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Canada’s giant public health ‘experiment’ with legalized cannabis begins

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Many people in the medical field agree that with legalization Canada has opened the door to an unprecedented glimpse into the effects of cannabis on health.  

What they don’t agree on is whether that’s a good thing. 

Cannabis legalization is “a national, uncontrolled experiment,” family physician Dr. Diane Kelsall wrote in an editorial for the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

“Given the known and unknown health hazards of cannabis, any increase in use of recreational cannabis after legalization, whether by adults or youth, should be viewed as a failure.”

But many public health experts see the “experiment,” which began today, as a welcome development that will allow experts to learn more about cannabis and its effects on health — and remove the stigma for the many Canadians who already used marijuana.   

“We are not inventing cannabis with this,” said David Hammond, a professor of applied public health at the University of Waterloo. 

 “Whether people are for or against it, one of the upshots of legalization is that we are able — and in fact forced — to talk about a lot of things that we should have been addressing many years ago.” 

‘Whether people are for or against it, one of the upshots of legalization is that we are able — and in fact forced — to talk about a lot of things that we should have been addressing many years ago,’ says David Hammond of the University of Waterloo. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Canada has the opportunity to “be a very key international generator of knowledge on cannabis risk and harms, but also potentially some of the benefits,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer.

There are some groups of people who face particular risk factors when it comes to cannabis use — and that’s who public health experts will be watching particularly closely in the coming weeks, months and years: 

Adolescents and young adults

Experts agree that a better understanding of how cannabis affects the brain development of adolescents and young adults is needed.

Under the federal cannabis law, users must be at least 18 years old. Some provinces and territories have set the minimum age at 19. 

But scientists know the brain isn’t fully formed until about age 25, so many experts urge teens to wait as long as possible if they choose to use marijuana. 

Using cannabis before age 25 puts young people at risk of “messing … with the architecture of the brain, which is not yet finalized,” said Dr. Romina Mizrahi, a specialist in neuropharmacology at Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. 

Using cannabis regularly as an adolescent could also increase the risk of addiction or dependence, said Hammond. 

“Early, frequent use is one of the best predictors of future serious problems with a substance,” he said. 

At the same time, he said, it’s important that public health messaging convey the risk without disproportionately scaring people into thinking that “if some kid goes and tries it at a party … that all of the sudden they’re going to be, you know, an addict in the back alley.”
 

Because the effects of cannabis aren’t fully understood, “it’s useful to think about it in terms of alcohol,” Hammond said. 

“Many kids experiment with this, but if you or a friend is using this on a daily or near-daily basis, that’s a concern.” 

People at risk for mental illness

There is strong evidence linking cannabis use to schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis — but researchers don’t know exactly why.  

Although most people who use cannabis will not experience psychosis, those who are already predisposed to developing it are at particular risk when they are young, said Mizrahi, who is also the head of the youth psychosis prevention clinic at CAMH. 

Using cannabis is risky for adolescents and young adults because it affects brain development, says Dr. Romina Mizrahi, a specialist in neuropharmacology at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

“It’s believed that cannabis acts as a trigger in those people,” she said, noting that further research is needed to determine the “mechanisms” in the brain that cause that to happen. 

“It may be that schizophrenia or psychosis … would have developed anyway,” she said.

“But at this point in time there is no question that early use of cannabis — before the age of 16 — and regular use … daily [or] every other day, is associated with higher risk of psychosis in youth,” she said.

Although it’s difficult to predict who is at risk for developing psychosis, people who have a close family member with schizophrenia or a history of psychotic episodes should be careful about using cannabis, Mizrahi said. 

But where research has shown a “robust concern” about cannabis use among people who are susceptible to psychosis, there is no definitive guidance to offer on other mental issues such as depression or anxiety, said Hammond. 

“That is one of those areas that we need to learn a lot more [about],” he said. 

Many cannabis users have said it helps them manage their depression or anxiety — but there is also conflicting research showing the drug can worsen symptoms. 

Pregnant women

Little is known about the effect of cannabis on a developing fetus. 

“We, certainly in terms of guidance, recommend as a precautionary approach avoiding using substances during the time of pregnancy as it could impact the developing baby,” said Tam. “For example, potentially a lower weight and later on in life, for example, [it] could impact their ability to perform well in school.”   

The recommendation follows the same line of reasoning used for other substances known to be harmful, such as alcohol or smoking tobacco, she said.   

“At the moment there is no known safe level” of cannabis use in pregnancy, Tam said.  

Seniors

Although much of the public health conversation ahead of cannabis legalization has centred on concerns around young people, “the rates of use among seniors is growing the fastest across the Canadian population,” said Fiona Clement, an associate professor of health policy at the University of Calgary.

Clement said it’s important to study the use of cannabis among people over age 65 — especially in terms of how it might affect chronic illness and multiple prescription medications.  

Cannabis user and grandmother Carol Francey, also known as Granny Grass, is seen using her vaporizer at her home in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

“We know very little about the drug-on-drug interactions that are possible and the risks to things like … heart disease and stroke and COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease],” she said. “All of those things … are just more prevalent in an older population.” 

‘Start low and go slow’

Health Canada will also be monitoring how cannabis legalization affects use among the general population. For those who decide they want to try using it for the first time, their advice is start low and go slow.”

That means choosing marijuana with lower amounts of THC — the ingredient that makes people high — and “equal or higher amounts of CBD (cannabidiol).” CBD is believed to counteract some of the effects of THC and is also the ingredient often studied for possible medical or therapeutic benefits. 

Tam said public health experts throughout the country are acutely aware that the world is watching how Canada handles “one of the biggest drug policy changes for many decades.” 

“[It] does provide us with essentially the opportunity to be leaders,” she said. “But also the expectation that we’ll be providing the type of evaluation … and research that people are looking for.” 

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Post-vaccine surge? Michigan’s spring coronavirus case spike close to previous year’s autumn high

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(Natural News) The spike in new Wuhan coronavirus infections recorded in Michigan over the spring is similar to a spike seen during the 2020 fall season. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the state’s daily coronavirus case count averaged more than 7,000 for almost two weeks – before taking a slight dip to 6,891 on April 20. This echoed similar figures back in November and December 2020, which saw sharp rises in infections for those two months before plunging.

Back in autumn of last year, Michigan averaged more than 7,000 cases per day for a span of 10 days. New infections dropped slightly, then briefly spiked as the December holidays approached. It then fell to the low 1,000s for the succeeding two months – until ascending again in March.

According to University of Michigan internal medicine professor Dr. Vikas Parekh, the sudden increase in new infections could be attributed to several factors. Among the factors he cited was re-openings, which increased people’s interactions and mobility. Parekh said the loosened restrictions contributed to the spread of the highly contagious U.K. B117 variant.

“As the B117 variant spreads nationally, we will likely see other stats [with] their own surges – although I hope none are as bad as Michigan,” the professor remarked. He continued: “The milestone just tells us we are not yet in the clear, especially as we still have large portions of our population who are not vaccinated yet.”

Parekh also expressed optimism over the lower daily caseloads the Great Lakes State reported. He said he believes both cases and hospitalizations have plateaued and will likely decline soon. The professor commented: “[COVID-19] positivity has been declining now for one week, which is usually a leading indicator of case decline.”

Meanwhile, the state cited younger populations and youth sports, such as basketball, wrestling and hockey, to increase new COVID-19 infections. Because of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called to suspend youth sports and indoor dining in the state. She also exhorted high schools to conduct remote class sessions for two weeks to curb the spread of the pathogen.

Michigan still experienced the spike in cases despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country

During the opening stages of the U.S.’s immunization drive against COVID-19, Michigan boasted of having one of the highest vaccination rates nationwide. A report by Bridge Michigan even noted the initial “frenzy for vaccines” that “far exceeded the state’s limited supply.” But things have appeared to turn around for Michigan, as it now struggles to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

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Scottish mom’s legs turn into a pair of “giant blisters” after first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

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(Natural News) Sarah Beuckmann of Glasgow, Scotland, felt a tingling sensation in her legs and noticed a rash flaring up around her ankles a week after getting her first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 18.

She also had flu-like symptoms right after the vaccination.

Beuckmann called her doctor to arrange an appointment the morning she noticed the rash, but by the afternoon her skin was already breaking out into blood-filled blisters. Blisters also appeared on her legs, hands, face, arms and bottom.

“I ended up asking my husband to take me to A&E,” said Beuckmann, referring to “accident and emergency,” the equivalent of an emergency room (ER). “When I got there, my heart rate was sitting at 160bpm, which they were very concerned about. I got put on an ECG machine.”

Doctors determine AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine triggers the rash

Medics carried out tests for HIV, herpes and other skin conditions to work out what triggered the rash, but all results came back negative. Doctors finally determined that the vaccine caused her rare reaction after carrying out two biopsies.

“Once they found that it was a reaction to the vaccine, they put me on steroids and that really seems to be helping my progress,” said Beuckmann. She had been advised by her doctor not to get the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of her reaction.

Beuckmann spent 16 days at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She was discharged to recover at home. The 34-year-old mother of one is currently wheelchair-bound due to the bandages on her legs and blisters on the soles of her feet. She may need physiotherapy to help strengthen her leg muscles.

“They are starting to heal and they’re looking a lot better than they were but as the blisters started to get worse, they all sort of merged together,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

With the blisters merging, her legs have looked like a pair of “giant blisters.” Beuckmann admitted that at one point she feared her legs might have to be amputated.

Dermatologist agrees COVID-19 vaccine causes the blisters

Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman at the British Skin Foundation, agreed that Beuckmann had likely suffered a reaction to the vaccine.

“Vaccines are designed to activate the immune system. Occasionally people will have quite dramatic activation of their immune systems which, as happened in this case, can manifest in their skin” Wedgeworth told MailOnline. “This poor lady had a very severe reaction, which thankfully is extremely rare.”

It is not clear why Beuckmann, who works in retail, was invited for a vaccine. Scotland’s vaccine rollout was focused on people over the age of 50 when she got vaccinated, although vaccines are available to those who are considered at risk from the virus, or live with someone considered vulnerable.

At least 20 million Briton have had AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which drug regulators say causes a rash in one percent of cases. They say rashes caused by the jab tend to go away within a week.

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Trojan labs? Chinese biotech company offers to build COVID testing labs in six states

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In 2012, BGI acquired Complete Genomics, a DNA sequencing company and equipment maker. The funds for the $117.6 million purchase were raised from Chinese venture capitals. The company has expanded its footprint globally. According to its website, BGI conducts business in more than 100 countries and areas and has 11 offices and labs in the U.S.

People are concerned about China’s access to American DNA data

Some said that with Complete Genomics providing an American base, BGI would have access to more DNA samples from Americans, helping it compile a huge database of genetic information. Some also worried about the protection of the genetic information’s privacy.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), BGI “has formed numerous partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers and research organizations to provide large-scale genetic sequencing to support medical research efforts,”

There are three main reasons why many people in the biotech community and government have expressed concerns about China’s access to American DNA data.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Evanina discussed the very likely scenario in which Chinese companies would be able to micro-target American individuals and offer customized preventative solutions based on their DNA.

Evanina asked: “Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our healthcare services? Are we okay with that as a nation?”

The second concern is that China may use DNA to track and attack American individuals. As the USCC report states: “China could target vulnerabilities in specific individuals brought to light by genomic data or health records. Individuals targeted in such attacks would likely be strategically identified persons, such as diplomats, politicians, high-ranking federal officials or military leadership.”

The third concern is that China may devise bioweapons to target non-Asians. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, discussed it in his article “What Will China Do With Your DNA?” published by The Epoch Times in March 2019.

He wrote: “We know that the Asian genome is genetically distinct from the Caucasian and African in many ways. … Would it be possible to bioengineer a very virulent version of, say, smallpox, that was easily transmitted, fatal to other races, but to which the Chinese enjoyed a natural immunity? … Given our present ability to manipulate genomes, if such a bio-weapon can be imagined, it can probably – given enough time and resources – be realized.”

An article from Technocracy said: “China’s aggressive collection of American DNA should be doubly alarming because it can only spell one ultimate outcome: biowarfare. That is, genetically engineering viruses or other diseases that will be selectively harmful to U.S. populations.”

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