This month, the city of Dever Colorado made the landmark decision to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. It’s the first U.S. city to do so. More famously known as “magic mushrooms” these intoxicating yet non-addictive fungi grow naturally throughout most of the United States. And yet, psilocybin and psilocin have been illegal in the country since 1969, when the use of psychedelic drugs became widespread in consumer culture.
In Denver, the initiative to decriminalize passed with a narrow margin—50.6 percent of voters approved the bill. Dubbed Initiative 301, the bill makes the personal possession of magic mushrooms among those 21 and older one of the lowest law enforcement priorities. The bill also prevents city authorities from spending money on resources dedicated to prosecuting or pursuing criminal charges against adults who possess or consume the mushrooms.
The recent change not only makes Denver the most psychedelic-friendly city in the United States, but it also represents a major shift in cultural, political, and even medicinal views on mind-altering plants and other natural products. Westerners have found themselves amidst a revived psychedelic therapies renaissance, a renaissance supported by a new wave of scientific research.
A New Psychedelic Renaissance (Yet Again)
This unique time period in Western culture has recently been dubbed the second psychedelic renaissance. All jokes comparing modern-day millennials and free-loving hippies aside, the “second psychedelic renaissance” is, in reality, far from the second. Back in the 1960s and 70s, psychedelics were first introduced to a consumer-focused capitalist culture. Yet, the use of mind-altering plants and periods of intense social drug consumption have dotted history books for generations.
Take, for example, the mid-1800s when European elites had their first taste of hashish. The habit was originally picked up by French soldiers in Egypt, who brought the compressed cannabis resin home with them after the French invasions led by Napoleon Bonaparte. The almost hallucinogenic experiences the hashish provided lead to a slight cultural obsession with hallucinogens among those who could afford the substances, and novelists like the great popularized the hallucinogenic experience through their writings.
As early as 1729, Chinese Emperor Yung Chen issued the first rulings criminalizing the recreational use of opium. While opium is not a hallucinogen, a growing culture of recreational drug use and addiction originally propagated by Portuguese imports of the plant into China inspired Chinese leadership to continue to crack down on opium trade over the next three centuries. It is important to mention, however, that unlike psychedelic drugs, narcotics such as opium come with a high risk of addiction.
These are simply examples from the last three hundred years. And yet, if archeological evidence is any indication, human civilizations across the globe have always had some sort of relationship with psychoactive substances — just recently, archeological researchers in Bolivia found evidence of a 1,000-year-old pouch that contained traces of five different psychoactive plants.
The tradition of medical cannabis consumption in China is thought to date as far back as 2,737 BC when mystical Emporer Shen-Neng is believed to have introduced cannabis and many other plants into medical practice. Shen-Neng is believed to be the father of traditional Chinese medicine, although the medicinal uses of cannabis in China were not recorded until the first or second century A.D.
More recently, however, this old tradition has been reintroduced to Western scientific practice. After medical researchers took a brief hiatus from psychedelic research during the late 70s, through the early 90s, psychiatrists and other medical professionals are once again exploring the opportunities of these unusual and transformative therapies.
For the city of Denver, greater tolerance for psilocybin may provide the first of many long steps toward decreasing barriers for researchers and other psychedelic proponents who hope to develop the medical and spiritual legitimacy of the psychoactive experience.
The Vast Potential of Psychedelic Therapies
The most profound implications of psychedelic medicine lie in the arena of mental health. In 2016, the first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans provided glimpses into the brain on LSD. Colloquially known as “acid”, LSD is considered a classical psychedelic capable of radically altering cognition and cultivating feelings of harmony and oneness with the universe.
When put under the MRI machine, the brains of those on LSD did something magnificent — they lit up, nearly all the way up. Normally, when the human brain processes visual imagery, very specific regions of the brain activate. These regions are the visual cortex and the visual association areas that normally process information taken in by the eyes.
After an injection of LSD, however, brain scans revealed that networks across the entire organ were activated, linking portions of the brain that do not typically fire together. The psychoactive truly inspired a whole-brain experience. According to the leading scientists on the experiment, those that were given LSD were “seeing with their eyes shut.”
Brain scans of the effects of psilocybin extracted from mushrooms have made similar findings. In 2014, research published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface used functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) to map the effects of the psychoactive substance on communication pathways between various processing networks in the brain.
Similar to the LSD study, the brains of patients given psilocybin were extra-active. The psychotropic compound caused a marked increase in connections between various networks, transforming normal pathways into a super-highway system with dense web-like construction.
Psychedelics, it would seem, encourage a unique explosion of brain activity that links up previously remote pockets of the mind. This mind-melting may have long-lasting positive effects to boot—research suggests that the “mystical-type” experiences inspired by psilocybin provided some of the most meaningful moments of spiritual significance in the lives of study participants.
Some of the most groundbreaking research in psychedelic therapies are occurring in the arena of depression. A handful of trials have examined the potential of psychotropic therapies in depression in patients with life-threatening illnesses, yet hallucinogenic therapies may be useful in treatment-resistant depression as well.
In 2017, for example, researchers from Imperial College London found that psilocybin seemed to press the brain “reset” button in patients with clinical depression. The study found that after taking the psychedelic, activation of brain regions responsible for fear and anxiety became less active. Further, the brain’s “default mode”, so to speak, became more stable after treatment.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Back in 2006, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that psilocybin was effective in reducing the acute symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The study, however, only included nine total participants. More recently, however, a clinical trial of psilocybin for OCD is underway at Yale University and the Heffter Research Institute. The trial contains 30 active participants, although the final results will not be published until 2022.
Research from 2014 and 2015 tested the effects of psilocybin therapies in patients suffering from tobacco and alcohol addiction. The studies, which were conducted as proof-of-concept trials, found that treatment with the psychoactive compound decreased cravings for alcohol and nicotine for several months after administration. Alcohol cravings were reduced for up to 36 weeks after a psilocybin treatment. Tobacco cravings were also significantly diminished after six months of treatment.
End-of-Life Psychological Distress and Anxiety
Several human studies on psilocybin have been conducted in patients with depression and anxiety associated with life-threatening cancer diagnoses. In one 2016 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, psilocybin inspired positive changes in mood, depression, and anxiety levels in cancer patients six months after treatment with the psychoactive. An improved mood, however, wasn’t the only benefit reported by the patients. 80 percent of study participants also reported improvements in quality of life, spiritual satisfaction, and improved life meaning.
5 Tips for Owning and Operating Successful Cannabis Dispensaries
The cannabis retail landscape has changed. Once regarded as somewhat of a novelty, legalization has allowed cannabis dispensaries to evolve into modern and innovative retail storefronts more akin to an Apple Store than the dark, secretive spaces they used to be. Some, like Shiny Bud, are proving to be leaders in the space, setting an exemplary standard of a contemporary cannabis retail experience.
Shiny Bud is one of Canada’s most successful dispensary chains. They pride themselves on offering customers a premium experience from the moment they enter, from a contemporary and inviting store design to highly trained staff, and of course, premium products.
Co-founder Alex Ledesma joined the cannabis industry when the Canadian government passed the Cannabis Act in 2018. She comes from a forward-thinking family of entrepreneurs, so the move to cannabis was an obvious next step.
“I saw an opportunity to be part of something big in Canada’s history, so we started following the industry, and applied for an application,” said Ledesma.
Shiny Bud opened its first dispensary in Toronto on February 14. Fast forward only a few months, and the company has opened the doors to its fifth location in a small town called Orleans, just outside of Ottawa.
“We have a pretty aggressive rollout,” said Ledesma. “Coming from a quick-service industry, we’re quite comfortable with builds and finding locations. We took our expertise from that and put it into cannabis. And it’s all completely within the family.”
Shiny Bud was awarded 75 dispensary licenses by the Canadian government. The company’s expansion plans include two more Ontario store openings this year, bringing the total number of store openings to seven. And they have no plans to slow down.
“We should be hitting 30 stores by the end of 2021. And we’re planning on maxing out to 75 stores allocated. When we stop to think about it, it can take our breath away.”
The constant march forward of legalization has created an ever-growing interest in dispensary ownership. Below, Ledesma offers up five pieces of advice for those looking to enter the cannabis game.
1. Have a Well-Trained Team That’s Focused on Customer Experience
As the industry is still so young, formal education in cannabis is still relatively scarce amongst prospective employees. For Shiny Bud, this presents an opportunity to reinforce one of their most important business objectives: provide cannabis education and training for their budtenders to pass on to their customers.
“Education is everything because the industry’s so new,” Ledesma said. “We truly believe that we’re an industry where we need to listen to our guests. This is one of the first things we teach our budtenders, along with providing a safe and educational experience for our customers in-store.”
For many customers, the biggest value in going to a dispensary is learning which products are best suited for a specific condition or effect, whether they’re seasoned cannabis consumers or newly curious.
“The goal for budtenders at Shiny Bud is to ensure customers are choosing the right product for them to provide a safe experience both in-store and at home,” Ledesma said.
2. Create a Guest Centric Environment
This goes without saying, but customer service is critical to the success of any retail operation. Ledesma attributes Shiny Bud’s success to the brand’s core vision of providing a “fast and friendly cannabis retail destination.”
“We strive to offer our customers a unique and memorable experience — this has stayed with us since day one,” Ledesma said. “When you walk into any of our Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries, they’re bright, they’re big, and there’s a lot of education. The budtenders are dressed uniformly, and there’s personality — it’s not what people expect.”
Watching the change in customer demographic has been encouraging to Ledesma, who notes the increase in the 60+ demographic looking to add cannabis to their health and wellness, whether it be recreational, or to aid with a specific ailment.
“As a disclaimer, we always have to tell them that we’re not doctors and we can’t give them medical advice, so to start low and go slow,” Ledesma said. “It’s nice to see people like my mom, my dad, and grandparents come through the door, because you also know you’re helping break down the stigma.”
3. Stock the Best Inventory
With so many quality products now available, choosing which ones to bring to Shiny Bud is quite a lengthy process.
“We carry out a lot of research in terms of what’s new or trending, and what our customers are looking for in each location,” Ledesma said. “I wish I knew consumers’ buying preferences before our initial order was placed. We ended up buying too much!”
“We also use recommendations from our team members, our budtenders, and our customers. A lot of times we bring in representatives of the licensed producers to educate our budtenders about the products we’re selling.”
The three most popular purchases across three Shiny Bud locations are dried flower, vapes, and pre-rolls. “Our most frequently asked question is, ‘what is your highest THC or CBD?’” Ledesma said.
4. Have a Great Location
The age-old proverb of “location, location, location” rings true in the cannabis industry, too. Finding the right real estate is arguably the most important part of retail success. Plus, because of the industry’s prohibition history and the nature of the products being sold, it’s important to find understanding landlords.
“Initially, landlords have said to us, ‘absolutely not, we will not entertain the idea of having a cannabis retailer here,’ so I invite them to take a look at one of our dispensaries so they can see the vision of what and who we are as a company and as an industry.”
5. Ensure Your Cannabis Dispensaries Connect with the Community
Dispensaries are already major focal points in their communities. For Ledesma, giving back and helping break down old stigmas related to cannabis is a top priority.
Shiny Bud is in the process of launching a collaboration with Tsaichedelic to create a line of tie-dyed tees and other merchandise. The proceeds will go towards supporting Cannabis Amnesty projects, like providing legal counsel to get those with criminal records over minor cannabis charges expunged.
“Being a woman and a person of color in the cannabis space, I really believe in the fact that it needs to be the same playing fields for everybody,” Ledesma said. “Teaming up with Cannabis Amnesty just felt right.”
With the regulated cannabis market still so new, it’s important that business owners are able to adapt to changes and weather the ever-changing landscape of cannabis and the regulations.
“It’s ever-changing, so we’re constantly learning and growing from it,” Ledesma said. “Regulations are always changing, so being fluid helps a lot.”
Look for Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries in Canada and keep an eye out for their expansion into America in 2021.
Gwyneth Paltrow and a Slew of Celebs Invest in ‘Social Tonic’ Brand, Cann
Gwyneth Paltrow is one of several high-profile celebrities investing in cannabis-infused beverage company, Cann.
Rebel Wilson, Ruby Rose, Darren Criss, Tove Lo, Casey Neistat, former NBA star Baron Davis and Bre-Z have also invested in the company.
The actress and Goop CEO and founder calls cannabis a “hero ingredient of the future” for wellness and says she was drawn to Cann’s drinks, which are infused with small doses of THC and CBD, as an appealing alternative to alcohol.
“There’s a whole sober-curious movement that’s going on and the cannabis-curious movement that’s going on, this is kind of at the intersection of those things in a way,” said Paltrow.
Cann is not the health and wellness moguls’ first cannabis investment. Paltrow admitted that while she’s not a big cannabis user personally, she acknowledges its “amazing medicinal qualities.”
“There’s no reason why alcohol should be so much easier to purchase than Cann, and I’m confident the founders will lead the charge in finding ways to integrate it into the same purchasing channels and drinking environments,” she said via a news release.
Cann founder Luke Anderson called the comments made by Gwyneth Paltrow “a sign that Cann (and microdose beverages more broadly) are a viable answer to that very common consumer pain point.”
He added that when people think of Paltrow, “they don’t think of ‘weed’ – they think of cutting-edge solutions for today’s health and wellness needs.”
Cann has positioned itself as a “healthy” and hangover-free alternative to alcohol. Most of Cann’s “social tonics” contain roughly 30 calories and are “microdosed” with 2 milligrams of THC and 4 milligrams of CBD. A recently introduced Pineapple Jalapeño flavor contains 50 calories and 5 milligrams of THC.
Earlier this year, Cann secured $5 million in funding as part of the company’s 2020 production and distribution expansion plans for 2020.
According to TechCrunch, the beverage startup has sold 150,000 cans, which retail for $4 each, since last May. Cann products are available at just 60 dispensaries in California, and online via the Eaze cannabis marketplace, making the $600,000 in revenue the company generated in less than a year even more impressive.
Miss Marijuana: Canadian Beauty Queen Alyssa Boston Is on a Mission to End Stigmas
Alyssa Boston is a woman on a mission. The 24-year-old Canadian beauty queen is using her platform to start a conversation on ending stigmas around mental illness, competing in pageants — and cannabis.
While she doesn’t actually smoke weed, Canada’s crowned Miss Universe caused a media uproar when she wore a sparkling cannabis-inspired look during the 2019 Miss Universe competition in Atlanta, Georgia.
Cannabis Aficionado spoke to her about breaking stigmas, social media and of course, that costume.
CA: How was your Miss Universe experience?
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