Thursday, April 18, 2019

Fatal Familial Insomnia "Trip Report"

While in one of my weird internet rabbit holes, I stumbled upon the single most interesting & chilling medical study ever.  But first, some background.

Fatal Familial Insomnia story

Fatal insomnia is an exceedingly rare disease that occurs when a mis-folded protein called a prion causes other proteins in the sleep center of the brain (the thalamus) to self-destruct, becoming filled with holes like Swiss cheese.  This results in days, weeks & finally months of sleeplessness until the affected individual eventually dies a horrific death from a combination of brain degeneration & the secondary effects of sleeplessness.  Though it appears death is primarily caused by the physical degeneration of the brain, as other cases of long-term total insomnia have been reported without the patient dying (see:  Thai Ngoc).

Like all prion diseases, Fatal Insomnia is 100% fatal with no known treatments or cures.  Most cases are inherited ("Fatal Familial Insomnia") while a tiny portion happen for unknown reasons ("Sporadic Fatal Insomnia").  I stress again for all you hypochondriacs out there:  this is an exceedingly rare condition, with the sporadic form affecting about 24 people worldwide ever.

Afflicted FFI sufferer known only as "Silvano" who offered himself for recording in the 1980s

While Googling this horrific condition, I came upon a link to a study in which a man with the inherited form of the disease self-treats his condition with a vast array of supplements, stimulants, tranquilizers & anesthetics...some exceedingly rare or even obsolete in America.  This is hands-down the most bizarre & unconventional case study I've ever read in more ways than one.  The case took place in the U.S. in 2001 & was conducted by doctors Schenkein and Montagna.

Here is an excerpt from the study:

"Shortly after his diagnosis, patient "DF" received vitamin therapy at the Clymer Institute for Alternative Health in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.   DF took a combination of niacin, antioxidant powder (comprising vitamins A, C, E, and D), blue-green algae, brewer's yeast, B complex, zinc (sublingually), magnesium, inositol, PABA, grape seed extract, CoQ-10, cholineTiger's Milk nutrition bar, highly concentrated wheat germ oil, tryptophan, and 2 g of melatonin. He also injected a gelatinous form of ± 2 into his nasal cavity.  Within 30 minutes of this treatment, DF reported that he fell into a natural and restful sleep. On this regimen, he experienced 5 out of 6 consecutive nights of sleep, ranging from 5 to 6.5 hours per night." 
However, this regimen only worked for so long before the patient became restless & delusional.  He even suffered a stroke.  Time to up the ante with some anesthetics then:
"By month 15, vitamins alone failed to induce sleep. Following 5 consecutive nights of insomnia, DF became intensely irritable and delusional. An evaluation at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, found that he had suffered a minor stroke; he was anesthetized until he fell asleep.  In later months, DF continued the strategy of anesthesia. Ketamine and nitrous oxide induced short (15-minute) periods of restful sleep, and were reapplied to offer more prolonged relief. Chloral hydrate in a light alcohol mix and/or chloroform also worked."
Intriguing.  Around this time he also added a hefty load of tranquilizers, including the obsolete ethchlorvynol (Placidyl) as well as diazepam & zolpidem to his regimen.  He claimed that the ethchlorvynol doubled as a "mood elevator".  I'll bet.  😁
His condition continued to deteriorate severely despite these valiant interventions.  By month 16 he decided it was time to try some stimulants & brought out the big guns...  
"By the 16th month of his illness, DF spent much of the day as an akinetic mute with terrible headaches, confusion, mood swings, and myoclonus of the left arm (treated with levodopa). Despite his outward “dementia,” he inwardly pondered approaches to his condition, and, when again able to speak, he requested a regimen of stimulants."

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Brain scans of Fatal Insomnia sufferer
"He was prescribed phentermine HCl 37.5 mg (time-release), which he took twice daily and eventually 3 times daily (before meals and no later than 6:00 pm). The drug had immediate and dramatic effects, promoting not only alertness during the day, but apparently a sleep-inducing rebound when it wore off.  For 4 consecutive nights, DF slept 5 hours each night, was able to drive, and returned to his daily routines, which included writing a novel."
"During his last months, DF received a new stimulant protocol and he took these on a daily rotating basis: diethylpropion + propoxyphene-acetaminophen (for headaches), methylphenidate, phentermine, modafinil, and a benzedrine inhaler (which is illegal in the United States, but which he was nevertheless able to obtain). Benzedrine enabled him to successfully drive 500 miles alone (on several occasions) during the 24th month of his illness. DF believed that the diethylpropion + propoxyphene-acetaminophen combination restored his function to that of a far earlier stage of the disease....In the 26th month, DF began taking time-released benzphetamine (90 mg) and a small amount of methylphenidate to reduce the stress on cardiovascular and renal systems."
Other therapies tried included electroconvulsive therapy, exercise, sensory deprivation, GHB & meditation.  Ultimately, the patient ended up outliving others with the same genetic variant of the disease by an entire year, though it's not known which treatments were responsible due to the total lack of scientific rigor in the experiment.  The fact that he was able to communicate, drive (bad choice!) and write a book as his brain was being ravaged by this disease has to be a first in the annals of medicine.  Most sufferers are rendered unable to speak or function at all shortly after the disease sets in.


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But perhaps the most chilling part of the study is the description of what this man experienced while approaching sleep.  I've never seen anything like it in a scientific study or medical journal, as it definitely borders on the spiritual/supernatural.  Keep in mind, this is a disease that eats away at the brain's physical structures & usually renders patients totally unable to communicate.  From the outside, they look a bit like zombies in great physical distress due to the tortuous lack of sleep.  
The section is titled simply "Serenity of FFI" {Emphasis mine}:
Unlike the typically mute FFI patient whose subjective serenity is unknowable, DF described his oneiric sleep as extremely gentle and pleasant — like entering a room filled with everyone who he would want to encounter, including deceased friends and relatives who would tell him that everything will be all right. In his words, “to the outside world, I am dead and gone, but to myself I'm still here, in this wonderful place and it is they who have disappeared.”
His “waking REM” was multisensory and included images, voices, and scents. It was experienced as a form of knowing everything about himself, with no more hidden secrets. As might be expected from a sustained “handshake” between the right and left hemispheres, DF's conscious mind experienced himself in a global way. He described his unconscious as filled with “wounded children” who bore “poor witness” to events that had injured them — unable to logically evaluate or rise above these damaging experiences. His FFI put him in the unique position to soothe these children with adult insight, which he often did in the form of written letters when he was “off-line.” 
The door that admitted DF into this other world became best defined after long periods of insomnia and was so inviting that he believed others who have been in this place simply gave into it and allowed themselves to die. In fact, DF's fight against FFI specifically centered on this arena, with the wish to surrender to its serenity as opposed to his real life of handicap and degeneration.

Holy hell.  That's some insight you don't hear every day.  Sort of like being stuck in a near-death experience for months & being able to come back to describe it in great detail over & over.  I've read hundreds of psychedelic trip reports & nothing comes close to the spine-tingling creepiness of this account.  Excuse the pun, but this man did NOT take his death lying down.

While I heavily disagree with his decision to drive a motor vehicle in his impaired state, I give him major respect for fighting this disease to the bitter end & providing scientists with this treasure trove of intriguing data, not just about FFI but about the dying process as well.  Maybe this is what other dementia sufferers experience to a degree?  Many Alzheimer's patients speak of going "home" & claim to see dead relatives in their rooms shortly before dying, so perhaps there is at least some degree of serenity & hope in the dying process with dementia.  

It does raise some questions though.  Where did he get the Placidyl & Benzedrine inhalers from?  And what doctors knowingly let him use these illicit substances without a prescription while agreeing to do a study on him?  I understand he was dying anyway, but no scientific protocol was followed whatsoever and some of the substances administered were extremely rare (chloroform), discontinued for many decades (Placidyl & Benzedrine) or were administered in a way that could've been dangerous (i.e. injected directly into the nasal cavity).  And that's a metric buttload of drugs, maan.

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Benzedrine inhaler, discontinued in 1959
Most importantly:  WHO in the bloody hell cleared this guy to drive a car while dying of a dementia that impairs the ability to think, stay alert & react to stimuli?  And so late into his disease with no sober sitter present?  It's a doctor's job to report dementia patients to the DMV if their families don't take away their vehicles to ensure they don't cause a wreck (I know; I had to report someone myself for a similar reason) so this is extremely troubling.  Under no theory should someone in this state be driving, period.  

Despite all this, I give this report a 10/10 for its insanity & insight.  I hope you other medical nerds enjoyed reading it as much as I did.  Maybe it'll make death slightly less scary for those of us who don't have to face something as agonizing as Fatal Insomnia.  Or any other disease with the word "fatal" in the name.  

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Sweet dreams.

Gilda Radner: A Life Cut Short By Bad Medicine

With the 2018 documentary Love, Gilda by Lisa D'Apolito out on various channels, there's been a resurgence in interest in the famous comedienne.  But I've always been a tad obsessed.  For those who are too young to remember, Gilda was a member of the original cast of Saturday Night Live from 1975-1980 (the show's most groundbreaking & drugged out years) alongside John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman & Bill Murray.  She quickly became the show's breakout female star alongside Chevy Chase, who is now known mostly as a notorious asshole.

Gilda was beloved by everyone who knew her, including Chase, who cites her & Aykroyd as "the only talented people to come out of SNL" presumably besides himself.  Ouch.  This is a man who thinks Will Ferrell & Tina Fey are unfunny hacks, so that's a huge compliment coming from him.  Indeed, she was a fan favorite as well & was even offered her own variety show by the network execs at one point.  And she won an Emmy for her work on SNL in the '70s.  Still, she's not a household name today the way many of her contemporaries are which is a crime considering what a multi-talented trailblazer she was.

Gilda brought us lovable, hilarious characters like the brash Roseanne Rosannadanna, hard-of-hearing Emily Litella, the extremely Jewish Rhonda Weiss & nerdy Lisa Loopner, setting the stage for all future female SNL performers who would follow.  (I specify "female" because in Gilda's time, women were not treated with respect by many men in the cast.  John Belushi, for instance, actively tried to sabotage skits involving women & outright refused to participate in sketches written by female writers, claiming "women just aren't funny.")  What we take for granted today--a diverse cast of multi-ethnic performers of all different genders & backgrounds--was definitely NOT the norm in 1975 when the show premiered or for quite a while afterward.

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After SNL, Gilda had her own brief one-woman show on Broadway & starred in 3 relatively bad movies with hubby Gene Wilder before being diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer in her late 30s.  She wrote a heroic & moving book about her cancer struggle called "It's Always Something" which everyone who cares about their health (particularly women) should read.  Gilda struggled to get doctors to take her seriously even as she knew something was very wrong, which is a common experience for many of us when dealing with the medical profession. But more on that later.

The Love, Gilda documentary was touching but pretty surface-level, skimming over uncomfortable issues like Gilda's relationship with her mother, who fed her Dexedrine at age 10 to lose weight, & barely touching on her eating disorder or her whirlwind relationships with numerous men.  (Gilda had a lot of boyfriends, y'all).  One is also left to wonder whether & how often she used drugs with her castmates or when partying at clubs like Studio 54.  I can find no documented proof of her so much as smoking a joint, but I think it's safe to assume she at least dabbled during her manic days of performing with some of comedy's biggest heads in the '70s.  She even lived with John & Judy Belushi for a while so it's likely that drugs made an appearance.

Even so, she clearly didn't let it become a problem the way castmates Laraine Newman or Belushi did.  (Newman snorted heroin to stay stick-thin while Belushi was a poly-substance abuser who died of a cocaine/heroin overdose in 1982).  The hectic pace of doing a weekly show required an immense focus & energy that lead most of the original cast to turn to substances to perform, party after the show, or a combination of both.  Belushi once snorted actual cocaine on live TV while dressed as Beethoven in a skit, with the excuse of "Well I'm not going to sniff FAKE coke!"

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At Studio 54...looking a bit off-kilter ;)

Having been overweight as a child, Gilda's biggest vice was always junk food.  Lots of it.  To stay thin she developed a habit of binging & purging which didn't even have a name in those days.  Her weight ping-ponged from 160 down to a scary 93 lbs at various times through her life.  It's said that there's a "god-like feeling of cleanliness" that follows a large binge & purge, though I don't recommend anyone try it to find out.  Being emetophobic myself the idea terrifies me on principle alone, but the health risks of bulimia are potentially worse than those of anorexia--long considered the most deadly of all mental illnesses.  She did several food-joke skits on SNL over the years which are painful to watch now in hindsight.

Friend & castmate Laraine Newman tells of hanging out at Gilda's house and snorting heroin while Gilda binged on ice cream & went to puke, exclaiming "I'm so full I can't hear."  Neither judged the other for her illnesses or vices which is pretty cool.  Gilda checked herself into a hospital in 1978 & was able to mostly get her problem under control, thankfully.  She always stayed on the low end of a healthy body weight even into her mid-30s but seemed to improve upon meeting her husband Gene.

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Gilda at her thinnest in '78 
Ahh yes, who can forget the lovely pairing of Gene Wilder & Gilda Radner.  Two neurotic stars adored for their kooky-but-lovable personas & crazy hair.  Apparently Gilda was too needy & clingy at first, which scared him right off.  They broke up & got back together and eventually married after starring in 2 forgettable movies together.  Radner badly wanted a baby.  After a couple miscarriages, they tried in vitro fertilization only to have that fail too.  It was after the 3rd flop of a movie, Haunted Honeymoon, that Gilda developed vague but persistent symptoms that would eventually lead to her cancer diagnosis.

One major detail that's rarely discussed beyond a casual mention is the fact that Gilda had an illegal abortion as a teen, which is why she was infertile to begin with.  I will spare you the pro-choice rhetoric but here is a real-life example of what happens when this common medical procedure is not legally available to women who seek it.  Her life course could've gone very differently if not for that one event.  IVF that doesn't result in a pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk for several types of cancer including the ovarian cancer that killed Gilda.  A 1/3rd increased risk is nothing to sneeze at.  Her cancer symptoms set in immediately after her IVF treatments too.  Even if the IVF played no role in her cancer, nobody deserves to be rendered infertile by a back-alley procedure done in desperation.

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Gilda's illegal abortion rendered her infertile

However, the biggest topic the documentary skims over is Gilda's fight to be taken seriously by doctors for nearly a year after becoming ill.  She's repeatedly patted on the head & sent home with instructions to "relax" and try not to worry so much, as if her symptoms are nothing more than the product of a hysterical female mind.  Cancer is a time-sensitive disease and if they'd have done imaging tests as soon as she complained of symptoms, perhaps they could've saved her life.  Or at least prolonged it significantly.  Instead it wasn't found until Stage IV.  Ovarian cancer is the most deadly gynecologic cancer & the symptoms are very vague:  bloating, fatigue, brain fog, pelvic pain, constipation & leg cramping; which means it's often not discovered until late in the disease.  BUT when a patient is telling you they're in too much pain to walk or too tired to get out of bed, you need to take that seriously & investigate.  Especially if there's a family history of cancer.  Here's what Rolling Stone said about Gilda's family history of cancer in 1989:

"Her grandmother died of stomach cancer shortly before Gilda’s birth. When she was twelve, her father, the prosperous owner of a Detroit hotel, developed brain cancer and died two years later. Then the disease claimed her aunt. Her mother was stricken much later with breast cancer, although she recovered. But it was her father, not her mother, to whom Gilda was closest. His lugubrious, unfathomable death haunted her adulthood. Although she occasionally suspected she had outwitted cancer — by talent, by stardom, by goodness, by hilarity — her confidence was always temporary.
“I’ve been having cancer premonitions since I was twelve,” she said."
That's 4 close family members with cancer.  What wasn't known at the time is that Gilda likely carried the mutation of the BRCA gene that is responsible for the higher rate of ovarian & breast cancers in Ashkenazi Jewish women.  This mutation wouldn't be discovered for another few decades, so nothing could be done about that.  But her instincts were on point.  Sometimes "family curses" are actually the manifestation of real medical phenomena arising from genetics.  The doctors were wrong, and she paid for it with her life.

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With one of the creators of The Wellness Community cancer support group

Why is this important now?  Because Gilda's poor treatment--both the illegal abortion & patronizing doctors who refused to take her seriously--is a real & present threat to women today.  I had a friend in a similar position; brushed off by doctors 3 times before a 22-cm ovarian tumor was discovered (thankfully it wasn't malignant but we didn't find that out until several weeks AFTER the surgery--and she lost her ovary in the process).  This is not uncommon, and I wish Love, Gilda would've included more about this aspect of her journey since it was such a big part of why she didn't survive.  There was also a "computer error" that prevented doctors from realizing her cancer had spread to her lung & brain near the end of her life.  All they could say was "Oh shit."  No apology.  No nothing.  She was so disgusted she decided to forego all conventional treatment & spend her last days on a macrobiotic diet at home.  I don't blame her one bit.  They'd failed her at every step of the process.  But Gilda was determined not to die until the very end.  And even that end was a horrific violation of her bodily autonomy. 

Gilda Radner passed away at the tragically young age of 42; or the "middle of the middle of my life" as she wrote in her autobiography.  She died after being sedated against her will, fearing she'd never wake up if they put her under.  Again, she was right but ignored by the "professionals".  She went kicking & screaming on the gurney for some tests, begging Gene to not let them sedate her for fear she would die.  Her last conscious moments were spent in abject terror.

All I could think about during my friend's ordeal was Gilda's story & how horrifically it ended.  That book opened my eyes to the ways the medical establishment underestimates women's pain & chalks serious problems up to psychosomatic symptoms or wastebasket diagnoses like "Irritable Bowel Syndrome" or "Chronic Fatigue".  My own endometriosis took 11 years to be diagnosed & I still fight to get adequate pain management for it.  We've got to do better, both about not downplaying our symptoms & insisting that doctors take us seriously.  Our lives depend on it.  Gilda's talented co-star & friend Madeline Kahn (another Jewish woman) died of the same disease, advanced ovarian cancer, in 1999...10 years after Gilda.  She was only 57.

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Gilda with Madeline Kahn: another ovarian cancer victim

After Gilda's death, Gene Wilder finished her book & opened several 'Gilda's Club' cancer centers around the country in 1995.  He battled lymphoma himself in 1999 & survived with the support of his 4th wife Karen, living to the ripe old age of 83 and finally succumbing to Alzheimer's disease in 2016.  Gene & Gilda were only married for 5 years but their love story endures, largely because of the hell they went through together.  "In sickness and in health" is a trying vow to live up to, especially when your partner is already a bit needy & neurotic.  But Gene did so until the very end, even though he admittedly lost his temper at times.  Who wouldn't though?  Cancer is such an unfair disease that seems to strike the nicest people at the worst times.  Fuck cancer.

We miss you, Gilda.


O.J. Simpson -- the second athlete to host "Saturday Night Live" -- posing with Radner and Curtin in 1978 during the show's third season.

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““Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner, c. late-1980′s
” ”

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

[Review] - Steve's Goods: Blueberry OG CBD Shatter

Vendor:  Steve's Goods
Location:  Colorado, US
Items:  CBD isolates, tinctures, CBG solution.
Rating:  2.3 of 5 stars

Complementary decal

Well, here it is.  The review I never wanted to write.  I've ordered from Steve's Goods on several occasions with varying results each time.  The previous order, I waited several weeks to receive my stuff & was compensated (generously) with $300 worth of FREE merch, which pretty much guaranteed further business.  Even though they raised their prices noticeably, I decided to pick up more of their mouth-watering Blueberry OG CBD shatter.  I really can't say enough good things about the flavor & smell of this stuff.  It's just amazing.  So calming as well.  Much smoother to vape than plain isolate too.

Steve's famous Blueberry shatter

So I get to checkout & realize that Paypal isn't an option.  They're asking for my debit/credit card info right at the checkout page.  This is different if I recall correctly.  No problem, I've recently obtained a debit card & bank account so I had no problem using it to complete my order.  The total was a tad ridiculous:  $58.99 with shipping included for 1 gram of shatter.  There are no cheaper shipping options.  Still, I was stoked to be getting some more of this yummy stuff to kick off the Spring/Summer.

1 gram of shatter, extra juicy
By chance I went to check my bank account that evening.  Lo & behold, there were three charges that I absolutely unequivocally did not make.  Charges to a MORMON DATING SITE called in the amounts of $16.99, $3.99 & $5.99.  Not an excessive amount, but the charges say "pre-authorized, recurring" which means they're likely to repeat.  Not fucking cool.  In a panic & with my local bank closed for the weekend, I called an 800-number to have my debit card cancelled.  They were able to stop the charges before they went through, but it was a bitch having to go get a new card & all that.  I called the number for LDSPlanet & told them what happened; they agreed to remove the charges, but that doesn't prevent whoever stole my card # from using it elsewhere so it's a good thing I went ahead & shut the card off.

Never in all my days of buying online have I encountered fraud like this.  I can't prove 100% that Steve or his employees were responsible, but the charges appeared on the same day only a few hours after using my card to order from him, and I didn't use my debit card to order anywhere else recently.  Steve's Goods is based in Colorado which is home to quite a few Mormons (compared to many other states at least).  Someone within the company likely used my card to sign up for that dating site would be my guess.

Overall I give this order a 2.3 out of 5 stars.  While the product is awesome, I've simply run into too many snags with this company to recommend anyone use them.  Unfortunately.  With the recent price hike & inability to use Paypal for checkout, things have officially become not worth it for me.  And the debit card charges put it over the edge.  If by some weird chance they're not responsible, I apologize.  But I don't see any other possibility.  This was definitely not the review I wanted or planned to write.  Sorry, Steve.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

[Review] - Buy Legal Meds: Purple Haze CBD Flower

Vendor:  Buy Legal Meds
Location:  Las Vegas, NV.
Items:  CBD flower, syrup, bath products, pet treats
Rating:  4.0 of 5 stars

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Despite my last negative hemp ordering experience in which my order was seized by law enforcement (yikes), I decided to spend some birthday money on an order from Buy Legal Meds.  It was somewhat of an impulse buy for me after running low on CBD shatter & wanting to try a new vendor.  Their packaging looks very professional & they appear to have a high volume of sales along with a large selection of products ranging from CBD syrups & gummies to hemp buds, isolates & pet treats.  So I pulled the trigger on a small order.

After some comparing & contrasting, I went with the Purple Haze CBD flower & a chillum to smoke it in.  Their strain varieties are impressive & they have quite a few reviews for each on the site.  Purple Haze tested at a 22% cannabinoid level overall, which is pretty high.  There were strains with more CBD but that's not the only factor in the experience for me.  I also look at the color of the buds, the terpene/smell profile & whether it's described as more clear-headed or relaxing.  I tend to like strains with a berry, earthy or skunky scent over anything citrus or pine-y, and the darker greens & purples seem to be a better fit than lime greens with orange or red hairs.  In other words, Indica-dominant types.

Purple Haze + Chillum

The positive:  First off, the smell.  It's unlike anything I've ever encountered with hemp buds or, quite frankly, marijuana.  It has such a vivid, in-your-face scent that it almost reminds me of when dealers would dry their buds with lemon peels or blueberries in a bag to enhance the smell.  Hope that's not the case, but DAMN these are some dank smelling buds.  The cure is perfect, with an incredible amount of stickiness that leaves your fingertips sticky like top-shelf weed.  The weight seemed to be on point (a little on the heavy side according to my scale) & the packaging was sufficient to prevent any smell from seeping through.  Score.

I packed the chillum (first time using one of those!) & went for a backyard walk to test it out.  After sucking some plant matter down my throat, I finally got the hang of it.  Yummy!  There's definitely a head change going on here, but it's subtle.  And I say that as someone sensitive to THC.  Any stronger & I would've felt anxiety for sure.  It was juuuuust right.  My senses were enhanced as I strolled back to the house & melted into a nice sleep about an hour later.

After smoking a chillum-full..still over a gram left

The negative:  I didn't love that it said "Buy Legal Meds" on my bank statement.  That's not exactly the most professional sounding name.  Due to the high volume of sales, my order took 3 business days to ship, which I was warned about on the site upon ordering.  I paid on March 30th & received my order on April 4th.  Not terrible, but I do take issue with the fact that my order statement on the website said I paid for Priority shipping while the USPS site clearly stated it was First Class shipping service.  So that was a lie.  Or maybe an innocent mistake; I don't know.

The price was a bit exorbitant as well for a gram.  I ended up paying $16.63 for a gram + a chillum.  Not the worst in the biz but I've had better.  Oh, and no lab report was included with my order which could've led to problems if the Postal Inspector had seized it like they did with my last order from a different vendor.  BLM provides lab reports on their website but I'd feel better if they were sent out with the orders as is standard in the industry.  Not everyone lives in liberal states like some of these vendors.

 In my own baggie for easier access (bad pic quality)
Immediately after ordering, I did a Reddit search for this vendor & came upon nothing but negative reviews...just my luck.  People complaining of their orders smelling of weed, bottles being half-emptied upon arrival & other serious issues.  And the owner of Buy Legal Meds wasn't too helpful in his replies on the site, which was a bad look.  However on his own Twitter pages (yes, he has two), it's nothing but 100% gushing positive reviews.  So much that it looked like a bunch of shill pages had been set up just for the purpose of reviewing his products.  This had me worried that something was off, but ultimately my own order went smoothly.  I messaged them with my concerns about smells in advance & they emailed me back ensuring me it wouldn't be an issue which was cool.  And ultimately it wasn't.

The owner of Buy Legal Meds is a well-known Vegas personality who thinks pretty highly of himself, but that's par for the course in that city.  Everyone there thinks they're the entrepreneur of the century, has 50 business cards in their pockets at all times & believes they're 10 seconds away from being "discovered" by some talent scout or celebrity.  lol.  But Joe Vargas is EXTRA narcissistic with his constant self-congratulation on Twitter, bragging about how much money he spends on landscaping, how "hard he grinds" & other elitist shit.  Not exactly endearing for a CBD vendor.  Excuse me, a "CBD Don".  It's downright nauseating.  See for yourself.

Ultimately I try to let the product & service speak for itself, but it's hard to justify supporting someone with such a rank attitude.  Especially when there are much friendlier vendors out there.  My $16 isn't going to make or break anyone's bank account but it's the principle of the thing.  The flower was solid quality--superb even--and the chillum is a neat addition.  I dig the variety but would steer clear of some of the other products unless & until they work out their packaging issues to ensure no smell escapes or your bottles don't get drained en route.  This is strong smelling stuff.

Overall I give this order a 4.0 out of 5 stars for quality, stealth packaging & variety, with price & shipping method being the biggest drawbacks.  I'd definitely use them again for flower based on quality alone, but it'd be nice to see a bit of humility in the owner.  Not likely, I know.

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Rise, Fall & Semi-Resurrection of Tammy Faye Bakker

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Ahh, the 1980s.  When televangelists were flooding the airwaves with low-fi satellite broadcasts & bleeding dry little old ladies with their insincere pleas for cash "donations".  There was no shortage of them:  Peter Popoff, Jimmy Swaggart & perhaps the most (in)famous of all--Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker.

The Bakkers stood out in several ways.  For one, they were the only male/female couple to minister in this way to a television audience.  The industry was mostly dominated by raccoon-eyed men like Jerry Falwell & Billy Graham, whose wives stayed at home & out of public view.  Secondly, their flamboyance was a sight to behold...particularly Tammy's clownish makeup & blinged-out jewelry.  She was frequently the target of late-night comedy shows like Saturday Night Live & SCTV Network.  But the biggest difference was actually meaningful:  they reached out to audiences that were considered pariahs & modern-day lepers--AIDS patients, homosexuals, drug addicts & the homeless.  And they were sincere about it.  Particularly Tammy Faye, who always had a soft spot for gay men (more on that later).

Despite these glimpses of warmth & genuine humanity, the couple ultimately did more harm than good with their PTL Club & Heritage USA amusement park.  They often planned their fundraising "crises" for the 1st of the month, when they knew elderly viewers would be receiving their social security checks.  It's said old ladies would eat cat food just so they could give their money to Jim & Tammy, who lived a disgustingly lavish lifestyle.  People gave up deeds to their land, mink coats, inheritance money & life savings to the cunning couple all in the name of God's abundance.  (See:  Prosperity Gospel).  This would come back to bite Jim & Tammy big time in the end, as would Jim Bakker's rape of a woman named Jessica Hahn.  He also had several alleged sexual trysts with male staff & friends of the PTL Club, which Tammy Faye was well aware of.  He ultimately paid off Hahn in the hopes of keeping her quiet, but word leaked to the press & the rest is history.

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Jim Bakker's epic meltdown during trial
What most people didn't know was that, for the entire time they were on the air, Tammy Faye was addicted to the drug Ativan--a heavy duty benzodiazepine used in hospitals to sedate belligerent patients.  After 17 years of use, she was taking the pills all day everyday & unable to leave the house without them.  She could be seen trailing off during broadcasts, stumbling around & saying things that were just plain odd.  And then she was forced off the meds by a doctor in 1987 & had a horrific withdrawal episode on an airplane in which she hallucinated & attempted to de-plane at 30,000 feet.  Nobody told her where they were taking her or what the plan was, which was incredibly dangerous & cruel.  She went to the Betty Ford Clinic & ultimately got clean but cites it as one of the most difficult times of her life.  I suspect both the years of benzo abuse & the rapid withdrawal did some serious damage to her brain & contributed to her famous unprovoked crying spells.  (I only abused benzos for 10 months & am still not 100% normal even 5 years later).

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Tammy hollering to the Heavens
Shortly after her mental breakdown, the Jessica Hahn story broke in the news & Jim was conned into turning over their ministry to the evil Jerry Falwell, who eventually turned on him & called him a deviant homosexual adulterer in public.  He also referred to Tammy Faye as "a loony whose elevator doesn't go all the way to the top" even as he profited from the very business they'd spent years building.  Talk about kicking someone when they're down.

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Jerry Falwell going down the slide at Heritage USA after taking over PTL Club
Eventually the PTL & Heritage USA empires crumbled financially & Jim Bakker went to prison after a faux-mental breakdown of his own.  Upon release, he told Barbara Walters he was nearly raped twice in prison & was molested as a child, causing him to question his sexuality.  By this time, Tammy had moved on & re-married another PTL member named Roe Messner who would also serve some time in prison later.  Her transformation was far more dramatic than Jim's:  She moved from religious broadcasts to "secular television" & starred on a talk show with a gay man ("The Jim J. & Tammy Faye Show") as well as appearing on Roseanne's daytime talk show and The Surreal Life with the likes of porn king Ron Jeremy.  She even starred in a RuPaul-directed documentary about her life called The Eyes of Tammy Faye which you can watch here.

So what makes this greedy wench worthy of our sympathy?  Her vulnerability & willingness to be real helped a lot.  You can tell she's got some serious issues with her body image for one thing.  She refused to take off the makeup despite being mocked to high hell for it, stating that she felt "ugly" without it.  She even had a lot of it tattooed on before that was really a thing.  This suggests some degree of Body Dysmorphia which is very sad.  She cried at the drop of a hat no matter the occasion, which also points to some major sadness hiding just beneath the surface.  Some claim the crying was a ploy to get sympathy/cash from viewers, but it continued loooong beyond her PTL years & was just a part of her personality.  (Not that it didn't help with the soliciting). 

Tammy Faye's views on the gay community were also very brave & touching coming from an Assembly of God member, especially in an age where AIDS paranoia was causing even doctors & EMTs to refuse to touch sick patients.  So-called "Christians" like Pat Robertson were referring to the disease as God's punishment for unnatural acts & even celebrating it, so it took a lot of courage & empathy for her to go against the grain.  She fought cancer bravely for a decade while being a loving mother to her two children, all without sacrificing her own goals & aspirations.  And she didn't abandon Jim even after his affairs or least for as long as she could manage.  He left the family with $1,000 when he went away.  So she was more than just a gold digger, even if she did like nice things.  (To put it mildly).

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Tammy at 2002 Gay Pride with Lady Bunny & Bruce Vilanch
Tammy Faye's last appearance on TV happened 2 days before she died of lung cancer in 2007.  She weighed only 68 pounds & spoke to Larry King with a labored, breathy rasp about her faith in God.  Regardless of your spiritual or religious views, that takes a helluva lot of courage.  She went out like a soldier--unafraid to show her face even as she was literally dying. 

Today, Jim Bakker has another TV ministry from which he sells doomsday prepper supplies in much the same format as the PTL Club of yore.  He's also got a new wife who could pass for Tammy Faye's half sister.  The same is true of conman Peter Popoff, who I view as even more repugnant than Bakker.  (Popoff would do fake healings on dying people & tell them to throw their prescription meds on the stage because they didn't need them anymore).  Famous skeptic James Randi exposed how his "healings" worked & his ministry quickly went under, but he's back on TV today selling "Miracle Spring Water".  Some of the claims Bakker makes about his own quack products definitely cross the line into false claims about a dietary supplement.  For instance, he claims his Silver Solution "cures any venereal disease."  Wat.

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Jim Bakker today with wife Lori
Is this the best we can do, America?  Religious freedom is one thing, but there's no excuse for conning vulnerable people out of their life savings or government assistance.  This is spiritual abuse at its very worst, and it's happening right under the bright lights of television studios for the whole world to see.  Where is the FDA, FCC or other regulatory agencies?  You want to ban supplements like kratom or CBD but allow these snakeoil salesmen to make false claims about their products while robbing elderly dementia patients after being found guilty of the same crimes already?

Tammy Faye is unique in that she got out of this evil game once she saw it for what it was.  And of course she died a horrible death while Jim Bakker's skeevy ass lives to a ripe old age.  Isn't that always how it goes though?  The good die young while the evil run amok?  It's stories like this that make me wish Hell was real, because Mr. Bakker would've surely secured himself a front row seat.  Sometimes justice doesn't prevail in this lifetime which is what makes thoughts of a rewarding or punishing afterlife so attractive.  Since nobody knows for sure what happens after death, we must do better to bring about justice in THIS one.

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