Patrick Stewart reveals he uses medical marijuana every day


He’s not quite 420 blazing it, but X Men star and veteran actorSir Patrick Stewart revealed this week that he uses daily medical marijuana to treat his arthritis.

The76-year-old made the confession as ashow ofsupport fora new Oxford Universityresearch initiative that aims to explore the benefits of cannabis-based medicinethe first of its kind in the U.K.

“This is an important step forward for Britain in a field of research that has for too long been held back by prejudice, fear and ignorance,” he said. “I believe this program of research might result in benefits for people like myself as well as millions of others.”

It turns out the actor, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, but also spends time in Los Angeles for work, has been using cannabis for years in a spray form.

“Two years ago, in Los Angeles, I was examined by a doctor and given a note which gave me legal permission to purchase, from a registered outlet, cannabis-based products, which I was advised might help the ortho-arthritis in both my hands,” he explained.

So there you have it. If Captain Picard is cool with weed, there’s no reason the rest of us shouldn’t be too.

Between this and his new foster dog, he has to be in the running for Most Millennial Septuagenarian.

H/T Daily Mail


Someone donated $24,000 worth of marijuana to goodwill

Some people are super generous.

Employees at a Goodwill in Monroe, Washington, were surprised to find 3.75 pounds of weed inside a cooler that was recently donated.

According to cops, the weed has a street value of $24,000, though looking at the photos the police tweeted, the weed looks super old, so that number is probably inflated.

Image: monroe police/twitter

Though cannabis is legal to possess in the state of Washington, it’s illegal to have more than one ounce for personal use. So cops are currently examining surveillance footage to see if they can figure out who the kind person was that donated the pot.

They probably won’t be able to write this donation off on their taxes.


Government marijuana is terrible quality and doesn’t even smell like weed

Oregano, not weed.
Image: Newscast/REX/Shutterstock

In the age of stickiest-of-ickiest-and-rising THC percentages, it appears the United States government still supplies researchers with low grade brick weed you probably smoked in high school. Actually, it’s worse than the weed you smoked in high school.

According to reports from PBS and the Washington Post, all marijuana used in research must be supplied by the federal government, and the pot that the government has been handing out looks like trash.

Though it’s relatively simple to grow, the quality of cannabis you can purchase (legally or illegally) in the United States can vary greatly. Lighting, air quality, humidity and pests can all play a massive role in the end product, so growing weed may be pretty easy, but growing great weed can be pretty taxing.

As the Post points out, when researchers are testing the effects of marijuana, they need to test the real thing that people are actually growing, buying and consuming. But the cannabis being supplied to researchers currently is far from something you’d typically buy in a dispensary in Denver. Or getting from an illegal delivery service in New York City.

Some decent weed. Not the bad stuff.

Image: Jon Santa Cruz/REX/Shutterstock

And while weed comes in plenty of colors, shapes, densities and sizes, the pot analyzed by PBS and the Post looks extremely yellow and filled with stems.

Sue Sisley, a researcher with MAPS studying the medical effects of marijuana on U.S. veterans suffering from PTSD told PBS the weed supplied to them for the study doesn’t even smell like weed.

‘It doesnt resemble cannabis. It doesnt smell like cannabis.’

It doesnt resemble cannabis. It doesnt smell like cannabis,” she said.

Not only is the weed bad, but Sisley claims it was moldy as well. So the government clearly doesn’t have it together when it comes to growing pot.

All of the cannabis provided for medical research comes from a 12-acre farm located at the University of Mississippi. The farm is run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and is the only facility licensed by the DEA to grow pot for research, since marijuana remains a schedule 1 drug to the DEA. (It’s classified in a category with heroin and ecstasy, which also makes a lot of sense.)

Rick Doblin, MAPS director, blasted NIDA’s capabilities by telling PBS, Theyre in no way capable of assuming the rights and responsibilities for handling a drug that were hoping to be approved by the FDA as prescription medicine.

Some more very pretty cannabis.

Image: F. Bukaty/AP/REX/Shutterstock

When confronted about the mold and potency, NIDA and the University of Mississippi told PBS that neither test the samples for mold before they’re shipped.

Sisely had the samples provided by the government tested by an independent lab in Colorado as a part of typical protocol. There they found high levels of total yeast and mold in some samples, as well as potency that didn’t match what they had ordered. One sample was supposed to contain 13 percent THC it reportedly had just 8 percent.

Shockingly, 13 percent THC is the highest percentage NIDA offers. In Colorado you can walk into a dispensary and buy weed that is easily 20 percent, sometimes upwards of 30 percent.

NIDA blamed the mold problem on the lab, saying they didn’t handle it properly when they left it in a refrigerator for two days instead of freezing it. MAPS fired back, saying the weed with elevated total yeast and mold counts “were found in samples that never left the freezer before testing,” according to PBS.

While it was determined the mold variety in the cannabis was not harmful to adults, it’s clear that the United States needs to form better quality control and standards testing for cannabis, be it medical, recreational or for research. Regardless of how you feel about marijuana, the effects of the plant deserve to be properly researched, and right now, it appears they aren’t.

Though there way may be hope on the horizon: The DEA announced in the summer that it would start to allow other bulk growers the ability to provide cannabis for medical research, though none have yet been approved.


Spaceships, vegan food and branches of marijuana in Jamaica with reggae’s legends

Greats including Cedric Myton and Ken Boothe teamed up with a new generation of musicians to record the Soul of Jamaica album the old way unplugged and outdoors

To hear one of the best roots reggae albums to come out of Kingston, Jamaica, this spring, you have to drive a long way from Trench Town. In fact, you have to leave the city altogether and head up high into the mountains that surround it.

Not every taxi is keen on making the trip, so you might want to enlist a locals help and hope their cars suspension can take it (the vehicle I find myself in seems to have given up on the concept of suspension long ago, the undercarriage cracking as we bounce along the potholes). As you climb, you watch Kingston unfurl below, eventually arriving not at a recording studio, but a house hidden in the hills. And on the balcony, overlooking the rolling lush greenery of the Blue Mountains, is where some of reggae musics biggest legends from the Congos Cedric Myton to Ken Boothe have congregated to record alongside talents from the younger generation.

Were handing the baton over to the future leaders, says Kiddus I, a 72-year-old Rastafarian who has been recording reggae music since the beginning of the 1970s and is rarely, if ever, seen without a spliff dangling from his lips. And if theyre properly inspired, then we know that the fire keeps burning.

The fruits of these sessions can be heard on Soul of Jamaica, a new album released through French label Chapter 2. Its part of its Inna de Yard series, which aims to capture the sound of reggae as it used to be by recording acoustically, outside. As Myton puts it: We went yard to yard in those days, so from 1965 we have been doing these things. And now it goes on again great chanting, great music, great culture.


Why Is It Still So Hard For Patients In Need To Get Medicinal Cannabis?

This week the federal government granted its first license for an Australian company to grow and harvest medical marijuana. The Conversation

This follows Australias amending of the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 to legalise the production and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The amendment came in February 2016, a year after the death of campaigner Daniel Haslam.

Daniel suffered distressing side effects of chemotherapy, some of which were ameliorated by cannabis. While these changes sound promising for sufferers like Daniel, if he were alive today, he would still not be able to lawfully obtain medicinal cannabis.

Despite the media attention, extensive political and medical commentary on the subject, and the fact that more than two thirds of Australians have supported medicinal cannabis for many years, a patient with a clear cut and widely accepted case for being able to use lawful medicinal cannabis would still be unable to.

So far, only a few patients have been able to obtain lawful medicinal cannabis, and only after a long and difficult struggle.

Why is it taking so long?

There are a number of factors slowing down the availability of lawful medicinal cannabis in Australia.

With a multitude of natural chemical constituents, some of which are psychoactive – meaning mood, thinking and perception may be altered, perhaps pleasurably – cannabis is more complicated than most other pharmaceutical products. Cannabis can be used by way of a number of botanical products as well as partially purified or synthetic pharmaceutical preparations.

Much research is being invested in determining the components to treat particular medical conditions. For example, a widely studied cannabis plant extract has been used to treat pain resulting from nerve damage.

Since the mid 20th century, western medicine has preferred highly purified extracts of plants or synthetic products to provide greater certainty about effectiveness, side effects and dose.

Plant-based drugs containing mixtures of constituents such as Omnopon, a painkiller derived from opium, and digoxin, a heart medication derived from the foxglove plant, were regulated and successfully used in western medicine from the 19th century until a generation ago when more purified preparations became readily available.

A political decision was made in 2016 that medicinal cannabis would be regulated through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the section of the Australian Government Department of Health that oversees the regulation of drugs.

Although this may seem an intuitive decision, medicinal cannabis is very different from the usual drugs, such as antibiotics and diuretics, that the TGA has an excellent reputation for regulating. Because of its difference, some countries wisely created a separate Office of Medicinal Cannabis to regulate this drug.

By allocating medicinal cannabis to the TGA, the system is now skewed to an inappropriate, rigid and narrow approach that is also slow moving.

Consulting with those affected

Australias response to HIV in the 1980s helped to prevent a national epidemic, saved many lives and saved billions of dollars. It was used as a model by other countries.

One of the fundamental principles was involving men-who-have-sex-with-men, sex workers, and people who injected drugs in policy discussions. Thirty years later, patients and consumers are not equal partners in the policy discussions about medicinal cannabis. Theyre merely occasional members of the audience.

Government officials, researchers and doctors joined by patients and consumers all working together will produce better and likely less expensive policy.

Most concerns are unwarranted

Some critics of medicinal cannabis have argued that its side effects, which can include drowsiness and slight euphoria, are unacceptable. But as with all medicines, what really matters is the extent to which the benefits outweigh the risks, especially in the context of a particular patient and their symptoms and condition.

Cannabis can have side effects, but these are generally fairly modest and certainly less serious than those of many medicines used for comparable treatments. Many commenting on the side effects of medicinal cannabis assume these will be much the same as the side effects of recreational cannabis sourced from the black market, and taken with the intention of experiencing the psychogenic effects.

But the side effects of medicinal cannabis used under medical supervision can be expected to be milder than those from recreational cannabis bought on the black market.

In a recent study of chronic pain treated with medicinal cannabis with 274 participants, nine had mild to moderate, and two had serious, side effects.

Its hard to avoid the conclusion that the perceived clash between medicinal cannabis and our decades-long commitment to drug prohibition is now the major impediment slowing the introduction of medicinal cannabis in Australia.

Government officials seem to fear that some lawful medicinal cannabis might be diverted to the vast black market for the drug. However, the Queensland cannabis market was estimated to have a similar value to the sugar or wheat market in that state. An economist estimated Australians spend twice as much on cannabis as wine.

Its time Australia took lawful medicinal cannabis for what it is: a useful drug to palliate distressing symptoms in some medical conditions when conventional medicines have failed.

The slower and more restrictive the system for medicinal cannabis, the more likely patients and their families will avail themselves of black market supplies. Given we cant be sure of the quality and safety of these products, and given the high street price tag, surely we can do better for patients in desperate need.

The authors are grateful to Lucy Haslam, Co-Founder and Director United in Compassion, for her assistance with the preparation of this article.

Alex Wodak, Emeritus Consultant, St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst and Laurence Mather, Emeritus Professor, Anaesthesia, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Can this man successfully treat opioid addiction with marijuana?

A controversial new treatment facility in Los Angeles wants to find out if cannabis can help keep opioids from claiming more lives to addiction

When Joe Schrank got the call six years ago that his friend Greg Giraldo had been found unconscious after an overdose in a New Jersey hotel room, he was not surprised. Giraldo, a comedian, had cycled through the addiction loop for years, and Schrank had tried in vain to save him.

Gregs death really rattled me to the core, says Schrank, a trained social worker who works with addicts. He tried the abstinence route and it never really took root. I felt like rehab had failed him. It failed his family. It failed me. I kept thinking he could be smoking pot instead of dead. And thats a big difference.

Using pot instead of cocaine and Valium was something Schrank had suggested to his friend weeks before his death. Although it is an unpopular idea in the rehab world, where Schrank had made his career (first at the Malibu detox center Promises, then as head of a clean house in Brooklyn and founder of the The Fix, a website dedicated to addiction recovery), he nonetheless had a hunch marijuana could have helped his friend.

Theres no lethal dose, says Schrank who has collaborated with the addiction psychiatrist Scott Bienenfeld for the past decade on cases Bienenfeld oversees medically.

Indeed, page through the National Academy of Sciences latest 395-page report of 10,000 scientific abstracts on the health effects of cannabis, and youd be pressed to find a single mention of death by marijuana overdose in adults. Yet because of its longtime classification as a Schedule 1 drug (right up there with heroin), research on marijuanas impact on our health remains limited and largely inconclusive.

After Giraldos death, Schrank began working with Bienenfeld on treatment plans that incorporated marijuana as a crucial detox step. He also connected with Amanda Reiman, former head of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, whose research at University of California, Berkeley, for more than a decade has focused on the use of cannabis as a viable substitute for prescription drugs.

This January, Schrank took another step and opened High Sobriety a first-of-its-kind rehab center that uses cannabis as a central part of its treatment plan. Seen as a highly contentious move in the rehab world, High Sobriety has been met with skepticism and criticism for its use of marijuana in a field where success is traditionally measured by total abstinence.

Unapologetic approach

A view of Culver City, the southern California neighborhood home to High Sobriety. Photograph: Pete Pin for the Guardian

High Sobriety is an unapologetic name for an unapologetic approach Schrank feels could have saved not just Giraldos life, but those of countless others who find themselves trapped in the vortex of drug addiction.

The center is housed in an inconspicuous set of gray and orange row houses in Culver City, Los Angeles. Step inside the new facility, and you feel like youve entered a West Elm showroom. Behind a set of glass doors is what Schrank calls the consumption area, a deck overlooking a busy industrial street where patients at High Sobriety will use marijuana when allowed by the doctor overseeing their care.

Part of my branding with recovery is that it should feel like a cool place. It shouldnt feel like youre institutionalized, says Schrank. If we are trying to tell people your life will be great, why cant we lead with that foot?

High Sobriety costs start at $42,500 for an initial month of treatment, which, while steep, is comparable to the cost of other inpatient programs, says Schrank. Thats the first grenade thats being lobbed at me that this is a money-making scheme, he says. My response is: every guy that runs a not-for-profit rehab makes more money than I do. So if this is a money scheme, Im doing something very wrong.

Patients admitted to High Sobriety, which can accommodate up to 24 people at a time, undergo an evaluation that takes into account biological, psychological and social factors like genetics, mood, personality and socioeconomic conditions. This biopsychosocial evaluation, which is standard practice in the rehab world, is crucial in figuring out what makes each patients case unique.

Whats not standard rehab practice, however, is the centers inclusion of marijuana as part of both a regimen to help people get through withdrawal symptoms and as a reward at the end of the day.

For Nik, 27, who came to High Sobriety in February after a close call with heroin and crystal meth, using marijuana five to six times a day under supervision is part of his initial regimen. The cannabis helps stave off his nausea, bone pain, insomnia and drug cravings that come with detox. If this place wasnt here right now in my life, I would be dead. I was pretty close to dying two weeks ago, says Nik, who has been through about 15 treatment plans over the past decade. The idea of abstinence is great if you can live a life that feels connected, he says. Its not viable for everyone.

Niks use of marijuana half a dozen times throughout the day is extreme, Schrank acknowledges, but for him its necessary at this early stage of detox when dealing with such strong drugs as heroin and methamphetamine. For patients who have stabilized beyond their initial detox, marijuana consumption at High Sobriety goes down to twice a day once midday and again before bed.

The goal is to get patients through the crucial first 30 days of detox and set them up with a means of maintaining that way of life, says Schrank. A few scientific studies seem to support his position. A recent University of Michigan study found patients using medical marijuana to control chronic pain reported a 64% reduction in their use of opioids. In states where medical cannabis has been legalized, opioid overdose deaths have decreased by 25%, according to research out of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

In hospitals, hotel rooms and homes across the US, deaths from opioid overdose have quadrupled since 1999. Patients like Nik, who says he was abstinent from drugs for four years, receive prescription painkillers from their doctors (in Niks case, for lockjaw), that send them into a spiral of opioid addiction. The treatment gap plaguing the addiction crisis only 10% of people in need of treatment get it is a result of a range of factors, from an inability to access affordable care to a lack of substance disorder screenings.

But effective medical treatments and interventions exist. Research over the years has shown that increasing access to medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone withdrawal agents given under medical supervision to help wean people off opioids and heroin have been shown to help addicts get through withdrawal, reduce relapse and overdose, and go on to live healthy, functional lives. Nik, for example, takes buprenorphine once a day to help block heroin cravings.

Use of medications to treat addiction has been controversial at times because of a longstanding misconception that methadone and, more recently, buprenorphine merely substitute one addiction for another, the surgeon generals report warns. This belief has reinforced scientifically unsound abstinence-only philosophies.

And while the report does not directly address the use of cannabis as a form of treatment for addiction, Reiman has found cannabis effective as part of a rehabilitation plan from opioids in particular, as it can reduce physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. In a 2009 study published in Harm Reduction Journal, Reiman concluded patients who substituted cannabis for illicit drugs, prescription opiates, and alcohol were able to better manage their symptoms and experienced fewer adverse side effects.

A patients bed in High Sobriety. Photograph: Pete Pin for the Guardian

This means, for example, that cannabis can serve as a non-narcotic replacement to help patients get through the necessary week-long withdrawal period required before the drug Vivitrol, an injectable shot used to block the receptors in the brain from craving heroin, can be effectively administered, says Bienenfeld.

Using cannabis during this detox process helps patients through the severe muscular pain, arthralgia and underlying psychopathologies such as anxiety and PTSD that accompany withdrawal in that first crucial week, he says.

But while the benefits have been seen in patient care, more research is required to make conclusive claims, warns Reiman. We really want to gather data and understand how its working and why its working so we can promote it as a model, she says.

Marijuana as a life-ruining narcotic is an untenable narrative

Its easy to attribute the cannabis approach to toke-happy hippies, but if Joe Schrank is any indication, thats hardly the case.

Schrank, 47, is 6ft 5in, stocky and very much a mans man. Himself a recovered alcoholic, Schrank says he hasnt touched alcohol or marijuana for 20 years. Its not a virtuous choice, he stresses. Its a personal one. He hates the smell of weed. And having grown up with an alcoholic dad, he knows hes susceptible to the draw of scotch, his drink of choice back in his 20s before he joined AA himself and stopped drinking.

But like many who are intimately involved in the addiction space, Schrank has seen time and again that total abstinence simply doesnt work for far too many people.

The need for drugs isnt a switch that can simply be flicked on and off, and Schrank is quick to share his stories from the addiction battlefield knocking on the doors of heroin addicts, pulling needles out of arms, making countless late-night trips to the ER.

His arms are covered in tattoos this one for the kid who OD-ed and died, this one for the teen who got off heroin with Schranks help and repaid him by inking a giant black cross on his arm. And then theres the ink for his friend Giraldo. The mic stand with Laugh you freaks scrawled above it on one arm; the words thickly set along the other: Best wishes, God a note Giraldo liked to leave in the front of hotel Bibles.

Joe Schrank, founder of High Sobriety. Photograph: Pete Pin for the Guardian

Around the time of Giraldos death, Schrank was working with a young guy, also a performer on the road and struggling with addiction. Max, 32, who asked that his full name not be used, met Schrank in his 20s in the midst of his own heroin addiction crisis. Before graduating from Harvard, Max drank and did drugs recreationally like many of his peers in college, but once he became a full-time musician, he smoked heroin for the first time and his quick tumble into heroin addiction began.

When he first met Schrank, Max was in a bad way. Hed tried AA and total abstinence but maintaining that lifestyle was like fighting a losing battle. My trajectory at the time was, Im just going to do this until I die, he says.

What was happening in his brain, as research has shown happens in the brains of alcohol and opioid addicts, was a measurable change in neurotransmitter systems. His brains basal ganglia, extended amygdala and prefrontal cortex three regions closely tied to the functions of learning, stress, decision making and self-control were thrown out of whack.

These neurobiological changes might explain why 40% of people found to have addiction problems say they arent ready to stop using. In other words, addiction is not simply a lapse in moral judgment, as a growing number of health practitioners are finally acknowledging; its a chronic brain disease.

While he tried total abstinence over the years, he found himself in that common conundrum many recoveries face choosing between total abstinence and falling back to heroin when things got tough. It was then that Max spoke with Schrank, who urged him to just use cannabis. Look around, Schrank would say to him. One of these two is considerably healthier than the other.

While Max felt many in the rehab world saw his use of marijuana as a sign he was still on deaths doorstep, Schrank encouraged him to see smoking pot as an acceptable substitute for heroin. Marijuana as a life-ruining narcotic is an untenable narrative, Max says. Joe was the only person who was open to that being a reality.

Now living in Oregon, Max says he hasnt touched heroin for six years.

There is no evidence that this has ever worked

Schrank has taken quite a bit of flak for his stance. Thomas McLellan, founder of the not-for-profit Treatment Research Institute, who served for a year as deputy drug czar under the Obama administration, calls the use of marijuana for opioid addiction a wacky idea.

Marijuana has exactly no role in the treatment of any mental illness, he says, especially substance-use disorders.

Research has shown that those with a history of psychosis can be negatively affected by cannabis and the fact that marijuana is a plant-based substance whose precise medical ingredients have yet to be extracted and put in a form doctors can prescribe with precision makes it far too unreliable an option, says McLellan. There is no evidence that this [approach] has ever worked, he says.

Communal space in High Sobriety. Photograph: Pete Pin for the Guardian

McLellan has published hundreds of research papers on addiction over the course of his career and yet, nine years ago, when his youngest son died from an overdose, he too was at a loss for answers as to what could have helped prevent his death. I am a goddamned expert in addiction, he says. People call me all the time for my opinions, but if my cousin or uncle or somebody needed treatment, Im not a hell of a lot better than anyone else in figuring out which is a good one or a bad one.

What McLellan is confident about is that rehabilitation approaches seem to be doing something fundamentally wrong.

Among the 13,000 estimated treatment programs out there, says McLellan, there is scant basis in medical practice. Less than 10% of medical schools in the US offer courses on addiction, he says. For centuries, addiction has been handled as a social safety problem, says McLellan. Addiction is a chronic illness. No two ways about it.

The majority of rehabilitation programs focus on a 12-step process derived from the AA model, which itself has been shown to have no origins in scientific research and to result in only a 5-10% success rate, according to Lance Dodes, addiction specialist and author of the book The Sober Truth, which takes a critical look at the role of AA and 12-step programs in addiction recovery.

Nonetheless, the majority of recovery programs are based on a similar 12-step model in which abstinence is the measure of successful recovery. Reluctant as he is to consider marijuana as a viable part of addiction treatment, McLellan knows both from his own life experiences and the research hes done over the years that changes need to be made to the system, and fast.

I say cut the crap and lets start treating this as a chronic illness, he says.

The external is reflective of the internal

Schrank is adamant: using marijuana to treat opioid and alcohol addiction is not a solution for everyone.

Anybody who tells you they understand addiction is out of their minds. Theres no way. It manifests itself in so many ways, says Schrank. He sits in the top-floor open-plan room of one of his treatment facilitys row houses in a large leather armchair, the sun cutting across his face from the rooms many light-filled windows. To say here is the plan for everyone is just naive, he says.

The last thing Schrank wants is to have the new space serve as some sort of warehouse where addicts get stoned all day. On the contrary, High Sobriety involves a rigorous workout schedule; includes individual, family and group therapy meetings; and requires each participant to make an employment transition plan and take on a personal interest project that they have to see through to the end of their time at the center. Schrank insists intakes cut their hair, shave their beards and wear a jacket and tie to therapy sessions.

In our clinical program, everybody wears a jacket and tie to see their individual therapist or group, he says. I feel like the external is reflective of the internal.

Creating a structured and documented program using marijuana to address addiction is one of the main goals of High Sobriety. If it wasnt a political issue, if it was strictly a scientific issue, this would have been out there decades ago, says Reiman, who plans to study the outcomes of patients coming through the facility over time.

But for now, simply living staying alive one more day and then another day after that is the main goal Schrank and others in the field are looking to achieve through the use of cannabis as a viable substitute for addiction and overdose.

We have to stop letting people die because we have some preconceived notion about what it means to smoke pot, says Reiman. People are dying. Its time we really start to look at creative ways to address the problem.


New Ways Are Needed To Make Cannabis Use Safer

Over the last few years, there has been a definite swing towards loosening the laws related to the use of cannabis. From individual states in the US, to entire countries in Europe, more governments are opening up to the idea of legalizing its use. In that light, some scientists are now calling for an urgent need to explore how we could make its use safer.

Although most users will not develop problems from their cannabis use, it is vital, especially now that cannabis is becoming increasingly liberalized, that we explore alternative and innovative ways by which we can reduce and mitigate cannabis related harms, explainedDr Amir Englund, who led the study published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

The authors suggest a number of ways in which the harm from cannabis could be reduced. The most straightforward way to address some of the biggest health risks is to simply tackle the use of tobacco, which is often mixed with the marijuana in order to smoke it, particularly in Europe. They suggest that perhaps encouraging the use of smoke-free vaporizers may help cut the harm caused by tobacco smoke.

But they also suggest that there may be ways to reduce the potency of cannabis itself. For example, two of the main active compounds found in cannabis are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBC). It has been suggested that while THC is responsible for the high, it may also have some detrimental health effects such as increasing the risks of developing psychosis. CBC, on the other hand, may to some degree counteract THC, protecting against memory impairment and paranoia.

The issues come in the fact that the levels of THC found in cannabis, bought both legally and illegally on the black market, have been steadily rising, while the same is not true of CBC. The researchers suggest that in places where cannabis is legal, it may be wise to regulate the levels of THC in products sold, and perhaps tax those with the highest levels the most, or simply put a cap on the amount of THC present.

But they also recommend that more research should also go into looking at how to potentially produce new strains with a boosted level of CBC compared to THC, in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the latter. With the rapidly changing political climate around cannabis, saidEnglund, the demand to effectively reduce cannabis-related harms has never been greater, and more research is urgently needed to inform policy decisions.


Will Canada become America’s cannabis capital?

Plans to legalise recreational marijuana in Canada have those south of the border worried theyll lose their lead in the emerging pot industry

He may be the chief executive of Denvers largest marijuana dispensary, ground zero for Americas fastest growing industry, but Andy Williams struggles with a lot of financial hurdles.

The First Bank of Colorado closed the accounts of everyone in the family business, Medicine Man Technologies, including children who have no part in the industry. Williams cant take on any investment and needs to fund expansion through personal loans from friends and family.

Customers can only pay in cash; banks refuse to hold his money and everyone from employees to contractors need to accept cash payments. Employees, who cant prove their income as a result, often struggle to get loans and mortgages.

Furthermore, section 280E of the US tax code prohibits the deduction of expenses related to controlled substances for tax purposes, and Williams predicts that he gives the internal revenue service an additional $600,000 each year as a result of business expenses that cant be written off.

While recreational marijuana legalisation is well on its way in states like Colorado, it remains illegal at the federal level, stifling the growth and innovation of the industrys first movers.

Meanwhile, north of the border, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to legalise recreational marijuana consumption on a federal level, opening the door to investment, less restrictive tax policies and banks that can treat the marijuana industry like any other. While legalisation hasnt yet taken place in Canada, when it inevitably does American marijuana businesses may suddenly find themselves at a disadvantage.

Theyll be first to market, says Williams. Theres going to be a lot of development and innovation in Canada thats going to spur economic growth and attract investment. First to market is going to get a lot of attention, so its a lost opportunity for the United States if and when that happens.

Williams believes that Canadian companies will eventually leapfrog the growth and development thats taken place in the US since legalisation began at the state level.

The real setback will be longer term in their jump in developing that intellectual property, whether thats in producing marijuana or developing brands or discovering new uses for cannabis in the medical field, he said. Its the long-term effect of being behind the eight ball that Im concerned about.

Recreational marijuana is still illegal in Canada but many look to its medicinal marijuana system, which is considered among the best in the world, as a sign of things to come. Health Canada, the countrys federal health authority, already regulates over one million square feet of approved marijuana production space spread across 30 industrial-sized facilities. Recent reports suggest that Canadian medical marijuana producers are currently storing a combined seven tonnes, a stash that continues to grow while the industry waits for federal prohibition to be repealed.

We currently have the most industrialized process for marijuana production in the world, said Alan Gertner, the co-founder and CEO of Toronto-based high-end cannabis lifestyle brand, Tokyo Smoke. That puts us in a position where, with the repeal of marijuana prohibition at a national level, we can build significant infrastructure and build brands and build intellectual property at a pace thats unrivalled.

Gertner adds that while some states are well ahead of Canada in terms of recreational distribution, federal prohibition has left the industry in a less mature state, making it ripe for disruption by better-funded Canadian competitors.

It doesnt at all feel like youre experiencing modern retail in the design of the store, in the layout of the store, in the staff of the store, in any part of the experience, and its possible that almost overnight Canada could bring modern retail to the marijuana space [in the US], he said. The same is true with growing in the US. None of the growing facilities in the US feel like modern, industrial scale growing operations, whereas if you look at the medical marijuana program in Canada its a modern program built for industrial scale.

Recreational legalization in Canada, however, could force policymakers in the US to modernize their federal policies in order to level the playing field.

If Canada does that theyre going to be moving the needle on global policy, and that global policy will just apply more pressure to policy makers in the United States to make the right decisions, said Leslie Bocskor, the president of Electrum Partners, a Las Vegas-based cannabis advisory and services firm. We will be looking to our neighbours to the north and saying we need to be more like them, theyve done the right thing by legalizing it on a federal basis, we need to look at how to achieve the same type of civilized, rational policy that Canada has, so I think it will be helpful.

Bocskor adds that with the medical and recreational marijuana industries predicted to reach a combined $40bn in the next five to 10 years, theres enough opportunity for both countries to grow their cannabis industries in tandem.

There will be an opportunity for US businesses to provide some experiential knowledge to the Canadian entrepreneurs that are able to get involved in it, and then there will be opportunities for Canadian businesses to come into the US market and provide some real value, he said. I think it will be great for both markets.