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Shocking BBC Report On Herbal Products Highlights Problems With Cannabis Regulation.

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thr

It seems that unless you choose a herbal product with a THR mark you can have no certainty at all about what you are buying.

An excellent report on the BBC’s ‘Trust Me I’m A Doctor‘, reveals that the industry is rife with confidence tricksters, fraudsters and probably some well-meaning incompetents. How can you know what you’re getting in a herbal product?  This has major implications for the medicinal use of cannabis and the businesses that will be needed to supply the product when it is legally available.

The THR mark is Traditional Herbal Registration as regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). It costs between £600 to £8000 to apply but that’s only if you’re claiming “the medicine is used for minor health conditions where medical supervision is not required (eg a cold).” If you want to claim anything more you have to apply for a marketing authorisation when fees are in excess of £100,000, plus the cost of clinical trials or evidence of your claims and your product’s safety.

This is probably the biggest single problem facing the campaign for medicinal cannabis.  We are a round peg which doesn’t fit into any of the government’s square holes.

If we argue for cannabis as medicine, we challenge the reductionist, allopathic establishment which says that medicines are single molecules with directly quantifiable, predictable and consistent results.  We cannot fit into the government’s square holes without the sort of approach taken by GW Pharmaceuticals at a cost of tens of millions in development.

That is why the campaign has to focus on removing cannabis from schedule 1, so that doctors may prescribe it as they see fit.  Some doctors are ready to do so (a few brave individuals already are prescribing) but it will require a huge campaign to educate others as to why and how to prescribe – and it will not be possible to make any medical claims in that campaign!

The model of cannabis as medicine with different strains providing different therapeutic value just doesn’t fit within any concept of medicine in the UK.  That’s like a triangular peg in a square hole.

So perhaps there is little point in an unwinnable campaign to legalise such a drug as medicine when its use is already tarnished by years of propaganda and media scaremongering?  It may be a hopeless cause and seeking a more general decriminalisation of the plant might be a wiser course.

This is a question that seems to be unique to the UK.  Other jurisdictions, such as the US states, have achieved reform through radical democracy which we do not enjoy in Britain. Canadians have used their courts to enforce access to cannabis as a fundamental human right. Other European countries just seem to be more flexible, intelligent and sympathetic to patients.

On the other hand, it does seem that the MHRA’s THR scheme works and you know what you are getting when you buy a herbal medicine.  Otherwise charlatans and confidence tricksters would prevail.

These issues concern not only the campaign for medicinal cannabis but for cannabis law reform as a whole.  Until we get to grips with them and develop a coherent approach we may find the UK continues to lag behind the rest of the world.

The cannabis queen of Beverly Hills

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cannabis queen 1


By Rhys Blakely
Originally published in The Times magazine, 4th April 2015.

Cheryl Shuman claims she survived cancer because of her drug use. Now, she has her own cannabis farm and hosts marijuana parties for Hollywood A-listers. It’s all legal, she says

Cheryl Shuman is talking me through how she kick-starts her day. “I’ll have a cannabis juice smoothie,” she explains. “Kale, cannabis juice, carrot juice, apple. That’s usually my breakfast.

“And for lunch I’ll generally have a grilled chicken breast with a raw cannabis salad – so I’ve got leafy greens along with some raw cannabis leaves. And the dressing will be cannabis-infused. So will the chicken breast. It helps with my digestion.“And I’ll usually have some medicated [with cannabis] pretzels and pecans, which I like to nosh on.”

Added to this, at approximately one-hour intervals, she’ll take a hit on a pen-like device that delivers a lungful of a marijuana vapour rich in THC, the compound that gets you high.

Wow, I say. Shuman is a cannabis advocate, and at some point in the not too distant future, she hopes that a significant number of her fellow Americans will be living like this, and perfectly legally. But surely, if I tried this diet I’d quickly become hopelessly, comically wasted?

“I’d definitely say I have a pretty high tolerance,” says Shuman. “I mean, do I seem stoned to you?”

The answer – remarkably, given the Goliath scale of her cannabinoid intake – is that 54-year-old Shuman appears to be one of the least stoned people I’ve ever met. Blonde and chatty, she manages to be both delicately petite and a looming presence, all at the same time. In a black power suit and chunky silver necklace, she looks like a high-class estate agent. Her power to recall names and statistics is striking, and she doesn’t appear to have the munchies. She never uses the word “dude”. She never breaks into fits of giggles. She is the very antithesis of the blissed-out hippy, the brooding hip-hop aficionado or the bong-ripping student of marijuana cliché.

This, though, all makes sense. Because Shuman’s mission is to upend what it means to be a stoner. At a time when cannabis regulation is loosening across the United States, she wants to rid weed of stigma and drag it into polite society – in part by rebranding it as a luxury product, as delectable as any fine wine.

Her critics have called her a fraud, a snake-oil saleswoman and a drug addict. But she says her ultimate ambition is to become the “Martha Stewart of marijuana”. Her plans include everything from a cannabis lip balm to pot-friendly retirement homes. And given the interest being shown in the industry by some of the world’s canniest businessmen – Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investor who made $1 billion from Facebook, is the latest to plunge in – who knows? Perhaps Shuman really could realise her ambition to become the queen of the cannabis world.

To witness her in action, I’ve travelled to Beverly Hills to see Shuman host one of her invitation-only cannabis dinner parties – events at which it’s not only the soufflés that get baked. Shuman will supply a collection of wealthy guests with cannabis in a dizzying variety of forms. Attendees regularly include celebrities, Hollywood agents and other high-flying professionals, she says. One of her recent cannabis dinners counted two A-list actresses as guests, she adds. (She tells me the names, but then says I can’t write about them.)

cannabis queen 2

Her collective – the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club – is a brand name for the high-grade weed produced on her own farm. One hundred core members contribute to the farm’s upkeep, and it has supplied cannabis to about 2,000 registered patients through the dinner parties and other events. (Cannabis is legal only for medical use in California.)

She likes to say she’s redefining “high society” and according to Shuman, her “couture cannabis” business is booming.

“The luxury market, the affluent market, it hadn’t been tapped,” she explains.

Shuman typically holds one pot-themed dinner party a week, but can do as many as ten in a month. Any fees that guests pay for cannabis can only cover costs, since making a profit from the drug would be illegal under Californian law. They can, however, be asked to donate to charity, and have been known to give $5,000 apiece, she says.

The parties also produce publicity – and this is where Shuman makes her money.

She says she has 25 full-time PR clients, all of them cannabis-related businesses, who pay her retainers of as much as $20,000 a month. They range from manufacturers of smoking paraphernalia, to a tech company working on a dating app that promises to connect pot lovers.

This evening’s party will take place at a sprawling mock-Tuscan mansion on a smart secluded street off Sunset Boulevard. Most of the guests are yet to arrive, but a camera crew is following the preparations being made by Shuman and her cook, a very nice, extremely mellow chap called Colin, who is 6ft 4in and has the kind of ridiculously handsome features that belong on the cover of a Mills & Boon novel. Colin has been smoking pot since he was nine years old, he tells me, and right now he appears to be unabashedly stoned. He concentrates hard as he tells the TV host how he’s going to broil a hunk of wild salmon, after dousing it with olive oil, garlic, lemon and – of course – cannabis. On the counter top are half a dozen tubs full of weed. If anybody’s peckish there is a dish of cannabis-infused pretzels.

I’m starving – but I have to drive home and I daren’t eat anything.

Shuman offers the TV host who is interviewing her a “medicated candy-glazed pecan” – a nut spiked with yet more marijuana.

“You don’t feel the effect for 45 minutes,” she warns him. Shuman tilts herself towards the lens. Years ago she was a star saleswoman on QVC, the shopping channel, and she can still turn it on for the cameras. “But, you know, here’s an interesting fact: nobody, in the history of the world, has ever overdosed on cannabis,” she says.

The TV guy smiles, and reaches for another pecan.

Out of view of the camera stands Urban Smedeby, a Swedish investment banker who has come to see Shuman because he has $5 million – £3.3 million – to invest in the cannabis industry. He is one of the few people here who isn’t at least a little stoned. “Everybody is getting more and more wasted,” he whispers. “This is not my usual environment.

––––––––––

That the pot business in America is in a state of flux is no secret. In 2012, two states – Colorado and Washington – legalised recreational marijuana use for the first time.

My own interactions with pot aficionados hint at the heady pace of change. Take, for instance, the first time I met Rick Cusick, associate publisher of High Times magazine, a bible for America’s cannabis users for 40 years. It was in 2013, in an agreeably down-at-heel bar in Denver, and Cusick’s luxuriant white beard lent him more than a passing resemblance to Gandalf. He told me about how High Times was holding a massive cannabis-themed rave the next day. Snoop Dogg was to be given a lifetime achievement award.

Cusick went on to explain how he’d be judging the Cannabis Cup, a competition to grow the finest weed. “People laugh at marijuana culture, but the real connoisseurs have standards of performance that make the Indy 500 look like a kids’ tricycle race,” he said.

In September last year I interviewed him again. This time we talked by telephone, about how High Times planned to launch a venture capital fund.

Still though, for all the corporatisation, the pot business is shrouded by a veil of sketchiness. Medical cannabis was legalised in California in 1996. But Frank Marino, another investment banker attending Shuman’s dinner party, whom I meet by the poolside gazebo, says the industry’s illegal heritage is still evident.

“How do I put this? Anybody who has been in the marijuana business for a few years was basically OK with operating illicitly, criminally – right? A master grower today was a dope dealer a few years ago,” he says.

Marino sees the transition now under way as akin to the fall of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc. “Cannabis is already a $30-$50 billion [£20-£30 billion] industry, and it’s going from illicit to legal now. The industry is in its nascent stage. It’s replete with opportunities.”

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If that Soviet analogy really does hold, then Shuman wants to be an oligarch. She has plans for numerous pot-related businesses. Stiletto Stoners will be a marijuana-themed clothing line and accessories including glamorous gold-plated vapourisers, for inhaling the drug without burning it.

Shaman Therapeutics will specialise in herbal remedies, and she also wants to start a chain of cannabis-friendly holiday resorts.

“This is the only way, right now, that the American dream is still possible. It’s the only way,” she says of the cannabis industry.

“Our economy is in the crapper. People have lost their jobs, their homes. They’ve lost hope. Cannabis is a plant that not only heals a multitude of illnesses – it can also heal our economy. It can provide jobs, a whole new industry. This is the birth of that whole new industry. And the people who are in at the ground floor now are going to be billionaires. They’re going to be on the covers of magazines. It’s already happening. It’s already a $47 billion industry – bigger than the NFL, bigger than corn, wheat and soy beans combined.”

In fact, she has her sights set well beyond the US. “In Israel, I’m known as the Mother Teresa of marijuana,” she tells me.

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cannabis queen 3

First, though, pot needs to become respectable. And to enable that, Shuman reckons a couple of things have to happen. First, she believes that celebrities “coming out” as cannabis users (a process she likens to somebody revealing that they are gay) will foster societal acceptance.

Second, she says the movement needs a leader – a modern equivalent of Pauline Sabin, who spearheaded the campaign to overturn prohibition in the Thirties.

She has, she says, a candidate in mind: “I know media; I know celebrities; I’ve got a huge pair of balls – I’ll do it!”

Now, let’s be clear – the precise scale and success of Shuman’s business empire I’ve found tricky to pin down. She owns a pot farm – but for legal reasons it must operate on a non-profit basis. Most of her other ventures appear to be in the planning stages. But certainly, she’s made a mark. “Shuman’s ability to generate publicity means that she cannot be excluded from activism conversations,” said The New York Times recently. The question many onlookers ask, however, is whether Shuman is more interested in beckoning forth a new era of enlightened cannabis use, or in selling herself. Some see her as a harbinger of crass commercialism – an anathema to the old-school hippy types who see weed as a gift to be shared.

Others will view her as a reckless champion of a dangerous drug. Smoking extra-strong varieties of cannabis could be the cause of a quarter of all new cases of psychotic mental conditions such as schizophrenia, a six-year study recently concluded. Researchers found that about 60,000 people in Britain are currently living with conditions involving hallucinations and paranoid episodes brought on by the use of high-potency skunk.

Faced with such claims, Shuman can launch a volley of her own statistics: pot is less dangerous than alcohol, a recent study found, she notes. And a number of studies have suggested that some cannabis compounds may be useful to treat psychosis.

The one thing that isn’t in question is Shuman’s chutzpah. She was born in poverty and raised on a tobacco farm in Buena Vista, a rural hamlet in Appalachian Ohio. “We didn’t have running water and electricity until I was almost 14. We worked hard … It makes me grateful for everything I have,” she says.

As a young woman, she started out by publishing a newsletter about collecting money-saving coupons, before getting a TV gig as the “Coupon Queen”. At 23, she was a single mother when she headed to Los Angeles to try to find her daughter’s father. She spent three weeks living in her car before landing a job in a spectacles store in the suburb of Encino.

It was at this point, Shuman says, that her life took its first extraordinary turn. One day, Michael Jackson, who lived not far away, pitched up in her store in disguise. She offered to bring a selection of glasses to his house, for him to try in private. The Prince of Pop took her up on the offer, she says, and before long she had started another business – Starry Eyes Optical Services – which would supply eyewear for films such as Terminator 2, When Harry Met Sally and Pretty Woman. Before long she was appearing on QVC, as the “Optician to the Stars”.

In 1995, however, her life took what she says was a darker turn. She sued Steven Seagal, the action star, for alleged sexual harassment. She also alleged that Seagal used a notoriously dirty Hollywood private eye to try to intimidate her. (Her lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.)

In the wake of the Seagal scandal, her business collapsed. Fearing some sort of retribution, she says she went underground for several years. By now she had two daughters by two men, and for lengthy spells each child went to stay with their father.

Then, in 2006, Shuman’s life took perhaps the darkest twist of all: she learnt that she had ovarian cancer. She underwent a radical hysterectomy, and part of her colon and bladder were also removed.

She was, she says, on end-of-life care (she had even snipped out a magazine coupon to get a discount on a coffin), when a friend offered to supply her with cannabis. “The worst that can happen is that you’ll die with a smile on your face,” she says she was told. Shuman began taking doses of cannabis oil, the first batches smuggled into the hospital. The impact, she claims, was remarkable.

“Within 30 days, I was off my morphine pump and all the pharmaceuticals I was being given. I was able to bathe myself and walk. At 60 days, I was able to drive. At 90 days, I was back to work full-time.’’

She adds: “It helped to treat many symptoms, from nausea to anxiety, and shrank the tumours that I had.”

Those are big claims, and since Shuman was not part of any medical trial they can’t be verified. But if she is going to be a force for good, odds are it will be in the field of medical marijuana.

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cannabis queen 4On the roof terrace of the dinner party mansion, I meet Jacquelyn Sponseller, who is 26, looks like a young Salma Hayek and is said to be one of the most accomplished growers of premium-quality weed on the US Pacific seaboard. “I’m just going to kill two birds,” she says when we sit down to talk. She packs a small glass pipe with a nugget of pungent cannabis bud. “Interview and medicate …”

Sponseller is thinking of adopting Shuman as a mentor, and in many ways Sponseller is the perfect poster girl for Shuman’s mission of making pot acceptable. I’m just not sure that Shuman, with her emphasis on celebrities and Beverly Hills connections, fully realises this yet.

Sponseller was diagnosed with severe epilepsy at the age of 19. “I was very, very sick. I’ve had hundreds of seizures. I’ve had more than 30 recorded concussions – that’s like an NFL football player. Pretty bad,” she says.

She’d been an aspiring law student, but the seizures made studying impossible. The cocktail of conventional drugs she was prescribed left her “like a complete zombie”, she says.

They also wrecked her liver – so much so, she’s been told she’ll need a transplant.

Then there was the psychological impact: “It’s not fun – you can’t wake up [because of the sedative effect of the drugs]. Before long you get depressed because you’re not yourself. You do question the purpose of living. And what got me through was medical cannabis.”

When I meet her, Sponseller is a week shy of being six months seizure-free – the longest seizure-free spell she’s had since the age of 19. She puts the improvement down to medicating with marijuana – both by smoking it and taking a pill form. She has stopped taking all her previous conventional medicines.

Again, she has not been part of a proper medical trial, and it is impossible to know for sure whether cannabis has really benefited her. But put that to pot advocates and they will counter that proper research on cannabis has been thwarted in America because for more than 40 years, it has been listed under Schedule I of the US Controlled Substances Act. That means it is regarded as a dangerous drug that has “no currently accepted medical use”, alongside the likes of heroin and LSD. (Cocaine is classed in the more relaxed Schedule II category.)

As Sponseller describes the weirdness of this situation, her thoughts turn to Shuman. She’s happy that Shuman is out there, making a case for greater acceptance. “Cheryl’s a strong woman. She has a beautiful aura. And she’s making herself heard,” says Sponseller, clutching her pipe.

That she certainly is.

Written by Peter Reynolds

April 4, 2015 at 9:25 am

A Vision Of The Future Of Cannabis.

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Written by Peter Reynolds

March 6, 2015 at 8:49 pm

Vote ‘YES’ Scotland!

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scottish piper

If all the people, politicians, institutions, banks and monopoly businesses who are responsible for the terrible injustices and inequalities in our society are so desperate for a ‘NO’ vote, what should that tell you?

That Cameron, all his disgusting, self-serving cronies, Miliband and Clegg are terrified, scared and panicking, what should that tell you?

When all the members of the Fleet Street Mafia: dishonest, manipulative, gutter press editors and seedy proprietors want Scotland to vote ‘NO’, what should that tell you?

When the UK parliament does all it can to prolong the sick perversion of democracy  that is Britain in the EU, what should that tell you?

Please vote ‘YES’ Scotland!

Written by Peter Reynolds

September 10, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Street Skag Dealer Or Synthetic Cannabinoid Pusher. What’s The Difference?

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Chris Bovey of Totnes. Europe's 'Mr Big' In Synthetic Cannabinoids.

Chris Bovey of Totnes. Europe’s ‘Mr Big’ In Synthetic Cannabinoids.

Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists (let’s call them synthetic cannabinoids) are highly toxic, dangerous substances associated with a range of extremely serious, potentially fatal, medical conditions.

Synthetic cannabinoids are intended to mimic the effects of  THC but they can be 50 or even 100 times more potent.  They also bind more tightly to the CB1 receptor meaning the effect can be more intense and longer lasting.  They are nothing like real cannabis.  They don’t have the balancing effect of CBD and other cannabinoids.  There is no ‘entourage effect‘, now known to be the real engine of the therapeutic and pleasant effects of real cannabis.

Cannabis is probably  the least toxic, therapeutic and psychoactive substances known to science but these nasty chemicals are the very opposite.  Why would anyone sell them? They are the product of prohibition and sold by immoral, irresponsible, exploitative drug dealers who are no better than those that sell dirty heroin or crack on the streets to the most vulnerable people.  Most synthetic cannabinoids are sold to children, teenagers or very young adults.

Synthetic cannabinoids are associated with seizure, stroke, severe kidney problems, panic attacks, cardiac arrest, severe psychotic episodes, fever, dehydration, paranoia, hallucinations, supraventricular tachycardia – the list goes on and on.

Chris Bovey of Totnes claims to have made more than £500,000.00 from selling Spice.

Chris Bovey claims to have made more than £500,000.00 from selling Spice.

Of course, you have no idea what you’re getting, which synthetic cannabinoid is in the ‘Spice‘ or ‘K2‘ that you’ve been sold or, indeed, whether there’s a cocktail.  Many of these products sold as ‘legal highs‘ actually contain substances that have been banned,  so buying them doesn’t  even protect you from prosecution.  Well it might, or it might not.  You just don’t know.  The shops that sell these products have no idea what’s in them either.

You have no idea how they are manufactured, in what conditions, using what precursors or what dangerous chemical processes.  You have no idea how they are mixed into herbal material if they look like weed or into a squidgy black substance if they look like hash.  I’ve seen Chris Bovey of Totnes, Europe’s biggest dealer in synthetic cannabinoids, mix his fake hash.  He uses a food mixer and just adds random amounts of anonymous white powder to whatever is the base substance.  God knows what that already contains.

Bovey told me that he has a chemist working in Austria who comes up with the compounds for his ‘legal highs‘.  He then uses laboratories in China to manufacture them.  He showed me a canister, rather like a large tea caddy, covered in Chinese writing and symbols.  There was no measurement of any sort.  He just tipped several slugs of the powder into the mixing bowl and then a bit more for luck.

I do wonder though whether his motives are more sinister. Why would Bovey, who claims to have made more than £500,000.00 personally from selling  ‘Spice‘, want to see cannabis legalised?  It doesn’t really make any sense.  His role may be about subverting the cannabis campaign in the UK.  He has certainly succeeded in creating massive negative energy and meanwhile his ‘legal highs‘ empire is expanding worldwide, even as far as Japan.

Irrespective of Bovey’s involvement in this nasty business, steer well clear of synthetic cannabinoids.  I am not calling for them to be banned.  That would only drive them underground and create yet another criminal market.  The real answer is to legalise, regulate and tax cannabis and MDMA, both relatively safe substances.  If we did that then the market for these horrible synthetics would dry up.  New Zealand has gone halfway there already with its Psychoactive Substances Act 2013,  very intelligent and progressive legislation.  It’s a model that the rest of the world would do well to follow and I see no reason why cannabis and MDMA couldn’t be included in it.

References:

Synthetic cannabis risk ‘vast': http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/global-drug-survey/9945906/Synthetic-cannabis-risk-vast

Synthetic cannabinoid JWH-018 and psychosis: An explorative study: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376871611000639

Severe Toxicity Following Synthetic Cannabinoid Ingestion: http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/15563650.2011.609822

The synthetic cannabinoid Spice as a trigger for an acute exacerbation of cannabis induced recurrent psychotic episodes: http://www.schres-journal.com/article/S0920-9964(09)00591-X/abstract

Understanding the dangers of the fake marijuana called ‘Spice’ or ‘K2′: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131002112426.htm

Why Synthetic Marijuana Is More Dangerous Than the Real Thing: http://www.livescience.com/18646-synthetic-marijuana-dangerous-health.html

Acute Kidney Injury Associated with Synthetic Cannabinoid Use: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6206a1.htm

Barclay Bros Tax Avoidance Inc (Offshore) #taxcheats

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TheRitz

Great Panorama expose on the scumbag Barclay brothers this evening.

The Ritz has paid no tax whatsoever in 17 years!

A disgrace.

Of course, Cameron and Osborne wouldn’t comment.  They reserve their condemnation of tax avoidance for Jimmy Carr.

The Barclay brothers, Sir Frederick (left) and Sir David

The Barclay Brothers. Tax Avoiders.

Written by Peter Reynolds

December 17, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Synthetic Cannabinoids. A Nasty Business, By Nasty People, With Nasty Results.

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Totnes, Devon. Worldwide Centre For Synthetic Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are powerful substances.  They are fundamental to life.  With that power comes danger.  Modern science and chemistry allows unscrupulous businessmen to exploit and endanger young people as they follow the perfectly natural path of all youngsters – to experiment and to get “high”.

In mammals, birds, reptiles and fish, the endocannabinoid system regulates all aspects of physical and mental health.  Evolution, Mother Nature, God, Science – whatever name you assign to it – has endowed the cannabis plant as the only natural source of cannabinoids outside the body.  Self-evidently, we are in a chicken and egg dilemma here about names and terminology but the facts remain the same, cannabinoids are vital substances.  The cannabis plant exists in a symbiotic relationship with mankind.  No wonder that some call it sacred.

The great immoral evil that is prohibition seeks to deny access to cannabis.  So, in our modern, technological world, inevitably, people find a way to circumvent the law.  This was the birth of “legal highs”, the creation of “analogues” or slight molecular variations of delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol (THC), notorious as the ingredient in cannabis that gets you “high”.  In fact, the benefits of cannabis are much more complex than that.  It is the interaction of around 100 cannabinoids in the plant together with terpines, flavonoids and other compounds that produce the delightful and therapeutic effects.

The effect of synthetic cannabinoids – “Spice” was the biggest brand name ever – is vile.  It is really, truly horrible.  It has none of the inherent, natural, protective balance of real cannabis.  It causes paranoia, anxiety, fear, delusions, all the symptoms that describe psychosis, the term that has been used to demonise cannabis which, in its natural form, is actually very safe and contains anti-psychotic agents.  Worse than that, Spice can lead to elevated blood pressure, heart palpitations, seizures and vomiting.  As well as the lack of natural, counterbalancing ingredients, it is also believed to bind more strongly to the cannabinoid receptors, increasing the duration and potency of its effects.

In Britain, the centre of the synthetic cannabinoid business is Totnes, an apparently sleepy market town in Devon.  In fact, it is an important hub of the synthetic cannabinoid business in Europe and worldwide.  Here, in a grubby warehouse, on a run down industrial estate, completely untested chemical compounds are imported from China, mixed with other ingredients of dubious source and then distributed around the Britain and the world, largely to be sold to young people and children, completely outside the control, moral or legal regulation of any responsibility.

If Shaun Sawyer, the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall wants to do something effective to protect young people, instead of breaking down the doors of people growing a few cannabis plants he should be checking out the contents of this warehouse in Totnes.  It is a combination of laziness and ignorance that the police aren’t dealing with this.  Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids are far, far more dangerous to our young people and our communities than the natural and generally benign cannabis plant.

Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids are usually dried herbs or plant material that has been sprayed with cannabinoid(s) and marketed as a smoking material.  Often the plant material itself has some sort of psychoactive effect.  These include blue water lily (Nymphaea caerulea), dwarf skullcap (Scutellaria nana), Maconha brava (Zornia latifolia or Z. diphylla), Siberian motherwort (Leonurus sibiricus), Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora) and lion’s tail (Leonotis leonuru). Large amounts of Vitamin E have also been found in some samples, possibly to mask detection of the cannabinoids.  The cannabinoids themselves are usually JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, HU-210 and cannabicyclohexanol. They might be used individually or in any ratio or combination that is convenient or profitable.

From 23rd December 2009, these known ingredients of Spice were prohibited and are now “controlled” under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as if they are cannabis.  However, they are very difficult to detect and many more synthetic cannabinoids have been developed.  In Totnes there may be a large amount of left over Spice, re-packaged as something else, possibly even mixed with new synthetics which this “Mr Big” has formulated for him by his expert chemist who he told me is based in Austria.  Who knows what these products contain? Mr Big and the Austrian chemist engage in frequent email correspondence and samples are sent back and forth as ever more effective attempts are made to evade the law and produce stronger and more profitable chemicals.

A year or so ago I was invited inside this warehouse myself and it opened my eyes to the extremes that some people are prepared to go to make a fast buck.  It is dark, dank and clammy.  It reeks of slightly rotten or putrid contents.  There are boxes and crates spread in no apparent order everywhere.  There are large envelopes and plastic containers on shelves containing indeterminate substances that look like dried mushrooms, herbs and plant material.  There are also unlabelled powders and pills and, surprisingly for something that is now supposed to be against the law to possess or sell, large quantities of packets that are labelled “Spice”, although what they actually contain is uncertain.

Mr Big is surrounded by a small group of sycophants, some work in his warehouse, some are controlled by gifts and “entertainment”.  Downstairs in the dingy warehouse groups of people sit around smoking.

Upstairs in the office is even more worrying.  There’s everything you would expect at a thriving mail order business.  People working on computers, answering telephones, packing orders and yet more strange substances and distinctly dodgy looking products.  I am shown a tea caddy-like container, covered in Chinese decoration and writing.  I’m told it is the very latest synthetic cannabinoid imported from China.  It’s a fine white powder that glistens slightly. Then I’m introduced to the manufacturing process.

Drug Mixer

A large red “Kitchen Aid” food mixer, the sort you would find in a professional kitchen, is taken off the shelf and Mr Big produces a football sized lump of squidgy, black, supposedly inert, base material.  Yes, it looks just like squidgy, black hash but what exactly it contains I have no idea and neither, I should think, does Mr Big.  Into the mixing bowl goes a generous handful of this gunk and then the cannabinoid is sprinkled over it. There’s no measurement or calculation or care involved .  It’s entirely haphazard and, it has to be said, reckless.  The mixer is cranked up to maximum and left to do its work with just one more slug of the white powder for luck.  Soon it will be cut into small portions and distributed through head shops and by mail order for unsuspecting people to try.

Yes, I tried it myself.  It was horrendous.  I am a very experienced cannabis user of over 40 years standing.  I’ve tried and enjoyed the strongest varieties, be it Nepalese, Afghan or Pakistani hash, concentrated oil, Thai sticks, the finest medicinal product from Bedrocan in Holland and MMJ dispensaries in the USA.  Nothing could have prepared me for the potency and horrible  effect of this Totnes poison.

I crumbled a very small amount into my favourite metal pipe, lit it and took a very gentle pull, just enough to get it burning.  Within moments I had the most powerful and unpleasant sensation.  Every negative, nasty and unwanted effect that I’ve experienced from anything cannabis related was there.  Previously, the only bad effects I’ve had from the real thing are when I’ve eaten too much but this was much worse than that.  I was instantly on edge, feeling slightly panicky and breathing very quickly.  It took fifteen minutes to wear off and the rest of the small sample that Mr Big had given me went straight in the bin.

So what’s the answer to this?  Ban it?  Lock up Mr Big and throw away the key?

Not at all.  Prohibition is a dangerous and irresponsible policy that always causes more harm than it prevents. Remember, Spice is already banned but it hasn’t made any difference to Mr Big and he probably doesn’t even know himself which products in his sordid inventory are allowed and which aren’t.  It would probably keep the local drug testing laboratory busy for a year before they manage to go through them all.

These synthetic cannabinoids and all “legal highs” whether or not they’ve yet been banned, are the product of prohibition.  They would not exist, nor pose any significant problem, were it not for the ludicrous, self-defeating and harmful policy followed by the British government and other misguided administrations all over the world.

Mr Big and his Austrian chemist will be happy to continue designing new chemicals to sell to our children and there are plenty of unscrupulous Chinese manufacturers who will service their evil trade.

The only answer is to regulate, to introduce a system of licensing, age restrictions and consumer protection.  It won’t eliminate the problem entirely but at least it will give us some degree of control, because prohibition provides none.

Mr Big doesn’t give a damn.  Although he has a family of his own including small children, all he is concerned with are the hundreds of thousands of pounds he has made by turning Totnes into a worldwide centre for his disgusting trade.  We must take responsibility, regulate, control and protect and in due course, Mr Big will get what’s coming to him.

I am pleased to announce that CLEAR will be launching an information campaign about the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids.

The ultimate answer is to end the prohibition of cannabis.

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