06/08/14 Sharda Sekaran

Sharda Sakaran re drug war's failure to protect the children, Tony Newman re Maureen Dowds marijuana "hallucianation", Rick Doblin discusses passing of Sasha Shulgin

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Sunday, June 8, 2014
Guest: 
Sharda Sekaran
Organization: 
Drug Policy Alliance
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Cultural Baggage / June 8, 2014

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Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.

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DEAN BECKER: So much news.

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SHARDA SAKARAN: This is Sharda Shakaran from the Drug Policy Alliance.

DEAN BECKER: Sharda, there’s been so much news breaking about the drug war, about marijuana, about the US Congress voting to keep their hands out of the medical marijuana trade. What seems to be a continual point that’s made is that we have to do this, have to wage this drug war “for the children.” Your thought?

SHARDA SAKARAN: Yeah, I think that we all have a shared commitment to wanting to make a safer, brighter future for children, to keep them as comfortable and safe and protected as possible. The drug war has done anything but that. It puts kids in danger all the time through aggressive law enforcement where kids are in the crossfire, where kids have their parents incarcerated. There are thousands of children whose parents have been caught up in law enforcement and arrested and their families ripped apart by the drug war.

There is just far more sad, horrible stories and instances where the drug war destroys the life of children than there is any indication that this continued focus on interdiction and law enforcement has kept any children safe because it would be much safer if we had a more sensible system.

DEAN BECKER: You recently had an article published in that regard. Please point folks towards that article and tell them what’s involved.

SHARDA SAKARAN: The piece that I wrote that is on the Drug Policy Alliance’s blog and also was run on Huffington Post and on Alternet. It was really inspired by this horrible...I felt awful to this news. There were two really terrible stories in the media that were going around for the past couple of weeks.

One was a woman in Texas who in 2012 was arrested for drug possession and ended up in a county jail in Wichita. She was pregnant at the time. She was put into solitary after complaining about labor like symptoms and having to give birth in the jail with a guard, by herself without medical attention. Her baby, her infant was pronounced dead without any sort of facilities to try and do an intervention and do resuscitation. It was really heartbreaking. She has a lawsuit pending.

There was another recent story of a 19-month-old toddler in Georgia who is in critical condition with horrible burns on his face. He is awaiting surgery because a “no knock warrant” was received because deputies said they bought drugs at the house the child was in. The SWAT went in and sent a stun grenade into his crib and the child was horribly damaged and almost died.

It’s just heartbreaking to hear these stories but they are not isolated incidents. Tragically there are many, many stories of just horrors, violence and abuse where innocent children are caught up in this failed, destructive drug war.

DEAN BECKER: There’s a story out of Texas. I think it’s been about a year back where the dad got called with some marijuana and CPS took the child and gave it to a foster mother and the child was beaten to death. These are, some say, anecdotal, random stories but they are happening all across America. This doesn’t even bring in the perspective that 1.5 million people who are arrested each year for any type of drug charge oft times those kids either go hungry or go to foster care or otherwise have their lives and their futures at least diverted if not destroyed. Your thoughts?

SHARDA SAKARAN: It’s true. We think about what the intention is supposed to be behind our public policies and its public safety, protection, health. Kids who are vulnerable and have to deal with decisions that adults make are really bearing the brunt in many other instances of horribly thought out drug policies that have put them in danger and at risk.

There’s a kid who...and many other stories of kids who have been caught in entrapment at their schools – high school kids where undercover cops have gone in and trapped kids pretending to be their friend. There was an autistic boy in California where an undercover cop pretended to be his friend and the child was vulnerable and lonely and befriended this person he thought was another student. That person entrapped him, got him to buy him a small amount...$20, he gave him some marijuana and the kid was subsequently suspended, a bunch of other kids were all caught up in this raid.

What is the purpose? If we are trying to keep kids in school, keep giving them opportunities and make sure they are safe and protected - if that is what our policies are about this is terrible. It’s had consequences that have really destroyed lives and put kids at risk.

I am not buying the propaganda that the drug war is about protecting the kids. We would really do a much better job if we had smarter, humane policies.

DEAN BECKER: Once again we are speaking with Sharda Sakaran of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Sharda, another way that the drug war truthfully is harmful to children is with medical marijuana. We see the stories of the little girls with the Dravet Syndrome and epilepsy and all these other folks that obviously, glaringly benefit from the use of cannabis and yet these politicians are dragging their feet and thus preventing the implementation of laws that would help these kids to lead better, productive and longer lives. Your thoughts?

SHARDA SAKARAN: It’s true. It’s a tragedy to see politics being played when there are lives in the balance. It’s especially heartbreaking when it’s kids and babies who are most vulnerable.

We have in New York an organization we are pushing hard to try to get medical marijuana through something called The Compassionate Care Act. There’s families with heartbreaking stories with kids with severe seizures like Dravet Syndrome or who really need access to medical marijuana because it’s made a difference.

Sanjay Gupta, who is respected as kind of America’s media doctor, he turned around and said he had been misled by drug war propaganda, by the DEA who dismissed any medical value for marijuana. Because of playing politics they have deprived kids and their parents to potentially lifesaving medicine.

It’s just a tragedy to see and I’m hoping that we will be able to have some success in New York. I don’t know why...it just doesn’t make sense why politicians are dragging their feet when there are lives in the balance and it just makes no sense.

DEAN BECKER: A few weeks back you were on I believe it was the O’Reilly Factor. They had the former drug czar, John Walters, as your debate opponent. What struck me from that conversation was that not just Walters but they had a fill-in host, a lady, who seemed to be against whatever you were bringing forward. That’s part of the problem isn’t it? The media still has to open this up for a real discussion do they not?

SHARDA SAKARAN: That’s true. We’ve seen a lot of progress in the media and I think with high-profile people like Sanjay Gupta coming out and having sensible things to say I think a lot of criticism the drug war has gotten for its harms...But, you know, you saw Laura Ingram, who was the guest host sitting in for Bill O’Reilly, she immediately deflected anything. With a conversation about Nobel prize winning economists...having really very smart economic analysis of the drug war and its failures and saying this is a policy that hasn’t changed and she immediately pivots to saying, “Are suggesting that ‘big pharma’ dispense drugs like heroin and cocaine to 8-year-olds?!”

It’s just beyond...it’s just not rational. We’re trying to have a sensible conversation about policies and about positions and research that some of the best minds from academia and economics in the world have had a statement on and you’re going to pivot to this really crazy fear mongering about kids when kids are exactly the ones who are made most vulnerable by the drug war.

It’s disingenuous and I hope that we’re getting closer to a place where we can do something that is sensible and that really is about the kids.

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DEAN BECKER: Here to talk about a recent column by Maureen Dawd, New York Time’s columnist, is the media director for the Drug Policy Alliance, Mr. Tony Newman.

Tony, that piece of yours is making its round on the internet, on the web, so to speak. Let’s talk about it. What was it Maureen Dawd was saying?

TONY NEWMAN: Maureen Dawd is one of the most famous columnists in the whole country. She writes for the New York Times. She had a column about eating chocolate caramel marijuana bar in her hotel room. She describes not feeling anything for a bit, eating some more and the next thing you know she is floored and hallucinating for 8 hours. She had a very scary experience.

I think there’s a whole level of debate around marijuana edibles because of Maureen Dawd. I wrote a piece that February talking about the issue of marijuana edibles and making sure that people are careful with this. I’d hope that Maureen Dawd had read it. I think she had a different experience and I reposted it again on the Huffington Post to try to get out these very important points.

DEAN BECKER: Let’s talk about that. Many people – novices in particular – do not understand that it is not like smoking with an almost immediate effect that it does, indeed, take right at an hour before the effects are noticeable. Correct?

TONY NEWMAN: It’s interesting. I’ve heard so many stories and personally, myself - I’m someone who has smoked marijuana many a time. I remember the first time I ate a couple marijuana brownies I was totally floored. I was in the fetal position myself because I just ate too much.

Most people...I’ve have talked to a lot of people who have those kind of stories. The point is, the bottom line is we need education around all drugs. We need education around alcohol. We need education around cigarettes. We need education around smoking marijuana. We need education around edible marijuana but there are a few things around edible marijuana that people should know.

One, you can be a regular smoker and think, “Hey, it’s just a candy bar, it’s just a cookie – how bad could it be?” If you don’t eat the right amount you will be totally floored. The first thing to understand is the amount that you eat. One suggestion that I had is maybe in the dispensaries and the marijuana shops is to sell single doses so people don’t make the mistake.

Two, we should be educating people. Let people know that sometimes it takes a while to kick in. If it does take an hour don’t start eating more because you don’t feel anything because it may kick in later.

Those are two very, very concrete things that we can do. One, know how much you’re eating. Two, start with a low amount. You don’t want to be in a place where you can’t turn back. We should also make the point that marijuana edibles are also a form of marijuana use that a lot of people love. If you know the right amount, if you use the right dosage it can be a very good experience. We don’t want to make it sound like, you know, these are terrible items but we do need education and, unfortunately, Maureen Dawd had her education having to go through that experience.

That’s actually, in some ways, almost an argument for some people to either smoke it or vaporize with it because you can feel it so quickly when you smoke it. You can tell that you are getting high and you usually slow down. That’s the hard thing about eating it – you don’t get that gage until all the sudden it has come upon you.

The bottom line is we need education. I think Maureen Dawd’s piece hopefully will get people to think about that.

Another point I want to make on the edibles is it is one thing for people who are consciously eating them but I also know some stories of people who have eaten marijuana edibles without even knowing it and that’s also a very scary experience.

A friend had a babysitter who was going through the refrigerator and didn’t know they were marijuana cookies. She had never smoked marijuana before. She ate the cookies and thought she was losing her mind because she didn’t know what she was feeling.

The main takeaway is keep your marijuana edibles stored in a safe place so kids and others don’t have access to them. Learn about how much is an appropriate dosage. Start with a small amount so you don’t do too much. Those are some of the takeaways.

The one thing we got to make clear, though, is when these stories come out people don’t say, “Oh God, I guess marijuana legalization is not a good thing.”

No, marijuana legalization is one of the most important things that has happened in this country in the last couple of decades. The benefits are tens of thousands of people not getting arrested, tens of thousands of people not getting criminal records, people not losing jobs, getting kicked out of public housing, losing benefits.

The benefits of taxing and regulating marijuana are enormous but with that we also need some education. We’re going to have to get through some of these new experiences but no one should use these examples as a reason why marijuana legalization is not a good thing.

DEAN BECKER: Once again we’ve been speaking with Mr. Tony Newman from the Drug Policy Alliance. Their website is http://drugpolicy.org

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SHEEP #2: Help from a druuuuuug!

ANNOUNCER: That help is here. Meet Napian.

[Musical intro, audio of someone swallowing pill]

ANNOUNCER: Napian activates your brain’s napping centers and attacks your body’s awakagens. And, unlike Sleepia, it won’t cause foot fattening or elbow stink.

HOMER SIMPSON: OK Napian, do your stuff.

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DEAN BECKER: The following segment courtesy CTV (Canada TV).

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REPORTER: For one family it seemed like the solution they have been looking for. Their little girl was having hundreds of seizures a day. The seizures stopped when they tried something new but as KENT MULGATT reports helping their daughter has left the parents feeling more like criminals.

KENT MULGATT: Just a few months ago the William’s family was hearing the worst possible news about the future of their daughter, Kyla, who is enduring constant seizures.

MRS. WILLIAMS: Every time she seizures her brain deteriorates so she was not given a long life.

MR. WILLIAMS: She is going to have a very short life and we might as well start planning a funeral for her right away.

KENT MULGATT: The family heard about marijuana oil and it’s not even permitted by Health Canada so they found a source and stepped into a world of legal uncertainty.

MRS. WILLIAMS: The first product we got we had to meet somebody in a parking lot.

KENT MULGATT: They were checking over their shoulders.

MRS. WILLIAMS: You know, we shouldn’t have to feel like that.

KENT MULGATT: But it was worth it. After finding the right kind of oil things were about to change.

MRS. WILLIAMS: Courtney phoned me and was so excited, “Mom, she hasn’t had a seizure!”

[tearing up] I can’t say what that did for us.

KENT MULGATT: Just two tiny drops a day and a child that once had 200 seizures each day has been seizure free for 3 weeks and counting.

MR. WILLIAMS: She can even grasp your hands and Kyla has she hasn’t normally done that before.

KENT MULGATT: Much to his surprise Kyla’s grandfather - an ex-cop – has become a marijuana advocate.

KAYLA’S GRANDFATHER: Not only on behalf of Kyla and my family but in regards to all the other kids across Canada and North America.

KENT MULGATT: Things are changing with respect to marijuana and the law but not fast enough for those who believe in its healing powers.

MALE ADVOCATE: Canada has to take this feedback from people who declare over and over again and actually provide a program for people.

KENT MULGATT: And while they celebrate their new hope the Williams and their family plan to keep up their part to keep up the pressure. Kent Mulgatt, CTV Summerland.

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DEAN BECKER: American chemist Alexander Sasha Shulgin best known for introducing the MDMA/Ecstasy drug to psychology passed away on Monday peacefully surrounded by friends and family. He was 88-years-old. Here to talk about his passing is the director of the Multidisciplinary Alliance for Psychedelic Studies, Dr. Rick Doblin.

Rick, we lost a great mind this week, a gentleman who awakened many to the possibilities of psychedelic drugs. Am I correct?

RICK DOBLIN: Yes, Sasha Shulgin died and what’s even more sad is that during the last couple years he had dementia so we had been losing him gradually over time.

DEAN BECKER: That happens to too many of us as we age out I suppose but he left a great legacy did he not?

RICK DOBLIN: Oh, my God, yes. He was almost 89. He was like one week away from 89.

The way I see it is he left 2 different legacies. One is in terms of the hundreds of psychedelics that he made - that he invented and tried on himself courageously. Of all of those discovering that MDMA had incredible therapeutic potential and then his sharing that with Leo Zep who is the leader of the Underground Psychedelic Psychotherapy Movement which then led to the MDMA use for widespread therapy use and led to the recreational market and ecstasy.

On the one hand this idea of how subtle the consciousness is – how tiny changes in little molecules can profoundly change how we think and how we practice feeling, thoughts, emotions and unconscious.

He was tremendous in that way but I think the other aspect of his legacy is that he was a profound believer in human rights and in the freedom of the individual to explore their own consciousness so even though his work initially required DEA licenses he was an outspoken opponent of prohibition and really stood up for the individual against the power of the state.

I think he did so in a very courageous way so he was not just a scientist with a lot of brilliant ideas but he also had the necessary courage to go with them.

DEAN BECKER: We have the situation now where a lot of kids are doing MDMA or supposed MDMA in clubs and so forth and maybe creating a little bit of bad publicity but we’re also learning that for many of our veterans returning with PTSD that MDMA is sometimes of great benefit, correct?

RICK DOBLIN: I would say that it is not MDMA itself it is MDMA assisted psychotherapy. The way we see psychedelics in general for therapeutic uses is that they are not the drugs in themselves that are the treatment but it is when they are used to enhance the therapy that makes it have profound healing effects.

Now of all the psychedelics MDMA is the one that is the most therapeutic in and of itself. There are a lot of people that take MDMA and seek out ecstasy and when they are lucky enough to actually get real MDMA a lot of people talk about profound healing that takes place even outside the therapeutic context.

I think we’ve learned that out of Sasha Shulgin’s lab and his community is going to become known in the future as major tools for the treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder not just in veterans but also in women survivors of childhood sexual abuse, some adult assault, accident victims, victims of natural disasters - all sorts of people that get that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because what we’ve shown in our research so far, our FDA-approved research is that when somebody has PTSD from whatever cause that it is very difficult to get over and that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can work regardless of the cause and the two medicines that are approved by the FDA for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (Zoloft and Paxil) barely work at all.

In many of the studies that were used for Paxil they only worked in women. They didn’t work in men so it’s really great news that we’ve discovered that MDMA-assisted therapy works in combat-related PTSD, in most post-sexual trauma (usually in women but not always) regardless of the cause of PTSD.

DEAN BECKER: You’ve been doing a lot of interviews as of late. What am I leaving out? What would you like to relay to the audience about Mr. Sasha Shulgin?

RICK DOBLIN: In some ways he was a major role model and mentor to me because what he was able to do was have the compassionate commitment to the role of psychedelics and consciousness exploration in therapy and spirituality and also profound sense for human rights and opposed to prohibition and, yet, he was able to carry out a very deep and personal relation with people in the DEA, the National Center for Drug Abuse, the drug czar’s office – really different worlds.

He did so with brilliance and integrity and I think that’s, in some ways, the most important thing to say about Sasha. He was a musician. He was a brilliant chemist. As part of his musicianship he was invited to the Bohemian Grove as part of a musical group. He was part of that for 3 or 4 years. He would be able to play music for them but also take walks. Some of them were already testing out different drugs that he manufactured.

He really had this ability to be bridging different divides that are not normally bridged. He did so without compromising his principles and being loved and respected. Eventually that did get him in trouble with the DEA where after his close friend who worked at the DEA for a decade and actually officiated at Sasha’s wedding...after he retired and after Sasha published TIKHAL (Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved) – his attempt to make it so the knowledge generated would be shared with the public and all these different kind of substances that created could be tested and evaluated by other people and needs could be developed for new markets...once his friend in the DEA retired, once he published that then there was a DEA raid that resulted in no charges but his license was taken away.

I think this idea of Sasha as a courageous bridge builder is the model for what we are trying to achieve with the mainstreaming of psychedelics so that these drugs will be available for people in the military to all sorts of people. We are also trying to point out that even police officers and firefighters suffer trauma as a part of their work so the defenders of the traditional drug war are hurting themselves by denying and suppressing the therapeutic use of MDMA but that’s no longer happening so I think in the future people will look back at the contributions of Sasha Shulgin and be so incredibly grateful.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, friends, once again we’ve been speaking with Mr. Rick Doblin, the director of Multidisplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. They are out there on the web at http://maps.org

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DEAN BECKER: The following segment is from the May 6, 2008 Century of Lies program. It features the voices of Sasha Shulgin and his wife Ann.

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SASHA SHULGIN: We just hope that eventually it falls out of the control of the government illegal side of things and gets into medicine. That’s what I like very much about the way it’s going in Switzerland. They have their medical problems but to them all these4 materials that are psychedelic are medical problems and medical concerns and not legal ones. Hence, the research is going on with Swiss support. It not going on in this country.

ANN SHULGIN: For people like me LSD and other psychedelics and visionary plants are tools for spiritual searching and that is not the easiest path in the world but it is the spiritual path that many, many thousands of people all over the world follow and someday that will happen.

SASHA SHULGIN: It will someday, I know.

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DEAN BECKER: Here’s Doug McVay to tell us what’s happening on this week’s Century of Lies program.

DOUG McVAY: Thanks, Dean. On this week’s Century of Lies we look at the Georgia program for urine testing people applying for food stamps and other welfare benefits – a program which the federal government is trying to stop and we take a look at the new Annual Policy and Statistical Report from the European union’s drugs monitoring agency, the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction.

That’s coming up later on this week’s Century of Lies show.

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[music: To Dream the Impossible Dream]

To dream...the American dream

To lie still and hope...with both of your eyes closed

To ignore...the nightmare that surrounds you

Just to try, try to reach the American dream

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DEAN BECKER: Folks, you got to do your part to end this madness.

As always I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.

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DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT Houston.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org