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.

Image result for sativa and indica

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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Bees and Cannabis

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Very little research appears in the literature about how honey bees (Apis mellifera) interact with Cannabis plants which contain levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) appropriate for recreational or medical use (only one scholarly article about the interaction between Cannabis plants and bees can be found). So what are the biologic and physiological relationships between Cannabis and Apis mellifera? In 2016, Sharon Schmidt, who holds a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology, is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, beekeeper and a volunteer Director for the Oregon (US) Honey Festival, located some bee hives on a property that had beautiful land resources; organic plants and flowers in the summer and a clean, continuously flowing stream in the vicinity of the hives. Facing south-east with a big thicket of tall, mature plants on the north side of the hives to protect against winter winds, there were pigs in a neighbouring field that would stir up and loll in puddles of muck and sometimes the bees seemed attracted to the puddles. Community gardens, visible from the property, interested the bees greatly. The setting was idyllic and the bees proved to be good pollinators. 

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There was no warning the bees would eventually be in the middle of a Cannabis grow. However, on the day Oregon law changed to allow citizens to grow Cannabis, an odour some described as ‘heavenly’ and others referred to as ‘skunk-like’ emanated from the fields. When told the bees had access to Cannabis, people would ask whether the bees were ‘buzzed’ and whether their honey would make people ‘high’ (euphoric). This was a fascinating question! Would the bees (quite unintentionally) produce neuro-active honey? This began a line of inquiry by Sharon to determine whether bees are interested in Cannabis, what they might glean from it nutritionally and the effects of Cannabis on bees and bee products. Her observation of the bees revealed there was apparently no interaction in spite of the abundance of Cannabis plants in close proximity to the hives. Why not? One hypothesis was that the bees were not attracted to the aroma of Cannabis plants.  

Bees have an exquisite olfactory sense that they use to detect pheromones of other bees and to find nectar. They are also attracted to colours and these two appeals to the senses are like neon billboards for finding food and mating opportunities. Cannabis does not have these attributes. It does not produce a smell that would attract bees, nor is it colourful and finally, and most importantly, it is unable to provide a reward in the form of floral nectar.  As those familiar with Apis mellifera know, it is nectar and not pollen that is required by bees to make honey. There are other reasons bees would not find Cannabis attractive. However, an apparently contradictory piece of video footage turned up on social media in 2015. The video showed seemingly excited honey bees buzzing around and alighting upon a Cannabis plant from which they appeared to be feeding. Many viewers seeing that footage probably believe the bees derived some chemical excitement from their contact with the plant. However this is very unlikely because bees have no neuro-receptors that would allow them to apprehend the neuro-active elements present in Cannabis. Image result for Nicholas Trainerbee

In a 2001 article, Cannabinoid receptors are absent in insects, the authors revealed insects do not produce arachidonic acid (polyunsaturated Omega 6 fatty acid) which is a precursor of necessary ligands (molecules that bind to other, usually larger molecules). It is thought that the cannabinoid (CB) receptor was lost in insects over the course of evolution. The authors also noted the CB receptor appears to be the only known neuro-receptor present in mammals and absent in insects. Because of its documented absence, bees are unable to experience Cannabis the same way humans do. Apparently the story circulating behind the bee video footage was that middle-aged French bee-keeper ‘Nicolas Trainerbees’ (a pseudonym), freely admitted to spraying ‘sugar water’ on female Cannabis flowers to entice the bees. He was trying to ‘train’ them to harvest the resin of the Cannabis plant to make propolis, a special gum which the bees use everywhere in the hive. As to his purported ‘Canna Honey’, the female Cannabis flowers produce tiny, resinous, crystal like structures called trichomes. These sticky structures help pollen to stick to the flower for pollination and within these trichomes are the cannabinoids.

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However, trichomes are oil-soluble, not water-soluble and honey is water-based. The next often asked question is whether honey made by bees having access to Cannabis plants contains THC and whether it exerts a neuro-active effect on those consuming it. The Cannabis plant is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are produced by different individuals, male and female plants. The Cannabis plant is also anemophilious, wind pollinated (mostly), and therefore has not evolved to attract bees, except perhaps in extreme dearth situations. Male flowers, which produce pollen, do not contain any cannabinoids, however, so lack the active ingredients which are what give the desired ‘effects’. The existing scholarly article, Cannabis sativa – an important subsistence pollen source for apis mellifera, on the topic notes that Cannabis pollen seems to be a food of last resort for bees. The author notes that bees (in India) turned to Cannabis plants as a source of protein but only visited male plants during times of dehiscence (spontaneous bursting open) when the male plant’s reproductive organs released pollen and that bees were only interested in that pollen during a pollen dearth. 

Bees and male marijuana

The Abstract of Cannabis sativa – an important subsistence pollen source for apis mellifera, states:

Cannabis sativa is an important source of pollen for Apis mellifera during the period of floral scarcity (May and June) when major flora is absent. Foraging of bees on the herb under experiment took place during morning and evening hours, while during rest of the day activity remained totally ceased. All the foraging bees were pollen gatherers as the plant provides pollen only. Maximum foraging took place during  morning, however pollen was also collected thoroughly by specific sweeping activity and scrabbling behaviour during evening hours. Foraging frequency of bees was more during morning as compared to that at evening. Average pollen load observed was 4 mg / bee. Abundance, Foraging behaviour and pollen loads indicated that this annual herb is a good source of pollen during dearth period in summer”.

So how do we account for reports of persons who say they have seen bees congregating and apparently foraging on female plants or of images available on social media? Sharon approached Norman Carreck (Science and Senior Director of the Journal of the Apiculture Research) who suggested the possible source of the female plant’s attractiveness to bees could be ‘extra floral nectaries’ documented as an attribute of the Cannabis plant by John Free (1970) in his book, Insect Pollination of Crops. Extra floral nectaries include glands residing outside the calyx producing both water and sugars. There are no formal reports of extra floral nectaries in Cannabis plants other than the one referenced by Mr Free. However, if Cannabis plants are shown to have these, they could serve a defensive purpose by attracting ants which protect the plant from herbivores, or they might serve to attract bees. However, Cannabis is known to have glandular trichomes (plant hairs that secrete fluid), which could also be a plant feature interesting to bees suggested Dr Marjorie Weber, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Population Biology, University of California Davis, in January 2016.

Image result for capitate-stalked trichomes

In Cannabis plants, bulbous type trichomes are the smallest at 15-30 microns and barely visible. Capitate-sessile trichomes measure from 25-100 microns across and capitate-stalked trichomes measure from 150-500 microns and are the most abundant. The latter contain the majority of the neuro-active cannabinoids (THC, THCV, CBN) and the effects of use are at least partly mediated by how much degradation is allowed prior to harvest. It appears that trichomes may have evolved for the purpose of making a plant less tasty to animals and insects, making the idea that bees are feeding from trichomes less plausible and more likely that they might be collecting resin from them. In a discussion with noted entomologist, Dr Dewey Caron, more ideas were advanced. First, that another naturally occurring source of interest for bees called ‘honeydew’ is often the object of their interest. Honeydew is simply the waste product of scale or other sucking insects which Cannabis is likely to host. These tiny insects probably concentrate their feeding (and excretion) at the tender surfaces of new plant growth and produce tasty waste products that bees might feed on.

Honey bees and cannabis

Second is the possibility that bees might be collecting resins for purposes of making propolis (a sticky bee product used to sanitise, reinforce and weatherproof the hive) and third, that bees demonstrating activity on Cannabis plants might even be seeking moisture from irrigation, as suggested by Dr Caron. Presently, it seems that some aspects of the relationship between bees and Cannabis are not yet verified. Judging from statements occurring in public discourse, misinformation about bees, Cannabis and honey based upon legend and lore exists among some of the public. Much may yet be discovered, but some hypotheses are more likely true than others: First, it appears that bees cannot experience altered neuro-physiology as a result of exposure to Cannabis given they have no neuro-receptors for the chemical it contains. Second, the literature suggests they do not prefer Cannabis pollen but will resort to visiting male plants and collecting pollen from them mostly during a floral dearth. Third, if bees congregate and appear to be feeding upon female plants it is not to collect floral nectar because Cannabis does not produce flowers containing nectar; there is no known reason for the plant to produce nectar to attract pollinators due to the fact that it has evolved as a wind pollinated plant. 

Image result for Cannabis bees propolis

However the plant may produce water and sugars if extra floral nectaries are proved to be present, which could account for observations and anecdotes about bees congregating. Fourth, it is possible that an extra floral plant exudate might be used by bees to make honey and one can speculate about the presence of the precursors of neuro-active chemicals. It seems unlikely though unless the bees are actually foraging on trichomes. Trichomes have evolved to protect the plant from the predatory interests of animals and insects so the idea of bees foraging from them seems unlikely. The common use of the term ‘sugar’ to describe the frosty looking trichomes which have become opaque may further cloud the issue, bringing some to equate trichomes with sweetness. In fact, people who advocate juicing Cannabis reference the need to mix it with other vegetable juice to cut the bitter taste. Generally bees do not seem to seek out bitter fluids. Fifth, even if the resulting honey did contain such alkaloids, bee products would not be neuro-active without heat being applied for the purpose of converting alkaloids from an inactive to an active state (decarboxylation). 

Image result for cannabis honeyThus persons reporting euphoria after eating raw honey made by bees with access to Cannabis are much more likely to be reporting a psychological phenomenon rather than a physiological one. Bees also have an affinity for honeydew (waste products of scale and other insects that inhabit and forage in Cannabis plants) therefore any interest bees demonstrate toward this plant could be based on the presence of honeydew, or even due to bees’ interest in collecting moisture or resin. A final possibility is that bees might be ‘trained’ to collect whatever substances are available from the plant as a result of experiencing a conditioning paradigm. Under such circumstances they might learn to associate the plant odour with a reward (sugar water) which could account for the enthusiasm they appear to be showing in the above-referenced video. Future observation will likely yield more information about Cannabis and how bees interact with this plant. Not known is the composition of contents of the guts of bees appearing to forage on Cannabis or even the composition of their propolis. No micro observation of their interaction with the plant is readily available either. Given the expansion of legal Cannabis growing in some American states it seems likely there will be more interest and opportunity for systematic observation and research allowing anecdotal reports and scientific data to be accurately reconciled. 

The Benefits Of Cannabis-Infused Honey

Elizabeth Vernon, known as “Queen Bee” in her home state of New Jersey in the US, is an apiarist and certified massage therapist with a degree in Eastern Medicine. She combines her two passions, healing and beekeeping, by infusing botanicals like Cannabis into honey with her Magical Butter machine. Adding Cannabis to honey creates a powerful and healthy natural remedy, since both are known to have healing anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Cannabis-infused honey can be used topically or ingested, depending on the desired effects. Infusing honey has been practiced for over 3,000 years. Honey is an extremely versatile base with a large number of healing properties. Adding different herbs and blends of herbs can create a powerful combination that can prevent and fight illness and disease. There are many different methods and the best practice with crafting anything is to find your own balance, do research and figure out what works best for you.

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There are so many different variables to consider; Working with fresh ingredients or dry? Planning a cold infusion or warm infusion? What season is it? Honey is always best to work with when the temperature is warmer and using a Magical Butter machine (or similar) saves time and energy. As honey can’t bind to Cannabis, and honey can’t be made into Cannabis-infused honey by bees themselves, the best way is to make a tincture and to add it to the honey. But without any fat, the herb has nothing to bind to, so adding infused coconut oil with the tincture works amazingly well, as without binding the THC to a fat molecule in the likes of coconut oil, most of the effect will be lost. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, allowing maximum absorption of cannabinoids and is much more healthful for you than saturated animal fat; definitely the best option for vegans and those concerned about health. Tinctures are, without a doubt, the oldest mass-market way of extracting and consuming cannabinoids and terpenes found in the trichomes of the Cannabis plant. During the majority of the 19th century, physicians from North America, the United Kingdom and Europe dispensed, recommended and prescribed Cannabis tinctures for a wide variety of common ailments. 

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Adapted from Bees and Cannabis with The Benefits Of Cannabis-Infused Honey

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Is the Government Removing ‘Medical Cannabis’ Competition?

This man was arrested for giving patients Cannabis medicine for free. Despite purported legalisation, it remains extremely difficult to access ‘medical Cannabis’ in Australia. 

Prominent Cannabis Grower Tony Bower Is Arrested For Gifting Cannabis Oil To Patients
Tony Bower – If You Can, Please Support His Legal Fund

Mullaways-Medical-Cannabis

On 28th March 2018, police arrested prolific Australian Cannabis grower and founder of Mullaways Medical Cannabis (company registered 21 October, 2008), Tony Bower. His company develops Cannabis-based medicines to treat a variety of illnesses and conditions, including chronic pain, epilepsy (particularly intractable paediatric forms), cancer/s and the likes of multiple sclerosis. As a result of his arrest, over 150 individuals who rely on his Cannabis-based treatments will need to look elsewhere, at least in the short term. Tony’s wife, Julie, said the couple had only a relatively small amount of Cannabis oil left in stock at the time of Tony’s arrest. 

“A 62-year-old Crescent Head man remains in custody following his latest appearance in court on three drug-related charges. Police executed a raid on a property near Kempsey. Anthony Bower was charged by police from the Mid North Coast Police District after they executed a search warrant with assistance of the Dog Unit. Police facts allege they located a large amount of cash, Cannabis leaf and 280 plants. Bower was arrested and charged with cultivating prohibited plant, deal in proceeds of crime, possess prohibited drug and supply prohibited drug. He was refused bail and remains in custody. His next court appearance is on 20 June”.

Tony waits in the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre for a June bail hearing after bail was refused in Local Court as he was deemed a high risk of ‘re-offending’. Anyone who knows, or has heard of, Tony, ‘Mullaway’, knows he is anything but criminal. To even suggest such seems, in effect, criminal, as laws based on lies are ‘pretend laws’ after all! However, the authorities have been trying to stop him and his important, life-saving work for years. Tony’s first time in court for growing and supplying Cannabis was in 1998, charged for cultivation. In 2013, he was charged with possession. Sentenced to one year’s incarceration, he appealed and was released after only six weeks. The following year, caught with more Cannabis plants, he was charged once again.

“A pretend law, made in excess of power, is not and never has been a law at all. Anyone in the country is entitled to disregard it”, Chief Justice Sir John Latham, 1942, South Australia v Commonwealth.

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Tony has long experimented with plant breeding to cultivate safe cannabinoid medicines. From Mullaways’ website;

“The Research by Mullaways Medical Cannabis has made it possible for the first time to; Design, Cultivate, Trial and Evaluate Cannabinoid Treatments using SAFE Doses of Cannabinoids / THCA / THC. While the rest of the Medical Cannabis Research world tries to genetically engineer Cannabis without any THC or tries to produce a rich Blend of Cannabinoids / THC from low THC Cannabis Mullaway’s Research has already produced the Jewel in the Crown of Medical Cannabis Research”.

However, Tony’s plans have been put on hold as he once again sits behind bars. In February 2016, Australia officially legalised ‘medical Cannabis’. Since then, government has signalled its intention to expand its ‘medical Cannabis’ operations, stating it would approve exports, becoming the fourth country in the world to do so. The country’s health minister said his government aims “to give farmers and producers the best shot at being the world’s number one exporter of medicinal Cannabis”.

Mullaways

Without legal permits, Tony was an easy target for law enforcement. But many in the community see Mullaways’ independent operation as a necessary alternative to the government-run, overly bureaucratic program. Many patients report accessing ‘medical Cannabis’ in Australia remains difficult. According to some estimates, only roughly one in ten users has been granted permission to access Cannabis legally, regardless of the government streamlining the current convoluted process.


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Adapted from Prominent Cannabis Grower Tony Bower is Arrested For Gifting Cannabis Oil to Patients with Man remains in custody on cannabis charges, Patient Access to Medicinal Cannabis Products in Australia

Cannabis and Psychosis; Correlation Still Does Not Imply Causation

Image result for Dr Charles Ksir WyomingImage result for Dr Charles Ksir WyomingIn the United States during the first quarter of 2016, Professor’s Charles Ksir (University of Wyoming, Psychology) and Carl L. Hart (Columbia University, New York, Psychology) read with intense interest the meta-analysis by Tabea Schoeler (Kings College, London, United Kingdom) and colleagues, on continued Cannabis use in patients with psychosis. They applauded the authors for covering this timely, important issue, commending them for attempting to provide empirical evidence to inform public policy. However, their enthusiasm was dampened because the interpretation extended beyond the available data.

Large image of Figure 1.

Meta-Analysis Study Selection

They noted that it is of utmost importance to remember the meta-analysis was based on correlational studies. Each study pointed out causation has not been shown; however, a strong tendency exists to accept Cannabis use as a so-called component cause of psychosis, which then leads to the conclusion it is imperative to reduce Cannabis use in patients with, or at risk, for psychosis. Although the Professor’s understood this impulse is motivated by a concern for public health, they agreed it should not allow the consistency of these correlational findings to substitute for actual evidence of causality. In 2016, Professor’s Ksir and Hart published a critical review of the scientific literature on Cannabis and psychosis and concluded that the literature supports the hypothesis that both psychosis and Cannabis use are more likely in individuals with a shared vulnerability to misuse of various substances and increased risk for various mental disorders. In other words, the correlation between Cannabis use and psychosis is not specific, either with regard to the chemicals found in Cannabis or to psychosis as opposed to other disorders.Image result for no clear evidence causal relation Cannabis and psychosis

Schoeler and colleagues stated that rates of Cannabis use in patients with psychosis are “higher than … those of people with other psychiatric diagnoses”. To support this statement the authors cited an article by Agosti and colleagues, even though Agosti and colleagues clearly concluded, “Alcohol dependence, antisocial personality disorder and conduct disorder had the strongest associations with Cannabis ‘dependence’, followed by anxiety and mood disorders”. They did not report any association between Cannabis and psychosis, presumably because of the low frequency of psychosis in the participants studied. In their own review, Professor’s Ksir and Hart included seven studies published between 2013 and 2016 that provided information on the issue of specificity. After reviewing the scientific literature they found evidence that bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder and mood disorder have all been correlated with Cannabis use and reported that psychosis has been correlated with heavy tobacco smoking, heavy alcohol use, stimulant misuse and sedative misuse. They found no clear evidence for a causal relation between Cannabis and psychosis.Image result for no clear evidence causal relation Cannabis and psychosis

The Professors’ reviewed research reports on Cannabis and psychosis, giving particular attention to how each report provided evidence relating to two hypotheses:
1) Cannabis as a contributing cause, and
2) shared vulnerability.
Two primary kinds of data are brought to bear on this issue: studies done with schizophrenic patients and studies of first-episode psychosis. Evidence reviewed suggests that Cannabis does not in itself cause a psychosis disorder. Rather, the evidence leads to the conclusion that both early use and heavy use of Cannabis are more likely in individuals with a vulnerability to psychosis. The role of early and heavy Cannabis use as a prodromal sign (early symptom that may mark onset of a disease) merits further examination, along with a variety of other problem behaviours (e.g., early or heavy use of cigarettes or alcohol and poor school performance).

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According to their shared vulnerability hypothesis, in a given group of Cannabis users who have had psychotic episodes, the individuals with the greatest degree of the shared vulnerability would be the most likely to continue Cannabis use rather than to discontinue and they would be the most likely to have recurring episodes of psychosis and require more hospital treatment. As such, these two outcomes should be correlated, even if neither is a cause of the other. As to whether a public health benefit can be obtained from efforts to reduce Cannabis use in patients with psychosis, two randomised controlled trials, published in 2013, comparing treatment as usual with treatment as usual plus motivational interviewing and cognitive behaviour therapy that concentrated on Cannabis use, found no beneficial effect of either intervention on either psychotic symptoms or amount of Cannabis use.

Image result for no clear evidence causal relation Cannabis and psychosis
Interest in the relationship between Cannabis use and psychosis has increased dramatically in recent years, in part because of concerns related to the growing availability of Cannabis and potential risks to health and human functioning. There now exists a plethora of scientific articles addressing this issue, but few provide a clear verdict about the causal nature of the Cannabis-psychosis association. The Professors’ greatest concern is not that someone might be advised to stop using Cannabis. They are concerned that a misunderstanding of the relation between Cannabis use and psychotic behaviour leads to an oversimplification of the complex developmental nature of substance use and mental disorders. Furthermore, they proposed that future studies that limit their data collection to focus exclusively on the Cannabis-psychosis association only will do little to enhance understanding of the complexity of this comorbidity. Research studies of this ilk will therefore be of little value in the quest to better understand psychosis and how and why it occurs.

“I have to make sure I don’t engage in conversations with
people who don’t abide by the rules of evidence”, 
Carl Hart

 


Adapted from Correspondence in the Lancet, Psychiatry, May 2016, and 
Cannabis and Psychosis: a Critical Overview of the Relationship

Cannabis Re-Legalisation, It’s About Freedom and Good Health

What is the difference between ‘recreational’ and ‘medicinal’ Cannabis use? There is no difference, it’s purely semantics. A Cannabis flower’s utility medicinally or recreationally is determined solely by the user, but in the era of re-legalisation and corporatisation of Cannabis, the distinction apparently matters. As across the United States (US), different state governments would give a variety of answers to the question of Cannabis utility. At the end of 2015 in Utah, Cannabis had to be smuggled in from nearby states for those wishing to treat their Crohn’s disease, for example, with no legal production or distribution system within Utah’s borders for the then newly legalised medicine. In the eyes of the Utah state legislature, only severely epileptic patients deserved access to Cannabis ‘medicines’ and even then they had to be so low in delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THCthat they could arbitrarily have been defined as industrial hemp!

Utah was unfortunately the rule not the exception. US national Cannabis laws are a patchwork of majority unscientifically-based assumptions, mostly by anti-Cannabis legislators worried about the imaginary ‘havoc’ that could purportedly be wreaked on society should people secure legal access to a plant they already obtained on the black market. Ask an old school California activist like Dennis Peron, who spearheaded Proposition 215 in 1996 (the first medical Cannabis initiative to pass in California) and he will tell you all use of Cannabis is ‘medical’. Some might know Peron as one of Prop. 215’s authors, fewer people know the personal cost he paid. Once a big dealer in his district, he was shot in the leg by a San Francisco cop who later said he wished he’d killed Peron, as there’d be “one less fag” in town. Peron lost friends and his partner to the HIV/AIDS crisis, which was when America re-discovered Cannabis as medicine.

At the time, AIDS was still a mystery. Researchers, doctors and nurses were baffled and confused, and some refused to treat patients for whom a diagnosis was a death sentence. About the only thing that helped AIDS patients, who were wasting away, to eat, sleep and live in less pain, was Cannabis. Through most of the 1980’s, a former waitress, known as Brownie Mary, handed out brownies, baked with Peron’s pot, to the patients in San Francisco General hospital’s AIDS ward. After his partner, who lived long enough to offer testimony to acquit Peron of his latest pot bust, died, Peron opened up a four-story medical Cannabis dispensary in San Francisco, the country’s very first. Local officials refused to prosecute him, so the state attorney general raided him. Peron was lauded, while the attorney general was lampooned in the comic strip Doonesbury, but that was the end of his major dealing days.

After Prop. 215 passed, Cannabis clubs sprang up around San Francisco and Oakland, and Peron was out of business. While recovering from a stroke in 2010, he was raided again by San Francisco cops, one the partner of the cop who’d shot him 32 years before, and the stress caused a seizure. Talking has been a challenge for Peron ever since, but he still does speak, especially about Cannabis. One of the great ironies is that Dennis Peron, champion of Cannabis, opposed the 2016 efforts to legalise it in California. As the movement became an industry, Peron was seemingly the only voice saying anything negative about the billionaire-bankrolled legalisation efforts. “All use is medical”, he would say, which meant legalisation was unnecessary. He insisted Prop. 215 was all California needed and took the message to Humboldt County (in the heart of the Emerald Triangle), where growers were preparing commercial-sized greenhouses for the impending Cannabis market and told them money was tyranny and taxing Cannabis meant giving up control. Calling Cannabis “recreational” was the worst of all; it trivialised the plant. 

Image result for 1899, Cannabis was America’s number one painkiller.While some may scoff at the notion that all Cannabis use is medicinal, there is plenty of basic science to back up the therapeutic efficacy of Cannabis and cannabinoids. Whether or not the user is treating a diagnosed condition with Cannabis, their choice to use it in place of a more toxic pharmaceutical or recreational drug is a proven healthful choice. Deemed as relatively benign, drugs like aspirin for example, are far more dangerous than Cannabis could ever be. Aspirin can cause gastrointestinal complications and death if too much is ingested. When Bayer introduced aspirin in 1899, Cannabis was America’s number one painkiller. Until Cannabis prohibition began in 1937, the US Pharmacopoeia listed Cannabis as the primary medicine for over 100 diseases. Cannabis was such an effective analgesic the American Medical Association (AMA) argued against prohibition on behalf of medical progress. With Cannabis’ medicinal potency and non-toxicity, the AMA considered it a potential ‘wonder drug’!

In Australia, adoption in 1926 of the Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs imposed restrictions on the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution, exportation and use of Cannabis, opium, cocaine, morphine and heroin, allowing for medical and scientific purposes only. Accounts differ as to how widespread the use of Cannabis as a medicine was at the time in Australia, but it was a main ingredient in various patent remedies, with its therapeutic use initially popularised by Ireland’s Dr William O’Shaughnessy, physician and member of the Royal Society (United Kingdom’s national academy of science). Although Cannabis was mentioned by early botanists and explorers describing their travels, little was actually known about Cannabis therapy in Europe and America until O’Shaughnessy presented a paper to students and scholars of the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta in 1839. The 40-page paper was a model of modern pharmaceutical research and included a thorough review of the history of Cannabis’ medical uses by Ayurvedic and Persian physicians in India and the Middle East.

O’Shaughnessy conducted the first clinical trials of Cannabis preparations, first with safety experiments on mice, dogs, rabbits and cats, then by giving extracts and tinctures (of his own devising, based on native recipes) to some of his patients. O’Shaughnessy presented concise case studies of patients suffering from rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera and tetanus (his cousin Richard penned a paper on a case cured by Cannabis preparation), as well as a 40-day-old baby with convulsions, who responded well to Cannabis therapy, from near death to the enjoyment of robust health in a few days. In 1843 ‘On the Preparations of the Indian Hemp or GunjahCannabis Indica Their Effects on the Animal System in Health, and their Utility in the Treatment of Tetanus and other Convulsive Diseases’ was published.

A healthy person who chooses a joint (Cannabis cigarette) over a beer is making a positive health decision (even though vaping would be preferable to smoking). Around 22,000 Americans die per year (and around 3,000 Australians) from excessive consumption (abuse) of alcohol.

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Non-toxic Cannabis claims zero lives annually and remains one of the most non-toxic substances humans consume (even water is more toxic than Cannabis)! However, as more states across the US legalise adult ‘recreational’ Cannabis, state-sanctioned ‘medical Cannabis’ programs have come under attack. In an attempt to sell legalisation to anti-Cannabis voters, legalisation advocates emphasised the financial rewards over harm reduction or freedom. Good old-fashioned American capitalism driving legalisation should come as no surprise, although the arguments for freedom and liberty should be more powerful drivers. 

Does there even need to be a distinction between ‘recreational’ and ‘medicinal’? It seems drawing lines in the sand may cause more harm than good. In the case of American states in the era of re-legalisation, it is no longer the user’s right to determine the utility of their use, but government’s. If government thinks you’re just wanting to have a good time they can levy 20% or more in tax which provides states with an incentive to classify more use as recreational rather than medicinal. Most states with ‘medical cannabis’ have a list of conditions for which recommendations are approved. These usually include the most serious and common fatal and chronic illnesses, such as cancer, AIDS, autoimmune disorders and epilepsy. When it comes to mental disorders, and diseases so obscure they don’t fit on the list, or the right to use Cannabis in place of ‘as needed’ drugs like aspirin, US state governments have determined that this use is recreational, not medicinal.

In Oregon, Washington and Colorado state legislators were quite concerned about who could still get access to lower-priced, tax-free, medicinal Cannabis. This led to a ‘decoupling’ of patients from their caregivers and many patients being told they no longer qualified as medicinal. Why? Because the argument for American greed won over the argument for American liberty. As both US conservatives and liberals view freedom as autonomy over one’s body and the medications they choose to use to treat whatever it is that ails them, it would seem most un-American to allow the state to determine the best medical care for patients, rather than the doctors and patients themselves. The heart of Prop. 215 was freedom. Unlike subsequent medical Cannabis bills that passed in other states in the years after, Prop. 215 was vague and created no regulatory structure. Instead, it simply said a person had the right to use Cannabis for any condition for which a doctor saw fit.

Image result for AUMA California 2016The lack of an approved list of conditions was one of the biggest criticisms of Prop. 215. If any condition qualified, essentially anyone could access California’s massive industry. Legislators in other states point to this as what they, as responsible politicians, would not do. Prop. 215 was about allowing doctors and patients the right to determine what worked best for them, even if it was a safe non-toxic substance that happened to be federally illegal thanks to 80 years of lies and propaganda. Further, the state of California never addressed the legislation and the commerce that would arise around it. There was no state medical Cannabis program in California; just a thriving industry among a messy patchwork of regulations and bans across the state’s many diverse regions. Fast-forward twenty years to 2016 and California Proposition 64. The ‘California Marijuana Legalisation Initiative’, on the 8 November ballot as an initiated state statute was approved.

Legalisation passed, 57.13% voted yes as opposed to 43.87% who voted no, in California. Supporters referred to the initiative as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). A ‘yes’ vote supported “legalising recreational Cannabis for persons aged 21 years or older under state law, establishing certain sales and cultivation taxes”. Prop. 64 made it legal for individuals to use and grow Cannabis for personal use. However, the sale and subsequent taxation of recreational Cannabis will not go into effect until 1 January, 2018 and the Government, not doctors nor medical professionals, will now determine the route of medical care for patients. Prop. 64 permits Cannabis smoking in a private home or at a business, licensed for on-site consumption, but Cannabis smoking remains illegal while driving a vehicle, anywhere smoking tobacco is and in all public places. Up to 28.5 grams of botanical Cannabis and 8 grams of Cannabis concentrate are legal to possess under the measure.

However, possession on the grounds of a school, day care or youth centre while children are present remains illegal. An individual is permitted to grow up to six plants within a private home as long as the area is securely locked, not visible from a public place, is licensed and has been inspected and approved by law enforcement. The California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation was renamed the Bureau of Marijuana* Control, responsible for regulating and licensing Cannabis businesses across the state. Counties and municipalities are now empowered to restrict where Cannabis businesses can be located and local governments are allowed to completely ban the sale of Cannabis from their jurisdiction. Moreover, local jurisdictions are allowed to “reasonably regulate” personal growth, possession and use of Cannabis plants.

The majority of citizens across California agreed with Prop. 215, the law that was passed in 1996, so why did they seemingly sit back while the bureaucrats and businessmen redefined personal use for them? Appeasing the obscenely wealthy prohibitionists, or the lying minority, that’s why. Pro-cannabis and concerned patients need to recognise they have huge power; they are the honest majority. More importantly, ‘free’ people (we are supposedly free) have a choice; liberty or greed? With ‘alternative facts’ abounding across the US, Granny Storm Crow in California expressed her amazement and horror at current US and world politics. Her grandfather would be beside himself, “If the truth won’t do, then something is wrong”, he would reiterate most strenuously. Very wrong indeed!

Although they voted to legalise Cannabis in California, local governments are now adding restrictions that make it difficult to grow legally. with no indoor growing, but at the same time, no ‘natural sun’ growing, either. Plants in California must be grown in a hard-sided greenhouse, not visible to the public, fenced, locked, inspected and approved by law enforcement. For which the owner must have a grow license, around US$130, that the county is responsible for but does not yet offer! Granny’s advice is to be sure the right to grow your own is ‘hard-wired’ into law! Unless we are free to grow our own Cannabis, we are merely trading one drug lord for another! I think I’ll just go on like always and quietly keep growing in my ‘very well-lit’ closet in the den. Been doing it for 17 years and haven’t been caught yet.

Australians are being force-fed privatisation, with no offer of decriminalisation nor re-legalisation, driven by unmitigated greed and a complete lack of understanding of even the mechanism-of-action of Cannabis. Australia could learn from the US ‘experiment’ or take a leaf out of Uruguay’s book, where full re-legalisation of all previously illicit ‘drugs’ took place in 2013. Drug consumption is not a crime in Uruguay, state law permits the use of any recreational substance and does not criminalise possession for personal use. Cannabis is the exception when it comes to permissible ways of obtaining substances deemed, ‘drugs’, as Cannabis may be obtained by growing it for personal use, buying it from pharmacies or the Ministry of Health, or by being a member of a Cannabis club. Uruguay gained its prominent position on drug-related issues through vigorous campaigns in political and diplomatic arenas for drug control policies that remain cognisant of human rights, emphasise civil society participation, remain impartial and egalitarian according to principles of mutual and shared responsibility, and avoid the stigmatisation of certain countries.

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The Australian Government has rushed to benefit pharmaceutical corporations (who donate to all sides of politics in Australia) without considering their own citizens. They have most certainly put profits before patients which has already led to the demise of at least one former government employee featured in mainstream media. Australia’s Sackville Royal Commission on Non-Medical use of Drugs in South Australia was perhaps the most intelligent and least corrupt of three Australian Royal Commissions during the 1970’s and its recommendations produced South Australia’s decriminalisation model for Cannabis. Decriminalisation is seen as the simplest first step toward re-legalisation, as it merely entails changing regulations surrounding a simple offence or deleting the simple offence entirely. However, decriminalisation is a misnomer, and does not make for less criminals by those in control. Re-legalisation does not support the continued criminalisation of otherwise law-abiding citizens for using a natural, non-toxic, preventative herb. Without complete freedom it is a farce!

Cannabis, in both medicinal and recreational contexts, has now been re-legalised in eight US states. In 2012, the then Chairman of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ (NORML) Paul Kuhn stated, The health risks of Cannabis are far less than those of alcohol and tobacco and more akin to those of caffeine. In fact, thousands of studies show Cannabis has potential health benefits in fighting diseases like Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s, MS and even cancer”. He added, Most hard drug addicts start with tobacco and alcohol, not marijuana*. I have friends who consider marijuana* ‘the exit drug’ because it helped them recover from dependence on alcohol and other addictive, deadly substances. Reform of Cannabis laws in the US is, at its core, not a political issue, but one of personal health. That it has become politicised is a testament to how no shortage of ‘civic servants’ seek to manipulate a quintessentially private matter for public gain”.Image result for NORML US

The idea of ending prohibition entirely enjoys strong support across the US. NORML’s Deputy Director, Paul Armentano stated in an interview in March 2017, The ongoing enforcement of Cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law and disproportionately impacts young people and communities of colour. It makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal perspective, or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatisation of those adults who choose to responsibly consume a substance that is safer than either alcohol or tobacco. Cannabis prohibition was, and still is, an outgrowth of a broader ongoing cultural war engaged in and perpetuated by certain segments of society upon other segments of our society, particularly ethnic minorities and the poor. This policy has never been about Cannabis per se; it is about targeting, stigmatising, prosecuting and disenfranchising particular social or cultural groups who are stereotypically associated with its use”.

If America’s Cannabis policies were guided by science and evidence rather than by emotional rhetoric and cultural stereotypes, we would have enacted an entirely different policy long ago. Most Americans support the enactment of a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the licensed commercial production and retail sale of Cannabis to adults, but that also restricts and discourages its use among young people. Such a regulated environment already exists for alcohol and tobacco and has proven effective at reducing problematic use, and especially use among young people, to historic lows. These same principles ought to be applied to regulating Cannabis. By contrast, advocating for continued criminalisation does nothing to offset potential risks to the individual user and to society; it only compounds them”.

1449036336207Australian patients wanting legal access to ‘medicinal Cannabis’ have been told they will need to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for an imported product, as state and federal governments continue to fight over who should subsidise it. Patients have been quoted up to AU$34,000 a year, or about $93 a day, from an approved importer, leaving them no choice but to continue sourcing Cannabis through illegal channels. The state of Queensland’s Chief Health Officer told a parliamentary committee that just four patients had been granted access to ‘medicinal Cannabis’ through the state’s single-prescriber pathway, plus two patients enrolled in the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital pharmaceutical trial. She said it was hoped the new bulk importation rules introduced by the Federal Government would reduce waiting times, currently averaging four months, and bring down costs for patients. Steve Peek, who fears his eight-year-old daughter Suli will die without access to the Cannabis oil he usually gets for free from a supplier, said he had been quoted $US26,000 a year for a legal alternative. “It’s impossible”, he said.

Expanded from Legalization Is About Freedom And Good Health, Not Greed, with Dennis Peron: A Cannabis Folk Hero Who Never Sold OutBallotpedia-California Proposition 64, Marijuana Legalization (2016)Cannabis Is Safer Than AspirinAntique Cannabis Book – W. B. O’Shaughnessy The Man Who Brought Medical Cannabis to the West, Granny Storm Crow’s ListUN Drug Control Country Information – Latin America, Uruguay, and Australian Medical Cannabis Signpost

*Cannabis sativa L., is the correct botanical term, marijuana is a North American colloquialism 

Australian Law Enforcement Have Lost The “War On Drugs”

“Organised crime in this state and the rest of the country is out of control and cannot be stopped without a radical change”, New South Wales (NSW) Crime Commission.

maxresdefaultAt the end of January 2017, Sydney’s senior law enforcement agency made the admission they had lost the “War on Drugs”. The revelation came that organised crime in NSW was out of control and anti-drug agencies were failing dismally to stem the tsunami of illicit substances flooding the streets. The revelation that 607 drug lords were operating in Sydney and law enforcement were unable to track them, followed a report by the NSW Crime Commission which found the rise of public enemies was “almost entirely driven by the prohibited drugs market. The report revealed part of the problem is the number of drug lords who live overseas. Prosecution of offshore principals is complex, costly and generally beyond the capability of state agencies”.  The white flag followed a series of brazen murders in Sydney, with gangsters gunned down in public. Many drug lords do not live in Australia, operating from Dubai or China, making it virtually impossible for police to bring them down. A senior law enforcement insider said. “We are not losing the war on drugs, we have lost it”.

Only low-level ‘foot soldiers’ are arrested, which is good publicity for police but not making a dent in the problem. The report also warned murder is becoming easier for drug bosses, “The ability to raise vast amounts of cash enables organised crime groups to source weapons and employ persons prepared to undertake murder for profit …”. The Commission’s admission was at odds with claims by the NSW Police Commissioner that crime in the state was going down. “According to statistical reporting, mainstream crime has been slowly reduced over time … however, the observed situation in ­relation to organised crime is considered to be the opposite”, the report said. One senior law enforcement ­officer said, “The chances of having your car stolen or house broken into may have dropped but the chances your children will get hooked on drugs are a lot higher …”

“The money they are making is obscene … runners coming over here from China, Mexico, Dubai and eastern Europe … picking up and laundering millions of dollars a week. And that’s only what we know about or detect”, Crime Commission insider.

IFAustralian drug laws have been established by decree, based on media-generated bigotry and beliefs, not carefully analysed evidence nor scientific facts. Severe punishment for possession and use of outlawed ‘drugs’, many safer than alcohol or tobacco, is cruel and unjust. Governments and regulatory bodies conceal truths and maintain misconceptions to justify hypocritical punishments meted out by the courts. In the eyes of legislators it would seem any ‘drugs’, except alcohol and tobacco, that give a degree of pleasure must be prohibited and defined as ‘a dangerous drug of addiction’, whether or not the substance in question actually causes pharmacological harm! The Howard government (1996-2007) went from ‘harm minimisation’ to ‘zero tolerance’ with a tough on drugs policy. Prime Minister Howard used the phrase repeatedly, unambiguously and emphatically to describe his government’s approach to illicit drugs and often described his personal attitude as ‘zero tolerance’. After a 6:3 majority of the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy supported a scientific trial of prescription heroin in July 1997, Howard intervened personally to stop the trial on grounds research would ‘send the wrong message’. 

“The key message is that we have 40 years of experience of a law-and-order approach to drugs and it has failed”Hon. Dr Michael Wooldridge, Former Health Minister in the Howard Government

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Under zero-tolerance, some ‘drug crimes’ have gone up in Australia, with methamphetamine use a growing problem for law enforcement and for those addicted to the crystal form of methamphetamine, or more precisely, ice. There is no epidemic, however, as statistics show those in Australia who use ice are in the same numbers who used other forms of methamphetamine before them. Sniff off TriangleRather than basing judgements on an incident or spate of incidents, or on how crime is portrayed in the mainstream media, it’s important to look at trends for crime, or, all reported crime. Surveys conducted by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research show most people think crime is increasing when most crime is not. So with serious crime on the decline why are police arresting and processing more and more Australians every year? Prohibitionists want even more police actions to arrest, charge and imprison users and dealers, conveniently ignoring decades of this failed approach.

“We must show some balls in war on drugs”, screamed the headlines in 2015, followed by an obedient police force in NSW, arresting and charging countless young Australians possessing small amounts of illegal ‘drugs’. Despite strange, expensive and much mocked anti-Cannabis advertisements (Prohibitionists even distanced themselves from the now infamous ‘Stoner Sloth’ campaign), and excessive use of sniffer dogs, party drugs such as ecstasy and ketamine are still widely consumed across Australia. In 2016, ABC TV’s Four Corners showed the failure of current laws to deter ‘drug’ use and even former Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Mick Palmer, AO APM, said mass arresting personal drug users is futile

NSW has lost the war on drugs.

“It is easy to roll out arguments about the harm created by our current arrangements. Young people who are convicted for being in possession of small amounts of Cannabis automatically lose rights to be employed in the public service and in the defence forces and in the police services. They can’t travel …”, Mick Palmer (former Commissioner, AFP)

In early 2016, Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale was pushing for decriminalisation, arguing drug-taking is a health issue rather than a criminal one. Decriminalisation has been working well in Portugal for over a decade with reductions in drug-related harms, decline in drug use among the most vulnerable (including problematic users) and tremendous increases in the number of drug-dependent individuals accessing treatment. This has been followed by significant reductions in transmission of HIV, tuberculosis and diagnoses of AIDS has also decreased. Unsurprisingly decriminalisation reduced criminal drug offences, which led to a significant reduction in prison overcrowding. Law-enforcement statistics revealed an increase in operational capacity, more domestic drug trafficking seizures and an increase in international anti-trafficking collaborations. Police officers, initially resistant, view decriminalisation as a positive change, with people more likely to cooperate due to less fear of prosecution and improved community relations as a result. In terms of social costs decriminalisation over a 10 year period created a reduction of 18%, as a result of both indirect health and legal costs.
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In Uruguay, it’s not legal to buy Cannabis on the street, yet, but the country has legal Cannabis Clubs which pool resources to grow and distribute to registered, paying members with no doctors involved. Legislation passed in 2013 allows Uruguayan residents to grow at home and soon pharmacies will begin selling across the country. Legislators say it is important to get the program right to serve as a model for legalising other substances and end the deadly, unproductive “War on Drugs”. Under Uruguay’s drug law, anyone found in possession of a ‘reasonable quantity exclusively destined for personal consumption’ as determined by a judge, is exempt from punishment. If a judge makes a determination drugs were intended for sale, production or distribution, they must explain the reasoning in any sentence issued. “Latin America is one of the regions which has suffered the most from the politics of Prohibition”, said legislator Sebastian Sabini in Montevideo. “We have a low-intensity undeclared war in Mexico, with 25,000 disappeared and 60,000 killed in recent years; wide-scale impunity and areas where narco-traffickers control daily life. We see drug groups donating to political campaigns, forming alliances with the state and infiltrating our institutions …”. Uruguay aims to avoid the creation of lucrative Cannabis businesses with profits tightly controlled, no brands and no advertising. It’s an approach Sabini would like to see extended to other illicit substances and he hopes by proving careful regulation can prevent increased use, decriminalisation can be extended to cocaine. He would also like to ban all alcohol advertising.

It would take a brave politician to advocate for legalisation of all illicit drugs in Australia, with the large disconnection from more enlightened policies or proposals internationally. In 2015, Irish police backed full decriminalisation of all illicit ‘drugs’ and in January 2017, Irish lawmakers made it known they want government to subsidise the medicinal use of Cannabis, following the United Kingdom, where health authorities determined CBD to be legitimately medicinal. Canada’s government has pledged to legalise all use of Cannabis, and a growing number of US states (28 medical and 8 full, February 2017) are regulating and taxing Cannabis (with authorities taking in nearly US$1 billion in tax). The paucity of sensible public debate over ‘drugs’ in Australia is clear. Major political parties, fearing a tabloid press backlash and loss of funding from other major industries, dare acknowledge the failures of Prohibition while support for legal access to Cannabis for medicinal uses has grown. 

One of the key arguments for legalising ‘drugs’ is the reduction in criminality and violence with evidence from the US that this is happening in Colorado. Although legalising all ‘drugs’ wouldn’t completely remove worldwide criminality, it should make a significant difference, argued Annie Machon, former British intelligence officer and European Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a global group of former and current police and government officials who oppose the “war on drugs”.

“Decriminalisation is a good start but it wouldn’t remove criminal gangs. LEAP supports legalising, regulating and taxing all drugs”, Annie Machon said. 

After decades of drug-related violence globally, especially in Mexico and South America, another path is essential. Australia and other western nations, markets for illicit substances, should be committed to finding more humane, sensible solutions. Prohibition places the emphasis on law enforcement and criminalisation, whereas other options, including de-penalisation, decriminalisation, legalisation, regulation and taxation would make it possible to focus primarily on the health and social effects. Governments in Australia often use harsh rhetoric when referring to drug use and users, clearly contrasting with two legal psychoactive drugs in widespread use, nicotine and alcohol. Despite creating far more health, social and economic costs than currently illegal ‘drugs’, they are not prohibited. Nicotine use has diminished with regulation, taxation and social control invoked, however, alcohol’s identifiable social harms continue to increase as earlier regulatory and social controls have been relaxed. But neither drug is prohibited, instead, they are controlled by governments, not organised crime.

Costs to Australian society for alcohol (2010)

Governments and the community need to consider the range of available alternatives to current criminalisation, and develop one which is actually effective. The unacceptably high number of drug deaths cannot be allowed to continue, with a particular need to engage parents and young people in considering benefits and costs of a shift away from Prohibition. A bipartisan political approach is highly desirable with the move against Prohibition gathering momentum in other countries across the ideological spectrum as communities around the world place responsibility for the costs of Prohibition where it belongs; with legislators who continue to support the international Prohibition approach. 

HIGH TIMES: Police from Strike Force Hyperion unload cannabis seized from Clouds Creek State Forest south of Nymboida, which had an estimated street value of over $400,000.

Police from Strike Force Hyperion unload Cannabis seized from Clouds Creek State Forest, south of Nymboida, with an estimated (by law enforcement) street value of over AU$400,000.

In December 2016, annual police Cannabis raids across the Northern Rivers (NSW) were put under the microscope by law and Cannabis experts. 3,314 Cannabis plants were seized with an estimated ‘law-enforcement’ street value of AU$6.6 million. After more than two decades of annual eradication operations across the region, Southern Cross University’s School of Law and Justice lecturer, Aidan Ricketts, said the raids haven’t made a dint in supply and was critical of the effectiveness of the busts, saying, “Supply reduction doesn’t work because the laws of supply and demand will always fill any gap”. Nimbin HEMP Embassy President Michael Balderstone claimed the eradication program signifies a cultural war rather than Cannabis search”. Mr Balderstone said a huge percentage of crops in the area are very small, grown for personal or medicinal use that would never get to market or the street”

According to Mr Ricketts, many commentators have suggested the police valuation of Cannabis plants at AU$2,000 a plant is quite inflated”, and Mr Balderstone agrees, with male plants and seedlings seized by police more or less worthless”. Balderstone said it’s ironic the herb is still illegal despite state government trials in ‘medicinal Cannabis’. Mr Ricketts questioned the imminence of Cannabis decriminalisation, “There is the sense that Cannabis decriminalisation is coming internationally one way or another and yet we are sort of operating on a business-as-usual model in Australia …”, he said. “If the herb is decriminalised in Australia, resources from the Cannabis eradication program could be reinvested into cracking down on other illicit substances such as ice. You’ve got things like meth., labs and other drugs which are of much more concern to the community, a lot of people would probably prefer to see the resources going into those operations”.


Australia’s National Drug Strategy:

  1. Supply Reduction – Reducing availability of drugs through legislation and law enforcement
  2. Demand Reduction – Reducing demand for drugs through prevention and treatment 
  3. Harm Reduction – Reducing harms of drugs among the people who continue to use them

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The argument most widely used in Australia supporting change in Prohibition is the current approaches are failing to achieve primary goals of reduced drug availability and harms. Instead they produce serious unintended adverse consequences, including corruption and more crime. Demonising substances that can have important health and social benefits results in demonising those who use them, by association, leading to considerable stigma and discrimination. Principal arguments used against changing failed policy tend to be moral, not scientific. The use of the term “war” in reference to drugs mobilises fear as a political asset, being part of a war against the threat of “evil drugs” has been a political vote winner. Being “soft on drugs” is a label used politically about those who question Prohibition. While drugs remain prohibited, there is a hugely lucrative black market committed to promoting them and many people are justifiably fearful of their children becoming exposed and entangled in the drug culture and its illegality. 

“By maintaining prohibition and suppressing or avoiding debate about its costs and benefits, it can be argued justifiably that our governments and other community leaders are standing idly by while our children are killed and criminalised”. Australia21

In Australia, numbers of prisoners grew 8%, 2015-2016, with prisoners exhibiting high rates of recidivism, in large part due to ongoing problems with alcohol and other drugs along with a high rate of functional illiteracy and numeracy among prisoners and parolees. Keeping prisoners engaged with their family and community helps reduce recidivism. So, too, conjugal visits and the ability to be educated in a practical way to engage with the world outside. British Conservative Home Office Minister Douglas Hurd, who served in Margaret Thatcher and John Major’s governments said it best, “Prisons are an expensive way of making bad people worse”. State and territory governments in Australia claim to be anxious to reduce spending, yet currently spend huge amounts of money incarcerating people at a higher rate than any European country and at a rate that is steadily increasing. Victoria’s Ombudsman believed the Andrews Government’s short term headline-grabbing view of crime does nothing to reduce crime or reoffending rates, but contributes to small-time offenders becoming hardened criminals. 

Victoria’s overall crime rate rose by 12.4%, 2015-2016, largely as a result of a spike in property crime committed by young repeat offenders. The Victorian Andrews government fImage result for victoria ombudsmanaced criticism from opposition leader Matthew Guy, “there is a crime wave in this city that is out of control” claiming only his political party was tough enough to stop it. In September 2016 Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research called for a complete rethink of the way crime is dealt with in the face of an exploding NSW prison population. He believed “toning down the political rhetoric” was important for allowing investment to be made in what works, rather than what wins votes. It is hoped political leaders will focus on effective measures to reduce crime, rather than pandering to police associations and engaging in wars of words.

Image result for Victorian Shadow Police Minister Edward O’DonohueVictorian Shadow Police Minister Edward O’Donohue said the rise in crime is directly attributable to insufficient funding of the State’s police force. “As a result of Daniel Andrews’ weakening of our justice system, many of these offenders have little concern for the consequences of their crimes and are soon back out on the street”. Victoria’s Police Association Secretary said crime is caused by a reduced police presence, “When you have police stations that ten years ago put two vehicles on the road now struggling to get one out … of course, criminals will take advantage … it stands to reason that theft and burglaries will rise”. Those claims are not, however borne out by statistics or research, which suggests the most effective way of reducing crime is implementing preventative measures aimed at repeat offenders. If politicians are to move to change this culture they will need to be confident that any change will improve, not worsen, the current situation. A growing body of international evidence demonstrates that such concerns can be alleviated.

Adapted from Are Cannabis Raids Effective?, with Drug Laws By Decree, Not Scientific Fact,  The war on drugs has failed, end it now, Organised crime in NSW at levels not seen previously as state loses war on drugsElection FactCheck: is crime getting worse in Australia?, Recorded Crime – Offenders, 2015-16, Australian crime: Facts & figures: 2014 » Chapter 1: Recorded crime & selected crime profiles, A QUIET REVOLUTION: DRUG DECRIMINALISATION ACROSS THE GLOBE, Uruguay’s Drug Policy: Major Innovations, Major ChallengesCivil Liberties Australia, Bulging prisons? Recidivist politicians, Time for Australia to abandon ‘failed war on drugs’, The prohibition of illicit drugs is killing and criminalising our children and we are all letting it happen., In a first for Latin America, Uruguay rolls out program legalizing marijuana, and, Ombudsman Blasts Government’s ‘Tough on Crime’ Policies

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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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