A Rose by Any Other Name

A Rose By Any Other Name

Image: Unsplash Elsa Olofsson

Originally published in Weed World Magazine issue 152 (July 2021)

There are currently attempts in the UK and other European countries to advance ‘hemp’ legislation ahead of demonizing ‘cannabis’. The argument is being made that because certain cultivars of cannabis don’t produce arbitrary levels of the devilish THC that they should be rescheduled, while ones that do should remain demonized and criminalized. They are attempting to intentionally misinterpret the science and bend the truth to fit their narrative and alter legislation to benefit their bottom dollar.

Ultimately, they are seeking to monopolize the entire industry before it has even begun. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at this claim that ‘hemp’ is not cannabis…We’ve all heard cannabis described as Sativa, Indica, hybrid, or hemp, but what do these distinctions mean? In Europe and the Americas, tall fibrous cannabis plants that produced lots of seeds were classified as Cannabis Sativa. The term Sativa comes from Latin and translates to ‘cultivated’ so Cannabis Sativameans ‘cultivated cannabis’.

Sativa is also the feminine form of the adjective Latin word ‘Sativum’which may be where some modern-day prohibitionists get the idea that the female plants produce cannabis and the male plants produce ‘hemp’. Hybrids are defined as the cultivars produced from the cross-breeding of the various cannabis cultivars.

The term Indica translates from modern Latin to English as‘ of India’.It was coined by the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in the 18th century while attempting to classify the short, broad-leafed cannabis varieties that had recently been discovered in the colonies on the Indian plateau. The history of cannabis identification has been a long and controversial one. In 1753 Carl Linneaus unifiedCannabis SativaandCannabis Indicainto one genus; Cannabis Sativa L.Since then many different theories have come and gone. There have been proposals for between 1 and 4 individual and unique subspecies of cannabis.

There were also attempts to classify 13 individual genera of cannabis in the former Soviet Union. It was the Soviet-era research that led to the classification of ‘Cannabis Ruderalis’as a sub-species of Cannabis Sativa L.Ruderalis is the neglected middle child between cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica.

This sub-species is arguably the missing link between the ‘sativa’ cultivars of Europe and the Americas and the cannabis ‘indica’ ones of the middle east and Asia. Interestingly it is the cross-breeding of Indica and Sativacultivars withRuderalisones that activates the ‘day neutral’ gene, creating auto-flowering varieties of the sub-species of Cannabis Sativa L. The current consensus here is that there is only one genus, Cannabis Sativa L, with three distinct sub-species Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and cannabis Ruderalis, but no ‘Cannabis Hemp’.

Image: weed World Magazine

Cannabis Sativa L was first thought to of originated in one geographical location and then, over countless generations of human interference, made its way across the world. Through adaptive evolution, the settlers of the various regions of the world have adapted and developed resilience to additional UV exposure, extreme temperature variance, and other local flora and fauna.

The same is true of the sub-species of Cannabis Sativa L. The current consensus is that cannabis originated high up in the mountains of the Tibet Plateau around 28 million years ago. It evolved in a low oxygen, high UV environment and is thought to have produced a lot of diverse cultivars that adapted to the various micro-climates the wind-spreading species found itself growing in.It is unknown just how long ago humans first discovered cannabis in the region.

What we do know is that when they did they found the seeds to be a great food source and the fibrous material a strong and durable textile. Eventually, they began cultivating it in different local climates and trading to other neighboring groups. As cannabis began to make its way around the region it began adapting to the local climate, soil, and humans’ preference for either fiber, resin, or seed production.

This caused those first cultivars to begin expressing different characteristics and traits as a response to their new environment. These diverse cultivars were then selected for their preferential mutations and bred to further express those beneficial traits. This selective breeding by early humans began a trajectory of genetic divergence that would eventually lead to cannabis cultivars from Europe and the Americas looking so distinctly different from those of the Middle East or Asia.

We are now just starting to understand how Cannabis Sativa in the Western world diverged from Cannabis Indica of the Tibetan Plateau. It appears that human selection and environmental changes seem to be the primary contributory factors in the diverse evolution of the three sub-species of Cannabis Sativa L.

The terms Sativa and Indica were created to distinguish between what was thought to be at the time two very different genus of plant from opposite ends of the planet. The world today is far smaller than it’s ever been, and our knowledge of this plant has never been greater. We have discovered hundreds of the chemical compounds in cannabis and are far more aware of the enormous potential of this plant.

So, why do we still see dispensaries, coffeeshops, and clubs selling based on these rather ambiguous classifying terms? Well, that’s partly down to a misunderstanding in what the differences are between Cannabis IndicaandCannabis Sativaand what that means.

I also believe a larger factor at play here is greedy and misguided capitalists trying to oversimplify cannabis to sell more products by claiming that this ‘strain’ will do this to you and this other one will do this. Ultimately, these classifications are still around today predominantly to help growers identify the way each cultivar will grow and the individual phytomorphology of the cultivar.

It is the unique combination of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other chemicals in cannabis that gives each cultivar its effects. The monoterpene Myrcene, and the sesquiterpenes β-Caryophyllene and α-Humulene are the most dominant terpenes found in most, if not all cultivars of Cannabis Sativa L. It has long been conventional wisdom that ‘sativas’ produce an uplifting, euphoric, and cerebral effect on the consumer, whereas ‘Indicas’ will cause the consumer to have a stony, couch-lock, and full-body high.

Cannabis Sativacultivars are often high in terpenes such as α-Terpinolene and α-Pinene and typically produce lower levels of Myrcene. Conversely, higher levels of Myrcene would produce ‘Indica’ type effects. That being said there are some Cannabis Sativa cultivars out there that have Myrcene as their primary terpene and still produce these effects in some consumers.

This is down to the complex synergy of cannabinoids and terpenes creating unique minor compounds that play a far larger part in the effect of a cultivar than we previously thought. The unique and complex nature of the compounds in cannabis makes it impossible to fit into a traditional pharmacological paradigm. Our endocannabinoid systems (ECS) are as unique as our fingerprints, the way one cultivar affects someone might not be the same for another.

This is why there is now an argument being put forward that we should classify cannabis not by cultivar, but by ‘chemovars’ (chemical varieties). Using liquid and gas chromatography, individual plants could be tested and identified by their unique chemical profile including its primary and minor cannabinoid, terpene, and flavonoid levels.

While I see the merit in this undertaking, I also see great a deal of potential for abuse at the hands of greedy self-serving corporate interests seeking to standardize, homogenize, and patent nature. I fear that adopting this approach will only further help in the production of highly profitable synthetic cannabis-based pharmaceutical medications.

It is that same greed that has seen the ‘legal’ cannabis industry perpetuate bad science and overly simplistic and outdated terminology in order to sell their products. This is evident in companies demonizing THC in order to sell CBD and brands insisting that they only use ‘hemp-derived’ cannabinoids in an attempt to placate the fear of cannabis in their consumers.

So where does this leave ‘Hemp’ in all of this? Well, as we have just learned, ‘Hemp’ is a result of selective breeding by humans, genetic response to environmental changes, and arbitrary and irrational international legislation. ‘Hemp’ therefore is just a loose grouping of the accepted low-THC cultivars of the sub-species Cannabis Sativaof the genus Cannabis Sativa L. Despite what the venture capitalists, ill-informed opportunists, and those with a vested interest in politics say, all cannabis is cannabis.

There is no ‘hemp’ and we shouldn’t be gaslit into believing there ever was anything other than a handful of accepted cannabis cultivars and the arbitrary criminalization of its immense industrial and commercial potential. If we are to survive the impending global wave of corporate ‘legalization’ crashing upon our gentle shores then we must learn everything we can about this humble plant.

We must not let those set to profit from cannabis be our prophets. We must do all we can to promote unbiased education, equity, and justice above perpetual profits, patents, and the creation of prohibition 2.0.

Written for Weed World Magazine by Simpa

 

Simpa Carter
Simpa Carter

Simpa is a passionate drug law reform activist, mental health advocate, blogger, freelance writer, and host of The Simpa Life podcast.

Exploring the Daily Mail ‘Investigation into cannabis dealing on Instagram’

Exploring the Daily Mail ‘Investigation into cannabis dealing on Instagram’

Image: Daily Mail ‘investigation’ into cannabis dealing on Instagram

Last week ‘The UK’s most popular daily newspaper’ the Daily Mail published an investigation into cannabis dealing on Instagram on its website DailyMail.co.uk that has caused some contempt, controversy, and confusion.

In the article, the anonymous authors claim that there are ‘hundreds of drug dealers using Instagram to peddle potent cannabis to children.’ An unsubstantiated and frankly hyperbole claim to say the least. There is a lot to break down here, but I’ll do my best to cover all of the relevant material and threads discussed in the article. 

There are several parts to this piece. First the story about Instagram vendors allegedly offering to sell cannabis products to undercover journalists pretending to be minors. Then a previous story about an undercover sting on a violent and grandiose Albanian gangster, a reference to another previous Daily Mail piece about a young girls suicide that I discuss in issue 8 of Last Week in Weed, and a host of unsourced ‘facts’ and misinformation.

The piece starts by asserting that the scale of online cannabis dealing ‘has mushroomed during lockdown’ and that hundreds of cannabis dealers are using Instagram to sell to young children. This rather alarmist summation seems to be based on their allegation that their undercover team was able to find just four out of 250 Instagram accounts they suspected of being dealers that would allegedly sell cannabis products to under-18s. 

The authors go on to say their investigation revealed “Dealers, some with almost 30,000 followers, promote their wares with enticing pictures of cannabis packaged as children’s sweets and then arrange sales via private messaging services.”

While the private messenger comment may be true. The idea that dealers are ‘lacing children’s sweets with cannabis’ is a rehashing of classic reefer madness propaganda and wilful ignorance of cannabis culture. This persistent myth is spread by the mainstream press, prohibitionists, and especially politicians. They like to cash in on appearing tough on drugs and pro-heteronormative family at the same time. 

Cannabis consumers like to pay homage to the brands they consumed as kids by imitating or infusing them with cannabis extracts. This is intended for other adult members of the community to nostalgically enjoy and is a way of celebrating the creativity, ingenuity, and humour of cannabis culture.

The piece continues with several images include a menu and several promotional shots taken from the four accounts that the media giant is accused of offering to supply cannabis to minors. All of whom have now subsequently been removed by Instagram. Along with all the 250 accounts involved in the investigation. 

We’ve removed several of the accounts flagged to us by the Daily Mail and are continuing to investigate. Buying and selling drugs is strictly against our rules and we use a combination of technology and human review to remove it. Between April and June [2021], we removed 2.3million pieces of drug sales content, over 95 percent before it was reported to us, and we work closely with law enforcement and youth organisations to help us continually improve. We’re exploring new ways to support people who search for this content in the UK, and hope to have an update soon” – Facebook spokesperson

The team claims to have contacted the four accounts to purchase cannabis products and duly informed them of their juvenile status. They then claim that all of the accounts responded indicating in various ways that they were happy to complete the transaction. Even going on to state that one of the accounts ‘promised gifts if they recruited their classmates as customers.’ 

It isn’t mentioned if they actually went through with purchasing the cannabis products, but I can’t imagine that the team was willing to break any laws, just various social media guidelines. Interestingly, they do not provide screenshots of the conversations, just a thought.

image: food Safety News

Next, ‘the team’ makes the frankly absurd claim that there are Instagram accounts offering products including ‘cannabis-laced sweets with the equivalent strength of 50 joints, which police have warned causes ‘substantial harm.’ Let’s look at this claim a little closer shall we? The average gram of cannabis flower contains around 15 – 25% THC or around 150 – 250mg of THC.

A typical pure joint will contain around 1g or so of flower, which would mean it contained 150 – 250mg of THC. An edible 50 times stronger than that would contain between 7,500 – 12,500mg of THC. Even if a consumer mixes their cannabis with tobacco and only consumes say 0.5g that still equates to around 3,750 – 6,250mg of THC. The strongest edibles you’ll typically see for sale at events or online in the UK scene are around 1,000mg.

So, I cannot believe I am typing this but in this singular instance, I am inclined to agree. Consuming edibles 50 times stronger than a joint would cause an extraordinary high, a several day stoner over, and could potentially cause the consumer to experience tachycardia, heightened anxiety, and difficulty retaining full cognitive control of their mental faculties. However, given that cannabis is non-toxic and doesn’t suppress repository function they won’t risk death, no matter how much is consumed.

A comment from an unnamed consultant psychiatrist ‘who welcomed the Mail’s investigation’ follows. They warn that ‘high-strength cannabis trade ‘exploded’ during lockdown and was driving young people into ‘psychosis, depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide.’ This comment is provided without any attempt to provide any further explanation as to what would drive young people to consume cannabis. 

There is no consideration or mention of the multitude of other potential factors such as; an ongoing global pandemic, intermittent country-wide lockdowns, extended social isolation, increased poverty, food scarcity, or just the same general sense of hopelessness and helplessness that most of us are currently experiencing. 

It then goes on to claim that 8% of ‘school pupils’ have tried cannabis, which they claim has caused 13,000 under-18s to need ‘treatment’ including more than 1,000 aged 13 and under. It doesn’t reveal their sources or how they arrived at their statistics. So I thought I would do a little digging to see exactly what that means.

There are currently 10,320,811 full and part-time school pupils in the UK. 8,890,357 in England, 469,176 in Wales, 794,364 in Scotland, 341,402 in Northern Ireland according to the latest data from the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA). So that’s an estimated 825,665 school pupils who have tried cannabis and just 1.6% of them ‘needed treatment’ according to the Mail

I take issue with this rather ambiguous language. It tells us very little about what that ‘treatment’ entailed. Did they have to attend an A&E department at their local hospital, did a concerned parent, relative, or care have to ring 111, did they attend or notify their doctor’s surgery.

I would sure be interested to know who many of these ‘interventions’ were only caused by over-protective and paranoid guardians scared into believing decades of government-sponsored propaganda, mainstream media misinformation, and the regurgitation of reefer madness in pop culture. 

Now, let’s compare those numbers with the nation’s favourite intoxicant and neurological poison, alcohol. In 2020, there were nearly 1.3 million estimated hospital admissions where the primary or secondary reason for their visit was alcohol. This represents an increase of 20% compared to a decade previous

In the same year, excessive alcohol consumption caused 7,423 premature deaths in the UK, up 19% from the previous year. This is likely a dramatic underestimation as deaths from the various forms of cancer caused by alcohol consumption aren’t included in those statistics. Now let’s look at cannabis, which still has caused 0 deaths in human history. However, Synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs) or synthetic cannabinoids have. They are listed as the primary cause of death on at least 143 death certificates between 2012 and 2019 in England and Wales alone.

Recent data from the WHO shows 5.3% of all annual deaths are the result of alcohol consumption, that’s right 1 in 20 deaths globally are caused by alcohol consumption. Alcohol is causal and co-morbid in over 200 diseases and injury conditions including cancer, especially cancer of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, larynx, breast, bowel, and liver. Whereas cannabis has been shown in various clinical trials to help fight cancer and put it into remission. Its also been shown to help manage and reduce the symptoms, as well as treat myriad chronic health conditions and diseases.

The piece continues on to state that unnamed ‘experts’ have informed them that ‘as early as 2014, one in four sales were made online’ and that ‘the proportion is now believed to be far higher.’ I cannot prove or disprove this claim. However, selling cannabis online isn’t anything new so it wouldn’t surprise me. 

After all the first online transaction was for cannabis. When back in 1972 between two computer science students from Stanford and MIT used the Arpanet network to sell other students small amounts of cannabis.

One of the other main factors overlooked here is the cultural inclinations of cannabis consumers. I and hundreds of thousands of others first began consuming cannabis as a young teenager with no negative health consequences. That isn’t to say there isn’t any risk at all in consuming cannabis.

There is a rather small percentage of consumers that could potentially have an adverse reaction and potentially develop a dependency. This number is smaller than alcohol, tobacco, and arguably even caffeine. Ultimately, it remains infinitesimal when compared to the percentage of consumers that suffer permanent psychological damage as a result of prohibition.

The Mail asserts that 16 and 17-year-olds consuming cannabis is inherently dangerous for all of them and will harm their mental health, increase their risk of suicide, promote future criminality, and increase their risk of committing violent acts. This is in my opinion a load of crap. It is a deliberate attempt to misinterpret the data and situation. These consequences are for the most part the result of complex socio-economic factors, pre-existing mental health issues, and cannabis prohibition – not its consumption.

This is juxtaposed with the UK’s hardcore alcohol culture which is so popular that it managed to create various laws to perpetuate and protect its own prevalence in society. This has led to some rather unusual laws being enacted.

For example, it is illegal to purchase alcohol for a minor but a 16/17-year-old can legally consume alcohol with a meal on a licensed premise, they simply cannot legally purchase it. However, the weirdest one is that it’s legal to supply a child aged 5 and above alcohol at home or at a licensed premises.

Where is the media uproar about five-year-olds consuming alcohol? Could it be absent because they actually understand that there are subtle nuances at play here? I do wonder if it’s got something to do with what happens when you remove the taboo and demystify a substance to the youth. I truly believe that we inherently and culturally know that it is one of the best ways to promote the development of a healthier substance relationship to alcohol. So why not try it with cannabis too?

The evidence about how alcohol affects the developing brain is vast and well-established. Yet we allow our youth to periodically imbibe in it. The jury is still out on how cannabis and its component cannabinoids affect the development of an adolescent brain, the go-to mantra of the prohibitionist. However, we do know that there are various patents already held around the world for cannabinoids as neuroprotective agents and treatments against degenerative brain diseases.

I find it difficult to see how they could harm the developing brain given that endo-cannabinoids are present in breast milk in very high quantities. We know that phytocannabinoids mimic endogenous ones and they are responsible for the healthy functionality of the majority of human regulatory systems. So again I cannot see how they could be harmful, especially more so than a recognised neurological toxin like alcohol which we now know 5-year-olds are allowed to drink legally.

The piece finishes with a recapping of an older story about ‘The Devil’ a violent Albanian gangster living in London. The article documents the violent and criminal disregard the man shows to all authority and the lavish grandiose lifestyle it has afforded him. It goes on to in detail recount how the man tortured another man. I cannot help but feel like the republishing of this earlier piece in conjunction with this ‘investigation’ is to tacitly imply and create an association between regular cannabis consumers and dealers and violent criminal thugs.

Despite what ‘journalists’ like Peter Hitchins and others would have you believe cannabis consumption isn’t associated with increased violence. The same, however, cannot be said of alcohol. A 2020 Alcohol Harm Commission report found that alcohol consumption fuels an estimated 40% of all violent crime and 50% of domestic violence cases in the UK. Such statistics do not currently exist for cannabis, but if they did I highly doubt they would be in any way comparable to those above. However, this hasn’t and won’t stop the mainstream media from pushing their pro-alcohol/ anti-cannabis narrative.

Another article from the week before that appears to be connected to this investigation is an attempt to name and shame prominent UK rapper, Professor Green. While monitoring one of the accounts for the investigation, it shared an image of the mental health advocate appearing to smoke a joint. The hit piece was published without comment from the rapper’s publicist, who was contacted by the Mail but did not respond.

Professor Green’s Instagram response to the Daily Mail article.

Professor Green did, however, respond on Instagram. In a post addressed to the ‘Investigation Unit’ the ‘Just be good to green’ and ‘jungle’ singer corrected the article saying that “I didn’t promote the ‘dealer’, I wasn’t ‘caught’ doing anything, and I don’t even praise the fucking Lord let alone a dealer, the video is older than my gran.”

He then goes on to question the rag’s credibility and ethics by saying “what’s happened to all of the actual journalism, it’s now not a wider article that you’ve referenced me in, it’s just a pop at me.” Going on to name the journalists as Tom Kelly, saying “it’s got so bad they hide behind ‘units’ – What does this hope to achieve?” 

He finishes the post by saying “Diddums… little bit unhappy with the momentum I’ve been building up with all the good I’ve been doing? – Bye bye @dailymail – Please don’t contact my agent again. Im off for a zoot 😘”

So what can we take from this piece of journalistic gold? Well, we now know how woefully uninformed the UK mainstream press are about the size of the UK cannabis community and the scope and scale of its online presence.

Learned that over 98% of under 18s that consumed cannabis in 2020 did so with no need to seek ‘ treatment.’ We also found out that the vast majority of alleged online vendors will not sell to under-18s but are at risk of this kind of pernicious journalism.

Ultimately, the purpose of this piece was clearly not to produce any sincere insight into the issue it highlights. Indeed it is not designed to provide facts to create a reasoned and rational discourse and debate. It’s meant simply to fortify the ignorant view of its readership and to ensure the continuation of the socio-economic, political, and corporate status quo.

Written for The Simpa Life by Simpa

 

Simpa Carter
Simpa Carter

Simpa is a passionate drug law reform activist, mental health advocate, blogger, freelance writer, and host of The Simpa Life podcast.

The Rise of Synthetic Cannabinoids

The Rise of Synthetic Cannabinoids 

Image: CNBC

Originally published in Weed World Magazine issue 154 (September 2021)

2021 will go down in cannabis history as the year of the synthetic cannabinoid. This year has seen exponential growth in interest around these new, novel, and potentially therapeutic or lethal man-made cannabis mimicking compounds. Before we go any further into this discussion, we must first define exactly what is meant by the term ‘synthetic cannabinoid.’ Unfortunately, there is currently no real consensus on what exactly the term ‘synthetic’ means concerning cannabis. 

Synthesis is defined as ‘the production of chemical compounds by reaction from simpler materials.’ So technically all compounds in the universe are in some way a product of some form of synthesis between similar or ‘parent’ compounds. Using this interpretation it could be taken to mean that a ‘synthetic cannabinoid’ is simply a natural derivative of cannabis that has been produced in a larger quantity than is found in nature. However, the issue here surrounds, as always the use of language by prohibitionists, regulators, and individuals with vested interests in the fledgling industry.

The above interpretation argues that producing products such as ‘K2’ or ‘Spice’ is the same as the ‘synthesising’ process that THC-A goes through when it decarboxylates into Delta-9 THC. However, the results of this natural process at least produce a compound whose effects are well-researched, widely enjoyed, and known to be highly beneficial to the human endocannabinoid system (ECS)

There are two main ways to produce ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ with the first being by far the most popular. Abundant phytocannabinoids such as CBD or Delta-9 THC are converted into other branch cannabinoids through a chemical reaction using an acid or solvent. This is done to either produce isomers of existing naturally occurring cannabinoids such as THC or CBD or new novel ones that aren’t found in the plant but do bind to receptors in the ECS.

The most popular conversion being conducted is CBD into ∆8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8 THC). Delta-8 is an isomer of Delta-9 THC and is reported to have a similar but ‘milder’ ‘intoxicating’ or ‘euphoric’ effect on the consumer as Delta-9 THC. The cannabinoid that most of us will have the most experience with. Structurally speaking, the only real difference between the two is the location of a double bond between two carbon molecules. 

So how did it become so popular? The passing of ‘The Hemp farming Act 2018’ created a boom in the US low-THC cannabis (hemp) market that caused a massive oversupply of CBD and biomass. This inevitably led to a massive reduction in price and thus profits for producers, who were previously dominating the intentionally limited market space. Using a simple chemical process that was discovered in the 1960s producers began converting their cheap excess CBD isolate into much more profitable and quasi-legal Delta-8 THC and other ‘synthetic cannabinoid’ products. 

The reason this particular conversion and its resulting compound are being marketed as ‘the next CBD’ is ironically down to the ‘success’ of the US CBD industry. A legal grey area in US cannabis legislation means that as Delta-8 is ‘legal’ under federal law as long as its ‘derived’ from ‘hemp’ (low-THC cannabis) Technically the end product is ‘derived’ from CBD which was in turn ‘derived’ from cultivars of low-THC cannabis (hemp) so I can see the argument they are trying to make here. 

Since the explosion in popularity of Delta-8 in the US, 18+ states have now banned its sale and others are rushing through legislation that has a lot in common with the UK’s failed ‘Novel Psychoactive Substances’ bill in 2017. One of the most spectacularly disastrous and dangerous pieces of drug policy to emerge so far in the 21st century. 

These conversions and the marketing hype that currently surrounds them in the US are a direct result of the antiquated and draconian war on drugs. The legal confusion here isn’t helped by the rather ambiguous language used in legislative bills and acts that seek to ‘control’ and prohibit cannabis around the world. 

Interestingly, there has developed a rather stark difference in the way ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ are viewed in the UK versus the United States of America. The UK media has spent the best part of a decade demonising ‘spice zombies’ and sharing scare stories of prison guards collapsing due to inhaling the ‘toxic fumes’ of ‘new more potent synthetic cannabis’ consumed by inmates.

‘Synthetic cannabinoids’ have a much higher associated risk of dependency and adverse side-effects than traditional cannabis. Its consumption has been observed to cause temporary psychosis, hyper-violence, and extreme sedation and can have devastating long-term effects on consumers’ mental health.

The main group associated with the consumption of ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ in the UK are homeless people. Subsequently, the pre-existing stigma and prejudice towards homelessness amplify the negative and ‘sub-human’ attitudes of ‘normal’ society towards their struggle for subsistence. 

Why is there such a difference in attitudes between the close nation allies? Well, as usual, it seems to comes down to money. The US market is so well-established and profitable that it has joined the lobby and marketing game. Using the above interpretation of the definition of ‘synthetic cannabinoid’ and the gapping wholes in policy to market what the UK would call ‘spice’ as a safer, healthier, and ‘legal’ way to get high.

So is Delta-9 THC really ‘milder’ than traditional Delta-9 THC? Well, a known by-product of converting CBD into Delta-8 is a compound called ‘Olivetol.’ This precursor of THC is patented for its ability to ‘inhibit intoxication’ from THC. This is theorised to be the reason ‘Delta-8 doesn’t get you as high as Delta-9.’

The chemicals used in the process to produce these ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ including Delta-8 can result in some rather toxic and cancerogenic compounds being produced. If they are not correctly filtered and distilled the end product can contain any amount of these potentially lethal compounds.

There is growing research and concern about the safety and side effects of these trace chemicals. A recent study found that the majority of Delta-8 products on the US market contained other ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ other unidentified compounds and leftover solvents or acids from the conversion process.

It does make you wonder why they are allowed to proliferate if they are not being regulated or have any evidence to prove its safety or effects on the consumer. Well, I guess it would be easy to just chalk it up to the continued prohibition of Delta-9 THC and people wanting to ‘legally’ get high. I would, however, also suspect that it might have something to do with the ever-increasing power and global influence of the ‘medical cannabis industrial complex.’ 

We have seen the ‘rise of weed’ coincide with ‘the fall of opium.’ Globally the pharmaceutical industry is having a tough time right now. There are numerous US states and a host of countries filing lawsuits against some of the biggest ‘legal dealers’ on the planet. Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the creators of Oxycotin, a synthetic opioid pain medication in the US, are currently entangled in multiple lawsuits accusing the multi-billion dollar company of intentionally ‘flooding the US with pain pills’ incentivising over-prescribing, and knowingly misleading health care professionals about the likelihood of consumers forming dependency issues. 

This has caused many companies that have traditionally produced opioid medications to research and patent suitable alternative replacements such as ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ traditional entheogenic substances, and new novel psychoactive compounds. The recent US withdrawal from Afghanistan could also be viewed as evidence for what appears to be a global reduction in reliance and consumption of opium-derived and synthetic opioid medications. 

The rise of compounds like Delta-8 THC in the United States has accelerated the development and awareness of ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ and the legal grey area regulating their production, possession, and consumption. In the last few years alone we have seen the ‘discovery’ or creation of oxidised-CBD (CBD-HQ) CBD-P, THC-P, and THC-O to name but a few. 

In much the same way that banning the smoking of opium ultimately led to the creation of Fentanyl and Carfentanil. I cannot help but feel concerned at what kind of ‘legal’ ‘synthetic cannabinoid’ monster awaits us in the not too distant future if we do not simply end the failed war on weed. The US is potentially about to experience its own ‘legal high’ pandemic if it doesn’t pull its finger out and finally push through federal cannabis reform. 

Ultimately, the debate will continue to rage and greedy self-interested capitalists will inevitably try to reframe the debate, workshop the language, and lobby to protect and benefit their bottom line. The opportunity here lays in using science and common sense to advocate for the right to cultivate, consume, and utilise cannabis in its raw and natural form. No one has ever died from Delta-9 THC or the consumption of raw cannabis, unfortunately, the same cannot be said for ‘synthetic cannabinoids.’

Ending this classist, fascist, and outdated war on drugs is the only way to protect consumers from the potential dangers of ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ while giving them access to a safe non-toxic euphoriant, a powerful therapeutic tool for individual healing, a highly nutritious food source, and the ultimate renewable resource to repair, rebuild, and regrow what a century of ignorance and lies has stolen from us.

Written for Weed World Magazine by Simpa

 

Simpa Carter
Simpa Carter

Simpa is a passionate drug law reform activist, mental health advocate, blogger, freelance writer, and host of The Simpa Life podcast.

Cannabis and Covid: What role can cannabis play in the Post-Covid world?

Cannabis and Covid:

What role can cannabis play in the Post-Covid world?

Cannabis and Covid: What role can cannabis play in the Post-Covid world?

Originally published in Weed World Magazine issue 153 (July 2021)

Over the past year, the entire world has faced unprecedented times as a global pandemic has spread to infect every nation on Earth. The speed at which it traversed the globe hitting country after country has detrimentally affected every one of us on this little rock of ours. 

The relative banality of our day-to-day lives gave way to seemingly perpetual national lockdowns, ever-changing social distancing guidelines, and a total economic shutdown of the global economy. The global cannabis culture wasn’t spared by this global catastrophe, with the coffeeshops of Amsterdam and the clubs of Barcelona closing their doors.

Patricia Amiguet, The President of the Catalan Federation of Cannabis Associations stated in June that 300,000 club members were forced back into the illicit market in 2020. This sent the price of hash in Spain skyrocketing, with some estimates suggesting it was selling for double the price pre-Covid.

The price of cannabis in France, Ireland, and here in the UK also increased sharply as imports dried up and growers couldn’t get out to tend to their clandestine crops. This saw a vast increase in domestic sales of hydroponic equipment as consumers sought to capitalise on the national lockdown and being stuck at home by learning to grow their own.

Early on in the pandemic across the pond in North America several US states declared cannabis an ‘essential business’ and rushed through legislation to allow for home delivery and drive-through sales. Over the northern border in Canada, sales continued to grow through their pre-existing home delivery system. 

While to the south, the Mexican Supreme court took the opportunity created by the pandemic to pressure the government to pen a bill that would ‘legalise’ the adult cannabis consumption market. The formation of this new legislation has stalled several times forcing the Supreme court to make another ruling last month that effectively ‘decriminalises’ low-level possession of cannabis in Mexico. 

The general consensus is that we have passed the worst of it now. Social distancing is finally beginning to end and the wearing of a mask becoming a question of personal preference rather than government mandate. The focus now shifts from pandemic reaction to recovery. The medical-industrial complex should hopefully now begin to concentrate its collective efforts into researching and discovering new novel ways to prevent and treat Covid-19 and other future viral pathogens.

Since the outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic, there have been several studies that have shown how cannabis can help in the treatment and prevention of Covid-19 and its worst symptoms. A recent study published in January 2021 found that some cannabis cultivars high in CBD may help prevent a kind of extreme inflammation response called ‘Cytokine storm’ This ‘storm’ can follow serious cases of acute respiratory distress caused by severe cases of Covid-19. 

Illustration of ‘Cytokine Storm’

Cytokines are small proteins that are released by different types of cells within the body. They are predominantly produced within the immune system where they are responsible for coordinating the body’s reaction to infection and triggering defensive inflammatory responses. The storm occurs when the system goes into hyper-drive creating too many of these proteins that they then begin attacking the immune system itself. 

During their research, the team found 13 high CBD cultivar extracts that appear to reduce the severity of Covid-19 by helping to downgrade the expression of certain pro-inflammatory cytokines and pathways involved in inflammation and fibrosis. The team found that Cannabidiol (CBD) modulates ACE2 gene expression and ACE2 protein levels in the body. 

It also seems to down-regulate serine protease TMPRSS2, another vital protein necessary for Covid-19 to enter host cells. This seems to suggest that cannabis could be used prophylactically to help prevent people from catching infections like Covid-19 in the first place and help treat it if they do contract it.

The last year of fear, isolation, and uncertainty has certainly left a lot of us feeling at least a little bit anxious and depressed. The impact of twelve plus months of no physical contact, never-ending lockdowns, and loneliness has negatively affected the mental health of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of people around the world. 

We already know from a multitude of studies conducted over the past several decades that cannabis can play a positive role in the treatment and management of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. So another important thing to consider in the post-Covid world would be further integration of cannabis into the fields of psychiatry and psychotherapy. This would greatly reduce the number of dangerous drugs like Benzodiazepines and SSRI’s being prescribed for such conditions. 

The plethora of therapeutic benefits that cannabis can provide is now rather undisputable as more and more countries ‘legalise’ so form of access to ‘medical cannabis’. There is an ever-growing general consensus about the Endocannabinoid System, the Entourage Effect, and the role both phyto- and Endo-cannabinoids play in regulating an individual’s health.

So now that we know it can help to treat serious cases of Covid-19 and even potentially prevent others from contracting it. It is time to start thinking about how we can prevent future pandemics from having such devastating and sweeping effects on the most vulnerable in society. 

In order to restart, repair, and rebuild our fragile nation-state economies, we’re going to need to stop looking at cannabis as just a drug and start looking at it as the unique highly versatile multifaceted commercial and industrial resource that it is.

Cannabis could help prevent future pandemics by being re-introduced into the human diet. Cannabis seeds are a complete protein packing in all 13 essential and non-essential proteins needed by the human body for healthy functionality. 

Cannabis could help prevent future pandemics by being re-introduced into the human diet. Cannabis seeds are a complete protein packing in all 13 essential and non-essential proteins needed by the human body for healthy functionality. 

CBD and low-THC cannabis (‘Hemp’) are currently having their spotlight moment with all kinds of wellness and health products being launched on the market every day. From supplements to oils, ‘hemp’ milk to well, CBD infused everything. If we were to fortify cereals and grains with none or low-psychoactive cannabinoids, as we do with various vitamins we would drastically improve the health of the general population and help prevent future pandemics being so devastating to those already suffering from poor health.

A global-scale rewilding of natural cannabis cultivation could not only help offset atmospheric carbon to the tune of 325kg per ton, but it could also help one of the main causes of this pandemic, deforestation. Ending deforestation would greatly help to offset habitat destruction that forces wild animals to migrate closer to human populations in order to find food. It’s this proximity that causes an increase in ‘Zoonosis’, the transmitting of infectious diseases from animal to human hosts. As we destroy more and more wild habitats we invite these new novel pathogens into increasingly overcrowded human populations.

In a post-Covid world, we need to seriously consider utilising cannabis to replace all paper, especially toilet paper. It is estimated that replacing all toilet rolls with cannabis fibre paper would save several billion trees a year – further helping to prevent deforestation. It also has the added benefit of being antibacterial, softer and longer than wood pulp fibres, and doesn’t contain any horrible endocrine-disrupting chemicals like dioxin or chlorine. 

This humble plant provides us with a complete protein from its seed, the potential to replace petroleum in plastics, cotton in textiles, concrete in construction, lithium in batteries, fossil fuels in energy production, tackle deforestation, end desertification, and give future generations the hope, technology, and will to thrive long into this century and beyond. 

Just as the anti-prohibitionists of alcohol in 1930s America argued that legalising and taxing it would generate income for the great depression era economy. The same argument is being made today by pro-cannabis voices across the world.

Various economists are now predicting that the Global CBD market will be worth a whopping $89 billion by 2026, and the US adult market is estimated to be worth $43 billion by 2025. These eye-watering figures are just a small taste of the seemingly perpetual profits that could be generated by a multitude of industries through the creation of an unrestrained and intelligently regulated cannabis industry. 

We are at a crossroads in our history, the decisions we make today will either empower or haunt the generations that follow. Right now, we have the knowledge, the technology, and the impetus but not the will to prevent our own extinction. 

It is my sincere hope that the greed, villainy, and selfishness that was so pervasive in global politics pre-pandemic will slowly be replaced with compassion, empathy, and an understanding that it was governmental policy that killed more people during the pandemic than the virus. If these governments really want to help their citizens then they need to take another serious look at cannabis. 

Written for Weed World Magazine by Simpa from TheSimpaLife.com

 

Simpa Carter
Simpa Carter

Simpa is a passionate drug law reform activist, mental health advocate, blogger, freelance writer, and host of The Simpa Life podcast.

Why We Need To Cultivate Equity and Social Justice In The Regulated Cannabis Market

Why We Need To Cultivate Equity and Social Justice In The Regulated Cannabis Market

Originally published in Weed World Magazine Issue 147 (October 2020)

Cannabis legalization has become a hot topic over the last decade with the majority of US states have now legalized weed for medicinal and/or recreational consumption – with several more set to vote in 2020 including Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, and New York. They could join the other 33 states and the district of Columbia in enacting such reform measures. (Some votes may likely be delayed due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic). As the inevitable tidal wave of cannabis acceptance crashes upon the shores of prohibition I want you to ask yourself one simple question – Is this current incarnation of cannabis law reform doing the victims of prohibition any good? The urgent need for drug law reform has been slowly gaining momentum over this century. Growing from a fringe issue into one of grave international importance.

Most global governments are now, at the very least keeping a close eye on the potential profitability and increased GDP of countries that have already legalized cannabis in some form – such as Uruguay and Canada. So, whether it be at the pulpit or in closed chambers, politicians of all ilks are now having to engage in some rather difficult conversations. They’re having to weigh up the potential perpetual profits of such a diverse, innovative, and renewable emerging industry against them losing one of their favorite and most effective control tools for cultivating coercion, conformity and compliance in the common man. Globally there is evermore acceptance of the notion that we cannot continue to criminalize and curtail the lives of individuals caught consuming, cultivating, or possessing cannabis.

The debate, however, rages on as to whether we should “legalize” or “decriminalize” cannabis.So firstly, lets quickly discuss the historic argument of legalization versus decriminalization and how ultimately, in my opinion, without some form of a parley between the two ideologies there can be no toppling of the monolith of prohibition – only a fortification and continuation of its most pernicious attributes.

Decriminalization is the process of removing some of the low-level punitive penalties for being caught in possession of a small amount of any previously illicit substance but does not allow for safe supply, unbiased information, controlled production, and regulated distribution of said substances. Whereas, legalization makes it lawful within a strict framework for some form of limited and regulated production, sale, and private/social consumption of a drug.

These two things are unfortunately not mutually exclusive. Legalization to the common ear sounds like the ideal solution as to how to end the war on drugs. The word itself conjures up a world in which the war on cannabis consumers has ended and it can be openly and fully consumed in the streets freely by people adorned in cannabis clothing, driving cannabis composite cars, eating foods fortified with health-boosting cannabinoids, and powering their hempcrete homes with cannabis graphene supercapacitors.

Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth as the slimy tentacles of collective corporate interest have suckered politicians of all persuasions into drafting divisive and draconian bills that heavily favor corporate interests and profit over protecting individual citizens freedoms and rights.

Take for example Canada – who “legalized” cannabis on October 17th, 2018, and in doing so increased its cannabis laws from 7 – and one of the most relaxed attitudes towards cannabis in the western world – to 45 new rather convoluted and nonsensical ones. One of these new laws is “over-possession” the criminal act of a private citizen in a country where cannabis is legal publicly possessing or transporting more than 30 grams of dried cannabis flower. (current legal limit)If you are caught violating this law by possessing between 30 – 50 grams of cannabis and it’s your first offense you will face a maximum fine of $5,000 and three months in prison, but you won’t get a criminal record. However, possessing over 50 grams breaks the federal Controlled Drugs and substances act which is not only a criminal offense resulting in a criminal record but can also result in a maximum sentence of 5 years in federal prison.

Contrast this with Canada’s cannabis law in the 1960s at the height of societies hippie paranoia and the new-age reefer madness when possession would only warrant a maximum fine of $1,000 and a prison term no longer than 6 months. Doesn’t quite seem like they’ve progressed that much in 4 decades does it?

A drastic increase in the number of convictions from 20 – 2,300 prompted the creation of the 1969 “Royal commission of inquiry into the medical use of drugs” known as the Le Dain commission after its chairman. In their final 1972 report they advocated that the government focus on the medicinal applications and ceasing the penalties for possession and consumption – which had now risen to 12,000. Unfortunately, these recommendations were ignored by successive governments and Canada went on to sign up the UN single convention on drugs in 1976 – further halting any progress for decades to come.

Interestingly, in 1977 the Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau said “If you are smoking a joint for private pleasure, you shouldn’t be hassled” it’s somewhat tragically poetic that it was his oldest son – the current PM Justin Trudeau that “legalized” cannabis in 2018. I guess the vision of the father has fallen short of the son given the current situation unfolding with its cronyism, corruption, and cannibalistic capitalism consuming the commercial Canadian cannabis market.

The current Canadian system doesn’t do enough to erase and repair the socio-economic wounds inflicted upon their populous in decades past. Their pardon system, despite numerous attempts at reform still remains intentionally complex and convoluted. This means that to date there have been less than 200 out of the estimated 10,000 that the government deems eligible approved for a pardon. Way below the predicted 250,000 that will still be marred by their historic and hypocritical cannabis convictions.

The slightly fairer option would be ubiquitous expungement of all previous cannabis convictions regardless of the number of extenuating circumstances – except cases of extreme violence. We are now seeing expungement being made a priority in several US states including Illinois who will erase 800,000 possession charges for its citizens convicted of possessing less than 30 grams. Possession of 30 – 500 grams can also be appealed but it is unlikely to be granted. This does not go far enough to level the playing field and repair the devastation, destitution, and destruction inflicted upon millions of innocent individuals by decades of cannabis prohibition.

As of March 2020, 17 US states, Washington DC and Canada have some form of sealing, setting-a-side, pardon, or expungement measures in place. However, these only cover very low-level offenses such as possession of small amounts of cannabis typically only a few ounces. Ensuring that the persecution of prohibition continues to prevent millions of people from rebuilding their lives.

As I type this, Colorado has just passed house bill 1424 – a new social equity bill. That although it allows Governor Jared Polis the opportunity to mass pardon individuals caught possessing less than two ounces. It still does nothing for the thousands more convicted for possessing over 56 grams or for offenses deemed more serious such as possession with intent to supply, cultivation, and trafficking. The very backbone of the community that carried cannabis through the dark days of prohibition to the light of legalization for these corporate vultures to feast upon.

As each state drafts its legislation and prepares for the inevitable they are learning the lessons from the states that have already taken the leap but it is now self-evident that they are simply not going far enough or acting fast enough to negate the daily harms prohibition causes millions of cannabis consumers.

Under current legislation there is little to no legal protection for citizens’ right to consume cannabis as freely as they do alcohol or tobacco without risking losing their home, employment or liberty. A bill aimed at providing such protections for recreational consumers recently failed in Colorado but passed in New York and Nevada. Hopefully a sign of things to come.

Decriminalization also has its obvious flaws in not allowing for unbiased education and up to date harm reduction information, safe basic standards, and tackling serious international cartels that have had a centuries-long monopoly on various substances, be they legal or illegal. Portugal for example decriminalized all drugs back in 2001 and although this has resulted in great improvements in intravenous drug death rates and seen a rise in overall public health. It has done little to actually protect cannabis consumers. Possession of over 25 grams (10 days worth) is still a criminal offense, as is cultivation and trafficking which can still result in a fine up to €45,000 and 12 years imprisonment.

Decriminalization models typically only decriminalize very low-level possession. They do nothing to help establish an independent taxable domestic market and all but ensure the continuation of criminal organizations having a monopoly on the cannabis trade. These groups are often only motivated by profit and not by a passion for the plant and have little concern for the health of those consuming their finished product.

The ignorant divisions between the recreational, medicinal, and hemp industries is an intentionally devious and deliberate distraction. It detracts from the true potential for cannabis to reshape our archaic institutions, repair our fractured communities, and recompense the millions of victims of a centuries old war borne of racism, greed, and hatred.

Ultimately, the war on drugs has always been a classist and racist tool as articulated in the now infamous quote by former Nixon aide John Erlichman.“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”The very word “marihuana” is racist – it was made a household term by the father of twentieth-century prohibition – Harry J Anslinger.

Anslinger popularized the modern spelling of “marijuana” to make it sound more Hispanic and to closer associate it with the influx of Mexican immigrants caused by the Mexican revolution and the rise in criminality caused by the passing of the 18th amendment and the economic impact of the great depression.

The continued use of the word marijuana, no matter how deeply ingrained in the North American lexicon ultimately has racist roots. Continuing to use it as the predominant nomenclature for the US industry today is a fortification of the racist legacy of prohibition. It also draws no line between an era when the mere utterance of the word or its odor could draw enough attention from the authorities to get you killed and today when those same persecutors are attempting to create a cronyistic car crash of a commercial cannabis industry to control, corrupt and cash in on the inevitable end to the war on drugs.The world of corporate cannabis is as much of an impediment to the ubiquitous re-legalization of cannabis, as prohibition is. This is due to the continuing social stigma and criminalizing of consumers through the creation of convoluted and commercially biased policies to protect corporate profits over individual citizen’s basic human right to cultivate and consume as much cannabis as they wish.

Under these types of “legalization” there will always be legal loopholes for those same historic prejudices to be perpetuated in a post-prohibition paradigm. In too many ways the mechanisms of oppression that pervade these new systems of legalization are simply an extension of the pernicious ones that punctuated prohibition. It achieves this by creating strict new laws and complex regulations designed to discourage, dissuade, and continue the criminalization of members of ethnic and socio-economic disadvantaged communities.

Without acknowledging the historic failures and harms of prohibition and ripping up all the fascistic previous legislation that has destroyed so many lives, then we cannot begin to heal the vast and deep societal and personal wounds inflicted by a century of reefer madness.

Simpa

Simpa Carter
Simpa Carter

Simpa is a passionate drug law reform activist, mental health advocate, blogger, freelance writer, and host of The Simpa Life podcast.