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A Journey Into Space

with Bill “Spaceman” Lee

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Today’s cannabis news often mentions former professional athletes advocating for cannabis law reform, starting their own cannabis businesses, or investing in the cannabis industry. 2019 saw headlines about CBD products being sold in stores like GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe for the very first time; two franchises whose primary consumers are athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Cannabis is not only commonly associated with athletes, it’s becoming mainstream in the athletic community, even though athletes have been consuming it almost secretly amongst themselves for a very long time. This means athletes consuming cannabis is nothing new, but professional athletes openly talking to the press about it is, unless you’re Bill Lee. 

Bill Lee is a baseball legend. He is a left-handed pitcher who played for the Boston Red Sox from 1969-1978 and then the Montreal Expos from 1979-1982. Lee was on the 1973 American League All Star Team. In his career, he pitched 119 winning games, with a lifetime ERA of 3.62 and was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2008 for pitching the most games as a lefty, and for having the 3rd highest win total by a left-handed pitcher. He plays ball to this day, and in 2010, at age 63, he set the record as the oldest pitcher to win a professional baseball game, only before beating his own record again at the age of 65 in 2012.  

Lee is famous for his comments to press as much as his successful career in America’s favorite pastime. At a time when the league was very conservative, Lee was seen as eccentric by being very outspoken about his opinions and ideologies, so much so, the press nicknamed him Spaceman. He was even outspoken enough to admit using cannabis to the press, which got him fined $250 by Bowie Kuhn, the MLB Commissioner at the time. In 1980, he was featured on the cover of High Times, where the cover stated, “What would happen if Bowie Kuhn levied a $250 fine against every player in baseball who smoked dope? Bill Lee says, ‘He’d be a rich man’.”

Their mandatory drug testing, I think, was flawed from the beginning.

This was one of the first times an athlete consuming cannabis was featured on the cover of a magazine, not only admitting to using cannabis himself, but suggesting lots of major league baseball players do too. The catch was, Lee never said he smoked cannabis, although he did smoke it. The story was, he sprinkled raw cannabis on his buckwheat pancakes, and Lee tells us, “When Bowie found out that I didn’t say I smoked it, he sent me a letter and fined me $250 for using it as a condiment, and I still have that letter.”

Looking back on his High Times cover feature, Lee said he never imagined cannabis would become an integrated part of sports in the future, as it’s starting to now. He says, “Only over the history of learning that the Chinese use the seeds back 3000 years ago, and the fact that it has been an integral part of our culture, I’ve found out that shamans and the witchdoctors, and everybody else had always used it. And then I always thought it had good properties. You know, everybody says it’s a gateway drug, but I’ve always found it as the drug that gets you off of everything else. It’s always kept me from drinking too much. I remember when I left Montreal, I bought an ounce of weed and I drove my Volkswagen bus all the way to California. When I got to California, I had no problems. So I’ve always thought that if it’s a gateway drug then it must be a gateway to the golden gateway.” Lee’s life story even took to the big screen in 2016, when he was played by Josh Duhamel, in the movie titled, “Spaceman.”

Lee actually first tried cannabis while attending the University of Southern California, where he roomed with long distance runners who smoked it. He doesn’t feel like their choice to consume influenced his decision to try it, but rather, “It just happened to be coincidental at that time, and the fact that they seemed to be able to run a lot better. I’ve always thought it definitely opens up your alveoli. Those sacks are there so you can relay more oxygen, and they tend to run very well. And you know what? That probably helps you handle the pain and the stress of running, through all the other ingredients in it, including the THC and the CBD. If you get a mixture of 50/50, you know, you could probably run all day. It tends to make you focus. People say you catch people staring off into the distance and everything else, but you know, when your heart is beating perfectly, you’re running, and you get that endorphin high, it seems like you can go forever.”

Another experience Lee had with plant based medicines and athletics, was with mescaline, a psychedelic compound extracted from different mescaline containing cacti. “I used to snort mescaline. I remember I ran six miles in a rainstorm when I got rained out of Minnesota one day. Peter Gammons (a famous American sportswriter) came up to me to interview me before the rain out and I was all wired up. I said, ‘Peter, you’ve got to take off that shirt. That pink line is jumping out at me’. He laughed and added, “I remember running through the rain drops with a smile on my face for six miles in Minnesota. One of the greatest runs of my life.”

This intertwined relationship between plants, cannabis, and sports continued, even when Lee first met his friend, Cheech Marin, one half of the iconic stoner comedy duo, Cheech & Chong. “We first met playing basketball. We used to play basketball on Wednesday nights. We played two nights a week down in Malibu in ’76. We would play pickup basketball, and then we’d go out and smoke a doobie. Then we’d head on home and do it all over again the next day.” Lee said, laughing at the memories. 

He also thought back to the inner baseball culture during his time of play, and how drugs like amphetamines and stimulants were readily available. “There was a bowl in front of everybody. Shoot, everybody was taking greenies and stuff, and I found out those were counterproductive to me. I believe that it forced people to throw too hard and not learn how to pitch. It was basically a drug because we drank too much and everybody would have to take your greenie just to make it back on the field the next day.”

This sounds a lot like the opioid problem we have in the NFL today. Sports teams pushing pills to keep their players on the fields to earn money for the franchise is nothing new. In mid December 2019, the MLB announced removing cannabis from its banned substance list in the minor leagues. It previously did not require mandatory drug testing for cannabis, but the minor leagues did. Lee’s opinion of the current culture of cannabis and drug testing in the MLB today is that, “They’re neanderthals (referring to the people managing the MLB). I mean, they’ve been slow to go to free agency. They’re slow to do this. Their mandatory drug testing, I think, was flawed from the beginning. All these people got kicked out of the game, the McGuire’s and the Canseco’s, and everybody else. But the problem is economics. That’s why we have the problems in our capitalistic system where we don’t take care of the poor. We don’t take care of the incarcerated. We don’t take care of a lot of people that we should and that’s why I’m more of a socialist. And I always will be, like Eugene Debs.”

Everybody says it’s a gateway drug, but I’ve always found it as the drug that gets you off of everything else.

Eugene Debs was an American socialist and five time candidate for President of the United States, representing the Socialist Party of America, in the early 1900’s. Lee himself entered the political arena when he ran as the Liberty Union Party’s candidate for Governor of Vermont, in 2016. He ran on a very left wing campaign, during which, he told TIME Magazine, “I’m an anti-prohibition guy. I think everything should be taxed, legalized.” Although Lee didn’t win the election, Vermont fully legalized recreational cannabis in July of 2018. It had been legalized medically in 2004, but Lee tells us, “Hell, it’s always been legal up here. No one’s cracking down on it. You know, as long as you treat your neighbor nice, we’re kind of a self-governing place. And where I live in the Northeast Kingdom, way up here, no one is going to get bothered. We haven’t been bothered here for 30 years.”

In reference to federal legalization, Lee said, “Everything in Vermont is going to hemp. Everything’s going that way. I think maybe the federal government will start legalizing it a little more, instead of coming down on it, and having this battle between state’s rights and federal rights.” Federal legalization is definitely something we can all hope for, and the future is looking promising with more states legalizing at the turn of every major election. 

Nowadays, when Lee isn’t openly sharing his opinions and views with the world, his hobbies include traveling, making baseball bats, and even making wine. He’s produced his very own brand of wine called Spaceman Wines, and makes his own bats made from wood sourced in Vermont. Even with his hobbies and advocacy for cannabis, no matter how busy he gets, nothing can keep him away from his true love, the game of baseball. To this day, Lee still plays in the Roy Hobbs League, and the Men’s Senior Baseball League. When it comes to his cannabis use, he says he doesn’t smoke as much as he used to. “I don’t think I’m the consumer that I used to be, that’s for sure. I do use CBD oil, a lot of that. Sometimes people give me edibles, and I take a puff every once in a while. It seems like everybody in the world wants to smoke with me”. 

After having the opportunity to learn more about the complexity of Bill “Spaceman” Lee, I believe we can all agree, he’s definitely someone you’d like to spark up more than just a conversation with, because you never quite know how deep into space Lee’s discussion will take you.

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Keeping Love + Faith Alive

After losing 36 to Covid-19

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What started as a “Shelter in Place” check-in with friends Barbara and Daniel Melvin, grew into this article about a family with extreme losses to COVID-19. Barb first told me they had lost 12 family members and friends from COVID-19 in mid-April. By the end of April, the number had grown to 33. The current count is 40 family and friends lost to COVID-19 as of May 18, 2020.

Daniel and Barbara lived in Detroit before relocating to Naples, Florida, in 2001. Barbara has worked in banking for 30 years and is currently a Vice President at First Florida Integrity Bank. Dan is a multi-talented singer, radio personality, and entrepreneur. They are two of the happiest, kindest, giving, and loving people you could be lucky enough to know.

Together, they have worked to give back to their community through philanthropic endeavors, as well as volunteering on numerous nonprofit boards. They celebrate their mutual birthdays, Sept 6 & 10 by holding an annual event called “Party Hearty for Charity,” formerly known as “Party with a Purpose,” their nonprofit organization., They have raised over $90K in the past six years to help support several nonprofit organizations in SouthWest FL.

Barb says, “The coronavirus is real. I first heard about it in March, but like everyone else, we didn’t understand it, and at that time, we didn’t personally know anyone that was sick from it. Then, as time went on, we started to hear about people that we knew who were dying. My husband and I hated to wake up and look at Facebook because it seemed every time we checked someone close to us or someone we knew had died.”

Barbara tells us, some of the churches in Detroit continued to hold services, after the recommendation not to gather in large numbers. The members met to seek comfort in the face of the pandemic. Barbara believes that was crucial for most of the people she knows who were infected and died.

How could one couple know so many people who have passed from COVID-19? They are an extensive close-knit family, descendants of Tom and Etta Rhoades, born slaves. Tom and Etta’s dreams were to keep their descendants together spiritually, in harmony, and in brotherly love. They have honored their ancestors by gathering each year, for 46 years, for a three-day family reunion. Friday is meet and greet (you would need it with over 200 attending). Saturday is picnic time, complete with a softball game between the North and the South. Sunday, everyone goes to a local church, followed by a family dinner. With all those family members together, not an argument or fight ever. Until 2020, when the pandemic hit the family, and they canceled the family reunion.

Barbara shares with us information on a few of those they have lost. “My aunt, Mary Rhoades, died on April 22, 2020, she was 97 years old. She was in good health, and we were praying she made it to 100.” Several of her siblings had achieved that milestone, and she was reasonably healthy for 97 years of age so that expectation was a real one. “Aunt Mary became infected in early April; two weeks later, she was gone. She went to the hospital in Philadelphia for minor surgery, and we believe she was infected there. What hurts the most is she died alone; no family or friends could visit her.”

“Jason Hargrove was a close friend of ours. He was the bus driver who went on Facebook Live to talk about a woman coughing on his bus without covering her mouth. Two weeks later, he was diagnosed with the coronavirus, and he died shortly thereafter. His death was not in vain as the Detroit Department of Transportation made many changes to enhance the safety of their drivers. Jason was a Deacon at my church.”

Barbara continues, “Another close friend of ours was Larry Griffin. He died on April 16. He sang in my husband’s band called “In Full Effect” when they were performing in Detroit. He continued to sing in a new band called “Serieux,” who performed mostly in Detroit but also in Las Vegas. He had a beautiful voice and some great dance moves. He was so healthy until he caught the virus, and, in weeks, he was gone.”

“It spread so much faster in the churches. Many Pastors we knew caught the virus and were gone. They were older and many had health issues, when the virus attacked them they could not fight it off. These 4 Pastors were all a part of the Church of God In Christ (COGIC). Many had large congregations and were still holding services after the call for social distancing. These great men are a true loss for the COGIC community.”

“On April 23, we lost a very dear friend of mine, Lynn Raimey. I called her my sister as her father was the Pastor of my church in Detroit. Her family took me in and treated me like family when I first moved to Detroit and didn’t know anyone. She had many health issues, so when she was infected by the virus, it killed her very quickly.”

“Although we have lost many family, friends, and associates, we know God is good, and he continues to show us favor even through the midst of this storm. Even though we know of many deaths, we also know of many survivors and to that we are grateful. These people are given a second chance so their test can become their testimony. I know of an entire household, The Washington family of Detroit, who are survivors. Pastor Jamonty, his wife Tamela and their daughter Ariel Washington all recovered and are doing well.”

Barb specifically finds strength in the Beatitudes; “Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. It is during these tough times of losing loveda ones that I can refer to scripture to give me the comfort I and my family needs. The question is have you ever suffered? Please know that we all have. But I have come to know through leaning on God and his word, he meets me at my very point of need. As believers, the Bible speaks about plagues and famine and death, and its teachings prepare us for what life has to offer. Oftentimes we don’t understand the current situations, but when we look back, we realize this had to happen.”

As of May 5, 2020, there have been over 72,000 deaths in the United States, and over 257,000 deaths Worldwide. It is critical to find strength either within or in a higher power, focus on the positive, and stay connected.

It is GRAM’s honor to recognize this incredible family.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.


In Memoriam

Family & Friends Lost to Covid-19 (35 as of 5/5/20)

Mary R. – PA

Jason H. – MI

Rachelle Lynn R. – MI

Rev. O’Neil S. – MI

Gerald H. – MI

Curtis H. – MI

Larry G. – MI

Rosalind C. – MI

Rev. Gerald G. – VA

Skylar H. – MI

Rev. David F. – MI 

Laneeka B. – MI

Ejuan W. – MI

Darnielita B. – MI

Bishop Phillip B. – MI

Bishop Robert S. – MI

Bishop Robert H. – MI

Tatia W. – MI

Rev. Lonie J. – MI

Carrie W. – MI

Helena J. – VA

James J. – VA

Robert J. – VA

Annette W. – NY

Helen L. – MD

Walter H. – DC

Carol T. – DE

Benjamin T. – DC

William B. – KY

Daniel R. – TX

Karen S. – NC

Denise B. – NC

Doris M. – OH

Trina D. – MI

Earl T. – VA

Nathaniel S. – MI

Lonnie L. – MI

Nathaniel S. Sr. – MI

Nathaniel S. Jr. – MI

Angel R. – IL

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Americans for Safe Access + Covid

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Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the mission of ensuring safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. The organization began in 2002 and has been helping educate people, change laws, and get more research out there about the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis. “We also care about safety, and we want to make sure patients are using cannabis safely and legally throughout the United States,” explains Debbie Churgai, Interim Director for ASA. 

GRAM sat down with Churgai to discuss how they are handling COVID-19 for patients throughout the U.S. She tells us, “When it first started, patients were really concerned about there being a lack of access to their medicine. So, one of the first things we did was host a stakeholders call. We contacted a bunch of people: patients, industry professionals, medical professionals, legal professionals, and within two hours, 15-20 people were on the phone strategizing. From that phone call, we then created a letter that we sent to Governors, medical cannabis commissions, and health departments urging them to keep medical cannabis businesses as essential, not just the dispensary but also cultivation and manufacturers so that there was no stop in production or supply chain.”

“It also meant, we needed to make sure patients were receiving safe products, that employees were also being kept safe. Then we started thinking about delivery for states that did not have that yet, and the states that did not yet offer telehealth – we wanted to encourage the changing of regulations at least temporarily to help accommodate the patients. As well as things like tax relief and adding additional caregivers, it wasn’t just about keeping businesses open, it was about making sure that patients were being protected and that products and employees were safe.”

In Colorado, we have seen dispensaries adapt to this crisis by adding hand sanitizer at checkout counters, wearing gloves and masks and only allowing one person in the purchasing area at a time. 33 states now have some sort of medical cannabis program.

According to news around the U.S., cannabis is now considered essential. But it wasn’t that way at first. According to Churgai, “Some states seemed to hold back on making any temporary changes in regulations. Within two weeks though, all the other states began implementing the suggestions we recommended.” 

We needed to make sure patients were receiving safe products, that employees were also being kept safe.

“California has reached out more than any other state, I believe that is due to the fact that every single county there is different, from its tax structure to its implementation of the laws. Massachusetts was high with the questions as well because of them deciding to close down their recreational dispensaries for adult use. Now there is an influx of new patients. Now there are new concerns.” 

Each state has a different set of rules and regulations surrounding their medical cannabis programs. “We wanted businesses to all have the same information so we offered a live training on health and safety during COVID-19, that can now be purchased as part of our Patient Focused Certification.1 In the training we provide information such as how to properly put on and take off gloves, how to properly touch things, how to properly sanitize surfaces, and more to make sure that businesses are being as safe as possible during this time.”

“When we realized that we helped assist in making these services essential, we wanted to learn how they actually worked for patients throughout the U.S. We wanted to understand, what do they still need during this time? Are their needs being met as patients? Would they like to see services like telehealth and delivery continue after COVID-19? We realize that we really need to streamline our advocacy efforts at this time, and we felt the survey would be a great way to learn what we can do for patients out there,” Churgai explains.


Help ASA discover what patients need around the United States.

Take the survey here: https://www.safeaccessnow.org/covid-19_survey


COVID-19 Patient Experience Survey asks questions like:

• How do you obtain cannabis?
• Do you feel you are at risk for covid and why?
• Rate your state’s response to the covid crisis.
• How should your state be assisting you more?

Patients are at greater risk for a variety of reasons so ASA is working to ensure that the needs of patients are taken into account. So, in addition to creating this survey, Americans for Safe Access has also created a page on their website dedicated to resources for patients seeking information surrounding COVID-19.2

Churgai says, “Cannabis is real medicine. I have been in this industry for so long, and I am a realist, and I know things will not change overnight. But I do feel the pandemic has highlighted the need for this medicine to be seen as real medicine. At ASA, patients are our priority, we are unbiased, we are not paid to play, and patients will always be our top priority.” You can learn all about Americans for Safe Access by visiting their website: https://www.safeaccessnow.org/


References:
1. http://www.patientfocusedcertification/training/a-la-carte-trainings/
2. https://www.safeaccessnow.org/covid-19

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Trends in Endocrinology + Metabolism

The quest for a healthy
Endo-Cannabinoid System (ECS)
Emphasis on immunoregulation

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The ECS is a disperse system, extending throughout the body; it is in constant interplay with all other organ systems promoting homeostasis in almost every aspect. Despite that, the ECS is still neglected and not included in the curricula of medical schools. For this reason a few introductory notes are in order (Battista et al, 2012). The ECS is the regulator of cognition, mood, nociception, energy metabolism, oxidation, inflammatory processes and a disease modifier as well (Tantimonaco et al, 2014).

The ECS consists of receptors, ligands to these receptors and enzymes that synthesize and degrade these ligands. The number of known endocannabinoid receptors is still growing to more that 55; the two most outstanding receptors are CB1R, mainly distributed throughout the nervous system and responsible for the psychoactivity of cannabis, and CB2R, mainly distributed on immune cells, even those “disguised” as specialized cells within other organs. Other receptors include TRPVx, GPR55, PPaRs etc; all these receptors form dimers between them as well as heterodimers with other types of receptors, like opioid, dopamine, serotonin, adenosine, catecholamine receptors and many others, thereby promoting a universal regulatory interplay throughout the body. The ligands to these receptors are the endocannabinoids (ECs): lipids of the eicosanoid family, derivatives of arachidonic acid (AA); the latter abounds in cell membranes; five of these are well characterized to date, but two are well studied: Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoyl-Glycerole (2AG). ECs in the nervous system act in negative feedback loops, more or less like neurotransmitters, but, unlike them, they are synthesized and degraded on demand, and not stored in micro-vesicles. Several formerly unrelated morbid conditions are now recognized as ECS deficiencies, including, among many, migraine, autism, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, etc (Russo, 2016).

The endocannabinoid system is involved in immunoregulation through the CB2 receptor and through receptor independent biochemical pathways. The mechanisms of immunoregulation by ECs include modulation of immune response in different cell types, effect on cytokine network and induction of immunoapoptosis; in brief, ECs down-regulate the innate and adaptive immune response in most, but not all, instances. Manipulation of endocannabinoids in vivo may constitute a novel treatment modality against inflammatory disorders.

It is obvious that the health of the ECS is of great importance in many ways, including the facing of a viral infection like COVID-19. A healthy ECS depends on many factors, most importantly from proper nutrition (McPartland et al, 2014).

Dietary ω3 fatty acids seem to act as homeostatic regulators of the ECS, acting in opposite directions if consumed by obese or non-obese individuals. Little change in EC levels are seen in individuals with normal weight, not fed a high ω6 diet.

Dietary ω6 fatty acids are also essential, but should be in a balance to ω3s; suggested balance is ω3:ω6=1:1 to 1:3 for proper ECS signaling and prevention of peroxidation in general. Arachidonic acid is an essential component of the ω6 fatty acids.

Probiotics and prebiotics play a significant part in ECS health, but, for a bizarre reason, they are generally not mentioned: They up-regulate CB2Rs residing on immune cells of the gut; they also modulate CB1Rs, depending on conditions, for instance, they down-regulate CB1Rs in obese individuals and help them gain less or no fat.

Some flavonoids, like kaempferol, genistein, epigallocatechine gallate, and curcumin enhance the ECS; same happens with some anthocyanidins, like cyanidin and delphinidin, although with a different mechanism.

Phthalates, pesticides, additives to pesticides like piperonyl butoxide act as ECS disruptors, meaning that consuming organic food may be a sound protective measure, along with intake of detoxifiers, in case of health problems consistent with ECS deficiency not otherwise explained.

Chronic stress impairs the ECS by decreasing levels of AEA and 2AG, and possibly through changes in CB1R expression too. Stress management may reverse the effects of chronic stress on ECS signaling. Anecdotal reports and common experience suggest that techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises and practicing of sex as well, exhibit mild cannabimimetic effects, thereby balancing the system.

Exercise is also an ECS regulator: Long-term exercise leads to sustained elevations of ECs, and predictable CB1R down-regulation.

Chronic alcohol consumption and binge drinking likely desensitize or down-regulate CB1R and impair EC signaling. Alcohol is not compatible with a healthy ECS.

Nicotine is an ECS deregulator: It induces EC production in some areas of the brain, while decreasing them in others. It should be avoided too.

Caffeine, acutely administered, potentiates CB1R-mediated effects through antagonizing adenosine at the A1 receptor (AA1R). At the undisturbed state, AA1Rs tonically inhibit CB1R activity; Caffeine antagonism on AA1Rs sets CB1Rs free of inhibition, thereby enhancing ECS function, for example by letting 2AG activate CB1Rs. During chronic administration of caffeine, the effects are blurred by individual differences in adaptation. In general, CB1Rs are down-regulated.

Chocolate: Cocoa contains sm-all amounts of at least three N-acyl-ethanolamines with cannabimimetic activity, expressed either directly by activating cannabinoid receptors, or indirectly, by increasing AEA levels (di Tomaso et al, 1996).


Selected Bibliography:

Battista et al, 2012: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3303140/

Tantimonacco et al, 2014: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24526057/

(Russo, 2016): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28861491/

(McPartland et al, 2014): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951193/

(di Tomaso et al, 1996): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8751435/

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