Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Women's Visionary Congress 2019

After a three-year hiatus, the Women's Visionary Congress held a gathering in Oakland, CA over the weekend, hostessing 23 activists, researchers, healers and artists as presenters. The eye-opening event was held just after the city of Oakland passed an ordinance decriminalizing "nature," and speakers from across the county and Canada addressed various aspects of psychedelic and cannabis law, research, and more.

Christine Stenquist of Truce Utah at the WVC
Christine Stenquist of TRUCE in Utah gave a powerful presentation that earned a standing ovation, and a few tears, from the audience.  She began with her own journey of how, as a 24-year-old mother, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that left her bedridden for 16 years.

In desperation she tried Marinol, then whole-plant cannabis, after her 19-year-old daughter steered her away from "Spice," a dangerous substance then advertised as legal marijuana, and her narcotics officer–father advised her she could probably find a stray bag of the still-illegal weed. Within moments free of her nausea, within weeks she was walking again, and soon driving to Capitol Hill "because I would be damned if any other patient in my state would suffer like I did."

Stenquist formed a broad, nonpartisan coalition of MS patients, pain management groups, and cannabis activists called TRUCE (Together for Responsible Use & Cannabis Education). She gave members reading lists on the history, policy, and science of cannabis, which propped up TRUCE's 4th pillar: patients. In 2014 the group ran into opposition from epilepsy moms who were lobbying for a CBD-only bill. "But that was fracturing a movement by demonizing part of the plant," Stenquist countered. Silenced and told to wait their turn, the group saw Utah pass the first CBD-only law in the country, which protects patients with only two types of epilepsy, and allows for no procurement of cannabis.

So TRUCE went to the ballot, gathering the needed 113K signatures to put Prop. 2 to the voters. After the LDS (not LSD) church came out against the measure, the group lost half of its executive board, but the measure still carried with 53% of the vote. Immediately, the state legislature passed an LDS-backed measure severely limiting the law, allowing only seven dispensaries confined to the most populated regions of the state, and requiring others to mail order their medicine from health departments, stripping away their right to grow for themselves. TRUCE has engaged former Salt Lake City Mayor and drug reformer Rocky Anderson to file a lawsuit "to win our vote back." Read more about TRUCE and support the lawsuit. 

Eleonora Molnar, a Canadian psychotherapist, gave a strong presentation on the ethical and legally defensible way to conduct psychedelic-assisted therapy in Canada.

She identified patients for whom therapy can be done: those in dire need, due to chronic, serious & debilitating diseases and for whom traditional therapy has proved unhelpful; and those at the end of their lives, for whom possible long-term risks are irrelevant.

Therapists may not procure psychedelic substances for their patients, or administer them, but can attend and provide psychotherapy during and after a psychedelic session, provided the proper messaging is given and attested to beforehand regarding the benefits and risks of the therapy and the legalities of the therapeutic situation.

Molnar recommended therapists get training, through places like MAPS and CIIS, and recommended Stanislav Grof's book LSD Psychotherapy and Janice Phelps’ paper, “Developing Guidelines and Competencies for the Training of Psychedelic Therapists" (2017).

The legal footing for assisting a patient doing an illegal drug starts in the emergency room, where physicians may treat a patient who is under the influence, and the rights to personal freedom, autonomy, and health contained in the Canadian Charter.

Molnar cited three cannabis court cases that pertain, if one takes the stance that psychedelics are also medicine necessary for some patients: R v. Parker (Ontario Court of Appeal 2000), a medical necessity case; R v. Smith (Supreme Court Canada 2015), which ruled that prohibition “limits the liberty of medical users by foreclosing reasonable medical choices through the threat of criminal prosecution," and Allard v. Canada (Canada Federal Court 2016), upholding a patient’s right to produce their own medicine.

Attorney and activist Madalyn McElwain of DanceSafe also gave a powerful presentation entitled, "From Underground to Mainstream: How Drug Checking has Become a Vital Tool to Combat the Consequences of the War on Drugs."

Her group, whose motto is "Test It Before You Ingest It" provides onsite education and testing of party drugs at events.  McElwain had only to remind the crowd of the Fentanyl overdose crisis to give her talk gravitas. DanceSafe has Fentanyl test strips available by mail-order. On psychedelics, McElwain reminded us, "As we open up access, we need to provide safety."

She also discussed the legal aspects of her organization's work in a world where under most states' paraphernalia laws, testing kits are illegal. The states of CO, MD, MN, IL, and RI have passed laws to reform this sad and dangerous situation, as has Washington, DC. DanceSafe is also working to amend the federal "RAVE Act" to make harm reduction services more available to nightlife participants including distribution of free water, cool down spaces, peer education, and drug checking. And they're conducting a fundraising campaign to upgrade their onsite testing to a portable infrared spectroscopy machine, while keeping their library up-to-date so that they can identify all the substances out there. They've raised $15K of the $50K needed; interested donors can write here

A special treat was the appearance of Ann Shulgin, the 88-year-old widow of MDMA chemist Alexander Shulgin, who co-wrote PIKHAL and TIKHAL with him. Shulgin spoke about "The Shadow," the "dark side" of ourselves that often must be confronted during psychedelic experiences. Shulgin stressed that we must come to terms with the feelings & impulses that we have denied and repressed in our shadow selves in order to become whole. A skilled therapist can use psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and hypnosis to "take a person to step inside their monster and see out its eyes," enabling a person to transform. She stressed that the therapist who attempts this practice must have completed it themselves first.

Raquel Bennett, a Berkeley-based psychologist, spoke about her work with Ketamine therapy, which she said "helps people open up to a window of relational re-learning." Working with patients with severe depression, there are several alternative dosages and modes of treatment which must be "spiritually and psychologically safe," including follow-up treatment.

On March 5, the FDA approved Spratavo, a pharmaceutical preparation of S-Ketamine for use under strict regulations. FDA approved ketamine (Ketalar) in 1970. Pharmaceutical S-Ketamine costs upwards of $850 per dose, but is available in generic form for $1.59. Bennett will give a talk on Ketamine therapy as part of the UC Berkeley "Pleasure, Poison, Prescription, Prayer" exhibit, and also mentioned the coming KRIYA Conference this November in SF.

On the movement fractionating subject, Elise Szabo of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) had an interesting point: She noted that the Alameda County sheriff testified that only 15 people had been arrested in the previous year for psychedelics, but significantly more were arrested for more stigmatized drugs like heroin, and many of those were people of color. Lanese Martin of The Hood Incubator pointed out that 25% of deportations are drug related, and insightfully noted that, "The discipline of self-empowerment is harder than following a sociopathic leader."

All this and much more highlighted an enlightening weekend, full of wonderful food and fellowship. The all-woman Brazilian dance and drumming troupe Mulhercatu was a special treat.

Conference organizer Annie Oak spoke about forming the Women's Visionary Council (WVC) after attending a 2017 GAIA conference in Switzerland where 80 of the speakers were male and only 4 were female. Following the logic, "If you want to change the world, make a better party," she started inviting women to speak at events and now has seen women's voices amplified at other conferences as well.

OG WVC Board President Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia wrapped things up saying of the event, "It makes my heart sing...there are a thousand strategies to make a better society, to be a different kind of light, to continue to become better people." She encouraged everyone to "connect, connect, connect."

Since 2008, the Women's Visionary Council has been sustained by supporters and members. All donations to the WVC are tax-deductible. A donation of $75 makes you a member of the WVC, eligible for discounts on WVC events, the WVC newsletter, and the ability to nominate people for WVC grants. Donations of any size can be made via PayPal, or by mailing a check to POB 5305, Berkeley CA 94705.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Pleasure, Poison, Prescription, Prayer: The Worlds of Mind-Altering Substances Exhibit in Berkeley

I stopped to see the Pleasure, Poison, Prescription, Prayer: The Worlds of Mind-Altering Substances exhibit at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology on UC Berkeley Campus. The introduction states, "The objects in this exhibit illustrate just a few of the changing meanings of substances and the people who use them. With the legal and cultural landscape of mind-altering drugs rapidly changing here in California and around the world, the Hearst Museum invites you to question your assumptions and alter your perspective on the origins and contents of these diverse substances.” 

The exhibition is nicely mounted, with brief descriptive sections, along with art and artifacts for peyote, kava, coca, opium, coffee, sugar, tobacco etc., pinning each substance to a part of the world where it has been used. Cannabis rates only a small section with a description tracing it back only 6000 years (in Western use) and displaying a few nice hookahs from India. It concludes, “Across ten of the United States, cannabis is now regulated as a controlled substance like alcohol and tobacco.”

It’s a bit Western and male dominated, with no mention in the extensive alcohol section of the possibility that ancient wines contained other substances, and nothing about psychedelic compounds in native tobacco (harmalines in Nicotiana rusticum). Women are depicted only in photos of the well-known Minoan Poppy Goddess found in Crete, and “L’Exalation de la Fleur” stone fragment from Greece, plus a description of a drunken ritual to the Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of "joy, celebration, kindness, and love, who people associated with drunkenness and music.” (They skipped the myrrh and incense, also associated with Hathor, who was later conflated with Isis and Asherah/Ishtar.) Also pictured in the exhibit is a red-toothed areca-chewing woman from Papua New Guinea, accompanied by an interesting story of “political suicide” committed in 2015 when the governor of the capital at Port Moresby tried to ban the popular plant, which is important in commerce for the area.

The exhibit is interactive in the way the recent Oakland Museum exhibit on cannabis was: viewers can leave a record of their experiences with the various drugs depicted, starting with “This is a story of…” for which most circled “pleasure” rather than the other three options. One wrote about a psilocybin experience, “The colors of the trees and all surroundings were enhanced so that I felt like I had been seeing the world through dirty glasses before.” Another wrote of the same substance, “I had a profound experience of complete contentment, like everything in life was as it should be.” Strangely, though, there were no mushrooms of any kind in the exhibit. One person circled both “pleasure” and “prayer” for their cannabis experience, “I had lost my inner voice….the first time I smoked I was able to hear her again.” Another who’d overdosed on an edible called weed “poison.”

It's easy to get to at the corner of Bancroft and College, the entry fee is only $6 (less for students and seniors) and the exhibit is on view during various hours, Weds.-Sun. through December 15. It's being held in conjunction with several events around the topic, including intoxicating plant garden tours, an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, a talk on Ketamine from Berkeley psychotherapist Raquel Bennett, a lecture on Maria Sabina, and family-friendly events exploring how to fashion medicine pouches, Maya medicine cups, and hemp bracelets.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Marilyn Monroe and Marijuana

Monroe in River of No Return. The green dress
she wore sold for $500K at auction in 2011. 
It's no surprise that modern screen Goddess Marilyn Monroe was born in June 1, the first day of the month named for the goddess Hera/Juno.

A talented singer and dancer, Monroe exuded sex as no one before, or since. Just see her cameo in the Marx BrothersLove Happy, or her opening number in There's No Business Like Show Business. Or her songs in River of No Return with Robert Mitchum. Or her powerhouse performance in a movie she produced, The Prince and the Showgirl. And yes, that was her playing ukulele in Some Like It Hot. 

A foster child quite probably abused by both men and women in her youth, Norma Jeane Mortenson worked her way to the top of the entertainment business, no easy feat. She was the first actress since Mary Pickford to form her own production company and (literally) call her own shots.

Having married the top athlete perhaps ever (Joe DiMaggio), she surprised everyone by next marrying playwright Arthur Miller, who soon was called before the HUAC committee during the shameful Red Scare of the 1950s. Monroe stood by her man, drawing cameras to her as she bravely appeared with her husband.

Around this time, in a home movie released in 2009, Marilyn apparently smoked marijuana at a party in New Jersey. According to Keya Morgan, who purchased the film for $275,000, the filmmaker (named Gretchen), told him she "rolled up the joint and handed it over to Marilyn."

Morgan says it was the FBI who tipped him off to the film's existence. "They felt that Marilyn Monroe posed a security threat to the presidency because she was under the influence of marijuana and under the influence of alcohol, and could be a danger not only to herself but also to the presidency," he said. The plot sickens. 

Tony Curtis, Monroe's co-star in Some Like It Hot, was brilliant as a swarmy PR flack who tries to smear a jazz guitarist as a pot-smoking commie in Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Curtis was caught with marijuana at London's Heathrow Airport in 1971, when he flew to London for an anti-tobacco appearance.

Monroe's friend Jeanne Carmen's son and biographer confirmed to me that both she and Monroe smoked pot. An actress, pin-up girl, and trick-shot golfer, Carmen lived next door to Monroe in the years before she died in 1962. The apartments were owned by Frank Sinatra, as described in valet George Jacobs' book Mr. S.: My Life with Frank Sinatra.

Carmen died in 2007, but her son Brandon James writes, "My mom was not a 'pot smoker' but she did smoke pot on occasion. Marilyn was the same way." James traveled with his mother to events in the 1990s, and gathered her experiences in Jeanne Carmen: My Wild Wild Life (2006).

One of tales told in the book happened in 1961 or 1962 when Marilyn and Jeanne were invited to a "boat party" with B-movie actor/ladies' man Steve Cochran, who fancied himself a new Errol Flynn. Cochran pulled out some weed but when he tried to turn the party into an orgy, Marilyn and Jeanne jumped ship. (Alchibiades lives, but it's the Goddesses we still worship.)

Blonde pot-puffing love interests appear in two seminal Hollywood novels, The Day of the Locust and The Last Tycoon, see Can L.A. Solve Its Mexican Marijuana Problem? Not Until It Confronts Its Past.