more powerful, some are 5 times, said Roach. Because its lab-created, [the drugs makers] are constantly trying to change the analogs in it and the compounds so its like an unknown and then its not technically illegal, at least under federal law.

Sun Sentinel via Getty Images
Synthetic marijuana, sold in colorful packages with names like Cloud Nine, Maui Wowie and Mr. Nice Guy, on display behind the glass counter at a Kwik Stop in Hollywood, Florida.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the chemical composition can differ wildly between different batches of synthetic marijuana which, other than the moniker K2, is also sold under brand names including Spice, Black Mamba, Kush and Kronic. As a result, these products are likely to contain substances that cause dramatically different effects than the user might expect, the institute said.

Doctors have repeatedly compared consuming the drug to playing a game of Russian roulette.Known side effects includeseizures, hallucinations, convulsions and kidney damage,as well as extremely negativepsychological effects,such as suicidal tendencies and erratic, violent behavior.

Misleadingly marketed as a legal or safer alternative to real cannabis, synthetic marijuanaspopularity has balloonedin recent years. According to theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention, the drug has been particularly in-demand among teens and young adults seeking an alternative to marijuana or a new experience with a hallucinogenic drug.

Many of the overdose patients in Lancaster County this month have been adults in their 20s, said May. Some have been teenagers.

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