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The Emerging Science of Psychedelic Therapies for Our Wellbeing

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Psychedelic Therapies
PHOTO | Martina
Eaze

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.

Depression

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.

Addiction

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.

Culture

Social Cannabis Use Reform Receives Big Endorsement

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Social Cannabis Use Reform
PHOTO | The Colonel

The first cannabis reform victory in the United States occurred in 1973 when Oregon decriminalized cannabis possession. In 1996, California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medical use. Colorado and Washington State became the first states to legalize cannabis for adult use in 2012.

Another historic victory was achieved in 2016 when Denver voters approved an initiative to legalize social-use establishments in city limits.

Social cannabis use reform is a relatively new political concept, however, social use establishments have operated in the United States for a number of years, albeit illegally.

What is Social Cannabis Use Reform?

Social cannabis use refers to venues that allow on-site cannabis consumption. Lounges, cafes, concerts, and yoga studios are examples of social cannabis use venues.

Unregulated, unlicensed cannabis clubs have existed in the United States for decades, many of which have allowed on-site cannabis consumption.

Some establishments were designed to distribute medical cannabis and others required people to bring their own cannabis and pay a fee to enter the venue.

Many concerts served as de facto social cannabis use sites over the years, with concert-goers openly consuming cannabis. On-site cannabis consumption was very common at cannabis competitions where musicians performed.

During the second half of this decade, a big push has been underway to license and regulate social use venues, including events. 

Fortunately, licensed social use venues are becoming more common in legal states, although many legal cannabis states still prohibit them.

The Social Cannabis Use Reform Movement Receives a Big Endorsement

Earlier this week, presidential candidate Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard endorsed social cannabis use reform in an interview with the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC).

Congresswoman Gabbard will be appearing live from the campaign trail via Skype at the upcoming ICBC in San Francisco in February.

“If someone can legally purchase cannabis from a state-regulated dispensary, legally possess it, and legally consume it, they should also have a legal setting in which to conduct that activity if someone wants to provide that setting for them in a safe manner that keeps cannabis away from children and properly helps mitigate driving under the influence,” Gabbard said in the interview.

The endorsement appears to mark the first time that a presidential candidate has specifically endorsed social cannabis use reform.

“Cannabis opponents act as if social cannabis use venues do not exist anywhere in the United States, which is not actually the case,” Gabbard went on to say. “The city of Denver passed an initiative to allow regulated social cannabis use venues, and they exist in parts of California as well.

“Venues would need to be implemented and regulated properly to ensure safety and that age restriction policy is enforced. A strong, ongoing public awareness effort would need to occur as well, which could be funded by social-use license fees. As President, I’d support giving our states and local jurisdictions the flexibility to adopt sound public policy that includes social cannabis use reform.”

Social Cannabis Use Is an Important Component of Comprehensive Cannabis Reform

In 2012, social cannabis use reform was not on most cannabis advocates’ radar. It is a fairly granular cannabis policy that has taken time for advocates to become familiar with.

Social cannabis use reform is very important and is something that cannabis advocates should always push for as part of the greater effort to legalize cannabis for medical and adult-use.

Cannabis may be legal to purchase in Washington State, however, racial disparities in cannabis enforcement is still a problem.

In Seattle, a study found that “about 36% of those arrested for public pot use were African American, who are 8% of the city’s population.”

That’s unacceptable.

If a medical cannabis patient lives in housing that is subsidized by the federal government, they are not permitted to consume cannabis in their homes.

College students that live in student housing and tourists in legal markets have nowhere to legally consume state-legal cannabis, despite the fact that they can legally purchase it.

Social cannabis use reform is the answer. It provides for a legal setting for patients and consumers and it’s a smart public policy, as Congresswoman Gabbard points out. 

Hopefully, her endorsement will boost social use reform efforts.

Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard will be appearing at the ICBC in San Francisco via Skype from the campaign trail live from New Hampshire.

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Culture

Sherbinskis Has a New Home in Hollywood

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Sherbinskis
PHOTO | Mike Le (Brand Wolves)

Sherbinskis has cemented its place as one of the legal cannabis titans with the opening of the new flagship store on the iconic Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood, Los Angeles.

Famed grower Mario Guzman a.k.a. Mr Sherbinski has created something of a cultural phenomenon with his premium Sherbinskis genetics including the Gelato family, Pink Panties and Sunset Sherbert.

Sherbinskis

L-R: G. Singh, Ben Baller, Ty Dolla $ign, Mario ‘Mr Sherbinski’ Guzman

Sherbinskis strains have a cult-like status, lauded among musicians, entertainers and cannaseurs alike, including some of the A-list guests in attendance of the launch party, including Ty Dolla $ign, NBA star Al Harrington and Ben Baller.

A ‘designer’ cannabis-and-lifestyle brand, the Sherbinskis product line has expanded beyond just premium flower to include cartridges of cannabis oil for the Double Barrel vape, the first patented dual cartridge on the market, which was also on display at the launch party.

Mario ‘Mr Sherbinski’ Guzman & partner G. Singh with their Double Barrel vapes

In addition, Sherbinskis has launched prerolls, collaborated with Post Malone for his Shaboink prerolls, released a limited edition pair of Nike and launched a clothing line. They also recently announced a partnership with No Vet Alone to providing relief to military veterans, a reflection of Guzman’s appreciation and admiration for the cannabis plant as medicine.

NBA star Al Harrington & Mario ‘Mr Sherbinski’ Guzman

Originating from the Bay Area with close ties to the Cookies Fam, Guzman’s ethos of old-school hippie values and weed culture has evolved into a company very much focused on high-end cannabis and iconic branding.

Next time you’re in Hollywood, stop by Sherbinskis at 345 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles.

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PlantEd Collective: 5 Women Changing Europe’s Cannabis Conversation

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PlantEd Collective
Abby Hughes, Carly Barton, Victora Logan, Liz Dyer and Jade Proudman. PHOTO | PlantEd Collective

Misinformation is one of the greatest issues faced when talking about medical cannabis and cannabinoids. There is a lot of wrong information out there that can be confusing and misleading to patients, some of who can be society’s most vulnerable. PlantEd Collective wants to change that.

Jade Proudman, Carly Barton, Liz Dyer, Abby Hughes and Victoria Logan share a passion for helping people understand holistic wellness practises, led by cannabis and it’s efficacies, using the very latest research from around the world.

Their goal with PlantEd Collective is to create engaging dialogue and provide accurate information to help educate people — starting with their December launch that includes Rikki Lake and Abby Epstein.

We spoke to them about breaking stigma, the re-education process and the power of the female.

Why do U.K. cannabis consumers need PlantEd Collective?

Liz Dyer: Each member of the PlantEd team brings very a different experience, from activism and education to yoga practitioners and boundary breakers. As cannabis consumers, we understand this space and most importantly, we understand the consumer needs and barriers to accessing cannabis information. Cannabinoid consumers in the U.K. are awash with information that is often misleading and fraught with challenges.

Jade Proudman: We see the real-world implications of this daily. There are barriers to CBD suppliers sharing information about medicinal benefits due to regulation. There are also legal barriers to discussing medicines containing THC. The information that makes it to U.K. consumers is often outdated and not practical. There is currently no safe, reliable place for consumers to digest the latest science, or educate themselves from a place of independence.

How will PlantEd Collective help break the information barrier between plant and people in the U.K.?

Carly Barton: Our not-for-profit scheme hopes to tackle this head-on. Many organizations are focused on educating policymakers and medical professionals in a top-down approach. We want to fill the gap in a ground-up approach, building knowledge within the consumer community so that choices are made from a place that is informed.

We aim to tackle this by providing access to digestible summaries of scientific developments, enlisting the engagement of high-profile researchers and developers to bring conversational content via accessible podcasts

We will design short courses to enable consumers to teach themselves and increase the knowledge base from the ground up and provide resources for families and children to instil high-quality education and dispel the tension that so often exists in a family when dealing with stigma.

How does PlantEd’s information differ from, say other sources like scientific journals?

LD: Much of the information out there is wrapped up in weighty, medicalized documents. We would like to think that you won’t need a medical degree or a library full of cannabis books to digest the information that we will be providing. We will be engaging with the community on what they would like to know more about and provide that service.

CB: That’s a big issue and efficacy and safety information is so often presented in very inefficient ways. Either the research is too complex to understand, or it comes from the recreational arena which is full of jargon and cultural terminology, for which you often need a translator to get your head around.

Let’s take consumption methods as an example. There are hundreds of studies done on vaporized cannabinoids, but there is nowhere that will break this down for patients. What are the risks and benefits of vaporizing over different consumption methods? Where do I go to get a vaporizer? How do I dose using one? What are the benefits of dry herb vaporizers? Do they cause lung issues? And what on earth is ‘dabbing’, RSO, FECO, AVB? Vera from three doors down would not know where to start!

JP: We feel that the combination of our collective education, experience and advocacy work means that we can disseminate, signpost and summarize these burning questions into practical steps meaning barriers to accessing the information are more easily broken.

Victoria Logan: We also recognize that our further specialisms in health and wellbeing — yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices — enhance our holistic approach.

What are some of the topics you plan to cover?

LD: We are currently developing a PlantEd curriculum with wide-ranging topics. We want to address the basics and give consumers a route to engaging with more advanced topics.

For example, a consumer may come to us for education on the endocannabinoid system and then perhaps take a short course in terpene therapeutics. For supporting consumers with anxiety issues, with Victoria’s expertise, we can offer support with breathwork and yoga sequences combined with information on plant-based approaches.

What are the most common misconceptions you hear about cannabis?

CB: All stigma comes from a place of conditioning following years of mass media hype that has systematically pushed down the benefits of cannabis and blown the risks out of all proportion. A lot of the stigma comes from a place of ‘all drugs are bad’ and there is seemingly no academic basis for this argument. It exists because that’s what people have been told to think.

Cannabis consumption in the U.K. is often associated with either anti-social behaviour or connections to the mental health risks, which when compared with readily available drugs like alcohol, caffeine and sugar, are extremely low.

LD: Funnily enough, the stigmas that exist around cannabis do vary from country to country; in Thailand, their argument has nothing to do with mental health, they are concerned that they would have lazy workers.

VL: We often hear that cannabis consumers are unproductive, yet we feel more productive now than we have ever been and that comes down to cannabis education.

CB: The most common question I am asked when speaking about the benefits of cannabis and my health is, ‘Aren’t you high all the time?’ which I find interesting, because I felt MUCH more inebriated when consuming opiates. The alternative for chronic pain patients is heroin-type drugs.

LD: And no one ever visits a hospital patient with some grapes and demands to know if they are high on their prescribed medication.

Why is it important that PlantEd Collective is the only entirely female-led collective in the U.K.?

VL: In Hatha yoga, we are taught to practice with balance in everything that we do, the breath, postures, the balancing of the Lunar energy: the female, with the Solar energy: the male. Everything in life needs balance.

The PlantEd Collective are the balance which is really needed currently in the cannabis world because cannabis culture has been a male-dominated space for many years. We have only just started to see real change in the U.K. following the emergence of female advocates. The law was only changed, after all, because mothers desperately petitioned to get access for their children.

CB: There is a change in the image here from cannabis being associated with ‘teenage boys on BMX bikes’ to ‘women advocating for wellness’ that brings about a different energy with which to step forward. Women are nurturers, mothers, friends, sisters. There are no aggression tactics, instead there is knowledge, support and unwavering determination to get stuff done.

When we talk about cannabis, we are talking about a female plant.

LD: Yes! So who better to advocate for its powerful qualities?

Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake will be at the PlantEd Collective launch in December. PHOTO | PlantEd Collective

Why join forces to create PlantEd?

Jade: Whilst we have been extremely fortunate in our respective fields to be given the opportunities to learn and grow, something really dynamic happens when we work together. Where one is lacking in knowledge or experience, another team member jumps in and fulfils that need. We have all been very aware of each other’s work for some time, however, it took us all accidentally coming together as a panel at Trewfields (a cancer festival) to really understand that our combined specialisms make up such a massive knowledge base.

VL: It was a particularly emotional and challenging panel that day where we found that we were able to not only answer every question that came up, but that we could utilize each other to create a conversation that brought about much more than off-the-cuff responses. Without any preparation or discussion, we provided real ‘spade-a-spade’ insight and were able to reference case studies and highlight specific research for patients who were in dire need of education and support.

LD: We are delighted to have already been booked for next year’s Trewfields Festival.

Liz, you’ve written two children’s books which the collective plans to release. Are you developing any other services aimed at families?

LD: Yes, there are more in the pipeline! This is something which is very close to our hearts and we have experienced, first-hand, many of the issues raised in the books. We know how difficult it can be to open a conversation about this with those we love, those with whom we work and sometimes even with ourselves. These books aim to bridge that gap. There will be supporting materials available alongside the books and we will open an online forum to aid discussion of these subjects. We will host family days and events to provide support for families and normalise the use of plant-based medicines.

The first book, ‘Only a Plant’, is an accessible text for all ages which explains how useful a cannabis plant is in general — from the perspective of the plant itself. The second book, ‘Mum’s Medicine,’ is narrated by a child whose mother has chosen to replace a plethora of prescribed medications with a plant-based approach. The books provide a starting point for engaging in dialogue and supporting education and understanding. These books are important because they mirror real-life situations currently affecting children and families who choose cannabis as medicine.

CB: These books are so desperately needed. Kids don’t have the same negative associations with the plant and when it’s explained appropriately, they instantly understand why it is so important. My nine-year-old nephew reviewed Liz’s two books and got a lot out of them. He then asked for a plant medicine book for his birthday, so he can find out more about other plants that help people. That is truly very special. It is important that as we enter a new paradigm in embracing natural treatment methods, that we build resources in to educate people from a young age.

How will the digital platform integrate health and wellness?

VL: We each utilize cannabinoids and other plant medicine alongside other wellness practices. We hope to do a series on companion herbs and their uses, including documenting our own supplementary regime for patients interested in exploring alternatives to pharmaceuticals. As a Hatha Yoga practitioner, I teach a range of techniques and am in the process of developing resources for companion practices that work synergistically with cannabinoids to realign the body’s energy and boost pathways to wellness and mindfulness.

You will soon release a podcast, can you reveal some of the guests you have lined up?

CB: We can’t say too much about our Podcast plans yet, as it is rather top secret! But we think it’s safe to say that we have some incredible people lined up for our series. We will be having a cup of tea and a chat to some of the world’s most high-profile researchers, scientists, authors, doctors, master growers and innovators.

Tell us about the PlantEd Collective launch event in London featuring Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake, makers of ‘Weed the People’.

JP: We are ecstatic to be welcoming Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein to the team for the night of our launch. These amazing women have witnessed the power of cannabis as medicine and produced a film that the world needed to see. We will be playing some clips of ‘Weed the People’ on the evening and having a fireside chat, all together, about the content and how it relates to the situation for consumers in the U.K. We will host an audience of patients, carers, doctors and industry leads to join us in a conversation about the route to access, education and the reduction of stigma, for the benefit of generations to come.

For more information, visit the PlantEd Collective website. For details on their launch party with Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, visit eventbrite.co.uk.

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