Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Synthetic cannabis: it just keeps coming

74 Responses

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  • Katharine Moody, in reply to Alfie,

    Almost certainly. Campbell Live ran numerous interviews with synthetic users, and all of them said they’d prefer to smoke the real thing, if not for the illegality and drug testing.

    So, if we legalise the plant, do we also have to amend drug testing practices? What I'm wondering is, can you drink a modest amount of alcohol on the weekend and still pass a workplace drug test on Monday? And what is the case with THC in your system? Are the sensitivity levels for each of these substances prescribed in legislation?

    Wellington • Since Sep 2014 • 798 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie, in reply to Katharine Moody,

    It's complicated. The active ingredient in cannabis is THC, but urine tests measure THC-COOH -- a metabolite of THC. That's produced as the liver breaks down THC and it stays in the body for a much longer period. Long after the effect of the drug has worn off, measurable traces still remain in the system. This varies between a few days and two months, depending on the individual's metabolism and other factors.

    So one big weekend out with the boys could result in a failed drug test a month later.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1437 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald, in reply to Alfie,

    Over the years, anti-drug propaganda has portrayed dope smokers as evil fiends, hiding out in darkened rooms in some numbed state of nirvana.

    Not necessarily....and most would have no problem with cannabis users sitting in a dark room relaxing and contemplating their place in the universe. Fill your boots.

    The other side is parents using cannabis, being so 'relaxed' that feeding the kids, getting them to school, pro actively encouraging their kids education are simply not important.

    Or, and this does happen, giving young children cannabis to keep them quiet and manageble.. Easy to do,,,,you just stick the kids in the car and light up.

    In some parts of NZ there are generations with blighted futures due to cannabis use.
    They are not necessarily involved in the production and trade....just the end users.

    When discussions are being had about drug reform....consideration MUST be given to the children of drug users...the innocents.

    Alchohol being legal and controlled has certainly not ensured there is no harm to those on the periphery of abusers.

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1346 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Alfie,

    Almost certainly. Campbell Live ran numerous interviews with synthetic users, and all of them said they’d prefer to smoke the real thing, if not for the illegality and drug testing.

    I've also seen users quoted saying that natural cannabis doesn't do it for them any more.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Alfie,

    So basically, the test measures whether there was any consumption at all over an indefinite time period, and not whether the individual is currently functionally impaired – i.e., the test purpose itself is not at all parallel to the alcohol test, and reflects the focus on criminality rather than safety.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1941 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Alfie,

    It’s complicated.

    It is. Washington State pot czar Mark Kleiman from a story I wrote last year, on cannabis and driving:

    “Nobody wants to say it out loud, but I think it probably needs a good leaving alone,” says Kleiman.

    “Here’s the problem: it’s clear that being stoned decreases your executive function and multi-tasking ability. It renders many people inattentive.

    “It’s also clear that knowing you’re stoned leads people to be cautious – the opposite of alcohol. The stereotypical stoned driver is driving 15 miles an hour in a 40 zone. He’s paranoid about how he’s driving.

    “So that sounds like good news. The other thing that sounds like good news is, when you let an experienced pot smoker get as stoned as they want and put them on a simulator, their degradation is at about the level of .08 BAC. That’s just about the threshold of what’s considered impaired driving for alcohol.

    “So all of that doesn’t sound like it adds up to extremely dangerous driving. Now the bad news – people are empirically impaired for several hours after they’re subjectively back to baseline. So the people who don’t think they’re stoned are the potentially dangerous drivers.

    “THC is fat soluble, and unless you do very fancy stuff with metabolite ratios, you can’t tell whether somebody smoked two hours ago or three days ago. And so if you have a strict nanogram per millilitre rule, which is what’s in the Washington statutes, anybody who’s a regular pot smoker can never drive. That’s not workable.

    “And the other bad news is that people don’t just use pot. So here’s a rule I would have. If you have cannabis on board, then your blood alcohol content limit is zero. You may not drive with both cannabis and alcohol in your system. And that’s an easy rule to observe. Your BAC will be zero n hours after your nth drink. So if you are going to be a smoker, you may not drive for as many hours as you’ve had drinks. Zero’s a good number.”

    The lack of a non-invasive roadside test is a significant factor, he says.

    “Unless there’s an accident and someone’s injured, I just don’t think anyone’s going to be caught for driving under the influence of cannabis.”

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Don’t knock the cask!

    Yeah right. Seen from the air in a sunny day, the reflected glitter from inflated cheap plonk casks along the riverbeds around Alice Springs is an unforgettable sight. The wretched things even lodge high in the branches of trees where the floods carry them.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Katharine Moody, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    When discussions are being had about drug reform….consideration MUST be given to the children of drug users…the innocents.

    Extremely important. I have to admit that I'm a very anti-alcohol person - simply because of the level of violence that I perceive to be attributed to its effects. I do wonder however, whether we have any empirical evidence of social costs (domestic violence related police call outs, emergency admissions, petty crime etc.) split by the following categories:

    Incidents committed by persons under the influence of alcohol only.
    Incidents committed by persons under the influence of cannabis only.
    Incidents committed by persons under the influence of both alcohol + cannabis.
    Incidents committed by persons under the influence of other substances or a combination of other plus alcohol and/or cannabis.

    As a means to approach these questions in an evidence-based manner. I just don't think we can look at drug reform without having this sort of clear evidence on which to make objective decisions.

    I guess my point is - anyone seriously under the influence of just about anything is unlikely to put the needs of their children first, but physical and psychological violence against children must be the central tenet of any drug reform/policy.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2014 • 798 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald, in reply to Katharine Moody,

    anyone seriously under the influence of just about anything is unlikely to put the needs of their children first, but physical and psychological violence against children must be the central tenet of any drug reform/policy.

    What I was trying to say.

    I get it about the 'evidence based research', that would hopefully lead to sound policy....but as we have seen with alchohol (I. to, have issues) this does not necessarily happen.

    The harm from our liberal, permissive alchohol laws and our society's immaturity in it's drinking has been enormous. Probably unquantifiable.

    Taxes on alchohol come no where near to contributing to the costs.

    It'd be the same if dope was decriminalised.

    There are no simple answers, and no quick fixes.

    I'd like to see more discussion on why so many have to chemically alter their conciousness just to relax, have a good time, cope with their life.

    When I worked in the Drug and Alchohol sector many years ago, my boss used to give talks on substance use and abuse to young adults...usually at technical institutes and the like.

    She got the usual responses when she asked why they drank/toked/popped/sniffed.

    Her response, which caused more than one attendee to sheepishly glance at his/her 'mates'; "If you need to get off your face to have a good time with your mates...perhaps you should look around for a different set of friends."

    Got 'em every time.

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1346 posts Report Reply

  • Katharine Moody, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    Taxes on alchohol come no where near to contributing to the costs.It’d be the same if dope was decriminalised.

    But the same cannot be said of tax on tobacco. A Treasury paper of some years ago (when the Maori Party was pushing for the three-year series on tobacco tax rises that have now been almost fully implemented) said at the time the health costs associated with tobacco consumption were already (at that time) more than met through the existing excise tax collected.

    If there is a will – there is a way (and a way to over-penalise, if there are thought to be other considerations beyond cost-recovery).

    Wellington • Since Sep 2014 • 798 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    Taxes on alchohol come no where near to contributing to the costs.

    It’d be the same if dope was decriminalised.

    Got any evidence for that? Pretty much everyone who wants to use cannabis in NZ uses it already. Most people try it, most people stop. And the legal status of cannabis is a long way down the list of the reasons that people stop.

    Taxpayers currently spend $100 million annually enforcing cannabis prohibition. It’s very likely indeed that some of that money would be better spent on public health.

    I’d like to see more discussion on why so many have to chemically alter their conciousness just to relax, have a good time, cope with their life.

    Treating drug use as a moral failure has been a particularly unsuccessful approach.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    I worked in the Drug and Alchohol sector

    Interesting way of putting it; care to elaborate? The context suggests this may not have been in the supply side of the industry.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1941 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald, in reply to linger,

    No, dealing, with the splatter.

    I understand it is unfashionable to resist decriminalisation of anything.

    I have had "Prohibition of alchohol didn't work!!!!" screamed in my face by an Alliance Party member promoting legalising cannabis.

    He wasn't having to see on a daily basis the lives interrupted by alchohol and drug abuse.

    Generations.

    If decriminalisation, legalisation (and resulting control and regulation) and taxation will contribute towards better control of supply, education and mitigation of negative effects....why do we have such a HUGE problem with booze?

    "Moral failure"....hmmm....New Zealanders are fucking miserable folk when you look at our statisitics for child neglect, abuse and murder, drug and alchohol associated harm (from actual use...not any legal considerations), suicide in all age groups....but our young people especially.

    Why?

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1346 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    And....

    A school comprising of children from some 28 families realised that their appalling record for 'learning outcomes' was largely due to the parents/caregivers use of alchohol, dope and other more harmful drugs.

    They asked all families to sign a "drug and alchohol free' contract....for the sake of their children. Supports via the local Iwi were available to help families make the change.

    4 out of 28 families made that commitment.

    At least 2 of the 4 signees felt their only option was to remove their children from the school.

    And so it goes.

    There was a tangi for a young local woman who had died...yes...drugs were a siginificant part of her life.

    As her coffin was being carried from the Marae to the Urupa along the highway, 'mourners' were standing around drinking beer and smoking dope,

    Respect. Not.

    These people do not give a shit if its legal or not.

    Moral failure....right there.

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1346 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    These people

    Oh for fuck’s sake.
    Seriously, what does this kind of dehumanising drivel serve beyond big-noting your own sense of moral superiority?

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    Rosemary. Your hollier-than-thou presumption that the only possible motivation for using cannabis is to escape from some undescribed horror in one's life is, frankly, insulting. I walked away from my computer last night rather than responding, hoping that someone calmer and more eloquent would pick up the mantle. Russell, Linger and Joe have done just that.

    What they said.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1437 posts Report Reply

  • Katharine Moody, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    Oh for fuck’s sake.Seriously, what does this kind of dehumanising drivel serve beyond big-noting your own sense of moral superiority?

    And bad spelling. It's alcohol, Rosemary.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2014 • 798 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Katharine Moody,

    To be fair, it looks like "alchohol" if viewed through the splatter from some chthonic dimension.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1941 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    He wasn’t having to see on a daily basis the lives interrupted by alchohol and drug abuse.

    Generations.

    If decriminalisation, legalisation (and resulting control and regulation) and taxation will contribute towards better control of supply, education and mitigation of negative effects….why do we have such a HUGE problem with booze?

    I don't think anyone is arguing for cannabis to be marketed and made available for sale in the way alcohol is -- for there to be some equivalent to the 10 bottlestores in a kilometre along Karangahape Road, or sports sponsorship or products targeted at young people.

    The question is whether making criminals of people you're supposedly trying to help is useful.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Alfie,

    I don’t accept BenWilson’s suggestion that dope smokers would be happy with truckloads of of grade B cannabis. It simply doesn’t work that way. There’s a market for good wine – and there’s a market for good cannabis. Synthetics by comparison are the cheapest, nastiest cask wine you could imagine. Their effect is heavier and much less pleasant.

    I don't know how you could be sure that it doesn't work that way until it's tried. I was talking about circumstances so different to now that it's not really possible to do statistics on it. Currently people buy cannabis by weight and it's expensive. Something like $10 per gram. The penalties for carrying 30 grams of weak stuff are the same as for 30 grams of strong stuff, and there's no easy metric for people to haggle over the price per strength, so usually the price is the same and a basic minimum standard of very high strength became normal.

    But if there are no penalties, and you're looking at, say, $30 a kilo for the supplier to profit on it, no one is going to really worry about the price or the strength, within a wide acceptable range. A kilo of weak cannabis is still going to get you high for months to years. People wouldn't even buy it in that kind of bulk. If getting it is easy, it would be more like cigarettes - you'd carry a small pack that lasts between a day and a week depending on your usage, rather than buying by the ounce. Product differentiation would be around different things like how nicely packaged it is, how it tastes, whether you prefer a filter or not, whether it's more high or more stoned, whether it's sold in a form more convenient to vaporize than smoke...and so on.

    I don't think all the genetically engineered and selectively bred hydro strains would disappear. But I feel pretty sure that it would no longer be the dominant method, any more than hydroponics forms a big part of the supply chain of most consumables. They're just way too damned inefficient (cost-wise - clearly they're very energy efficient - but that is NOT why people do it that way), and really only justified in out of season perishable foods like tomatoes. And I don't think people buy hydro because of it's amazingly superior taste, like they would with a fine wine. They buy it because, for starters, it's what there is - it's very hard to get anything else because outdoor crops are really hard to grow because it's not legal. And secondly because price really is an issue when it's that expensive. It ends up trumping most other considerations.

    Synthetics are something else again, though. I'm not sure that it's like nasty cask wine. They're an actually different chemical, whereas cask wine is still alcohol. It's just not fine wine. The effects of getting drunk on cask wine or whiskey are very, very similar to the point that the law treats them entirely equally on the alcohol content in your bloodstream. OK you'll possibly get a different hangover, but it's not in the same league as consuming a synthetic that might have an entirely different effect. Possibly multiple effects.

    I’ve also seen users quoted saying that natural cannabis doesn’t do it for them any more.

    Yeah, I would not be surprised. We're talking about stuff that goes to town on most of the same receptors, but with entirely different levels, speeds, etc. And it's not just cannabinomimetics, either. There's all sorts of different effects being bundled together.

    But that said, legality has it's own appeals, hence most of the synthetic problem in the first place.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie, in reply to BenWilson,

    A kilo of weak cannabis is still going to get you high for months to years.

    Of course it will. In the way that a barrel of cheap plonk is guaranteed to keep you pissed for weeks. But is that really what most smokers want?

    The measure should not be "how much do I need to smoke to fall over" but how pleasant a particular strain can be. Anyone lucky enough to visit Amsterdam or Colorado is able to appreciate quality weed -- not because it's stronger, but because of subtle differences in the effects.

    While the market has become more sophisticated over the last couple of decades, there will always be a place for bush weed. And though we all have access to healthy food, some people will choose to eat McDonalds.

    C'est la vie.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1437 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Alfie,

    Anyone lucky enough to visit Amsterdam or Colorado is able to appreciate quality weed – not because it’s stronger, but because of subtle differences in the effects.

    Sure. I've done that myself. But it's still roughly the same price there as it is here. So we're not making the comparison I was even talking about.

    Of course it will. In the way that a barrel of cheap plonk is guaranteed to keep you pissed for weeks. But is that really what most smokers want?

    Price is definitely something people are highly sensitive to, yes. If we must use the cheap plonk analogy, then the current situation is that everyone has to pay over $100 per bottle, and they have to go without quite a lot too. I know people who do that anyway, but I know one hell of a lot more people who pay more in the range of $10 to $20. But wine isn't a raw ingredient anyway. It's a very different product, highly refined. Also, incidentally, almost all grapes are grown out of doors. You could probably hydro a superior quality grape, if you want it to cost 20 times as much. So why don't the French do that?

    Also, smoking isn't the only way people take cannabis anyway. When it comes to eating it, I doubt the taste is anything other than something to disguise. And when it's vaporized, apparently it all tastes the same, like smelling freshly cut grass. And this is all just considering the use of the plant as a raw consumer material. With processing it transforms into totally different things.

    Furthermore, there is absolutely no connection between the quality of the weed in a hydro or outdoor setup except in the one dimension you keep trying to make out isn't a factor - the high THC per plant. As far as a "pleasant smoke" goes, many prefer outdoor. They often like that the other cannabinoids are more present. But they currently can't get it because it is very hard to grow large quantities out of doors due to police, vigilantes and (probably more problematic, but there's no good public information) thieves.

    But enough hammering the point. All I'm saying is that growing using the sun and rain and earth like how it evolved would probably dominate the production just on cost, very, very quickly, as it does in practically every other plant material used by humans.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    “But 90% of illicit drug users don’t enter emergency departments or become addicted” – actually, I think it’s more than that.

    It very probably is.

    What emergency doctors are saying these days is quite notable. They often have a pretty clear-eyed view. I spoke to one recently who said his life would be easier if people could safely obtain MDMA ("a safe form of intoxication") rather than the many riskier alternatives currently circulating in pills.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

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