Thursday, March 24, 2016

Legalization no longer the issue

Michael McCarthy is a freelance writer, contributing this excellent op-ed in today's Vancouver Sun.

Stoner mentality: The problem with marijuana is users don’t recognize it as an addiction

Once upon a time, long ago and far away, there was a hippie philosopher guru named Baba Ram Dass. He was formerly known as Richard Alpert, and taught at Harvard University. And then he discovered LSD.
One doctor specializing in addictions says the most dangerous drug on the street today is marijuana. With legalization closer than ever, the bigger threat from marijuana is treating addicts whose brain has told them being stoned is a healthy and normal state of mind.
  Ram Dass became famous for his bestselling book Be Here Now. It was a very simple title for a very simple concept: Wherever you are, be there. Don’t walk in front of buses, for instance. If you are crossing the street, pay attention. (Then came cellphones.)

What has all this to do with Mary Jane, you wonder? Pay attention. Marijuana is in the news every day now. Not only is the federal government going to legalize possession of it, there are now campaigns by “activists” to spread the use of it. No matter the same government is threatening to arrest people for smoking cigarettes; legalization is no longer the issue. There is a bigger threat.

Full disclosure: When I was young, I smoked dope. Everyone did. Not marijuana though. I lived in Montreal, where hashish was king, and Royal Nepalese Temple Hash gives you one heck of a buzz. When I moved to Vancouver, the hippies were smoking homegrown weed, “love grass” as go the lyrics to Steppenwolf’s song The Pusher. As an athlete, I gave up weed and switched to hockey and mountain bikes, where the endorphins produce a better high and the addictions are healthier.

Today’s weed is not grown in the shed next to where you keep your old Herman’s Hermits records. The THC in the new hydroponic strains are apparently 30 times stronger than love grass, and would wound a rhinoceros if rhinos were stupid enough to smoke. I say “apparently” because I am not going to do any tests to compare. The smell alone of modern skunkweed is enough to curl your socks, if you are unlucky enough to be in the vicinity when somebody lights up a doobie. But that’s not the issue.

Recently, I attended a conference about addiction. The doctor leading the conference, a psychiatrist with a specialty in addictions listed off all the new designer drugs, some so powerful they can kill you just by looking at them. A new opioid named W-18 evidently is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, which is so powerful it has killed thousands of Canadians. But neither drug is the most addictive.

What is the most dangerous drug on the street today? The doctor replied the answer is easy: marijuana. He treats more patients for Mary Jane than all other drugs combined. Love grass? That’s impossible! You can never overdose on weed, although you may get lung cancer if you smoke enough of it.

The problem is that weed is the only dangerous drug that doesn’t come with its own built-in consequences. Unlike alcohol, heroin, crack and all the other popular drugs, marijuana is fairly benign, physically. No overdoses, no hangovers, no immediate negative consequences. Eventually you have to stop using other substances or they will stop you. Not marijuana.

Aside from a dozy state of post bliss euphoria known as “being wasted,” the worst effects of smoking dope are sleepiness and hunger that leads straight to the brownies. Gaining weight is the biggest hassle. But wait. There’s more, of course.

Given that you can smoke dope every day without any lasting consequences, many people do just that. Aside from the fact that they are stoned (which is not the best state of mind to be in when driving, working, looking after kids or many other activities), the addiction leads to changes in the brain and personality. You become a “stoner.” You think that people who aren’t stoned are the ones who have a problem.

This line of thinking, such as it is, does have consequences. Suppose, said the doctor, that your wife wants you to stop being stoned. Suppose your employer is not happy to find your brain is often parked in Never Never Land. Often this leads to divorce, unemployment, or other unhappy consequences.

Cigarette smokers will tell you that nicotine is the most addictive drug and hardest to quit. I never smoked cigarettes, so I can’t say, but I understand that you can make a conscious decision to stop when you realize it’s hurting you, see your doctor, put patches on your arm, and go for long walks and things like that. It’s somewhat harder to reconfigure a brain that has told itself that being stoned is a healthy and normal state of mind. You can’t break an addiction if you don’t recognize it as an addiction.

Be here now? Never mind all the stoners wandering around Lalaland in a daze wondering what day of the week it is. What about all these whackos with cellphones stuck in their ears walking in front of buses? Where is Ram Dass when you really need him?

Friday, March 18, 2016


The following was sent to us by a friend who is a doctor. I have removed the name and  contact information of the sender.

This is being posted so that you can see that all good people involved in the pot business will be well rewarded. Even if they call themselves doctors.


I want to make you aware of Cannibinoid Medical Centre, referral ONLY clinic at Spring Garden Rd Professional Bldg. I thought this may be of interest. There is no Family practice component, patients are assess for their suitability or not for the use of cannabis to treat their medical issue whether it would be pain management or chronic disease management, etc.

We are seeking physicians to do at least 1 shift per week. If you have interest in learning more please advise and I send you further details outline the training modules.
Once you are established in the clinic here is the earning potential;
For an 8 hr day seeing only 25 patients.

10 new patients X $80.70 = $807.00
15 recheck X $31.46 = $471.9
25 urine x $19 = $475
Total = $1753.90 x .7 = $1,227.73 physician take hm

I look forward to your response.


Thursday, March 17, 2016


The future is here and it is scary.

Read the whole piece and then consider the one healthy and knowledgeable comment, which came from Conservative critic, Rob Nicholson, who said, "There's nothing safe about taking heroin."

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


This sad, mistaken piece of propaganda was written by a sad, mistaken ideologue who hasn't got the first clue on the subject for which he shows such passion and ignorance - always a dangerous combo.

Gerry Verrier, who is in Senior Management at Manitoba's premier Therapeutic Community, the Behavioural Health Foundation, and is on our DPNC board, sent it along.

Walter Cavalieri
Director, Canadian Harm Reduction Network
14 March 2016
NOTE: A shorter version of this article appeared in NOW magazine, on 17 March

In the mid 1980s, I had the opportunity to accompany a street outreach worker in Calgary, handing out condoms to women working in the sex trades.  We struck up a conversation with a middle-aged man, a local minister known to my host, who was doing the same thing.  Alas, my inner wise-ass kid asserted itself, and I decided to challenge him - just a bit - about how he, a man of the cloth, could openly condone a sinful activity when his role should be saving these women's souls.  He told me it was more important to him to keep these women alive now, so that later he could save their souls.  Humbled and enlightened, I backed off.  He had given me my first real lesson in harm reduction, one which has guided me ever since.  Harm reduction is not just about the "now" but about the future.

This, to me, is an excellent reason for setting up three small Safe Injection Sites (SIFs) in Toronto.  With SIFs, we can save lives now, and worry about "rehabilitation" - whatever that may mean - down the road.  Working to help the living is full of possibilities, but it is impossible to help those who are dead.

Overdose deaths - at levels in Toronto which surpass even motor vehicle deaths - are an epidemic, and we are responsible for this.  All of us.  Counterproductive laws, inaccurate information, misguided leadership, institutional stigmatisation, fear ... they all play roles in keeping drug overdose deaths high in all populations - not just in "disposable" street persons.

SIFs are one important program for addressing this.  They are not a new idea.  In the mid 1990s, the Goethe Institut brought a large delegation of people from Frankfurt to share with Toronto, its sister city, Frankfurt's success in addressing its open drug scene, one of the most deadly in all Europe.  One tactic they employed was to set up sites where people could inject their drugs in a clean, well-lighted place, with sterile equipment and a knowledgeable staff to help out in emergencies.  Alas, Toronto wasn't "ready" to do anything different about its drug problems, and we have seen the results of this year in, year out.  A missed opportunity.

We cannot miss the opportunity now.  There is too much need and too much evidence that SIFs are successful.

Getting to know what actually goes on at a SIF, and why they work as well as they do, will help you appreciate the need for SIFs, and their wisdom.

Short of visiting Insite, Canada's only public SIF, or talking with Insite's staff or people who use it, take a look at any of the many videos available on the Internet, for example:

Insite is a large, free-standing SIF.  Toronto's safe-use sites will resemble the SIF at the Dr. Peter Centre in Vancouver (please see photo), and will be embedded in local needle exchange programs.  Each will have only three places where people can inject.

As an ethnographer, I had the opportunity to observe about 30 people in Toronto injecting crack cocaine.  Remaining the "objective" observer was impossible, and I struggled to keep tears and anger at bay.  Using drugs desperately, covertly and under duress is a matter of course for people without homes or safe places to use, and shooting up in laneways, abandoned building, parks, garages, janitors' cupboards, washrooms, etc., sometimes with minimal light, does not provide safety.  No wonder there are so many illness and deaths.  That said, the people I observed wanted to be safe, and they did their best to do so and to protect the safety of their partners and friends. 

Not everyone who uses drugs is addicted, but many feel they cannot live without drugs. They use them for a variety of reasons, most quite valid. However, as long as the drugs they use have unpredictable levels of strength and purity, overdoses and damage to health are inevitable, and we - all of us - who support the so-called War on Drugs - share in the responsibility for the drug-related deaths and damage.  For 100 plus years this War has failed.  It has, in fact, made things worse for everyone.  It's time for another approach, and SIFs in Toronto offer us that opportunity.

Will SIFs increase drug use, crime, illness?  NO.  They have not done this anywhere.

What SIFs offer is a way to bring back into society people who have been pushed to the edges of it and a place where they can connect with good and dedicated healthcare workers and get a lifesaving service without judgment and stigma. 

Johan Hari, author and journalist, says that the opposite of addiction is connection.  Safe Injection Facilities prove this.

Safe injection Facilities will be discussed and voted on in the Toronto City Council this summer. If you are a Toronto resident, please contact your City Councillor to inform her or him of your support.  If you live in other parts of Canada, please urge your city officials to address the growing tragedy of accidental drug overdose deaths.  Most of these deaths are preventable.