Excessive Regulation Keeps Illegal Cannabis Markets in the Black!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Australian Legal ‘Medicinal Cannabis’, Overpriced and Difficult to Obtain

It is estimated that close to a million patients are now seeking access to ‘medicinal Cannabis’ in Australia. Australian government figures show around 20,000 patients now have approvals for access to legal ‘medicinal Cannabis’ products. The Medical Cannabis Users Association of Australia Inc. (MCUA) reports many patients are still having to turn to the ‘black’ market or are self supplying because, access to and cost of, the majority of legal ‘medicinal Cannabis’ products is way beyond their financial reach. This is happening in Queensland, for example, partly because public hospital policy does not permit its doctors to prescribe Cannabis-based products.

The MCUA states the rate of approvals has increased substantially with a mushrooming of corporate clinics set up to move products that had been languishing on warehouse shelves because General Practitioners (GP’s) were refusing to prescribe ‘medical Cannabis’. These clinics have the sole purpose of prescribing corporate ‘Cannabis’-based products and have become the gateway to moving these over-priced, often longitudinally untested pharmaceuticals off the shelves. It appears these clinics are given ‘special treatment’ in this highly regulated environment as the MCUA noted when CEO of ‘medical Cannabis’ company, THC, David Radford said on Sky News;

“… We are working with individual state governments to get their approvals (for clinics) … not the same as a health clinic that you go through so we are not expecting the same regulatory hurdles …”.

The current modus operandi of the clinics when communicating with ‘patients’ is an offering of either/or teleconferencing and face to face consultations with doctors who it is being alleged have no prior experience using or prescribing ‘Cannabis’-based medicine in a clinical situation and who also have had limited training via educational videos and ‘medical Cannabis’ company backup. Some patients have said to the MCUA that consultation processes have been amateur in approach. In some cases, no medical history of the patient was recorded and prospective patients weren’t even asked about current medications or allergies they might have. As to consultation fees the MCUA report these can vary enormously between clinics.

The majority of ‘medical Cannabis’ patients do not receive a Medicare rebate and on average, patients are charged fees by third parties of around $200 to apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) online (a process for which there is no fee attached if one registers directly). Other costs,  it is reported, vary from <$100 to >$1,000 for an initial consultation and an application for ‘medical Cannabis’. Due to the increasing number of complaints about these clinics the MCUA is conducting a patient satisfaction survey asking about patient experiences overall with the delivery model set up by the Australian Federal Government. Responses to their survey have been consistent throughout with +45% of patients saying they are paying up to $500-$1,000 a month for products.Image result for australian medical cannabis products

Most survey respondents are on Centrelink payments because of their illness and some have got themselves into debt with family or friends to enable them to purchase the medicine. Almost half of the prescriptions written have not been filled. Peter Crock, CEO of the Cann Group and Chairman of Medicinal Cannabis Industry Australia reinforces this scenario.  He said on ABC radio that, “All medicinal Cannabis is being imported … that is what is keeping prices high … and people are taking the opportunity to make super profits on the way through”. Many survey respondents say they have had more than one approval with 20% saying they have had more than five approvals. The dissatisfaction rate with the delivery system is consistently 86% .

Patient experiences gathered via the survey include the following;

  • One MCUA member reported being charged $700.00 in consultation fees and product for her fathers palliative medicine. The product was delivered in November 2019, a six week supply of Cannabis oil with an expiry date of October 2019. They were told the family GP would need to sign off on the prescription and treatment would not begin until the Clinic doctor saw the GP because the state owned aged-care facility could not give out-of-date medicine. The woman’s dying father was denied medicine to make his passing easier. 
  • Another wrote they were worried their Cannabis clinic was ‘taking them for a ride’. Their first prescribed medicine was bought as two 25 ml bottles to avoid an extra $50 for shipping. The first script cost $633.30, the next $330.30 due to the distributor lowering the cost. After three months the ‘patient’ had to pay the clinic to write a new script, which needed to be approved again by the TGA. When the clinic couldn’t get the same product they had to re-apply for TGA approval and supplied a different product altogether at a cost of $540.00 for two bottles (50 ml). The cost to use on a daily basis was initially (February 2019) an average of $15.20. When the price dropped it reduced the daily cost to $7.92 and now the ‘patient’ is paying $16.20 daily. 
  • One said she recently applied for the ‘legal version’, knowing full well it was beyond what she could afford after the initial appointment cost $200.00. Subsequent scripts, she was told, would cost $59.00. It would be $80.00 for a follow-up appointment and $59.00 whenever there was an adjustment to dose or product. Requiring two products, one at $660.00 a month and the other at $300.00 a month, needless to say, she could not afford to fill the scripts and believes this circumstance to be discriminatory against people on low incomes. 
  • And one, with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), degenerative spinal conditions (previous high impact crush injury – L5/4/3), a dislocated neck (C4/3), Scheuermann’s Kyphosis Scoliosis, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), high blood pressure, diabetes, Sarcoidosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), is going blind because of the MS. This 36 year old, on a Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) Pension, 18 months ago was looking at being an invalid, possibly under palliative care but that simply was not an option as they had children. They researched and made Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO). According to them it was the only reason they did not become wheelchair-bound and paralysed. For $350.00/ounce of black-market Cannabis they could make 250 ml of oil. They used 50 ml ($70.00 worth) a month. Image result for FECO cannabis productsBefore the illegal oil, they took 19 ‘pills’ every morning, 20 at night and another ten throughout the day. They no longer take opioids or other pain-killers except the Cannabis oil which healed the broken back and dislocated neck, when they were told they’d never walk again. They sought approval for legal supply through a prescription, because they go to hospital regularly due to lung and kidney issues, but the hospital won’t let them use their oil because it’s not ‘legal’. They now have a script for legal supply but the bottle of oil is waiting at the pharmacy as they cannot afford it. It’s a THC/CBD blend, 25 ml for $300.00. The doctor said that was the dose for one month. With no way to maintain that cost the ‘patient’ has no option but to continue to make their own oil and run the risk of being raided and prosecuted. Which they were; arrested and charged when caught by police for sending a bottle of home-made medicine to a fellow sufferer. 
  • Another paid $110.00 for two consultations, first with a nurse to see if they met the criteria and second with a doctor to go through the application. They were told they would hear back within a week. After four weeks, they emailed the clinic and got no response. They called the mobile numbers and found they were disconnected, so they wrote a bad review online and looked into reporting the clinic as a scam. The clinic contacted them and asked them to remove the review. In exchange the clinic said they would pay for half the prescription. The full cost was beyond the ‘patient’, so they agreed and drove 1½ hours (round trip) to collect it. The ‘patient’ very quickly worked their way to the maximum dose, without any noticeable impact and was not prepared to spend $385.00 every five days on something that did not work. They were told they would have ongoing follow up care from the team, that they were not going to have to go through the process alone, the entire team was behind them. They never heard from the clinic again. 
  • And yet another at a popular access clinic felt badly treated after commenting about the high cost of the consultations and product. The clinic pharmacist said if they couldn’t afford it to go back to their GP! The ‘patient’ complained to the practice manager and got nowhere. Left without any oil since June, the clinic didn’t care they were not coping, in extreme pain and couldn’t afford to keep paying for consultations, approval applications and the outrageous cost of the oil which they felt was very diluted and not effective at the low dose prescribed. They repeatedly told the clinic they couldn’t afford $450.00 every three weeks on a Disability Pension. They noted that the system is not working and nobody seems to want to help.

Image result for australian medical cannabis productsThis is a small sample. There are many such ‘horror’ stories and MCUA has witnessed firsthand how the system has failed the ill and suffering. There needs to be a review with public input and recommendations made to facilitate a quicker more affordable delivery system. MCUA President, Deb Lynch, is currently waiting for a trial date after being arrested and charged for self-supply following many attempts to acquire a prescription through Queensland (Qld) Health, whose doctors have been advised not to prescribe Cannabis under public hospital policy. Being on a disability pension, there is no way she can afford the costs involved in getting a script from one of these corporate Cannabis clinics.

The MCUA is still seeking patients who have been through the legal process to fill in their Medical Cannabis Access – Patient Satisfaction Survey (2019) which will be forwarded to the Federal Senate, via the Australian Labor Party (ALP) Senator Anne Urquhart, along with their current petition asking for a full review of the delivery system put in place by the Liberal/National Party (LNP). Cannabis is a herbal remedy and trying to squeeze it into the pharmaceutical delivery model will mean that the hold-ups will continue and prices will remain high as companies who have spent millions to get into the market are not turning a profit. The MCUA is asking anyone with an opinion to comment on their petition asking for this review.

The MCUA is contactable via their website.

Image result for australian medical cannabis productsAdapted from Australian Medical Marijuana Patients Find It Difficult To Get and Medical Cannabis Rip Offs result in patients charged with self supply

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It’s Past Time to Remove False Claims About Cannabis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

 


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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Granny Storm Crow’s News Articles for Cannabis Beginners

Beginners – Start Here! 

No one is born knowing about Cannabis, we were all beginners, once.
Reading the following now will save you a lot of questions later …


NEWS ARTICLES – 2010-2019

What to know before visiting your first pot shop (news–2015)

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CannaCurious? Here’s How To Get Started With Marijuana (news–2016) 

What is the Endocannabinoid System? Here’s Everything You Need to Know (news–2016)

Cannabis 101: THC vs CBD (news–2016)

Identifying Old or Bad Cannabis Past its Shelf Life (news–2016)

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The Endocannabinoid System: A Beginner’s Guide (news–2017)

Top Marijuana Strains for Beginners and Low-Tolerance Tokers (news–2017)

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Beyond baggies: How to read modern marijuana packaging (news–2018) 

Marijuana 101: Why You Shouldn’t Hold Your Hits For More Than 3 Seconds (news–2018)

How to vape cannabis for beginners (news–2018)

Tips For People Consuming Marijuana For The First Time (news–2018)

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Watch The Rejected Medical Marijuana Super Bowl Commercial: ‘Cannabis Has Given Me My Life Back’
(video – just a little taste of the future) (news/ad–2019)

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Granny★

Granny Storm Crow’s List

Cannabis to Treat Opioid Addiction

Medical Cannabis

In the United States in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared an ‘opioid epidemic’. This announcement came on the heels of two decades of medical over-prescribing practices, leading to opioid misuse and abuse, resulting in soaring rates of overdoses across the US. Too little, too late? Addiction isn’t a new problem. The human body is inherently vulnerable to addiction through the action of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine, a prominent chemical messenger, is released in response to rewarding and pleasurable events. Its role is to reinforce biologically relevant and necessary behaviours, including eating, sleeping and sex.

However, humans and other animals are at risk of becoming dependent on the dopamine ‘rush’ and can, therefore, develop an addiction to these behaviours whereby their body becomes dependent on the increased dopamine to function at baseline. Just like food or sex, substances like alcohol and opioids can lead to dopamine release. Opioids are derived from the poppy plant and are a key component of illicit drugs (like heroin) and pain medications (like oxycodone). While opioid medications have been used for many years to treat pain, a few crucial factors converged in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s that led to an opioid-addicted US.

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In 1996, healthcare professionals were urged to pay closer attention to the pain reported by their patients – a recommendation bordering on being a requirement, prompting recognition of pain as the ‘fifth vital sign’. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organisation heightened the urgency to treat pain in their published guidelines and US Congress declared the first decade of the 21st century to be the “Decade of Pain Control and Research”. These events and associated policy changes sent a jolting ripple effect through the medical community that resulted in greatly increased prescriptions for pain medications.

Concurrently, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of OxyContin®, began aggressively marketing their prescription opioids, spending $200 million on advertising. Their tactics included down-playing the potential risk of addiction and dependency caused by opioid medications. As a result, OxyContin® sales soared from $48 million in 1996 to almost $1.1 billion in 2000. While Purdue eventually faced criminal and civil charges, by then, the damage to America had already been done. In 2017 there were 47,600 opioid-related deaths in the US. While prescription opioids certainly contributed to these statistics, many of these deaths involved heroin; those who take opioid medications are at significantly higher risk of using heroin, due to its lower cost and easier access.

In fact, the nature of the opioid epidemic fundamentally shifted the way addiction is viewed in the US. Government initiatives have invested in strategies to reduce access to prescription opioid medications but this does nothing to help patients with chronic pain who need treatment, nor those recovering from addiction. Fortunately, there is an overwhelming amount of data supporting Cannabis as both an effective agent for pain relief and an aide in helping people recover from opioid addiction. The idea of using Cannabis to treat pain is not new – in fact, ancient Chinese civilisations used Cannabis for joint pain and inflammation before it came to the West (Cannabis is one of the ancient Chinese ‘50 Fundamental Herbs’).

Opioids, derived from the poppy plant, have also been historically used for pain control; however, unlike Cannabis, those who used opioids quickly learned of the risk of addiction. Cannabis shares some physiological similarities to opioids, as short-term use increases dopamine to relieve pain. However, Cannabis increases dopamine via cannabinoid receptors, while opioids increase it via opioid receptors. Additionally, the increase in dopamine levels from Cannabis does not persist over time and, therefore, the risk of possible dependence is significantly lower.

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The effects of Cannabis on pain have been demonstrated across many studies. A meta-analysis of 28 clinical trials conducted on Cannabis and pain ranging from 1948-2015 reported positive findings, concluding Cannabis is effective in treating pain with a reasonable safety profile. Cannabis has therefore been approved to treat chronic pain in the majority of US states where its use is legalised. But, what about treating opioid addiction and not just pain? US states with legalised medical’ Cannabis have significantly lower levels of opioid use and opioid-related deaths.

A study in 2016 found a 64% reduction in opioid use in American patients who used Cannabis for their chronic pain. Studies have shown Cannabis may be effective in reducing craving for opioids and easing withdrawal symptoms. Based on this evidence and the unrelenting opioid crisis, New Jersey and Pennsylvania added opioid addiction as a qualifying condition for ‘medical’ Cannabis and other states like New Mexico, Maryland, Connecticut and Ohio are drafting similar policies. New York and Illinois allow patients prescribed opioids to receive ‘medical’ Cannabis instead.

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These policies certainly represent tremendous progress toward helping patients use ‘medical’ Cannabis to treat their pain and potentially aid them in recovery as they transition off opioids. However, Cannabis still remains a Schedule I substance at the federal level in the US, which restricts patients’ access to it and continues to slow critical research. Despite growing awareness and recognition of the potential for Cannabis in alleviating the epidemic caused by opioid addiction, ending prohibition entirely is the only way to further progress and alleviate the opioid crisis in the United States.

Adapted from Medical Cannabis for Opioid Addiction: A Two-Pronged Approach, Part 1 and Medical Cannabis for Opioid Addiction: A Two-Pronged Approach, Part 2

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Taxonomy and Nomenclature of Cannabis

 

FIG. 1. 

Macrofossils identified as Cannabis (not to scale).

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIG. 4. 

Cannabis vernacular taxonomy.

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

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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.

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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. 

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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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