Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction | Review

Maia Szalavitz is an author and journalist focused on neuroscience, addiction and drug policy. She has written for the likes of High Times, VICE, The New York Times and The Guardian. Her newest book, Undoing Drugs, provides a comprehensive history of North American harm reduction movements, which arose as a response to the frightening AIDS epidemic of the ’80s. It details the harm reduction movement’s evolution from the late ’70s onwards. Groups like ADAPT (The Association for Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment) and ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and later, organisations like the DPA (Drug Policy Alliance) and the NHRC (National Harm Reduction Coalition) are explored. Undoing Drugs covers a range of topics across drug policy; the devastation of AIDS, the fight for supervised injection facilities, overdose prevention via Naloxone, compassionate changes to addiction and pain treatment and the emergence of national drug reform organisations.

The book is a tribute to ‘The Goddess of Harm Reduction’, Edith Springer, who is credited with introducing the harm reduction concept to America, thanks to a meeting with Allan Parry. Parry ran a successful harm reduction programme with Doctor John Marks in Liverpool, England. At one time, they were legally prescribing unadulterated, safe doses of heroin and cocaine to drug users. They also ran a needle exchange programme where they’d provide sterile needles in exchange for used ones, which they would safely dispose of. Clean needle programmes weren’t something that had been successfully organised yet in the States. Initially, they focused on educating injecting drug users on how to clean needles out with bleach and water, before re-using or sharing them. The book credits an exhaustive list of players in the harm reduction movement, from those mentioned above, to people like Yolanda Serrano, Jon Parker, Michelle Alexander, Dan Bigg, Stephanie Comer and Dave Purchase. All made valuable contributions to harm reduction in different periods, but tragically, not all of the groundbreaking and inspiring figures in this movement would survive to now, due to overdoses or illnesses.

Szalavitz experienced a major shock in 1990, when she first learned of the link between shared needles and HIV. She describes the ‘utter hell’ of waiting on HIV test results for two long weeks, before receiving the welcomed news that she hadn’t contracted it. It was at this point in her life that she decided that educating people about harm reduction and helping to introduce public harm reduction measures was precisely what she would devote herself to doing. Like Doctor Carl Hart, Szalavitz examines the racist origins of the war on drugs. She tells that even alcohol prohibition in the US had racist reasoning behind it: ‘..many white Protestants felt their power was threatened by rising numbers of immigrants from Germany, Ireland, and Italy, as well as Eastern European Jews. Prohibition was seen as a way to take back control.‘ She touches on the precedent set by The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 and explains how in 1930, Harry Anslinger, as the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, fought for a strict federal ban on cannabis on the premise that weed ‘would seduce white women and lead to widespread insanity among previously pure white youth‘.

He ignored 29 of the 30 Doctors he interviewed about cannabis, who said that it wasn’t harmful enough to ban. This reckless anti-drug attitude would continue later, most notably with Presidents Nixon and Reagan. Szalavitz outlines the public mindset, from the ’60s onwards, as follows: ‘..illegal drugs had been firmly linked in the American mind with poor, Black, and brown criminals — and the stereotype of the “addict” as a lazy, devious, and violent sociopath mapped perfectly on to the racist stereotypes many whites held about those groups. With a compliant media, it was easy to blame violence and poverty on drugs — and not the socioeconomic circumstances that actually do lead people to problematic relationships with substances. It was also easy to spike fear that the evil drugs used by poor Black and brown people would soon be coming for innocent white babes.‘ Elsewhere, she quotes a lawyer, who said the following about crack cocaine in a New York Times op-ed in 1986: ‘If we blame crime on crack, our politicians are off the hook. Forgotten are the failed schools, the malign welfare programs, the desolate neighborhoods, the wasted years.

It’s apparent from these descriptions of the anti-drugs rhetoric of US authorities that the narrative on drugs has long been manipulated by those in power, to avoid taking responsibility for the neglect of various social issues and as a means of scapegoating ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans. The narratives of traditional and dominant twelve-step recovery programmes are challenged, such as those found at Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, where their only measure of success for an addict is total abstinence from intoxicating substances. Addiction is viewed as a ‘progressive disease’, such that if someone changed from buying crack every weekend to smoking a joint once or twice in a month, that person would be labelled ‘still using’ and ‘not in recovery’. This is because ‘progression of the disease’ is seen as inevitable, meaning that in their view, such an instance of seemingly controlled cannabis use ‘will ultimately spiral back to chaotic crack addiction’.

Szalavitz also covers the Housing Works organisation, which was founded to combat homelessness and addiction through the provision of free housing. The organisation was based on the ‘Housing First’ premise that it’s ‘highly unlikely that someone living in an unstable setting or entirely without shelter will be able to quit alcohol or other drugs while still on the street.‘ Along with the likes of Stand Up Harlem, they were shown to have tremendous success in reducing chronic homelessness and by extension, addiction rates. They stood in stark contrast with housing provision programmes that demanded the near-impossible from drug users – that they be entirely ‘clean of drugs’ before granting them accommodation. Root causes for many people who end up in damaging life scenarios are mentioned by the author, where she states: ‘Virtually everyone who ends up homeless, addicted, mentally ill, and HIV positive has a long history of childhood trauma, typically compounded by the experience of racism and the extreme distress and social rejection that comes with living on the street or being incarcerated.

Although Undoing Drugs is often heartbreakingly tragic, it is a vitally important book that highlights the success of applied harm reduction and the contrasting failure of continued ignorance and stonewalling. It considers the countless people who take drugs who are routinely stigmatised, marginalised, and de-humanised due to conservative, hardline drug policies. The key message throughout is an urgent need for the powers that be to adopt a more humane and effective approach for drug policy. Emphasis is placed on the importance of protecting human lives above all else. Maia Szalavitz‘ book is full of data that proves the success of initiatives which treat drug users with respect and dignity, helping them to stabilise themselves and restructure their lives enough to feel ready to quit the drugs that they were disrupting their lives with in the first place. Perhaps by now, world leaders should be sitting up and listening keenly to the likes of Ms. Szalavitz, instead of ‘being tough on drugs’.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Hachette Books for providing us with a review copy of this book.

Laura & Laura Jayne at Cannabis: A New Green Deal by Uplift.ie | 20.04.2021

Laura Jayne Foley has a Masters in Agricultural Innovation from NUIG (the National University of Ireland, Galway). She is a co-founder of Canabaoil Ltd. and 1Wild Atlantic Hemp. She is also a board member of 2Hemp Co-Operative Ireland. Laura Curry Cloney is the founder of 3The Hemp Higher Project, which was a finalist in 4The Social Entrepreneurs of Ireland.

The following extract has been adapted from the live stream for the purposes of clarity and brevity.

Emily Duffy (of 5Uplift): I’m going to get into some of (the viewers) questions, but the first one that I wanted to put to everybody was, what opportunities do you see for campaigning, specifically out of this 6report? Is there new information that we feel is a good lever of change? I think a lot of the health concerns that have been raised can be addressed through legalisation. If people can access strains that are more beneficial, that are less likely to cause certain things, then people will be healthier. Laura Jayne, would you like to come in? Laura Jayne: Hi! I suppose I just wanted to mention the farming point of view, ‘cause that’s where I come from. So, we grow hemp in West Clare and there’s 200 members of the Hemp Co-Operative growing it. It’s something that I think would benefit rural Ireland, to be able to develop this industry. It had the same kinds of restrictions put on it from a business point of view around the THC element, and I suppose, stigma.

I think this document really gives us an idea of where the prohibition came from. And it really gives us a good understanding about where we’re positioned and why it became illegal. It gives people the opportunity to see it for what it is. It is a plant that is so easy to grow. It has so many benefits and as Shae (Flanagan, of Uplift) mentioned, environmentally it has so many benefits. In an environment where we’re moving away from petroleum products, hemp is a big solution for a lot of those problems. Not only is it a food that’s hugely nutritious, but it’s also a solution to a lot of our environmental problems. It’s something I would very much like to see grow in Ireland in small farms. It has the opportunity to be a revitalisation for rural Ireland. Emily: Yeah, absolutely. And hemp is actually a carbon sink, isn’t it? It stores carbon. Laura Jayne: As Seán (McCabe, of TASC) said, it sequesters a huge amount of carbon, but it’s also phyto-remedial.

So what it does is, it draws glyphosates, heavy metals, chemicals out of the ground, so that it can actually put the soil back in a situation where it’s organic. You know, we’re taking those toxins out of the ground and we’re improving the soil. There really are so many positives for the environment, as well as from a nutritional and medical point of view. Emily: And I think as well, Ireland has one of the highest rates of glyphosate in our surface water in the EU. So, even more of a reason to get those toxins out of the ground. One member, Deborah, has asked a really important question here around community wealth. A lot of you touched on rural Ireland and how this could potentially revitalise it. Rather than talking about tax and economy and all of those kinds of things, how do we see the legalisation of cannabis putting life back into our communities? Creating changed communities that support each other and thrive and grow – pardon the pun! Is there anybody who would like to come in there? Laura Jayne, back to you.

Laura Jayne: When we were doing our Masters, we did a lot of research on farmers and farming in the West. ‘cause we see hemp as having a huge potential as a rotational crop but also as an alternative income. But one of the things we did notice was a lot of the farmers that we interviewed were under 35. Most of them had just inherited the land from their family and they didn’t want to go back to the old way of farming that had been done before. They felt that it wasn’t profitable. What they saw in hemp was that there were so many opportunities from the bio-economy, from CBD oil, from fibre… I would say hemp and cannabis are the same thing, but from the industrial hemp point of view, there’s opportunity there for farmers to increase the income on their land. And that has a knock-on effect in rural Ireland.

A lot of people are part-time farming. They might be working from home. They’d have a plot where they’d spend a few months during the summer, they might grow some hemp. So for me that’s one of the reasons why I think it has that power to revitalise rural Ireland. Also, small processors. We process CBD oil, we have a HSE (Health Service Executive) approval to process cannabinoids from cannabis sativa. And we’re a small operation. But there is an opportunity for processors like us and all around Ireland, developing their own product, developing a local product. And I suppose I think that is where there is some huge opportunity. Emily: Excellent! I just want to check in with Laura Curry Cloney, did you want to come in there?

Laura Curry Cloney: Hi everyone, thanks for having me on. Thanks for the amazing report, it looks really, really good. Just to pick up on something that Shae said, in terms of bogland and growing hemp that may not be of the best of quality.. It can potentially be used for something like hempcrete. It doesn’t necessarily have to be really good quality to do that. It can also be used as biofuel, even on very toxic soil, like for example, landfills. In Ireland alone, there’s over 300 landfills and these sites have been abandoned or are old abandoned mines. If we grew hemp there, you could then create a biofuel from the hemp that’s harvested and also heal the land. So, in those terms you can use it, even if it’s not the highest quality, for other industrial purposes. Emily: That’s great, brilliant.

This is a great question here from Maria, who is talking about chronic pain in particular. I think the medical conversation is really important, but I think, and some of you might touch on this, the means by which people can access cannabis has been highly regulated and restricted. “How much does the Irish government spend on pain management medications with incredibly serious side effects?” So she said that she’s “seen people in Ireland with Rheumatoid Arthritis, 7Ehlers Danlos, back issues, hip issues” going off very high strength prescribed medications, which have a lot of side effects, and that if people could access the right strain, that people would get much better outcomes and much better medical care. But I think the question there is, what is the form of legislation or how does the law need to be, to make sure that people can access the type of cannabis strains that they need? I’m gonna go to Laura Jayne and then I’m gonna go to Laura.

Laura Jayne: Hi. I suppose it’s not from a medical point of view, but it’s from the hemp side of things. When we started farming in 2018, what we wanted to do was make a full spectrum oil. And from 2018-2021 actually, it’s taken us a good long time to get through all the different loops. But from a Food Safety Authority point of view, they’ve allowed us to bring out a full spectrum oil. So our oil has .3% THC in it. Now we got that through on the basis that it’s food and it’s an acute reference dose for THC in foods that was set by the European Food Safety Authority. So we’ve a full spectrum oil. It’s CBD, but it’s also CBG and THC. So there is a soft spot there in the legislation. We’re coming under food law, it’s not under The Misuse of Drugs Act. So it’s a slight ability to get THC into a product, it’s only taken a few years. The licence to cultivate cannabis sativa, the hemp licence, is achievable for most farmers. The HSE have approved us for the processing of cannabinoids from cannabis sativa. Now it’s hemp, but it is cannabis sativa.

I suppose it’s the angle we’ve come at it from. We saw a legal opportunity to grow it, to see if it would grow in Ireland. It grows well, we grow it outdoors. We’re restricted on the type of seeds we can grow, so obviously we would love to see a better range of hemp seeds available that would have higher THC content. But it’s just a positive that there are products on the market that are full spectrum, that do have THC in them. And I suppose going forward, we want more, but that’s where we are at the moment. Emily: Great, thank you so much. And Laura.. other Laura! Emily Giggles Laura: Thanks. Just in relation to what Laura said there, I actually stock her CBD oil in our Hempire yoga studio. And it’s really, really good. It’s excellent quality and having that certificate from the Food Safety Authority, allowing (me) to sell it, makes it a legal product in Ireland. But unfortunately, where the divide is internationally, you can’t sell that through something like Shopify or Paypal.

Even though we have all of the paperwork and all of the documents that say this is a legal product, we are still in a position where we can’t sell it by those means. So you’re looking for different payment gateways to actually get your product out on the market. And the other side of the wellbeing sector is the spiritual aspects of cannabis and how spiritually healing it is, not only to be outdoors growing it. But also, when you see references that are 4,000 years old in The Vedas, referencing this plant as one of the five most revered herbs in the world. That’s ancient Hindu scriptures, where this plant is revered for its magical properties. So that element needs to be brought in. It’s also described as “a plant with an angel residing in its leaves”. And that’s translated from (the) Sanskrit language. So if these ancient Yogis understood this, us as a species can now catch up with that and reawaken that knowledge in us. And I really feel that that’s what this plant is here to do.

It’s to reawaken that understanding and that compassion and that compassionate heart, for everyone. Emily: Compassion is definitely something that we need more of in the world right now, for sure, Laura. And I think what’s really interesting as well, having watched your presentation Seán, was how this used to be a crop that was just readily grown here. That there was a decision made at some point in the past to demonise something that was before that very natural and was used as a tool to boost our economy and lots of other things as well. And it’s obviously not just about that as well, but people do use it as a spiritual aid and I think that’s a really important point as well. I have one final question. Actually, this is for you again Laura, but anybody can come in here if you wanna put your hand up, which is – what small step can we take as individuals right now to bring us closer to legislation?

Laura: Do your research, look into it. Send this information off, because your report looks amazing. So, well done Uplift, this is incredible. And if this is rolled out, we can contact TDs. There’s no denying what this plant can do. When you put together a report of that nature, there’s no argument against it. And people do need to take action, like Nicole (Lonergan, of Cork Cannabis Activist Network) said. It’s up to us to contact TDs, to contact all of these political parties and make some noise about it. And really start to get that roots kind of approach where we’re all standing together. We all want the same thing, whether it’s medical use, or environmental use, or whatever. We all want this plant legalised and that’s super important. It’s really important for the Earth, it’s really important for our children, for their children. We need somewhere to live. For me, that’s what drives me and that’s what I think is so important about cannabis, is where it can bring our planet. Emily: Great, thank you so much Laura. Now I’m gonna ask Laura Jayne…

Laura Jayne: From our point of view, I think we’re pushing an open door. Roderick (Campbell, of The Irish Medical Cannabis Council) said something earlier. He said how to monetise it is the government’s problem. That may be the issue they’re coming up against now, because it is going to be a massive industry. I know CBD, it has been a massive introduction to a much older population in Ireland. People who would never have thought of using cannabis before. And they’re finding the benefits for arthritis, and for different reasons they’re using it. I think now that that population issue you were discussing earlier isn’t there as much. I find that most people we speak to are hugely proactive about the legalisation of cannabis. And people are pushing an open door.

Emily: I love that metaphor of pushing an open door and understanding that it’s as much about how as when. How we’re going to legalise cannabis and how it should benefit our communities. How we should see the wealth created from it going straight back into rural Ireland, that is especially vulnerable now after Covid. There’s even more of a reason now to push it. As Roderick said, there’s 102 people on this call right now. There’s thousands of people who have donated, thousands of people have signed 8petitions. There is a big and growing community as part of this campaign. It’s one of the biggest engagements that we’ve seen in Uplift campaigns in a really long time, which is always a sign to me that we’re gonna win. 

I might pass over to you now Shae, to talk about next steps and where we go from here. Shae: Cool. Once again, thanks to all of our panelists. Thanks to Seán for a great report, and a great presentation on the report. It is being finalised as we speak. TASC and Uplift are putting together some key messages, some of those ones that might work for politicians. Once it’s published, it’ll be circulated for use as a resource for Uplift members, any activists or groups and organisations that could benefit and want to use it for campaigning work. The report is balanced, it’s evidence-based and clear. And I’m really keen for us to work out our next steps together as activists and farmers and as a community. Uplift is a broad church. We come from a lot of different places and I think our plan is best worked out together. Thank you to Nicole, Laura, Laura Jayne, Roderick, Seán and my beautiful co-host, Emily. And thanks all for coming and giving up a piece of your Tuesday night. Enjoy, go forth and be well!

References

1 Check out Wild Atlantic Hemp here – https://www.wildatlantichemp.com/pages/about-us

2 Find out about Hemp Co-Operative Ireland here – https://hempcooperativeireland.com/about/

3 Hemp Higher Yoga’s site is at this link – https://hemphigheryoga.ie/about-us/

4 For more info about The Social Entrepreneurs of Ireland, click this link –

https://socialentrepreneurs.ie/about/

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

6 Seán McCabe’s presentation about the upcoming TASC (Think Tank for Action on Social Change)

report on cannabis can be read here –

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/28/seanmccabe-new-green-deal-uplift/

7 For more on Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, check out our recent interview with Evie Nevin

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/31/evie-nevin-26-05-21/

8 Uplift petition – https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/legalise-cannabis-in-ireland

* The full recording of this Uplift panel discussion, Cannabis: A New Green Deal,

can be seen here – https://bit.ly/3fMje97

Laura | 15.06.2021

Laura suffers with chronic depression, anxiety, insomnia and back pain, which she was prescribed Valium for ten years ago. She says she hasn’t ‘popped’ a Valium since a few years ago, when she lived in Canada and had access to medical cannabis.

Twitter / Instagram: @ucancallmelola

Can you please outline your relationship with alcohol in the past and why it was that you decided to stop?

I used to think of my relationship with alcohol as pretty typical, but now I can see it was more sinister than that. It started with the ‘normal’ teenage experience of being around fourteen years old and scheming ways to get cans of cider or a naggin of vodka in a park on the weekends, but it grew into something somewhat crippling socially. I felt as though I needed it to be social, genuinely like it was some sort of armour to put on before going out or some magic drink that made me care less about things and pretend to be ‘grand’. Now, with the benefit of age and objectivity, I can see that I was self-medicating my well-established mental health issues in the only way I knew how – the same way generations before us did, which has been culturally normalised for us. I was definitely abusing it. I was regularly drinking alone in the evenings while at home watching TV. A bottle of wine after work at (the age of) nineteen was about standard. Even before then, I used to secretly take a few shots of rum or vodka before going out to my friends as a teen. Not that I told anyone. It was a problem. I stopped drinking at about 26, four years ago.

You once compared the damage alcohol can do to how harmless cannabis is in comparison. You said: “No one smokes themselves into requiring their stomach pumped at Beaumont (hospital) on a Saturday. No one smokes a joint and starts a fight at a party. But “social drinkers” clog up A&E when bars and pubs are open as normal.” Why do you think this cognitive dissonance persists in Ireland about alcohol?

I think that we have been passing down broken ideas and unrealistic rules between our generations. Our cultural and social norms are super influential, of course, but we model ourselves on what has been modelled to us at home first and we internalise our caregivers’ behaviours before we even know we’re doing this. I believe that our previous generations lived in eras of shame and mortification over any (social acknowledgements of) mental health problems, illnesses, addictions and disorders. These generations also lived in times of suppression of information and emotional control under a corrupt church and a conservative government, intent on parroting the 1USA’s War on Drugs propaganda. In short, they lived in the dark and are now terrified of this new information and distrustful of it all. It’s come as a total shock in comparison to the information of the world that they grew up with. All they know is ‘booze is okay and everyone does it’ and no one calls it a drug, so its damaging effects are ignored. 

I’m extremely hopeful that this is a statement on Ireland’s dissolving cognitive dissonance, however. I don’t believe that we face the same set of challenges that they faced. Our access to fast, good information is not something that was available to previous generations. We watched 9/11 on our TV screens as it happened; a different country, a news event in real time. When my father was the age I was in 2001, his house in Castleknock burned down…and that made the newspapers, the next day. Kids can Google for their own information now, but forty years ago, you might need to go to the local library and hope they had an encyclopedia that would answer your kids’ question… either that or guess, and likely pass along faulty advice or answers. We have so much more information that I don’t believe we can continue to hold such contradicting beliefs about a person’s right to drink, smoke, consume substances or the right to alter one’s consciousness.

You said that cannabis was a “huge help with chronic depression & anxiety” and that it has helped your back pain more effectively than your long term Valium prescription. It has also helped you to combat issues with food & insomnia. What beneficial effects do you get from weed?

For me, weed functions as a muscle relaxant for my back pain, an anti-anxiety support and to help with the symptoms of panic attacks if or when they occur, to help me to eat when my nausea is in flare up, to help me sleep when my insomnia is active. All of these effects are instrumental to my being able to cope with and heal my mental health issues and deal with past traumas. It’s such a huge help and it doesn’t have the side effects that I was getting from my antidepressants or Valium prescriptions. 

When you first started using cannabis, did you wean yourself off Valium or stop all together? 

Well, I didn’t use the Valium often enough to require weaning off it. There’s a genetic history of addiction in my family and so I was too scared to take the prescription regularly enough to become in any way reliant on it. Instead, I self medicated by drinking most nights to help me with pain, sleep and to dissociate from it all. Of course, I couldn’t see at the time that instead of avoiding a substance abuse situation like I thought I was doing, I was just doubling up the speed of my alcohol abuse. So when I received my first batch of medical cannabis, it was like opening up the cover of a new book. I don’t feel like I’ve lost or given up anything. I felt like I upgraded the efficiency of my medication. Same with the drink. All of a sudden, I had absolutely no desire for it any more. Now all I miss is the variety of flavours alcohol comes in. I’m pretty sick of Coke or Club Orange as my only beverage options most places, but that is honestly the biggest personal drawback for me in the change over.

Have you experienced any side effects since switching from Diazepam to cannabis?

Other than the above mentioned, before smoking any weed I was suffering in a number of ways. When I began smoking, first it was for my back pain, but soon I noticed a sizeable shift in my mental and emotional strength and ability to look internally at things clearly where I had never been able to before. I was suddenly becoming more aware of myself, my traumas, my triggers and it calmed my chaotic, anxiety-ridden thoughts so that I was finally able to admit to myself that I was unwell, had been unwell for quite a while and desperately needed the help of a mental health practitioner to get back to a healthy place. It sounds hokey and woo woo, but it facilitated the mental and emotional processing I needed to see clearly and care about myself enough to get help. Diazepam made me spaced out, guilty and ashamed, drained and headache-y for two days after use, and unable to drive or operate heavy machinery. I guess the heavy machinery thing is the only unchanged side effect.

Would you recommend those similar to you to make the switch, or do you feel it’s a personal decision to make? 

I think that it’s definitely a personal decision regardless, and that someone should be as informed and comfortable as possible. I do think it should be an option for everyone to try, but that everyone’s reactions are a little different and based solely on the individual. Cannabis won’t work perfectly for everyone, just like every antidepressant won’t work for everyone or why some people can’t drink certain drinks without getting aggressive or blacking out. Our individual body chemistry obviously plays a huge part. I do think that a natural option is a good one to have on the list of options that should be available for adults to explore and for mental health professionals with the correct information and experience to recommend. The best thing anyone can do is be as informed as possible.

How were your experiences with cannabis in Canada and how did they compare with using cannabis in Ireland?

Night and day. There is no comparison. Trying to buy some dried flower buds in a little sandwich bag shouldn’t feel like an arms deal with the ‘Ra, but unfortunately it does. We like to order CBD products from 2Little Collins dispensary instead, and also have some friends who grow their own plants and will send some love our way when they have spare.

When did you first become interested in cannabis?

Just before moving to Canada. They had recently legalised, so I wanted to be informed before arriving there and not be completely ignorant of the situation.

Do you know a lot of people who use cannabis?

More than I could count for you. It’s not uncommon, just semi unspoken.

What are your thoughts on Irish prohibition laws surrounding cannabis and other drugs?

Completely and utterly embarrassing and very transparently put in place to ‘look the part’ and follow suit with other very vocal nations, but comprised of very little fact and backed by zero research. They have created a thriving black market selling dangerous product and profiting criminals. 

When do you see the Irish government reforming our cannabis laws?

Do you see those who are in power at the moment making these reforms?

I’m torn. My hopeful, optimistic side sees legalisation and regulation of weed in the next three to seven years, if our leaders are smart enough to look to the 3Canadian model and the amount of revenue that was created there from nothing. It would also make some farmers unions happy as they have been lobbying for similar rights to grow hemp and related products and it would create a brand new industry full of jobs and additional international trade. My more cynical and pessimistic side agrees with the hot take from 4Blindboy, where he says that the Irish government will likely wait and wait until the USA legalises on a federal level, starts looking internationally and comes sniffing around our tax-light shores for a place to set up shop. Either way, it will be the money that sways them. That’s the only language they speak.

If you had an audience with Frank Feighan, Stephen Donnelly and co, what would be your message to them?

Catch up or move aside. We’re done with leaders who lead us nowhere. Be part of the solution to the problem or be left behind, but you won’t be able to hold up progress forever.

References

1 We highly recommend that you read Doctor Carl Hart’s book on this topic, reviewed here –

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/13/drug-use-for-grown-ups-review/

2 Check out the Little Collins CBD site at this link – https://littlecollinscbd.com/

3 To learn more about cannabis in Canada, check out my interview with Farrell Miller of

 NORML Canada here – https://greenlensblog.com/2020/12/09/farrell-miller-toronto-canada-21-11-2020/

4 Watch this recent Newstalk interview with Blindboy about cannabis in Ireland –

https://youtu.be/gXtJqwSLkiQ

Nicole & Roderick at Cannabis: A New Green Deal by Uplift.ie | 20.04.2021

Nicole Lonergan first became involved in speaking out about cannabis circa 2014. Through 1Cork Cannabis Activist Network, she raises awareness about the benefits of cannabis and the extensive harms of prohibition. Roderick Campbell is a member of Uplift, as well as 2The Irish Medical Cannabis Council. He is currently setting up The Irish Cannabis Co-Op. The following extract has been adapted from the live stream for the purposes of clarity and brevity.

Emily Duffy (of 3Uplift): I’m going to get into some of (the viewers) questions, but the first one that I wanted to put to everybody was, what opportunities do you see for campaigning, specifically out of this 4report? Is there new information that we feel is a good lever of change? I’d like to throw that out to you first. Nicole, you’re laughing, so I’m gonna hand over to you to start. Nicole: I knew I was setting myself up for something there. Emily Laughs Yeah, no problem! I think we need to be very clear first of all whether the report is actually asking for decriminalisation or legalisation, because those are two completely separate things. Legalisation is what will give us a legal industry, whereby people can legally buy cannabis that’s been tested from licenced vendors. I think the most important thing to push for going forward is public participation. I mean, in all the TDs that I’ve engaged with, the main issue they say to me is that enough people aren’t speaking up about this.

Many of them aren’t even aware that this is an issue that really needs to be addressed. I know it can be quite daunting to people to approach a TD or to put their name out there. But I can assure you, it will be treated confidentially. And it’s really important to speak up and to be an active part of your community and to let your TDs know what issues are really, really important and what needs to be addressed. So this is one of them and I encourage anyone listening to be brave and speak up and be vocal about your cannabis use. Because if it benefits you, I feel that other people should know. Emily: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. Uplift is a community of over 360,000 people across Ireland. There’s people in every constituency in Ireland and we can provide the tools to start those conversations with politicians and to demystify and de-stigmatise something that is helping so many people stay well.

Would anyone else from the panel like to come in there? Laura Jayne Foley (of Wild Atlantic Hemp): I think Roderick put his hand up. Emily: I can’t see Roderick for some reason.. Roderick: I was hiding. Laughter Emily: “Where are you?” Roderick laughs Please come in, Roderick, thank you. Roderick: I think one of the things that stands out to me in terms of the narrative of the story that we’ve been telling is up until recently as cannabis campaigners, we’ve been telling the story that we think that cannabis is not necessarily bad for our communities. That it has either a positive effect or a neutral effect. And I think one of the stories that doesn’t get enough focus is that prohibition is really bad for our communities. It’s very unhealthy. It is killing people. Because we see that opiate use and opiate deaths particularly, drastically increase, when there’s prohibition. So we’ve got children’s use. Also, underage use increases during prohibition.

Criminality in the amount of money going to violent criminal organisations and cartels increases. So, what we see right now is thorough inaction. And I think this is a really critical, from my perspective, change in the story. It is the inaction and the cowardice and the pearl clutching and this “waiting for the brown paper envelopes” of our TDs. It is actively harming our communities, harming our children and killing people. And that switch of the narrative, I think, it changes the momentum of the campaign. Emily: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. And I think a lot of the health concerns that have been raised.. I think that actually a lot of it can be addressed through legalisation. If people can access strains that are more beneficial, that are less likely to cause certain things, then people will be healthier. And I think, also, that idea of bronchitis.. We know in California a lot of people don’t smoke it at all. It’s edible and things like that, so I think that’s an argument there as well that’s very strong.

Roderick: We’re launching the cannabis co-operative, which is starting in Kinsale. It’s about thirty people launching the thing, and (it’s) focused on the consumer development side of things, instead of growing. Dispensaries, e-commerce and delivery, that sort of thing. I’m actually in Washington right now where it’s legal, completely. So I’ve got legal cannabis in front of me. And I’m doing a little bit of research around products and particularly ethical businesses around it. I live in Kinsale, and there’s an island here in Washington that’s very similar in almost every way. A similar flow of traffic, people coming through tourism, a similar population. And there’s two shops on the island. And both of those shops, the dispensaries on the island, they’re paying a $20 minimum wage, before there was any increase in the minimum wage.

That’s more than double the normal minimum wage in Washington State. And in addition to that, full benefits. And in addition to all of that, the businesses that own these two shops are still pulling in between $50,000 and $100,000 per month in revenue, for the community. So, the revenue is just off the charts. And I think that the big race now that we’re going to see, and the reason they haven’t moved on legalisation, is because they don’t know how to monetise it and monopolise it yet. And the big battle here I think, is for us to get the legalisation over that line as soon as possible. And also to make sure that we can bolster co-operative, community-owned businesses and enterprises to dominate this thing. If we don’t, you know we’re gonna lose a lot of money out of our communities. Emily: Absolutely. And I think there’s a real opportunity for forming a new type of economy here, for doing things quite a bit differently and better.

I think that some of those models in the US are fascinating. And the thing as well is that politics in Ireland are quite local and people are very interested in revitalising their communities. There’s often even more of a chance of convincing politicians of that, so that’s an opportunity to get a little strategic campaign in there. I’m gonna go hand over to Nicole! Nicole: Yeah, just to expand on what Roderick said, because all his points are completely valid, it is a massive industry. It’s a multi-million dollar industry. I’m pretty sure the cannabis industry has created about 321,000 jobs in the States and there’s now more cannabis-employed people than dentists. So that’s insanely significant and that needs to be looked at here. I don’t think we can afford to turn our noses up at the revenue that can be generated from this industry.

It just makes sense. Apply this to alcohol – would people rather drink alcohol out of a shoe that was made in someone’s shed, or would they rather buy it from a legal premises where it was tested? I mean that’s a no-brainer, and the same applies to cannabis. While we’re relying on the illegal market, we don’t know what we’re getting. So, I personally would much rather go to a store and choose from a wide range of products. And that is just gonna create a massive amount of revenue, which in turn can be used to fund addiction services, or just generally we could put (it) back into our communities, and to fund our education. It’s so important and my mind is boggled as to why this hasn’t been implemented in Ireland yet. I’m just hoping it will be soon. 

Emily: Great. You touched a little bit there on another great question that came in from a member called Eno, which is, given Irish history and habits, wouldn’t it be effective to produce a proper academic comparative study? He doesn’t know of any studies that are out there, but basically, should we talk about the health and societal implications of alcohol and compare them to cannabis? Is there anybody that would like to answer that one? Yeah, Nicole, keep going! Nicole: I’ll keep going while I’m on a roll! Laughter It’s important to do that, but at the same time you have to acknowledge that cannabis is very different from alcohol. There are always conversations around cannabis, “recreational” versus medicinal, but cannabis itself is inherently medicinal. There’s no budging from that, it’s on the use of the person. Responsible use and personal responsibility are massive when it comes to this.

But yeah, absolutely, it would be worthwhile comparing hospital admissions, for example, between alcohol and cannabis. And the amount of money that’s actually spent on treating both. Because as we know, most people who go to hospital for cannabis… all of those symptoms will resolve themselves at home, with time and re-assurance and rest. There is usually no need for them to actually be in hospital in the first place. It is an important comparative point to make, but at the same time we have to recognise that these are two completely different substances. Emily: Perfect, yeah. I think that’s a great answer. This is a great question here from Maria, who is talking about chronic pain in particular. I think the medical conversation is really important, but I think, and some of you might touch on this, the means by which people can access cannabis has been highly regulated and restricted.

“How much does the Irish government spend on pain management medications with incredibly serious side effects?” She said that she’s “seen people in Ireland with Rheumatoid Arthritis, 5Ehlers Danlos, back issues, hip issues”, going off very high strength prescribed medications, which have a lot of side effects. And that if people could access the right strain, that people would get much better outcomes and much better medical care. But I think the question there is, how does the law need to be, to make sure that people can access the types of cannabis strains that they need? Nicole, you’re coming in there straight away! Nicole: Thanks. Yeah, I think it’s really important for people to recognise that what’s in place doesn’t work. There’s currently two systems in place, whereby people maybe can access medical cannabis products.

So, the first is the licensing system. That’s not fit for purpose as far as I’m concerned, because basically you have to apply via a Consultant. They will then be issued a licence to prescribe products containing THC. You have to choose from the products that you get from the Dutch pharmacy, and most patients are actually paying anywhere from €600 to €9,500 every three months for a prescription. That’s ludicrous, nobody should be paying that money for any type of healthcare. The Medical Cannabis Access Programme, that’s not even been active yet. Legislation that was signed in 2019, it’s still not active. It’s not due to be active until June 2021 and it’s only for three specific conditions and four cannabis-based medicines. And the part that’s actually quite upsetting and very wrong I think, for something that claims to be a compassionate access programme, is the fact that the conditions which it allows access for can only access these products as a last resort.

So that means for patients with MS, they are forced to endure high doses of botox, I think it’s a medication called Tizanidine, apologies if I’m butchering the pronunciation, before low-dose cannabis-based medicines will even be considered. That’s not compassionate, it’s not accessible, so it doesn’t work. I really feel that if we’re gonna be relying on headlines and just accepting what crumbs are thrown our way, we’ll never get what we need. And what we need is actual compassionate access for people who do need these products. People shouldn’t have to jump through hoops. I think it’s very wrong for people who are ill and who are already suffering to put them through so much financial stress to try and get access to a natural product.

So again, I just hope that people will actually push for this and not settle. Because we deserve so much better. Emily: Great answer and I couldn’t agree more. Roderick, would you like to come in? Roderick: Sure. A few small things. I’m biased, because I’m trying to push that 6petition. Laughter So the Uplift petition, there’s some really small things. There’s 102 people here. And there’s one thing that if you did this once a day, or once a week, or with any regularity, that petition would begin to explode. Go on Facebook and join some related Facebook groups, like permaculture, cannabis or drug-related groups, community groups, it doesn’t matter. And if you don’t want all your friends to see it all the time, that’s fine, go to a private one. And then consistently, every day ideally, or every week if you’re willing to, go in and share the petition and say something about cannabis.

A fact about legalisation, and share it and ask people to sign it. And if we can get that fucker to explode, I think that that will give us the organising ability that we need to add a bit of pressure on TDs. That and then one other thing. I think the other big thing is culture-making. Ireland is still in sort of a time capsule, in terms of the culture around cannabis and the expectations, even though fucking everybody smokes, or has at some point. Emily laughs So, that’s the sort of paradox. I think particularly, we’re running into this cultural phenomenon where older people don’t wanna encourage younger people to smoke, even though they smoked. So they want to pretend like they never smoked and it’s bad. Fuck that! The way that we overcome that is by forcing people into a corner, especially our family members, and forcing the conversation.. in a really friendly way.

Emily laughs And if we can do that en masse, we will change the culture. Just like what happened with marriage equality, just like it did with abortion. So, culture-making, and push the fuckin’ petition please! Emily: Absolutely, brilliant Roderick! I love that answer. Nicole, I’m gonna come to you. Nicole: No bother. Excellent points Roderick, love it. Just to expand on that again, just talk! Never shut up! I mean, I talk to the Tesco delivery man about cannabis. He knows what’s coming every week. When you bring the issue of cannabis to anyone in government, they’ll go: “Oh the harms, we have to protect people!” Let’s compare it with Penicillin. How many people are allergic to Penicillin? How many people will have a really, really severe reaction to Penicillin that might put them in hospital, might even kill them?

We factor that in, but we don’t overlook the overwhelming benefits that come with Penicillin. And this should be applied to cannabis, cannabis is no different. We cannot afford to overlook the benefits that cannabis can bring to so many sectors in our society. So again, talk, talk, talk. Share as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to speak up, because once you do you kind of… you never can shut up then really, you’re kind of (saying): “I want to share this information with people!” If your family and your friends are your support network, they will understand and they will listen to what you have to say about cannabis. So yeah, it’s just really important. Please talk, please speak up, don’t be afraid!

References

1 Cork Cannabis Activist Network’s central hub can be accessed here –

https://www.linktr.ee/CorkCAN/

2 For official updates from the Irish Medical Cannabis Council, see

https://www.medcan.ie/

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

4 Seán McCabe’s presentation about an upcoming TASC (Think Tank for Action on Social Change)

report on cannabis can be read here –

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/28/seanmccabe-new-green-deal-uplift/

5 For more on Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, check out our recent interview with Evie Nevin

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/31/evie-nevin-26-05-21/

6 Uplift petition – https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/legalise-cannabis-in-ireland

* The full recording of this Uplift panel discussion, Cannabis: A New Green Deal, can be seen here –

https://bit.ly/3fMje97

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 

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/

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/

Matthew O’Brien of FOUR PM | 23.04.2021

Matthew O’Brien is a young Irishman who moved to Canada in 2017. Having started his career in the cannabis industry as a Budtender, Matthew has since gone on to manage multiple retail locations and processing facilities, overseeing supply chains and developing software & lead marketing for cannabis companies as a Consultant. 

How would you describe FOUR PM?

1Four PM is a weekly newsletter for cannabis professionals, born out of my desire to have access to relevant information that would allow me to make advancements in the cannabis industry. 

When did you launch FOUR PM and what inspired you to start it?

I launched Four PM just shy of six months ago. Four PM is the most selfish, selfless thing I do on a daily basis. By writing a newsletter, I afford myself the opportunity to research subjects that are of interest to me, while at the same time providing just short of 2,000 cannabis professionals with access to what I view as the most relevant information every cannabis professional should be consuming. 

How effective do you think newsletters are in disseminating information about cannabis compared to other methods?

Surprisingly very effective, and extremely under-utilised. As we all know, social media companies have a strong tendency to censor cannabis content, and email is one of the very few channels which is censorship-resistant. With FOUR PM, I can say anything I want without having to alter what I would otherwise like to say, for fear of my content being flagged and a ban issued.

Do you think distributing leaflets about cannabis is too intrusive for getting the message out, or do you feel the information is something people should seek out for themselves?

That’s a good question. I would say it depends on the demographic you are seeking to reach with your message. For older people, I would imagine that this would be an effective content distribution strategy. However, for someone such as myself who is a digital native, I wouldn’t pay much attention to this medium of communication.

What important lessons have you learned by managing cannabis processing facilities and stores?

As a Manager, you work for your staff, not the other way around. A common tendency when people become Managers is that they feel the need to demonstrate their authority over the staff they manage. Personally, I took the opposite approach. Ensuring you are setting your staff up for success each and every day is a necessity for them to succeed, and inadvertently for you to succeed. 

What have been your most rewarding, enjoyable areas of work in cannabis until now? 

If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would once again work as a Budtender. Although it’s a difficult role with shit compensation, there is nothing quite like the relationships you can build with the customers you serve when working as a Budtender.

What for you have been the most exciting developments in the cannabis industry of the past few years?

Mexico legalising cannabis is extremely interesting for a variety of reasons. First of all, Mexico will become the largest cannabis market in the world and it will also create a situation whereby both of the countries that border the United States have legalised cannabis at a federal level, thus increasing the pressure on politicians in the U.S. to make the same amendments to their own legislation, to allow every adult to purchase cannabis. 

Do you plan to develop FOUR PM as a brand outside of the newsletter? Have you got other projects you hope to pursue in the cannabis industry?

As things stand today, I plan on launching a podcast in the coming weeks such that I can provide additional value to those who take the time to consume the content I create. My North Star for FOUR PM is making cannabis professional lives easier, so there’s certainly a number of other low hanging fruits which I will pursue when the time is right. A major issue in the cannabis industry is the lack of transparency surrounding compensation. This is a problem I would like to solve in time. 

Would you mind expanding on why there is a lack of transparency with regards compensation in the cannabis industry?

This is very much a growing pain of this new legal industry which has suddenly come into existence. As a result of building this plane as we fly it, it’s all too easy for us to lose track of what matters, which in my humble opinion is ensuring that the individuals who are contributing to this industry are being treated just as they would in any other industry. 

Without naming any offenders, can you provide a more specific example of how this lack of compensation occurs?

Using myself and my past experiences as an example, while working as a Store Manager in Vancouver – I should have been receiving around double the compensation I was at the time, based upon what Store Managers commonly receive. If not for the fact that I was simply there for the experience and not the compensation, I would have never taken the job in the first place. This happens a lot more than it should, whereby people who are very passionate about working with this plant are willing to compromise on their compensation such that they gain employment in this industry, and I personally don’t see any reason why it has to be one or the other. Why shouldn’t you be able to receive a fair compensation package, while simultaneously getting to work in the cannabis industry?

How big of an aspect is disproving misinformation when increasing awareness for cannabis?

It’s a huge challenge. As an industry, we have effectively been provided with a blank canvas by which to educate consumers. The question is how we choose to use this. Personally, I would love to see a greater emphasis placed on leading with the information that we know to be true, as opposed to leading with assumptions which will likely be disproven in the coming years.

When do you see cannabis being fully legalised in Ireland? Do you think the current Irish government will reform their cannabis laws significantly?

I have to believe this will occur within the next four years. The reality is that the prohibition of cannabis was never about protecting public health, rather it was a means to imprison people from minority communities in the United States who in turn used their influence to force other nations to adopt the same policies. Ireland has so much to gain from legalising cannabis. Imagine the amount of employment that would be created, the taxation revenue that would be generated. Are we to believe that it’s within our best interest to allow gangs to continue to profit off this plant by virtue of the sheer ignorance politicians on the island of Ireland have when it comes to this amazing plant?

Would we need to see cannabis reform in the UK before our government considers legislation?

It’s certainly a possibility, however, Ireland should have a willingness to take the lead on this issue. Should the UK legalise cannabis, which is a question of when not if, it would certainly serve as a catalyst for Ireland doing the same. 

Where in the world do you see a lot of potential for the cannabis industry within the next five years?

I foresee both the United States, and a majority of nations in the European Union legalising cannabis for adult use purposes as soon as they accept that the war on drugs was a complete failure, and amend their legislation to reflect this. We will see a wave of nations making moves to legalise cannabis.

Is there a cannabis company who you see as having particularly exciting potential, in Canada or elsewhere?

I’m a really big fan of two. 2Truss Beverages, who are pioneering cannabis beverages as a category. 3GTEC Cannabis Co is another company who I admire – although there’s a huge surplus of cannabis being produced in Canada, they continue to demonstrate that taking the time to understand the needs of consumers and creating the products that will service these needs is a winning strategy. They were the first Canadian producer to list products’ terpene profiles on their packaging which was a huge milestone for the industry, as we slowly moved away from presenting cannabis products to consumers based on an Indica vs Sativa dichotomy.

What’s your own relationship with cannabis like and when did you first become interested in it?

I would consider my usage of cannabis for wellness purposes. Consuming cannabis allows me to become a better version of myself – someone who is more thoughtful, creative and empathetic to others. I didn’t consume cannabis until I was nineteen, when I was working in Ontario. My decision to not consume was simply due to my ignorance up until this point as to the bounty of benefits cannabinoids have to offer. 

What are your preferences with cannabis and how do you normally use it?

As much as I’m aware that smoking dried flowers is probably not the optimal way to consume cannabis, there is something very therapeutic about rolling joints and smoking dried cannabis. I’m also a big fan of cannabis beverages, which I can see being VERY popular in Ireland. The days are numbered until Guinness releases a cannabis beverage. 

You’ve been living in Canada since 2017, what do you miss the most about home?

Ireland is one of the most beautiful nations on earth. I grew up on a very small island called Cruit [translation: ‘Harp’], which is off the coast of Donegal. And although there are many stunning parts of Canada – nothing compares to Cruit. All going according to plan, I will be able to move back to Cruit, pending the legalisation of cannabis in Ireland. 

What do you NOT miss about being back home?

Having tried out the cannabis available in Ireland, I seriously don’t envy my fellow Irishmen & women, who only have access to this cannabis. One of the perks of calling Vancouver home is my ability to walk down the street with a joint in my mouth and walk past a police officer without even thinking twice about it. 

Thanks so much for your time Matthew, all the best!

References:

1 You can find out more about FOUR PM at this URL: https://www.fourpm.co 

2 Here’s a recent FOUR PM interview with Melanie Smith, the Innovation Lead for Truss Beverages:

https://www.fourpm.co/p/leading-innovation-at-the-highly

3For more information about GTEC Cannabis Co, see this link: https://www.gtec.co/company/