Uruguay, Where Public Health + Safety Over Profit = Legal Cannabis

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When Uruguay became the first nation in the modern era to legalise Cannabis in 2013, most of its citizens were against it (only 28% supported legalising for use other than medical in 2013; this figure increased to 33.6% in 2014). Yet, despite deep public scepticism, none of the challenges or perceived failures of the law have been enough to generate momentum to try and reverse it. Instead, during the first round of national elections in October 2019, Cannabis legalisation had all but been forgotten as an issue. It had retreated into the political background. What has happened in Uruguay sets a surprising precedent, because ‘drug’ legalisation is widely seen by politicians as a huge political risk. But then it happened again, in Canada, in October 2018. The second country to legalise Cannabis also re-elected the architect of Canadian ‘drug’ reform, President Justin Trudeau, in October 2019 with the Cannabis issue largely taking a backseat. 

In June 2012, then Uruguayan President José Mujica proposed government legalise and distribute Cannabis to cut off revenue to ‘drug’ dealers. In November a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives outlining a framework for government regulation of Cannabis production, sales and consumption. By the end of December 2013, the House and Senate had passed the bill and Mujica had signed it into law.

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The Uruguayan government’s plans were motivated primarily by concerns about crime, insecurity and public safety – its rationale being that a legal Cannabis market would reclaim most of the trade from organised crime groups and subsequently reduce rates of violence. An additional stated aim was to separate the market for Cannabis from the markets for actual drugs of addiction, such as cocaine, widely used in South America.  “People have seen that legal Cannabis hasn’t resulted in mass panic or zombies roaming the streets of Montevideo”, said Geoff Ramsey, Washington Office on Latin America  (WOLA, a US think tank), co-author of a 2018 report on the impacts of Uruguay’s Cannabis laws. “It simply hasn’t impacted most people’s daily lives”. Since April 2018, more Uruguayans are now in favour of legal Cannabis than against it.

The rules on Cannabis in Uruguay allow people to grow their own plants for consumption or to create collectives for group grows. But perhaps the biggest deal for Cannabis users was in 2017 when pharmacies started selling Cannabis, causing a surge in interest, with people signing on to a legal register if they wanted to buy. The number of Uruguayans on the purchaser registry increased from roughly 4,900 to over 13,000 in the first month. We sold a lot of Cannabis on the first day”, said Esteban Riviera, a pharmacy-owner in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. We sold 1,250 packages in six hours. There was a two-block queue …”. The legal sale of Cannabis had been much anticipated and began on 19 July 2017, more than three-and-a-half years after Uruguay’s Cannabis law had been passed. “It took them time, the government said, because they want to do it precisely and step by step”, said Guillermo Draper, a Uruguayan journalist. 

Customers queue outside a pharmacy to buy weed In Uruguay, customers queue outside a pharmacy to buy Cannabis

A young woman in a queue outside a Montevideo pharmacy said, I am standing in the sun, burning hot, waiting for 2 pm when they’ll start selling. This is one of the pharmacies who have more packages to sell without reserving online. There’s a lot of pharmacies who have less, so a lot of people go home without weed and that’s pretty sad”. The system is tightly controlled. Customers have to register with the regulator and are limited to buying 10 grams a week. The regulator also controls levels of cannabinoids – THC is limited and balanced with CBD. In pharmacies, there are just four different strains available to buy, none of which is especially strong. The price – around US$6.50 (AU$9.00) for a five-gram packet – is also set by the regulator. Pharmacy owner Gabriel Llano says he only gets about 20% of the purchase price from each packet he sells, although there’s a higher profit margin on related products like snacks and smoking papers, a slightly odd sight in a pharmacy. 

Customers come in one at a time and put a thumb and finger on a print reader to prove they’re registered to buy and haven’t already reached their limit for the month. Then they hand over cash. It has to be cash, that’s the condition on which Gabriels bank has let him keep his account. Uruguay might be a sovereign country, but it’s still affected by the United States’ strict finance laws on controlled substances. The USA Patriot Act, which dictates US banks cannot do business with companies involved in the sale or distribution of a controlled substance posed a problem for retailers in Uruguay because the Act extends the reach of the law to foreign banks with an inter-bank account in the US. “This situation left Uruguayan banks with a choice: shut down Cannabis-selling pharmacies or risk the withdrawal of major American financial institutions from the country”, Ramsey’s report said. “For Uruguayan banks, the choice was an obvious one, and pharmacies were notified that their accounts would be closed”.

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The pharmacies still selling Cannabis either work with local banks that don’t have relationships with American banks, or with cash-only. The rationale for changing the law was to move buyers from the illegal market to a legal one. But queues outside pharmacies suggest the legal market isn’t meeting demand with supply shortages from the only two authorised suppliers across Uruguay. Additionally, because tourists can’t legally buy Cannabis, black-market demand—a trend that goes against the original objective to legalising, i.e., to shrink illegal markets—has remained steady. That said, how the legal industry operates is still a work in progress. Stringent state regulation and banking issues have led to there being only 17 licensed pharmacies, across a country of 3.5 million people, that can sell legal Cannabis. “Some Uruguayan home growers and clubs have attempted to get around the ban on selling to tourists by offering ‘Cannabis tours’ … in which participants are free to sample Cannabis while on a paid tour. Others simply sell directly to tourists behind closed doors, a grey market quietly operating via word of mouth”, stated Ramsey’s report.


Snapshot of recreational Cannabis in Uruguay, as at end of June 2019

  • 36,487 customers.
  • 7,163 home growers.
  • >3,400 members of 123 Cannabis clubs where collective growing is allowed.
  • Two companies have a licence to grow high-THC medical Cannabis, at least a dozen to grow hemp and at least another dozen to perform Cannabis research.
  • Only a handful of licences for manufacturing have been granted so far.
  • As of mid-2019, approximately 3,000 kilograms of recreational Cannabis had been sold in pharmacies to registered customers.
  • In the recreational market, users have a choice of two strains of flower capped at 9% THC.

Uruguay Cannabis

Snapshot of medicinal Cannabis in Uruguay, as at end of June 2019Image result for epifractan

  • The medical market is limited.
  • One domestic company, Medicplast, registered a medical Cannabis product—Epifractan—an oil available with either 2% or 5% CBD and <0.5% THC. The company also registered a topical CBD product. The raw material for manufacturing these products is imported from Switzerland.
  • Patients are allowed to import individual products from other countries on a case-by-case basis. Bulk imports for distribution are prohibited.

“They have a lot of work to do to expand legal access and over time if they can address the banking issues—they will get there”, said John Walsh of WOLA. Perhaps even more significant is that public opinion has turned towards favouring the law despite the teething problems and even though some trends in the country go against its initial goals—not just the continued presence of the black-market, but a rise in violence generally. In the first half of 2018, 221 people were murdered compared to 131 in the same period in 2017. That has fallen off in 2019, with 171 murders between January and June, a 22% drop. The authorities attribute around half of the killings this year to organised crime. Even so, analysis by one think tank says there is little evidence to link the growing violence to the ‘drug’ trade. Some observers have said the violence is more likely due to deepening inequality, especially that which confines people to densely populated, poor communities. Image result for Fotmer Life Sciences Uruguay export to Australia

In September 2019, Uruguayan Cannabis company Fotmer Life Sciences carried out its first export of ‘medicinal Cannabis product’, to Australia. The 10 kg shipment was the first Uruguayan commercial export since legalisation in 2013. Since 2016, Fotmer Life Sciences has established itself as a leader in the field of ‘medicinal Cannabis’ in Uruguay. In 2017, the Institute for Regulation and Cannabis Control (IRCCA) granted Fotmer Life Sciences a licence to produce up to five tons of high-THC Cannabis for medical use, the highest quota ever permitted in Latin America. Uruguayan media outlet El Observador reported CEO Jordan Lewis was optimistic about the prospect of exports. “Uruguay has clearly established itself as the leading Latin American country in the incipient world Cannabis industry. The projections show that medicinal Cannabis will play an important role in the Uruguayan economy by providing jobs, attracting international investment and bringing necessary income for [marijuana*-related] investigation and development, which is vitally important. Our objective is to establish Cannabis as one of Uruguay’s main exports in the next five years”, he said.

Uruguay’s Cannabis law: Pioneering a new paradigm – 2018 Report, Key Findings

– Uruguay should consider long-term measures to ensure that Cannabis business entities have access to financial institutions, including outreach to other jurisdictions shifting toward Cannabis regulation, such as Canada.
– The medical and law enforcement sectors require substantial education and training, particularly regarding the aims and expected benefits of Cannabis regulation, how to broaden access to medical Cannabis and the new enforcement rules under the law.
– Implementation of commercial sales so far has been marked by shortcomings in distribution. Uruguay can overcome these obstacles by widening legal points of sale to include not only pharmacies, but a new form of dispensary, which authorities are already planning.
– In order for the regulated Cannabis market to displace the black-market more effectively, authorities may need to reconsider rules that require users to choose only one of the three legal forms of Cannabis supply: home-growing, clubs, or commercial purchase.
– Uruguayan authorities may also need to address a growing informal market by allowing legal sales to non-citizen tourists.
– In order to better position themselves to assess these adjustments, authorities should work closer with independent researchers and civil society to ensure they have access to key information and institutional support for their work.
Download the full report in English or Spanish.

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Canada, the second country to legalise Cannabis, in what was widely seen as one of the most momentous pieces of ‘drug’ reform in recent times, also saw the topic fade from view. Apart from some fear-mongering disinformation, Cannabis was a virtual non-issue in their 2019 election. The Conservative party tried hammering Trudeau and the Liberals with crass scare stories about Cannabis legalisation, but it ultimately failed to hit home. However, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association reported in 2018, “The way the Federal Government has decided to pursue legalisation of Cannabis is concerning. Many Canadians think … Cannabis will be legal – maybe not legal like buying milk or eggs – but something akin to alcohol, or tobacco. The belief is Cannabis will be a tightly regulated substance that people of a certain age are pretty much entrusted to use as they see fit. This is a mistake. There are a raft of new criminal offences … The fact you have a patchwork of provincial, territorial and municipal laws and by-laws that interact with the federal criminal prohibitions means something that’s perfectly legal at home may be a crime when you’re visiting your friend in another city”.

report released in March 2019 from the United Nations System Coordination Task Team describes punitive ‘drug’ policies as “ineffective in reducing drug trafficking or in addressing non-medical drug use and supply”. It goes on to say that such approaches “undermine the human rights and well-being of persons who use drugs, as well as of their families and communities”. The report represents a clear rejection of policies based on criminalisation, punishment and harsh enforcement, instead endorsing evidence based policy rooted in public health, sustainable development and respect for human rights. As such it marks a major shift in collective thinking across the leading UN agencies – and a major victory for civil society reform advocates. The Task Team was established with the purpose of reviewing the impact and effectiveness of global ‘drug’ policy. Image result for uruguay cannabis

In addition to repeatedly setting out the ineffectiveness and injustices of punitive policies, the report rejects the simplistic view that ‘drug harms’ are unrelated to the social and life experiences of ‘drug’ users, as well as pointing to the serious harms that can arise from the unnecessary imprisonment of people who use ‘drugs’. The report also provides support for a range of health and harm-reduction measures and ‘proportionate and effective policies’ including diversion of people caught in possession away from criminal justice and into support. In doing so, it clearly describes how criminal justice approaches impact disproportionately on the poor and the marginalised, creating both stigma, social inequality, health harms and human rights abuses. It also highlights major concerns with supply side enforcement that enriches organised crime and can increase levels of violence and conflict.

Overall, the report calls for policies based on evidence, human rights and social justice, stating, “… if not based on human rights standards and a solid evidence base, drug policies can have a counterproductive effect on development. Abusive, repressive and disproportionate drug control policies and laws are counterproductive, while also violating human rights, undercutting public health and wasting vital public resources”. The report also suggests making changes to both ‘drug’ laws and policing; “Structural changes in legislation and law enforcement practices can facilitate the delivery of services, including minimising the adverse consequence of drug use”. The unenlightened and uneducated express massive concerns about legalisation of Cannabis, but when they come to the realisation that it’s better than what they had before, they eventually accept it and move on. Fear of the unknown is being eradicated by the mundanity of reality.

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Adapted from Weed-Curious Politicians Should Look to Uruguay, Where There’s No Fuss Over Legal PotGlobal Cannabis: Uruguay, Major UN report condemns punitive drugs policiesUruguay: The world’s marijuana pioneer and Uruguay makes first marijuana export to Australia

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*Cannabis is the correct botanical term, marijuana is a North American colloquialism, at best.

Excessive Regulation Keeps Illegal Cannabis Markets in the Black!

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Since 2012 many American states and Canada legalised use and sale of recreational Cannabis. An expected benefit of legalisation is establishment of a legal Cannabis market to eliminate the black-market. Even though legal options are available for Cannabis producers and consumers, the black-market is still thriving. The reasons behind the persistence of the Cannabis black-market are complex but one main argument is, legalised states have failed to establish a regulatory framework which effectively keeps producers and consumers in the legal market. Instead, strict regulations and the high cost of compliance have created an environment favourable to big players, driving small-scale businesses to the black-market. Published in July 2019 the study, Effects of Regulation Intensity on Marijuana* Black-Market After Legalisation (the Oregon study), found excessive US state regulations may be the reason illegal Cannabis markets continue to exist post-legalisation. The research looked at data from the first two US states to end Cannabis prohibition, Colorado and Washington.

“The qualitative analysis of news reports reveals that regulation is one of the main reasons that people stay in the illicit market. The comparison of marijuana* crime trends in Colorado and Washington shows mixed findings. While -offence rates in Colorado largely remained steady over the years, those in Washington increased dramatically after the implementation of more intensive regulations”.

Meanwhile, in ‘Cannabis-legal’ California, in July 2019, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department served search warrants on 56 illegal Cannabis cultivation sites. Spearheaded by 390 law enforcement personnel, whose mission was to combat the ongoing problem of illegal Cannabis cultivation sites throughout California, the raids resulted in:

  • 47,939 Cannabis plants confiscated
  • 2,132 pounds of processed Cannabis
  • 47 tons of Cannabis plants disposed
  • 2 Butane Honey Oil Labs located
  • 71 firearms
  • 49 arrests

Illegal cultivation is far from just a California problem, however. If Oregon halted Cannabis production today, the state would not experience a shortage; it has a six-year surplus! But, US states that legalised recreational Cannabis with the intent of re-imagining the vast underground market as an above-board business to bolster state economies via transparent dealings have been disappointed as, to date, the US Federal Government has refused to budge regarding Cannabis’ status as an illegal Schedule 1 substance. One of the tenets of legalising Cannabis is stemming the proliferation of black-market suppliers and reducing negative effects of the ‘war on drugs’, particularly on minorities. These positive impetuses have yet to flourish as a result of the illegal status of Cannabis at US federal level leaving Cannabis-legal states to operate as islands. Taking legally purchased Cannabis from a legal to an illegal state is not only illegal, but confusing and a recipe for complications, leaving Cannabis-legal states vulnerable in an environment extremely hospitable to black-market activity.

US states that legalised production have inadvertently made it easier for illegal producers to hide in plain sight where the line between legal and illegal operations blurs. Black-market growers in legal states destabilise the market as legitimate companies pay taxes and jump through every legal hoop and cannot compete. This creates frustrations for law enforcement and cuts into the legal trade. But putting the genie of legalised recreational Cannabis back in the bottle simply isn’t feasible for operational, financial and political reasons in North America. With the proliferation of attendant illegal operations it is however becoming clearer that some form of US federal legalisation is inevitable. In legal states, growers, sellers and consumers have legitimate channelsto produce, trade and obtain Cannabis, and as such, illegal avenues should diminish, yet research shows they havent disappeared. A 2018 report found 18% of Cannabis consumers in California purchased Cannabis products from an unlicensed seller.

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An association between how intense state Cannabis-related regulations are and the extent of the remaining illegal market has been investigated. In Washington (from June 2016) and in Colorado (from November 2015 and January 2017 [in 2017 Colorado lawmakers passed new rules regarding labelling and packaging of Cannabis flower and trim, concentrates and other products]), most people grew or sold illegally due to “strict regulations and the high cost associated with the compliance … ‘over-regulation’, ‘cost of compliance’, ‘high taxes’ … Other reasons for staying in the illegal market included market fluctuations and organised crime. Washington’s crime rate increased after the state introduced more regulations. “In 2014 and 2015, marijuana* crime rates/100,000 residents were around 26. This number increased to >28 incidents in 2016. In 2017, 2,628 -crimes were reported, making the annual crime rate 35.96/capita”. Colorado did not see any significant short/long-term changes to its Cannabis-related crime rates after they implemented new regulations. 

“Although the findings are not conclusive, the results of Washington data show regulation intensity may be one of the main factors that influences or explains the persistence of illegal Cannabis transactions after the legalisation”, and, “The fact that Washington’s black-market kept growing after the implementation of more complex and sophisticated regulations at least indicates a correlation between regulation intensity and the increase of the black-market …”, the Oregon study stated.

Similar findings were not reported in Colorado suggesting “the magnitude of illicit marijuana* activities may be affected by regulation intensity …”. These results raise questions about “possible adverse effect of intensive regulations to researchers and policy-makers”. If one of the goals of Cannabis legalisation is to eliminate the unregulated market, it’s important lawmakers consider the implications of unnecessarily strict rules and focus on creating an “equitable and accessible market that allows the coexistence of both large and small businesses. The cost of compliance to regulations should be reduced to remove the barriers of establishing a legal -business”, the study concluded, and, “future policies should also pay more attention to cracking down on persistent illegal growers/ sellers and organised crime groups unwilling to participate in the legal market”.  Thus, the question may no longer be, should the US legalise Cannabis federally, but, howA path forward needs to be found. Cobbling together a pastiche of laws inevitably bolsters black-market activity as quasi-legislation at state level provides neither a check nor balance. The most likely next step for US public health, stemming black-market activity and generating maximum revenues is comprehensive national legalisation, sooner rather than later.

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In Australia, Cannabis legislation remains incredibly complicated despite changes to the Narcotic Drugs Act in 2016, to purportedly allow Cannabis to be legally grown for medical and scientific purposes. The uptake of ‘medicinal Cannabis’ has been slow, with access incredibly difficult due to long waiting periods, high costs and uninformed doctors. Canada legalised Cannabis, 17 October 2018, with ‘medicinal Cannabis’ available since 2001. However, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association reported in 2018, “The way the Federal Government has decided to pursue legalisation of Cannabis is concerning. Many Canadians think … Cannabis will be legal – maybe not legal like buying milk or eggs – but something akin to alcohol, or tobacco. The belief is Cannabis will be a tightly regulated substance that people of a certain age are pretty much entrusted to use as they see fit. This is a mistake. There are a raft of new criminal offences … The fact you have a patchwork of provincial, territorial and municipal laws and by-laws that interact with the federal criminal prohibitions means something that’s perfectly legal at home may be a crime when you’re visiting your friend in another city”.

“As of 2016, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that some 10.4% of the total population used Cannabis and that the tolerance for regular use had risen from 9.8% to 14.5% between 2013 and 2016. It is not completely unrealistic that the number of recreational users could double as a percentage of the population over the next decade, although this would be tempered by the fact that many users are likely to remain light or occasional users”, said Prohibition Partners Head of Insights, Alexandra Curley. In January 2018 the Australian Federal Government announced plans to become the fourth country in the world to legalise ‘medicinal Cannabis’ exports. Shares soared for the >20 Cannabis producers on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) and Cannabis Jobs Australia estimated by 2028 there would be 50,000 Cannabis jobs in Australia. The climate makes it the perfect place for growth with a potential for two crops a year in areas with high sunlight.

“Australia boasts an optimum climate for growing some strains of Cannabis that are expensive to produce in more established markets such as Canada. This, coupled with anticipated changes to the law, will create an environment that will enable the region to capitalise on strong growth within the industry. That’s going to make Australia a very attractive proposition to investors”, Alexandra Curley, Prohibition Partners.

The bill that would legalise Cannabis for personal use in the ACT could be passed next week.

However, growers are unable to use the outdoor environment according to Barry Lambert, chairman of Ecofibre, an industrial hemp company. “On the growing side, we can only grow it indoors … Compare that to where we (Ecofibre) grow in the US … outdoors under the Kentucky sun”, he said. According to Statistics Canada, close to 5.4 million Canadians will buy Cannabis over the next 12 months. The US is also a growing market for exporters where sales grew by 30% in 2016 to US$6.7 b, without it being legal nationwide. The US now makes up 90% of the Cannabis stock trade, which can only go up with federal legislation. But Mr Lambert said there was no market in those countries for Cannabis exporters. “Who are they going to export it to? America, you can buy it over the counter at a fraction of the price. Canada, it has been legal for some time to sell Cannabis and they are trying to export it”

HLB Mann Judd (Accounting and Financial firm) partner Marcus Ohm says there are a lot of uncertainties in the industry. “Australia is at an early stage in relation to the regulatory environment relative to other jurisdictions … countries vary on whether marijuana* is illegal, permitted for medicinal purposes or permitted for recreational and medicinal use. Australia has eased some aspects … but compared to the US (state level) and Canada (federal), Australia has narrower applications”Mr Lambert said, “I personally haven’t invested in any other company … and I see no reason why I would …”, further stating most of the companies on the stock exchange are not making money, but spending it. “Australian companies will find it very hard ever to make a dollar … There’s no revenue and they’re spending millions …”.

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President of the Australian Industrial Hemp Alliance, James Vosper, said, “There is a lot of investment in the industry but there have been some issues with people getting access to medicines so therefore the number of people being treated in Australia isn’t as high as it could be”Mr Lambert said legalising ‘medicinal Cannabis’ in Australia did absolutely nothing for promotion of the industry. There are two reasons. One … no demand for the product because the rules around getting the product are unworkable … no doctor understands it because they aren’t trained … until 2016 it had been illegal. Secondly, there’s been no research in this country because it’s been illegal. So, doctors don’t know about it, therefore they don’t prescribe it”Mr Lambert said the US system allowed for ‘medicinal Cannabis’ to be sold over the counter, a system Australia needed to adopt. Without that the industry was dead before it even began.

“We don’t believe that the prescription system works. And, therefore, those medical Cannabis companies are going to find it very hard or impossible to be successful and that their solution is adoption of the American system”, Barry Lambert, Ecofibre.

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Others remain more optimistic, with Mr Vosper saying the future looked bright. “I think Australia has a great future in this industry. The whole world is moving towards an organic model and Australia has half of the world’s organic farmland. Put that with a great reputation for products and you have a great future in the medicinal Cannabis industry”The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government passed laws in September 2019 that essentially fully decriminalised Cannabis under certain and very specific conditions.  When the legislation comes into effect on 31 January, 2020, it will be legal, under ACT law, for adults in Canberra to grow, smoke and own small amounts of Cannabis (50 grams). But the Commonwealth has laws of its own in this area and those laws explicitly prohibit possessing any quantity of Cannabis (with the exception of ‘medicinal Cannabis’, a completely separate thing). Introduced by Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson in 2018, to legalise possession of 50 grams of Cannabis for adults, the ACT Government stated, 

“It is important to note that, even after the passage of this bill, possessing and growing Cannabis will carry a degree of risk arising from interactions between territory and Commonwealth law”. Mr Pettersson said, “In order to reduce harm and stigma, we need to make sure that people can feel free to come forward and get help. In order to do this, we need to remove the penalties and charges associated with the possession and use of small amounts of Cannabis …”.

Across the ditch (from Australia) in New Zealand, Cannabis is classified as an illegal ‘drug’ under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and possession, use and supply are subject variously to penalties ranging from fines to many years imprisonment. The Helen Clark (former Prime Minister of New Zealand and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy) Foundation, released a report setting out the case for legalising and regulating Cannabis. The prospect of invoking criminal sanctions has had little impact on people’s behaviour as longitudinal studies indicate by age 25, 80% of New Zealanders had tried Cannabis at least once. Simply, prohibition-based policy approaches have not eradicated and will not eradicate Cannabis consumption and supply in New Zealand or anywhere else where use is established. The New Zealand Referendum due in 2020 will be to legalise and regulate. Decriminalisation is not expected to be an option.Image result for new zealand cannabis

Helen Clark herself stated, “The time has come for New Zealand to face up to the widespread use and supply of Cannabis in the country and to legalise and regulate it accordingly. No useful purpose is served by maintaining its illegal status. A “yes” vote in the 2020 referendum will be positive for social justice and equity, contribute to reducing the country’s excessively large prison population and enable those health issues associated with Cannabis to be dealt with upfront. These are the reasons why I support legalisation”. However, in legalising and regulating in New Zealand, it will be important not to create another ‘big tobacco’ or ‘big alcohol’. Both industries fought and continue to fight efforts to reduce harm they cause, including regulation of access, product promotion and taxation aimed at disincentivising use.

503e589cab97b59cc53421127b6291af_400x400On the weighted score for harms of drugs in the United Kingdom developed by scientist David Nutt, former chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and colleagues, published in the Lancet in 2010, Cannabis is assessed as immensely less harmful to those who use it and to others, than is alcohol. Various other rankings concur Cannabis use is significantly less problematic for individual health than either tobacco or alcohol. The classification of drugs  pursuant to international drug conventions, however, is based on more cultural and political factors than scientific evidence. Those classifications have scarred the lives of countless millions of people worldwide, caught up in the criminal net cast over what is deemed to be illegal ‘drug’ possession, use and supply. It is not surprising, therefore, a growing number of jurisdictions have been moving away from the prohibitionist approach promoted by the international conventions.

Countries and individual states/provinces/territories have legalised possession, use and supply of Cannabis. Other jurisdictions have decriminalised personal possession and use. President of New Zealand’s criminal lawyers’ society supports legalising Cannabis for personal use and says existing law criminalises too many people. Len Andersen, Criminal Bar Association President, said banning Cannabis created demand for more harmful drugs, including synthetic ‘cannabinoids​’, implicated in at least 70 deaths. Mr Andersen said prohibition put otherwise law-abiding people who chose to use Cannabis “in the position of constant illegality”. The Association said its membership comprised 700 practising criminal lawyers across New Zealand. “I think most members would support legalisation of Cannabis for personal use”, Andersen said. An amendment to New Zealand’s Misuse of Drugs Act directed police only to prosecute those using ‘drugs’ when there is ‘public interest’. The New Zealand Federal Government has been clear it wants to take a health and well-being-based approach. Drug law reform, including legalisation of Cannabis, helps meet both objectives.

thewholeplant

The ‘war on drugs’ has failed. In Australia, 35% have tried Cannabis, but this choice could earn a criminal record, just for having a small amount of Cannabis in your possession (or system). This ‘tough on drugs’ approach causes enormous harm, driving people away from getting help and exposing them to a dangerous black-market. From Uruguay to Spain, New Zealand to the US and Canada, countries around the world are realising prohibition causes more harm than it prevents. Cannabis use is a health issue, not a criminal one. Legalising Cannabis use would reduce harm, increase protection for vulnerable people and break the business model of criminal gangs. World-wide, the Cannabis ‘cake’ should be big enough for everybody; corporates, government/s, home-growers, not-for-profits and the most-oft-forgotten sick and suffering, to get a slice. It’s all in how you carve it up, and it could and should be, equitable. The world has seen enough of the double-standards, mass-hypocrisy and worst of all, ignorance of science fact, because it is not profitable. It is way past time to put people before profits and free Cannabis from the constraints of prohibitionistic regulations and the out-and-out lies that have besmirched this wonderfully efficacious herb for far too long! Save lives and legalise!

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Adapted from Heavy Regulations Allow Illegal Marijuana Sales to Persist, Study Argues with Effects of Regulation Intensity on Marijuana Black-Market After LegalizationStemming the Cannabis Black-MarketTHE BLUNT TRUTH, Cannabis prohibition doesn’t work anywhere. It’s New Zealand’s turn to legalise itLaws to legalise cannabis for personal use in the ACT could pass next weekCannabis laws bound for the courtroom to work out whether ACT or Commonwealth is rightLegalise weed, criminal lawyer group president says and Legalise It

*marijuana – Cannabis sativa is the correct botanical term for the plant, the term marijuana is a North American colloquialism, at best.

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It’s Past Time to Remove False Claims About Cannabis

In 2017, the United States (US) Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) removed some false claims about Cannabis from their website. The nonprofit advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access, used government policy against the DEA, filing a petition that stated they had violated the Information Quality Act (Data Quality Act), meant to ensure objective, fact-based information is supplied on government websites and literature meant to educate the public. The group cited at least 25 misleading statements found on the DEA’s website and in a report from the agency titled, “The Dangers and Consequences of Marijuana Abuse”, that not only contradicted commonly accepted facts about Cannabis backed by science and research, but also the DEA’s own statements from 2016 when then-US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Cannabis is not, in fact, a gateway drug’. “We usually … are talking about individuals that started out with a prescription drug problem”, she said.

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Image result for ban the deaAmong the other misinformation the DEA was passing off as purported fact was that marijuana’ induces psychosis and causes long-term brain damage. “We are pleased that in the face of our request the DEA withdrew some of the damaging misinformation from its website”,  said Vickie Feeman of law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe“We are hopeful the DEA will also remove the remaining statements rather than continue to mislead the public in the face of the scientifically proven benefits of ‘medical Cannabis’”, she said. “However, the DEA continues to disseminate many damaging facts about the health risks of ‘medical Cannabis’, and patients across the country face ongoing harm as a result of these alternative facts’”. In 2019, there are still concerning statements on the DEA website that contradict accepted facts about Cannabis.

The Australian Government’s Department of Health (DoH) website states the following:

… ‘drugs’ can be categorised by the way in which they affect our bodies;

  • depressants — slow down the function of the central nervous system
  • hallucinogens — affect your senses and change the way you see, hear, taste, smell or feel things
  • stimulants — speed up the function of the central nervous system

Some ‘drugs’ affect the body in many ways and can fall into more than one category. For example, Cannabis appears in all three categories.

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The links to individual substances listed on the DoH website lead you to the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) website for the purported facts (to use the term, facts, extremely loosely). On Cannabis it notes the effects include anxiety, blurred vision, clumsiness, dry mouth, excitement, fast heart rate, feeling sleepy, increased appetite, low blood pressure, paranoia, quiet mood, reflective mood, relaxation, slower reflexes, spontaneous laughter … and calls it a cannabinoid drug’, contradicting the DoH, using an adapted Drug Wheel (from the United Kingdom).

DrugWheel

Checking the references of the ADF article on Cannabis there are no surprises as to the misinformation, on the short list of names there are several of the usual culprits; high-profile Australian prohibitionists who profit from pushing propaganda with scant regard for actual science or the truth (many ‘brought to us’ by the pharmaceutical industry, among others with vested interests).


Australian Cannabis statistics from the Alcohol and Drug FoundationRelated image
Australians Nationally

34.8%, 14 years and over, have used Cannabis once or more in their life,
10.4%, 14 years and over have used Cannabis in the previous 12 months,
Young People in Australia
• Most do not use Cannabis – 68.7% of 12-17 year olds have never tried it.


Image result for Cannabis and those pernicious substances, the drugs, are wholly unalikeThe therapeutic index (larger the TI, the safer) of Cannabis is estimated to be between 4,000:1 to 40,000:1. Nobody really knows because no one has ever died from an overdose of natural Cannabis. This is because there are few or no CB1 receptors in the brain stem so there is NO respiratory depression from cannabinoids. Respiratory depression can be caused by many psychoactive drugs such as benzodiazepines, alcohol, anti-depressants and opiates. As most people who have tried Cannabis (estimated to be more than one-hundred million US citizens alone) know, the effects can often be quite pleasant and the side effects, such as they are, are mild and less often seen in people with serious medical conditions. Like all therapeutic agents, Cannabis can cause side effects for some, which may include anxiety, paranoia, dysphoria and cognitive impairment. These side effects appear to be dose related, tend to occur in naïve users and are entirely temporary. Due to this (in 1988), US Judge Francis Young, DEA’s Chief Administrative Law Judge, after a two-year rescheduling hearing, recommended rescheduling Cannabis to Schedule II, adding,  “Cannabis was one of the safest therapeutic agents known to man”.cannapharmaco

 


The reality is clear: Cannabis and those pernicious substances, the drugs, are wholly unalike. As the word ‘drug’ is wrong and inapplicable to Cannabis, it is necessary to establish a correct word, veracious vocabulary, which is fitting. “Because Cannabis has been loosely, widely and incorrectly referred to in the past as a ‘drug’ does not mean that this basic untruth can become acceptable. On the contrary, since the introduction of Prohibition the legal situation compels veracity and clarity more than ever, for not to articulate the truth accurately involves perjury. Yet truthful language, the truth, exposes the mendacious basis to the crime that is this prohibition of Cannabis”. 

From The Report of the Family Council on Drug Awareness (FCDA) (Europe, 2000)


Anti-weed activists say violent crimes have increased in states like Colorado. Picture: AP Photo/Dave Zalubowski

Image result for addiction to cannabis less than coffeeThe US Federal Government’s Independent New Drug (IND) program, instituted in 1978,  showed there are no troubling chronic effects from regular long-term use of Cannabis. A 2004 study by Dr Ethan Russo and Mary Lynn Mathre, RN, performed a battery of tests and physical exams on several IND patients supplied with government-grown Cannabis for over 25 years. They found these Cannabis patients to have had no adverse health effects from decades-long respiratory consumption of 7.5-9 lbs (3.4-4+kg) per year. There is plenty of data to demonstrate the safety of Cannabis. Not only the US Government’s IND program but also epidemiology studies demonstrate there are no proven long­-term adverse effects of Cannabis use. Prohibitionistic propagandists will say Cannabis is addictive. However, Cannabis addiction does not exist (except as an oxymoron). It is a misunderstanding of the definition of addiction alongside a lack of knowledge of the action of cannabinoids on the human Endocannabinoid System (ECS). Of course there is a dependency risk to Cannabis, one shared with other medications and/or recreational substances. As substance abuse experts Drs Hennigfield and Benowitz pointed out decades ago, the dependency risk of Cannabis is less than coffee. The 1972 report of the Nixon Marijuana Commission also debunked the idea that Cannabis is addictive.

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Another common fallacy is the possibility Cannabis use is linked to adverse cognitive effects. Studies that purport to show these effects are poorly done. A prime example is they do not control for important variables such as use of drugs, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, other medical conditions, growing up in a dysfunctional family, and/or environmental factors. One study cited to support the bogus claim found a reduction in IQ of 8 points in long-time users. This has not been replicated. Several studies including a twin study done by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and University of Minnesota showed this adverse IQ was not true. In fact, Cannabis has helped many with ADD and ADHD pay better attention and raise their academic scores from C’s and D’s to A’s and B’s. One of the most egregious allegations is that Cannabis can change brain structure. Those trying to make the case point to effects in the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Of course, there are effects on this part of the brain, because it is where many CBl receptors are located. This is why Cannabis has such beneficial effects on treating anxiety, depression and impulse control.

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Another canard (unfounded rumour or story) is that regular Cannabis use is linked to an increased risk of psychotic symptoms. This too is untrue. If it were true, epidemiology would show an increased incidence of psychotic behaviour in the 1970’s or 1980’s because of the pervasive use of Cannabis. There was no such increase. Over the past 60 years the incidence of psychosis has stayed flat or slightly declined. Instead, Cannabis has been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.  Then there are those who insist Cannabis is linked to lower educational attainment. This too is untrue. The work of Dr Melanie Dreher with children exposed to Cannabis in utero and in breastmilk demonstrated that these children did better in school and reached their developmental landmarks sooner than those children whose mothers did not use Cannabis in pregnancy. And the lies continue to percolate wherever it is politically and economically advantageous to those in power in so many jurisdictions, worldwide.

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The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) recommended that, beyond 2019, United Nations (UN) member states should end punitive ‘drug’ control approaches and put people and communities first. The IDPC’s Shadow Report, ‘Taking stock: A decade of drug policy’ evaluates the impacts of policies implemented across the world over the past decade, using UN data, complemented with peer-reviewed academic research and grey literature reports from civil society. Image result for IDPC LOGOThe important role of civil society in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of global policies is recognised in the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action on drugs, as well as in the Outcome Document of the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS). It is in this spirit the IDPC produced the Shadow Report, to contribute constructively to high-level discussions on the next decade in global drug policy. The Shadow Report concluded that member states should identify more meaningful policy goals and targets in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UNGASS Outcome Document and international human rights commitments.


IDPC’s Shadow Report, ‘Taking stock: A decade of drug policy’ – Key Conclusions

• Data from the Shadow Report show targets and commitments made in the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action have not been achieved, and in many cases have resulted in counterproductive policies.
• The Shadow Report highlights the urgent need to conduct more comprehensive and balanced research and evaluations on the impacts of drug policies worldwide, taking into account government data, but also academic research and civil society findings.
• The Shadow Report concludes member states should identify more meaningful drug policy goals and targets in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UNGASS Outcome Document and international human rights commitments.


Crossing out Lies and writing Truth on a blackboard.Image result for cannabis is not a drug

 

 

 

 

 

 

The right to the truth is a human right. Cannabis is a herb, not a drug, and should be removed from all the various drug conventions, worldwide; then it could be provided to all in need, just as ‘Mother Nature’ intended. In the interim, how about the whole, organic truth about the Cannabis sativa plant; it might just set us all free.

 

Adapted from DEA Removes False Claims About Cannabis from Their WebsiteDEA Finally Removes Misinformation about Pot from WebsiteLIES USED TO JUSTIFY RESTRICTIVE CANNABIS POLICIES, Illegally HealedDEA Drops Inaccurate Cannabis Claims From WebsiteWhat You Should Know About MARIJUANAGranny Storm Crow’s List and CANNABIS IS NOT A DRUG.

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Taxonomy and Nomenclature of Cannabis

 

FIG. 1. 

Macrofossils identified as Cannabis (not to scale).

Taxonomy includes the identification and categorisation of organisms (classification) and nomenclature is the naming and describing of organisms. The family Cannabaceae now includes Cannabis, Humulus and eight genera formerly in the Celtidaceae (grouping Cannabis, Humulus and Celtis goes back 250 years). Print fossil of the extinct genus Dorofeevia (=Humularia) reveals Cannabis lost a sibling 20 million years ago (mya). Cannabis print fossils are rare (n=3 worldwide), making it difficult to determine when and where Cannabis evolved. A molecular clock analysis with chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) suggests Cannabis and Humulus diverged 27.8 mya. Microfossil (fossil pollen) data point to a centre of origin in the northeastern Tibetan Plateau. Fossil pollen indicates Cannabis dispersed to Europe by 1.8–1.2 mya. Mapping pollen distribution over time suggests European Cannabis went through repeated genetic  bottlenecks, when the population shrank during range contractions.

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Genetic drift in this population likely initiated allopatric (occurring in separate non-overlapping geographical areas) differences between European Cannabis sativa (cannabidiol [CBD] >Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol [THC]) and Asian Cannabis indica (THC > CBD). DNA barcode analysis supports the separation of these taxa at a subspecies level and recognising the formal nomenclature of C. sativa subsp. sativa and C. sativa subsp. indica. Herbarium specimens reveal that field botanists during the 18th–20th centuries applied these names to their collections rather capriciously (unpredictably). This may have skewed taxonomic determinations, ultimately giving rise to today’s vernacular taxonomy of ‘‘Sativa’’ and ‘‘Indica’’ which totally misaligns with formal C. sativa and C. indica. Ubiquitous interbreeding and hybridisation of ‘‘Sativa’’ and ‘‘Indica’’ has rendered their distinctions almost meaningless.Image result for C. sativa L.

A folk taxonomy of “Sativa” and “Indica” has entangled and absorbed the nomenclature of Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. Thousands of websites generalise about the morphological (form and structure), phytochemical (biologically active compounds in plants), organoleptic (relating to taste, colour, odour of substances that stimulate sense organs) and clinical properties of these plants. “Sativa” is recommended for treating depression, headaches, nausea and loss of appetite; it causes a stimulating and energising type of neuroactivity. “Indica” is recommended for treating insomnia, pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, epilepsy and glaucoma; it causes a relaxing and sedating neuroactivity. “Sativa” plants produce more THC than CBD and a terpenoid profile that smells “herbal” or “sweet”. “Indica” plants produce more CBD than “Sativa” with a THC-to-CBD ratio closer to 1:1. “Indica” terpenoids impart an acrid or “skunky” aroma. Robert Clarke (Indiana University, US) in his 1987 Masters thesis, ‘Cannabis evolution’, first described the unique organoleptic properties of “Indica” plants, as a “slow flat dreary high” …

Image result for ernest small cannabis publicationsIn 2007, Ernest Small (National Research Council, Canada) noted “Sativa” and “Indica” were “quite inconsistent” with formal nomenclature, because C. sativa  subsp.  sativa  should strictly apply to non-intoxicant plants. Conflating formal and vernacular taxonomy has begun to muddle otherwise excellent studies that worked with “Sativa” but latinised the taxon as C. sativa. This confusion even appeared in the distinguished journal Nature. “Sativa” and “Indica” written in quotation marks mean different things than C. sativa and C. indica written in italics. McPartland et al. derided the inaccuracy of vernacular taxonomy, followed by others including Small, Clarke and Ethan B. Russo, MD. Some experts propose jettisoning all vernacular names in favour of a metabolomics (study of small molecules, metabolites, within cells, biofluids, tissues or organisms) classification, “from cultivar to chemovar”. The parade of mistakes leading to “Sativa” and “Indica” is detailed in ‘Models of Cannabis Taxonomy, Cultural Bias, and Conflicts between Scientific and Vernacular Names’.

It could be advisable to apply a nomenclature system based on the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP): it is not necessary to use the species epithets, sativa or indica and a combination of the genus name and a cultivar epithet in any language and bounded by single quotation marks define an exclusive name for each Cannabis cultivar. In contrast, Cannabis varieties named with vernacular names by medical patients and recreational users, lacking an adequate description as required by ICNCP, should be named: Cannabis strain Sour diesel, or Cannabis strain Granddaddy Purple, with their popularised name without single quotation marks, having in mind their names have no taxonomical validity.

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Schultes et al. assigned the taxon C. indica to Afghani plants and described the taxon having broad, oblanceolate leaflets, densely branched, more or less conical in shape and very short (<1.3 m). Designating these plants as C. indica was faulty; Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (French naturalist) was entirely unfamiliar with Afghani Cannabis. Lamarck’s protolog (original description of a species) of C. indica in 1783, describes plants that are relatively tall, laxly branched and with narrow leaflets. Anderson repeated the errors. He typified C. indica with plants that Schultes described in Afghanistan. He assigned C. sativa to plants consistent with Lamarck’s C. indica. Anderson illustrated these concepts in a line drawing (see below). This illustration has become pervasive on the web as the poster child of vernacular nomenclature.

FIG. 4. 

Cannabis vernacular taxonomy.

De Meijer and van Soest introduced the vernacular taxonomy to peer-reviewed literature: “Indica” refers to plants with broad leaflets, compact habit and early maturation, typified by plants from Afghanistan. “Sativa” refers to plants with narrow leaflets, slender, tall habit and late maturation, typified by plants from India and their descendants in Thailand, South and East Africa, Colombia and Mexico. Categorising Cannabis as either “Sativa” and “Indica” has become an exercise in futility. Ubiquitous interbreeding and hybridisation renders their distinction meaningless. The arbitrariness of these designations is illustrated by “AK-47” a hybrid that won “Best Sativa” in the 1999 Cannabis Cup and “Best Indica” four years later. More than 30 years ago, unhybridised plants of Indian heritage and Afghani landraces were already difficult to obtain. Hybridisation has largely obliterated population differences. Anderson illustrated a plant consistent with Schultes.

Image result for cannabis ruderalis

One of the first seed bank catalogues from The Netherlands, in 1986, illustrated “Ruderalis” plants growing near the Hungary-Ukraine border. The photos of “Ruderalis” show plants with strong apical dominance and little branching. These traits are consistent with a spontaneous escape of cultivated hemp. In today’s vernacular taxonomy, “Ruderalis” is applied to plants that exhibit one to three characteristics: CBD≅THC, wild-type morphology, or early flowering (sometimes called “auto-flowering”, that is, day-neutral, flowering not induced by light cycle). Some authors have tried to reconcile “Sativa” and “Indica” with formal C. sativa and C. indica. McPartland et al. noted Afghani plants were mislabelled “Indica”. They reassigned “Indica” at species rank (Cannabis afghanica) or varietal rank (C. sativa var. afghanica). In summary, reconciling the vernacular and formal nomenclatures: “Sativa” is really indica, “Indica” is actually afghanica and “Ruderalis” is usually sativa. All three are varieties of one species, C. sativa L.

Extracted / Adapted from Cannabis Systematics at the Levels of Family, Genus, and Species

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Cannabis is NOT a Drug

micemenmonkeysIn laying accusations against Cannabis sativa L., (Cannabis) as a cause of harm, Prohibitionists often produced ‘evidence’ based upon experimentation using concentrated or synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) upon the likes of mice and monkeys. Such evidence was never scientific and should have been ignored. Whilst there are similarities between mice, men and monkeys (we are all mammals) there is a big difference between the effects of a human being smoking whole-plant Cannabis and the dropping of neat THC onto the inner lining of a mouse’s stomach (the latter ought to be illegal)! To use the results of experiments with just one of many hundreds of compounds in a plant to infer the observed properties (alleged toxicity etc.,) is scientifically unsound. It would be like extracting poisonous chemicals from the human body and inferring the body itself is poisonous, ignoring the counter-balances which nature usually provides.

Image result for hydrochloric acid sodium hydroxideBoth hydrochloric acid, found in a dilute form in our digestive systems, and sodium hydroxide are poisonous but mixed, they produce salt and water. THC is just one of many active ingredients in Cannabis which can be produced synthetically. Organic Cannabis contains over 1,000 other compounds; like any herb it is the use of the whole herb as medicine which is vital, the ‘Entourage Effect’. Any judgement of Cannabis based on the supply of THC alone to patients is unfounded. Cannabis contains THC but Cannabis is not purely THC. It is incorrect methodologically to mix in extraneous, irrelevant THC findings, or data from isolated cannabinoids and then make false claims relating to Cannabis. When The Lancet wrote, in 1995, “The smoking of Cannabis, even long term, is not harmful to health” they meant whole-plant Cannabis only, not mixed with tobacco or anything else. The same applies to United States (US) Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Judge Young who said, over twenty-five years ago, that Cannabis is safer than most foods we eat. Judge Young not only ruled Cannabis as safe, but also that Cannabis in its natural herbal state is non-toxic.

Image result for Cannabis is both non-habit-forming and non-toxic

Scientific evidence from clinical empirical studies (long term, cross-cultural studies in Jamaica, Costa Rica, Greece and Egypt in the 1970’s-1980’s etc.) confirm Cannabis contains no addictive properties in any part of the plant or in its smoke so, unlike and in contrast to tobacco, alcohol and all the legal or illegal ‘recreational’ substances, Cannabis is both non-habit-forming and non-toxic. As such, Cannabis is uniquely safe and does not induce psychological or physical dependence, exonerating Cannabis from causing harm to human beings. We have seen that the majority of studies have found no clinically or statistically significant differences between groups of Cannabis users and controls on commonly accepted neurological and psychological measures of cerebral functioning”, researchers at the State University of New York, Buffalo, New York stated in the paper, ‘The Chronic Cerebral Effects of Cannabis Use II Psychological Findings and Conclusions’ (1986). During testimony on behalf of NORML before US Congress in 1997, Associate Professor, Emeritus Lester Grinspoon, M.D., described Cannabis as remarkably safe, and “… surely less toxic than most of the conventional medicines it could replace if it were legally available. Despite its use by millions of people over thousands of years, Cannabis has never caused an overdose death”. According to the US National Cancer Institute,  “Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal overdoses from Cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur”. 

Image result for Dutch ‘droge’ herbsThe word ‘drug’ derives most likely from the fourteenth century Dutch / German word for dry, ‘droge’, when used referencing goods or wares (dry-goods, -wares), particularly herbs and spices for culinary or herbal uses and dyeing of textiles. Application to “narcotics and opiates” came in the late nineteenth century with no connotation of addiction over the centuries until the twentieth century, when the meaning was transformed by the specious pseudo-philosophy of Prohibition. To those people in whose (pecuniary) interest it is to perpetuate prohibition of Cannabis the semantically incorrect use of the word ‘drug’ where Cannabis is concerned, is a premeditated misuse of terminology. This serves strategy advantageous to Prohibitionists and comprises a simple but effective mechanism of disinformation, by putting the harmless herb into an unjustifiable association with addictive and harmful drugs. The reality is clear: Cannabis and those pernicious substances, the drugs, are wholly unalike. As the word ‘drug’ is wrong and inapplicable to Cannabis, it is necessary to establish a correct word, veracious vocabulary, which is fitting. From The Report of the Family Council on Drug Awareness (FCDA) (Europe, 2000);

Because Cannabis has been loosely, widely and incorrectly referred to in the past as a ‘drug’ does not mean that this basic untruth can become acceptable. On the contrary, since the introduction of Prohibition the legal situation compels veracity and clarity more than ever, for not to articulate the truth accurately involves perjury. Yet truthful language, the truth, exposes the mendacious basis to the crime that is this prohibition of Cannabis”.

Some argue Cannabis is a drug in any case, as it can be used as a constituent in a medicine. Others argue that parts of the Cannabis plant cannot correctly, semantically be called a drug at all, especially as it is neither physically addictive nor toxic in any conceivably consumable amount. Related imageTell a Rastafarian that his sacrament is a drug and you will find yourself in trouble! Look at a bale of hemp fibre, hemp-seed oil soap, paper, cloth or seed cake, they are all pure Cannabis, and then call it a drug. Drugs are associated with addiction (drugs of abuse) and health and other problems; Cannabis is associated with none of these. From all medico-scientific aspects, harmless Cannabis is not only wrongly defined as a ‘drug’ in any meaningful (semantic) definition of the word but also, by definition and empirical reality, wrongly proscribed as a ‘drug’ (or other substance) under legislation regulations. Although dictionaries vary slightly in their definitions of ‘drug’, virtually all refer to, and rely for definition on, a drug’s habit-forming, addictive properties.

Image result for narcoticWebster’s New World Dictionary, for example, defines ‘drug’ as: “a narcotic, hallucinogen, especially one that is habit-forming”. Cannabis is pharmacologically distinct from the family of opium derivatives and synthetic narcotics, is not hallucinogenic and contains no habit-forming properties in the plant itself or its smoke. Evidence from the most fundamental and widely inferred meaning, by definition based on empirical fact, Cannabis is not a drug. According to the Oxford Pocket Dictionary to intoxicate is to make drunk, excite, elate, beyond self-control. Unlike alcohol, Cannabis users do not lose self-control. Massive amounts just send them to sleep. Intoxicants are potentially toxic, that is poisonous, with a certain overdose level often dependent on the individual. There has never been a single death directly attributed to Cannabis use, in thousands of years of history, with hundreds of millions of users worldwide, as there is no toxic amount of Cannabis. Many substances which are mind-altering or mood changing are also not drugs; hormones, endorphins, adrenaline and endocannabinoids (endogenous cannabinoids). Conscious-altering substances which we consume which are not generally regarded as drugs, either, include sugar, caffeine and chocolate.

Image result for The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for ResearchScientifically, it is now generally accepted that Cannabis is safer than alcohol and tobacco. The question of any risk attached to the use of Cannabis will continue to be a matter for the experts, but irrespective of the answer there exists no justifiable reason to punish Cannabis users or those who grow it. In January 2017 the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a ground-breaking report, ‘The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research’. The report states there is conclusive evidence Cannabis can be used medicinally with Cannabis treatment recognised for efficacy in treating many medical conditions such as “… chronic pain in adults, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms”. Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs at the US Drug Policy Alliance said, “This report is vindication for all the many researchers, patients and healthcare providers who have long understood the benefits”, and, “To have such a thorough review of the evidence conclude that there are benefits … should boost the case for federal reform”. Cannabis has been used for centuries, both medicinally and for what Prohibitionists like to refer to as recreational use, which is actually therapeutic, as well as for rope etc., long before the days of drugs and synthetics.

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A now rescinded Australian Government document from the National Drug Strategy stated, “Cannabis has been erroneously classified as a narcotic, as a sedative and most recently as an hallucinogen. While the cannabinoids do possess hallucinogenic properties, together with stimulant and sedative effects, they in fact represent a unique pharmacological class of compounds. Unlike many other drugs of abuse, Cannabis acts upon specific receptors in the brain and periphery. The discovery of the receptors and the naturally occurring substances in the brain that bind to these receptors is of great importance, in that it signifies an entirely new pathway system in the brain”. The fact that Cannabis is a non-toxic herb means it should not be under any form of legislation, nor tied up in bureaucratic red-tape or included in a Poisons Standard nor a ‘Misuse of Drugs Act’ anywhere on the planet, as a substance has to be harmful to be deemed as belonging there, which Cannabis isn’t. The illegal placement of Cannabis under politically invented standards and acts is a hidden crime against humanity.

In Australia, personal Cannabis use and possession is illegal and penalties vary greatly from state to territory. As from November 2016 however, pharmaceuticalised ‘medicinal Cannabis products’ are dImage result for Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016eemed ‘legal’ Australia-wide and a federal Cannabis cultivation scheme is being introduced. In February 2016, the Federal Government passed legislation ‘legalising’ cultivation of Cannabis for medicinal purposes. The Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016  introduced a legislative framework to enable licensed cultivation of Cannabis in Australia and facilitate access to ‘medicinal Cannabis products’ for therapeutic purposes. The then Federal Health Minister said the Government worked closely with the states and territories in developing the legislation and clarified that the legislation did not relate to decriminalisation of Cannabis for general cultivation or recreational use. “If states wish to decriminalise Cannabis, then that’s entirely a matter for them. This product is not one that you smoke, it’s not something that might be out there illegally”.

Image result for twenty-eight US states have medical Cannabis lawsCurrently twenty-eight US states have medical Cannabis laws, and sixteen more states have CBD-only laws. The NAS report notes that “There are specific regulatory barriers, including the classification of Cannabis as a Schedule I substance, that impede the advancement of Cannabis and cannabinoid research”. Cannabis was classified in the US as a Schedule I Controlled Substance decades ago, along with ecstasy, LSD and heroin whilst crack cocaine is a Schedule II substance along with methadone, oxycodone and fentanyl, and other narcotics including morphine, opium and codeine. In the US, the qualifications required for a drug to reach Schedule I distinction are threefold:

  1. High potential for abuse
  2. No currently accepted medical use, and
  3. Lack of accepted safety for use.

Does Cannabis truly meet the requirements of a US Schedule I drug? The answer is a resounding NO! High potential for abuse? Hardly! No currently accepted medical use? No way! Lack of accepted safety for use? Absolutely not!

Over 43% of American adults have smoked Cannabis at least once, but less than 1% smoke on a daily basis. Cannabis use across the US doubled from 7% in 2013 to 13% in 2016 and whereas alcohol is linked to over 75,000 deaths per year (according to the World Health Organisation about 3.3 million net deaths worldwide in 2012, or 5.9% of all global deaths) and tobacco roughly 400,000 per year (around 6 million deaths annually worldwide), the world is still waiting for the first-ever instance of Cannabis fatality. This is a substance on which it is impossible to overdose and does not cause the kind of violent limbic explosions associated with abuse of alcohol, cocaine and amphetamines. Initial studies suggested cannabinoids might increase nucleus accumbens dopamine concentrations, in part, by binding to the dopamine transporter and thereby decreasing uptake into presynaptic terminals, which would be consistent with the pharmacological mechanism of action of other drugs of abuse, such as cocaine. Cannabinoids failed to alter the width of electrically evoked dopamine release events, thereby showing that cannabinoids do not increase dopamine by decreasing uptake. Thus the way Cannabis increases dopamine, through separate pathways to addictive substances, is why Cannabis is not addictive. Cannabis is not a Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor (DRI) in the way that cocaine, alcohol (0.2% less addictive than cocaine), methylphenidate (Ritalin) or dexamphetamines are; they are all addictive DRI’s. 

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In Australia, down-scheduling of ‘medicinal Cannabis products’, from Schedule 9 (Prohibited Substances) to Schedule 8 (Controlled Drug, alongside cocaine and methadone), took effect from 1 November 2016. Cannabis remains a highly regulated substance in Australia and the use and supply of Cannabis for non-medicinal purposes (for example, recreational use) is illegal, in accordance with applicable Commonwealth, state and territory laws. Poisons for therapeutic use (medicines) are mostly included in Schedules 2, 3, 4 and 8 with progression through these Schedules signifying increasingly restrictive regulatory controls.


Schedule 8 – Controlled Drug – Substances which should be available for use but (according to government) require restriction of manufacture, supply, distribution, possession and use to reduce abuse, misuse and physical or psychological dependence.

Schedule 9 – Prohibited Substance – Substances which may be abused or misused, the manufacture, possession, sale or use of which should be prohibited by law except when required for medical or scientific research, or for analytical, teaching or training purposes with approval of Commonwealth and/or State or Territory Health Authorities. 


Image result for Australia, the country ranks among the highest in the world for Cannabis use

Despite both recreational and medical use of whole plant at present being illegal across Australia, the country ranks among the highest in the world for Cannabis use. According to the Australian National Drug Strategy Household Surveys (NDSHS), 13% of Australians aged 14 and above used Cannabis in the year prior to the survey, with teenagers and young adults in their twenties making up most of the users. Over 40% reported having used Cannabis at some point in the past. In October 2016, only 7% of Australians surveyed for their views said they were opposed to Cannabis being made legal for medicinal purposes. In a poll released by Roy Morgan Research, 91% of Australians polled, aged 14 and above said it should be made legal, while 2% were unsure. The strongest support for legalisation came from the 50-plus age group, with 94% of respondents in favour. The age group least likely to support it were 14-to-24 year-olds, but even so, 85% of that group said it should be legalised for medicinal use. Michele Levine, the CEO of Roy Morgan Research, said that Australians aged 50-plus were the strongest supporters. 

Over the last decade, the proportion of the population who believe Cannabis should be made legal has grown from 26.8% (2004) to 31.8% (2014). In this time, the 65+ age bracket has seen the largest proportional increase in favour of legalisation, rising from 16.9% to 25.5% (a 50% growth rate). However, this is still well behind young Australians aged 18-24 (35.7%), the age group with the most support for making Cannabis legal.

How Australians of Different Ages Feel About Legalising Cannabis, January-December 2014

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia). Base: Australians 14+

 

Since the 1970’s, the twenty-eight American states that have re-legalised Cannabis for medicinal purposes have done so quite simply because Cannabis has huge medical value, something that has been known throughout recorded human history. Cannabis’ long history of use as medicine dates back to 2737 BCE. The classical Chinese pharmacopoeia described a large number of herbal formulations used for the treatment of a wide variety of diseases and prescribed for a broad range of indications. As such, Cannabis medicine is not a new trend, despite what ‘reefer madness’ America and other propagandists might have you believe. About 5,000 years ago, Chinese physicians would recommend a tea made from Cannabis leaves to treat a wide variety of conditions and in Chinese herbology, Cannabis is one of the 50 Fundamental Herbs.

In 2014 across the US, a total of 2.5 million persons aged ≥12 years had used Cannabis for the first time during the preceding year, an average of approximately 7,000 new users a day. During 2002–2014, the prevalence of Cannabis use during the past month, year and daily increased among persons aged ≥18 years. Among persons aged ≥12 years, the prevalence of perceived great risk from smoking Cannabis once or twice a week and once a month decreased and the prevalence of perceived no risk increased. Among persons aged ≥12 years, the percentage reporting that Cannabis was fairly easy or very easy to obtain increased. The percentage of persons aged ≥12 reporting the mode of acquisition of Cannabis was buying it and growing it increased versus getting it for free and sharing it.

Image result for Cannabis use among older Americans is increasing.Cannabis use among older Americans is increasing. Although much of this growth has been attributed to the entry of a more tolerant baby boom cohort into older age, recent evidence suggests the pathways to Cannabis are more complex. Some older persons have responded to changing social and legal environments and are increasingly likely to take Cannabis recreationally. Other older persons are experiencing age-related health care needs and some take Cannabis for symptom management, as recommended by a medical doctor. Cannabis may be a viable policy alternative in terms of supporting the health and well-being of a substantial number of ageing Americans. On the one hand, Cannabis may be an effective substitute for prescription opioids and other misused medications; on the other hand, Cannabis has emerged as an alternative for the under-treatment of pain at the end of life.

One of the biggest components to any narrative battle will be “a fight for civil liberties” versus “lazy twenty-somethings looking for an excuse to get ‘high’”. The increased medicinal use among seniors should demonstrate that responsible Cannabis usImage result for massive underground trade between south-western US and Mexicoe is not only a conceivable practice but one that already exists widely across the US, Canada and Europe. Re-legalisation of Cannabis incurs regulation of Cannabis. Most, if not all current safety hazards associated with Cannabis exist because the substance is illegal and unregulated. Just as alcohol prohibition led to organised crime and poorly-crafted home-made booze (that often led to alcohol poisoning), the continued criminalisation of Cannabis has led to a massive underground trade between south-western US and Mexico. 

It is a by-product of the pursuit of happiness that man has the right to debilitate himself, as long as he does not harm his neighbour while doing so. It is perfectly legal to abuse to any desirable degree, and even to the point of death, the drugs Marlboro, Jack Daniels and McDonald’s, as well as base jumping, cave diving and bull riding. It should come as no surprise that almost all of these are more addictive than Cannabis and cause more deaths per year. What’s more? Many of them cause harm to innocent bystanders. So will those who wish to keep Cannabis illegal also criminalise these dangerous drugs? Cannabis is first and foremost a herb and a medicine, not a drug. The overtones of the words are very different as medicine is a product that treats or prevents disease and drugs are a chemical substance with a biological effect. Importantly, while tobacco, alcohol and prescription pain killers, all legal, kill people by the thousand, Cannabis gives new life to the suffering, and it is past time this natural wonder was made freely legal, worldwide.

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Expanded from Cannabis Campaigner’s Guide – Is Cannabis Really a Drug?, with Why Marijuana Is Not A Drug, Cannabis is a medicine, not a drug, The health and psychological consequences of cannabis use, Cannabis is Not an Addictive DrugThe Emperor Wears No Clothes, NORML’s Testimony on Medical Marijuana Before Congress (1997) Lester Grinspoon, MD, The Shocking Facts On Cannabis, National Academy of Sciences Finds Conclusive Evidence That Marijuana is an Effective Medicine, Cannabis Prohibition: A Very Serious Crime , One in Eight U.S. Adults Say They Smoke Marijuana, Schedule 9 Poisons Standard, Schedule 8 – Poisons Standard, National Estimates of Marijuana Use and Related Indicators – National Survey on Drug Use and Health, United States, 2002-2014, Cannabis Is One Of The 50 Fundamental Herbs Of Chinese Medicine and The Increasing Use of Cannabis Among Older Americans: A Public Health Crisis or Viable Policy Alternative?

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Cannabis Tinctures: Uses, Effects and Recipes

cannabis-tinctures-1Cannabis sativa L., (Cannabis) tinctures are a simple way for patients to take their medicine and are easy to make at home. Tinctures are one of the oldest methods of consuming Cannabis. In fact, before prohibition began in the United States in 1937, tinctures were the most common type of Cannabis medicine in the US and around the world. While less common today, mostly due to archaic and inhumane laws, Cannabis tinctures are still popular among patients, especially those who need to take regular doses throughout the day. Like other herbal tinctures, a Cannabis tincture is simply a concentrated liquid form of Cannabis. Cannabis tinctures are sometimes called ‘Green Dragon because of the deep green colour that develops as the plant’s chlorophyll infuses with (most commonly) alcohol. But what are Cannabis tinctures? What are their benefits and common uses, how do they differ from other forms of Cannabis and what are some of the best recipes for making them?

(Cannabis Tincture)

Cannabis tinctures are made by soaking Cannabis flowers (buds) in alcohol (leaf trim, hash and kief can also be used). The alcohol extracts the terpenes, cannabinoids and other compounds from the Cannabis (for the full ‘Entourage Effect’), into a liquid that contains a high concentration of active compounds. Alcohol also preserves the compounds, which is important since it takes longer to consume tinctures as opposed to other forms of Cannabis. Cannabis tinctures are usually stored in an amber or dark blue glass, dropper bottle, which helps preserve the tincture for longer by blocking out sunlight. One of the benefits of using tinctures is that the alcohol allows your body to absorb the medicine faster. Most tinctures are taken by placing a few drops under the tongue, known as sublingual administration. When you take a tincture sublingually, the cannabinoids are absorbed rapidly by the blood vessels lining the inner tissues of the mouth, resulting in a quick onset of effects. 

Tinctures can also be ingested orally, such as by swallowing or mixing it with food. If you consume a tincture orally, the cannabinoids must be absorbed through the stomach and gastrointestinal tract and through the liver (in particular) and take significantly longer to enter the bloodstream. Depending on whether the Cannabis is decarboxylated first, tinctures may contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in its active form or non-active form (THCa). Most people choose to decarboxylate their Cannabis before making a tincture, allowing them to take full advantage of the medical benefits of THC. While medical uses of THC are still being researched, there is evidence that it can be helpful in treating a wide range of conditions and disorders, including nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, pain, multiple sclerosis, cancer, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, anxiety, depression, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, sleep apnoea, glaucoma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many others. 

cannaplantHowever, if you do not decarboxylate your Cannabis, you will receive the benefits of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, THC acid or THCa, found in the flowers, leaves and stems of young Cannabis plants. Biosynthesised by the trichomes, THCa plays a critical role in protecting the trichomes, and thus the plants themselves, from insects and other predators. Furthermore, THCa is no more ‘psychoactive’ than CBD, thus allaying parental concerns about getting their children ‘high’ (an unfounded, prohibitionist-driven fear). THCa is one of the cannabinoids primarily found in fresh Cannabis, although in variable amounts, according to CannLabs. Once the Cannabis plant is exposed to heat, such as vaporising, THCa decarboxylates to THC. What happens on a molecular level is that the carbon dioxide in the Cannabis is released; as a carbon atom in the acid is lost, THCa is converted to neuro-active THC. THCa acts as a cannabinoid receptor agonist and in so doing, also provides neuro-protective (brain protection) effects.

Image result for thca tincture

THCa has also been shown to be an anti-inflammatory agent, has anti-proliferative qualities (helps inhibit growth of cancerous cells), as well as anti-spasmodic effects, useful for epileptic patients. THCa works just as well as Cannabidiol (CBD) for seizure control and is cheaper and more accessible than CBD (especially in the speculative environment created by CBD’s sky-rocketing popularity). In contrast to the specialised, low-THC/high CBD plants needed to make CBD extracts, any high-THC Cannabis strain can be used to make a THCa tincture. Prominent Australian Cannabis breeder/researcher, Mark Heinrich, said in 2014;

“As it is THCa, there is no issue of a ‘high’, so that makes strain choice less selective. Truly, this is globally available to even the poorest people. I have sent this simple method to doctors in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and more … There is no need to spend big money on CBD if THCa is just as good. We are getting good results with CBDa, CBD, THCa and CBN. Right now, predators and sharks are making a killing from CBD, but make no mistake, THCa works just as well and we have proof. We want everyone to have access to the tutorials to empower them to be able to make their own and not be reliant on CBD merchants. What’s even better, the information is FREE … And think how many folks can now get help – empowerment of parents”.

Image result for strain sativa v indicaThe effect of any tincture does depend on which strain is used to make it. For example, a sativa dominant strain will give you more of an energetic and uplifting tincture which could also be used to stimulate appetite and combat pain. An indica dominant strain however, will give you more of a body ‘high, can aid sleep and reduce nausea, depression and pain. Tinctures made with a hybrid strain will share some qualities of both indica and sativa. Tinctures allow the user to obtain the same medical benefits while avoiding respiratory issues associated with incinerating the plant (smoking). Tinctures also have advantages over edibles, containing fewer calories than most Cannabis-infused baked goods. However, a common concern (particularly among prohibitionists and the downright ignorant) with edibles is someone may accidentally eat the food without knowing it’s infused and get ‘high.

Tinctu(Photo: Marijuana Growers HQ)res are easier to store as they are often in glass dropper bottles and look like medicine (probably because they are), so accidental consumption is usually unlikely. Tinctures can also be kept for longer without spoiling. Unlike edibles, if tinctures are kept in a dark, cool cupboard or fridge, they should last for years. Tinctures can be a good option for patients who need to be discreet about their medication. Unlike smoking or vaporising, which can emit a scent and draw unwanted attention in public, consuming a tincture is quick and odourless. This means tinctures can be taken in the same settings as any typical over-the-counter medication: at the office, in public places or anywhere else Cannabis wouldn’t be considered socially (nor politically) acceptable. Tinctures are safe to use for patients who are prescribed medical Cannabis. Tinctures may be especially helpful to ill children who can’t smoke or vaporise Cannabis.

Unlike edibles, which can take up to an hour or longer to start working, tinctures can be felt as quickly as 15 minutes after dosing. The effects of tinctures also last for a shorter period of time compared to edibles. Tincture efficacy usually peaks about 90 minutes after consumption and can last 4 to 8 hours, depending on the dose. Because the effects can be felt so quickly, dosing with a tincture is easier than dosing with an edible. As with any form of Cannabis, you should start with a small dose to gauge your tolerance and to avoid any possible, initial, unwanted effects of ‘over-consuming’. If you’re taking a Cannabis tincture for the first time, start off with about 1 ml and adjust (upwards or downwards) as necessary.  There are three ways to consume Cannabis tinctures: sublingually, orally or with food. To take a tincture sublingually, drop desired dose under the tongue and hold for 30 seconds before swallowing. This method will produce quicker, stronger effects because the tincture is absorbed into the bloodstream through the inner lining of the mouth.


Find ground cannabis used to make tincturesYou can take Cannabis tinctures orally by adding a few drops to a beverage such as a smoothie, juice or even a ‘mocktail’. Alternatively, you can swallow the tincture on its own like any liquid medicine. When you take a tincture orally rather than sublingually, it must be absorbed through the digestive system, so it will take longer to feel the effects. Tinctures taken orally have a similar effect to edibles and can take up to an hour to start working. Tinctures can also be combined with food to make a tincture edible. The difference between a tincture edible and a fat-based edible is the latter is harder to dose and can produce a longer, more intense effect (including euphoria). If you consume a tincture mixed with food, it will take the digestive system more time to absorb than if you took the tincture sublingually. Cannabis tinctures may be added to a variety of foods such as puddings, ice creams, dressings and sauces.

long steep cannabis tinctureThere are many advantages to taking Cannabis tinctures, with a major one being how easy they are to make at home. You can make your own Cannabis tincture (links below) and, while there are many different recipes out there, these are some of the most popular ones. When preparing a Cannabis tincture, you usually must decarboxylate (or ‘decarb’) your plant material. Decarboxylation is the process of heating Cannabis to activate the compounds in the plant. Specifically, this will convert THCa into THC and allow you to experience all the effects of whole-plant Cannabis. If you choose to skip this step, your tincture will mostly contain THCa. Epsilon Apothecaries, (California, US) has a downloadable Extraction Basics Guide (pdf), the Epsilon Essentials Guide Series, comprises a novice approach to the creation of three special supplements: tincture extract of Cannabis, essential extract of Cannabis, and supplemental extract of Cannabis. Readers can learn how to create therapeutic grade supplements at home, following in the footsteps of Epsilon’s decade-long track record of success in a variety of cases. The Epsilon Essentials Guide is free of charge, the company’s website says, “All we ask is your respect in return”.

North American Recipes

Australian Recipes (Nimbin HEMP Embassy – Medical Cannabis Preparations)

  • Tincture – Cold Method
  • Tincture – Hot Method (Green Dragon)
  • Glycerine Method (Alcohol free)
  • Rick Simpsons Hemp Oil (Dosage information from Phoenix Tears)

Expanded from Cannabis Tinctures: Uses, Effects, and Best Recipes with THC-a Tincture for Paediatric Seizures, Granny Storm Crow’s List – Phytocannabinoids, Potency-101, and Medical Cannabis Preparations 

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Cannabidiol (CBD) Claims and Misconceptions

Once a widely ignored phytocannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD) now attracts great therapeutic interest, especially in epilepsy and cancer. As with many rising trends, various myths and misconceptions have accompanied the heightened public interest and intrigue. CBD is a 21-carbon terpenophenolic (plant metabolite with biological activity important for human health) compound exclusive to Cannabis, after its decarboxylation from a cannabidiolic acid precursor (Figure 1).


cbdproductionetc

Figure 1. Cannabidiol (CBD) Production, Biosynthesis and Metabolism. CBD is biosynthesised in hemp or Cannabis sativa and is produced in greatest concentration in capitate glandular trichomes in the unfertilised female flowering tops of the plant. Its main precursors are olivetolic acid and geranyl pyrophosphate, which produce cannabigerolic acid (CBGa) and then cannabidiolic acid (CBDa) via catalysis by CBDa synthase, an enzyme co-dominant with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) synthase. Subsequently decarboxylation via light exposure, heating or ageing results in CBD. In vivo (in a living organism), first-pass hepatic metabolism produces 7-hydroxy-cannabidiol, whose specific pharmacology has yet to be ascertained. While exposure to strong acids can produce an isomerisation (conversion into an isomer of itself) of CBD to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), this reaction does not occur in humans.


Understanding how CBD exerts its myriad effects on human physiology is a work in progress. Scientists have identified over 60 different molecular pathways through which CBD operates. CBD is the most common phytocannabinoid in hemp and second-most prevalent in Cannabis. It has proven extremely versatile pharmacologically, displaying the unusual ability to antagonise or nullify the action of cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) in the presence of THC, despite having little binding affinity and supporting its modulatory effect on THC-associated adverse events such as anxiety, tachycardia, hunger and sedation. CBD and THC have similar molecular structures, but CBD does not directly stimulate CB1 and CB2, the canonical cannabinoid receptors, like THC does). 

The history of CBD cannabis or cannabidiolData emerging from international cannabinoid research indicates CBD interacts directly with CB1 in ways that are therapeutically relevant, but CBD parks at a different docking site on CB1, functionally distinct from THC’s orthosteric binding site (the active site; allosteric bind elsewhere on the protein surface). CBD attaches to an allosteric binding site on the CB1 receptor. When CBD docks, it does not initiate a signalling cascade. But it does impact how CB1 responds to stimulation by THC and the endogenous cannabinoids. Allosteric modulation of CB1 changes the conformation (shape) of the receptor and this can have a dramatic impact on the efficiency of cell signalling. 

The effects are mediated by a wide variety of signalling mechanisms including activity on cannabinoid receptors, 5-HT1A (subtype serotonin receptor; involved in mechanism of action of anxiolytic, anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications), the orphan GPR55 (G Protein-Coupled Receptor 55), GPR18, TRPV1 (the capsaicin receptor or vanilloid receptor 1 which contributes to CBD’s anti-psychotic effect), the nuclear receptor PPAR-gamma (regulates gene expression) and other transient receptor potential (TRP) channels. CBD is a GPR55 and GPR18 antagonist (blocking agent), possibly supporting a therapeutic role in disorders of cell migration, notably endometriosis. CBD is anti-convulsant, anti-nausea, cyto-preservative for normal cells, enhances adenosine (a potent biological mediator that affects numerous cell types) receptor signalling and prevents prion accumulation and neuronal toxicity. CBD and THC are both neuroprotective, evidenced in a 1998 study, Cannabidiol and (−)Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol are neuroprotective antioxidants, and are a treatment and preventative for Alzheimer’sCBD is an analgesic, a neuroprotective anti-oxidant, more potent than ascorbate or tocopherol, acts as a TRPV1 agonist analogous to capsaicin but without noxious effect, while also inhibiting uptake of anandamide (AEA).

Image result for cannabis helps heal bone fracturesIn 2005, it was demonstrated CBD had agonistic activity which may underlie its anti-anxiety activity, reduction of stroke risk and anti-nausea effects. Recent studies demonstrated that CBD has a prospective role as an anti-depressant; inhibits synthesis of lipids in sebocytes and produces apoptosis at higher doses in a model of acne; and, displays powerful activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). CBD has been linked to the speedier healing of bone fractures. The Journal of Bone and Mineral Research published a study, Cannabidiol, a Major Non-Psychotropic Cannabis Constituent Enhances Fracture Healing and Stimulates Lysyl Hydroxylase Activity in Osteoblasts, which shows the administration of CBD significantly helps heal bone fractures.

Newfound interest in CBD has been accompanied by an alarming number of mischaracterisations. Across the United States (US), many start-ups and retailers have jumped on the CBD bandwagon, touting CBD derived from industrial hemp as the next big thing, a miracle oil with medicinal properties, without making people feel “stoned”. But along with a growing awareness of CBD as a potential health aid there has been a proliferation of misconceptions. These include apparent confusion as to the correct assignation of CBD’s psychopharmacological activity, where does it belong in the politically correct drug war catechism, alleged sedative effects, its mechanism of action as an antagonist at CB1, its legal status in US commerce, its metabolic fate in human administration, medicinal versus recreational cannabinoids, ‘bad’ versus ‘good’ cannabinoids, effectiveness of single-molecule compounds, state law ineffectiveness in serving patients and, CBD isn’t CBD, as it really does matter where it comes from. Better understanding of these issues will be of great importance for patients, recreational consumers, physicians and legislators as they further consider the role and disposition of this versatile phytocannabinoid.

Misconception: Cannabidiol is non-psychoactive and non-psychotropic – CBD is frequently mischaracterised in lay, electronic and scientific sources as ‘non-psychoactive’ or ‘non-psychotropic’ in comparison to THC, but these terms are inaccurate, given its prominent pharmacological benefits on anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction and possibly even depression. CBD should be re-labelled, perhaps as being less ‘illuminating’ than THC. Lacking associated reinforcement, craving, compulsive use, etc., that would indicate a significant ‘drug abuse’ liability, CBD certainly isn’t a suitable ‘drug of abuse’, nor is THC, for that matter, as neither has the same mechanism of action as drugs of addiction, like cocaine, for example, do. 

CBD Image Source: PubChem

CBD Molecular Formula: C21H30O2

There is serious interest among drug companies in allosteric modulation of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). In theory, if not practice, allosteric modulators can prime the system for amplification or inhibition by fine-tuning receptor transmission with amazing subtlety. Full-on stimulation of CB1 can deliver therapeutic benefits, but THC’s psychoactivity intrinsically limits its medical utility, according to ‘Big Pharma’ catechism. For the medical constabularies, getting high is by definition an adverse side effect. Allosteric modulation raises the prospect of increasing CB1 receptor activity without causing disconcerting dysphoria or needless euphoria.

Properly used, the psycho- or neuroactivity of Cannabis carries with it many important treatment options. Rev. Dr Kymron deCesare of Steep Hill Lab Inc., said in 2015 that a good friend living with ADHD focussed on sativa strains containing significant amounts of the terpenes, pinene, limonene and terpinolene (in a strain like Super Silver Haze) and their mind became energetic, clear-headed and project-oriented, turning the unfocussed, chaotic ADHD mind into a mildly focussed OCD. Research into allosteric modulaterpene-profile-limonene-the-leaf-online2tion of the ECS is still in its early phases. Allosteric modulators of CB1 were first discovered in 2005 and ten years would elapse before scientists at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, reported in the British Journal of Pharmacology that CBD is a negative allosteric modulator of CB1 in vitro. This means CBD lowers the ceiling on the ability of THC and endogenous cannabinoids to stimulate CB1. 

THC and CBD work in tandem; they are the power couple of Cannabis therapeutics. Given the intimate synergies between these two plant compounds, how much sense does it make to attribute psycho- or neuroactivity exclusively to one (THC) and not the other (CBD)? Is it really accurate to say that CBD is a “non-psychoactive” substance? Researchers have demonstrated that CBD is a pharmacological agent of wondrous diversity, an absolute archetypal ‘dirty drug’ (a substance used as a medication that may bind to many different molecular targets or receptors in the body with a wide range of effects and reactions), encompassing analgesic, anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-emetic, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), anti-psychotic, anti-convulsant, neuroprotective, immuno-modulatory and cytotoxic effects (in breast cancer, for example). If CBD can relieve anxiety or depression or psychosis, then obviously CBD is a profound mood-altering substance, even if it doesn’t deliver much by way of euphoria.

Image result for CBD-only’ laws

Perhaps it would be better to say that CBD is “not psychoactive or neuroactive like THC” rather than repeating the familiar and somewhat misleading refrain that “CBD is not psychoactive”. The identification of CBD as a negative allosteric modulator that binds directly to CB1 challenges antiquated assumptions about CBD and sheds new light on its medicinal potential. In turn, as scientific understanding and therapeutic experience deepens, the description of CBD as non-psychoactive or non-neuroactive may fall by the wayside.

Misconception: Psychoactivity is inherently an adverse side effect – According to politically correct drug war catechism, the Cannabis high is an unwanted side effect. ‘Big Pharma’ is keen on synthesising medically active Cannabis-like molecules that don’t make people high, although it’s not obvious why mild euphoric feelings are intrinsically negative for a sick person or a healthy person, for that matter. In ancient Greece, the word euphoria meant “having health”, a state of well-being. The euphoric qualities of Cannabis, far from being an unwholesome side effect, are deeply implicated in the therapeutic value of the plant. “We should be thinking of Cannabis as a medicine first” said Dr Tod Mikuriya, “that happens to have some psychoactive properties, as many medicines do, rather than as an intoxicant that happens to have a few therapeutic properties on the side”.

Misconception: CBD Is Sedating – Image result for cannabis is sedatingSome early anecdotal literature cited a low incidence of sedation after CBD administration, and contemporaneously, this side effect is frequently attributed to CBD. However, low to moderate doses are distinctly alerting, as proven in its ability to counteract sedative effects of THC, delay sleep time as documented via electro-encephalography and reduce THC-associated ‘hangover’. Numerous studies in normal subjects have been free of sedative effects. By contrast, CBD formulated as the pharmaceutical Epidiolex (an investigational Cannabis extract with traces of THC, other cannabinoids and some terpenoids), employed in very high doses of 25 mg/kg/day or more to treat intractable epilepsy has produced sedation under conditions of poly-pharmacy, especially when co-administered with clobazam (benzodiazepine), which resolves after reduction of the dose of clobazam.

Whereas pure CBD is not sedating, many CBD-containing Cannabis and hemp chemovars do display this liability. This is not attributable to CBD concentration per se, but rather to the predominance of high levels of myrcene in many commercial varieties. Myrcene, a monoterpenoid, displays a prominent narcotic-like profile that is seemingly responsible for the ‘couch-lock’ phenomenon frequently associated with modern Cannabis phenomenology. Selective breeding of low myrcene chemovars reduces or eliminates this liability, yielding Cannabis plants or extracts that are more suitable to the patient who must also work or study.

Misconception: CBD Is a CB1 Antagonist Like Rimonabant – Rimonabant (Acomplia) a synthetic CB1 inverse agonist that was marketed briefly in Europe to treat obesity and metabolic syndrome was removed from the market due to numerous serious associated adverse events, including anxiety, suicidal ideation, nausea and even anew cases oImage result for rimonabantf multiple sclerosis. This situation produced a chilling effect on development programs for other CB1 inverse agonists and even extended to harsh scrutiny of the natural compounds, CBD and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCv), which, in contradistinction, act as neutral antagonists at CB1. The mechanism of action of CBD seems, rather, to stem from negative allosteric modulation of CB1, particularly in the presence of THC and it produces none of the rimonabant-type adverse events.

Misconception: CBD is legal in all 50 US states – In keeping with its versatile pharmacology without associated drug abuse liability or serious side effects, CBD is unscheduled in most nations. This is not the case in the US  (nor in Australia*), where pharmacology notwithstanding, CBD has been a forbidden Schedule I agent with its own Drug Enforcement AdministrImage result for cbd is legal in usation (DEA) number and designation as a THC analogue. In spite of continuing prohibition, domestic commerce in CBD in one form or another is rampant, previously accompanied by claims that its extraction from hemp refuse was a legal process. In 2016 the DEA considered CBD oil to be a federally illegal Schedule I drug, but there were temporary safeguards in place that protected patients in many states from federal prosecution over possession of the oil.

Misconception: CBD Turns into THC in the Body – This false claim has been invoked online and has gained currency and perhaps even credibility, after publication of an article in which it was demonstrated that CBD could be converted to THC after prolonged exposure to ‘simulated’ gastric acid. While this isomerisation reaction has been known for decades, first reported in 1940 and later in the 1960’s, there is no evidence the reaction occurs in humans in vivo. First, no known enzyme exists that can catalyse such a bioconversion. In addition, pharmacokinetic and metabolism studies in human clinical trials refute such a reaction. In a double-blind placebo-controlled study of CBD in Huntington disease, fourteen patients were administered oral doses over six weeks. No plasma levels of THC were found. Similarly, a 2012 randomised, controlled study compared CBD, THC and placebo in sixteen healthy males. Neither THC nor its primary hepatic metabolite, 11-hydroxy-THC, was noted after CBD administration. There seems to be no compelling evidence CBD undergoes cyclisation or bioconversion to THC in humans. A review in 2016, Even High Doses of Oral Cannabidol Do Not Cause THC-Like Effects in Humans, came to the conclusion enough data exists to be reassured the acidic gastric environment during normal gastrointestinal transit does not “expose patients treated with oral CBD to levels of THC and other psychoactive cannabinoids that exceed the threshold for a physiological response”.Image result for cbd turns into thc

Misconception: CBD is medical. THC is recreational – Often people seek “CBD, the medical part” of the plant, “not THC, the recreational part” that gets you high. Actually, THC, “The High Causer” has awesome therapeutic properties and should become known as, THC, The Healing Cannabinoid”. In 2006, Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute (San Diego, California) reported that THC inhibits an enzyme implicated in the formation of beta-amyloid plaque, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s-related dementia. The US federal government recognises single-molecule synthetic THC (Marinol) as an anti-nausea compound and appetite booster, deeming it a Schedule III drug, a category reserved for medicinal substances with little abuse potential. Side effects of synthetic THC include;

  • mood changes;Image result for THC is the bad cannabinoid. CBD is the good cannabinoid
  • dizziness, trouble concentrating;
  • feeling high;
  • weakness, lack of coordination;
  • anxiety, confusion;
  • stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea;
  • warmth or tingly feeling; or,
  • sleep problems (insomnia).

But whole plant Cannabis, the only natural source of THC, continues to be classified as a dangerous Schedule I drug in the US with no medical value.

Misconception: THC is the bad cannabinoid. CBD is the good cannabinoid – Cannabis Yin YangThe drug warrior’s strategic retreat: Give ground on CBD while continuing to demonise THC. Diehard Cannabis prohibitionists are exploiting the good news about CBD to further stigmatise THC with CBD framed as the good cannabinoid. Why? Because CBD doesn’t make you high like THC. This demonisation is moralistic, reefer madness. In 2014, Project CBD penned a foundational science paper, A Tale of Two Cannabinoids, in favour of whole plant Cannabis therapeutics.

Misconception: CBD is most effective without THC THC and CBD as the power couple of Cannabis compounds work best together. Scientific studies have established that CBD and THC interact synergistically to enhance each other’s therapeutic effects. British researchers have shown that CBD potentiates THC’s anti-inflammatory properties. Scientists in San Francisco, California determined that a combination of CBD and THC has a more potent anti-tumoural effect than either compound alone when tested on brain cancer and breast cancer cell lines. Extensive clinical research has demonstrated that CBD combined with THC is also more beneficial for neuropathic pain than either compound as a single molecule.

Misconception: Single-molecule pharmaceuticals are superior to ‘crude’ whole plant medicinals – According to the US federal government, specific components of the Cannabis plant (THC and CBD) have medical value, but the plant itself does not have medical value. Uncle Sam’s single-molecule blinders reflect a cultural and political Image result for CBD is most effective without THCbias that privileges Big Pharma products. Single-molecule medicine is the predominant corporate way, the FDA-approved way, but it’s not the only way and it’s not necessarily the optimal way to benefit from Cannabis therapeutics. Cannabis contains several hundred compounds, including various flavonoids, aromatic terpenes and many minor cannabinoids in addition to THC and CBD. Each of these compounds has specific healing attributes, but when combined they create the “Entourage Effect”; the therapeutic impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its single-molecule parts. The FDA, however, isn’t in the business of approving plants as medicine.

Misconception: CBD-only’ laws adequately serve the US patient population – Image result for Cannabidiol, a Major Non-Psychotropic Cannabis Constituent Enhances Fracture Healing and Stimulates Lysyl Hydroxylase Activity in OsteoblastsFifteen US state legislatures have passed CBD only (or, more accurately, “low THC”) laws and other states are poised to follow suit. Some states restrict the sources of CBD-rich products and specify the diseases for which CBD can be accessed; others do not. Ostensibly these laws allow the use of CBD-infused oil derived from hemp or Cannabis that measures less than 0.3% THC. But a CBD-rich remedy with little THC doesn’t work for everyone. Parents of epileptic children have found that adding some THC (or THCa, the raw unheated version of THC) helps with seizure control in many instances. For some epileptics, THC-dominant strains are more effective than CBD-rich products. The vast majority of patients are not well served by CBD-only laws. They need access to a broad spectrum of whole plant Cannabis remedies, not just the low THC medicine. One size doesn’t fit all with respect to Cannabis therapeutics and neither does one compound or one product or one strain.

Misconception: CBD is CBD—It doesn’t matter where it comes from – Hemp versus cannabisYes it does matter. The flower-tops and leaves of some industrial hemp strains may be a viable source of CBD, but hemp is by no means an optimal source. CBD-rich products should be made using only organic, whole plant Cannabis because this offers the best safety profile and superior medicinal benefits. Industrial hemp typically contains far less CBD than CBD-rich Cannabis. Huge amounts of industrial hemp are required to extract a small amount of CBD, thereby raising the risk of toxic contaminants because hemp is a “bio-accumulator” that draws heavy metals and other toxins from the soil. Single-molecule CBD synthesised in a lab or extracted and refined from industrial hemp-derived CBD and refined CBD powder lack critical medicinal terpenes and secondary cannabinoids found in Cannabis oil. These compounds interact with CBD and THC to enhance their therapeutic and medicinal benefits. In the US it’s against federal law to use hemp leaves and flowers to make medicinal products.

In conclusion, CBD is an intriguing agent of unparalleled pharmacological diversity that is nevertheless surprisingly benign in all its observed effects. Its use has become widespread in certain geographical areas, particularly in ‘legal’ states in the US and it is on the threshold of becoming an approved pharmaceutical agent in intractable epilepsies (even though whole plant works at least twice as well, without side-effects that pharmaceuticals seem to inherently attract). Given this current nouvelle richesse (new wealth) following its long history of obscurity, it is incumbent upon the scientific and medical communities to understand better the mechanisms of action of CBD, its limitations and particularly the myths and misconceptions that its meteoric rise in popularity have engendered.

Expanded from Cannabidiol Claims and Misconceptions, with Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects, Are cannabidiol and delta-9- tetrahydrocannabivarin negative modulators of the endocannabinoid system? A systematic review, Effect of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol on nocturnal sleep and earlymorning behavior in young adults, Neural basis of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol: effects during response inhibitionCannabidiol in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy: an open-label interventional trial, Cannabidiol is a negative allosteric modulator of the cannabinoid CB1 receptorCurrent therapeutic cannabis controversies and clinical trial design issuesIdentification of psychoactive degradants of cannabidiol in simulated gastric and physiological fluid, Even high doses of oral cannabidiol do not cause THC-like effects in humansAcute effects of a single, oral dose of d9 -tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) administration in healthy volunteers, Therapeutic Effects of Phytochemicals and Medicinal Herbs on Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral NeuropathyIs CBD Really Non-Psychoative?Cannabidiol (CBD), Even High Doses of Oral Cannabidol Do Not Cause THC-Like Effects in Humans: Comment on Merrick et al. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research 2016, and CBD Misconceptions


*CBD was added to the Australian Government Poisons Standard (the SUSMP)Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons, under Schedule 4 in June, 2015;

CANNABIDIOL in preparations for therapeutic use containing 2 per cent or less of other cannabinoids found in cannabis.

Additionally, in the SUSMP of November 2016, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) updated the entry for Tetrahydrocannabinols in Schedule 8 (Controlled Drug – Substances which should be available for use but require restriction of manufacture, supply, distribution, possession and use to reduce abuse, misuse and physical or psychological dependence) to read;

# TETRAHYDROCANNABINOLS when extracted from cannabis for human therapeutic use, when:

  1. a) included in products manufactured in accordance with the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967; and/or
  2. b) imported as therapeutic goods, or for use in therapeutic goods, for supply, in accordance with the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989; and/or
  3. c) in therapeutic goods supplied in accordance with the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989,

except when:

  1. i) it is in a product to which item 4, 8, 10, 11 or 12 of Schedule 5A to the Therapeutic Goods Regulations 1990 applies; or
  2. ii) in hemp seed oil, containing 50 mg/kg or less of tetrahydrocannabinols when labelled with either of the following warning statements:

(A)            Not for internal use; or

(B)             Not to be taken; or

iii)    in products for purposes other than for internal human use containing 50 mg/kg or less of tetrahydrocannabinols; or

  1. iv) separately specified in the NABIXIMOLS entry in this Schedule.

Formerly, THC had sat in Schedule 9, Prohibited Substance – Substances which may be abused or misused, the manufacture, possession, sale or use of which should be prohibited by law except when required for medical or scientific research, or for analytical, teaching or training purposes with approval of Commonwealth and/or State or Territory Health Authorities.