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

Ann Shulgin enters the room.
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. She spoke about "The Shadow," the "dark side" of ourselves that often must be confronted during psychedelic experiences, and stressed that we must come to terms with the feelings and 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, but the therapist who attempts this practice must have completed it themselves first, she said.

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.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice Turn 50

Alice (Dyan Cannon) & Ted (Elliott Gould) & Bob
(Robert Culp) & Carol (Natalie Wood) have a pot party. 
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, the first modern movie that depicted women smoking pot.

The film was written and directed by Paul Mazursky (who also wrote 1968's I Love You Alice B. Toklas, in which pot brownies are imbibed). It begins with married couple Bob (Robert Stack) and Carol (Natalie Wood) participating in an encounter group, based on Mazursky's experiences at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA.

Having opened up to new experiences, Bob has a fling with a colleague on a business trip, and confesses his infidelity to Carol. She is surprisingly accepting of Bob's experimentation, and soon tries some of her own.

Child star/actress Natalie Wood (Miracle on 34th Street,
Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story
) puffs pot.
The couple's experiments include smoking pot with their friends, another married couple Ted (Elliot Gould) and Alice (Dyan Cannon). Wood as Carol daintily takes a few little hits, after filling the pipe and lighting it for her husband.

She then pronounces herself "totally and completely zonked out of my skull" but doesn't really act like it, except for amusing herself by talking about doing things "groovily and peacefully."

Cannon, despite her character's name being Alice (as in Wonderland or B. Toklas), insists that she "never gets high," while puffing and coughing away. Her revelation is that she's too fearful of "getting into a potful of trouble," especially because Bob & Ted are lawyers. Ted tells her he loves her anyway, calling her "my sweet unstoned mother of my only son."

Friday, May 24, 2019

When Margot Fonteyn Got Caught at a Pot Party in San Francisco

Fonteyn and Nureyev dance in 1967, the year they were arrested for pot.
British Ballerina Margot Fonteyn was 42 years old in 1961 when 23-year-old Rudolf Nureyev defected from Russia and became her dance partner.

By then Fonteyn had long been the top dancer in the world, as told in the documentary Margot, now on Amazon Prime. A vision of grace and beauty with a brilliant smile and perfect proportions, her flawless technique and "miraculous" balance allowed her to stay on pointe for a breathtaking length of time, all the while keeping her crowds enthralled with the emotion she emitted. 

Always well dressed in designer clothes, Fonteyn nonetheless had a fascination with hippies, as told in the biography Margot Fonteyn: A Life by Meredith Daneman, who writes that she "did raise her hem well above her fairly sturdy knees, and was photographed at a nightclub wearing an African-style dress of grass fringing and wooden beads....with a psychedelic dot on her tummy." When someone said he found the hippy culture "scruffy and irksome," Fonteyn replied, "Oh no! I think it's fascinating. I can't take my eyes off those people."  She was also described as a bit of a "party animal" who liked to keep up with Nureyev's curiosity about everything. 

On July 10, 1967, as Daneman tells it, a bearded hippy named Paul Wesley stood outside the stage door after Margot's performance in San Francisco, and invited her to a "freak-out." She took the address and, wearing a white fur coat, brought Nureyev along to what turned out to be a pot party at 42 Belvedere Street in the Haight district.

Monday, May 13, 2019

RIP To the Marvelous Doris Day

Day in Love Me or Leave Me (1955)
RIP to Doris Day, a wonderful singer, dancer and actress who was hipper than most knew. Oscar Levant, who cast her in her first movie, "Romance on the High Seas," once quipped, "I knew Doris Day before she became a virgin." Bob Hope's nickname for her was "jigglebutt." 

Day was too marvelous for words in films like Man with a Horn, The Pajama Game, and It Happened to Jane, where she fights for her rights in a small New England town. As part of her well marketed wholesome image, Day plays a character shocked by marijuana in Lover Come Back (1961), one of several films she made with Rock Hudson.

The rather convoluted plot goes something like this: 

Advertising executives Carol Templeton (Doris) and Jerry Webster (Rock) work for competing ad agencies. Angered by Jerry’s method of nabbing clients using alcohol and women, Carol brings his behavior up before the Advertising Council. But Jerry bribes Carol’s star witness by filming her in a TV commercial for an imaginary product named VIP. When the ads are accidentally broadcast, Jerry pays a scientist to invent something he can call VIP. Meanwhile, Carol goes after the VIP account and mistakes Jerry, whom she has never met, for the scientist. Rock goes along, pretending to be an inexperienced and marriageable academic instead of the rogue his character truly is, a ruse that was a good cover for Hudson’s homosexuality.

When Carol shows up at Webster’s apartment to confront him she is surprised when Jerry, who she thinks is the scientist, opens the door. Jerry feigns confusion, implying he was partying with the dastardly Webster the night before and his memory is fuzzy.

Rock: “I was dizzy after that cigarette he gave me.”

Doris: “Oh, that depraved monster! What kind of cigarette?”

Rock: “I don’t know. It didn’t have any printing on it.”

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Film Review: "Wine County" and RIP Peggy Lipton

Ana Gasteyer whips out the Molly in "Wine Country"

"Wine Country," now in theaters and on Netflix, is directed by Amy Poehler, who co-stars as the insecure control freak Abby on a weekend getaway with gal pals played by fellow SNLers Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell and Emily Spivey.

Of course throughout the movie the characters compulsively slurp wine, our socially acceptable but not very interesting inebriant. The group talks about microdosing Molly, but doesn't do it, mainly because they don't know how it will react with all the prescription drugs they're taking, including Wellbutrin, Xanax, Zoloft, and "WhoYaGonnaCallTrex."  Zoloft, being a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) arguably already works as a microdose of psychedelics, since those substances flood the brain's serotonin receptors. Usually people taking SSRIs don’t feel the affect of psychedelics.

"Apparently we're just not that interested in doing drugs," Abby announces, to which Spivey's character astutely responds, "Except for the thousands of drugs we just listed." Instead, the 50-year-old birthday girl Rebecca (Dratch) lays on the floor all night in back pain to have her needed revelation (which sounds a lot less pleasant than taking a little MDMA).

"Toking" is also only mentioned, as a means of coping alongside soaking in a tub, by an amusingly butchy character played by Tina Fey. Then the script makes her a cokehead. Poehler recently pronounced herself unproductive on pot and had a bad time the day after she tried Molly (she wasn't asked about wine). Maybe someday like Chelsea Handler she'll figure out that cannabis can enhance creativity, and it's safer than alcohol. SNL was certainly funnier when its writers and actors smoked weed.