Happy New Year's Eve! 2016 was quite an interesting year for psychedelic news. There was a healthy mix of accurate reporting and way-off mainstream media “reports” to choose from, and this blog post shares the major themes and trends that showed up this year.
My approach to the weekly “This Week in Psychedelics” column this year changed a bit. Instead of trying to include literally every drug-related news story I came across each week (which is quite a task, let me tell you!), I attempted to limit the amount of links that I shared by shifting my focus in a couple ways. For one, I attempted to eliminate duplicate stories that were published during the same week, although if the story was repeated in another publication on a subsequent week I did include it. And although there were plenty of drug-related crime reports, I stuck to only sharing the most noteworthy ones.
We’ve got a lot to cover this year, so let’s get started.
This particular herb shows up in the media more than any other psychoactive drug each year, and 2016 was no different. Part of that may have to do with the fact that people tend to have a fondness for cannabis no matter what other drugs they like to take. Regardless of the reason, there was an insane amount of cannabis news this year. We learned a bit about how legalization has affected American youths—places that have loosened up their cannabis laws, like Colorado and Washington, are associated with declining teen access and use. Annual marijuana arrests in NYC dropped a ton in 2015, a leading rabbi ruled that weed is kosher for Passover, and a huge cannabis festival in D.C. pushed for legalization. A British company is developing a field sobriety test for pot, a man ran an enormous cannabis factory next to a police headquarters, a car was built out of hemp, Microsoft partnered with a marijuana software company, the cannabis craze has come to cocktails, and a guy legally changed his name to “Free Cannabis.” If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is. An ancient cannabis burial shroud was discovered, Tommy Chong asked for Obama’s pardon for a drug paraphernalia conviction, and Allen St. Pierre tendered his resignation after serving 25 years as Deputy Director (and later, Executive Director) of NORML. Meanwhile, Facebook started deleting medical marijuana pages, emergency room visits doubled for cannabis-using Colorado visitors, Montreal police arrested the “Prince of Pot,” and Nevada accidentally leaked thousands of medical marijuana dispensary applications.
Cannabis research studies were published left and right, showing that the facts that weed doesn’t have a direct effect on IQ, doesn’t make biking dangerous, and doesn’t cause anxiety and depression. Others found that alcohol and tobacco typically precede marijuana use, cannabis is associated with decreased migraine frequency, and vaporization is capable of delivering a safe and reliable dose of cannabinoids. CBD oil was found to be “highly promising” in pediatric epilepsy treatment, there hasn’t been an increase in prevalence of cannabis use disorders, and long-term cannabis use is associated with improved pain relief and reduced opioid use. In fact, long-term users are pretty healthy after all—gum disease is the only real health risk. Medical marijuana laws are associated with fewer traffic fatalities, and diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s were all successfully treated with cannabis. And other studies showed that marijuana may improve night vision, benefit mental health, and could be a efficacious treatment for sports injuries. However, not every study was positive—one found that cannabis use is linked to worse treatment outcomes for psychosis patients. Looking ahead to the future, the NY Health Department sponsored a new medical cannabis study, the DEA finally approved a study on cannabis and PTSD (after spending four decades obstructing marijuana science), and NFL player Eugene Monroe donated $80,000 to medical cannabis research.
Public opinion sure has changed a lot over the past few decades. The majority of voters in the United States and England want to legalize cannabis, and military veterans now strongly support medical marijuana access.
Contrary to what many had hoped after hearing a rumor at the beginning of the year, Congress did not quietly lift the federal ban on medical marijuana. The DEA certainly didn’t legalize cannabis. And the 9th Circuit ruled that medical marijuana cardholders do not have Second Amendment rights. But that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any progress when it came to drug policy reform and cannabis. After debating about whether or not to allow cannabis clubs in Colorado, Denver ended becoming the first city to allow marijuana use in bars and restaurants. The Vermont Senate approved legal pot and Pennsylvania legalized industrial hemp. There was plenty of action abroad too. Medical marijuana cultivation was legalized in Australia and Canada, Germany is expected to legalize medical marijuana early next year, an ancient village in Croatia received the first-ever legal shipment of cannabis extract ever sent across the pond, medical cannabis in Israel is going to become more accessible and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a surprising case for legalizing cannabis.
Lots of people have opinions about weed. Ranging from pure endorsement to the traditional misinformed anti-drug stance, there was plenty of commentary about cannabis this year. There were articles about how pot could help stem the heroin overdose crisis, why it’s not a gateway drug, profiles on the best strains for people who can’t sleep, and what we know about using marijuana while breastfeeding. Others focused on things like how women are growing a more diverse cannabis industry and why pro MMA fighters embrace using cannabis in their own practice. We met the cannabis industry’s public enemy number one and found out that adolescents have used less and less as fear and intolerance has declined, The cannabis policy enforcement at Facebook and Google doesn’t make any sense, there is a sneaky reason why federal studies into marijuana are off base, and there was a map that showed the countries that smoke the most.
Contrary to years past, science on cannabis is no longer in short supply. And plenty of news outlets make a name for themselves by covering the latest research studies on marijuana as well as sharing information about how it can help you stay healthy. There were articles about how smoking weed can help you cut back on alcohol, treat epileptic seizures, ease period pain, literally mend a broken heart, treat the emotional trauma behind anorexia, increase creativity, manage pain (even migraines), and cut back or eliminate the use of more dangerous prescription drugs. People wondered whether cannabis might be the secret to curing things like HIV, cancer, and alzheimer’s, and several parents bucked against the system by giving their children cannabis oil. Some people even did it legally. Others gave it to their pets. And an article clarified once and for all that cannabis users can safely donate blood. But not every article sang the praises of good ‘ole Mary Jane. There were articles questioning how marijuana affects memory, driving, neurodegenerative diseases, and even sperm. And a couple resource guides were published that can help people with specific ailments—namely depression and migraines.
Anecdotes are often powerful stories capable of changing public opinion even more than scientific research. This year, a 12 year-old boy with myoclonic-astatic epilepsy explained how cannabis helped him become virtually seizure-free.
Cannabis showed up in the political arena quite a bit in 2016, mostly because the U.S. Democratic Primary pitted Bernie Sanders, a proponent of legalizing cannabis, against Hillary Clinton, who was not only against legalization—she also didn’t support medical marijuana either. Before Donald Trump was elected as POTUS last month, there was an article that went over each candidate’s approach to cannabis legalization. And President Barack Obama was a bit looser on cannabis policy than in years past, cracking cannabis-themed jokes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and even suggesting that he thinks marijuana should be legal.
The legal cannabis industry was really busy last year, outselling both Doritos and Girl Scout cookies last year. One especially entrepreneurial scout took notice and started selling cookies across from a cannabis dispensary. And the new legal market ended up cutting the profits of Mexican cannabis farmers by 70 percent. This year, America’s first cannabis resort opened up in Colorado, Wiz Khalifa worked on a new product line with RiverRock Cannabis, MassRoots filed to become NASDAQ’s first cannabis stock, fake nuns grew real weed, and a Californian company started offering a subscription snack box with cannabis-infused treats. On the industry side of things there were marijuana business conferences and blockchain startups considered how to solve the industry’s banking problem. When it comes to other countries, we got a peek into Uruguay’s legal marijuana scene, Jamaica’s airports got cannabis kiosks, and medical marijuana sales soared in German pharmacies. So exactly where is all this money from selling legal weed going? Well, I don’t know about everywhere else, but Colorado is using its extra marijuana revenue to prevent bullying in schools.
Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly referred to as LSD or "Acid," is a common psychedelic compound that has been used by people around the world for the better part of a century. And it showed up in the news quite a bit this year.
When it comes to LSD research, the world's first brain imaging study of its kind showed how the substance reduces rigidity and restores a child-like state of imagination. Other studies showed how LSD affects language and that taking the drug can lead to improved psychological wellbeing.
There were a ton of feature pieces this year. One man told a story about how acid helped him stop smoking. Another went to a Donald Trump rally while tripping and decided that it was a really bad idea in hindsight. There was a guy that took LSD 30 years ago and never came down, because he is still suffering from hallucinogen perception disorder (HPPD). A blotter art collector is lucky that the DEA hasn't gone after his LSD museum. Another article was published about Dock Ellis' no-hitter on acid. A new film called Orange Sunshine premiered at South by Southwest. One article attempted to demystify LSD flashbacks by reviewing the scientific data. A neuroscientist gave advice on how to pick music for people on acid. The "Acid King" won a lawsuit against the U.S. government. One article explored the science behind psychedelic ego death and how LSD breaks down reality tunnels. A man claimed to successfully use LSD to break his Facebook addiction. Another piece debunked the urban legend that acid can make you think you're orange juice. An article showed how LSD affected a portrait artist's work. The television show Stranger Things was inspired by a secret LSD experiment that may have been conducted by the CIA to destroy political opponents. There was a look at how microdosing LSD could give employees a boost at work. A scientist claimed that tainted rye, contaminated with a fungus found in LSD, could have sparked the Salem witch trials. Author Ayelet Waldman wrote a book about how dropping acid helped her overcome depression.
Several celebrities spoke out about acid this year. Chelsea Handler admitted to taking her SATs while tripping. Brian Wilson opened up about voices he started hearing after using LSD. Redman told a story about the time he dosed and got shocked with an electric cattle prod. Carrie Fisher talked about her tripping days. Finally, there was a feature piece that talked about Cary Grant's LSD use.
General news concerning LSD was mostly negative, but at least Obama commuted a Deadhead's sentence. Federal authorities told a Minnesota brewery that it couldn't market its beer as “LSD Ale.” Pictures of a naked man, tripping on acid and thinking he was a Siberian tiger, were captured by wildlife cameras. A teenager, also in the nude, accidentally set fire to an apartment and told police he was dead. Another guy jumped through a second-story window. And to round out all of these scare stories, a man, allegedly high on LSD, was accused of biting a chunk of his father's ear off.
From groundbreaking scientific research to inspiring anecdotes, there was plenty of news concerning psilocybin and magic mushrooms in 2016.
To begin, let's take a look at the new scientific research that uncovered a bit more of psilocybin's story this year. A new peer-reviewed clinical trial showed that psilocybin works where conventional antidepressants don't, with magic mushrooms lifting severe depression in patients who experienced a treatment-resistant version of the mental illness. Other studies focused on addiction treatment, with one demonstrating that psilocybin was able to help smokers quit long term and another showing that it can effectively treat alcoholism. One final study showed that magic mushrooms are capable of making social rejection less painful.
Official scientific research will certainly go a long way toward legitimizing the use of psilocybin and magic mushrooms, but it is also inspiring (and influential) to read non-scientific stories that are written by people outside of the research field. Some of the better ones that I found showed how magic mushrooms can help cure cluster headaches, ease chronic depression, reduce stress for terminal cancer patients, and how microdosing psilocybin can improve one's work. I also stumbled upon some interesting uses of magic mushrooms that I hadn't heard about before, including the ways psilocybin therapy could lead to healthier gender transitions and how magic mushrooms can help sufferers of body dysmorphic disorder see themselves accurately again.
There were a few miscellaneous psilocybin-related articles this year, too. A new species of psychedelic lichen containing psilocybin and DMT was identified, some aggressive coyotes in California were possibly tripping on magic mushrooms, the new holiday '920' may become the 420 of magic mushrooms, author and podcaster Tim Ferriss funded psilocybin research, and magic mushrooms seemed to become more popular among middle schoolers in Alabama. And just like every year, there was another article about the link between Santa Claus and magic mushrooms.
MDMA, the "love drug" that also goes by the names "ecstasy" or "Molly," was featured regularly by the mainstream media this year. In good news, the FDA approved the Phase 3 clinical trials for MDMA research. If they go well, ecstasy may be legalized by 2021. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) raised $400k to purchase a kilo of MDMA by hosting "Psychedelic Dinner" parties. And a new report showed that nearly 60% of ecstasy sold in the United States is not pure MDMA.
Scientific research looking at MDMA continued full steam ahead this year. We learned a bit about how MDMA affects the brain, the effects the substance can have on one's sex life, and that it may pose a greater damage to women than men. Other studies found that purity levels are at an all-time high at the same time that the world is taking too much MDMA, and that ecstasy can help relieve social anxiety among those on the autism spectrum.
Other articles explored various aspects related to ecstasy and MDMA culture. One took a look at the creativity involved in the diverse world of pill pressing, another discussed whether MDMA could help save a relationship, and one former ecstasy dealer shared his story about what it was like to sell the drug on the 90s club circuit. There were tips on how to reduce ecstasy hangovers, how to stay hydrated on Molly, why it is common for people to experience prolonged jaw clenching while rolling, and an explanation of how a woman's menstrual cycle can affect her reaction to the drug. One woman explained how taking ecstasy helped her mourn the death of her mother. A natural alternative to Molly called KATY showed up on the market this year. And a few articles explored the potential benefits of MDMA, including its potential for treating anxiety and healing from difficult birthing experiences.
But it wasn't all positive news. Warnings involving MDMA commonly show up each year, and 2016 was no exception. The drug safety organization The Loop issued a warning about orange Tesla ecstasy pills that contained a dangerously high dose of MDMA and cops in England warned about a "poisonous" wave of ecstasy pills after they led to the death of a teenage girl during a night out.
Some MDMA users end up being hospitalized due to overdose or unintentionally taking a different drug due to the fact that they don't have legal access to regulated MDMA. This year, a 17 year-old suffered brain damage after taking ecstasy to celebrate her birthday, deadly LEGO pills caused two women to be rushed to the hospital, and three 12 year-old girls ended up hospitalized after taking ecstasy branded as "teddy tablets."
Sadly, many people died from MDMA toxicity or related reasons this year. The number of deaths related to ecstasy pales in comparison to the amount of deaths related to alcohol or tobacco, but while the media makes it a point to call out each death related to MDMA, the deaths from legal (and more dangerous) drugs are not covered as closely. A father spoke of his anguish after his 16 year-old daughter died from a suspected ecstasy overdose, the lethal combination of MDMA and alcohol killed a woman at a music festival, a mother was heartbroken after her second teenage son died from an ecstasy pill just a year after his brother died from an ecstasy overdose, a teenager froze to death after running into a lake wearing just his boxer shorts because he thought demons were in his hotel room, a teenage girl died after attending a house party, and a bodybuilder died from an MDMA overdose.
The psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca showed up a lot this year. The Canadian man who killed a British guy at a Peruvian ayahuasca retreat spoke out about his experience, the "first legal ayahuasca church in America" was hyped a lot by the media, women started leading Amazonian ayahuasca ceremonies for the first time, musician Sting rehearsed for his death by drinking the brew, and a lot of folks claimed that the rise of ayahuasca tourism is ripping off indigenous shamans. When it comes to the science involving ayahuasca, research found that ayahuasca may be able to completely reverse diabetes, treat depression and chronic migraines, and help people think more creatively. We also learned more about how this substance affects the brain.
There were also a ton of other articles about ayahuasca this year. An anthropologist wrote about her experience drinking ayahuasca with American war veterans. One man told a story of how ayahuasca helped him heal from cancer. Another explained how his experience in Peru gave him the strength to quit a life of partying. Not all of the articles were positive—one claimed that ayahuasca is a new age spiritual scam while another argued that it may be a curse. Some articles offered advice like how having a spiritual practice can support healing with ayahuasca, daily routines that can help you prepare for a ceremony, and the proper pre-diet to eat. A few celebrities tried ayahuasca, including Chelsea Handler and James Franco. And one article even proposed the idea that ayahuasca is changing global environmental consciousness.
DMT was covered a handful of times this year. To start off, some publications explored what DMT feels like and what it does to the brain. A DMT cook was burned and busted while trying to manufacture the drug in his Santa Barbara apartment. Australia's DMT debate may reboot psychedelic thinking. And most interestingly, scientists seem to have figured out a way to make DMT trips last longer.
There wasn't a whole lot of coverage about 5-MeO-DMT this year aside from this article discussing the difference between 5-MeO-DMT and DMT, which also goes into how to choose a DMT therapy.
Peyote is a small spineless cactus that contains several psychoactive alkaloids, including the one for which it is most well-known: mescaline. This plant was featured in several articles this year. To start, Reality Sandwich published an excerpt from the book Peyote: History, Tradition, Politics, and Conservation that thoroughly discussed various aspects of the cactus. Other articles that covered peyote's history included one on peyote and the racialized war on drugs and another on the four things that Native American doctors got right long before modern medicine. In current events, an Alabama church is using psychedelic sacraments like peyote to worship God and a new film, Peyote at a Crossroads, entertained audience by exploring the ancient bond between the plant and people.
When it comes to the mescaline-containing San Pedro cactus, which is also known as huachuma, the publication Psychedelic Times published an interview about the raw power of this plant and an article offering advice about how to use San Pedro cactus to facilitate psychospiritual healing.
And there was one article that provided a nice (albeit fairly brief) history of mescaline.
Native to western Central Africa, the perennial psychedelic rainforest shrub iboga is well-known for its addiction treatment potential. And while there wasn't a whole lot of breaking news about the plant this year—other than the fact that the São Paulo government opened the door for prescription ibogaine treatment—there was still a fair amount of coverage about it in the media.
The vast majority of iboga coverage this year focused on its role in treating addiction. There was a feature piece that dove into how iboga can cure heroin withdrawal (the article also argued against the drug’s efficacy for curing addiction) and another that discussed the progress and resistance in the ibogaine community. A CEO of a prominent health insurance company advocated for "rehabbing" our understanding of addiction, offering his opinion that we should “[treat] substance-abuse disorder like every other medical disorder". And rounding out the addiction-related stories is a powerful anecdote from someone who was previously addicted to opioids that discussed how this ancient African remedy helped her kick her addiction overnight.
There were additional articles published this year that focused on a variety of other topics related to iboga. To start, there was a take on the health risks of ibogaine treatment that focused on what a prospective ibogaine provider should ask you before offering treatment. And there were two stories about traveling to Gabon to work with iboga.
This year brought us a summary of salvia divinorum from the California Poison Control System's point of view, a nice feature piece from VolteFace, and a write-up from VICE about what it's like to experience a traditional Mazatec shaman ceremony.
Morning Glory Seeds
I only started looking for articles about morning glory seeds this year, and although it's not one of the more popular psychedelic substances, I was still able to find a couple articles that were published in 2016. The first talked about why some people consider morning glory seeds to be a good substitute for LSD—until you vomit. This article explored the wide availability of this substance but cautioned against its use. And that may be for good reason, too—the only other article I found covered the story of high schoolers being hospitalized after consuming morning glory seeds. So maybe this wasn't the most active year for morning glory seeds, but at least it was covered a couple times by the media.
Synthetic Cannabinoids/Psychoactive Research Chemicals
Fake weed was the complete opposite of chill in 2016, resulting in several health emergencies this year. There was a 33-person overdose in Brooklyn that witnesses said looked a zombie movie. That event may have had something to do with the fact that homeless people have become a target for synthetic cannabinoid sellers. And police in Australia issued a warning after synthetic cannabinoids played a role in the death of a teenager and caused two others to fall critically ill.
Psychoactive Research Chemicals
There was an increase of news about psychoactive research chemicals this year, and most of it centered around the NBOMe family of psychedelic compounds. NBOMes, characterized by the media as a dangerous new drug that can "terrify you for hours on end," caused a ton of trouble in 2016. An Australian man went missing after taking an unknown substance that may have been an NBOMe, an English teen's body was found after being seen running naked toward a river, and a dealer pled guilty to supplying 25I-NBOMe that led to a teenager's death in 2014. NBOMes also showed up on India's Narcotics Control Bureau's radar, New Zealand's Drug Foundation contended that a proposed NBOMe law was too harsh, and experts warned about NBOMes and hundreds of other deadly psychoactive research chemicals that showed up in the Australian market. NBOMes caused several hospitalizations, including six Cork students, a man who had to learn to eat and walk again after a 10-day coma, three people in Panama City, and 16 people on Australia's Gold Coast. And a teenager died from a heart attack that was caused by 25I-NBOMe.
Other psychoactive research chemicals had a brief time in the spotlight this year. An article covered the dangers of DOB and 2C-B, four people were hospitalized after taking 2C-B, a son beat his mother to death believing that she was a witch, and an FSU student killed a married couple (he was found gnawing on the husband's face).
This dissociative anesthetic gas doesn't show up in the media a whole lot, however there was one interview this year that explored the various ways that nitrous oxide inspired early psychedelic literature.
Ketamine is arguably the most well-known and popular dissociative anesthetic nowadays, and as a result it has been in the news quite a bit lately. This January the World Health Organization opposed a Chinese request asking to restrict access to ketamine, stating that ketamine abuse does not "pose a global health threat" and that limiting access to the drug would negatively impact people around the world who rely on it. In popular culture, a Brooklyn nightclub created a ketamine musical. And one editorial dove into the topic of why British people love the drug so much.
When it comes to new ketamine research, there was a healthy amount to sift through this year. One study found that ketamine may be capable of regenerating brain cells and relieving depression around the same time that a similar study in Australia and New Zealand began, which is looking at whether the drug could become a new treatment for major depression. Other studies found that ketamine can be effective for various purposes in hospitals, including as a "rescue treatment" for difficult-to-sedate aggressive hospital patients and to treat persistent post-surgical pain. And other research found out that ketamine can help treat addictions to other mind-altering substances, such as alcohol and cocaine. However, it is important to highlight the potential risks that can come with recreational ketamine abuse, such as how it can permanently damage your bladder.
PCP has a pretty bad rap. This dissociative psychedelic shows up in the news frequently, but it's rarely a positive report. In fact, most of the news about PCP involves various types of crimes, including assaults and murders. There were only a couple general news items about PCP this year. Jersey City police officers got sick from breathing in the fumes from 18 jars of the substance. One law enforcement resource provided 5 safety tips for cops to follow when dealing with a subject who is high on PCP.
There were a lot of assaults involving PCP in 2016. Kicking things off is a story about at woman on PCP who bit her lover's tongue off during a make out session. Next, a mother slammed her kids' heads into the floor, a man stabbed two people, another man groped a woman, and a judge took a moment to speak out against the drug while sentencing a man (who doesn't have any memory of stabbing a man repeatedly in the head) to nine years in prison. PCP also led one man to try to smother a baby, another to assault several women at a Target, and a woman ended up biting a teenager. And there were two stories where men got in violent struggles with police, included one where the guy was high on PCP and punched a cop.
Some of the assaults resulted in a death, including a fatal car crash involving a man under the influence of PCP and a tragic story where a brother shot his pregnant sister, killing her baby.
Other PCP-related crimes weren't violent at all. A toddler swallowed a PCP-laced cigarette and the parents were arrested. Police ended up tasing a man who was wielding a knife while high and a woman walked into her court hearing with a folding knife. There were several incidents involving people who had stripped themselves of all clothes. A naked UGA student dove into a garbage truck hopper, another naked man may have taken PCP before trying to break into a house, and a half-naked man blocked a roadway. One woman stole a car after consuming PCP. And finally, a man urinated in public near children after getting high on the drug. No matter how you slice it, PCP really didn't get any positive coverage this year.
Opiates and opioids were covered by the media each week. In January, some restaurants in China were caught adding poppies to their dishes in an attempt to get customers addicted to their food. The New York Times ran an editorial about how we should deal with heroin addiction. Prince was planning to meet with an opioid addiction doctor but died from an overdose the day before their initial meeting was scheduled to occur. Some media outlets reported that heroin use reached a 20-year high, exceeding the rate of gun-related deaths for the first time ever, while others reported that heroin use actually fell. Either way, heroin-related deaths have definitely risen.
The Surgeon General wrote to every doctor in the U.S. about the opioid epidemic and more than 7000 candidates took money from opioid companies. Figures came out showing that 90% of the world's supply of heroin comes from Afghanistan. Mexico considered legalizing the opium poppy for medical purposes and Seattle moved forward with its plan to create safe injection sites for heroin users to shoot up.
Some of the history about opium and opioids was unearthed as well. We learned about how opium-soaked tampons were essentially the Midol of Ancient Rome and Purdue Pharma made millions of dollars by faking the science on OxyContin.
Fentanyl, an opioid that is far more deadly than heroin, continued to be a big issue in 2016. Some newcomers arrived on the scene this year as well. Carfentinil led to the overdoses of 96 heroin users in Ohio during the course of just one week, and a couple of teenagers in Utah died from a new synthetic opioid U-47700, also known as "Pink."
Naloxone, a common opioid overdose reversal drug, was also in the news a bit this year. The grocery store Kroger started making it available over the counter. Although it is an effective antidote for overdoses, there are still risks that come with its use—this is what naloxone does to your brain. The FDA approved a tiny implant that may help treat heroin addiction.
When it comes to this year's news about the alcoholic drink absinthe, articles fell into two main categories: general news and guides. To start, there were a couple stories about men who drank a bit too much absinthe—one even ended up finding a huge penis tattoo on his leg the next morning! Next up we have a feature piece about making absinthe in Switzerland. And to round out the news, a distillery in Columbus, OH started selling absinthe this year.
There were a ton of guides that I stumbled upon. The first offered advice about where to get it while another insisted that today's absinthe isn't the same as the one your grandfather drank. There was an article that gave advice on how best to drink it and one that tried to separate fact from fiction. Two provided lists of things that we didn't know about absinthe. And the final article made suggestions about the best absinthes that are available in the United States.
I didn't include kambô (an Amazonian frog venom that can be used to cleanse and treat pain) in last year's “This Year in Psychedelics” round-up but I did start paying more attention to it this year. The media featured an account of an experience with kambô and several articles on the benefits of this plant medicine, including how it can help fight depression and alcohol abuse, reduce pain and treat addiction, help process difficult events, and even facilitate bonding. Kambô is definitely starting to show up more and more in the media, and it will be interesting and exciting to continue to learn more about it as time goes on.
When it comes to the coverage of naturally occurring painkiller-stimulant hybrid kratom, there was plenty of news this year. To start, The New York Times profiled the plant by pointing out that although it is capable of treating drug addictions, kratom also has the potential to be addictive itself. The FDA showed that it was serious about its approach to the plant by seizing 90,000 bottles of kratom in 2016. The CDC stated that kratom was an "emerging public health threat", a new study showed that kratom hits the same brain receptors as strong opioids, the DEA announced its plan to place the plant under Schedule I, which prompted 45 Congressmen to ask the DEA not to ban kratom. And an article on VICE argued that banning the plant could be bad news for America's heroin addicts. The legal status of kratom is still somewhat up in the air, and it is facing a series of hurdles to become a legal dietary supplement.
There were also several high quality guides and feature pieces about kratom, including ones about how long the substance lasts, which strains are best for opiate withdrawal, sleep, and fibromyalgia, recommendations for storing kratom at home, how to get rid of kratom tolerance, and the ins and outs of using the plant as an alternative addiction treatment.
All in all, kratom got a lot of attention in the media this year. It's in the middle of a battle with various parts of the United States government at the moment, so stay tuned for updates next year concerning its legal status as well as hopefully some more information gleaned from future scientific research studies.
Kava is a plant that can engender a wide range of psychoactive responses, including sedation, anesthesia, euphoria, and those of the entheogenic variety. It showed up in the news several times throughout the year. In fact, it became popular enough in 2016 that its widespread use was often referred to as "the kava craze." The increasing popularity of the kava bar around the world even inspired a New Yorker piece that explored the healthy trend that many New Yorkers have started to take part in—replacing alcohol consumption with drinking kava instead.
Vanuatu hosted a major international Kava Conference that brought together policy makers, kava farmers, exporters, and other stakeholders in the Pacific kava industry. And the industry has been especially lucrative this year, with kava being treated as an economic commodity and a growing international demand from kava drinkers around the world. The Fijian Ministry even got involved in an attempt to engage more farmers in growing kava to help the local economy.
And while new research studies came out showing that kava could help treat or prevent cancer and reduce anxiety, it wasn't all good news on the health front this year. A future study will be looking at the potential negative effects the plant has on driving, and it's still unclear if kava is toxic for your liver. And for some, it appears that there may not be any noticeable effects gained from consuming it, as one writer tried the ancient drug and found that it "didn't work" for them.
Kava spent quite a lot of time in the spotlight this year, being featured more often in the news than ever before. Will its popularity continue to grow in 2017? We'll just have to wait to find out.
There was a more significant amount of media coverage on the plant stimulant khat this year. The BBC published a story titled "The African drug some don't want to live without" that profiled the plant and its users. Admittedly, there were a few problems for khat this year—more than 800 Tanzanian farmers stopped growing it and Yemeni officials banned it altogether. And although the Ugandan government outlawed khat cultivation in 2014, the farmers mobilized to protest the relatively-new law.
But not all governments frowned on the plant—the Kenyan government actually offered its support for khat farmers and Somalia agreed to postpone its khat ban in exchange for direct flights and respect for refugees. Although it hasn't maintained the smoothest of relationships with African governments, the khat industry has matured to the level where it now generates hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
Unfortunately the safety of the plant was called into question when doctors in Meru linked throat cancer cases to khat consumption. All in all, khat was treated fairly in the media this year, and it will be interesting to follow news coverage on this somewhat obscure plant for the next few years to see if references to it will continue to grow.
Miscellaneous Psychedelics/Psychoactives/Drug Policy
Some of the year's most interesting news just doesn't fit into more granular substance-based categories, and as you might expect, the best has been saved for last. A new report that found that drugs bought on the dark web have higher levels of purity than those purchased on the black market. An artist created psychedelic illustrations while on 20 different drugs, people started smoking dead scorpions, the ACLU urged a court to throw out 24,000 drug cases based on tainted lab evidence, new maps show how dangerous illegal drugs flow around the globe, and Jay-Z made a video about why the war on drugs is an epic fail. The DEA reared its ugly head quite a few times this year, with stories about how the organization profits off the drug war, promised a TSA agent a cut of passengers' seizable cash, regularly mined Americans' travel records to seize millions in cash, paid millions to confidential informants who could no longer be trusted, and if all that's not enough, they also want to look inside your medical records—to fight their beloved drug war, of course! Another big topic this year was the Philippines' new drug war, which killed hundreds in just over a month and eventually the death toll exceeded 2,400 by September. The Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, went on record saying that children killed in his drug war are just "collateral damage." Drug cartel kingpin "El Chapo" was recaptured in Mexico and Obama shortened the sentences of 102 drug offenders.
The modern renaissance of psychedelic research forged ahead in 2016, with scientists getting back in the labs, covering new ground, and discovering valuable information about these powerful drugs. In fact, this year was an especially positive year for psychedelic drugs being used as a medicine. Yale launched a group to examine the use of psychedelics in therapy and the California Institute of Integral Studies started a first-of-its-kind program called the "Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies and Research Certificate Program." There were a few noteworthy scientific studies, including ones that found that psychedelics may decrease acts of domestic violence and help keep ex-inmates out of jail. Comparison studies determined that both alcohol and caffeine are more harmful than psychedelics.
When it comes to global drug policy news, The Lancet Commission recommended legalizing drugs and the United Kingdom banned legal highs like laughing gas, salvia divinorum, and mephedrone with a new law.
On the harm reduction front, TripSit released version 3.0 of its "Guide to Drug Combinations" chart and attendees at a UK music festival were able to get their drugs tested onsite for the first time ever in the country.
There were a few stories about miscellaneous drugs this year, including a hallucinogenic fish, people drinking tobacco in the Amazon, and rare psychedelic honey that is gathered on the edges of treacherous cliffs.
Plenty of people have thoughts and opinions on drugs, and some of them even write them down. Editorials this year asked if psychedelic drug laws violate human rights, why humans have an innate desire to get high, and if Brazil is the world's new epicenter of psychedelic science. Some writers were more concrete in their believes, offering hot takes on why the war on drugs may have misrepresented psychedelics (and why that matters) and how drug cartels operate like Silicon Valley startups.
Some media outlets made it easy to stay up-to-date about the latest science news and how it affects our health. One article explored whether meditation and psychedelics have the same benefits on the mind, another discussed how psychedelic therapy can decrease suicidal tendencies, and we learned how getting high and listening to music games your dopamine reward system. The final science-related articles featured a member of Canada's leading psychedelic research organization who sat down to talk about why we should license psychedelic trip sitters and legendary food writer Michael Pollan explained why psychedelic drugs are the ultimate meal for your mind.
For those interested in psychedelic history, there were a few articles that might tickle your fancy. There was articles about the mainstreaming of psychedelics, how Nazi drug abuse steered the course of history, and the history of psychedelics.
Some articles contained helpful information for people looking to use drugs recreationally. There were guides on learning how to tell if your drugs have gone bad, the way to create a perfect music festival drug schedule, and which drugs make your dick shrink the most and why. There was also a resource list that curated the best psychedelic videos of 2016.
If you were looking for entertainment this year, you could have checked out comedians Duncan Trussell and Shane Mauss, who both toured around the country talking about psychedelics. I actually got to see Shane perform in my hometown and it was an awesome experience—he's absolutely hilarious.
I’d like to close out the year with a few anecdotes, which can be even more powerful than hard scientific research study results or an investigative journalism piece. One man explained the reasons behind his decision to come out of the psychedelic closet, another shared his experience of using psychedelics to deal with excruciating cluster headaches, and dealers revealed the sketchiest places that drugs have been on their path from the manufacturer to the user.
I am excited to compile and publish more news related to psychedelics and psychoactive substances in 2017. I hope that you will join me. Until next time, keep thinking wilder!
Previous Years in Psychedelics
Disclaimer: "This Year in Psychedelics" does not censor or analyze the news links presented here. The purpose of this column is solely to catalogue how psychedelics are presented by the mass media, which includes everything from the latest scientific research to misinformation.