Walgreens Broaches Possible Health Benefits Of Medical Marijuana

Walgreens wants to talk about marijuana.

In what appears to be an unprecedented move for a company its size, Walgreens published a discussion of the possible health benefits of medical marijuana on its health and wellness blog this week.

In the post, titled “Clarifying Clinical Cannabis,” a resident pharmacist at the company takes a look at medical marijuana’s side effects, the debate about its medicinal properties and its legality:

Research has indicated it may impair your lungs, memory and judgment. However, research has also shown marijuana provides pain relief in ways traditional pain medicines don’t. Medical marijuana can improve appetite and relieve nausea in those who have cancer and it may help relieve symptoms such as muscle stiffness in people who have multiple sclerosis.”

It’s not exactly clear what the company’s intentions are. Its parent company, Walgreen Co., isn’t ready to say it’s throwing its hat in the ring of an industry whose recreational and medical sales topped out at $5.4 billion in 2015.

“The content is strictly informative, and nowhere do we take any stance on the issue,” Jim Cohn, a spokesman for Walgreen Co., told The Huffington Post. “It was developed to address some of the questions we’ve received from patients and customers through various channels.”

Indeed, Americans want to talk about weed. Recent polling by CBS News suggests 56 percent of Americans want marijuana to be legalized across the board, and half of Americans have tried it. 

Corporations, however, have tiptoed around the issue, especially when it comes to marijuana’s touted health applications. Companies like Target have faced fierce backlash for speaking out about hot-button issues at all. It’s interesting, then, that a pharmacy chain is joining the discussion about medical marijuana.

Advocates say it’s a low-risk move.

“In the corporate world one assumes the biggest risk for an institution like Walgreens is a backlash from the consuming public — but fear of the backlash from American consumers hasn’t been a realistic concern for a long time,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told HuffPost.

He went on:

“More than half of the public now resides in jurisdictions where the physician-supervised use of cannabis therapy for qualifying patients is legal, and over 85 percent of voters acknowledge that cannabis is a safe and effective treatment that ought to be permitted. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that those within the public health sphere are now publicly acknowledging and responding to this reality,” he said in an email. 

While Walgreen may balk at the idea that its blog post represents a big change in national discourse, the company has always been tactful in its communications with consumers. In 2014 it scrapped a plan to move its headquarters to Switzerland to take advantage of low corporate tax rates — a move that would have cost taxpayers $4 billion over the following five years — in response to public pressure. 

Its blog post was published on Tumblr, which targets marijuana’s most favorable audience: Young people. Seventy-one percent of adults under 35 think marijuana use should be legal, according to the CBS poll.

In any case, it’ll be a while before you’ll be picking up an ounce of purple haze at Walgreens or Duane Reade. Twenty-four states have legalized marijuana for medical use, and Washington, D.C., and four other states have legalized recreational use, but it’s still banned federally.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2016/04/30/walgreens-medical-marijuana_n_9814592.html


Runners high: the athletes who use marijuana to improve their training

Stoned marathon runners may seem like walking contradictions, but there are hints the drug and long-distance running could go hand-in-hand

Avery Collins speaks with the snow-bro drawl typical of many young Coloradans.

With his bloodshot, blue eyes peeking out from under blond curls and a low-slung hat, he could easily fit in with the stoners at a 4/20 festival.

For me, its a spiritual happening, he said recently. Everything is perfect, everything is pure bliss.

Avery Collins promotes Marys Medicinals. Photograph: Courtesy of Avery Collins

But Collins isnt talking about the effects of marijuana. Hes talking about the runners high. The 25-year-old ultramarathoner is a marijuana user, just not the stereotypical couch-locked stoner living on junk food and video games. In the last three years, hes completed 30 ultramarathons five of which were a hundred miles each and a 200-mile race through the Rocky Mountains, which he won with a time of 65 hours.

Avery says that eating cannabis edibles before and during a run, instead of slowing him down, as one might think, actually enhances the experience.

It was amazing, he recalls of his first time combining pot and running. It helps me stay in the moment and embrace whats going on right then and there.

Collins is quick to state that while he enjoys running high, he never uses it during races and doesnt think his success should be credited to pot. Currently, the World Anti-Doping Agency lists marijuana as a banned substance in competitions, and many high-profile marathons test runners for pot. Which raises the question: is marijuana a performance-enhancing drug?

Despite the prohibition, running on weed has become an increasingly popular trend among athletes, who use it either as a way to avoid fatigue, boredom or anxiety during long runs, or as a pain-reliever and anti-inflammatory medication during recovery periods. Another leading ultramarathoner, Jenn Shelton, told the Wall Street Journal that she uses cannabis in her training, as does triathlete Clifford Drusinsky. And who could forget Arnold Schwarzenegger ripping a joint in the documentary Pumping Iron.

Meanwhile, the legal cannabis industry has been carving out a place in the world of long-distance running. Marijuana edibles company Incredibles and bong manufacturer Roll-uh-Bowl have sponsored Collins, and the cannabis cultivation company Cresco Labs recently sponsored the Chicago marathon.

Two years ago the 4/20 Games began touring the US, hosting runs and concerts to promote athletics among marijuana users. Online communities such as Cannafit and Norml athletics are connecting stoner athletes, along with running groups like Run On Grass in Denver.

Neurobiological research

While this dynamic may contradict the stoner stereotype, recent research in neurobiology suggests that marijuana and long-distance running may have more to do with each other than many think.

The runners high, as its been traditionally described, has been presumed to be caused by opioid peptides like endorphins, says Gregory Gerdeman, assistant professor of biology at Eckerd College who has studied the effect of exercise on mood and brain chemistry. But endorphins dont cross into the blood-brain barrier, he explains, so the natural euphoria that long-distance runners experience is likely not caused by endorphins, but by the brains endocannabinoid system.

When Collins (or anyone) consumes marijuana, it is the brains cannabinoid receptors that receive the THC in marijuana and deliver the psychoactive effect. This endocannabinoid system also plays a part in regulating appetite, pain-sensation, emotions, memory, and much more.

Dr Johannes Fuss, researcher at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, authored a study that, as he puts it, investigated the neurobiological mechanisms that mediate the emotional benefits after acute exercise, often termed as a runners high. Fusss work found that the endocannabinoid system plays a central role in the emotional aspects of running.

Some researchers argue that long distance running might have evolved in our ancestors when forests were replaced by open savannas in Africa, Fuss said. This land conversion allowed the chasing of prey by endurance running. Reduced sensation of pain and less anxiety through long-distance running would have been a benefit for running hunters.

Is the euphoria long-distance runners experience linked to the brains endocannabinoid system? Photograph: Robert F Bukaty/AP

When volunteers exercise for 30 minutes, the level of the endocannabinoid anandamide in their bloodstream goes up, says Gerdeman. In one study, we found that the increase of feelings of wellbeing in patients was tightly correlated to levels of anandamide in their bloodstream. So we started talking about anandamide as a neurobiological reward for running. It makes you feel good … And anandamide acts like THC in many ways. It gets its name from ananda, which means bliss in sanskrit.

A performance-enhancing drug?

So far there have been no definitive studies on how marijuana and long-distance running work in concert. In her Wall Street Journal interview, Jenn Shelton said she never consumed marijuana during competition, because she believed it did enhance performance. Its not inconceivable that if the human brains endocannabinoid system regulates fatigue, that an artificial stimulation of this system with marijuana could further reduce both physical and mental exhaustion, thereby bringing it ever closer to the designation of a performance enhancing drug.

The World Anti-Doping Agency declined to be interviewed for this story, but said in a statement that in 2013 they raised the levels of acceptable marijuana in an athletes system so that out-of-competition use would not disqualify them. Yet any use just before a sporting event remains prohibited.

The Anti-Doping Agency are not alone in their distaste for pot. The NFL have often been criticized for their ban on bud, as many football players argue its a healthy alternative to painkillers. Last week Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee was immediately drug tested after tweeting out a few pot jokes on 4/20. The NCAA also has long-held a zero tolerance policy with marijuana, but is currently looking at softening their approach, under the argument that it is not a performance enhancing drug.

Gerdeman warned that for anyone new to running (or marijuana, for that matter), it would probably be unwise to go mixing the two.

Its conceivable that cannabis could benefit someone who is just starting an exercise routine, he said, but cannabis use elevates the heart rate, so for someone who isnt used to exercising, it could make them lightheaded and have a spike in blood pressure. It could be dangerous for someone who is older with emergent cardiovascular disease.

Whether marijuana is harmful, a performance enhancement, or somewhere in between, there is still a social stigma against cannabis that makes athletes reluctant to be associated with it.

Id say 50% of the runners I meet are avid cannabis users, whether its at night or all day or just during or after runs, Collins said. Id say almost none of them are open about it.

I know a lot of long-distance runners that are in the closet about their cannabis use, says Chris Barnicle, a former professional runner turned marijuana advocate who promotes himself as The Worlds Fastest Stoner.

There is an ignorant stereotype about people who use marijuana not being athletic, but thats because they arent often represented. The public only sees a misrepresentation of people who do [hash] dabs all day long and arent active.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/02/marijuana-athlete-running-performance-enhancing-drug


Feds Drop Case Against Influential Medical Marijuana Dispensary

The Justice Department has dropped its case against an Oakland medical marijuana collective, ending a four-year battle over what is considered the largest medical pot dispensary in the nation.

Harborside Health Center, which first opened in 2006, has been embroiled in litigation since 2012, when then-U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag began cracking down on medical pot shops in California. (Haag stepped down from her post last year.) On Tuesday, Harborside announced the Justice Department was dropping its case against the dispensary.

“When US Attorney Melinda Haag first filed suit to seize the property Harborside is located in, I vowed we would never abandon our patients … and predicted Harborside would outlast the efforts to close us down,” Harborside Executive Director Steve DeAngelo said in a statement. “Today, thanks to the deep support of our community and our elected officials, and the skill and determination of our legal counsel, that prediction has come true.”

“It’s a great day for Oakland and for all of California,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said. “The federal government isn’t going to waste tax dollars trying to frustrate the desires of Californians to have safe access to medical cannabis.”

Schaaf also noted that coincidentally, news of the dismissal came the same day Oakland is expected to adopt new regulations bringing the entire supply chain of the city’s medical marijuana industry “out from the shadows.”

While the use, possession and sale of marijuana is illegal under federal law, medical cannabis was legalized in California in 1996. Since then, medical dispensaries have thrived in the state. In 2014, state-registered dispensaries reported $570 million in income, bringing in $49.5 million in taxes. 

It was this success that prompted Haag to go after Harborside, which brings in approximately $25 million annually in revenue from medical pot sales and serves more than 200,000 members. In July 2012, Haag’s office filed a civil forfeiture action against the collective, claiming the dispensary had violated federal drug laws.

“The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state’s medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need,” Haag wrote

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Harborside provides medical cannabis to over 1,000 patients a day, says Executive Director Steve DeAngelo.

The action against Harborside was part of the Obama administration’s wider crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries across the state. In 2011 and 2012, more than 500 dispensaries across California shuttered due to threats of federal prosecution despite their compliance with state law. 

In October 2012, the city of Oakland sued the federal government to block the DOJ from seizing the property where Harborside operates, arguing that closing the dispensary would harm its patients and force sick people to seek marijuana via illegal means.  

Over the next few years, the legal tug-of-war continued. Harborside won a series of victories in late 2012 and early 2013 allowing the dispensary to avoid eviction and continue its operations. But in February 2013, a federal magistrate judge dismissed Oakland’s lawsuit. The city then appealed, and in July 2013 a judge ruled the dispensary could stay open while litigation continued. The case eventually went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, where the city was dealt a major legal setback in August. 

Meanwhile, there were several developments at the federal level that worked in Harborside’s favor. In 2014, Congress approved an amendment introduced by California Reps. Sam Farr (D) and Dana Rohrabacher (R) that blocks the DOJ from using federal funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs. Congress reauthorized that amendment in 2015. And in October, a federal judge ruled that the Justice Department can’t prosecute legally operating providers of medical marijuana. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately return a request for comment on why the case was dropped, but DeAngelo speculated the renewal of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment and the dismissal of a similar case against a Marin dispensary were both factors. 

“I hope that what we’re seeing is the beginning of the dismantling of federal prohibition,” he told HuffPost. 

The dismissal drew praise from Oakland-area politicians who have long stood by the collective. 

“Today’s decision by the U.S. attorney is a victory for health care access,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who represents Oakland and pressed for the DOJ to drop the case against Harborside. “For decades, Harborside has helped ensure members of our community can access their medicine. It’s past time for the federal government to stop standing between these patients and their medicine.”

“Harborside Health Center has been a strong positive presence in Oakland, both for the patients they serve, the workers they employ, and for the vital public services that are supported by their tax revenues,” said Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. “I am glad that Oakland’s work on the Federal case helped keep Harborside open during this dispute, and heartened to know that the threat against them is now removed.”

This post has been updated with comment from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2016/05/03/harborside-health-center-case-dropped_n_9831800.html


Group sues Florida county after marijuana omission on ballot

Washington (CNN)An interest group lobbying for the legalization of medical marijuana is suing one of Florida’s largest counties after reports emerged that their favored constitutional amendment was nowhere to be found on some ballots.

The Florida chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) last week said it would file suit against the Broward County Commissioner of Elections, which oversees balloting in the county home to Ft. Lauderdale. That city’s Sun Sentinel newspaper reported that some voters did not have Constitutional Amendment 2 — the marijuana legalization measure — on their ballots.
    “The plaintiff’s are seeking a judicial declaration enjoining the Defendant’s from distributing any further ballots, and implementing an emergency plan to issue new ones which insure the inclusion of the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot,” the organization said in a statement.
    A number of states are voting on marijuana propositions in November, most prominently California and Florida. The constitutional amendment in the Sunshine State must earn 60% support to go into effect. A similar medical marijuana initiative in 2014 failed ever so closely — earning only 58% support.
    It is unclear how many ballots were affected in Broward County.
    “We can’t find a copy of a ballot that does not have the marijuana issue on it,” Anne Sallee, a former local government official who was one of the people with a ballot error, told the Sun Sentinel.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/25/politics/florida-medical-marijuana-constitutional-amendment/index.html


    Germany to legalize medicinal marijuana by 2017

    (CNN)Germany will legalize medical marijuana next year, the country’s health minister said.

    The German cabinet decided Monday to approve the measure for seriously ill patients who have consulted with a doctor and “have no therapeutic alternative,” according to a press release from the German Health Ministry.
      “Our goal is that seriously ill people are looked after to the best of our ability,” Federal Health Minister Hermann Grhe said.
      Grhe also said he wants health insurance companies to cover costs if patients can’t be helped in any other way.
      Still, Marlene Mortler, the country’s federal drug commissioner cautioned that marijuana should not be considered completely safe.



        Argentina’s budding marijuana industry


      And Guam and 24 American states allow some form of medical marijuana use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
      Further south, Chile recently planted the largest legal marijuana field in Latin America. In 2013, Uruguay became the first nation to fully legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. The law also endowed the state with the power to regulate the plant’s production, distribution and sale.

      Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/04/europe/germany-medicinal-marijuana/index.html


      California marijuana initiative qualifies for the ballot

      Lieutenant governor called the Adult Use of Marijuana Act a game changer and an antidote to what he described as the failed and racist war on drugs

      Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Wednesday that the first of more than a dozen initiatives proposed to legalize recreational marijuana in California, the biggest pot producer in the US, has collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot in November.

      Flanked by sober-suited supporters, a doctor in a white coat, the head of the state NAACP and one very conservative Republican congressman, Newsom called the Adult Use of Marijuana Act which was bankrolled by Napster founder Sean Parker a game changer, an antidote to what he described as the failed and racist war on drugs.

      Its unlikely that any others will qualify, Newsom said of the competing measures. We have qualified. We are north of 600,000 signatures. That is beyond what is needed. We need a little less than 400,000. You can rest assured this will be on the November ballot.

      Newsom challenged voters and elected officials in the biggest state in the US and, in 1996, the first to legalize medical marijuana to step up and support the measure, which he has supported since its inception. Its proponents say the measure contains protections for children and will funnel tax money to strapped law enforcement agencies.

      If youre sick and tired of race-based sentencing, youd better be serious about this initiative, he said. If youre a parent, pay attention to this initiative I believe its very important, and I am hopeful that the people of California agree.

      Gavin Newsom: If youre sick and tired of race-based sentencing, youd better be serious about this initiative. Photograph: Maria L La Ganga for the Guardian

      In some ways, the most counterintuitive supporter at the afternoon news conference was Dana Rohrabacher, a conservative California congressman from deeply red Orange County who supported the now-defunct presidential campaign of Texas senator Ted Cruz.

      I cant think of a bigger waste of government money than to try to use it to control the private lives of adults, the Republican said. The federal government is taking billions of dollars away from the forest service and other critical agencies, he said, which are being defunded to maintain a war on drugs that is philosophically wrong.

      To date, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of pot. Colorado and Washington state, where ballot measures succeeded in 2012, were the first, followed by Oregon, Alaska and DC.

      A February public health analysis by tobacco researchers at the UC San Francisco Medical School panned the 64-page measure. Stanton Glantz, a nationally known anti-tobacco activist, is a co-author of the report, which looked at the Adult Use of Marijuana Act and one other initiative.

      Analysis of the measures is based on the premise that treating marijuana like tobacco legal but unwanted under a public health framework is an appropriate response to the social inequities and large public costs of the failed War on Drugs, the report said.

      But the two major legalization initiatives do not accomplish this goal, the researchers concluded, in part because they are written primarily to create a new business and only include minimal protections for the public that are unlikely to prevent public health harms caused by the burgeoning marijuana industry.

      Still, this has been a good week for marijuana supporters in California.

      Hours before the initiative announcement in San Francisco, the city council in neighboring Oakland approved regulations to license and tax medical marijuana within its boundaries. Oakland is now believed to be the first city to allow people with marijuana convictions to have equity ownership in dispensaries or to work in them.

      Californians have made it clear that they want people to have safe, legal access to medical marijuana, Oaklands mayor, Libby Schaaf, said in a written statement. Im proud that by adopting groundbreaking medical cannabis regulations, Oakland is creating a national model for how communities can bring every aspect of this growing sector of our economy into the light.

      On Tuesday, Oakland officials and the proprietors of what is considered to be the biggest medical marijuana dispensary in the country held a jubilant press conference at city hall to celebrate the federal governments agreement to drop its four-year effort to close Harborside Health Center.

      The US Department of Justice still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, regardless of the move across the country to legalize its use.

      In addition to the states that have approved party pot, 23 have approved the use of medical marijuana. Measures to legalize recreational cannabis are expected to be on the ballot in November in California, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Massachusetts and Maine, said Allen St Pierre, executive director of NORML, and medical marijuana is expected on the ballot in Florida and Missouri.

      This is the busiest year ever for reformers of marijuana laws, St Pierre said.

      Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/04/california-marijuana-election-2016


      California raises smoking age to 21 and moves closer to marijuana legalization

      State pushes age for smoking cigarettes up from 18 to 21 on the same day it decided an initiative to legalize recreational pot will go to a public vote

      California has raised the minimum age for smoking cigarettes from 18 to 21 with a measure that health advocates say will save lives and pave the way for states across the US to adopt stricter tobacco laws.

      The legislation, signed into law by Democratic governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday, is a major blow to the tobacco industry, which aggressively lobbied against the bill and has threatened to launch a referendum vote that would seek to overturn the controversial policy.

      The reform in California, which is the largest state in the country and often leads the way in adopting progressive environmental and health regulations, came the same day that the state took a major step forward in a long-running campaign to legalize recreational marijuana.

      Cannabis advocates in California, the biggest marijuana producer in the US, announced on Wednesday that an initiative to legalize pot sales beyond the medical industry has collected enough signatures to appear on the November ballot. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, funded by Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker, would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess pot, though some critics fear it could increase teen use.

      Lawmakers and medical experts celebrated the new tobacco regulation this week, which was part of a package of bills that also prohibits smoking electronic cigarettes in public places and expands smoking restrictions in schools.

      Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable death in our state, and the vast majority of smokers start as teens, Kristi VandenBosch, board member of the American Lung Association in California, said in a statement. These bills directly address the factors that put teens at risk of a deadly, lifelong addiction.

      In March 2015, the Institute of Medicine reported that increasing the smoking age to 21 would deter 15% of people ages 18 to 20 from developing a lasting tobacco habit.

      Hawaii was the first state to raise the smoking age to 21, though more than 100 cities, including San Francisco, New York and Chicago, have adopted similar policies. An increasing number of state legislatures have also taken measures to treat e-cigarettes like tobacco products in response to concerns about a rise in adolescent e-cigarette use.

      Proponents said they hope the California reforms could inspire federal legislation. The wave in Hawaii has turned into a tsunami in California, and I think it wont be long before we see it roll all the way to Washington DC, state assemblyman Jim Wood said in a statement.

      In November, California residents will also vote on a $2 increase in the states cigarette tax, which health advocates say could also reduce smoking among teens.

      Senator Ed Hernandez, the Democrat who authored the bill raising the tobacco age, said the passage of the legislation sent a clear message to the tobacco industry.

      Together, we stand to disrupt the chain of adolescent addiction, he said in a statement. The fierce opposition from Big Tobacco on this measure proves just how important this law is and how much their business model relies on targeting our kids.

      Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/05/california-cigarette-smoking-age-21-marijuana-legalization


      Spice: Americans turn to dangerous ‘synthetic marijuana’ to evade drug tests

      Makers of fake weed continually alter its chemical makeup to skirt laws, but users face serious dangers, from kidney failure to stroke

      A man comes into the emergency room in Jackson, Mississippi. Six-foot-four, 240lbs. Solid, brick muscle, recalls Dr Robert Galli, a professor of emergency medicine and toxicology at the University of Mississippi medical center (UMMC) in Jackson.

      This big guy was fumbling around in the street, he was rolling around in the grass, he had no shirt on, his pants and underwear were down to his shoes, and hes flopping around in the rain with about 15 people taking videos of him.

      Someone called 911. First the fire department arrived, followed by police, then paramedics, who ascertained from the surrounding crowd that the man smoked Spice.

      Spice is known as fake weed or synthetic marijuana because it grabs hold of the same receptors in the brain. But the lab-made powder bears little resemblance to the plant Americans increasingly see as benign.

      And because synthetic marijuana is ever evolving, standard urine drug screenings dont detect it. Most confirmed poisonings are ferreted out by epidemiologists, after the bizarre symptoms land users in the hospital.

      Sure enough, this guy was using Spice regularly if he wanted to get high, and now he got a hold of the bad stuff, Galli said.

      In several states across the US, the class of drugs known as Spice is causing a rash of poisonings that doctors say are fuelled by residents desire to get high without failing drug tests, as the continually changing class of drugs has eluded authorities.

      Rogue chemists avoid illegality, and help their customers avoid drug screenings, by delivering constantly changing, untested formulations to the American public. And the tactic appears to have proved successful, daring drug war era legislation to keep up.

      The experimentation on this is with the American public, saidGalli. Its not like these are given to animals to see how they respond. These are given to human animals, and they get it on the street.

      Mississippians make up an outsized chunk of those reported poisoned by synthetic marijuana each year. The state was almost solely responsible for a massive spike in poisonings the weekend of Easter 2015.

      In 2015, Mississippians reported 1,362 poisonings from synthetic cannabinoids, with17 deaths suspected to be related to the drugs. The tiny state is just 367 poisonings shy of the number of poisonings reported New York state, where 16m more people live, and where the cheap drug has reportedly ravaged homeless communities in New York City and working class towns such as Syracuse.

      Synthetic marijuana poisoning symptoms usually include violent outbursts and paranoia; more serious symptoms, such as kidney failure, stroke, and fast and irregular heartbeat, have all been documented in medical literature.

      Synthetic marijuana is also known as Spice. Photograph: Alamy

      By contrast, many researchers consider marijuana less addictive and toxic caffeine, despite its mind-altering properties. Death by marijuana is almost unheard of. Recently, however, some researchers have concluded that regular marijuana use can be harmful for teens brain development, affecting problem solving and memory, and there is some evidence that marijuana may amplify the risk of psychosis or serious mental health issues for those already at risk.

      A group of high-profile doctors recently came out in favor of legalization in part because the group believes marijuana prohibition causes the proliferation of dangerous synthetic cannabinoids. Doctors for Cannabis Legalization, which counts a former surgeon general among its membership, list this in its declaration of principles against prohibition.

      A 2014 Medscape poll of physicians found that doctors broadly supported regulation of marijuana. Seventy-nine per cent of physicians supported some form of legalization, either for medical purposes or full legal regulation.

      Together, Mississippi and New York make up almost 40% of the synthetic marijuana poisonings reported in 2015, of the nearly 8,000 nationwide. If the sparse data on poisonings and emergency department visits is to be believed, 2015 was one of the drugs most damaging years since its introduction to the United States almost a decade ago.

      Spice is commonly sold at gas stations or corner stores in colorful foil packaging, advertising flavors such as strawberry. Chemicals included in the packets can range from relatively benign compounds developed by university chemists, such as JWH-018, to those doctors believe are dangerous, such as AB-Chminaca.

      Synthetics first hit the market around 2006, popping up in smoke shops, unregulated and labeled not for human consumption. Despite the substances being manufactured in illicit (and sometimes filthy) Chinese laboratories, doctors now believe that the synthetics that hit the market 10 years ago were chemicals hijacked from pharmacologists published research.

      Some scientists now believe that drug dealers read their research, sent the formulas to China for manufacturing, then shipped them into the US for sale. Once the materials were in the states, traffickers dissolved the powdered chemicals with acetone-like thinners, mixed that liquid with snow cone flavorings, and sprayed it onto tea leaves packaged in colorful foils.

      One such example is a molecule developed by John W Huffman, JWH-018, who, as an organic chemistry professor from Clemson University, developed the molecule hoping it could provide nausea relief and appetite stimulation to patients without the euphoria of marijuana.

      Around 2007, Huffman began receiving calls from law enforcement agencies, the military, and panicked parents who discovered JWH-018 in Spice users who had reacted badly.

      In 2011, as the popularity of the drugs peaked among teenagers, the Drug Enforcement Agency took a swing at the problem with its biggest hammer: a Schedule I drug classification that outlawed molecules such as JWH-018, and allowed new ones to be emergency-classified as illegal.

      Whether that reduced demand is unclear. The emergency scheduling did, however, appear to trigger a chemical arms race as rogue chemists produced ever more mangled cannabinoids to avoid illegality.

      The most disturbing recent additions to the chemical spectrum that makes up Spice, according to toxicologists and clinicians at UMMC, are AB-Chminaca and MAB-Chminaca. Unlike marijuana, which only binds partially to cannabis receptors in the brain, these new synthetic cannabinoids grab ferociously on to neural receptors. Both are mutations of the JHW-018 molecule.

      Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the southern district of New York, speaks at a news conference where it was announced that authorities had broken up a group that trafficked in synthetic marijuana. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

      AB-Chminaca and MAB-Chminaca were identified in a spate of poisonings that sent four people to UMMCs emergency room in four hours on Good Friday, 3 April, 2015, and then sent 200 more patients into UMMCs emergency room that spring. The chemicals were only identified in Mississippi after doctors at the medical center analyzed drug samples using a liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometer, an hourlong process performed by a machine generally available only at research institutions.

      According to two agents of the Mississippi bureau of narcotics as well as Galli, the first death was of a man who took one puff of a Spice joint in a Jackson city club in March, collapsed, and never regained consciousness before dying the same night.

      By November, the supply of AB- and MAB-Chminaca still hadnt dried up in Mississippi. Another seven patients were reportedly hospitalized at UMMC over Thanksgiving weekend, this time vomiting. For emergency department staff, this only complicated matters: Spice patients are generally sedated until the drug wears off, but these patients ran the risk of choking on their own vomit.

      Until recently, Spice was associated with the poor and the young. In 2011, it was the second-most used drug behind marijuana among students in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades, according to the national Monitoring the Future survey. More than one in 10 had tried Spice.

      Mississippi bureau of narcotics agents said the backgrounds of users, ranging from ages 12 to 64 and from nearly every class of society, were so diverse as to make detecting a pattern impossible. Some of the only survey information on who uses synthetic marijuana shows that nearly a quarter (24%) of regular marijuana smokers currently use the drug, but little more is clear.

      But as Monitoring the Future shows use declining among teenagers, anecdotal reports suggest that authorities inability to detect Spice has made it appealing to those most frequently drug tested.

      A handful of adverse reactions were reported among football players, athletes who are still sanctioned for smoking marijuana. Robert Nkemdiche, a high-profile player at the University of Mississippi expected to be an NFL draft pick in 2016, fell out of a hotel window after allegedly smoking synthetic marijuana, Fox Sports reported. His brother Denzel, also an Ole Miss player, was allegedly hospitalized after standing on the roof of a building, paranoid and wrapped in a blanket.

      The New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones smoked synthetic marijuana before he showed up at a Massachusetts police station, half-naked and disoriented, in January.

      Truck drivers, soldiers, oil rig workers, hospital staff, and even Walmart employees are regularly drug tested in the US. With other professions, an estimated 58% of the total US workforce is drug tested, according to one 2014 survey.

      That doesnt include probationers, parolees, or recipients of social services who are drug tested. Even Mississippis roughly 5,500 welfare recipients are screened for drug use (seven tested positive between April 2014 and 2015, according to Rethink Mississippi).

      Marijuana legalization advocates reported that anti-drug policing is so aggressive, they had trouble collecting signatures for a ballot initiative, because voters feared police would access the petition and target signers, according to the Jackson Free Press.

      As Spice poisoning victims flow into emergency departments, UMMC toxicologists say they continuously find new chemicals. DEA officials said they had identified hundreds of compounds included in packets sold as Spice.

      Even in rabidly anti-drug Mississippi (it was the last state to repeal prohibition, in 1966), an emergency scheduling act similar to federal law can still only be updated when the part-time legislature is in session from January to May. Only federal agents can enforce the DEAs more up-to-date ban.

      In New York City, a local ordinance criminalized sale of the drugs after a massive interdiction of the drugs and packets by federal agents in New York City.

      You never know what youre going to find. This instance, we were fortunate, we hit the motherlode, said James Hunt, a New York DEA special agent, who helped search more than 80 bodegas and five Spice processing facilities around New York City in September 2015. Agents found enough of the chemical to fill 260,000 packets.

      I mean, for years weve been locking up heroin traffickers, cocaine traffickers, methamphetamine traffickers, those drugs have been around for umpteen years, said Hunt. This is something new. Its a huge task. Im not going to say its not.

      Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/08/spice-synthetic-marijuana-drug-screenings-tests


      Expots: medical marijuana draws parents to US for their children’s treatments

      Marijuana refugees are uprooting their lives and moving to Colorado, California and Oregon to legally use cannabis to treat their childrens health conditions

      Tristan Forde used to experience as many as 20 seizures a day. The two-year-old has Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy, and was forced to constantly wear a helmet suffering seizures so frequently that his three-year-old brother would automatically go to the freezer and get an ice pack every time Forde had an attack.

      Everything changed, however, when Forde began medical cannabis treatment last year. He went months without suffering a single seizure, said Yvonne Cahalane, Fordes mother. For the first time, it looked like there was a sparkle in his eyes. It sounds corny, but he just looked so much brighter.

      But Fordes hardships are far from over. He and his mother had to travel more than 4,000 miles from their hometown of Dunmanway, Ireland, to Aurora, Colorado, to legally access cannabis from a professional doctor. When their visas expire at the end of the year, theyll have to return to Ireland where the medicine that Cahalane says has changed her sons life is considered an illegal drug.

      Forde and his mother are part of a small group of expats, also known as international medical marijuana refugees, who have in recent years turned their lives upside down and moved from overseas to Colorado for cannabis-based medicines that they say carry profound health effects.

      Tristan Forde. Photograph: Courtesy of Yvonne Cahalane

      Were not going to choose the option of being criminals with this in Ireland, said Cahalane, 34, whose husband stayed behind in Ireland for work. We dont want to do things illegally, and we dont want to do it without a doctor.

      Theres no data on how many families have relocated from outside of the US to states such as Colorado, California and Oregon that have long permitted medical cannabis, which remains illegal at the federal level. But anecdotally, pot advocates say they know of a number of international families who have traveled to the US to try medical marijuana with some deciding to permanently relocate after observing positive impacts.

      Javier Pena, 40, said he moved his two seven-year-old twin boys from Spain to Colorado Springs last year so that they could start using cannabis oil. The twins both have Batten disease, a neurological disorder that gave them regular seizures.

      I thought that this is the possibility for us to get a better life for them. Why not try? said Pena, a computer engineer who was able to get a job transfer to Colorado. We didnt think we could find any solution.

      Pena said they had seen videos online about Charlottes Web, a strain of marijuana that originated in Colorado and has high amounts of cannabidiol, or CBD, which is a non-psychoactive component of cannabis.

      Charlottes Web, named after a young girl who suffered severe epilepsy, has drawn hundreds of families from outside of Colorado to the state, according to Realm of Caring, a Colorado Springs-based nonprofit that provides support to families using cannabinoid therapy.

      Nicole Mattison, outreach director, says Realm of Caring knows of roughly 400 families who have moved to Colorado for medical cannabis, including her own family, who moved from Tennessee to Colorado Springs for CBD.

      The organization doesnt track how many transplants are international, but Mattison said she personally knows of families from Australia, Iran and Spain who decided to relocate to Colorado for medical cannabis. Realm of Caring also frequently fields international calls.

      Theres a very big community here, said Mattison, whose daughter has Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, which is also associated with seizures. You have a system thats working in Colorado.

      Javier Pena and his twin boys, Pablo and Alvaro. Photograph: Courtesy of Javier Pena

      Many parents, like Cahalane, choose Colorado because of the states reputation and the presence of reputable doctors and advocacy groups. And even if there are underground ways for families to access cannabis medicine in their hometowns, many parents are reluctant for fear of losing custody of their children if they get caught.

      Sean Beeman, an Oregon-based producer of cannabis medicines who runs a medical marijuana refugees page, said he regularly talks to families from overseas who have moved to the US or are considering relocating. People bring kids to me from Germany, the Czech Republic weve had them from all over.

      Pot is everywhere, but this medicine isnt. So thats why people travel, he added.

      Research on how CBD affects seizures is limited and inconclusive, with some studies showing clear reductions in seizures and other reports finding no changes or even negative effects.

      Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry at Stanford and an expert on marijuana policy, said he would not recommend families uproot their lives for CBD given the lack of research. We dont have any evidence that it works beyond anecdote and hype.

      Still, many families who swear by cannabis treatments say they moved because they had exhausted all other options and tried so many prescription medications that did nothing or made conditions worse.

      One woman, who moved from the UK to Colorado and then California, said cannabis treatment for her 10-year-old daughter, who suffers from a neurological disorder, saved the girl from a life of excruciating pain.

      She now lives a completely functional normal life, said the mother, who requested anonymity so that she would not jeopardize an ongoing immigration case. She said shes not returning home until she can legally give her daughter cannabis. Were British. We want to go home eventually.

      Cahalane, who launched a petition now backed by more than 8,000 people, has been speaking out in hopes that her sons story will pressure Ireland to change its laws and allow her to return home with Forde and his medicine.

      He is just doing so well, Cahalane said, adding that she suspects more states and countries will eventually follow in the footsteps of Colorado. It will happen in Ireland. I just hope they realize it before more children suffer needlessly.

      Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/09/medical-marijuana-families-move-to-colorado-epilepsy