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Chronicle AM: FDA Grants "Breakthrough Therapy" Status for Psilocybin, MI Pot Poll, More... (10/29/18)

The Michigan marijuana initiative still has a healthy lead as Election Day nears, the FDA has granted "breakthrough therapy" status for psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, and more.

The FDA thinks there could be something magic in these mushrooms. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Legalization Initiative With Comfortable Lead. A new Detroit Free Press poll has the Proposal 1 legalization initiative favored by a margin of 57% to 41%. That's nearly unchanged from the previous Detroit Free Press poll in September, which had the issue winning 56% to 41%. "Even though there are some law-enforcement groups and others that are putting out information against the proposal, it seems to have pretty solid support," the pollsters noted. "There has always been a perception that there are far too many people in jail for a minimal amount of use and that it prohibits the police from spending time on more serious crimes."

Michigan Marijuana Foes Spending Big Bucks. The organized opposition to Proposal 1, known as Healthy and Productive Michigan, has collected more than $1 million in the past quarter, nearly double the $529,000 raised by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Coalition, which is leading the "yes" campaign. The opposition still has $600,000 in the bank, which it is using for a series of cable TV ads. But the polling suggests the ads aren't working. Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) ponied up more than $600,000 to defeat the measure, while executives from DTE Energy have donated more than $300,000.

Oregon County's Lawsuit Challenging State Legalization Thrown Out. A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit from Josephine County contending that federal law criminalizing marijuana preempts the state's law allowing commercial production and sales. US District Court Judge Michael McShane ruled last Thursday that cities and counties don't have standing to sue a state in federal court. The county has not yet decided whether it will appeal the ruling.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Celebrate First Day of Legal Sales. The Sooner State saw its first legal medical marijuana dispensary sales last Friday. Some 600 dispensary licenses have already been approved, but only a handful of stores were actually open on opening day. That will change in the coming months.

Psychedelics

FDA Grants "Breakthrough Therapy" Status for Psilocybin to Treat Depression. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Breakthrough Therapy status to psilocybin -- the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms -- for use in treating depression after early experimental results showed promise. The designation allows the FDA to expedite research and review of psilocybin-based treatments. It is aimed specifically at a Phase IIb trial currently underway investigating the optimal dose range for psilocybin used for severe treatment-resistant depression.

Psychedelics Are Showing Real Promise for Treating Mental Disorders

Research presented at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting in San Francisco last weekend is illuminating the rapid advance of psychedelic science. New findings are adding to a growing mountain of evidence that psychedelics could be effective at treating a range of psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and social anxiety.

The research could be laying the groundwork for legal prescribing of psychedelics including MMDA (ecstasy), ayahuasca, LSD, and psilocybin (magic mushrooms). But that's a way down the road: All of these drugs are currently illegal, classified as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act. (The two plants that combine to make ayahuasca are not illegal, but DMT, the mind-altering ingredient in ayahuasca, is.)

Researchers began studying psychedelics for their potential healing benefits after the discovery of LSD in 1943, but that research came to a screaming halt in the 1960s, when psychedelics were criminalized in the wake of their widespread adoption by the counterculture. Recent years, however, have seen an efflorescence of interest in the therapeutic benefits of the substances -- and it's starting to pay off.

"Combined with psychotherapy, some psychedelic drugs like MDMA, psilocybin, and ayahuasca may improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder," said Cristina L. Magalhaes, Ph.D., of Alliant International University Los Angeles, and co-chair of a symposium on psychedelics and psychotherapy. "More research and discussion are needed to understand the possible benefits of these drugs, and psychologists can help navigate the clinical, ethical and cultural issues related to their use."

In one study, researchers questioned 159 participants about their spirituality, their relationship with their own emotion, and their use of hallucinogens. Laurentian University's Adele Lafrance, Ph.D., reported that psychedelic use correlated with higher levels of spirituality, which were associated with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression and improved emotional stability.

"This study reinforces the need for the psychological field to consider a larger role for spirituality in the context of mainstream treatment because spiritual growth and a connection to something greater than the self can be fostered," said Lafrance.

An ayahuasca study found similar results. That study suggested the drug could help relieve addiction and depression, as well as helping people cope with trauma.

"We found that ayahuasca also fostered an increase in generosity, spiritual connection, and altruism," said Clancy Cavnar, Ph.D., with the Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (Nucleus of Interdisciplinary Psychoactive Studies).

Another study, led by Alicia Danforth, Ph.D., of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, found that a combination of psychotherapy and MMDA could treat social anxiety in adults on the autism spectrum. In that study, 12 participants with moderate to severe social anxiety twice given doses of MMDA and treated with psychotherapy, and they showed significant, long-lasting reductions in anxiety.

"Social anxiety is prevalent in autistic adults and few treatment options have been shown to be effective," said Danforth. "The positive effects of using MDMA and therapy lasted months, or even years, for most of the research volunteers."

Yet another study examined the use of psilocybin in reducing stress and anxiety in people suffering from terminal cancer. In that study, 13 subjects were given psilocybin in conjunction with psychotherapy. Researchers found that the experience helped subjects grapple with their feelings about death and develop new understandings of dying.

"Participants made spiritual or religious interpretations of their experience and the psilocybin treatment helped facilitate a reconnection to life, greater mindfulness and presence and gave them more confidence when faced with cancer recurrence," said Gabby Agin-Liebes, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Palo Alto University, who conducted the research.

After a decades-long lacuna, psychedelic science is back. How long that will take to translate into psychedelics becoming legally available by prescription remains to be seen, but the groundwork is being laid right now.

Does Microdosing Psychedelics Really Improve Your Life?

Microdosing psychedelics has been a thing for awhile now. It is the practice of ingesting drugs such as LSD or psilocybin (the stuff that puts the magic in magic mushrooms) in amounts too small to create a psychedelic experience in a bid to improve focus and creativity, boost mood, or quell anxiety.

LSD blotters. How much is a microdose? (Creative Commons)
Microdosing has developed a laudatory literature -- see Ayelet Waldman's 2017 A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life and Michael Pollan's 2018 How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence -- but next to no serious scientific study.

Until now. In findings first presented at the June Beyond Psychedelics conference in Prague (and to be published as three separate research papers later this year), University of Toronto researchers offered fascinating insights into the how, why, and results of using small amounts of psychedelics for therapeutic effects.

In a research announcement, cognitive neuroscientist and study coauthor Thomas Anderson said his interest in the topic was sparked when reviewed the scientific literature and found plenty of anecdotal reports but a lack of scientific research on the practice.

"There's currently a renaissance going on in psychedelic research with pilot trials and promising studies of full-dose MDMA (ecstasy) use for post-traumatic stress disorder and of psilocybin use within healthy populations or to treat depression and end-of-life anxiety," said Anderson. "There hasn't been the same research focus on microdosing. We didn't have answers to the most basic epidemiological questions -- who is doing this and what are they doing?"

Anderson and a team of researchers decided to do something no one had done before: ask the users themselves about their experiences. The researchers identified microdosing communities on Reddit and other social media forums and sent them an anonymous online survey asking about the quantity and frequency of their psychedelic use, reasons for microdosing, effect on mood, focus and creativity, and the benefits and drawbacks of the practice. The survey generated 1.390 initial responses, with 909 respondents answering all questions. Two-thirds of the respondents were either current or past microdosers.

"We wanted to ensure the results produced a good basis for future psychedelic science," Anderson said.

What they found was that microdosers reported positive effects, including improved focus and productivity, better connection with others, and reductions in migraines. Quantitatively, microdosers scored lower than non-microdosers on scales measuring negative emotionality and dysfunctional attitude.

Microdosers did report some drawbacks to the practice, but those were related more to the illegal status of psychedelics than to the practice itself.

"The most prevalently reported drawback was not an outcome of microdosing, but instead dealt with illegality, stigma and substance unreliability," says Anderson. "Users engage in black market criminalized activities to obtain psychedelics. If you're buying what your dealer says is LSD, it could very well be something else."

The survey did help clarify the frequency of microdosing -- most respondents reported using every three days, while a smaller group did it once a week -- and just what constituted a microdose.

"Typical doses aren't well established," said Anderson. "We think it's about 10 mcg or one-tenth of an LSD tab, or 0.2 grams of dried mushrooms. Those amounts are close to what participants reported in our data."

But accurate dosing was another problem area: "With microdoses, there should be no 'trip' and no hallucinations. The idea is to enhance something about one's daily activities, but it can be very difficult to divide a ½-cm square of LSD blotting paper into 10 equal doses. The LSD might not be evenly distributed on the square and a microdoser could accidentally 'trip' by taking too much or not taking enough," Anderson said.

"The goal of the study was to create a foundation that could support future work in this area, so I'm really excited about what these results can offer future research," he explained. "The benefits and drawbacks data will help ensure we can ask meaningful questions about what participants are reporting. Our future research will involve running lab-based, randomized-control trials where psychedelics are administered in controlled environments. This will help us to better characterize the therapeutic and cognitive-enhancing effects of psychedelics in very small doses."

Eventually, the science will catch up to the practice. In the meantime, microdosers are going to microdose. Anderson has a scholarly caution for them: "We wouldn't suggest that people microdose, but if they are going to, they should use Erlich reagent (a drug testing solution) to ensure they are not getting something other than LSD."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Can Magic Mushrooms Treat Cocaine Dependency?

The hunt for a pharmacological agent to help people strung out on cocaine get off the marching powder has been a long one, and non-traditional types of treatments are among the possibilities being studied. Ibogaine is one pharmacological therapy being studied. Another is href="https://www.uab.edu/news/research/item/9565-study-can-taking-a-hallucinogen-curb-cocaine-use" target=_blank_>psilocybin, the chemical that puts the magic in magic mushrooms.

Scientists at the University of Alabama-Birmingham's (UAB) School of Public Health are now conducting a clinical trial to see whether psilocybin can help break cocaine addiction.

The trial currently has almost 20 people enrolled, but researchers are looking for more subjects -- people who are currently using cocaine and have a strong desire to quit.

"Our goal is to create a tool or drug that provides significantly better outcomes for individuals addicted to cocaine than those that currently exist," said Sara Lappan, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Health Behavior

In the trial, participants receive a dose of psilocybin and are monitored for six hours, about the duration of the experience. Then, the researchers track his or her cocaine use.

"Our idea is that six hours of being under the effects of psilocybin may be as productive as 10 years of traditional therapy," Lappan said.

The researchers theorize that psilocybin works on three levels: the biochemical, the psychological, and the spiritual. In terms of biochemistry, psilocybin disrupts brain receptors thought to reinforce addictive behaviors. Psychologically, the drug is believed to reduce cravings, increase motivation, and increase one's sense of self-efficacy. Spiritually -- or transcendentally -- psilocybin (along with other psychedelics) is thought to increase both a person's sense of purpose and his or her sense of universal connectedness or oneness.

"If our hypotheses are supported, this has the potential to revolutionize the fields of psychology and psychiatry in terms of how we treat addiction," Lappan said.

But don't run out and start gobbling down magic mushrooms to quit cocaine just yet, the researchers cautioned.

"We aren't advocating for everyone to go out and do it," said Peter Hendricks, Ph.D., associate professor of health behavior in the School of Public Health at UAB. "What we are saying is that this drug, like every other drug, could have appropriate use in a medical setting. We want to see whether it helps treat cocaine use disorder."

They're not the only ones looking into the secrets of psilocybin. UAB is one of a half-dozen universities studying its potential medicinal benefits. The others are Johns Hopkins University, Imperial College London, New York University, University of California-San Francisco and Yale.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Different Psychedelics Share a Common Trait: Enhancing ‘Neural Plasticity"

New research suggests that different classes of psychedelic drugs all share the tendency to promote the growth of new brain cells, especially the kind that reach out and forge connections with other brain cells. This finding could help explain both the mind-expanding properties of the drugs and the mechanisms by which they appear to act as valuable treatments for a broad range of psychiatric disorders.

Earlier research had identified the dissociative anesthetic ketamine as promoting growth in key brain cells (as well as being a fast-acting and effective treatment for depression), but this new research finds similar effects in amphetamine-based psychedelics such as DOI (2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine), ergoline psychedelics (such as LSD), and tryptamines (such as DMT).

Using experiments in cell culture and with animals, researchers led by Dr. David Olson of the University of California at Davis found that various classes of hallucinogenic drugs acted on the structure and function of cortical neurons using the same mechanisms as ketamine. The findings could point to new treatment approaches for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction, the researchers wrote last Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Reports.

"The state-of-the-art, prototypical, fast-acting antidepressant is ketamine -- a compound that promotes neural plasticity and repairs circuits involved in mood and anxiety disorders," Olson told MedPage Today. "Our work demonstrates that psychedelics produce comparable effects on neuronal structure and function, providing a potential explanation for why MDMA, psilocybin, and ayahuasca seem to have antidepressant and anxiolytic effects in the clinic."

Using test tubes, as well as rats and fruit fly larvae, the researchers found that all of these classes of psychedelics increased "neural plasticity," the ability to create new connections among brain cells. The drugs all excited the growth of dendritic spines and axons, the cerebral hangers-on that brain cells use to reach out and create connections, or synapses, with other brain cells.

That's the opposite of what happens with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. The current theory is that these disorders may occur when neurites retract, not allowing brain cells to connect at synapses.

"One of the hallmarks of depression is that the neurites in the prefrontal cortex -- a key brain region that regulates emotion, mood, and anxiety -- those neurites tend to shrivel up," Olson said in a statement.

Olson's research found that the neural plasticity effect found with ketamine was also "remarkably potent" with even very small doses of LSD, which could help explain the popularity of "microdosing" among people seeking happier and more creative lives. Chemical compounds that mimicked psilocybin and MDMA also increased neural plasticity on the same level as ketamine, and that could mean new opportunities for researchers working with psychiatric disorders.

The studies also showed that the effect outlasted the action of the drugs. In rats, for example, psilocybin produced results that lasted for hours after the drug had left the body. Similarly, rats given a single dose of DMT not only saw an increase in dendritic spines similar to ketamine but saw that effect last for 24 hours when the drug itself had been eliminated within one hour.

This is potentially very good news for researchers working on treatments for anxiety, depression, and addiction, which all seem to act on the same brain circuits.

"Prior to this study, there was only one player in town and that was ketamine. This opens up some new doors," Olson said. "As the diversity of chemical structures capable of producing ketamine-like plasticity effects continues to grow, so does my hope that we will find a safe and effective fast-acting treatment for depression," he said.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: Dr. Bronner's $5 Million for MDMA Research, HRW Says More Naloxone, More... (4/27/17)

FDA-approved research on MDMA and PTSD gets a big monetary bump courtesy of Dr. Bronner's, Human Right Watch condemns the failure to make the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone more available, a safe injection site bill is moving in California, and more.

Dr. Bronner's CEO (Cosmic Engagement Officer) David Bronner (maps.org)
Industrial Hemp

Nevada Senate Unanimously Approves Hemp Bill. The Senate has approved Senate Bill 396 by a unanimous vote. The bill would expand on existing state law, which allows colleges or the state Agriculture Department to grow hemp for research purposes. This bill would create "a separate program for the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp and produce agricultural hemp seed in this State," allowing the crop to be grown for commercial purposes. The bill now heads to the House.

Ecstasy

Dr. Bronner's Kicks In $5 Million for MDMA PTSD Research. Dr. Bronner's -- the family-owned maker of the popular soap brand -- is donating $5 million over five years to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to pursue its FDA-approved Stage 3 studies of the efficacy of MDMA for treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The announcement came ahead of last week's MAPS-sponsored psychedelic science conference in Oakland. "There is tremendous suffering and pain that the responsible integration of MDMA for treatment-resistant PTSD will alleviate and heal," said Dr. Bronner's CEO David Bronner. "To help inspire our allies to close the funding gap, my family has pledged $1 million a year for five years -- $5 million total-- by far our largest gift to an NGO partner to date. In part, we were inspired by the incredible example of Ashawna Hailey, former MAPS Board member, who gave MAPS $5 million when she died in 2011."

Drug Policy

Human Rights Watch Report Says US Drug Policy Failures Drive Preventable Drug Overdose Deaths. The US federal and state governments are taking insufficient action to ensure access to the life-saving medication naloxone to reverse opioid overdose, resulting in thousands of preventable deaths, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday. The 48-page report, "A Second Chance: Overdose Prevention, Naloxone, and Human Rights in the United States," identifies federal and state laws and policies that are keeping naloxone out of the hands of people most likely to witness accidental overdoses, denying them the ability to save lives. "The easiest, most effective step that the federal and state governments can take to stem the tide of deaths from opioid overdoses is to make naloxone easier to get," said Megan McLemore, senior health researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Naloxone should be as easy to get as Tylenol. Criminal laws block access to harm reduction programs such as syringe exchanges; the price of the medication is too high; it is not available over the counter -- these and other obstacles are keeping naloxone out of the hands of those who need it the most."

Harm Reduction

California Committee Votes for Supervised Consumption Sites Bill. A bill supported by the Drug Policy Alliance, Assembly Bill 186, passed Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. It had already been approved by the Assembly Health Committee last month, which marked the first time a US legislative body has ever approved a safe drug consumption site measure. "This is a huge step toward establishing a more effective, treatment-focused approach to drug addiction and abuse in California," said bill sponsor Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-San Joaquin County). "The committee's input has done a great deal to refine the bill since I first introduced it last year, and its support clearly demonstrates the legislature's willingness to consider bold ideas to get people to treatment and counseling, to protect public health and safety and, most importantly, to save lives." The bill now heads for an Assembly floor vote.

Chronicle AM: NAS Report on MedMJ Released, WA Home Cultivation Bill Filed, More... (1/12/17)

The National Academy of Sciences releases a report finding marijuana is medicine, Rhode Island legislators aim to get pot legal in a hurry, a new bill in Washington state would allow home cultivation, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Maine Bill Would Impose One-Year Moratorium on Legal Marijuana Sales. State Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R) is leading an effort to delay key provisions of the Question 1 legalization initiative. He is sponsoring a bill that would enact a one-year moratorium on pot sales to adults and prohibit the sale of marijuana edibles. "This is not trying to circumvent what the voters passed at the ballot box," he claimed. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Rhode Island Legislators Unveil Legalization Plans. In a proposal unveiled Wednesday, lawmakers came out for a quick move to legal marijuana sales by allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana six months after a bill passes. The legalization proposal would also limit home cultivation to one plant, which must be tagged for tracking purposes. The bill is not expected to be filed until next week at the earliest.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. State Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) has introduced House Bill 1092, which would allow adults to grow up to six plants at home, as long as the yield is less than 24 ounces. Homes with more than one adult grow produce a total of 12 plants for up to 48 ounces of usable weed. Washington is the only legalization state that does not allow for home cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

National Academy of Sciences Finds Conclusive Evidence Marijuana is an Effective Medicine. The National Academy of Sciences Thursday released a groundbreaking report, "The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. The report finds there is conclusive evidence that marijuana can be used as a medicine, though it didn't find clinical evidence for all conditions marijuana treatment is often associated with. The report does recognize the efficacy of marijuana for treating many medical conditions, including chronic pain, chemo-induced nausea and vomiting, and multiple sclerosis spasticity.

Arkansas Regulators Set Number of Dispensaries at 32. The state Medical Marijuana Commission announced Tuesday that it will issue up to 32 licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries. The commission now has until March 9 to come up with rules for dispensary licensing.

Arkansas Bill to Delay Dispensary Rule-Making Advances. A bill that would delay the creation of rules for licensing dispensaries passed the House Select Committee on Rules Wednesday. Authored by state Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock), House Bill 1026 would give the state Medical Marijuana Commission an extra 60 days beyond March 9 to craft rules and another 30 days before entities can apply for licenses.

Connecticut Doctors' Panel Recommends Adding Four Qualifying Conditions. The state's panel of physicians charged with reviewing requests for adding new qualifying conditions for the state's medical marijuana program decided Wednesday to add fibromyalgia, muscular dystrophy, shingles, and rheumatoid arthritis to the list.

Georgia Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), sponsor of a bill last year that allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil, has now filed a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, but it's not yet available on the legislative website. Stay tuned.

Industrial Hemp

Arizona Industrial Hemp Bill Filed. State Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City) has filed a bill to allow for the production of industrial hemp. The measure is Senate Bill 1045, which would exempt any cannabis plants containing less than 0.3% from the state's marijuana laws.

International

Argentines Move to Crack Down on Cocaine Paste. The Argentine government of President Mauricio Macri has submitted plans to modify the country's drug laws to substantially increase penalties for the production and sale of "paco" (cocaine paste). Current law specifies a four-to-six year prison term, while the proposed change would see terms increase to 15-to-18 years. Small-time dealers would between one and four years, while users would face forced drug treatment.

Chronicle AM: Bolivia to Fight at UN to Decriminalize Coca, No MedMJ Initiative for OK This Year, More... (1/4/16)

Some former NFL players would rather treat their aches and pains with medical marijuana than opiates, an effort to put medical marijuana on the ballot in Oklahoma comes up short, Bolivia's president vows to fight for coca decriminalization, and more.

Bolivia's coca-growing president, Evo Morales, will fight to see his crop decriminalized. (wikipedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Former NFL Players Want Medical Marijuana Off Banned List. Former pro football players have organized to lobby the league to allow access to medical marijuana. They formed a group called the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition to share their experiences and advocate for its inclusion in the NFL.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Petition Drive Falls Short. There will be no vote on a medical marijuana initiative this year. An all-volunteer signature gathering campaign by Green the Vote only managed to obtain 70,266 signatures. They needed 123,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

International

Bolivia Will Push for Decriminalization of the Coca Trade. President Evo Morales said last Friday that he will campaign for the United Nations to decriminalize the coca trade. Bolivia has already secured a finding from the UN that chewing coca leaf is not illicit, but wants to be able to export coca and coca products. "This is the second battle that must be waged. We are ready," he told a gathering of coca traders in Yacuiba, a village on the border with Argentina.

UN University to Host Discussion on Metrics in Evaluating Drug Policies. The UN University in New York City will host a panel discussing what metrics might best evaluate drug policy at UN headquarters on January 21. The discussion is part of the run-up to the UNGASS on Drugs set for later this spring. Click on the link for registration information.

Historic Federal Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana Rolled Out Today [FEATURE]

A bipartisan trio of senators today introduced historic legislation to legalize medical marijuana at the federal level. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana and allow states to set their own policies.

Senatory Cory Booker (D-NJ) (Bbsrock/wikimedia.org)
"We need policies that empower states to legalize medical marijuana if they so choose-recognizing that there are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows," said Sen. Booker. "Doctors and patients deserve federal laws that are fair and compassionate, and states should be able to set their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference. I am thankful to Senators Gillibrand and Paul as well as the Drug Policy Alliance for their hard work on this common-sense bill to make medical marijuana accessible to the millions of Americans who could benefit from it." 

The bill would reclassify marijuana for medical use, allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, overhaul banking laws to allow licensed medical marijuana businesses to use financial services, and open up more research possibilities for medical marijuana.

In addition to the Drug Policy Alliance, the senators also consulted with the Marijuana Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access, and other voices for patients in drafting the bill. Although nearly half the states have passed medical marijuana laws (and a dozen more have passed limited CBD cannabis oil laws), marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That means patients and providers in medical marijuana states are still at risk of federal prosecution and families and patients in non-medical marijuana states must relocate or travel long distances to get treatment, facing the risk of prosecution in non-medical marijuana states along the way.

"I am so happy to support this bill. As the mother of a child with a severe seizure disorder, anxiously waiting to get access to a medication that is already helping thousands of others is unbearable," said Kate Hintz, a New York resident who has advocated for CBD to treat her daughter and others to treat epilepsy and seizures. "After persistent advocacy in my home state of New York, we finally saw a medical marijuana law passed last summer.  Yet individual state's laws, including New York's, will not succeed until we lift the current federal restrictions surrounding this plant," she added.

"I applaud Sens. Gillibrand, Booker and Paul for taking this bold step forward and insisting the federal government take action.  Let's end the fear and stigma associated with marijuana, and instead allow this bill to provide research, medicine, and long needed relief to so many. It cannot come fast enough, especially for my daughter," Hintz concluded.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) (senate.gov)
"For far too long, the government has enforced unnecessary laws that have restricted the ability of the medical community to determine the medicinal value of marijuana and have prohibited Americans from receiving essential care that would alleviate their chronic pain and suffering. I am proud today to stand with Sens. Gillibrand and Booker to introduce a bill that will fundamentally change our nation's drug policies and have a positive impact on the lives of our Veterans and children," said Sen. Paul.

While the Obama administration has, in recent years, largely taken a laissez-faire approach to medical marijuana in states that have approved it, that approach is both uneven and dependent on the whim of the administration in power. Just last week, federal prosecutors in Washington state took a family of five medical marijuana patients--the Kettle Falls Five--to trial, threatening them with lengthy, mandatory minimum prison sentences for growing medical marijuana legally under state law (in a state where even recreational marijuana is legal!).

Fortunately for the Kettle Falls Five, a federal jury acquitted them of most charges, including the most serious ones. But under the current state of federal marijuana prohibition, such prosecutions could continue.

Similarly, the Obama administration's recent restraint on medical marijuana is derived from Justice Department guidance to federal prosecutors about which cases raise the level of federal concern high enough to warrant prosecution. That guidance was crafted by a deputy attorney general answerable to Attorney General Holder and the president. Absent protections provided by this bill or similar legislation, a new administration could easily return to the bad old days of DEA raids and patients and providers being hauled off to federal prison.  

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (senate.gov)
"As the parents of severely ill children who could be helped by medical cannabis, we are dedicated to advancing safe, legal and viable access," said Maria De Gregorio, a parent leader of the Kentucky-based Parents Coalition for Rescheduling Medical Cannabis. "Rescheduling efforts must also guarantee access to whole plant extracts that have proven therapeutic benefits. We feel it is crucial to support state rights in all current and future medical marijuana programs. Thus, we strongly endorse this bill as it is written."
 
"Almost half the states have legalized marijuana for medical use; it's long past time to end the federal ban," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This bipartisan legislation allows states to set their own medical marijuana policies and ends the criminalization of patients, their families, and the caregivers and dispensary owners and employees who provide them their medicine."

"With studies showing that medical cannabis access decreases suicide and addiction rates, the CARERS Act is absolutely necessary to help fix a broken healthcare system for veterans, which deals with suicides and addiction at catastrophic rates," said TJ Thompson, a retired U.S. Navy Third Class Petty Officer. "Now, I'm considered a criminal because of the medication that helps me. I take it illegally to treat my PTSD."

"This comprehensive proposal would effectively end the war on medical marijuana and let states compassionately provide care for seriously ill people without the federal government standing in the way," said Tom Angell, director of Marijuana Majority. "The fact that two young Democrats with likely long political futures have teamed up with a probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate shows how medical marijuana is a nonpartisan, noncontroversial issue that draws support from across the spectrum. With polls showing an overwhelming majority of American voters backing marijuana reform, you’d think taking up this proposal would be a no-brainer for legislative leaders who want to show that Congress can still get things done." 

We shall see. The bill text is not yet available on the congressional website, and it has not yet been assigned to a committee. That's the next step in a long process. 

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 30, 2014

Marijuana arrests are up in a third of the states, the drug czar's office responds to the New York Times, Dr. Carl Hart wins a literary award, Philly narcs get busted, and more. Let's get to it:

Bus ad for the Alaska marijuana legalization campaign.
Marijuana Policy

ONDCP Responds to New York Times Call to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. In a Monday night blog post, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) responded to the New York Times's Sunday editorial calling for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "Marijuana legalization is not the silver bullet solution," ONDCP proclaimed. "The New York Times editorial team failed to mention a cascade of public health problems associated with the increased availability of marijuana," the blog post reads. "While law enforcement will always play an important role in combating violent crime associated with the drug trade, the Obama Administration approaches substance use as a public health issue, not merely a criminal justice problem." Click on the link to read the whole post.

NORML PAC Endorses Constance Johnson for US Senate in Oklahoma. NORML PAC, the campaign and lobbying arm of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has endorsed state Sen. Constance Johnson (D) for the US Senate in Oklahoma. Johnson has been an advocate for medical marijuana and marijuana legalization and, this year, has been leading a petition drive to put legalization on the November ballot. "I'm incredibly thankful for NORML's endorsement, " said Sen. Johnson. "After years of stonewalling in the state legislature, I'm taking this fight to the people. It's time for the people of Oklahoma to speak on this issue." The Democratic primary is August 26.

Marijuana Arrests Up in Many States. Although annual marijuana arrests nationwide declined by 3.3% between 2008 and 2012, they increased in at least 17 states, according to a report published by NORML, Marijuana in the States 2012: Analysis and Detailed Data on Marijuana Use and Arrests. South Carolina and the District of Columbia saw the biggest increases, but DC has just decriminalized marijuana possession, so that should change soon. Marijuana arrests accounted for two-thirds of more of all drug arrests in five states: Nebraska (74.1%), New Hampshire (72%), Montana (70.3%), Wyoming (68.7%) and Wisconsin (67.1%).

Alaska Legalization Campaign Unveils News Bus Ads. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol In Alaska unveiled a series of bus ads yesterday in Anchorage that highlight the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol. The ads will appear throughout the week on city buses.

National Cannabis Industry Association Announces Food Safety Program for Edibles Makers and Responsible Selling Program for Retailers. The National Cannabis Industry Association will hold a ServSafe Food Safety training for edibles makers and a responsible selling program for budtenders in Denver next month. Click on the link to register.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Tells Health Department to Hurry Up with Medical Marijuana. Impelled by the deaths of two children with epileptic seizure disorders whose conditions could be alleviated with medical marijuana, Gov. Andrew Cuomo today sent a letter to the Department of Health urging it to find ways to "accelerate the process for this specific dire population." Cuomo added that he looked forward "to any progress you can make for the children of our state living with epilepsy."

Fired University of Arizona Medical Marijuana Researcher Loses Appeal. Dr. Sue Sisley, the University of Arizona researcher whose pending study of medical marijuana to treat PTSD among veterans was halted when she was fired last month, has lost an appeal to regain her job. Sisley is now looking for a new academic home to pursue the research.

Law Enforcement

Six Philadelphia Narcs Charged in Corruption Probe. The long-running scandal around Philadelphia's out-of-control narcotics units took another twist today when federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against six of them, including robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and drug dealing. They are accused of shaking down drug dealers and stealing hundreds of thousands in cash and drugs over a six-year period. Federal prosecutors asked that they be held without bail, given their violent histories.

Drug Science

Dr. Carl Hart's "High Price" Wins Science Writing Award. Dr. Carl Hart, a neuroscientist and associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University (and Drug Policy Alliance board member), has been awarded the PEN/EO Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for his memoir, "High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society." Read our review of "High Price" here.

International

Medical Marijuana Civil Disobedience Action in Italy. Activists affiliated with the Italian Radical Party have engaged in civil disobedience over medical marijuana by planting seeds to grow specifically selected marijuana plants to treat patients with multiple sclerosis. The move is a result of frustration with the lack of effective access to medical marijuana in the country, where only 60 patients manage to obtain Dutch-produced medical marijuana through the Public Health Service. Click on the link for more details.

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