Thursday, April 24, 2014

Barbara Ehrenreich: Living with a Wild God and a Rational Mind

Author and NORML board member Barbara Ehrenreich has come out with another brilliant, stunning book, this one called Living with a Wild God. The famous scientist, atheist and feminist has, at the age of 67, come clean about some mystical experiences she had in her adolescence, following a rigorous study of religion and philosophy.

Finding her way to Buddhism and reading the Upanishads, Ehrenreich grasped the concept of "the truly blessed is he who understands the spirit of the words: 'I am not even sure that I know nothing'...there was no 'I' to stalk the 'not I' with, only infinite substance, the Brahman, from whom we were temporarily separated by the thinnest veil of illusion." Soon the veil dropped in a series of spontaneous events first described in a chapter titled, "The Trees Step Out of the Forest."

"Something peeled off the visible world, taking with it all meaning, inference, association, labels, and words. I was looking at a tree, and if anyone had asked, that what I would have said I was doing, but the word "tree" was gone, along with all the notions of tree-nedd that had accumulated in the last dozen years since I had acquired language....The interesting thing, some migh say alarming, was that when you take away all human attributions—the words, the names of species, the wisps of remembered tree-related poetry, the fables of photosynthesis and capillary action—that when you take all this away, there is still something left." In another experience, "the world flamed into life...Something poured into me and I poured out into it."

Ehrenreich wrote about ecstatic rites in her fascinating book Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, but this is the first time she's written about her personal experiences with ecstasy. She did a great interview with Terry Gross of Fresh Air, and when asked by the New York Times magazine "Imagine a 14-year-old you living in the present day having visions like that. What do you think would happen to her?" her reply was "Oh, I think she’d be given a lot of drugs today." (Pictured: Ehrenreich in her teens.)

For her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Ehrenreich took a series of minimum-wage jobs, and wrote about the experience of facing pre-employment knowing that she had marijuana in her system. “It rankles—at some deep personal, physical level to know that the many engaging qualities I believe I have to offer—friendliness, reliability, willingness to learn—can all be trumped by my pee.” In 2000, Ehrenreich spoke at a forum on drug testing in San Francisco.

She went deeper into the economic injustice of the situation, writing, “There seems to be a vicious cycle at work here, making ours not just an economy but a culture of extreme inequality. Corporate decision makers, and even some two-bit entrepreneurs like my boss at The Maids, occupy an economic position miles above that of the underpaid people whose labor they depend on. For reasons that have more to do with class — and often racial — prejudice than with actual experience, they tend to fear and distrust the category of people from which they recruit their workers. Hence the perceived need for repressive management and intrusive measures like drug and personality testing. But these things cost money — $20,000 or more a year for a manager, $100 a pop for a drug test, and so on — and the high cost of repression results in ever more pressure to hold wages down. The larger society seems to be caught up in a similar cycle: cutting public services for the poor, which are sometimes referred to collectively as the 'social wage,' while investing ever more heavily in prisons and cops. And in the larger society, too, the cost of repression becomes another factor weighing against the expansion or restoration of needed services. It is a tragic cycle, condemning us to ever deeper inequality, and in the long run, almost no one benefits but the agents of repression themselves.” Boom.

Ehrenreich will appear at Bookshop Santa Cruz tonight (4/24) at 7:30 PM on her way to an event in Menlo Park (4/25) and up to Portland (4/26) before heading to Princeton, NJ (5/1) and Ontario (5/5). Read more. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mila Kunis Stumps for Wrong Kentucky Product

I didn't want to believe it, but it's true: Mila Kunis, who once played a girl that scored a bag of pot to impress a boy on "That '70s Show," is now stumping for Jim Beam instead of Mary Jane on TV.

According to AdAge Magazine, "While bourbon used to be consumed about 80% by men, the split is now closer to 70% male and 30% female, with flavored bourbon varieties nearly split down the middle."

This seems to be why the US's #2 bourbon brand has moved from spokespeople like Kid Rock to "the petite and beautiful Ms. Kunis, who is said to appeal both to men and to young women. In 2010, Beam introduced its first TV campaign for Skinnygirl, a lower-calorie, ready-to-serve cocktail line aimed at women, a trend that was lamented for health reasons in 2006 when "Sex in the City" was implicated in the increase in drinking among women.

You never saw the bong you knew was being passed around the basement circle in "That '70s Show," but now you can see Kunis enjoying her liquor on boob tubes everywhere. Liquor ads did not appear on any TV, national or local, for much of the 20th century, with the industry honoring a self-imposed ban from 1948 to 1996, according to AdAge. But a few years ago CBS began accepting liquor ads during late-night programming and ABC started running hard-liquor ads during "Jimmy Kimmel Live." In 2010, NBC began accepting spirits shows airing after 11 p.m. Eastern as long as 90% of the audience is of legal drinking age. (Industry self-regulations allow beer, wine or liquor ads only on programs where at least 71.6% of the audience is 21 or older.) 

Meanwhile, state law in Colorado forbids legal marijuana stores from advertising on media where more than 30 percent of the intended audience is younger than 21, even though it's the safer substance; and a Weedmaps ad has been pulled from Times Square. Adding to the irony, Kentucky, where Jim Beam and the Kunis commercials are made, was once better known for hemp (Mary Todd Lincoln's ancestors were prominent hemp farmers there). And one of the new Jim Beam ads features a reference to Prohibition (also the wrong one).

UPDATE: One reader points out this story is even stranger because Kunis is pregnant (and showing quite a bit at this point, in paparazzi pics of she and fiancee Ashton Kutcher visiting the Abita Brewing Company in Louisiana where all "enjoyed sampling the beer—except mom-to-be Kunis, of course." Source) By contrast, cannabis is perhaps beneficial to pregnant mothers.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Whoopi Goldberg Waxes Rhapsodic About Her Vape Pen

Ask the audience on Family Feud what the word "Whoopi" brings to mind and the top answer is Whoopi Goldberg. The fact that her unusual name is such a household word speaks to the commedienne's prodigious talent and popularity.

Whoopi has "outed" herself as a pot smoker; now she's taken a step further by penning a column on The Denver Post's Cannabist page titled, "My vape pen and I, a love story."  In it, she tells how she's been able to stay off the Advil she was taking for her glaucoma-induced headaches by carrying her medical marijuana in a convenient and effective form. "It‘s important for people to know that there are alternatives out there to pain management, and this one is particularly magical," wrote Goldberg of the Vape Pen she affectionately calls "Sippy."

Goldberg may be doing more than relieving her headaches by sipping on Sippy. The US Government has known since the 1970s that smoking marijuana lowers interocular eye pressure; elevated pressures pinch the optic nerve in glaucoma patients and lead to blindness. Glaucoma patient Robert Randall successfully sued the US government to get his medicine, after which the IND program was established, sending tins of 300 joints to its "research" participants monthly. (The program was halted by Bush the First after hundreds of AIDS patients applied; a few of the grandfathered-in recipients still get their US government-grown marijuana by US mail.)

Many are unaware that anti-tobacco forces are out to get vape pens, and it's impacting medical marijuana users. California NORML was able to help fight off a bill last year in the state legislature that would have made vape pens illegal to use in nonsmoking zones. That's bad news for medical marijuana users because many, like Whoopi, are unable to take their medicine in their place of work and sometimes even in their home. Like Goldberg, many are uncomfortable with the strong effects of edibles, although strictly following dosage recommendations, like with all drugs, is critically important. Vape Pens are healthier both for the user and for those around them, but that hasn't stopped local governments from passing anti-vape bills, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

It's time we all come out of the closet, joints or Vape Pens in hand...but be careful if you try to do it in Golden Gate Park on 4/20, because the SFPD has announced it will out on Ishtar Sunday enforcing the city's antismoking laws.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Did CBD Oil Help Cure Valerie Harper's Cancer?

After being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in March 2013, actress Valerie Harper has announced she's cancer free.

This interesting photo of Harper was tweeted out by RS Hemp Oil on October 26, 2013 with the caption:  "Valerie Harper receives a 6 pack of RSHO from Hempmeds PX outside sales manager, Keith Urtubees, at the LA Ultimate Women's Expo."

Hempmeds is a division of Medical Marijuana Inc. Their CBD-rich Real Scientific Hemp Oil (RSHO) is derived from the industrial hemp plant, and therefore, the company argues, is legal under federal law.

Did Harper use CBD oil to treat her cancer? Calls to Hempmeds have, so far, not been returned.

Like other famous cancer survivors Tommy Chong and Michelle Aldrich, Harper also underwent "conventional" therapy. In all cases, doctors were pleasantly surprised at their patients' progress after using cannabis oils. Many states, even unlikely ones like Utah and Alabama, are moving to legalize CBD following the Sanjay Gupta CNN specials about its near-miraculous effects against severe childhood epilepsy.

Cannabinoids (both CBD and THC) have specifically been found effective against brain tumors (gliomas) in cellular studies, starting with a Spanish study in 1998 and confirmed by a group in California in 2005, which noted that THC selectively targeted malignant cells while ignoring healthy ones "in a more profound manner than the synthetic alternative," WIN 55,212-2. Many experts now believe that cannabinoids "may represent a new class of anticancer drugs that retard cancer growth, inhibit angiogenesis and the metastic spreading of cancer cells." Source.

The US Government has known since 1974 that cannabis, like other natural substances, has anti-cancer effects. Nonetheless, it has censored information about cannabis and cancer from the National Cancer Institute website.

UPDATE 1:58 PM -  I'm now reading Harper announced her cancer was nearly in remission as early as August 2013. She was using several alternative therapies, as well as conventional ones.

4/17 - Mississippi has become the 5th state to legalize CBD in some form. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Benzos" and Opiates: The Deadly Combination That Killed Philip Seymour Hoffman

NPR's "All Things Considered" had an extensive story tonight about benzodiazepines, which are commonly prescribed for anxiety, and opioid drugs, which have been increasingly "co-prescribed" with "benzos" like Valium in the last several years. According to the story, 30% of opioid-related deaths also involve benzos, which contribute to the slowing of breathing that can kill heroin users.

The story was triggered by the news that the untimely and tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman was the result of just such a combination.

I recently re-viewed Hoffman in Almost Famous, in a key role as famed rock journalist Lester Bangs that he nailed with only an afternoon's preparation. The filmmaker has said he had no match, and it seems the world agreed. He's also great in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Charlie Wilson's War, and Boogie Nights (as well as, of course, Capote).

I was moved by the outpouring of grief for Hoffman after his death, and wonder if he knew while he was living how much he was appreciated. I really choked up when I read this piece in Elle about a woman who not-so-secretly wanted to marry him. I knew what she meant: Hoffman was a stoner girl's dream, projecting a kind of easy-going warmth and humility that are rarely seen in combination with the intelligence and prowess he possessed. Yeah, he was teddy-bear chubby and not-traditionally handsome, but, as one reviewer put it, "We can easily imagine Hoffman as an an amiably stoned anything."

The only film he directed, Jack Goes Boating (pictured), was described (in play form) by the New York Times as "a gentle portrait of pothead losers in love."

"You're likely to leave the theatre with a contact high from the ripe pleasure that Mr. Hoffman and his castmates derive from portraying everyday eccentrics," wrote the newspaper's Ben Brantley, adding, "Most particularly, though, 'Jack' is about its title character’s pursuit of perfection, of talismanic, Zen-like moments to hold against life’s chaos."

The play featured a "stoned dinner party from hell" and "the most eloquent sex scene on any stage in New York." Variety reported, "Assuming the movie follows the play, Hoffman will sport blonde dreadlocks and spend a lot of time smoking a bong and pretending to be a Rastafarian."

Hoffman also attended the LA Shadow Convention, which had a strong anti-drug-war component, while filming Last Party 2000, a documentary he made about the 2000 presidential election.

NFLer Ricky Williams, a former Paxil spokesperson who used marijuana for his Social Anxiety Disorder, pronounced it "10 times more helpful than Paxil" as a confidence builder. Paxil is an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor, meaning it mimics a low dose of LSD). 

Meanwhile, California NORML is receiving another spate of desperate calls from patients whose doctors are heartlessly threatening to deny them their opioid pain medications because they use medical marijuana. This despite the fact that the US Veterans Administration announced in 2010 it would allow medical marijuana use by patients on opioid therapy. A recent study of 21 individuals with chronic pain concluded that “vaporized cannabis augments the analgesic effects of opioids without significantly altering plasma opioid levels. The combination may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer side effects.”

UPDATE 4/17: A new review study concludes "cannabis is both safer and potentially less addictive than benzodiazepines and other pharmaceuticals that have been evaluated as substitutes for alcohol." And another study finds a possible link between the use of SSRIs during pregnancy and autism.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jeepers Peepers, Chrissie Hynde

Chrissie Hynde's new video "Dark Sunglasses" has a whole lotta exhaling going on. She seems to be making a statement along the lines of her song "Legalise Me" -- about people smoking behind some kind of mask? "You can still get high," she sings as a girl who's just painted a pink wall exhales behind her Foster Grants.

Originally from Akron, Ohio, Pretenders founder and  VIP Hynde has lived in England for decades and had a child with the Kinks' Ray Davies. A prominent PETA activist, she has her own US postage stamp. And, oh yeah, she still rocks. Check it out.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

My Interview with Courtney Love about Kurt Cobain

In January 2004 I got an email from a crew member at Kansas City's telling me that Courtney Love, who hosted a show at the station, wanted to interview me on air about my Very Important Potheads website.

I agreed (of course!) and got up at 7 AM to appear by phone on the morning drive-time show, answering "no" to her party-boy cohosts' questions about whether or not I'd waked and baked (too early for me). Love demanded to know why she wasn't represented on the site. "I'm Courtney Love, damnit!" was the compelling reason she gave. (It was hard to argue with that.) I found myself calling her "girl" or "sister" and she asked me how old I was: it seemed she needed connection with an older female in her life. We left the jocks behind and started chatting, woman to woman.

Kurt Cobain's diaries had recently been published in Rolling Stone leading up to the 10th anniversary of his death, and I asked Love about what I'd read there: that Cobain twice went back to using heroin to quell the severe stomach pain he suffered from. Love said, "Yes, that was true and I used to say, 'Kurt let's just smoke instead.'" Apparently Cobain was one of the millions of Americans undermedicated for pain, and he turned to street drugs for relief. He even used Strawberry Quick to coat his stomach on the road.

We now know that cannabis can be helpful during withdrawal from opiate addiction, and that it works synergistically with opiates to alleviate pain and the tolerance that builds up over time, rendering prescription opiates less useful. A state-sponsored study in California found that even low-dose, vaporized cannabis is helpful with intractable neuropathic pain. Nonetheless, California NORML still hears regularly from patients whose doctors threaten to take off their pain medications because they're using medical marijuana.

We may never understand the psychic and physical pain that lead Cobain to end his life, or come to grips with what drives us to use drugs. But on a recent trip to LA I saw this poster of Cobain in a cannabis club. Twenty years after his death, Kurt's music, and his image, lives on.