Last year I had opinion-editorials published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and elsewhere. Both focused on “vaping,” Oxford English Dictionary’s word of 2014.

My take was this: we need to think more clearly about e-cigarettes in Saskatoon – as well as the wider world. The government needs to get proactive. We, as consumers, should also think about them more critically. Essentially, we need to cut through all the smoke and mirrors.

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Now, Saskatoon’s city council is voting (that is, tonight folks) on “a vaping ban” in the city.

As reported by the local paper, “If city council approves a proposed change to the local smoking bylaw, use of electronic cigarettes — also known as vaping — will be banned anywhere in Saskatoon that regular cigarettes are. The change, which will be considered at Monday’s council meeting, would expand the city’s Smoking Control Bylaw to include vaping as of Jan. 1, 2016. It would make vaping prohibited in public buildings, bus shelters, schools, businesses and other places cigarettes are currently not allowed.”

So, big changes are afoot here. And these changes could influence the smoking of traditional cigarettes at the local and provincial level. Indeed, many supporters of e-cigs make the case that the new technology deters relapses.

The Star Phoenix also quotes a local “vaping” business owner, Jim Wollf, who said he understands the argument that vaping puts unnatural chemicals into a person’s body, but argued it should be looked at as a harm-reduction strategy.

This is exactly the problem that my opinion-editorials have tackled. Here’s a taster:

“In September 2014, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose called for more research on e-cigarettes from the Commons standing committee on health. Last month, the committee released its initial report, which called for an end to the legal grey zone that surrounds the technology in Canada and the implementation of a new set of rules that balances the benefits and risks of “vaping.”

Premier Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan government would be wise to take the committee’s advice and do the same. In their brief history, e-cigarettes have proven to be divisive products. They have raised serious challenges for consumers, politicians and health officials. It is time, however, to cut through the fog and for the provincial government to get proactive.”



Lumbersexuality in Saskatoon? Oh – and a Bit About Psychiatry

First David Beckham brought us the metrosexual look and now we have witnessed the rise of the “lumbersexual.” In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary just named it one of the most important words of 2015. (Emoji won. But “lumbersexuality” was in the mix.)

In Saskatoon, SK, you will see these particular bearded, booted, manly-men in specialty coffee shops on 20th Street as well as Broadway Avenue. They frequent the Farmer’s Market and craft breweries. Back in October, these hirsute individuals were given the label “lumbersexual” by the website GearJunkie.  And since then, popular culture has taken this term and run with it.

download lumbersexual look

While the U.K.’s Daily Mail has showcased Ben Affleck and Kanye West in flannel and denim, Cosmopolitan asked its readers, “Are you Dating a Lumbersexual?” Here at home, the CBC got it all wrong. It suggested in November, 2014 that the lumbersexual tends to reside in urban centres like New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto.

Of course, this is not entirely accurate.  Anyone who has visited the University of Saskatchewan campus recently can attest that we have real, live lumbersexuals in Saskatoon as well. This is not just a “big” city phenomenon.

However, it is a men’s fashion trend with a long history and it’s wrapped up in the history of psychiatry. At the turn of the 20th century, men trapped in cities began suffering from neurasthnenia, a new disease that skyrocketed to near epidemic proportions in 1880-1890s. There was a concern that middle-class white men were growing more anxious, tired, and depressed.

George Beard, M.D, came up with the term in 1881 and believed that the fast-paced lifestyle and modern industrial economy caused disruptions in man’s “nervous energy.” The way to balance this energy was not simply with drugs. Beard’s answer was to withdraw from the pressures of urban life and get active.

For him, neurasthenia was a catchall term for a broad set of symptoms. And whereas women were ordered to bed for hysteria (or prescribed other unmentionable treatments), men were instructed to get back to nature, find their primitive side, and be masculine. That is, be wild. Outdoorsy. Think Thoreau.

In an effort to capitalize on this diagnosis, the lumberjack image – a rugged, axe-wielding, naturalist – was created to serve as a model of manliness. He was a cure for the chronic neurasthenics and was also a tool of journalists and advertisers. This archetype came to life in magazines and newspapers and was used to sell all manner of goods.

University of Virginia
This chart from American Nervousness, Its Causes and Consequences by George M. Beard (1881) illustrates the progression of symptoms attributed to neurasthenia.


Are we seeing something similar now in the use of the lumberjack motif?  In an age of increased awareness about Depression and other mental health issues, are we seeing the cyclical return of a 135-year old fashion trend?

Of course, this is what happened with metrosexuality. And the broader lumbersexual phenomenon, according to Tim Teeman, is just straight culture’s latest attempt to theatricalize masculinity – decades after gays got there first.

In Teeman’s view, lumbersexuality is the “latest pasteurizing of sexuality…” It is, he writes (half-seriously) just another way that straights have stolen from gay culture. First it was design expertise, gym dedication, and gift-buying acumen. Now this. “What else can we give you?” jokes Teeman.

In other words, that fellow working in the coffee shop or strolling through the mall is helping reinvent a century-old fashion trend. And his long but well-maintained beard, polished leather boots, tattoos, and dark jeans – let’s be honest, the great style – has a history stretching back over a hundred years.

Dallas Buyers Club and Saskatoon Marijuana

I just penned a short piece on Dallas Buyers Club and the current debates about medical marijuana in Saskatoon, SK for the Star Phoenix.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

With the federal election fast approaching, the Harper government’s move to enlarge Canada’s marijuana industry, and the RCMP’s potential actions against dispensaries here in Saskatoon, a lot is happening!


The piece begins this way:

In the award-winning 2013 movie, Dallas Buyers Club, we are exposed to heroic patient activism during the AIDS crisis in the U.S. Based on the true story of AIDS-stricken Ron Woodroof, a hard-partying Texas tradesman, the film shows a strikingly thin Matthew McConaughey battle his sickness and the legal authorities in Texas.


Woodroof, who’s unhappy with his illegally purchased AIDS medicine, and on the edge of death, seeks out alternative and experimental drugs from a doctor in Mexico. Then Ron, being the savvy entrepreneur that he is, quickly establishes a club (a dispensary) to sell his unregulated, sometimes dangerous, imported medicines. In doing so, he operates outside the law and is forced to confront the existing power structure of drug regulation. At one point in the film, Ron storms a town hall meeting of citizens, drug company leaders, and regulators and starts finger-pointing. “People are dying. And y’all up there are afraid that we’re gonna find an alternative without you.”

Saskatoon’s current struggle with illegal marijuana dispensaries has many parallels.

Mark Hauk, who operates Saskatoon’s first medical marijuana dispensary, is one of 13 pot club owners across Canada who has recently received a notice from Health Canada warning of possible RCMP raids.

These stores and clubs are illegal because they procure and sell their products outside the federal medical marijuana system, which was overhauled and expanded last year to allow industrial-scale production of pot products that are mailed directly to licensed patients.Dallas-Buyers-Club-poster-2013-movie-poster-HD

While this system was certainly upgraded through the Harper government’s Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulation, there are still areas for improvement.

According to Neil Boyd at Simon Fraser, “…it is really quite bizarre that they’re using a mail-order system for marijuana as medicine; that’s not the way medicine is usually dispensed. Medicine is usually dispensed through a visit to a physician and through a pharmacy.”

The entire opinion-editorial, which is called “Pot problems have a familiar ring,” can be found here.

The Canadian Election and Sask Marijuana

The federal election is going to have a profound impact on Saskatchewan’s marijuana industry. So writes D.C. Fraser in a new article for the Regina Leader-Post.

I told Fraser during an interview for the story that “Depending on what the winner suggests about medical marijuana legislation, (it will have) a direct impact on the economy, and on this sector of the economy…”

In many ways, SK has the potential for tremendous growth in the realm of medical marijuana and I’m genuinely intrigued to see what happens in the next few years.

A link to the full Leader-Post article is here.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

Gordon Oakes-Redbear Student Centre

It is simply awesome that the the G. Oakes-Redbear Student Centre is nearly open. The finishing touches are being put on the building right now. As it stands, it looks like this. And it will only look better as the University of Saskatchewan prepares for the grand opening.

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I firmly believe that this will augur in a new era at the university and it’s fitting that the recently-named president of the institution, Peter Stoicheff, has called for a process of indigenization.

I just finished and reviewed an excellent book on Native Diasporas in the United States and couldn’t help but think about how the USask has the potential to be a world leader.ProductImageHandlerIn the introduction to Native Diasporas, Gregory Smithers and Brooke Newman make the case that “social, political, economic, and cultural structures…produced both disjunctures and patterns in the way indigenous Americans spoke about themselves in relation to one another and in relation to colonizers.” (4)

While we’re talking about two different countries, I certainly feel that the Gordon Oakes-Redbear Student Centre will provide a physical space that encourages discussions about these relations. How could it not?


Happy Halloween, and a Freaky Fen-Phen Article

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Happy Halloween, everybody!

The best part of the day is not the cute kids in their adorable costumes. Or the wild parties. Or seeing Michael Jackson’s Thriller over and over and over again. No. The best part has to be the treats.

As I was casually munching chocolate bars with my coffee this morning (Wunderbar is my favourite, hands down!), I thought about the implications. For many Canadians and Americans, cleanses are the answer. Some hit the gym, while others get more drastic and take all sorts of diet pills. Often, it is buying the hot new diet pill, like Time magazine shouts below.

Fen-Phen was one of the hottest diet drugs of the 1990s; unfortunately, it proved dreadfully unsafe. In the Encyclopedia of Pharmacology of Society, I offer a short overview of this weight loss therapy. I recount some of the more ghoulish aspects of the drug. I provide insight into the macabre nature of diet pills, much as I did with another frightening article called Trimming Down.

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This textbook, which is about 2000 pages, will be a fantastic resource for all those people wondering about the role of drugs – including diet drugs – in everyday life. Honestly, the price of the book is blood-curdling, but it’s certainly worth the chills. It answers some crucial questions: How powerful is the drug modern industry? What’s it’s role in society, and how are we influenced by it? Who are the major players? And what does the future of drugs hold?

So, have a great Happy Halloween. Enjoy the candy and costumes. Me, I’m going to probably dole out some treats and watch the Princess Bride, as per household tradition. Remember, a book of Pharmacology and Society’s girth would be a great tool to take out all manner of goblins, ghouls, or rodents of unusual size (ROUS)!

Cheers! Enjoy your treats.


LSD is Back – And it’s Legit!

My colleague, mentor, and friend, Erika Dyck, is making waves on the airwaves. The topic is LSD, the focus of her excellent first book, Psychedelic Psychiatry: LSD From Clinic to Campus.


She recently was interviewed in the U.S., but even more recently she was interviewed by the CBC here at home.

The story can be found here:

It’s an amazing thought that LSD has made something of a comeback in recent months and years. I wonder what the future holds for hallucinogenic drugs in medicine?