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.

Devil's_Harvest
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 

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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

dr._oz

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
http://www.alternet.org/drugs/lsd-has-wondrous-uses-we-havent-even-begun-tap

Is it Time to Treat Heroin Addiction…with Heroin?

This article was posted on Alternet.org and ActiveHistory.ca http://activehistory.ca/2014/12/heroin-as-treatment-the-calculations-of-a-new-junk-equation/

Heroin as treatment? The calculations of a new ‘junk’ equation

By Lucas Richert

“I have learned the junk equation,” wrote William Burroughs in his semi-autobiographical 1953 book, Junkie. “Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means to increase enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.” According to Burroughs, the beatnik, spoken word performer, and author of such other novels as Naked Lunch and Queer, heroin was a way of life for habitual users and addicts. It was not simply a drug that enhanced the quality of one’s everyday experiences, nor was it a means to be a more productive individual. Rather, junk was an end in itself.

Burroughs, for his part, used methadone treatment to deal with his junk addiction. Heroin has had a long and troubled history. It started out like many other illegal drugs, including cocaine, LSD, and mescaline, and was initially touted as a wonder drug. Accepted as a legitimate product in the marketplace and tool in the doctor’s black bag, it was widely available in the U.S. and Canada during the 19th century.

Can Ketamine Fight Depression?

Drugs in Society. Rampant Depression. And Ketamine, also known as Special K. It’s not just a breakfast cereal. Go to Alternet.org to view the entire post

Special K and Depression
By Lucas Richert
Published December 18, 2014

Special K is not just a breakfast cereal and party drug.

Also known as ketamine, it has long been used as an anesthetic in short term diagnostic and surgical procedures. But Special K is now driving a significant debate in mental health circles because a growing number of psychiatrists in the United States and elsewhere are using it to combat depression.

According to Andrew Pollack in the New York Times, “it is either the most exciting new treatment in years” or it’s a “hallucinogenic drug that is wrongly being dispensed to desperate patients.”

There is still a decided lack of data necessary for any rational, evidence-based decision. At this stage, the jury isn’t even out. Yet, leading medical centers, including the National Institute of Health, Yale, and Oxford are proposing that low-dose ketamine for major depression has tremendous potential. It has become, according to Scientific American, a rising star in the world of depression research.