Evie Nevin | 26.05.21

Evie Nevin is a political and disability rights activist. She is a member and former election candidate of the 1Social Democrats party and hosts 2The Zebra Mom Podcast, where she speaks with neurodivergent and disabled women. She has 3Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder which causes the production of faulty collagen. She has been on a 4waiting list to see a Pain Management Consultant since June 2017. The condition can potentially affect every system of the body and causes frequent joint dislocation. Evie’s main struggles are chronic pain, chronic fatigue and she faints easily and struggles to stay upright for very long, as it can cause her heart rate to increase and blood pressure to drop (a result of 5Autonomic Dysfunction, a co-morbid condition linked to EDS). Last year she was also diagnosed with Autism. May is 6EDS Awareness Month. Twitter: @evie_nevin / @thezebramom

How has your experience been, working on The Zebra Mom Podcast?

I started the podcast because I wanted to provide a platform for women who have disabilities and/or who are neurodivergent, because we are so rarely given a seat at the table. Life is hard enough being a woman but then adding disability, chronic pain or neurodivergency brings a whole host of extra challenges. This podcast is a space for women to highlight their struggles and the struggles of their own community. It’s early days, but I have already learned a lot from my chronically ill peers. We share so many of the same experiences as well, so it is nice to connect with people who can empathise with you.

Can you please give us a summary of your experiences having EDS diagnosed?

Getting diagnosed was a very long journey. Obviously I was born with the condition and while I had challenges growing up, the pain didn’t start until I was fourteen. Then by eighteen to nineteen, it was really problematic and the fatigue and digestive issues also kicked in. I went to my GP who diagnosed me with depression and anxiety. I tried so many antidepressants, but nothing was working. I went through some very dark times during that period because I was told it was all in my head and from my perspective, there was nothing to be done to fix it. Then in 2009, I was pregnant with my son and the EDS progressed again. We figured it was just typical pregnancy stuff, but it didn’t get any better. In fact, my pain and fatigue got much worse. I was sleeping so much. Then in 2012, I was interning for a newspaper and ended up interviewing a woman with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. 

Everything about her story resonated with me. She spoke about having to travel abroad for treatment. I was telling her about my own issues and she gave me the name of a knowledgeable Doctor in Cork who may be able to help. I brought the idea of EDS to a new GP who said it was unlikely, as EDS “is as rare as hen’s teeth”. But in November 2013, I was diagnosed with EDS and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. It was bittersweet. In one sense, I was relieved I finally knew what was wrong, in the other sense I was facing a life long condition and my children had a 50% chance of inheriting it too. My son was diagnosed with it a year later.

On March 9th, you tweeted a photograph of prescription pill packs, saying:

“This is 224 opiate based pain meds for the month. Then add the 224 paracetamol

I take too. This only just takes the edge off the pain.”

How does using cannabis compare to conventional prescription medicines, for EDS?

There are many EDS experts who recommend cannabis as a treatment for pain. I have asked Consultants in the past about possibly getting a prescription but they said at the time the guidelines were not very clear and that my condition is not on the list of approved conditions for a prescription for medical cannabis. The problem with long term opiate use is that you can develop all sorts of problems as a result. You can develop respiratory problems and I happen to have been diagnosed with asthma. You can have issues with your hormones etc. Also, with EDS, you can metabolise drugs very quickly and you can develop resistance extremely fast too, meaning you may have to move to stronger drugs and of course, without seeing a pain specialist, I can’t get anything stronger than Tramadol.

I have used cannabis before and even if it didn’t completely kill the pain, I was in a far better mental state to cope with it.

Last December 14th, you tweeted that the government needed to expand the Medical Cannabis Access Programme for patients with chronic pain. You said:

“High doses of opiates are far more dangerous than marijuana.

I developed a chronic respiratory illness and need regular organ function tests because of all the meds I’m on.”

Do you see the current government expanding MCAP in the near future, or generally reforming our cannabis laws?

I have hope that we will see the decriminalisation of cannabis within the next decade. I believe it should be legalised and taxed. But at the very least, it should be an option for people who live in chronic pain, where conventional medicine doesn’t allow the patient to live pain free.

Have you contested the fact that EDS isn’t regarded among the conditions approved for medical cannabis under MCAP?

I tried to sit down with Simon Harris when he was Minister for Health to discuss the overall situation for patients with EDS. The HSE isn’t being truthful about the lack of expertise here in Ireland. I had planned to speak with him about medical cannabis too but unfortunately, that never came to fruition. Once Covid has subsided, I plan to try with Minister (for Health, Stephen) Donnelly. An interview I gave on the subject was read out in the Dáil at one point too.

When did you first become interested in cannabis?

I think every Irish teenager comes across it at some point, but I didn’t realise the potential it had for pain management until much later on in life, once I had heard EDS experts talk about it.

What are your personal preferences in terms of how to use cannabis?

The CBD buds I buy. I smoke. I am a frequent buyer from 7Little Collins.

While it doesn’t help with pain, it does help relax me a bit; enough to cope.

In July 2018, you spoke at Macroom Townlands Carnival about whether Ireland should legalise cannabis with 8TD Gino Kenny (of People Before Profit), 9Vera Twomey and 10Thomas O’Connor. How was this discussion received at the time, and do you feel that public support for legalisation has grown since that time?

It went down very well. I remember the Gardaí were standing at the back of the tent listening in for a few minutes, but then they left and didn’t seem bothered at all. I think everyone in that tent was on the same page, at least about decriminalisation. I think more and more people are coming round to the idea of legalising it.

Do you know a lot of people who use cannabis recreationally or medicinally?

I know a few people who do use it medically in other States where it is legal and they say it does help.

Has political and disability rights activism significantly affected or changed your view of our government? What are some of your current areas of focus in activism?

I became politically active during 11Repeal and campaigned as Disabled People for Choice, as disabled people were spoken about rather than spoken to. That led me directly into politics and I decided to run for election because I see nobody in local or national politics who looks like me or has the same experiences as me. My main focuses at the moment are housing, healthcare, adoptee rights and generally any issues that disproportionately affect minority groups. I’m very much about “nothing about us without us”.

Thanks for your time, Evie! All the best!

References

1 Find out more about the Social Democrats here – https://www.socialdemocrats.ie/about-us/

2 Check out The Zebra Mom Podcast here – https://anchor.fm/thezebramom

3 Follow this link for more information on Ehlers Danlos Syndrome

https://www.ehlers-danlos.org/what-is-eds/

4 This extremely long wait was mentioned in a recent Evening Echo interview with Evie, at this link

https://www.echolive.ie/corknews/arid-40290170.html

5 Autonomic Dysfunction is explained in detail at the following link –

https://www.ehlers-danlos.org/information/autonomic-dysfunction/

6 Check out my interview earlier this month with fellow EDS patient, Milly Gilbert, at this link –

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/25/milly-gilbert-20-05-2021/

7 Check out what Little Collins have on offer at this link – https://www.littlecollinscbd.com/

8 Find out TD Gino Kenny‘s thoughts on cannabis in this recent Irish Examiner debate piece here –

https://www.irishexaminer.com/opinion/commentanalysis/arid-40284671.html

9 Check out my interview with Vera Twomey here –

https://greenlensblog.com/2020/11/25/vera-twomey-cork-21-11-2020/

10 Here’s a 2013 article from The Kerryman with information on Thomas O’Connor‘s Free My Weed campaign –

https://www.independent.ie/regionals/kerryman/news/free-my-weed-29731231.html

11 Here’s an article on The Journal detailing the 2018 victory of the Repeal the 8th campaign,

following a national referendum on the right to have an abortion in Ireland – https://jrnl.ie/4034416

Seán McCabe at ‘Cannabis: A New Green Deal’ by Uplift

1Seán McCabe is the Executive Manager of 2TASC, the Think Tank for Action on Social Change. In this excerpt, he is introducing a TASC report which was commissioned by 3Uplift, as a guest panelist on their online discussion, Cannabis: A New Green Deal. This discussion was streamed on April 20th of this year. The following extract has been adapted from the live stream for the purposes of clarity and brevity.

Shae Flanagan of Uplift: The team at TASC have worked for months on this comprehensive and balanced report. So without further ado, I’ll hand us over to Seán McCabe from TASC to talk us through the report. Welcome Seán. 

Seán McCabe: Thanks Shae. Like Shae says, I guess this is an overdue report. We’ve been working on it for quite some time at TASC. When Shae initially approached us, the idea was to look at what decriminalisation and de-regulation of cannabis in Ireland would look like. Specifically looking at the social, economic and environmental opportunities that that would bring. So, just before diving into those points, this is really just a whistle-stop tour and as Shae says, there’s quite a bit in the report. I suppose for me it was a journey as well, because I guess I went into it with my own ideas. And when you start peeling down through the substantial amount of evidence that’s out there, it’s quite an interesting journey. The history of cannabis and hemp in Ireland is pretty fascinating. At one point, it was illegal NOT to grow hemp, back as far as 1563. If you had over 60 acres, you had to grow hemp or face a £5 fine.

And then in 1756, it was viewed as a foundation of separate profitable industries, hemp and flax being large exports for Ireland. And then the story of criminalisation in Ireland finds its roots in one man. Bishop Charles Henry Brent’s opposition to opium use in the Philippines during the American military government in the Philippines in the late 1800s, and his passionate dedication to eliminating opium, brought him to chair the first International Opium Commission, a 13-State conference communed by the United States, in 1909. The first (International) Opium Convention then brought about the first international drug control 4treaty in 1912. And it wasn’t until the second Opium Convention, again still being driven by the same Bishop, that we had Egypt push for the addition of hashish to the Convention, as a controlled substance. There was a back and forth, tit for tat, between Egypt and India, where hashish was obviously used as a sacred plant in ceremonies.

So eventually, the Egyptian argument prevailed. It’s interesting to go back and read Dáil conversations in the Irish Free State, relating to the international convention and their ratifying of it. It was very much a question of: “Well, we don’t seem to have any drug issues in Ireland. But we should probably do this to stay in the good books of the global community.” So it wasn’t until 1968 that we saw the first reference to cannabis in Dáil Éireann. And it was around that time we brought a substitute teacher from California over to explain to a Dáil committee the dangers of cannabis as a gateway drug. Of course, (it’s) an allegation which doesn’t really hold up to any 5scrutiny. And in 1977, cannabis was placed in a separate legal category from other narcotics. We’ve had other Acts that pertain to cannabis in the meantime. But the most significant (Act) since (then) has been the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP).

The current view beyond the Act, which has been quietly welcomed (except there’s been a desire to see it expanded obviously), is that cannabis and its derivatives are currently still Schedule 1 drugs and considered to have no medicinal and scientific value and thus are considered illegal. So, if we look quickly at the political landscape as well, I think it’s quite interesting. Because taking a look at the manifestos of the political parties, both in government and in opposition currently; the Green Party had probably the most progressive manifesto, in terms of cannabis. They were looking for rescheduling and decriminalisation for small quantities of products or plants, and a compassionate approach to drug use in general. Fianna Fáil, who are silent on cannabis… the language in their manifesto was very akin to maybe what you would see in the ‘60s or ‘70s in Ireland, in terms of a law and order approach to drugs.

And Fine Gael were silent on cannabis in their manifesto. The Labour Party were silent on cannabis, Sinn Féin were silent on cannabis. People Before Profit did highlight the Party’s record of pushing legislation on access and Social Democrats stated their support for medicinal cannabis. Significantly I think, in January 2019, The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted to recognise the medicinal use of cannabis for the first time, and removed it from their list of dangerous drugs. So that was a very significant global moment. Just to run (through the rest of my agenda) then, I’m gonna look at social, environmental and economic considerations very quickly. And then there’s many more people who have valuable things to say about this, so I’ll get off the stage. First of all, in terms of public health. Looking at health impacts, I suppose many people here would be aware that cannabis has a significantly lesser impact than some legal drugs in Ireland – looking at tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption specifically.

But then, furthermore, we were aware of the benefits. So what we tried to do as part of the research was look at where there was strong evidence linking cannabis to positive health outcomes. So there is conclusive evidence out there for use in chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and patient-reported Multiple Sclerosis spasticity. Then there’s moderate benefits in terms of sleep outcomes, and limited benefits on a number of health conditions, including anxiety and stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. In terms of health concerns, I think it’s important not to brush over these. There is significant evidence for a doubling of Schizophrenia risk with daily use of cannabis. And also, daily use gives way to a large risk in terms of dependence. That and bronchitis, I guess, are the key issues that stand out in terms of the peer-reviewed studies on health risks. And the social cost; I guess everyone here would be acutely aware of the current criminalisation of cannabis, perpetuating existing socioeconomic disadvantage, marginalising users.

And there are plenty of examples of criminal records leading to lives which jump from unemployment to poverty and then homelessness, particularly in a situation where we have a housing crisis like we do. And then there’s the issue that people who have formally used drugs are really not regularly consulted in the design or implementation of policies. I think this is pretty significant in terms of the amount of arrests due to seizures related to personal use, and what that means in terms of policing resources in this country, but then also the potential risks of criminal records. We could obviously go into that in more detail in the conversations. I just wanted to look at environmental considerations really quickly. There’s a significant sequestration potential from growing hemp. I presume again, most people on this call would be aware of that. 6Fifteen tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year, that’s quite remarkable really.

It’s significantly more than agri-forest models, which are being promoted as a potential land use solution to the climate crisis. There is however, a pretty pervasive myth that we could grow a load of hemp on our peatlands. That may not be the case, although further research will be required. It’s not necessarily going to yield healthy plants, growing hemp on peat. Studies in Russia have seemed to indicate that through supplemental application of inputs, you can grow healthy hemp plants, but it’s debatable if the use of those inputs would lead us to a situation where we would be having an environmentally-positive impact. Again, further work would be required to understand that. Then there’s a number of barriers. We spoke to a number of interviewees as part of this process, who are much closer to hemp farming than I would be.

And two points that really stood out in all of the conversations were just the lack of infrastructure, particularly (the lack of) a decortication plant and then the lack of consistency in the THC limits that we use in terms of our laws. An Garda Síochána obviously have the limit of 0%. We’ve seen the impact of that recently on businesses. And The Department of Agriculture has the limit of 0.2% that goes along with the EU, so there’s clearly a need for harmonisation there, urgently. Quickly on the economic considerations, ‘cause I’ve been talking for quite a while now, there is quite significant potential from cannabis tax, although I think we haven’t seen the full picture to this yet. There are estimations for where the cannabis market will go globally, varying wildly I would say, from about 50 billion up to 166 billion, over the course of the next decade.

7Prohibition Partners estimate that the Irish cannabis sector could be worth 1 billion. That would make the market similar to what we’ve seen develop in Colorado, a State of a similar size to Ireland, where cannabis has been legal since 2014. What’s interesting about Colorado is their tax is significantly lower than our VAT and substantially lower than how we tax tobacco currently, for example. So, the potential revenue income for Ireland could be greater than the 135 million that Colorado took in in 2015, off their 1 billion worth of sales. And obviously cannabis tax could be used for other things, preventing harmful behaviour and correcting markets similarly. There is a word of warning with this however, in that if you were to pin your entire motivation for decriminalisation on the potential economic benefits, it might be a red herring. Because it’s hard sometimes to derive a large profit from something that anyone can grow. And so we’ve seen the markets soar in Canada and then subsequently drop to being a fraction of what they initially were.

There are a lot of moving pieces here, with the market finding a level, the impact of the pandemic, and a potential excessive initial evaluation – it would need to be watched to see where things go in the aftermath of the pandemic. And finally, the report poses the question of how we roll out a cannabis sector in Ireland, if we were to embrace it. And this is my own hobby horse, which is the idea that it could be used as a catalyst, or as an element of community-led, local wealth-building. Particularly looking at cooperatively owned farms or cooperatively owned dispensaries, or the likes. So there would be opportunities there that would be worth exploring. As Shae said, this is not a finished project. We still have a little bit of work to do, but it’s been a pleasure working with Uplift on this and I’m happy to take any questions. But I know there are other panelists, and it would be important to hand it over to them now. So, thanks for your time and it was a pleasure talking to you.

References

1 Seán McCabe’s details can be found on this page – https://www.tasc.ie/about/staff.html/ 

2 The TASC website can be accessed here – https://www.tasc.ie/

3 The Uplift website can be accessed here – https://www.uplift.ie/

4 More about this treaty can be read here –

https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/the-1912-hague-international-opium-convention.html 

5 Check out Nicholas’ article, Cannabis & The Gateway Drug Narrative

https://greenlensblog.com/2020/10/07/cannabis-the-gateway-drug-narrative/ 

6 See the following Agriland article for more on this –

https://www.agriland.ie/farming-news/hemp-can-sequester-15t-of-carbon-per-hectare/

 7 This market value estimate is mentioned in the following Irish Times article –

https://www.irishtimes.com/business/health-pharma/irish-led-legal-cannabis-firm-looks-to-ipo-to-establish-clinic-network-1.3819569

* The full recording of this Uplift panel discussion, Cannabis: A New Green Deal, can be seen here – https://bit.ly/3fMje97 

No Country for Auld Smokers


Nicholas looks into two recent arrests of mature cannabis users which have provided a different perspective on the type of people affected by Irish Drug Laws.

With the recent news of a 54-year-old man being convicted over €4 worth of cannabis, one has to think how much longer will this go on? The thousands of Euro spent to bring a man to justice over cannabis no bigger than the size of your fingernail.  Keep in mind, this wasn’t a case of a man enjoying cannabis recreationally. It was a case where a man was abstaining from his opiate addiction, which cannabis afforded him. He was subsequently arrested in what one could only imagine to be a triumph for An Garda Síochána.  Clearly, this man holds the same ranks as the heroin and coke dealers of this country and by making an example of him, we can all rest assured that the streets of this little country of ours are now safe. But in all seriousness, advocacy groups have called for laws surrounding possession of small amounts of drugs to be reformed in light of such laws failing to prevent drug use.

Mr. Lee, a former heroin addict, was cautious of the legally prescribed medication he was to take to refrain from his addictions.  The warrant issued to search his apartment was due to six previous convictions, all of which were for possession of cannabis. A chef and a gardener, Mr Lee suffers from osteoporosis and is currently awaiting an MRI scan. For his pain, he was prescribed an opiate-based treatment and considering his past use of heroin, Mr. Lee’s apprehension to take the medicine in favour of non-addictive treatment in cannabis is understandable.[1]  The fact this man was sitting in his own home and the courts authorised a search warrant for what turned out to be a fraction of a gram’s worth of cannabis is quite frankly embarrassing.

You would expect most civilised countries’ law enforcement wouldn’t have bothered arresting a man for such a small amount.  The Gardaí were looking for evidence of drugs with the intent to sell and failed in doing so, leading them to scrape up what they could find to justify the waste of time, money, and resources the Irish taxpayer afforded them.  Given Mr. Lee’s previous convictions and run-ins with the law, it could be said the effort put into bringing Mr. Lee to “justice” could’ve been a personal one. But then again, given the attitude most Gardaí have towards “druggies”, this may very well have just been another means of keeping busy. 

Anna Quigley of Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign is among those who came forward to challenge the mindset of this conviction.  Quigley states no evidence criminalising individuals for possession of small amounts of drugs prevents them from using, with socio-economic factors and mental health issues more likely to play a part.

“A lot of the people who use our services have mental health issues along with their addiction… Many are using drugs to self-medicate, and the drugs can make their problem worse. So, the idea that the right response is to criminalise people like that just defies logic.”[2]

While the arrest and conviction of cannabis users in this country tends to be younger adults, it is becoming more common that we see older demographics succumb to these antiquated laws.  A case from July last year saw horticulture expert and farmer Tony Keogh, former director of Keoghs crisps, arrested and charged with the possession of what Gardaí estimated to be €20,000 worth of cannabis.  At 64 years old, he was looking to experiment with the plant to make nutritional food supplements alongside the company’s crisps. 

Originally charged with the cultivation of cannabis and unlawful possession of the plant with the purpose of sale or supply, all under the Misuse of Drugs Act, the charge of supplying was withdrawn last month along with a drastic fall from the exaggerated €20,000 he was originally charged over, to the €7,800 worth of cannabis he actually possessed.  With no prior criminal convictions, the greenhouse where Mr. Keogh cultivated his 39 plants “did not have the hallmarks of being part of a wider criminal enterprise” as stated by Garda Olan Keating of the Dublin North Crime Taskforce.  In recent weeks, the courts have also heard that Mr. Keogh bought hemp seeds lawfully but “jumped ahead” in growing the plants as nutritional food supplements, without a licence from the government, as the hemp industry grows bigger and bigger.[3]  Mr. Keogh retired from the family business in 2019 and unbeknownst to the family, he began researching medical cannabis production in the wake of the Irish government’s decision to commence the much-to-be-desired Medical Cannabis Access Programme.

In the wake of his arrest, one would expect a public relations disaster for the family-owned crisp manufacturer. But on the contrary, as seen with the change in attitudes towards cannabis, many came out in support of Mr. Keogh after an apology from the family was posted on social media. 

Playfully dubbed ‘Uncle Tony’, the reaction to his arrest serves as a reminder of the change in attitudes many people have towards cannabis and its cultivation in this country. The State-supported fear mongering of cannabis is proving itself to be a joke, as Keoghs saw a surge in sales in light of the ‘scandal’.[4]  Mr. Keogh will continue to be remanded on bail and will appear before the courts again on the 2nd of July to be served with a book of evidence.  The Keoghs brand will continue without Uncle Tony and it appears they won’t be jumping on the legalisation train anytime soon, due to their distancing from the situation.  But the news of this story has done more good than harm to the development of cannabis reform, similar to the recent news about teenage mental health and cannabis use.  Every time cannabis is brought to the discussion table, more and more people are in favour of change than those who want to keep the status quo. This is an optimistic reality going forward as the archetype criminal is no longer the face of cannabis use, as now we see a multitude of people from different ages and backgrounds getting struck by our archaic drug laws.

References:

[1] https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/courtandcrime/arid-40290185.html

[2] https://www.thejournal.ie/irish-laws-cannabis-possession-personal-use-5440582-May2021/

[3] https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/former-crisps-company-boss-grew-39-cannabis-plants-as-experimentto-make-nutritional-food-supplements-court-hears-40437714.html

[4] https://www.rte.ie/news/business/2020/0727/1155750-kantar-grocery-sales-figures/

Milly Gilbert | 20.05.2021

Milly Gilbert lives in the UK. She suffers with mental health and physical conditions including depression, generalised anxiety, C-PTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder), 1dissociative seizures, 2hEDS (Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) and 3fibromyalgia. She has a private medical cannabis prescription for thirty grams of indica flower a month and 50mls of oil (CBD 10:THC 5), as she did not qualify for cannabis prescribed through the NHS (National Health Service).

Twitter: @millygilbert17

Can you please give us an outline of your experiences receiving diagnoses of your mental health conditions within the UK health system?

I was diagnosed with depression by my GP back in 2011, after moving back to the UK, having lived in New Zealand for four and a half years prior. I was on and off antidepressants for a while, but I never found they helped. In 2015, I went back onto antidepressants after coming back from a holiday early, which had triggered some bad memories. After this I was unable to work, due to both my mental health and my physical health. I have Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos and fibromyalgia, which cause lots of other medical problems and leave me with lots of daily pain. In 2019, my mental health was at the worst it had ever been. I had started picking at my skin, which has left me with scarring, and I really struggled to cope with all the emotion I was feeling. I started having night terrors, flashbacks and what I didn’t realise at the time were dissociative seizures. At the end of 2019, I spoke to my GP about how bad things had become and I was told to self refer to have therapy. I did this and heard from them a few months later. By this point the pandemic had hit, which meant they were no longer able to take on patients.

They decided I should be seen as an urgent case though, so they referred me to another clinic. A few months later I heard from them and they said that I could start therapy, but there would be a wait. In the meantime, they would get a Psychiatrist to see if they could help. The Psychiatrist spoke to me and we talked about traumatic experiences and how I was struggling. He then diagnosed c-PTSD, dissociative seizures, generalised anxiety and depression. I was already on an antidepressant, but they placed me on a mood suppressant and medication to help me sleep. I didn’t get to start therapy until November, by which time it had been a year since I first self referred myself. 

For those who are not familiar with the term, can you please define dissociative seizures?

Dissociative seizures are also known as non-epileptic seizures. People may have different types of seizures. For me I would become starry or seem spaced out, I would be completely blank. Other times, I would have a conversation with people that I would have no memory of happening. For people who didn’t know I had these seizures, they would often think I was just falling asleep as that’s what it would look like to them. For me, my vision would go weird and my head would just drop. I have spilled many drinks after having these seizures while holding a drink. Other times I would shake, or my joints would jolt uncontrollably. My triggers are stress and anxiety as well as when I struggle with triggering thoughts. I also struggle with this when I overheat.

Why was it that you didn’t qualify for medical cannabis through the NHS? Do you believe the scheme is in need of expansion?

On the NHS, you only qualify for medical cannabis if you are a child with epilepsy, an adult with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy, or if you have MS (Multiple Sclerosis). Even with these conditions, there has only been around three prescriptions of medical cannabis prescribed on the NHS. Currently NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) say there is not enough evidence on cannabis to treat chronic pain.

What’s your relationship with cannabis like and what are your preferences when using it?

I have never had any problems when using cannabis and have found it has helped me in many ways. The oil I have is 0.5mls, three times a day and I can also have up to 1g of cannabis flower to vape daily. I always vape this, and the amount I use a day will change depending on how my pain is. 

When did you first become interested in cannabis?

I became interested in cannabis approximately around 2018. It was something I had been talking about with my dad, and we then went to Green Pride in Brighton. At the time I didn’t know too much about cannabis, but had heard it had helped people so that’s when I started to do more research. A private prescription was too expensive and so I had to wait until 4Project Twenty21 started up. 

How does weed help your conditions and how does using it compare with conventional prescribed medications?

The flower has really helped my pain, and I have been able to come off high doses of opioids. At one point, I was on 7.5mls of Oxycodone liquid, six times a day, and I was on 10mg Oxycodone tablets in the morning and 20mg at night. The oil has also really helped my mental health, due to it being a higher dose of CBD. And when I ran out of the oil at one point, I noticed a dip in my mental health. My health has improved in other ways also. I am able to sleep better and no longer need sleeping tablets. My gut issues improved and it’s also helped my chronic migraines.

Have you tried CBD supplements and what was your opinion of them?

I have tried CBD oil in the past as well as CBD liquid that went in a vape. I never found much improvement with these. I am unsure if these were full spectrum or not.

In Ireland, CBD businesses adhering to the EU law of selling products with less than .2% THC content have been enduring raids from Irish police, who do not yet recognise this law in the Irish legal context.

How has the sale of CBD been treated in the U.K? 

I believe labelling had to change on full spectrum products. There was also a café that sold CBD products, however they were raided and ended up having to close and also lost all their product. I do still notice shops selling CBD products, however I am unsure if these are full or broad spectrum.

Do you know a lot of people who use cannabis?

I know of a few people who use it recreationally, but I know more who take it for medical reasons, due to meeting them online. Some of these people have a prescription, turn to a dealer, or grow it themselves. I also have had friends coming to me asking how they could go about getting a prescription due to problems with medication or doctors wanting them off pain medication, in the hopes that it would also help them.

Do you see the UK government making further reforms on existing cannabis laws in the near future? Do you think that those in power now will make this happen? 

I’m not sure if it will happen in the near future, although i would like to hope it is coming soon. I don’t think it will happen under those currently in power though. I have had contact with my own MP who tells me that it’s already on the NHS and that it’s not an issue for the government to get involved in, it’s down to NICE. She isn’t interested in hearing what we have to say and I feel this is the same with many of those currently in power.

Do you ever feel unsafe getting illegal cannabis in England?

I have only ever had it from a person I knew before I received my prescription. I feel like if I received it illegally, I would need to make sure I trusted that person enough to make sure what I was getting was safe and not something synthetic or laced with something such as rat poison. I would be happy growing it if I knew how to.

Do you think British cannabis culture has changed much over the years?

I think there are more people accepting of cannabis use for medical reasons, especially with everyone sharing their stories of how it’s helped them. However, I still feel like we have a long way to go as there are still some people who are anti-cannabis, as they feel like it has no medical purposes and is dangerous.

Do you think the dissemination of cannabis research is reaching the right people?

I think we still have a way to go to get the research out to the right places. While there is some good research going on, we also know that cannabis has been used for thousands of years, but this doesn’t seem to get counted into the research. Research is also going into oils rather than cannabis flower, as it’s believed it’s easier to manage the prescriptions this way. For a person with chronic pain, something like the cannabis flower would work better as it’s something you can take as and when you need to, like you would with opioids. My fear with only putting us on oil is that we can only have it at set times, leaving us in pain in between doses. I also feel more Doctors need knowledge on cannabis. I had one GP tell me that many people find cannabis helps much better than opioids, but went on to tell me that he wasn’t allowed to tell me that information due to it being illegal. After he left, I spoke to my new GP about it and she always seemed against the idea, due to a lack of proof from NICE showing that it worked. She wanted me off of my opioids, so I told her I would only do so when I have a cannabis prescription. She is now really happy to hear how well I’ve gotten on with cannabis and was able to help me come off my opioids quickly.

Thanks for your time Milly, all the best!

References:

1 For more information on dissociative seizures, see this link –

https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/diagnosis/dissociative-seizures-non-epileptic-attack-disorder-nead/

2 For general information about EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome), visit – https://www.ehlers-danlos.org/

3 Interview with fibromyalgia patient and activist, Adrienne Lynch

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/01/15/adrienne-lynch-3pm-09-01-2021/

4 The official Project Twenty21 website can be found here – https://www.drugscience.org.uk/project-twenty21/

Caroline Barry | Nottingham, UK | 13.05.2021

Caroline Barry is an Irish journalist based in Nottingham, England. She writes for 1The Cannavist and 2Vapouround magazines on vaping, CBD and cannabis. With over 13 years of experience as a journalist, she has worked in radio and written for publications across the UK, Ireland and the US. She has written about LGBT+ rights, culture, politics and music. She is currently working on her first non-fiction novel about neurodiversity and relationships. 

Twitter:  @carolinedebarra /

Instagram: @penny_dreadful_x



When did you first become interested in make-up and fashion?

I started in fashion and beauty journalism in 2008 when I created my blog, 3Miss Penny Dreadful. At the time, there weren’t many Irish fashion bloggers out there, so it started to build up a lot of followers and attention from brands. I was also working as a make-up artist at the time in Dublin and Galway too, so I combined my skills as a creative writer and an MUA to make the blog interesting and fresh.

When you began your blog in 2009, did you have a strong sense of wanting to pursue a career in journalism or did it start as more of a hobby?

It started as a hobby! I was a broke art student in Limerick who couldn’t afford to buy all the lovely clothing I saw in shops and on the catwalk. I hadn’t thought about writing as a career but the more I wrote, the more people kept saying they enjoyed what I was writing. My work in art college started to become more text-based too, in the form of poetry and performance art. When I moved to Dublin in 2009, I didn’t know what to do with myself. The blog was getting insane attention from brands and PR companies with the readership figures in the thousands, then millions. I walked into an MA degree open day for journalism one day, on a whim. I realised that it was exactly what I had been looking for. I’ve never had anything career-wise suit me more than journalism. I love it.

What are some of your favourite fashion collections or events that you’ve covered?

Although I was so passionate about fashion and beauty, I actually ended up working in a lot of different types of journalism. I am currently working in vaping, CBD and cannabis journalism in the UK which is totally different. I’ve reported on sports events and general elections too. I think my favourite events that I have covered have been the ones where I’ve had a personal connection to them. I was invited to the Irish embassy in London to cover an Irish fashion event there in 2013/14. It felt so surreal to be there as an Irish person in the UK. I was so proud. I covered London Fashion Week too, which was wild. I’ve also interviewed some of my favourite bands and designers, such as Band of Skulls and Peter Pilotto.

Are there any cannabis-themed fashion collections or brands you’d recommend? (A very niche question, I know!)

Niche, but I can actually recommend one! I am passionate about water wastage and the environment. I started moving to ethical denim about two years ago, because our current denim obsession is out of control and dangerous. I came across 4Canvaloop jeans when researching a piece for The Cannavist magazine on hemp clothing. They are an Indiegogo campaign that actually raised a huge amount of startup funding to make jeans from hemp. They have some gorgeous styles. Also, there is 5DevoHome making faux fur from hemp, which is biodegradable as well. It’s unreal how adaptable hemp actually is. 

What was your favourite aspect of presenting The Indie Show on URN (University Radio Nottingham)?

I moved into presenting after a long period of working behind the scenes on radio stations in Ireland. I had been with Newstalk for a while, working on shows such as The Eamon Dunphy Breakfast Show among a few others. I had also appeared on Newstalk a few times to talk about LGBT+ rights. I loved working on The Indie Show because it gave me the freedom to play my music as I wanted to. Prior to this, I had a breakfast show with another station which I had to play chart music for, which destroyed me a bit! I am one of the chattiest people, so having my own show gave me the freedom to talk about music, play amazing records and chill out for a few hours. I do miss radio terribly. 

When did you first develop an interest in cannabis?

I started smoking cannabis recreationally, as we all do. I wasn’t into drinking as a teenager because I didn’t like how it interacted with me. I have ADHD, which cannabis helped. Although I didn’t realise that as a teen, I just thought I was being a rebel. I smoked on and off for years as an adult too, during my art college years. Although I didn’t start researching or being interested in it until I joined The Cannavist in 2020. I had been taking CBD oil for anxiety, but working on the magazine opened my eyes to how cannabis could potentially be helpful for ADHD and other conditions.

What’s your relationship with cannabis like and what are your preferences with it?

My relationship is fractured. While I recognise that it really does help me, I am less than thrilled about how I have to access it. Prohibition means that I cannot access it easily. I am forever worried about my safety when it comes to finding someone who can supply me. I worry that I’m going to get arrested, attacked or caught with it. I also worry about what I’m being given. I’ve recently moved to a new area, so I’m stressing about finding someone to help me. Which means, I only have CBD at the minute. While I love CBD for anxiety and keeping me calm, it doesn’t do what THC can do for my ADHD. I would love to be able to go to a nice shop, chat to a professional, choose my choice and have a relaxing experience where I know I have enough to last me. So while I love cannabis and CBD, I’m not thrilled that I’m forced into breaking the law to access it.

Do you use weed from a more recreational or therapeutic point of view?

I think we need to look at all cannabis as therapeutic. I use it to calm myself after a day where my ADHD is making it difficult for me to relax or sleep. We all have a certain level of stress either on the body or the mind, especially after the absolute hell that was 2020, so cannabis can help us to relax and heal. I’m working on changing my language around cannabis, in that I try to no longer refer to ‘medical cannabis’ or ‘cannabis’. I see why medical cannabis is trying to distance itself from the recreational side in terms of stigma, but really, we all have the same end goal. We want to see it legal, safe and accessible.

Do you see the current Irish government reforming Ireland’s cannabis laws?

I will say never say never. I once believed, as a gay person who can get pregnant in Ireland that I would never see gay marriage or abortion legal in this country. I campaigned HARD for both and I still occasionally cannot believe we got it. I can’t see Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael getting up to do it without the same level of noise, pressure and campaigning that went into the years leading up to those referendums. They have no interest in it because they don’t understand it, and why change it if they keep getting voted in? I think we have some huge problems in this country that are going to make it hard for FF/FG (and the Greens) come the next election. Cannabis will be one of them and the housing crisis is another. But I will say nothing will get done without people coming forward to say: “I use it and I want safe, legal access.” 

Do you know a lot of people who use cannabis?

I do. As part of my role as a journalist on The Cannavist, I interview a lot of people in the UK, Ireland and the US who use cannabis. This could be legally, illegally, THC or CBD for a lot of different conditions. The stories are heartbreaking each time and the pain is very real. I’ve spoken to people with 6endometriosis or 7fibromyalgia who cannot get out of bed, but cannabis has given them their lives back. The government needs to hear the same things we do and realise there are a lot of people in serious pain. I defy them to hear it and not realise we need to have a serious talk about legalisation.

Do you ever feel unsafe getting cannabis, due to its illegality?

Yes. Constantly. As a genderfluid LGBT+ person, I feel very worried about the places I may have to go to get access to it. I constantly worry if I’m approached about what I’m getting, or who is approaching me. I’ve had negative experiences in the past with accessing it. I live in a slightly rough area, so there are a lot of dealers locally, but I worry about accessing it in my area because it’s on my doorstep. 

What do you miss the most about home?

My family. I miss them so much. While technology is great now and I’ve got more access than I ever did, it doesn’t replace actually being there. On a more random level, I really miss home in terms of language and culture. I can get so tired explaining what ‘the press’ or ‘craic’ or ‘arrah go on away like’ means to English people. I’m very lucky in that both of my editors at The Cannavist and Vapouround are Irish, so that helps with the homesickness!

What do you NOT miss about being back home?

The housing crisis. I emigrated in 2012, when I realised that there was no future for me in Ireland because of the recession. It was the highest year for emigration that year. I really want to return in the future, but I can’t see myself being able to do it. I bought a house in the UK and have a career in journalism here. I could never do that back home. I would need to be near a city to do my job, which means renting, because I could never afford to buy. Irish media is impossible to get into full time, which is part of the reason I left. I hate that I have a house here instead of back home, where I could be near my family. Especially this past year, where it’s impossible to travel.

How do you see UK-based cannabis activism faring in the near future?

I would like to see campaigning for easier access here. I think we know it has to happen but so far, it’s slow. I would love to see the UK relax and embrace cannabis the same way that the US has done. I don’t think that it is going to be easy, but I think the UK is ahead of Ireland in some respects. I think it’s going to take grass roots activism here too, to get the dispensaries and safe access we want. I think with recession, recovery and post-lockdown funds needing to be generated, we could be close to it. If the UK looks to the US in terms of tax generated and an entire industry created, then we could be close. I’d love to see the UK get organised to draw attention to it.

Thanks so much for your time, Caroline!

References:

1 The Cannavist magazine – https://www.cannavistmag.com/

2 Vapouround magazine https://www.vapouround.co.uk/

3 Caroline’s old blog, Miss Penny Dreadfulhttps://misspennydreadful.blogspot.com/ 

4 Canvaloophttps://www.canvaloop.com/ 

5 DevoHome – https://www.devohome.com/en/store/

6 Interview with endometriosis patient and activist, Aimee Brown

https://greenlensblog.com/2020/12/30/aimee-brown-20-12-2020/

7 Interview with fibromyalgia patient and activist, Adrienne Lynch

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/01/15/adrienne-lynch-3pm-09-01-2021/

Reefer Madness – Tackling Misinformation

Nicholas touches on the recent article published by the Irish Times where the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland warn of the effects cannabis have on young Irish people in the wake of the covid pandemic.

While propaganda has always been a means to constrain the truth and limit people’s perception of certain issues and hardships, it has always been a tool of oppressive beliefs that serve to control people by telling them what’s best for them.  There has been no better example of propaganda serving to perpetuate a stigma on the issue of cannabis legislation than “Reefer Madness”.   The infamous film where the term comes from, released in 1936 contains recklessly over the top representations of cannabis users in the form of delinquents who engage in manslaughter, rape, conspiracy to murder, and fall into a descent of hallucinations and lunacy.  While the film served to instil fear into middle America at the time of its release, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the film saw an emergence of interest in the form of unintentional satire among supporters of cannabis policy reform. It has quickly taken the reigns as one of the worst films ever made, as asserted by many film critics.  What was originally an attempt to create a narcotics scare has evolved into the proverbial soapbox detractors of cannabis use to tackle information that supports the belief of drug reform.

In April 2021, an article published by the Irish Times sent ripples throughout the cannabis community in Ireland.  Unlike many takes on the subject of cannabis reform, the piece titled “Cannabis ‘gravest threat’ to mental health of young people” was more than your usual fundamentalist fodder but instead a casual throwback to the era of Reefer Madness.  In these disconcerting times of homelessness, lack of mental health services, covid-19, alcoholism, cyber-bullying, and a resurrected recession, it makes perfect sense that the Irish College of Psychiatrists put the onus of these issues squarely on the shoulders of cannabis use.  Any opportunity to throw shade on cannabis usage is seen as a good one especially when the problems we currently face aren’t going away anytime soon due to the sheer ineptitude displayed by the Irish government.  No different than Reefer Madness, the message is to distract the public from the real issues young Irish people will suffer the burden of. 

While I’m sure the article intended to further the narrative of cannabis criminalisation, the reaction proved to be more detrimental to their cause than if they said nothing at all.  The response from advocates of cannabis use in Ireland has been overwhelming with more attention brought to the counter-arguments than the original article.  The main case for cannabis prohibition is that it is harmful to developing minds and should remain illegal to keep it out of the hands of teenagers.  It is getting harder to believe that people are unaware that the crux of their argument is what contributes to the issue.  The lack of regulation is what contributes to cannabis finding its way into the hands of Ireland’s youth.  It’ll be a long time coming before you’ll come across a drug dealer that asks for I.D for a transaction can occur.  The black market is the wild west where even synthetic cannabis will be sold, among an array of class-A drugs on offer to anyone willing to pay. 

The effects the covid pandemic have had on the health and wellbeing of young people have taken their toll as seen with the increased consumption of various drugs to escape from the stress and anxiety of the lockdown.[1]  But to put the fault solely on cannabis shows the lack of awareness and ineptitude leaders have in this country to tackle the issue of mental health. Cannabis seizures in the last year have increased significantly.  Those with unnecessary convictions to their name from previous arrests involving cannabis have to face a life with fewer employment opportunities which harms mental health more than it serves as a detriment to seeking out cannabis.  The stress that comes from purchasing cannabis for this fact alone doesn’t aid the welfare of anyone.  The lockdown in 2020 saw a massive increase in raids due to restrictions on travel and imports into the country.  Of the arrests, some were for possession of plants with no intent to distribute.[2]  An act that doesn’t provide the black market with any monetary gain will somehow receive a harsher sentence than possession of multiple grams. 

The black market and its uncontrolled system producing untaxed unregulated drugs is the true enemy of young people who regardless of the law, will seek out substances to experiment.  The current state of Irish drug law is akin to a dog chasing its tail.  We’re in a constant limbo of procrastination and misinformation spurred by leaders with a fear of the unknown that follows change.  Change that will benefit people more than it will allegedly harm.  In a roundabout way, the Irish College of Psychiatrists have facilitated in putting the spotlight on the ongoing movement for cannabis legalisation as discussion on this topic can only go one way with the amount of evidence proving the advantages of a regulated cannabis industry. 


References:

[1] https://igees.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Covid-Rapid-Impact-Assessment.pdf

[2] https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-30985733.html

Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear | Review

Doctor Carl Hart is a Professor of Psychology, specialising in Neuroscience at Columbia University in New York. He is well-known for his research on drug abuse and addiction, which has been his passion for over 25 years. He opens his latest book, 1Drug Use for Grown-Ups, with the lines:

“I am an unapologetic drug user. I take drugs as part of my pursuit of happiness, and they work. I am a happier and a better person because of them.”

As a means of better educating drug users and thereby facilitating their health and happiness, he suggests that people focus on four areas – Dose, Route of Administration, Set [individual user characteristics], and Setting [environment in which drug use occurs]. These four areas can greatly influence the user’s experience – whether it will veer more towards a beneficial or a negative one.

Early in the book, he highlights the complete failure the war on drugs has been by quoting the United States drug control budget of approximately $35 billion a year in taxpayer money; in 1981, the amount stood at $1.5 billion. This is a gargantuan budget increase, but traditionally-popular illegal drugs are as commonplace now, if not more so, than they were back then. Dr. Hart believes that one unstated aim of the drug war is to prop up the budgets of law enforcement and prison authorities, along with drug treatment centres and urine drug testers. Those in law enforcement receive the bulk of drug-war money according to the Professor, and more drug arrests mean more overtime, bigger budgets and stronger job security for those in law enforcement, while more prisoners keep prison authorities content. It’s worth noting that the U.S. has got the biggest prison population on the planet, at an astonishing 22.12 million inmates. This system includes 3130 private prisons. It’s clear from the statistics that prison authorities are among those who benefit enormously from the war on drugs.

The Professor believes the term Harm Reduction is dated and should be gotten rid of, or replaced with a more nuanced term, because: “The language we use shapes how we think and behave”. Elaborating on this, he says: “We need to cut the bullshit and stop pretending drugs inevitably – and only – lead to undesired outcomes”. He doesn’t believe there should be a specific term for harm reduction, mentioning other existing phrases which could be used, such as: “common sense, prevention, education, and the like”. Dr. Hart emphatically states that “Drug abuse and addiction are a minority of the many effects produced by drugs…” Of his years spent researching drug use, he says: “More and more, I came to realise that drug-abuse scientists, especially government-funded ones, focus almost exclusively on the detrimental effects of drugs…” He says that addiction “represents a minority of drug effects, but it receives almost all the attention, certainly the media attention”, before asking: “Have you ever read a newspaper article or seen a film about heroin that didn’t focus on addiction?”

Other universally-accepted lifestyle choices involving calculated risk are listed, including flying and driving – two potentially dangerous activities, which statistically involve few injuries or deaths when engaged in correctly. The information that’s typically found about heroin is compared with a driving analogy: “Imagine if you were interested in learning more about cars or driving and could only find information about car crashes or information about how to repair a car after a crash”. Regarding the small fraction of users who suffer with addiction, he says there are a substantial proportion of addictions involving “co-occurring psychiatric disorders – such as excessive anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia – and socioeconomic factors – such as resource-deprived communities and under-employment”. The Professor stresses that there are no inherently “evil”, wholly-negative drugs, despite what we are told growing up. Regarding the age-old gateway drug myth about cannabis, he states that it “grossly overstates the evidence by confusing correlation with causation…the vast majority of pot smokers never go on to use so-called harder drugs.”

He discusses the alarmism of typical cannabis-focused headlines which often blame it for psychosis. The studies such claims are based on generally make bogus interpretations of their data. This is because weed-centred studies often highlight when volunteers have marked if they have ever experienced certain psychotic symptoms (something many people do at some point in their lives) on a questionnaire. Such studies then decide that those volunteers qualify for psychotic disorders, when in reality, determining if someone suffers with a psychotic disorder requires rigorous consulting with psychologists and psychiatrists. It is not simply a box-ticking exercise. Of similar note, the inaccurate reporting of the results of toxicology reports by authorities and the media is looked at. These results generally involve many complex factors and according to Dr. Hart, “one of the most important limitations of many recent analyses and reports on drug overdose deaths is that the co-occurrence of alcohol is ignored completely”. 

Brain imaging data is another area the Professor breaks down into basics – structural scans look at the size of brain structures, without telling you how they’re functioning. Functional scans provide brain activity information (i.e. specific neurotransmitter activity), but not brain structure information. According to Dr. Hart, these scans only capture a moment in time. This means it’s nearly impossible to determine if drug use caused any difference to the brain, or if that difference was there before the scan occurred. Multiple scans are needed at different times to gain a true understanding of whether drugs have affected the brain or not, so the result of what is a highly nuanced procedure often ends up becoming an alarmist ‘finding’ about brain deterioration. The ignoring of tobacco and alcohol’s effects on the brain are also common oversights. Toxicology reports and brain scans, so often misinterpreted and misrepresented by prohibitionists and the media, often make the aforementioned mistake of confusing correlation with causation.

Dr. Hart says that complicated socio-economic issues are often reduced to being the result of “drug problems” by the powers that be. This means that more resources end up being given to law enforcement, instead of community organisations who urgently require education programmes, employment and life-saving drug services. The Professor outlines the deep-rooted, historical racism which has been such an intrinsic part of the war on drugs, stemming mostly from the U.S and spreading throughout the world thereafter. Opium developed a negative reputation because of media fear mongering in relation to the opium dens of Chinese immigrants. Dr. Hart cites an 1882 report, which said that young, respectable white people were “being induced to visit the dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise”. The marijuana term entered common use in English because American authorities and media co-opted it from the Mexican term marihuana, to give it an association with Mexican immigrants, who traditionally used the plant and in some cases brought it to the States.

Common use of this term helped to exploit the existing hatred or distrust many Americans had for Mexicans, giving weed a negative connotation via perceived association. Media stories emerged in the ‘30s claiming that cannabis use by blacks led to violent crimes. Then there were ridiculous stories about cocaine use causing black men to become unpredictable, dangerous, and even bulletproof, in certain cases! The Professor notes that all modern reports referring to zombies and users with superhuman strength are descendents of those old media falsehoods, existing as a sensationalist, dehumanising means of justifying discrimination and brutality. During weed regulation hearings in Congress in 1937, Harry J. Anslinger is quoted as having said: “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”. But interestingly, Dr. Hart states that there has been public data proving the safety of cannabis since it was first banned. New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia commissioned a study about its use and effects and the results ran contrary to Anslinger’s hysterical statement.

Report findings from 1944 concluded that concerns about catastrophic effects from smoking weed were unfounded. It said that those “who have been smoking marijuana for a period of years showed no mental or physical deterioration which may be attributed to the drug.” Further highlighting systemic racism, Dr. Hart quotes data from The U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2017, which states that over 80% of those convicted of heroin-dealing were black and latino, despite the fact that most dealers were white. He also mentions the fact that black men make up 40% of U.S. prisoners, despite only representing 6% of the country’s population. The horrendous police killings of many African Americans, such as Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice (who was shot at the age of twelve) are discussed in the book, as are the distortions of what occurred in subsequent reports released surrounding their deaths. These police killings and others place a glaring emphasis on the very serious issue of systemic racism in America and how the war on drugs continues to enable it.

The way the media shapes our perceptions of the effects of drugs and who is using them where, is a crucial subject area of the book. The media frenzies sensationalising the crack cocaine crisis and in more recent years opioid use in the U.S. are covered by Dr. Hart in considerable detail. The common portrayal of crack mainly being used in poor black communities, when in fact it has been used primarily by white people, will likely be a revelation to many readers of the book. The author also discusses the mythology surrounding ‘crack babies’ and writes about troubling incidents in which pregnant women who were found to have cannabis in their system then had custody over their newborn babies removed.

Drug Use for Grown-Ups is a must-read book in a time where the war on drugs is increasingly put into question across the world. I would highly recommend this book to anybody with an interest in cannabis, drug policy, health, misinformation, corruption or racism. Dr. Carl Hart expertly argues the case for every adult’s right to the pursuit of happiness, as espoused in The U.S. Constitution. He believes that safe, informed drug use should be permitted as a part of that equation. He argues this while dismantling virtually all of the arguments that are found in favour of prohibition, with an expertise developed over years of hard graft. From being a young man fully invested in the war on drugs narrative to one who sees it for what it really is – an authoritative narrative built from racism, paranoia and notions of morality, rather than one based on logic and scientific data.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Doctor Carl Hart for providing us with a review copy of this book.

References

1 Drug Use for Grown-Ups can be purchased via The Book Depository here –

https://bit.ly/3f01fMc 

2 This figure is taken from the following page, which details global prison populations –

https://www.statista.com/statistics/262961/countries-with-the-most-prisoners/

3 For more information on U.S private prisons, see this link –

https://infotracer.com/resources/us-private-prisons-facts-statistics/