Frightening Pharma

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Weed in the Workplace

The newest issue of Canadian HR Reporter discusses ‘weed in the workplace’ and focuses on drug screening. There are some vital ideas here about on-the-job safety, the legalities of drug testing, and impairment. Basically – drugs during ‘9 to 5.’ Also, I get my two cents in there! Check it out at Increasing use of marijuana could cause problems on the job

 

Crackdown? Regulating E-Cigarettes

In the Regina Leader-Post today I write about Canadian e-cigarette rules. Both the U.S. and E.U. have moved ahead with new rules. Should Canada?

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Why Aren’t We Regulating E-Cigarettes?

Recently, the regulation and use of e-cigarettes in Canada, the U.S. and European Union has raised serious challenges for consumers, politicians, and health officials. Now, the U.S. and the EU have moved forward with new policies and Canada is being left in the dust.

In the U.K., an estimated 2.6 million people use e-cigs, prompting more calls for regulation. And this week, new regulations go into effect.

These include rules that limit the size of refill containers and the potency. All packaging must be “child proof.” Manufacturers will be asked to submit to government scrutiny. Finally, if three EU member states express a willingness to ban e-cigs, it will be possible to start a process banning them across the whole of the union.

Last week, the U.S. government also took broad steps to crack down for the first time on e-cigarettes, which have been growing in popularity among teens and are projected to be a $4-billion industry this year.

The Food and Drug Administration’s move brought regulation of e-cigarettes in line with existing rules for cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco. This action had been anticipated after the FDA issued a proposed rule two years ago on how to supervise the e-cigarette industry.

“Millions of kids are being introduced to nicotine every year, a new generation hooked on a highly addictive chemical,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell said. She suggested that health officials still don’t have scientific evidence showing e-cigarettes can help smokers quit, as the industry asserts, and thus avoid the known ills of tobacco.

In Canada, considering that both the Harper Conservatives and Trudeau Liberals have dithered on crafting any meaningful policy, perhaps it would be easiest simply to follow the lead of the EU or U.S.

First, e-cigarettes have not been proven as a legitimate and conclusive aid in quitting smoking. Anecdotally, many believe they are a useful harm-reduction tool. Many former smokers praise the devices, while many physicians and public health experts also support their use. Yet, there is anything but scientific or medical consensus on the e-cig.

Second, the flavoured liquid that substitutes for nicotine lacks proper regulatory standards, so the safety is problematic. Business owners either can craft the liquid themselves or purchase it from anywhere they wish. This raises questions of security. It’s basically a “wild west” market. Without appropriate controls over the liquid mixing process or the supply and distribution chain, consumer protection is weakened. It is unthinkable that a pharmacy down the block could operate in an unregulated, unstandardized environment.

Also, a recent report in the U.S. found that e-cigs have “sickened rising numbers of young children,” and in most cases this involved swallowing liquid nicotine. In Lethbridge, an e-cig exploded in the face of young Ty Greer. It “lit his face on fire,” knocked out teeth and seared the back of his throat. The young man will bear the scars of this accident forever.

Do such examples mean we ought to crack down hard and regulate this market out of existence? No. Does this mean we should think proactively? Yes.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador are the only provinces that have not banned sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, according to the Non-Smokers Rights Association.

Les Hagen of the group Action on Smoking and Health said what happened in Lethbridge is another reason why e-cigarettes must be regulated federally and provincially. By contrast, Jesse Kline of the National Post has told us, “Don’t believe the fear campaign — e-cigarettes can save millions of lives.”

It is time for federal leadership. We need rules that meet the needs of consumer protection and business owners, and balance health concerns for children with harm reduction for adults. According to federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, “Health Canada is actively reviewing health and safety data and scientific studies on vaping products, including e-cigarettes.” She noted a report will be issued reasonably soon.

It will be a tricky task, especially with the marijuana file looming large.

Lucas Richert teaches the history of pharmaceutical and recreational drugs at the University of Saskatchewan.

HEAT, 20 YEARS LATER

In December 1995, my movie-world was rocked to its foundations with the release of Heat, Michael Mann’s L.A.-based crime masterpiece. I had never seen or heard anything like it. The action sequences were thoughtful, gritty, and cacophonous. The story, while not overly complicated, was compelling. I staggered out of the theater (Saskatoon’s now defunct Capitol Four) disoriented and punch-drunk. Heat was immediately one of my favorite films.

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Prior to the film’s release, it was surmised that the onscreen meeting of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro would create a rift in the space-time continuum. (Of course, they had both starred in the Godfather II, but had not shared the screen.)

Michael Mann, fresh off The Last of the Mohicans, chanced a rupture in space and time, and it was clearly worth the risk. He cast Pacino as Lt. Vincent Hanna and DeNiro as Neil McCauley. Both characters were driven, adrenaline-fuelled, Alphas: McCauley the cool career criminal with a code, and Hanna as the unrelenting, hyper-passionate lawman.

Over the course of 170 mins, they play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse throughout the streets of Los Angeles. Hanna seeks out McCauley with singular determination, while McCauley pursues his final big “score.” At one stage, they sit down for a cup of coffee and discuss their situation. This scene, of course, was highly anticipated and, according to Mann, unrehearsed to maintain authenticity.

According to Matt Patches in Esquire, as Hanna and McCauley ruminate on the duality of human instincts the scene is “biblically awesome.” I certainly agree, but it isn’t the best part of the film.

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Instead, the heists – that is, the action sequences – remain the most memorable and explosive scenes in the film. The realism of the high-octane robberies left me breathless. As Mann explained it, the shootout scenes were done “using the natural sound of the gunfire recorded on set. And with no visual effects.” According to Vince Mancini, “the action scenes have a way of drowning out the rest in retrospect because they brought an intensity…that I don’t think we’d ever seen up until that point.” Here’s a YouTube link to the armored car robbery.

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But what about drugs, you may ask? Right, I nearly forgot.

Al Pacino’s frenetically intense Lt. Hanna is constantly on the edge. He’s thoroughly hardcore in his pursuit of McCauley and he’s always keeping it 100. The original script of the film showcased his addiction to cocaine, a “tool” he used to stay sharp, stay focused. However, the final version – much like Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes – chose not to go down that cocaine road and underline mis/use of the drug.

At the end of 2015, we’re caught in the midst of Star Wars mania. We’re trapped in its unyielding gravitational pull. Yet, twenty years ago this month Heat proved itself a groundbreaking crime drama. In a recent Q&A during the Toronto International Film Festival, Mann answered a question about the line in the film, “time is luck.” He asserted to audience members that he truly believed it —  that “Time is luck and that’s why I keep repeating it in all these movies.” If we’re lucky, we’ll be talking about Heat in another twenty years.

 

Twin Addictions? Zombies (i.e., The Walking Dead) and Bath Salts

In 2015, we are grappling with the addictive properties of The Walking Dead. Based on the best-selling comic book and developed for TV by Frank Darabont, the series has proven to be as enduring and enslaving as many popular drugs.

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With only a month left in Season 6, many questions surround the future of Rick, Daryl, and the rest. The zombie hordes have broken through the wall. Ron has set his sights on Carl and the next episode, which is called “Start to Finish,” will likely see the end of a character. But who will it be? Who’s going to lose a body part or two? Tune in…

But zombies don’t only frequent the big and small screen. They don’t simply occupy pages of novels and graphic novels. Quite the opposite. In recent years, drug addicts on bath salts have been portrayed as nightmarish zombies tearing at the flesh of unwitting victims. Let me explain.

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Bath salts are examples of new classes of designer drugs, which are sometimes referred to as “legal highs.” These are substances with psychotropic effects that have been or are marketed and distributed for recreational use by exploiting gaps in existing drug legislation. Another popular example is the synthetic cannabinoids (“fake marijuana”) marketed under names such as Spice.

In 2012, the Americans made bath salts illegal through the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act and then with the Synthetic Cathinones Control Act a year later. At roughly the same time, Canada introduced measures to ban the key ingredient in bath salts, methlyenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV).

The move to schedule and control the drug was surely warranted, yet one can easily detect how the drug was sensationalized as part of this process. Lurid and grotesque stories were reported about bath salts, including the naked zombie attacker who was shot by police in Miami while biting a victim’s face. Rudy Eugene, the face-chewing “zombie,” wasn’t on any bath salts, contrary to a majority of the stories.

Yet, the nation went into full-on moral panic mode. From PBS and Spin to Forbes and GQ magazine, the public was exposed to the new menace in American society. It was the stuff of nightmares. It was a Zombie Bath Salt Apocalypse.

The Big Picture

Cathinones are naturally occurring amphetamine-like substances that come from Khat, a plant found in eastern Africa which has been chewed since at least the tenth century. Synthetic cathinones, not surprisingly, are lab-created derivatives of this compound, dating back to 1928 or so.

By the 1990s, the use/misuse of the synthetic cathinones began to pop up on radar screens and became an issue with law enforcement and government officials.

Before the recent regulation in the past few years, the designer “bath salts” were purchased from dealers, through online distributors, or at book stores, gas stations, and head shops. They got the nickname because they resembled the everyday Epsom salts that bath-lovers pour in their water when they take a soothing soak.

But there are trade names as well: “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” “Ocean Burst,” “Monkey Dust,” “Sextacy,” “Vanilla Sky,” and “White Lightning” are just some of the varieties one can put in the body rather than the bathtub. Tough to detect, they can be snorted, smoked, or injected.

And the effects of these are similar to MDMA. Users have reported increased energy and empathy, more sociability, and mental and sexual stimulation. The negative side effects of bath salts, on the other hand, have included difficulty breathing, fatigue, insomnia, muscle twitching, nausea, paranoia, violent behavior, and tachychardia.

A Vicious Circle

Compared to traditional psychotropic drugs (cocaine and LSD, for instance), there is relatively scant medical information available. That has not prevented its assignment to the category of Schedule I, meaning it has no known and accepted medical use.

Yet certain researchers raise interesting points. One is that classifying bath salts as schedule I substances without pre-clinical or human research is very problematic.

This move restricts the number of laboratories and institutions with licenses to study the bath salts. As a result, finding an accepted medical use becomes even more difficult, even though there have been suggestions that bath salts could be a viable alternative to amphetamines in dealing with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or severe, treatment-resistant Depression.

This is, in short, a case of the snake eating its tail, and one does not have to look any further than LSD to detect some historical parallels. In the late 1960s, the recreational abuse of LSD as well as the anti-authority, counter-cultural, and outright malevolent images associated with it helped to scuttle research. Now, after over forty years, LSD has begun to make a slow return, and perhaps even a comeback.

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Hyperbole and inaccurate information played a role in the scheduling and controlling of LSD, in other words. This was also the case when it was reported that crazed Mexicans who smoked marijuana went on vicious rampages, or when it was reported that Chinese workers were raping white women in opium dens while customers were “Chasing the Dragon.” With bath salts, which are the latest in a long line of drugs used for their euphoric effects, this hyperbole was readily apparent.

No, bath salts will not turn you into a cannibalistic criminal like Rudy Eugene in Miami. And, no, bath salts will not give you super strength. But the media had no problems in pushing such narratives on news consumers.

Should we be surprised about this type of journalism? Or that it dovetailed with the first synthetic cathinone legislation in 2012, which was passed the same month as the attack? Far from. If anything, the history of drug policy demonstrates how predictable this is.

In the future, the best way to avoid cowering in bed (or hiding behind a big wall) in the face of an imminent zombie bath salt apocalypse is with candor. It’s probably best not to cut off avenues of research or focus on gory thoughts about face-chewing.

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And, at the very least, it would be prudent to recognize the challenges and dangers of designer drugs like bath salts, even as we place them in a longer history of drugs. This way, like Rick and Daryl, we can create a proactive strategy for evading the zombie hordes.

Saskatoon top place in Canada to be charged for marijuana possession

Saskatoon is one of the cities in Canada that cracks down hardest on possession of minor marijuana and this is incredible, especially in light of the provincial government’s newly unveiled policies on liquor regulation.

As seen here and  here, the Wall government has ushered in a series of new rules that liberalizes alcohol policy in Saskatchewan. We are privatizing liquor in the province. And we are also – to supporters, at least – rationalizing widely unfair policies.

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It’s strange, then, that the rate of enforcement for possession of marijuana is so variable. In Saskatchewan, for example, Regina is much more lenient than Saskatoon. And we must question what this ultimately means? Just as consistent liquor policies drove debates in government and within the electorate, the lack of rationalization and parity in enforcement rates deserves more consideration.

 

Mr. J. Lundstrom, a Saskatoon -based marijuana advocate.

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The CBC decided to interview me recently about Saskatoon’s enforcement of marijuana.

This is the beginning of the story:Saskatchewan is the place you’re most likely to get busted for simple possession of marijuana and Saskatoon tops the list of major Canadian cities. According to 2014 data from Statistics Canada, 77 per cent of the time Saskatoon police stop someone suspected of having pot, they lay a charge.That compares with 48 per cent in Regina . The Canadian average was 39 per cent.

Meanwhile, if you look at the per capita rates of pot charges, Saskatoon ranks fourth behind Kelowna, Gatineau and Sherbrooke.

Lucas Richert, a history instructor at the U of S who has an academic interest in pop culture and drugs in North America, said we have to look at many factors when it comes to any conclusions we derive from enforcement rates. “Saskatchewan is a microcosm of wildly inconsistent enforcement rates across Canada.” Saskatoon has chosen a specific course of action on pot, Richert said.

“Saskatoon has traditionally adopted the so-called broken windows approach to enforcement of marijuana,” he said. “The broken windows approach is the idea that a visible police presence and severe crackdown on smaller infractions will deter larger crimes.” He added that resources are a large factor to consider when looking at these rates, as well as “the philosophy of a given chief.”

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

Now, the full article can be seen here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/saskatoon-top-place-in-canada-to-be-charged-for-marijuana-possession-1.3249579

On a final note, I wanted to underline a CRUCIAL part of this tale, a part of the interview that didn’t make it to the news – Police Chief Clive Weighill has been very progressive in certain areas, but his policy vis-a-vis marijuana is perplexing. Part of the story has something to do with the fact that he is President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), although this deserves much more exploration in the months and years ahead.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS – MORE ON VAPING

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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.