More Weed, More Problems?

More weed, more problems? As in, if you smoke all day, everyday, your life is likely a hot mess with no hope of redemption? According to recent research from CU Boulder, the answer to “more weed, more problems” is no. According to researchers, legalizing recreational cannabis at the state level does not lead to an increase in substance use disorders. Or even increased use of illicit drugs among adults. In fact, it may even decrease issues related to alcohol abuse. […]

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Understanding HHC, the Latest Contentious Cannabinoid

The cannabis plant naturally produces more than 100 cannabinoids, and the 2018 Farm Bill legalized all but one of them. The ruling paved the way for the dawn of the CBD age and opened the floodgates to hemp farms from coast to coast. The surge in hemp production subsequently created a surplus amount of CBD, which caused commodity prices to crash, sending extractors and processors scrambling to find alternative opportunities to convert the glut into fresh revenue streams.

A loophole in the bill meant that intoxicating cannabinoids, including delta-8, delta-10 and the hot new kid in town, hexahydrocannabinol (HHC), could be created and sold legally in states where adult-use cannabis remains illegal, as long as they contain less than 0.3% delta-9-THC.

Although a relatively new market offering, HHC was created in the 1940s by Roger Adams. The American chemist added hydrogen to the THC molecule, altering its physical properties. The process, called hydrogenation, changes the molecular weight and increases the stability of delta-9 THC by replacing a double bond with two hydrogen atoms. (Cannabinoid synthesis isn’t the only application of hydrogenation; margarine is made from vegetable oil using a similar process.) This means HHC is a synthetic cannabinoid instead of naturally occurring in the cannabis plant. 

To make sense of HHC is cannabis scientist Dr. Markus Roggen, president and chief scientific officer at Vancouver-based Delic Labs. Dr. Roggen has been on the Cannabis Scientist Power List for three consecutive years and is considered one of the leading organic chemists in cannabinoid and psilocybin research.

Dr. Markus Roggen PHOTO Delic Labs.

Cannabis Now: So, what exactly is HHC?

Dr. Markus Roggen: HHC is the reduced form of THC. THC is a tricyclic molecule with a cyclohexene moiety, meaning it’s a six-membered ring with one double bond. If you reduce that, you get a six-membered ring with no double bond, which is HHC. There are two isomers of HHC because the double bond was next to a methyl group. There are two forms of HHC, and there isn’t any literature discussing which one of those two diastereomers is psychoactive, or if both are and in what ratio they’re formed. 

How is HHC made?

The primary source of HHC is CBD, which we know is in extreme abundance. CBD is a bicyclic structure with the same molecular weight as THC, meaning CBD converts into THC, both delta-8 and delta-9, by adding acid, which turns this bicyclic compound into a tricyclic structure. If you play with the acid or the temperature, you can push the balance between the ratio of delta-8 and delta-9. You now have THC, a tricyclic structure with a double bond. To reduce the structure with palladium catalysis—i.e., a transition metal catalyst—you use hydrogen gas and add two hydrogens across the double bond. Now you have a reduced form, HHC or hexahydrocannabinol—which has six hydrons—THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, has four hydrogens.

What do you see as potential issues to watch out for with HHC?

My main problem is that it’s a synthetic cannabinoid—a new molecule, a new drug—not from the cannabis plant. These new “drugs” are similar to the synthetic cannabinoid scene that started with JWH-018, or “Spice,” i.e., compounds developed in academic laboratories to research the endocannabinoid system. And because these synthetic cannabinoids aren’t structurally related to THC, they don’t come up on a drug test. And as we know, synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice have killed people

Humans have used THC and CBD for thousands of years, so we can say that cannabis is considered safe. HHC, on the other hand, was first identified and produced in the 1940s and wasn’t commercially available until last year. So how should anyone know? Some “researchers” making these compounds have no skill in making clean products; they’re just throwing acid on a cannabinoid to try and get people high. 

Companies are making synthetically produced compounds while saying everything is natural and, therefore, everything is great. That’s blindsiding customers. It’s not fair to say, “this product is natural; it can’t be bad because humans have been using it for thousands of years,” and then slip in an intoxicating drug you just made in your basement. I think that’s a bad idea and it’s very dangerous for the cannabis industry that has built itself on “we’re healing people” and “we’re all natural” mantras to then say, “let’s see what my chemistry starter kit can produce.” We don’t even know if the primary product is safe.

The structural formula of HHC.

I’ve found HHC molecules when testing CBN products. To make CBN, hydrogens need to be removed with either iodine, bubbling oxygen or a metal catalyst. When creating a CBN with metal catalysis, you often get small quantities of HHC as a byproduct. The producer of the CBN products in question saw an unknown spot on their analytics. They sent the product to our lab because we have high-precision instruments only universities have. We isolated this unknown spot and did a full workup of the structure—it turned out to be HHC. 

HHC is known, but the pictures, that is, the mass and NMR spectra of the molecule, aren’t publicly available, meaning people aren’t able to visually identify it. I presented this work at the American Chemistry Society [2022] spring meeting and showed the spectra we produced. Our analytics are available on our website for people to identify HHC in their samples.

What are your thoughts on synthesized cannabinoids?

I’m an organic chemist; I have faith in the pharma industry. If pharma wants to make a synthetic analog of a cannabinoid, go ahead. They know how to make them, clean them up and bring a single drug to the market with all the quality controls and oversights needed. There’s a pharmaceutical aspect to cannabinoids, as we see with GW Pharma; Dronabinol is synthetic THC. But GW was founded in the 1990s, so they’ve had a long time to get this right.

How can consumers and businesses educate themselves?

I wrote an opinion piece for MJBiz Daily as a lead into the recent MJ Biz conference titled, “Using science to create a winning marijuana industry.” One point is you shouldn’t ask yourself if you can, but if you should. My example is that companies make products they can make instead of products that the customer wants. 

And one example was the whole CBD situation of synthetic cannabinoids. CBD commodity prices are so low that companies are asking, “What else can we make money with,” instead of asking, “What does the customer need and how do we make those products.” The customer apparently wants to be intoxicated, but are delta-8 and HHC the right path to go down? 

Closing comments?

Suppose you have markets where you can buy delta-9 THC legally, such as Canada, Colorado and California. In that case, products such as HHC and delta-8 don’t have a need—or much of a market. HHC and delta-8 products are for the customer’s needs and the regulatory situation. So, then we ask ourselves, is the problem the customer’s intoxication wants, or the legal slalom that has to be done?

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First U.S. Surgery, Cannabis Guidance Released

Finally detailed and informed advice on the potential interactions between cannabis and anesthetic medications before, during, and after surgery is taking shape. 

The first guidelines on cannabis use and the surgery timeline were published on Jan. 3 by the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine (ASRA Pain Medicine), who acknowledged that up until now there  is “no single document” that summarizes all of these concerns.

The guidance is based on known data and recommendations from the Perioperative Use of Cannabis and Cannabinoids Guidelines Committee—a group composed of 13 anesthesiologists, chronic pain physicians, experts, and patient advocates.

The committee answered nine questions and made 21 recommendations using a modified Delphi consensus method. They arrived at an over 75% agreement required for recommendation, and all 21 recommendations achieved full consensus.

Recommendations include screening all patients before surgery; postponing elective surgery in patients who have altered mental status or impaired decision-making capacity at the time of surgery; Counseling frequent users on the potentially negative effects of cannabis use on postoperative pain control; Counseling pregnant patients on the potential risks of cannabis use to the unborn child.

Addressing Surgery and Cannabis Concerns

“While many of the perioperative risks and challenges related to perioperative cannabis, such as how to advise patients preoperatively, the effects of cannabis on anesthetic medications, and the interaction between cannabis, opioids, and pain, have been described in the literature, there is no single document that summarizes all of these concerns and provides evidence-based recommendations,” the document reads.

The document continues, “Flexibility in this clinical practice guideline is intended to enable person-centered decision-making that takes into account an individual’s expected health outcomes and well-being within the context of various regulatory environments.” 

No recommendations were made for the reduction of cannabis administered by other non-smoking routes before surgery “due to current lack of evidence;” the routine tapering of cannabis and cannabinoids before, during, or after surgery; the use of intraoperative electroencephalogram (EEG) in patients who have taken cannabinoids; nor adjusting opioid prescriptions afterward in surgical patients who use cannabinoids.

Authors noted the wide range of recommendations for pre-op patients, but cautioned that surgery should be postponed for a minimum of two hours after smoking cannabis. People who rely on medical cannabis are advised to taper off before surgery in some cases.

Most current recommendations, however, advise patients to abstain from cannabis a few to 10 days prior to surgery. “A recent consensus-based guideline recommended reducing cannabinoid use 7 days prior to surgery (to less than 1.5 g/day of smoked cannabis, 300 mg/day of CBD oil, 20 mg/day of THC oil) while cautioning not to attempt any tapering strategies within 6 days of elective surgery and not to attempt tapering a day prior to surgery.”

The document continues with the range of guidance, “Contrary to this recommendation, recent reviews of perioperative cannabinoids recommended cessation 72 hours prior to surgery. An even more conservative recommendation was recently provided, in which the authors recommended up to 10 days of cessation of oral cannabis consumption.”

Does Cannabis Impact An Anesthesia?

Research has a long way to go, however there is a growing body of evidence showing potential interactions and effects of cannabis before or after surgery.

One study published in Baylor University Medical Proceedings in 2019 shows that cannabis consumers may require higher doses of anesthesia than non-consumers, as well as a slew of other potential interactions, while another study found no significant difference before surgery in the gastrointestinal tract.

Cannabis might be an issue at the dentist as well. There is a strong belief that cannabis interacts with novocaine and local anesthetics like lidocaine. In one study dating back to 1976, THC interacted undesirably with anesthetic medications.

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Anesthesia & Cannabis 

Should doctors screen patients undergoing anesthesia for cannabis? According to the Americans Society of Regional Anesthesia (ASRA), the answer is an unequivocal yes. These doctors and other medical professionals base their conclusions on a single study. According to researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, cannabis users experienced 14 percent more pain the day after surgery than non-cannabis consumers. Researchers concluded this after analyzing pain and opioid records from 35,000 patients, including 1,600 people using medical cannabis at least one month before […]

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Weed’s Tissue Culture Moment Has Arrived

Whether it’s for orchids, berries, or bananas, plant tissue culture has been widely used in agriculture for nearly 40 years to produce uniform and disease-free stock. But when it comes to cannabis, this technology has only emerged within the last few years as scientists working with weed cracked the code of what the plant wants to reproduce successfully at a small scale. Joining in the fight against one of pot’s primary foes, hop latent viroid disease, cannabis tissue culture is a new path forward towards preserving the genetics of one of the most diverse botanicals on the planet. And, while cultivators have been able to get their hands on tissue culture-grown cuts for about eight years, tissue culture clones were made available to the public for the first time through Node Labs at the Emerald Cup Harvest Ball held in December 2022.

“Cannabis is a very tissue culture resistant plant. There are certain plants that are that way,” says Lauren Avenuis, CEO of Node Labs, explaining why it took so long for the technology to become viable for cannabis. “So, like avocados, grape vines, they just don’t like to go into micropropagation. They don’t like that kind of replication. And since cannabis is an annual plant, it likes to grow from a seed, flower, and die.”

The scientists working with Node, a small lab located within an unassuming red barn in rural Petaluma, California, spent years studying tissue culture before discovering the methodology that made stem cell technology for cannabis work. Now that they have, their facility houses an impressive bank of cannabis genetics. It causes a few snickers when I say it aloud, but being inside a room filled with shelves devoted to tissue culture clones, each in their own container, reminds me of being in a pet store aquarium. All the plants are growing within a clear jelly-like substance derived from seaweed called agar, allowing their whole root structure to be seen. They are tiny terrariums that hold the story of pot’s past, present, and future.

Courtesy Node Labs

Chief Science Officer Chris Leavitt walks me through the procedures at Node by explaining that plants, unlike humans, do not have an awareness of their entire body.

“[Plants] are a colony of cells that are attached to each other,” Leavitt says. “So if a stem is receiving all the like sap that it would be getting normally in the agar, it doesn’t even know that it’s not still attached to the plant. You can grow plant parts in tissue culture in a way you cannot grow outside. You can grow a dissection of just a leaf or just a stem… you can really break the rules of typical plant growing by having it in that setting.”

My tour at Node starts in the pre-fab clean room where the media, the agar, is mixed within an autoclave, a device designed for sterilization. This room is also where the other tools used for the tissue culture process, such as scissors and jars, are sterilized. I put on a second set of surgical booties before heading into the growth chamber and transfer room, where I watch the hot agar being dispensed into the same clear plastic containers I see in the bulk food section of my local grocery store. Within this room, the air quality is at ISO 8, a measure that contains a thousand specks of dust within a cubic yard that is also used in electronic and medical manufacturing. All the sterilization and air cleanliness ensure no contamination enters the lab.

“One of the things that we do here is we clean plants,” says Luis Mautner, Node’s director of propagation. “Cleaning plants is a process by which you take a plant from the outside world and you run it through a process that we developed here. We select the plants that do not have any issues associated with them like pathogenic bacteria, fungi, fusarium being one of the ones that affects the cannabis industry very much. Also, we index for HLVd, which is hop latent viroid.”

Mautner started working with cannabis after a career in tissue culture that included work with the berry company Driscoll’s and tropical ornamental plants such as peace lilies. He says the clear media is used because it’s diagnostic and shows when things should not be growing on the plant.

Next, we enter another room where shelves store cannabis plants in various stages of growth. There are also shelves containing some other plants Node is testing for research, including wine grapes and the cutest tiny Tempranillo.  

To start work with Node, clients provide 10 clone stems from a cannabis plant to form what Mautner calls a bouquet. The clones are broken down to the cellular level because cannabis has a strong affinity for endogenous contaminants within its stem, Leavitt explains. The scientists at Node cut the clones down to one part, the meristem, a type of tissue in plants that houses stem cells, or cells from which all other types of cells develop.

“What we’ve found is when you have the meristem dissection, you can avoid that,” Leavitt says.

“What you’re basically doing is taking [the cannabis clones] down to essentially the stem cells of the plant,” Avenius adds. “So you’re eliminating all of the epigenetic, all of the genetic toggles related to stress or environment. You’re getting [the plant] down to its pure expression, its genetics, and then also removing essentially all the vascular tissue. So you’re just getting a brand new pure example and sample of that cannabis plant that we can now grow into tissue culture free of any other influences and then see its pure genetic expression.”

When cut down to the meristem, the clones are only about half a millimeter to a millimeter in size. Once the plants grow bigger and start looking like cannabis plants instead of little blobs, they are tested for HLVd. HLVd is a widespread pathogen in cannabis clones that causes growth stunting and reduces the plant’s ability to produce trichomes. Leavitt explains that HLVd is like skin cancer in that it can affect one part of the plant, but not another. This is another reason tissue culture has been such a valuable tool in combating the virus because it reduces a plant to its most basic elements.

After the plants have passed the extensive screening process, they are grown to about 3 to 4 inches and are used to fill the bank, the system in which Node keeps cannabis genetics within a genetic library. 

“These two refrigerators play a huge role in the large genetics cannabis market,” Avenius says as I eye Node’s genetic bank, containing work from cannabis breeders like Sherbinski and Masonic as well as companies like Cannarado, Connected, and smaller growers like Sonoma Hills Farm, which banked its Pink Jesus

The seed bank aspect of the company ties into the beginnings of Node Labs. Node was founded in 2018 after Felipe Recalde, CEO of Compound Genetics and Node co-founder, lost his genetic library of cannabis cultivars and his home in the Tubbs Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California’s history that tore through Santa Rosa in 2017. Recognizing everyone around him had also lost their mom stock, Recalde saw tissue culture as the future for genetic preservation. He’d been experimenting with faulty kits for tissue culture since 2010. Still, it wasn’t until he partnered with Leavitt, who had been working on using tissue culture to preserve endangered species, that he saw that tissue culture could be viable for cannabis. Nowadays, genetics are stored within the lab and at a place offsite to serve as an additional backup against a disaster like a fire. 

Some of the work Node does is private client services of storing the genetics, but some companies like Connected Cannabis Co. also have certified genetics available for licensing. The consistency of the tissue culture clones one receives from Node Labs ensures that brands that operate in many states, like one of the lab’s partners Khalifa Kush backed by rapper Wiz Khalifa, can provide standardized, consistent flowers across the country. Node’s primary partnership with Compound Genetics allows the lab to grow clones to flower for clients to test. The minds at Compound Genetics grow plants from seed in their San Francisco facility and phenohunt to provide the best clone selections for their clients. The process at Node gives the genetics an authentication that does not occur if someone obtains a clone cut from a friend.  

The future of the tissue culture industry is not in creating a million plants to order, but instead holding genetics and delivering mother plants that growers can multiply through traditional propagation, Leavitt says. 

“The main functionary of [tissue culture] here is not in micropropagation. It’s not to get you 50,000 plants in one go,” Leavitt explains of the difference in tissue culture techniques in cannabis versus traditional agriculture. “It’s germplasm storage, which is the fancy term in the agriculture issue of holding genetics, genetic banking.”

Another indication of the future of cannabis propagation occurring at Node Labs is the process of in vitro phenohunts or growing seeds within the agar jelly within test tubes. Node takes a tissue culture from small plantlets the seeds produce and grows those plants out, saving time for cultivators because if they like the results, the tissue culture already exists.

Plantlets / Courtesy Node Labs

“It allows us to save a lot of time, but it also means that when we pop that seed and then we take that clone and put it out, we already have some of the advantages of tissue culture the first time we grow,” Avenuis says. “As an immature plant, it hasn’t been exposed to any viruses or pathogens. And then it has some of the unique morphology that you get from tissue culture plants. They tend to have higher vigor, higher yields, better stem strength. So you’re already seeing a better-performing plant from the very beginning.” 

Leavitt points out an example within the lab, Gastro Pop #5, a cross of Apples & Bananas and Grape Gas which was developed in-house via an in vitro phenohunt. 

“That Gastro Pop #5 over there, the plants in this lab have never seen microbial fungus and bacteria in their entire life,” Leavitt says. 

If someone finds an outstanding cultivar they are in love with, a six-month process to get a tissue culture clone could stunt the excitement, he explains.

“With that process, in vitro, we could have the excitement of smoking the joint and going ‘This is the one’ and going, ‘Cool, it’s here at the lab’ at the same time,” he says.

An in vitro phenohunt is how Sherbinski and Compound created Tribute, a cross of Gelato #41 and Apples & Bananas. Look out for future collaborations between Compound Genetics and Tiki Madman and Compound Genetics and Green House Seed Company

At the Emerald Cup Harvest Ball held in December 2022, Compound was able to offer “bare pulse” tissue culture clones of their newest offerings. These came without the agar jelly because the clones are more transportable that way. The bare pulse part comes from the fact that they are bare root or stored without soil around the roots. The bare pulse clones can be planted in a chosen medium and become a mother plant to power a grow with consistent genetics.

“We love this as the next gen of clones,” Avenuis says.

Bare pulse / Courtesy Node Labs

The whole process of tissue culture clones is an exciting new frontier for cannabis, one which I was able to experience firsthand when Recalde gifted me a tissue culture clone at a social gathering. I took the test tube, filled with a clone held in suspense within what I’ve since learned is agar, home and grew it out into a plant. At the time, I didn’t know that tiny plant contained within a test tube had the mighty makings to power a brand.

Read more about Node Labs in the upcoming Science & Technology issue of High Times Magazine.

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Higher Profile: Dr. Tod Mikuriya (1933-2007)

Many may be familiar with the late Dr. Tod Mikuriya as one of the architects and co-authors of Proposition 215, making California the first state to legalize cannabis as medicine. 

But many more aren’t aware that he was once hired by the U.S. government to discredit cannabis in a political move, as the psychoactive properties within the plant promoted critical thinking at a time in history when the people were rising up.

The year was 1967 and Mikuriya had been hired by the National Institute of Mental Health Center for Narcotics and Drug Abuse Studies to research marijuana for negative outcomes. The National Center for Drug Abuse would be created in 1974, solely funding studies on cannabis and other drugs for abuse, while shelving positive findings.

One such infamous study on pregnancy from the 1970s in Jamaica was slated to last 20 years, but was shut down after the five-year-olds given cannabis tea since birth were shown to excel in every area. This was after their mothers were monitored drinking the tea while pregnant, with positive outcomes noted.

“One of my assignments was to spy on the communes in California because at the height of the fear of the Vietnam War, the year of the Tet Offensive, and the total embroilment in the conflict in the United States, as well as Vietnam,” he shared. “They were fearing the fall of civilization as manifested by certain rebellious behaviors, principally on the West Coast.”

The Tet Offensive was an escalation of military campaigns during the Vietnam War against forces in South Vietnam, at a time when our failure to excel in the conflict was kept from the people, until The Pentagon Papers revealed the deceit.

The powers that be understood that psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, along with cannabis, were being used socially, and became a big part of the anti-war movement. The more Mikuriya learned of the campaigns against what he found to be beneficial and useful compounds, the more he rebelled.

“Frankly I was aghast at being part of this machine back in D.C. that could be so blind and mean-spirited,” he continued. “Their take on marijuana was, ‘how can we suppress it and prevent it,’ because this is something that promotes that dangerous trait of critical thinking. Because it was linked with the rebellion of the anti-war movement against the military machine, the military industrial complex.”

Third Eye Open

Dr. Mikuriya didn’t linger on the theories of demonizing hemp for industry or the plant’s potential competition with big pharma. He was trained in psychology and understood completely the government’s fear of psychedelics opening up the third eye, with critical thinking a threat to being a good soldier, being led into the jungle for a war that was little understood.

The same year Mikuriya was hired by the government to demonize the plant, Timothy Leary shouted out to 30,000 hippies in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” further cementing the theory that psychoactive plants and compounds don’t make good foot soldiers.

Interesting to note, in 1974, alleged MK Ultra survivor, Cathy O’Brien, was asked at a lecture podium what she knew about cannabis and why the government opposes the plant. Without a beat, she responded, “Because it blocks mind control.” This is poignant, as MK Ultra was said to have been a covert government mind control project.

“So, basically, I defected,” he said of his post that lasted less than a year.

At this point in the interview, von Hartman interjected, “Excuse me for interrupting, but you were told not to find any positive result in your research, is that true?”

“Correct,” Mikuriya responded, firmly. “They were interested in finding anything toxic, anything that could be used to dissuade the use of cannabis. But at the same time they recognized, although it couldn’t be admitted, that it was relatively benign. The big problem with dealing within the federal bureaucracy – or I suppose any bureaucracy – is the compartmentalization, that restriction on the flow of information.”

Mikuriya with his sisters and parents.

The Doctor’s Journey

There is no mention of Mikuriya’s gig with the federal government in his obituary in the New York Times upon his passing in 2007. They do go into great detail on his advocacy for the plant and subsequent persecution.

Mikuriya was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on September 20, 1933, to parents who raised him and his two siblings as Quakers.

“The Quakers were proprietors of the Underground Rail[road], I’m proud to say,” he was once quoted, making reference to the underground route to safety for slaves in Colonial America.

His mother, Anna Schwenk, was a German immigrant and a special education teacher. His father, Tadafumi Mikuriya, was the descendant of a Japanese Samurai family, trained as an engineer. 

Mikuriya earned a bachelor’s degree from Reed College in Oregon in 1956, and his MD from Temple University in 1962 – where he stumbled upon a reference in a pharmacology textbook on the uses of medical marijuana.

Intrigued by the many medicinal applications listed, he decided he needed to experience cannabis first hand.

“… I was smitten by an attack of idle curiosity during my sophomore year in medical school during the pharmacology course,” he explained. “I happened to unintentionally read a chapter on cannabis in Goodman & Gilman, which described the medicinal uses and described also, fairly Draconian punishment for its use. This was consistent with what social attitudes existed back then in 1959.”

Reading up what was available at the library, he said that summer he traveled down to Mexico to score some weed. Using some slang words for cannabis on a street dealer that he said approached him upon crossing the border, he succeeded in his quest.

Mikuriya said he took the man up to his hotel room and at random picked one of the 10 hand-rolled marijuana cigarettes laid out, instructing the dealer, “Okay, light it up, take a few puffs.” When the man showed no hesitation to partake, Mikuriya was relieved to see it was not poisonous, and partook himself.

With his curiosity whetted, he said he quickly realized he should keep the experience to himself, and that this was not something he would submit to any department for a research project, because it would surely have been the end of his medical career.

“So, then I embarked upon my personal bioassay experience,” he continued. “I put this down after a while, having no one to communicate with and no source, until 1964. At which time, during my psychiatric practice training up in Oregon I became aware of it.”

After finishing his psychiatric residency at Mendocino State Hospital, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a medic. Shortly thereafter, ironically, he became Director for a drug addiction treatment center of the New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute in Princeton, under the tutelage of Dr. Humphrey Osmond, who was well versed in psychedelic drugs.

“I then was headhunted by the National Institute of Mental Health Center for Narcotics and Drug Abuse Studies, with the specific assignment of research into marijuana,” he said. “Needless to say, this seemed to be right up my area of interest, and left New Jersey for the psychosis inside the Beltway.”

Reefer Madness, Part 2

The psychosis inside the Beltway refers to the Reefer Madness he experienced while working in Washington D.C. researching cannabis, then finding that the laws weren’t exactly copasetic to what he knew to be the plants full potential. 

He also came to the realization that cannabis had been part of the American Pharmacopoeia for at least 200 years prior to it being politicized in the late 1930s. Thankfully, the plant was added back to the list fairly recently in 2016.

“First stop was at the National Library of Medicine, where I ran across many more medicinal and pharmaceutical papers that motivated me to assemble what I felt to be the ‘creme de la creme’ and put it into a book, The Marijuana Medical Papers: 1839 to 1972,” he shared, of the compilation still available today.

Mikuriya became a consultant for the Shafer Commission, formerly known as the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, appointed by then President, Richard Nixon, with the report released in 1972.

The commission’s now infamous report, Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding, called for more research and the decriminalization of cannabis possession. But, Mikuriya said it was “D.O.A.” and ignored by Nixon’s White House, who proceeded to add the plant to its failed War on Drugs.

“This was part of the Nixon administration’s distraction and palliation of the scientific and medical communities, as he put together the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, that classified cannabis as having no medicinal redeeming importance and being Schedule I, highly dangerous, to be avoided – which was a total lie,” he said. “But this is the way it is today. That federal law still is driven by this insanity, put together by the Nixon Justice Department apparatchiks.”

So good was the government’s campaign against the plant, that at the time a mere 12% of Americans supported its legalization, with public sentiment viewing cannabis users as dangerous. In reality, the committee found them to be more “timid, drowsy and passive,” concluding that cannabis did not cause widespread danger to society, further outing the political hoax.

“The use of cannabis goes into antiquity, as probably everybody knows, but what is not known, or what is not appreciated, is the fact that it was clinically available for roughly a hundred years in America and Western Europe for a variety of therapeutic uses. It was called ‘cannabis,’” he explained. “And the term ‘marijuana’ was described as a ‘mongrel word,’ that was applied to the Mexican use of cannabis, that very few agencies within the federal government at the time back in 1937 understood that it was the same as cannabis, so they thought that marijuana was really a separate plant, a separate material. And didn’t connect it with the medicinal uses.”

In the years that followed, Mikuriya would go on to document 200 case studies from his own clinical research from patients successfully using cannabis as a serious medicine for both emotional and physical issues. But, as long as cannabis was listed on the Department of Health’s Schedule 1, showing no medicinal value, he was shouting at the wind.

The Endocannabinoid System (eCS) wouldn’t be discovered until 1988 by researchers Allyn Howlett and William Devane at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, in a government-controlled study that also discovered the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors; the pathway for plant compounds to distribute themselves throughout all human biological systems.

As they say, timing is everything. Having the knowledge of the eCS during the Shafer Commission’s work might have saved the plant from the crossfire of the failed War on Drugs, but we’ll never know.

California Medicine, Federally Illegal

The disappointment of the Shafer Commission’s report may have had the good doctor fleeing Washington D.C., but it only empowered him as an advocate once back in California, where the LGBTQ+ community had already championed cannabis as medicine for AIDS patients.

By the mid-1990s Mikuriya became one of the architects and co-authors of Proposition 215, with California voters giving a green light for residents to become cannabis patients. Mikuriya was the first physician in the state to write a script, recommending cannabis as medicine for the first cannabis patient.

A collective sigh of relief was heard throughout the world, as California became the leader in compassionate care and education on cannabis as medicine. Mikuriya thought it would be smooth sailing from then on, that the voters had spoken and the people would finally be educated on this powerful plant. But, the celebration was cut short.

“Within a month after we passed the law back in ’96, there was a meeting at McCaffery’s office in the White House,” he said. “The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, where they hatched schemes to nullify the state laws, either directly in court or through other means – and the other means would be to go after both the patients and the physicians.”

Barry McCaffrey was the first “Drug Czar” for the The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), established by President Nixon overseeing his War on Drugs. The position is still just one step down from the Oval Office, with it and its agency’s existence just one executive order away from the president’s pen. 

The State’s Attorney General, he said, opposed the proposition before it passed, and was dedicated to “blocking and suborning it.” With this, the DEA became empowered, embedding themselves into local law enforcement agencies in the state, in fiscally subsidized partnerships, causing a financial dependence that continues today, even in legal states.

Physician, Heal Thyself

Mikuriya became a thorn in the side of the DEA, claiming representatives from the privatized “prison-industrial complex, our version of the military-industrial complex,” were big supporters of the War on Drugs, funding the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (now, Partnership to End Addiction). 

“These are the subversives that are embedded in the civil service system,” he said. “The California Narcotics Officers Association believes that medical marijuana is a hoax, and have sponsored and organized statewide meetings within the criminal justice system for orientation and training, in actuality laying out templates of ways for blocking it.”

An outspoken patient himself, ordinances dictate that doctors aren’t allowed to touch the plant. They aren’t educated in medical school and they can’t prescribe cannabis as medicine, they can only “recommend.”

With the plant still federally prohibited, with no medicinal value admitted, Mikuriya was hotly criticized, with an attempt made to strip him of his medical license.

“In my case, an undercover agent was sent to infiltrate a clinic of mine, not even bothering with the niceties of the Medical Board, filtering and embellishing it, went directly to the AG’s office,” he said. “So, there’s been this clique of opponents who are doing their damndest to hurt the physicians and dissuade participation in the law.”

The incident happened in 2000, with the Medical Board of California giving Mikuriya five years probation and a $75,000 fine for what they called “gross negligence, unprofessional conduct, and incompetence” for failing to conduct proper physical examinations on 16 patients for whom he had written scripts. The truth was, Mikuriya had given out around 9,000 scripts all told.

The fact that they pinned 16 questionable scripts on him with probation and a fine seems to have been a weak attempt to slow him down, as he continued his private psychiatric practice, as a cannabis clinical consultant, until his death.

“I want to see cannabis defined as an easement, which is not a narcotic, not a psycho-stimulant, not a hallucinogen,” he surmised. “One of the things in managing chronic conditions with cannabis is the absence of side-effects as being the critical factor. Cannabis has a remarkable profile compared with any synthetic pharmaceuticals. In fact, it really enhances both the quality of life and rehabilitation from illness. Since cannabis both modulates and activates certain kinds of very positive healing functions of the body.”

Author’s Note: This profile was taken from transcript, The Lost Interview, Berkeley, California, 2004, Interview by Paul J. von Hartman.

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Willy and Philly: Meet the Undercover Shroom Wizards Carrying Psychedelic Culture on Their Backs

Willy Myco and Philly Golden Teacher have racked up a fair amount of notoriety in the psychedelic community for their educational videos geared toward teaching would-be trippers how to grow and synthesize their own psychedelics.

This matters to you, dear reader and presumed drug enthusiast, because growing shrooms is really damn hard. Most people can figure out how to grow an ounce or two using Google (or High Times articles) but a majority of people find it far too complicated at first glance and most processes involved with psychedelic production are much easier to understand with visual aids. Being as it were that a lot of people would prefer to consume their drugs without engaging in some sweaty, parking lot exchange with a dude named Indigo, a lot of folks would be shit out of luck if it weren’t for people like Willy and Philly. 

These guys are really putting their money where their mouths are in the sense of taking big legal and personal risks to advance the science of psychedelic production and educating the masses on how to safely replicate the processes for themselves. They both hide their identities in different ways. Willy wears a face mask in his videos and PGT has yet to show his face or reveal what his voice sounds like. Their channels and messages are not associated with one another but they have each amassed an impressive following and each contributed crucial information about psychedelics directly to the people who need it.

High Times caught up with Willy and Philly both together and individually to talk shop about psychedelic culture and their efforts to preserve, promote and advance it.

Courtesy Philly Golden Teacher

Willy Myco

Willy is, I shit you not, a Harvard graduate with degrees and qualifications out the wazoo who walked away from a quarter-million dollar salary at a big-name pharmaceutical company to make his educational YouTube and Patreon videos. The videos span from DIY shroom growing techniques to how LSD is synthesized and more. He now pays his bills almost entirely through YouTube and Patreon, thanks to his organically grown community which he refers to as the “trip team family” or TTF. 

“I ain’t shit without you guys,” Willy said. “Without that community behind me, supporting me and being there for me, then I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

The TTF is hard to quantify but according to Willy it ranges anywhere from 70 to 120,000 people. They have a private Discord server that is genuinely a positive place to explore with super friendly people, all of whom are stoked to help other budding mycologists and psychedelic enthusiasts on their individual journeys. 

Not only that, but these cats throw one hell of a party by the sound of things. Willy puts on this big event every year called “Trip-A-Ween” where they basically fry balls on world-class psychedelics and do fun shit like rent out an entire amusement park or live large in Costa Rica for a week. They spare no expense and talk about it like it’s a big family reunion.

As a Patreon supporter and member of the TTF discord, I won’t reveal much of what I’ve seen in there for obvious reasons but I will note that right before I started writing this article, a big member of the TTF community who goes by the alias Watr was arrested and had their children taken away from them for allegedly distributing psychedelics. Inside of a week, Willy had a sweatshirt made up and started an in-house fundraiser to raise money and bring Watr back home to his kids. Willy has also personally given thousands of dollars out of his own pocket to finance medical treatment for some supporters of his who needed help.

Willy is currently in the process of buying a house in Puerto Rico where he will be setting up a cannabis grow to provide employment for the people living there, not to mention hosting a podcast, likely throwing more shroom parties and providing mycology/cannabis cultivation classes to impoverished Puerto Ricans. Willy told High Times his ultimate goal is to preserve the legacy of the people who came before him.

“I want to see people be able to support their families and build their empires off of psychedelics, I want to be able to see people flourish and do well—the people that actually deserve it, and are doing it for the right reasons,” Willy said. “I don’t want that culture to be gone. I don’t want it just to become a machine like cannabis has become. It’s an industry now. It’s a big thing. Before, when it was underground, it was about the members of the community and the people who actually put in the work to preserve it. And then once it became an industry, it just became about money. It was no longer about community.” 

Courtesy Philly Golden Teacher

Philly Golden Teacher

Philly is a bit more elusive than Willy but his videos are very detailed and dive deep into the art of shroom growing. Whereas Willy’s videos encompass all psychedelics, Philly strictly focuses on mycology and mushroom cultivation. He’s a prolifically paranoid man (for VERY good reason) who used a voice modulator when speaking to High Times

“I’m scared. I’m scared to put myself out there,” Philly said. “That fear really puts me into anxiety mode.”

Philly didn’t tell me many specifics about himself other than he tries to blend into society as much as possible to avoid detection. He works a 9-5 at a call center and spends his off-time working on advanced mycology projects, one of which is attempting to crossbreed psychedelic mushrooms to make a new “strain.” Strain is in quotes because it’s even less accurate when used to refer to mushrooms than how it’s commonly used for cannabis but for our purposes, strain is fine. 

“You have to understand crossbreeding is a lot more complex than putting two different mycelium together on a plate and having them go ‘here, kiss.’ You have to isolate a single spore to be able to do it at a microscopic level. It’s hard to do that; it’s hard to verify that without a microscope so people don’t get into crossbreeding unless you can afford a microscope to put the work behind to do it,” Philly said.

The thing with mushroom growing is that much like cannabis, a fair amount of the legwork on figuring out how to do it properly is pioneered by guys like Philly, who lives in constant fear of federal police raids at worst and losing his YouTube account at best.

“I have to really be careful what I put out on there,” Philly said. “I’m trying to steer things forwards, just trying to to drive things to Patreon because I can’t really rely on YouTube.”

Philly told High Times he’s particularly excited about mushroom lineage cards he and his wife have been working on with information about the breeders and history behind the different “strains” of psychedelic mushrooms.

“We basically went full Pokemon,” Philly said. 

Both PGT and Willy expressed parallel views to High Times on how psychedelics should be used or looked at going forward. They both hammered home two distinct points multiple times over:

  • Psychedelics can be used as medicine but should more so be looked at as tools.
  • Decriminalization instead of legalization.

“I’m more comfortable with decriminalization than legalization,” Willy said. “I don’t think people should go to jail or be charged for cultivating their own medicine, whether that’s mushrooms or extracting DMT or cultivating cannabis, whatever the case may be. People should be able to do it freely. But, legalization brings a whole nother slew of problems: oversaturation, stepping on the toes of all the cultivators that have been doing this for a long time. You have companies that have millions of dollars of backing and you just can’t compete with that.”

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Cannabis Researchers Published 4,300 Scientific Papers in 2022

NORML recently announced that according to a PubMed.gov keyword search, there were more than 4,300 scientific research papers published about cannabis in 2022. In 2021, there were an estimated 4,200 papers published; over the last 12 years, more than 30,000 research papers have now been published; and in total, there are approximately 42,500 scientific papers exploring cannabis.

While it’s common to hear opponents of cannabis state that more research is necessary before legalization can occur, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano released a statement to counter that argument. “Despite claims by some that marijuana has yet to be subject to adequate scientific scrutiny, scientists’ interest in studying cannabis has increased exponentially in recent years, as has our understanding of the plant, its active constituents, their mechanisms of action, and their effects on both the user and upon society,” Armentano said. “It is time for politicians and others to stop assessing cannabis through the lens of ‘what we don’t know’ and instead start engaging in evidence-based discussions about marijuana and marijuana reform policies that are indicative of all that we do know.”

NORML compiled numerous scientific studies involving cannabis between 2000-2021, exploring findings from studies on a wide variety of medical conditions such as chronic pain, Huntington Disease, insomnia, Multiple Sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, and so much more. The review analyzes the evolution of researcher’s scope of cannabis. “As clinical research into the therapeutic value of cannabinoids has proliferated so too has investigators’ understanding of cannabis’ remarkable capacity to combat disease,” NORML wrote. “Whereas researchers in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s primarily assessed marijuana’s ability to temporarily alleviate various disease symptoms—such as the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy—scientists today are exploring the potential role of cannabinoids to modulate disease.”

Even recently, the scientific community has released many intriguing cannabis studies in recent months. One recent study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that cannabis was an effective treatment for insomnia, with researchers stating that participants experienced an 80% increase in sleep quality, and 60% were no longer classified as clinical insomnias following the end of the two-week study. Another study found evidence that cannabis has “uniquely beneficial effects” on those with bipolar disorder, while one found a link between cannabis consumption and physical activity in HIV+ patients. And there are many more studies underway, such as King’s College London which recently launched a massive 6,000-person study in September, with a goal of publishing early results in 2023 or 2024.

Cannabis is more mainstream than it has ever been before. President Joe Biden’s recent monumental signing of the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act which “establishes a new registration process for conducting research on marijuana and for manufacturing marijuana products for research purposes and drug development.” Biden also signed an infrastructure bill in 2021, which contained provisions for cannabis. It states that in two years, the Attorney General and Secretary of Health and Human Services must submit a report that addresses how researchers can receive increased samples of various strains, establishing a “national clearinghouse” that will help researchers better distribute cannabis products for research, and an increased amount of samples for researchers who don’t live in states with medical or adult-use cannabis legalization. 

On the side, studies exploring the benefits of other psychedelic substances are also rising. One study in the journal Psychopharmacology found evidence that psilocybin can treat those with autism spectrum disorder. The University College of London released the results of a recent study as well, which analyzed brain imaging of consumers who attended psychedelic retreats. Another from the University of Melbourne explored how ayahuasca benefits outweigh the risks.

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Study Shows Youth Increasingly Choosing Cannabis Over Alcohol

A study of cannabis use among young people in the US has increased by 245% since 2000 while youth use of alcohol decreased over the same period, according to the results of a study published this week. The study, which was posted online by the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Toxicology, tracked the incidence of misuse and abuse of alcohol, cannabis and other substances by young people reported to the National Poison Data System (NPDS) from 2000 through 2020. An analysis of the data identified 338,000 instances of intentional abuse or misuse of all substances among American children aged 6 to 18 during the period studied by researchers.

More than 80% of the reported ingestions of substances occurred among youth from 13 to 18, with a majority (58.3%) of cases reported among males. More than 32% of instances resulted in “worse than minor clinical outcomes.”

The research shows the changing trends in substance misuse and abuse among young people over time. In 2000, the largest number of alcohol misuse cases was reported, with the total steadily decreasing year over year since then. In contrast, the prevalence of reported cannabis exposure cases remained relatively stable from 2000 to 2009, then steadily increased starting in 2011, with a more dramatic spike in cannabis exposure cases between 2017 and 2020.

“Ethanol abuse cases exceeded the number of marijuana cases every year from 2000 until 2013,” Dr. Adrienne Hughes, one of the authors of the study and an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, said in a statement.

However, after that point, the apparent relative popularity of the two substances among young people had reversed.

“Since 2014, marijuana exposure cases have exceeded ethanol cases every year, and by a greater amount each year than the prior,” Hughes said.

The research showed that all types of cannabis have become more popular among young people. Marijuana edibles showed the highest monthly increase in use compared to other forms of cannabis, suggesting that many young people are eschewing smoking marijuana and switching to alternative cannabis products. 

“These edible and vaping products are often marketed in ways that are attractive to young people, and they’re considered more discrete and convenient,” Hughes said.

The researcher noted that young people may also perceive alternate forms of cannabis consumption as safer than smoking, but some studies have shown that this perception may not necessarily be accurate.

“Compared to smoking cannabis, which typically results in an immediate high, intoxication from edible forms of marijuana usually takes several hours, which may lead some individuals to consume greater amounts and experience unexpected and unpredictable highs,” said Hughes.

Spike In Cannabis Use Concurrent With Legalization Efforts

The spike in youth cannabis use since 2017 coincided with continuing successful marijuana policy reform efforts across the US. Including the results of the 2022 midterm elections, when Maryland and Missouri voters opted to legalize recreational marijuana, a total of 21 states have legalized adult-use cannabis. The authors believe that while these legalization efforts have been restricted to adults 21 and older, the increased availability of a variety of cannabis products may make it easier for young people to access marijuana and may have contributed to the perception that cannabis is safe.

“Our study describes an upward trend in marijuana abuse exposures among youth, especially those involving edible products,” Hughes says. “These findings highlight an ongoing concern about the impact of rapidly evolving cannabis legalization on this vulnerable population.”

The study also identified high levels of over-the-counter medication abuse among young people. Between 2001 and 2016, the highest number of drug abuse cases related to dextromethorphan, a commonly used over-the-counter cold and cough medicine. Oral antihistamines were also among the most misused substances in the study. Deaths from drug misuse were rare, occurring in only about 450 cases (about 0.1%) identified by the study. Substance misuse deaths were most common among teenagers 16 to 18 and occurred more often among males than females. Deaths from substance use among young people were most common following the use of opioids. 

The researchers also identified 57,488 incidents of substance misuse involving children aged 6 to 12. However, these cases didn’t usually include over-the-counter or illicit drugs but instead involved substances such as vitamins, plants, melatonin, hand sanitizers and others.

In their conclusion, the authors of the study wrote that the data from the NPDS “highlight an ongoing concern about the impact of rapidly evolving cannabis legalization on this vulnerable population.”

Limitations of the research include the data set being restricted to exposure cases classified as abuse or misuse. “It’s possible that additional misuse or abuse cases were classified otherwise and thus were missed,” the authors wrote.

The study states: “Trends in intentional abuse and misuse ingestions in school-aged children and adolescents reported to US poison centers from 2000-20,” was published online by the journal Clinical Toxicology on December 5.

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Does CBD Modulate THC? No, Says Study

Does CBD modulate the effects of THC? No, says a new study. For years, both experience and research have indicated that CBD has a mitigating effect when consumed with THC. For example, budtenders suggest a THC-strain balanced with CBD for new consumers to avoid overwhelming them. When an experienced stoner has eaten an edible or taken some oil and feels too high – they use CBD to take the edge off. But a recent study suggests this is all placebo. […]

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