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The Emerging Science of Psychedelic Therapies for Our Wellbeing

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Psychedelic Therapies
PHOTO | Martina

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.

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Yes, You Can Buy & Consume Weed at Outside Lands Festival

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Grass Lands Festival
PHOTOS | Courtesy of Outside Lands

Outside Lands festival is making history for the second year in a row with confirmation that consumption will be allowed at Grass Lands, the event’s cultivated cannabis experience.

It gets better.

Not only is on-site consumption allowed, you will also be able to buy cannabis products.

According to the L.A. Times, California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control approved on-site sale and consumption to people 21 years and older. The city of San Francisco had already granted its own permit for cannabis use at the event and has suggested other events in the city may also be granted such licenses.

“I think Outside Lands is unique in that it’s a large outdoor music festival in the park — not typically where cannabis events have been licensed,” said bureau spokesman Alex Traverso

“Permitting Grass Lands as the inaugural event is the first step in creating a safe cannabis event space for those aged 21 years and older,” said Marisa Rodriguez, director of the San Francisco Office of Cannabis to the L.A. Times. “Attendees will be able to purchase and consume lab-tested products away from the rest of the venue’s attendees.”

Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener also voiced his approval.

“Cannabis is part of our culture — particularly at music festivals — and it makes sense to allow people to obtain it legally,” Wiener said. “We need to move past prohibition, which doesn’t work.”

According to the Outside Lands website, as long as you have a valid Government-issued photo ID, everything from pre-rolls, flower, edibles, cartridges, and more will be available.

And while there may be designated consumption areas if you’re smoking or vaping in Grass Lands, edibles or beverages can be consumed anywhere within the event’s grounds.

The Grass is Greener at Grass Lands Festival

Outside Lands made history last year with the inaugural Grass Lands event, becoming the first curated cannabis experience at a major American music festival. Held South of the Polo Field (SoPo), Grass Lands was embraced by the extended Bay Area cannabis community as the perfect place to educate, elevate and celebrate cannabis.

“Much the way that Wine Lands celebrates Napa and Sonoma as the leaders in U.S. wine production, Grass Lands will shine a light on the area’s importance as pioneers in the cannabis world,” said Outside Lands co-producer Rick Farman.

This year, presented with Eaze, Grass Lands promises you even higher experience at America’s first legal cannabis consumption music event.

Grass Lands is part of Outside Lands, this weekend 9-11 August in San Fransisco’s Golden Gate Park. Headliners include Paul Simon, Childish Gambino and Twenty One Pilots. Be part of history. Get your tickets here.

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A Frank Conversation with Mowgli Holmes, CEO of Phylos Bioscience

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Phylos Bioscience
PHOTO | Supplied

Earlier this year, Phylos Bioscience announced its plan to launch an in-house breeding program. The news prompted outrage within the community, sparking conversations about intellectual property and genetics research across the cannabis industry.

Many cultivators felt betrayed by the idea that the Portland-based cannabis science company would use data they submitted to the Phylos Galaxy — a comprehensive database that documents the cannabis genome — to steal vital cultivar information and use it against them.

Phylos released a statement assuring growers not to worry, that their fears were unfounded. They insisted they weren’t going to use their submitted data to create super strains to put craft cannabis growers out of business. None of that data can be used for breeding, and the breeding work they do will be primarily for large-scale biomass producers. The varieties they do develop for the craft flower market will be released under open-source licenses and should help to keep craft growers in business.

Now, a couple of months have passed. For the most part, Phylos has kept out of the media spotlight. Cannabis Aficionado spoke to CEO Mowgli Holmes to learn more about their approach to large-scale agriculture, plant patents and IP rights, and the future of cannabis.

Growers submitted their genomic data to you with the understanding that it would not be used to enhance any breeding programs. How did you not foresee this backlash from the industry following the announcement of your breeding program?

We didn’t foresee this reaction because this data isn’t useful for plant breeding. It’s just genetic sequence data, with no information on the plants themselves. The purpose of the galaxy has always been to empower everyone to learn from their plant’s data by comparing it to everything else. We made the galaxy and the raw data publicly available so that everyone could have full access to it.

I don’t think this question has really been about the data. It’s about having a company in the cannabis industry that is working with people from big ag. The science we’re using comes from those companies, and we’re hiring scientists who understand it. We’re also a company that is focused on environmental and social impact, and on moving agriculture toward sustainable practices. Cannabis growers don’t trust big ag and they don’t see how we could be working with people from those companies and still have these progressive goals. But we do.

You claim that your new breeding program will focus on large-scale agriculture. Why then do you think there is such a negative response to your breeding announcement from cannabis growers and craft cultivators?

Phylos concentrates on the global market because that’s where the plant needs the most work. I think that a lot of small growers assume that large-scale ag means lousy cannabis, so they don’t respect it. But it matters how the large growers operate. Phylos believes large-scale cannabis and hemp agriculture can actually operate sustainably and we’re committed to doing our part to move it in that direction. We also want to see the craft flower market thrive. We won’t be doing a lot of work there, but when we do it’s going to have a positive impact. The flower plants we release will be good for growers, and breeders will get to keep working with them.

Your presentation to investors at Benzinga seemed to confirm that you will use the submitted data to breed new strains. Why did you tell that to investors if it isn’t your intention? Why do you think your words were misconstrued?

That is not what I said to investors. But when I said that our testing business was a valuable data collection tool, I meant it. Having a high-throughput molecular genetics lab allowed us to generate lots of valuable data, but all of that work has been independent of the customer data we collected. As I said, the data we collected from customers cannot be used for breeding, period.

The data collected from customers was very limited and was made public via the Phylos Galaxy in order to prevent patent infringement and support greater transparency within the cannabis industry’s supply chain. It’s a tool for the industry, including our competitors, to use in understanding varieties and the evolution of cannabis. It’s not a tool that can help with breeding except in a very general way by letting people see relationships — and it’s available to everyone to use in that way.

Have you kept any of the genetic data so you could replicate any of the submitted material via plant tissue propagation?

No, we wouldn’t do that and it’s not possible. You can’t create a living plant from data and you can’t create a living plant from a dead tissue sample. We are not using any of our customer’s plants in our breeding program. The Galaxy is evidence that our customer’s plants belong to them.

We do have a large collection of living cannabis varieties, which we’ve acquired through fair and generous contracts with breeders, and we’re continuing to in-license new varieties.

Phylos scientists in the lab. PHOTO | Supplied

Was patenting genetics, or your plans to use the data to create your own breeding program, in any fine print that people may have missed?

We’ve never had any plans to use that data for breeding because we always knew it wouldn’t be robust enough to breed with. But we were very openly and publicly building a breeding program meant to support other people’s plant work with our scientific tools. We just weren’t originally intending to do the actual plant work ourselves.

The largest part of a modern plant breeding program is the data infrastructure and we were clear very early on that we were developing genetic markers for breeding. As we’ve said, the customer data had no information on the physical characteristics of the plants themselves and couldn’t be used for breeding. We believed that this simple scientific fact would keep people from making the mistake of thinking we were using it for breeding.

As far as patenting goes, our position has always been that plant patents are fine, as long as they’re responsibly narrow and don’t cover entire categories of plants. Overly broad patents are bad for innovation and bad for the cannabis industry.

The Open Cannabis Project (OCP) closed at the end of May in response to your announcement, citing “deception” as the one reason. What are your thoughts on this situation?

We helped start the OCP to create a transparent and open-source repository of cannabis data that could enlarge the public domain and help to preserve genetic diversity in cannabis. I resigned from the board in order to ensure there was no connection between OCP and Phylos, but the board was already planning to dissolve the organization in December 2018 based on difficulty fundraising.

The OCP knew we were doing breeding work, they knew the science we were using was from big ag and they knew we were going to be willing to apply for limited patents. The OCP themselves have always supported limited patents. They also know how strong my personal commitment is to doing things differently than they’re done in traditional agriculture.

Nothing illustrates the intense emotion around this issue better than this does. Despite knowing all of that, I think they were genuinely shocked to see that we’re working with and hiring people from big ag companies. Progressives see those companies as truly evil, and they don’t have a framework for understanding how good people could possibly be working with them.

Unfortunately, nobody on the OCP board contacted us before they issued their statement. The idea that you could have one foot in both worlds and still be committed to being an ethical company — that’s impossible for many people to accept. But that stance is a decision to leave all of this scientific power in the hands of people you don’t trust.

How can growers trust you when you say you are not using their genomics and data to advance your own breeding program?

Anyone who looks at the science comes to see that you can’t use this data for breeding new plants.

But we are seeing that trust doesn’t come from scientific facts alone. We’re a mission-driven company and eventually people will see the benefits of the work we’re doing. The dust will clear and we’ll be working away, and then people will see.

Why do you think people were so quick to jump to the conclusion that you are using your position and power to harm the very people that you have spent so many years trying to protect?

This is the part that’s hard for me. Phylos has always been clear in our mission to bring science to cannabis and new approaches to agriculture, to preserve genetic diversity, and to help small farmers. It’s pretty crazy to find out that people can overnight decide you don’t mean the things you say. But again, I think the assumption is that if we had good intentions we wouldn’t be hiring scientists and advisors from the major ag companies. We need these people because they understand the complexities of the large-scale agricultural system better than anyone and they are uniquely positioned to help us change it for the better. The team of scientists that have joined Phylos is building an agricultural model that is profitable and sustainable for farmers. We always meant it when we said we cared about the craft flower community. But we also care about agriculture as a whole.

What is your desired achievement with your breeding program?

I got a lot of shit for saying this, but I’m just going to say it again: Phylos is going to create outrageous new plants. They’re going to work better for farmers and for consumers and they’re going to be constantly evolving.

We also believe that it’s important for us and the industry to give both fair credit and fair compensation to the breeders who have created amazing plants already and those that continue to do so. We are already signing agreements to make sure those breeders get paid as they should, and we hope it becomes the standard way of acquiring plants in the industry.

Phylos has built its mission around preserving the genetic diversity we’ve inherited. At the same time, we’re going to drive forward into the future of what this plant can do, which really will be incredible. We need to do both of those things.

We’re combining advanced science with sustainability principles. We’re using traditional breeding driven by genomic knowledge. We’re studying methods that let farmers minimize inputs costs at the same time as they’re building healthier soil. We’re going to help farmers profit from sustainability — and we’re going to make sustainability work better because it’s driven by hard data.

Where does Phylos Bioscience go from here?

We have to accept that some people see big ag companies as the enemy and they don’t trust anyone who’s working with them. But we need to have companies who can use the science from big ag in ways that are driven by a sense of social responsibility. We need to have companies who can figure out how to support environmentally sustainable approaches as they use this science. We need to have companies that are a bridge between these two worlds.

Phylos has one foot in the cannabis world and one foot in the world of large-scale agriculture. The role of our company is to be a bridge between these two worlds that don’t trust each other. To make it work, we’re going to have to be really committed to maintaining our values and measuring our success based on them. We’re going to have to be a little bit like Switzerland and work with everyone.  We have to accept that we’re not going to make everyone happy, but we’re going to make damn sure the farms that work with us are successful.

To us, that means that they’re sustainably successful in ways that work long-term for them, and their workers, and the environment. For most of these larger farms the first step is simple: start growing hemp.

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Why Jay-Z’s Stand on Social Justice Makes His Move Into Weed Important

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jay-z
PHOTO | @JayZ

Rap superstar Jay-Z has announced his partnership with California-based cannabis company Caliva, serving as their Chief Brand Strategist on a multi-year deal.

Per a statement released to detail the partnership, Jay-Z’s duties on the job will include outreach efforts, brand strategy and creative decisions, giving him a further outlet to focus his efforts in “advocacy, job training and overall employee and workforce development.”

In his new role, Jay-Z plans to shine a spotlight on social injustices when it comes to cannabis, particularly in the realm of criminal justice, cannabis use and legalization.

“Anything I do, I want to do correctly and at the highest level,” said Jay-Z in the statement. “With all the potential in the cannabis industry, Caliva’s expertise and ethos make them the best partners for this endeavor. We want to create something amazing, have fun in the process, do good and bring people along the way.”

Jay-Z’s Push for Justice

While it’s clear that the billionaire musician has always been about good business and making money, this is more than just a financial choice for Jay-Z.

Having long been dedicated to social justice initiatives before entering the cannabis business, this is another outlet for him to advocate for and boost the black community in an area they’ve suffered disproportionately, the criminal justice system.

This isn’t his first foray into addressing such issues either.

Jay-Z was named as an executive producer on a series about Kalief Browder, a young black man from the Bronx who died via suicide after three years of imprisonment without a trial, has been outspoken in his support for fellow rapper Meek Mill during his legal troubles and partnered will Meek Mill to launch the Reform Alliance, a group dedicated to criminal justice reform.

When it comes to social justice, this isn’t the rapper’s first rodeo.

A Closer Look at Caliva

Already big fish in the ever-growing legal cannabis pond, the San Jose-based company has a tight grip on the Bay Area’s legal cannabis industry. Carried in over 250 retailers in California and in charge of about 150,000 square feet of space between their cultivation, manufacturing and retail facilities, it’s no wonder the company is Jay-Z’s pick when it came time to ink a deal.

Caliva was all for the opportunity to bring the rap mogul onboard, with CEO Dennis O’Malley heaping praise on the rap superstar in a statement.

“For Jay-Z to seek out Caliva as a partner is humbling and confirms our mission of being the most trusted name in cannabis,” said O’Malley. “To find that we were in complete alignment around our values and ethos was just a home run. We believe this partnership is unparalleled in this or any business and we could not be more pleased to be working with him and have him as our Chief Brand Strategist.”

Celebrities and Cannabis: A Likely Match

While this deal is huge for Caliva, Jay-Z isn’t the only high-profile celebrity to play ball with them. Earlier this year, Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Joe Montana was among a group of investors who locked in an impressive $75 million in fundraising for Caliva.

Montana said at the time that he hoped “Caliva’s strong management team will successfully develop and bring to market quality products that can provide relief to many people and make a serious impact on opioid use and addiction.”

Jay-Z is also one of the many rappers that have jumped on board the legal cannabis money train, joining the likes of Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J and Cypress Hill. Smart investors all have their money in the legal cannabis market, and Hov seems to be no exception.

After all, the guy who rapped “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man,” seems like the type of guy who knows a good deal when he sees one.

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