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.

sage coverfenphencover

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: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-june-8-2014-1.3104270/scientists-push-to-renew-psychedelic-drug-research-for-psychiatry-1.310434

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?

Cannabis Conundrum in Canada

I recently wrote on Canada’s changing medical marijuana laws for Alternet.org and a number of other sources. See below:

On June 11, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadians with a valid prescription could take medical marijuana in other forms besides just a dried form.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

In short, the Supreme Court enlarged the definition of medical marijuana, meaning restrictions on extracts and derivatives are now gone and brownies, cookies, shakes are no longer illegal.

And the Canadian government wasn’t pleased.

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose scolded the Supreme Court and told the press she was “outraged” by the ruling.

“Let’s remember, there’s only one authority in Canada that has the authority and the expertise to make a drug into a medicine and that’s Health Canada,” she said during a press conference.

“Marijuana has never gone through the regulatory approval process at Health Canada, which of course, requires a rigorous safety review and clinical trials with scientific evidence.”

She also asserted that the Supreme Court’s decision “normalizes” medical marijuana, something that she and the Conservative government would continue to fight against.

A 1942 Film, directed by Ray Test

This response was not a surprise. Ambrose, who has been at the forefront of Canada’s current drug war, has overseen the passage of regulations in October 2013 that have prevented any heroin-assisted addiction therapy outside of limited trials. She has delayed the introduction of e-cigarettes into the marketplace. And she has pushed for more regulations on prescription drug abuse.

From a political perspective, the Supreme Court decision could be interpreted as a rebuke of the Conservative Party’s tough-on-crime, anti-drugs strategy. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been waging a Canadian War on Drugs since 2007 and the Safe Streets and Communities Act includes mandatory minimum sentences for possession of pot.

Considering the Conservative Party’s approach, then, Rona Ambrose’s reaction was predictable. She, along with the Tories, start from a position that regards cannabis as a “drug of abuse” rather than a drug of “potential use.”

At the same time, the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, have advocated an evidence-based approach to marijuana and is promoting its legalization and controlling access.

As the federal election in the fall grows nearer, the cannabis issue – and its use in the medical marketplace – will surely become heightened.

But is the story of medical marijuana purely a political issue in Canada? Not really. The medical establishment in Canada continues to grapple with the stigmatization and lack of evidence surrounding cannabis.

It’s important to be clear. Medical marijuana is not approved as a medicine by Health Canada, although there is a growing body of clinical evidence regarding its pain-alleviating effects.

As such, physicians in Canada have struggled with the science and ethics of medical marijuana. At the 147th annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in Ottawa last August, many doctors expressed serious reservations about prescribing marijuana.

Some doctors said they felt threatened or intimidated into signing prescriptions, whereas others felt as though patients were shopping for doctors. Worst of all, there were reported cases of malfeasance, where doctors charged their patients for a prescription.

The result of this is that the CMA remains divided on, if not outright opposed to being the gatekeepers of medical marijuana.

Just like Americans, in the years ahead Canadians are going to have to negotiate the politics of pain, pot, and pills. The fall election – a full year before the U.S. presidential election – will feature themes of consumer protection and drug regulation, the right to choose one’s medication and the government’s responsibility to protect Canadians.

The Supreme Court decision in early June made the issue of medical marijuana a lot more intriguing.

This article can also be viewed at http://www.alternet.org/drugs/canada-medical-cannabis-conundrum 

Habitus and Drug Using Environments: Health, Place, and Lived-Experience

Where do we inject drugs? What do the actual places look like? Are they grimy? Or well-maintained? And, more importantly, what can we glean from drug-using environments around the UK? In Stephen Parkin’s new book, we get a sense of this – and so much more.

I reviewed his 2013 monograph for Sociology of Health and Illness earlier this year and found it fascinating. It can viewed here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/shil.2015.37.issue-1/issuetoc

I wrote that it was a “dense and penetrating book that not only helps to re-conceptualise the drug user as an actor, but also problematises the interaction of drugs, drug-using environments and legal frameworks.”

Honestly, I was particularly impressed with the fact that he really got his hands dirty. “He conducted,” I wrote, “over 70 interviews with drug users and close to 170 with front-line health workers in four separate locations in the south of England, including Barking and Dagenham, Plymouth and Southend-on-Sea. At the same time, Parkin fully immersed himself in the milieu that he describes, thereby amassing ethnographic observations, visual assessments of over 400 separate sites and 1000 photographs.”

Basically, Parkin created a wickedly massive dataset.

Looking ahead, I hope that scholars in Canada (and, to a lesser extent) the U.S. follow Parkin’s lead. Getting down in dirty and chronicling drug-using spaces adds a new dimension – a humanity – to the typical drug user.

And perhaps this, in turn, can assist the policy process.

It’s Time for Dr. Oz to Hit the Yellow Brick Road

Doctors should not be cheerleaders. They shouldn’t be flowery with their language about weight-loss treatments. And they sure as hell shouldn’t pitch miracle cures to the public.

This is why Dr. Mehmet Oz must be exposed. He should be removed from his position at Columbia University and shown the Yellow Brick Road.

He first came to attention on Oprah Winfrey’s show five years ago. Since then, he’s fronted a popular daytime television program, the Dr. Oz Show. Ratings are generally high. He’s well-trusted. Until recently, that is.

You can see the full article here: http://www.alternet.org/drugs/time-doctor-oz-hit-yellow-brick-road


Lucas Richert wins book prize

I’m delighted to announce that my book on the FDA has won an award. Go to http://artsandscience.usask.ca/history/news/news.php?newsid=4913 to see the announcement.

History Sessional Lecturer Lucas Richert Wins Book Prize

Dr. Lucas Richert is the winner of the 2015 Arthur Miller Centre First Book Prize for American Studies. It was awarded by the British Association for American Studies. The book Conservatism, Consumer Choice, and the Food and Drug Administration during the Reagan Era (Lexington Books, 2014) explores the FDA, drugs, and politics in the context of the watershed Reagan era, a period when the rhetoric of limited government, reduced regulation, and enhanced cooperation between businesses and U.S. regulatory agencies was on the ascent.

Lucas Richert is a Sessional Lecturer in the Department of History.

The Arthur Miller Centre for American Studies is an initiative designed to further interest in the study of the United States, to promote major new research projects and to facilitate the movement of people between Britain and America. It is based in the School of American Studies at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. The Arthur Miller Centre First Book Prize is awarded annually for the best first book on any American Studies topic.

For the announcement and a list of other awards visit the site here: http://www.baas.ac.uk/project/baas-award-winners-2015/

LSD Has Wondrous Potential

The return of LSD? Call it a comeback? Maybe, maybe not.

Has LSD Matured?
The Return of Psychedelic R&D
By Lucas Richert and Erika Dyck

In February 2014, Scientific American surprised readers with an editorial that called for an end to the ban on psychedelic drug research and criticized drug regulators for limiting access to such psychedelic drugs as LSD (Lysergic acid-diethylamide), ecstasy (MDMA), and psilocybin.

A few months later, Science further described how scientists are rediscovering these drugs as legitimate treatments as well as tools of investigation. “More and more researchers are turning back to psychedelics” to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, various addictions, and other categories of mental illness wrote Kai Kupferschmidt.

Dr. Osmond, the man who coined "psychedelic"
Dr. Osmond, the man who coined “psychedelic”

Historians of medicine and drugs have long held a view that psychoactive substances conform to cyclical patterns involving intense periods of enthusiasm, therapeutic optimism, critical appraisals, and finally limited use. The duration of this cycle has varied, but this historical model suggests psychedelics are due for a comeback tour. It was just a matter of time…

See the full article at Alternet.org