Cocaine Production Soars to Record Levels, UN Reports

According to a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “The COVID-19 pandemic had a disruptive effect on drug markets. With international travel severely curtailed, producers struggled to get their product to market. Night clubs and bars were shut as officials ramped up their attempts to control the virus, causing demand to slump for drugs like cocaine that are often associated with those settings.

“However, the most recent data suggests this slump has had little impact on longer-term trends. The global supply of cocaine is at record levels. Almost 2,000 tons was produced in 2020, continuing a dramatic uptick in manufacture that began in 2014, when the total was less than half of today’s levels.”

According to The Guardian, production “of coca, the drug’s base ingredient, spiked 35% in 2020-21, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.”

“The pandemic was a bit of a blip for the expansion of cocaine production, but now it has rebounded and is even higher than what it was before,” said Antoine Vella, a researcher at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and who contributed to the report on cocaine.

The UN report says that the “surge is partly a result of an expansion in coca bush cultivation, which doubled between 2013 and 2017, hit a peak in 2018, and rose sharply again in 2021.

“But it is also due to improvements in the process of conversion from coca bush to cocaine hydrochloride. In parallel, there has been a continuing growth in demand, with most regions showing steadily rising numbers of users over the past decade. Although these increases can be partly explained by population growth, there is also a rising prevalence of cocaine use. Interceptions by law enforcement have also been on the rise, at a higher speed than production, meaning that interdiction has contained the growth of the global amount of cocaine available for consumption,” the report continues. 

While the cocaine trade has long been concentrated in major hubs like Colombia, that might be changing. As Vella told The Guardian, “I think we need to shift away from thinking of cocaine as being a European/North American problem because it’s also very much a South American problem.” 

“The cocaine trade in Colombia was once controlled by just a few major players. As a result of a fragmentation of the criminal landscape following the demobilization of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) in 2016, it now involves criminal groups of all sizes, structures and objectives. But, signs of consolidation of some of these groups have recently emerged. These developments have led to an increasing presence of foreign actors in Colombia. Mexican and Balkan criminal groups have moved closer to the centre of production to gain access to supplies and wholesale quantities of cocaine,” the report says. “These foreign groups are not aiming to take control of territory. Instead, they are trying to make supply lines more efficient. Their presence is helping to incentivize coca bush cultivation and finance all stages of the supply chain.” 

The report continues: “In established cocaine markets, the proportion of the general population using the drug is high. But these markets only cover around one-fifth of the global population. If the prevalence in other regions increases to match established markets, the number of users globally would increase tremendously because of the large underlying population. This type of market convergence has already been happening in the case of Western and Central Europe, where purity levels and prices have harmonised with the United States, although prevalence of cocaine use in Western and Central Europe has not yet reached the level in the United States.”

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Top Cannabis Stories of 2022

What were some of the top cannabis stories of 2022? It was a big year for legalization efforts, but full-scale implementations are still needed. While Germany looked to legalize cannabis, it didn’t happen in 2022. Likewise, despite beliefs that Biden and the Democrats would legalize cannabis or, at the very least, pass some cannabis banking regulations, nothing came of it. Cannabis didn’t fare much better in Canada, where authorities launched a full-scale war on medical cannabis and legacy medical providers. […]

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Two Years Later

For the hardy citizens of Maine, the long lonely lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic meant the long-anticipated, long-delayed arrival of legal cannabis. 

Almost four years to the date after voters in that state and three others joined the legalization wave on the same night Donald Trump was elected, the state’s first adult-use cannabis dispensaries finally opened for business in late 2020. Here, at last, was proof of concept for marijuana legalization, a policy choice favored by more than two-thirds of Americans, according to the most recent Gallup and Pew Research polling. Here, at last, was the arrival of the country’s fledgling cannabis industry. 

A baby juggernaut still in its diapers—with $25 billion worth of legal sales in the US in 2021 and $10.4 billion in tax revenue since the adult-use legalization era began almost a decade ago—the cannabis industry is worth tens of billions of dollars and now could be worth as much as $100 billion by 2030, according to some of the rosy estimates making headlines in the cannabis and business press. Not even COVID-19 could stop cannabis, according to analysts; in fact, there was a COVID sales bump. 

For me, the jaded middle-aged millennial who spent most of two decades in California, COVID meant legal weed stores within a short drive of my parents’ house, a vision my high-school self would’ve dismissed as a vision generated by a bad experience with the salvia picked up from the less than reputable shop. So, visiting Maine last summer, fully vaccinated and ready to buy some weed, I pulled into the gravel parking lot of what looked like a double-wide mobile home—plopped down in the middle of a hastily cleared forest—brimming with a mix of pride, excitement and curiosity. 

Inside, all the predictable staples were available on the modest, manageable menu: a half-dozen flower strains, a couple choices of edibles—though, like most places, no nationally recognizable brands; everything aside from an edible or two was cultivated and produced by the company that owned the place.

I picked up some old reliables: an eighth of Chem Dog, a gram of Gorilla Glue. I swapped some friendly small talk with the eager budtender, whose pleasantness led me to overlook her blank stare when I asked about the parentage of one strain I’d never heard of, followed by the disappointing suggestion that I just buy the highest-THC strain. We didn’t even discuss terpenes. “It’s OK; they’re new,” I said to myself, choosing to forget the fact that medical cannabis had been in Maine for years.

What I couldn’t forgive nor forget was what happened when I returned home. 

The flower smelled nice enough when I shook it out of the jar. Good nose, decent trim. But in the grinder, disaster struck—or revealed itself. I had to twist harder than necessary. Much harder. What came out wasn’t fine rollable particles that burned easily and smoothly, but big torn-off chunks that smoked harsh and evil, producing coughs that sounded like I’d just received a positive COVID test. This weed was wet. This weed was barely cured at all! I had just paid $50 an eighth (plus tax) for pot unfit for consumption. Outraged, I fished around in my bag for the stash I’d brought from the (illegal) speakeasy I patronize back home in New York City. As for legalization, I left the new weed open overnight to try and imperfectly finish the hack cure job I’d paid for.

In one analysis, who cares? My $50 (plus tax) was just a tiny drop in a multi-billion-dollar ocean. Remember the numbers? They don’t lie. In 2020, the first year of life with coronavirus in the US, legal cannabis sales topped $25 billion, up from $17.5 billion the year before, according to Forbes. And with states such as New York and New Jersey coming online—with the revenue tsunami of federal legalization lurking over the horizon—sales of legal weed should top a ludicrous-sounding $75 billion by the end of the decade, as investment bank Cowen forecasts. With numbers like these, what’s the problem with some jerk blowing less than the cost of a full tank of gas on some shitty store-bought weed?

The problem is that those numbers may indeed lie. After two years of COVID-19, the US cannabis industry is in a very strange place, according to interviews with cannabis-industry investors, entrepreneurs, analysts and advocates from across the country. 

All those commas and zeros on pitch decks and market forecasts aren’t leading to commas and zeros in the bank. The problem is that not enough “jerks” are doing this: buying expensive, overtaxed weed from dispensaries that many connoisseurs agree just isn’t very good. And too many of them, like myself, marched straight out of the hastily constructed store back to the familiar sandwich bags on the “traditional market,” where we found better cannabis for less money, an act repeated across the country that’s jeopardizing the legalization experiment and the cannabis industry as we know it. 

Though overall numbers continue to climb, most individual cultivators and retailers say they’re struggling and need immediate relief by way of reduced taxes and regulatory burdens in order to stay in business—in order to stand a chance at competing with the still-booming illicit market, which is anywhere from three to five times as large, according to Forbes and other estimates.  

“We saw an average of 1500 people per day before the pandemic hit,” said Marc Matulich, the founder and CEO of Airfield Supply Company, a vertically integrated dispensary that opened doors in San Jose, CA in 2010. With cannabis declared an essential business, sales recovered from their nadir in March and April 2020. However, despite an increase in the overall number of unique buyers, Airfield only averaged 1000 to 1300 customers per day in 2021. 

Their recovery was more people, buying less weed. Meanwhile, in the cannabis business press, all the headlines were about a COVID bump in sales fueling the billions in revenue, a version of reality Airfield simply didn’t recognize. “I was reading at the time that the industry was booming, and we weren’t feeling that,” Matulich said.

“Even before the virus, the industry was struggling somewhat because of the over taxation and the over regulation,” said Chaney Turner, a business owner who chairs the Cannabis Regulatory Commission in Oakland, CA. “We weren’t necessarily winning. As someone who used to operate on the unregulated market…sometimes, I’d rather just go back to selling unlicensed, illegal weed,” she said, voicing frustrations echoed throughout the industry. 

Even “Big Weed,” the country’s crop of publicly traded companies with billion-dollar valuations—the #msogang for multi-state operators—aren’t printing money, and as a result, aren’t tearing up the stock market or anyone’s Robinhood app. 

For example, Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries sold $650 million worth of weed at 65 US stores last year. The company’s most recent earnings reports show that they only pulled in $52 million in revenue over the first nine months of 2021, and they’re still carrying a $92 million deficit. 

According to their many critics, as well as their own annual investor reports, the MSOs are doing OK because they operate in markets where state regulations limit the number of entrants into the market. With artificial limits on competition, poor product, precisely like the uncured weed I encountered in Maine, will sell—or at least until the buyer finds a better option on the illicit market.

Meanwhile, key promises of marijuana legalization remain unfulfilled, by both the government and the cannabis industry. Relentlessly pitched as a social-justice corrective that would enrich communities of color who paid the steepest prices of the drug war in arrest and incarceration rates and community impoverishment, legalization instead has delivered the spoils to the usual suspects: already wealthy investors who are mostly white, older and male. You’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating. 

One of Airfield Supply Company’s grow rooms at the San Jose facility. Photo by Airfield Supply Company

“For the industry in general, the pandemic has been a rollercoaster, but overall, large cannabis businesses are doing better,” said Amber Littlejohn, the executive director of the Minority Cannabis Business Association

“However, like other US industries, minority-owned businesses haven’t fared as well,” she said. “Many didn’t have the resources to adjust to doing business in the time of COVID with increased staffing and operational costs, as well as adapting to serving the customer in a ‘no-contact’ business climate, all without access to small business relief or the MSO deep pockets.” 

Despite how much the cannabis industry has progressed in the past few years, some of the same old bugaboos continue to stalk companies’ balance sheets and the outlook of the industry as a whole. Chief among them is federal prohibition. 

Cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance. This means cannabis businesses are still hampered by the tax code—section 280E, which prohibits merchants of banned substances from making certain deductions on the federal taxes—and by banking regulations that shut most businesses out from basic financial services and charge a premium on those weed businesses that do bank. Federal prohibition also prevented cannabis businesses from taking advantage of needed COVID relief programs, such as the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP).

“I think most of our problems continue to boil down to the need for federal action,” said Aaron Smith, the executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “State reforms are slowly moving forward, but you still have a scenario where this industry is unable to operate like a normal business.” 

“While we see in the press that everything is rosy and sales are up, on the other side of the equation, costs are dramatically up,” he says. “The number one thing to make life better for this industry would be to resolve these federal and state conflicts.”

But while the obstructionist nature of the US Senate and tepid interest from the Biden Administration mean the familiar stalemate at the federal and state level, regulators and lawmakers continue to view the cannabis industry as a handy ATM tied to a bank account that can never be exhausted. Yet, that too is a misconception upon closer examination.

California, for example, was on track to rake in more than $1.2 billion in total cannabis tax revenue in 2021, according to California Department of Tax and Fee Administration data.  That’s money the state doesn’t need: On January 10, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a budget surplus of more than $45 billion. Yet, despite pleas from the state’s biggest cannabis businesses (at least the ones that aren’t MSOs) to cut taxes as per state law, cannabis taxes increased yet again in 2022.

Airfield Supply Co. CEO Marc Matulich poses at the company’s vertically integrated cannabis business in San Jose.

“We have a local tax of 10 percent, we have a 15 percent excise tax and then we have regular sales tax on top of that plus the cultivation tax,” said Matulich of Airfield Supply. “That’s 38 percent tax just at the retail counter, plus all the taxes on the back end nobody knows about, plus [$300,000 worth] of regulatory fees. All of those things present a significant challenge to business.” 

In the long view, these complaints themselves represent remarkable progress. Every merchant in America grouses about taxes and government overreach. Cannabis is normalizing. But not every merchant in America works in an industry that attracted Drug Enforcement Administration raids just a few years ago. Cannabis isn’t yet normal, and what will be “normal” for the weed industry a decade or a generation from now may take final form over the next few years. And that form will hinge on choices made today.

Ryan Lepore sits on the executive board of New York City NORML and lobbied the state legislature to pass the New York State Marijuana Revenue and Taxation Act, considered the current gold standard for legalization laws. On a recent trip to Palm Springs, CA, he visited a few dispensaries, where he marveled at paying $90 in taxes on a half-ounce purchase. A few dispensaries had “consumption lounges,” sitting and smoking areas so strictly regulated that they remain near empty (partially a result of COVID). 

“I think all of this stuff is still not meeting the culture of the consumer where it needs to be,” he said. “That’s the type of stuff that kills the market.” 

Luckily for Lepore, he’d brought some of his own illegal smoke from New York, which he shared with a stranger while standing and smoking outside of his hotel, same as in the pre-legalization days.

This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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COVID Regrets & Cannabis Promises 

The establishment has COVID regrets. Its media, like the Atlantic, has lost tens of millions of dollars. It seems that people would instead rely on the “misinformation” on the Internet than place their trust in the propaganda arm of the military-industrial complex. Thus, establishment mouthpieces like the Atlantic are trying to save themselves. “Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty,” reads a headline by columnist Emily Oster. Oster writes, “We need to forgive one another for what we did and said when we were in the […]

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The Great Jamaican Patoo Trip

The World Health Organization (WHO), recently citing one of their fresh, dark-timeline COVID-19 pandemic stats, alerted the world that there’s been a shocking/not-shocking 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression in adults across the world. A number which, frankly, begins to feel light when taking into context the various ugly aspects of these increasingly dystopian times.

Adults are hardly in solo sad company. Data from a youth charity The Prince’s Trust, says 23% of young people in the U.K. claim they are seeking psychedelic experiences and will “never emotionally recover from the emotional impact of the pandemic.” Existence itself, it seems, is more a burden emotionally than ever before.

Kevin Bourke agrees: “Global mental health has deteriorated and people need perspective and balance.” Bourke, co-founder of Patoo—Jamaica’s first legal psychedelic CPG line of psilocybin products—has a particularly astute vantage point to witness both the trending explosive interest and use of psychedelics as well as the return of tourism culture on his home turf after the devastation of COVID on the travel industry at large.

Particularly hard hit were places like the island’s longtime beach and cliff-lined bohemian playground of Negril in the West End, where I caught up with him in the spring of 2022 while on the island for my own physical and spiritual recharging of sorts. Patoo is quickly gaining traction around the island with dozens of retail partners all across Jamaica carrying their products, from legal cannabis dispensaries like Jacana, through to locally infamous mushroom cafes, weed huts, right up to posh resorts like Skylark along the beach, or Rockhouse in the cliffs, where Patoo is also hosting “Psilocybin Soundbath” experiences for guests.

Courtesy of Patoo

In the gift shops, the eye-catching Patoo packaging is right at home alongside tanning oils and sun hats. Think: gluten-free, direct trade and locally-farmed dark chocolate bars, dosed Jamaican honey, microdosed mushroom capsules, and more strain-based products being developed with Patoo’s R+D team. 

“The vibe in Negril and the whole island is bringing people seeking experiential tourism and wellness after COVID, and the Caribbean has bounced back. It’s the perfect time for Jamaica to step up in this realm and be a leader for adults seeking these products,” says Bourke.

Patoo’s other co-founder Charles Lazarus, a twenty-year veteran of touring roots-reggae band Rootz Underground Movement says: “We didn’t come up with mushroom-dosed chocolate, they just go well together in nature, and both are medicine,” he says. “The dark chocolate provides oxytocin, the love transmitter, and then you have the Jamaican mushrooms with a very expansive personality.”

A Jamaican owl—Patoo—greets you as the brand mascot and spiritual talisman to the public, and as a brand the team says they seek to be a bridge builder between the natural world, research, and commerce. Besides partnering with island farmers for all-local chocolate and a greater harmony with their proprietary indigenious hybrid genetics, their main Patoo 4-gram dark chocolate bar uses a wild Jamaican strain they cross-cultivated the mycelium with in order to be consistent and shelf-stable. It also allows them to tightly and accurately control even-dosing across the product (read: you can anticipate the effects for a better experience). And yet, their biggest cost is the Jamaican cacao, which is regarded as one of the best on the planet. 

In an even more impressive move, Bourke, along with Lazarus and their team worked to execute the first legal shipment of Jamaican psilocybin using native genetics cultivated by the Patoo team to the University of Alberta and Health Canada for research on PTSD in the Canadian Military.

That image of psychedelics as both therapy and a fun time for responsible adults is changing, if the ongoing legalization movement is any indicator. The FDA has proclaimed psilocybin to be a “breakthrough medicine” and that perspective is increasingly being found at the end of a micro or macro dose of plant-based psychedelics like magic mushrooms. While on the island for my own restorative trip to Negril, I too wanted to sample the indigenious and proprietary genetics unique to Jamaica. 

Courtesy of Patoo

In the case of Patoo, they offer a means to try mushrooms naturally harvested in controlled environments—knowing the diet of the cows producing the substrate growing manure to ensure the integrity of the mycelium, as well as the metabolites, which influence and direct the effects the way terpenes interact with cannabinoids in cannabis. 

With all that in mind, it’s no surprise to find accessibility and professional, safe psilocybin products being at the forefront of the experiential tourism trend that is growing in Negril, and greater Jamaica. Legality means greater diversity and standards of CPG goods, in psychedelics just as it did with weed. “[Psychedelics] are moving extremely fast, it feels different than cannabis,” says Lazarus. “Cannabis definitely led the path and highlighted the right way, also the wrong ways, of progressing an industry like this. Psilocybin will challenge the wine and spirits space in ten years.”

As a brand, Patoo is already creating a buzz on social media as an easy and reliably-dosed access point to the island’s psychedelic mushroom culture, which already has been strong for years. But Bourke brings a different element of connectivity and understanding the market. A seasoned branding creative, he helped create Blackwell Rum with his mentor Chris Blackwell (English-born founder of Island Records and the first person to put reggae music out on a pro label), worked with Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records restaurant brand, and is the co-founder of the music and wellness cultural festival TmrwTday

In other words, he was the choice of choices to connect me and be my guide to Patoo. I was staying at Tensing Pen, a small independent resort in the cliffs that is what I’d like to think resides in the afterlife for people who love dogs (they have a few Rhodesian Ridgebacks that roam the area). Having grown up hanging out in Negril, Bourke effortlessly manifested at the table my girlfriend and I were at, adjusting to the island vibes after the flight in from Boston. I was supplied with some gratis Social Dose bars (.7g of locally grown Hawaiian cubensis) and the flagship Patoo Bar, dosed with 4g their proprietary Jamaican Cyanescens strain crossed with APE (Albino Penis Envy). 

Each Patoo bar has three squares to it, each dosed at 1.33g. One square, Bourke said, and “it’s dancing time”. Two and we get into fractals and visual distortion and a sense of being connected. Three, and he said “it’s time to chill out and have a friend nearby because you going on a journey”. I had already had one big journey that day, I was just looking for the lift.

I also just decided to eat a full Social dose after that long day of travel and a few months between psilocybin consumption. Scene and setting was set. Hadn’t even begun the four days on, three days off regiment suggested by psychonauts for your brain and system to reset (and deal with increased tolerance). The effect of the whole bar left me like I’d been hit upside the head by a wet rowing oar (I hadn’t had a full meal yet, violating one of Patoo’s suggestions for consumption). 

Courtesy of Daniel McCarthy

After I adjusted a bit on the frantic energy and overwhelming sensations, I slid into a great pocket of euphoria and social connectedness to everything around me, but I was never out of range or uncomfortable in my surroundings (nothing gets you weirder than putting your hand through your phone while going to change up your playlist). It was also robust in earthy mushroom flavor. 

The dogs and my girlfriend at sunset. The saltfish at the restaurant overlooking the moonrise. The cove at Tensing Pen, smashed by ancient waves on old pirate coral. The restoration to my body and mixing with local ganja consumed in great quantities from both the local dispensary circuit (Jacana) and some local farmers as well. Helluva first day.

The next evening I dove into a 1.33g square while cruising the long beachfront road down from the cliffs, with drums of jerk chicken being smoked along the way and the party looked like it was outside the venue more than inside. Plenty of shady corners away from the streetlights and drum fires where typically one ducks into for the gamblers’ choice of local fungi. A dicey situation any way you slice it.

“If you buy mushrooms and don’t fully know the source, it can affect your mindset going in. And scene and setting is so key when experiencing psilocybin, and commercially it doesn’t make sense to create a product that gives people a negative episode,” says Bourke. “Charles and our team have worked out our consistency and dosing so we can approach this product as a CPG as well as a plant medicine. You can take some Patoo and then return to it a month later seeking that groove and those sensations (and knowing your limits), and find it’s repeatable. Dosage is huge for us and Patoo.”

That dosage was what I was relying on given the visual and auditory overload I was about to step into. Namely, the first Negril nighttime beach party where everyone comes in from the hills in Westmoreland and surrounding parishes to attend a massive DJ set of everything from the Beatles to traphouse beats, with locals dressed like they were heading to the club, only to be met with fire ants in front of the stage and lounge area that would beat back the surging crowd and leave an awkward negative space in the crowd… where I was standing. 

Not wanting to be rude—and with all 1.33g surging through me—I enjoyed the evening with my new friends and executed four straight hours of dancing for a guy who doesn’t dance. Admittedly the fire ants would maul me the moment I stopped, and the dancing was the white-man’s two-step rocking back and forth and pounding water all night. All in all, the dosage for me was just right. And best of all, repeatable. The next night. And the afternoon after. 

And then back home just as spring flipped into summer, after walking through the Ukrainian sculpture park I live near, alone on my back in the sun with my dog scurrying nearby and not a soul around. 

“The paradigm has shifted and evolved and a whole generation is upset that they have been deceived, to their detriment, over the broken narrative around psychedelics as a therapeutic option,” says Lazarus. “With the attention in the press, the ground-swell around the holistic approach to life and a return to organic food, places of high energy and legal psilocybin medicine such as Jamaica have become a travel focus for people that are seeking inner healing,” says Lazarus. “We are proud of this offering to the world.” 

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Need for Speed: FDA Issues Notice on Adderall Shortages

Anyone who is prescribed the ADHD and narcolepsy medication Adderall has been advised to seek alternative medication after a nationwide shortage was confirmed by the FDA last week, but the reasons behind the shortage remain a bit of a mystery.

The FDA didn’t give much of an explanation for the shortage other than to say one of the main manufacturers of Adderall (which is the brand name given to a particular combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine salts), Teva, was experiencing “ongoing intermittent manufacturing delays” and “other manufacturers continue to produce amphetamine mixed salts, but there is not sufficient supply to continue to meet U.S. market demand through those producers.”

The good news is, at the moment most of those delays are scheduled to be resolved by October or November, which is an updated ETA originally slated for March of 2023. This means we will likely avoid running out entirely. Nonetheless, the FDA did advise patients to seek alternative treatments all the same. 

A New York Times article cited the nationwide rise in ADHD as the main cause of the shortage, and it cannot be overstated that reported cases of ADHD are indeed on the rise. As a heavily regulated Schedule 2 drug, Adderall manufacture is often slow in response to demand because of the red tape required in order to produce it, so the rise in ADHD may indeed be to blame but in terms of the shortage of Adderall itself, it is likely a bit of a mixed bag.

The usual suspects when things are in short supply lately are COVID-related supply chain issues or the ongoing war in Ukraine, but Hamilton Morris, a journalist and scientific researcher known for his TV show Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, indicated on Twitter that the Adderall shortage could be due to a shortage of nitroethane, one of the potential raw ingredients used to make it. One of the main distributors of nitroethane, Sigma Aldrich, has it listed as unavailable on their website. A phone call to the media department at Sigma Aldrich was, alas, not returned fast enough to meet my deadline.

Others disagreed, saying there’s no reason to believe there is a nitroethane shortage quite yet, but it would certainly explain things if it turns out to be true. Chemjobber, a blog dedicated to chemistry news and chemistry jobs, told High Times that while low nitroethane supply may be a potential factor, it’s essentially way more complicated than that.

“I strongly believe it is rarely API (active pharmaceutical ingredient) manufacturing that is the problem,” Chemjobber said. “That is a problem at the back of the chain, and there are 4-5 steps in front of it i.e. you could have a problem with tableting, or shipping, or labor etc.”

To that point, Teva did report earlier this year that they were having issues with labor shortages, a common complaint in the era of COVID-19. Thus, it’s not necessarily a shortage of one chemical as much as it seems to be a perfect storm of bad luck and the basic production limitations of any heavily regulated industry.

In terms of whether or not America will run out of Adderall, Chemjobber likened it to the toilet paper craze of early COVID and projected this too shall pass. It does also appear to be a good sign that Teva moved up its ETA by several months in the span of a week. Unfortunately, they didn’t call me back either.

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Drug-Related Social Media Posts in Hong Kong Increase Threefold Since 2016

Research by Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups found that social media content in the city featuring drugs saw over a threefold increase, from 927 in 2016 to 3,114 by the end of last year, first reported by RTHK News. The survey also takes aim at cannabidiol (CBD), as authorities consider a ban on the up-and-coming cannabinoid.

The study, released last week, also found an increase in video views in the same period for drug-related content, from about 3.4 million to 7.6 million.

Additionally, researchers noted that social media users posted a variety of content over the period, including popular memes, hashtags and non-fungible-tokens (NFTs) to promote drug use. NFTs have grown in popularity over the years as a unique digital asset, often taking the form of art, that can’t be copied.

“We found some NFT in the high-risk websites,” said Michael Leung, who works for the group’s youth crime prevention center. Leung added that high-risk users utilizing memes, hashtags, cartoon characters and NFTs to promote drugs “causes some users to underestimate the risks and severity of drug abuse problem.”

The group also polled around 1,300 younger adults, from November 2021 to July 2022, and found that 20% “underestimated the harm of drugs.” Specifically, more than one-fifth of respondents believed they were able to control “any cravings” for drugs. About 18% of interviewees also said they felt taking drugs could relieve anxiety.

The study also found that more than half of all drug-related posts originated on a platform, similar to Reddit, called LIHKG, followed by Instagram and HKGolden online forum. Half of all content logged by the study reference cannabis, while cocaine and methamphetamine were featured in 11.6% and 8.4% of posts, respectively.

Leung attributed some of the more recent interest around drugs to the COVID-19 pandemic, as many residents were confined to their homes and used social media more often since 2020.

CBD is among the specific drugs seeing an increase in traffic over this time period, too, with the number of related views increasing from 5,707 in 2019 to 11,840 in 2020 and 43,980 in 2021. Bob Lee Siu-chui, a supervisor of the federation’s youth crime prevention center, said that CBD in particular has been advertised as a stress-relief and healthcare product “for enticement, lowering the wariness among young people,” South China Morning Post reports.

CBD is legal in Hong Kong, so long as it doesn’t contain THC.

“Some products may contain THC, an easily addictive substance that is regulated by the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance,” Lee said. Lee also expressed concern that CBD could become a gateway for young people to start using and selling other drugs.

In turn, the city’s law enforcement agencies are currently pushing to outlaw CBD within the year, stressing the illegal status of cannabis in an attempt to dissuade residents from trying out the non-psychoactive cannabinoid.

“There is a trend in Hong Kong that some online users discuss CBD,” Leung said, adding that “many people” have underestimated the risks of CBD and the severity of damages cannabis can cause.

A spokesperson told South China Morning Post that the government would seek to ban CBD products in early 2023.

“The government has taken a firm stance against cannabis and repeatedly stated that the use, cultivation, manufacturing, trafficking…of cannabis and controlled cannabis products are illegal and will remain so,” he said. “We will continue to educate the public, especially young people, to correctly understand that cannabis is a drug and it is harmful to health.”

The 2016 Brookings Institution report, “A People’s War: China’s Struggle to Contain its Illicit Drug Problem,” notes that China has faced a growing problem of illicit drug use. The amount of registered drug addicts increased every year until publication since the government’s first annual drug enforcement report in 1998. This problem is arguably compounded by the fact that drug addiction is considered a personal failure and is highly stigmatized, with drug addiction not receiving much public sympathy or government funding in the country.

“There are two main strategies for treating addiction in China: (1) enrollment in compulsory detoxification centers, and (2) sentencing to ‘education through labor’ camps,” the report reads.

The authors, San Diego State University sociology professor Sheldon X. Zhang and Rutgers University criminal justice professor Ko-lin Chin, instead recommended that China apply a public health approach to the treatment of addicts. Additionally, they recommend China promote evidence-based treatment programs, based on scientific research; establish a reliable drug market forecast system, combining chemical composition analysis, reports and urine tests of arrested drug offenders and community informants on illicit drug use trends; and increase the efficiency of its international collaboration.

“While not a silver bullet, perhaps China … should also consider experimenting with a more compassionate approach oriented toward harm reduction,” the authors concluded.

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Nevada Cannabis Industry Rings Up Nearly $1 Billion in Yearly Sales

The Nevada cannabis industry rang up more than $965 million in taxable sales during the 2022 fiscal year, showing a slight dip from the $1 billion in sales recorded the previous year. Regulated sales of marijuana generated nearly $150 million in cannabis tax revenue, providing critical funding for the state’s public school system.

The Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board released sales figures for the state’s regulated marijuana industry last week, showing just over $965 million in taxable wholesale and retail sales during the 2022 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022. The figure reflects a 4% drop in sales over the previous year, when taxable sales of cannabis topped $1 billion.

Tiana Bohner, a spokesperson for the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board, said that national and global economic factors played a role in the decrease in cannabis sales compared to last year. In 2020, cannabis sales skyrocketed in legal markets across the country as coronavirus shutdowns took hold. In many states, the jump in sales was in part fueled by the designation of cannabis retailers and producers as essential businesses, allowing them to remain open as many others were forced to shut their doors.

“Over the first part of the year, Nevada’s cannabis industry saw lower retail sales, a trend consistent with other mature cannabis marketplaces nationwide. While sales increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, cannabis businesses are not immune to the effects of inflation and lack of disposable income as consumers adjust their spending habits and priorities,” Bohner wrote in an email to The Nevada Independent.

The drop in sales followed the easing of restrictions put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, when consumers were eager to return to family gatherings, restaurant dining, and other public activities. During the shutdowns, cannabis sales in legal markets skyrocketed, with most states reporting record-breaking sales. In March, however, cannabis market data analytics firm BDSA reported that sales appeared to be returning to pre-pandemic levels.

“Though most legal cannabis markets saw sales soften in the second half of 2021, the global cannabis market is expected to see brisk growth in 2022, driven by strong sales in new and emerging markets in the U.S., steady growth in Canada and international markets led by Mexico and Germany,” BDSA chief commercial officer Jessica Lukas said in a statement quoted by Newsweek.

Nevada Cannabis Taxes Fund Education

Revenue generated by taxable cannabis sales in Nevada totaled about $152 million in fiscal 2022, including $89 million from the 10% excise tax on adult-use retail sales and another $63 million from the 15% tax on wholesale recreational and medical marijuana sales. Tax revenue raised, minus regulatory costs incurred by the state, is dedicated to Nevada’s K-12 education budget, totaling $147 million for public schools during the 2022 fiscal year.

But cannabis businesses say that state taxes and regulatory fees are overwhelming, especially when combined with the decline in sales and other economic factors including inflation. Operators have been particularly critical of the Cannabis Compliance Board’s time and effort charges, which cost licensees $111 per hour for regulatory tasks performed by the board’s staff, including mandated inspections, audits, and correspondence. Although some fees have been recently rolled back, Will Adler of the Sierra Cannabis Coalition said that even if the time and effort revenue is dedicated to education, the system could be counterproductive.

“The idea of additional fines or additional fees adds additional good to the pile for education — I think it’s misguided,” he said. “At this point, the additional fines and fees could be trying to kill that golden goose that is the cannabis industry.”

Judah Zakalik, a chairman for cannabis company Congerium LLC, said in a phone interview with The Nevada Independent in July that high taxes give the illicit marijuana market an advantage over the regulated cannabis industry.

“I think if taxes are too high, that will just lead to prices going up which is going to lead to the black market thriving more,” Zakalik said. “That’s tough because that’s a competitor that we have as legitimate business people that is very difficult to compete with.”

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Men More Likely To Have Substance Abuse Disorder, Women More Likely To Overdose

A white paper published by FAIR Health on Sept. 27 sheds light on the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic trends of gender in association with substance abuse disorder and overdosing. “In this report, drawing on the nation’s largest repository of private healthcare claims, FAIR Health analyzes substance use disorders and overdoses prior to the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to during the pandemic,” the FAIR Health report stated in a press release. “Trends in the percentage of patients with a substance use disorder or overdose diagnosis are analyzed, as well as such aspects as age, gender, incidence, relevant substances, states, preexisting mental health conditions, venues of care and provider specialties.”

The report, called “A Comparison of Substance Use Disorders before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Study of Private Healthcare Claims,” analyzed data from 42 states in the U.S. and ranged between 2016-2021.

The evidence shows that 62-63% of substance abuse diagnoses are male, vs. 37-38% are female. However, those who overdosed were 60-61% female, vs. 39-40% male.

In 2019 before the pandemic began, alcohol was the leading substance connected to substance abuse disorders at 47% (followed by opioids at 25% and cannabis at 10%). Reviewing the same categories in 2021 during the pandemic showed that alcohol accounted for 52% of substance abuse patients, with opioids at 21% and cannabis at 11%.

The percentage of patients who were diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder and were also found using a stimulant (such as amphetamines and methamphetamines) increased by 36.4%, from “0.046% of all patients to 0.063%)—which was more than those who consumed, alcohol, opioids, or cannabis.

Drug overdoses remained similar to previous years. In 2021, data showed patients as having overdosed on prescribed medications (48%), other drugs (35%), opioids and opioid-like drugs (5%), and other psychoactive drugs (6%).

In 2019, substance abuse disorder was found to be most prevalent in New Mexico (a high of 2.58%, out of all medical patients throughout the state), followed by Rhode Island, Florida, Alaska, and Massachusetts. At the time, the lowest states include the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Carolina.

Two years later, New Mexico still led the pack, along with the inclusion of Alaska and Massachusetts in the top 5 again, as well as the addition of North Dakota and Wisconsin. States with the lowest percentage of substance abuse disorder patients changed to include the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and South Carolina again, with Maine and Virginia contributing to the lowest five states.

Among all states, Nebraska was the one to have the greatest increase in the proportion of patients with a substance use disorder. Conversely, Maryland had the greatest increase in overdose diagnosis.

FAIR Health has conducted and written other reports about medical patients during the pandemic, the impact of the pandemic on hospitals and health systems, key characteristics of COVID-19 patients, the effect of the pandemic on the dental industry, and multiple other studies specifically relating to the opioid crisis.

Earlier this summer, a study showed that cannabis could be a “very promising” replacement for opioids. Based in South Africa, the study is analyzing patients who are currently taking opioids for pain management. Over the course of three months, patients will switch to medical cannabis (specifically the cultivars Tallyman, Exodus, and 9 Pounds Hammer). “We are currently recruiting patients, and data-capturing all the questionnaires and feedback from the patients for the live study,” said medical cannabis researcher Dr. Shiksha Gallow about the study. “It has been fairly slow. However, more options have been introduced in the live study as suggested by the patients in the pilot study. The pilot results of the study were very promising, as it showed 98% of the patients have some sort of pain relief from the cannabis.”

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The Role of Cannabis in Treating Long COVID

During a recent (and highly important) call with one of my publishers, I put the call on mute whenever I wasn’t speaking so I could projectile vomit. I was having a migraine, but the call was too important to reschedule. Unfortunately, while they may work for some, Sumatriptan, along with Topamax, Nurtec, and every other migraine medication doctors prescribed me, play into the accompanying nausea and I throw it up before any pain relief for my head (which hurt so badly I wanted to put a bullet through my brain) could set in. While I’m going to continue to see neurologists and (when I can get in, the waitlists are nuts) a long-term COVID specialist, the next time a migraine strikes, I’m sticking with THC gummies, honey. Thank god cannabis is also good for nausea.

I didn’t have migraines before I had COVID, which I got in 2020 from a friend, shortly after restaurants opened up but before there was a vaccine. I figured if restaurants could open, I could risk this respiratory disease; after all, I’m young, healthy, and never smoked tobacco, I even stick primarily with edibles when it comes to cannabis. What I, and the general public didn’t know, is that COVID affects the brain, too. According to The Washington Post, the blood vessels of our brains are lined with endothelial cells, which have angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors, a type of protein that the coronavirus latches onto. This causes such cells to become inflamed, which harms the blood-brain-barrier, inducing swelling and resulting injury. As a result, me, and many others, now have what’s called long COVID, symptoms or effects of the disease that last weeks, months, or as I can attest to, even years after first exposure.

“Primarily, what we’re seeing is long-term cognitive consequences,” says cannabis clinician Dr. Mikhail Kogan, who is part of the George Washington University faculty and the author of Medical Marijuana: Dr. Kogan’s Evidence-Based Guide to the Health Benefits of Cannabis and CBD. “Patients present with cognitive decline, and more severe cases present with outright dementia.” He says that common symptoms of long COVID include mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and pain, such as my migraines (which don’t help with anxiety, depression, or insomnia, you can imagine). Hair loss, brain fog, and changes in taste and smell are also common. For some folks, long COVID symptoms are totally out of the blue, but for others, it’s almost as if the SARS CoV-2 virus triggers latent conditions, or health problems they were predisposed to and the infection activated. “What happens a lot is that we uncover other problems when we start working with long COVID patients because we find that they’ve had other problems going on for a long time, but they were very mild, so nobody paid enough attention.”

Thankfully, as The Washington Post points out, while there are instances of older people getting dementia after exposure, these neurological injuries usually take place in younger folks, between the ages of 20 and 50, who never needed hospitalization. Eventually, the symptoms resolve for some people. But for others, they’re still reeling from the ongoing destruction.

David, 30, out of Enfield Connecticut, and his partner of 10 years first got COVID in late January of 2020. First, his partner picked it up after traveling across several states to pick up the couple’s new rescue dog, Ellie. David got COVID shortly thereafter. “Fast forward a tad I also get sick, we are bed bound, I needed to use walls and my bed frame to even hold myself up. It was like the flu, mixed with food poisoning, vertigo, and so much more. Jump ahead to 2021, we caught Delta in September,” David says.

Since then, after they got over “having COVID,” and were no longer contagious, the health problems persisted. “Over the past three years, we have realized a large accumulation of things wrong with us that just weren’t issues before. I have trouble breathing in intense heat and cold and I have a lot of coughing fits. Early results are pointing towards lung scarring. I also have Sleep Apnea, and my brain feels like it [has] aged 10-20 years. I have a horrible short-term memory now. I hurt a lot and am often exhausted,” David says. He adds that his partner has a similar list of symptoms, except more severe, in addition to POTS (Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) and Fibromyalgia. “Saying I am ‘better’ than my partner would be like saying if they were given a knife in a gunfight, but I was lucky because I got two knives in a gunfight,” David says. “I hope that makes sense.” It does. 

It’s not a happy story. David’s partner lost their job at a farm due to their long COVID symptoms, and he was no longer able to continue his job in consumer and fan services at LEGO mostly because of long COVID brain fog. “My work output was absolutely awful. If it weren’t for my job there, though, I wouldn’t have the healthcare we had access to for the past two plus years with my work insurance. To say that we would be in a worse position without that insurance would be an understatement. Long COVID has taken away A LOT from us,” David wrote to High Times.

He currently has been able to pick up one-off gigs in the video game industry. David has also found hope somewhere fun other than the video game industry: cannabis. “It helps keep me focused or at least my mind off negative thoughts brought on by long COVID. For me, but much more so for my partner, it helps settle nausea. My partner literally wouldn’t be able to hold down the first meal of the day for a time without taking an edible to help settle their stomach. And sleep, oh do I enjoy actually getting to sleep again since becoming a heavier cannabis user,” David says.

Cannabis is one of the few long COVID treatments that covers a plethora of symptoms rather than one. “Almost no patients present with one symptom, everybody presents with a package. And that package will usually include three to five symptoms. Cannabis is almost the only treatment I can think of that targets all of the symptoms. If a patient comes in with migraines, insomnia, anxiety, and nausea, it’s four medications versus cannabis,” says Dr. Kogan. He says CBD is the first line, but for most pain you want a little bit of CBG in the mix. Noting that this is based on experience, and more research is needed, he adds that CBG is very effective for chronic neuropathic pain when it’s specifically in the settings of anxiety and depression.

Unfortunately, this is tough to study. Not only are doctors still learning more about long COVID everyday, and only have a few years to work off of, but trying to get funding for cannabis research sucks until the Feds finally remove the Schedule I label. But don’t worry. As always, the science nerds find a way. In February of 2022, the UK’s NHS Research Ethics Committee and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory agency approved one of the world’s first scientific studies on the efficacy of cannabis to treat long COVID. The study is being done by the NGO Drug Science, founded by neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt, infamous (but correct?) for stating that horseback riding was more dangerous than taking ecstasy.

Drug Science recently wrapped up their Phase 2 trials. “It’s a feasibility study and we’re half-way through it so I can’t give you any results, but what I can tell you, is that those patients seem to be responding pretty well. There’s no drop out, which is great for a feasibility study. We now have over 3,000 patients who are submitting their data every month to us. What we see through that is that there is a statistically significant improvement in people’s health outcomes since they’ve been prescribed medical cannabis,” Drug Science’s CEO, David Badcock, told High Times over Zoom. They’re giving patients a full-spectrum high-CBD oil, with a small amount of THC, but not enough to produce a high, supported by the company BOD Australia.

According to Dr. Mikhail Kogan, “Most of our patients recover. And the reason they recover is that we don’t look at this the way medicine does. We don’t just prescribe particular treatment, what we say is let’s try to find out why you have these conditions. Let’s try to fix what’s underneath the symptoms.” The brain’s known for its neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt, change, and heal, so while there are plenty of horror stories, there’s no reason patients shouldn’t hope to get better over time.

“Cannabis helps elevate me to a place where I can just say, ‘You know what, your whole life has been trauma after trauma; just give this one the bird and help the two of you love and appreciate each day as best as you can,” David says.

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