Wednesday, October 30, 2019

"Junkie Pneumonia": The Untold Story of Addicts & AIDS in America

HIV/AIDS is often thought of as a disease that first made its presence known in gay men around 1981, but the truth is much more complex.  And disturbing.  According to several first-hand accounts, AIDS was killing IV drug users in New York City's poor & homeless population as early as 1975--a full 6 years before the epidemic was first officially reported in the Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report in June of 1981 in a group of homosexual men.

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1st report of AIDS on record, MMWR

This is important for 2 major reasons.  First, the total marginalization of addicts allowed the disease to make major inroads for several years that it otherwise wouldn't have made.  Secondly, the mislabeling of AIDS as a gay-specific disease caused much confusion & stigma that persists even to this day.  Before it was named AIDS it was called "gay cancer" or "GRIDS" (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome) because gay men were the first demographic doctors noticed it in.  But perhaps they only noticed it in them because they were middle-to-upper class white males with access to health care, unlike the poor brown & Black junkies on the streets who'd been dying of various opportunistic infections for several years already.

Regardless, the stigma has stuck with the LGBT community.  Gay men still can't donate blood & were told by preachers like Jerry Falwell that AIDS was the wrath of God & an expected consequence for 'going against nature'.  Ronald Reagan's war on domestic spending & conservative attitudes toward sex prevented researchers from receiving desperately needed funding as well as getting safer sex information out to the public.  The epidemic officially started in 1981, but because it was associated with gays & sex he didn't utter the word "AIDS" in public until 1987.  And here's what his cabinet members had to say about it behind closed doors:



Think THAT type of attitude didn't impede AIDS research & prevention?  (Not that there would've necessarily been less stigma if it had been recognized as an addict's disease, but it could've been caught earlier perhaps).  Here is an intriguing article from 1992 in the Ann Arbor Agenda detailing the silent rise of "Junkie Pneumonia," also known on the street as "the dwindles" (referring to the wasting syndrome that accompanies AIDS) long before it was even called GRID or the gay plague:

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Junkie Pneumonía (from page one) the 19... | Ann Arbor District Library
Article credit:  Pattrice Maurer


While we now know the origin of HIV/AIDS lies in the heart of Africa, from where it made its way to Haiti around the 1960's & then into the U.S. in the early 1970's, the history of AIDS on American soil has always been a bit murky.  People started to become deathly ill in noticeable numbers in 1981 from this virus that has a 5-15 year average incubation period, meaning it had to have been with us longer.  Studies show it was in New York City as early as 1970.  There were sporadic cases around the world, like that of Robert Rayford of St. Louis, in 1969. 

But overall AIDS was generally believed to have hit gay men first & hardest, soon affecting IV drug users & hemophiliacs before reaching the general population.  But now this appears to be incorrect.  It was even wrongly blamed on "Patient Zero" Gaetan Dugas, a gay Canadian flight attendant who frequented the bathhouses & was said to have brought the disease to the U.S. coastal cities due to his traveling & cavorting.  But it was present long before he arrived we now know. 

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Gaetan Dugas, wrongly labeled "Patient Zero," died in 1984

IV drug users could've been the first to die from the ravages of AIDS in New York City.  This matters because needle exchange & other harm reduction programs are still illegal in a number of cities & states, not to mention that drug paraphernalia charges can encourage needle sharing by scaring addicts into ditching their clean syringes in lieu of communal/shared ones at shooting galleries.  And HIV isn't the only communicable disease that can be spread with dirty needles.  There's also Hepatitis B & C, both of which can cause chronic liver damage resulting in liver cancer.  Not to mention a variety of bacterial infections that can lead to sepsis.  There was even a malaria outbreak in the 1930's & '40s in New York among IV drug users thanks to needle sharing. 

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(Lesbian) supermodel Gia Carangi died from AIDS contracted through needle sharing

Bottom line:  The marginalization of (often poor, homeless) addicts is a threat to public health.  Even if it weren't, only a psychopath would wish a painful lonely death on people in such a precarious situation.  Universal healthcare is badly needed to prevent another epidemic, as are rational drug laws that prevent the spread of transmissible diseases like HIV & practices like needle sharing.  The AIDS epidemic is but one example of our failed policies in these areas.  The belief that diseases like HIV only affect certain populations who have done something to "deserve" them is not only cruel but wrong...dead wrong.  Our inaction & apathy put us all at risk.  We can't afford to keep treating addicts & the poor like pariahs.  Another plague will be along shortly to nudge us into action if we fail to act now.  





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Friday, October 18, 2019

[Review] - Lotus Gold: Level 1 Tincture

This stuff was a free gift for going through this particular dispensary to get my medical card.  It's got an exceedingly small amount of THC in it, which is actually perfect for my needs as a sleep aid.  THC makes my mind wander too much when taken right before bed.  This tincture contains a total of 64mg THC per bottle, breaking down into about 2 mg per dose.  It also contains a total of the following:  CBG (23mg) & CBD (352mg), CBC (132mg) & 8.70mg CBDv.  I suspect these are the cannabinoids responsible for the drowsy effect.

Baby's first tincture

This was my first time using a syringe to administer cannabis...or anything else.  I must admit it felt kinda dirty, but overall I like the tincture format.  It's discreet, doesn't leave a smell behind & works relatively fast if you leave the liquid under your tongue for 3-5 minutes before swallowing.  To administer, you simply remove the lid & plop the syringe down into the little hole, turn the bottle sideways & draw it up via the vacuum effect.  Viola.

This is an ideal product for total cannabis newbies.  It's not much more potent per dose than smoking a hemp flower joint (0.03% THC) & the flavor is inoffensive.  Just tastes a bit "green" like weed.  It also comes in flavored versions that are slightly stronger (74mg THC instead of 64mg), one of which my friend chose.  She is completely weed naive & likes this product as a sleep aid too.



Syringe that came with the tincture

If you're looking for something to use during the daytime, get mentally lifted or kill severe pain/other symptoms, this type of product probably won't cut it.  Perhaps if you were to take several syringe-fuls it would be more potent but I haven't tried that yet.  This is more of a 'relax-after-a-stressful day' cannabis item for those with no prior experience--or at least no experience with today's potent flower & concentrates.  I don't get any munchies from it like I do with my RedBud vape cart yet there are still noticeable effects from the THC.  Just enough to tell that it's not a pure CBD product though.

Overall I give this tincture a 4.8 of 5 stars for quality, uniqueness & professional labeling.  It's not often you find medical marijuana items in this state that tell the exact amount of each cannabinoid they contain...sadly.  While it may be too mild for hardcore potheads or those with serious disease, I find it ideal for those with less debilitating issues like insomnia, migraine or anxiety (not that those conditions aren't awful--I struggle with all three.  But they're not ALS or cancer).  Would likely be a good choice for children or small-bodied people who have their medical cards as well as those interested in exploring the effects of less well-known cannabinoids like CBC or CBG. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

5 Reasons Legalizing ALL Drugs Is the Way Forward




While a majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, others are reluctant or outright against legalizing other substances like cocaine or opiates.  While I can sympathize with their reasoning, this is a hypocritical position to take.  There are many myths surrounding drug legalization that need to be debunked before we can have an honest discussion, some of which require you to actually do a bit of research.  Fortunately the data exists because other countries have softened their drug laws with very positive results.  (See:  Switzerland, Portugal & the Netherlands).  No model is perfect but there are an infinite world of possibilities once you get past the initial fear & stigma of drugs themselves.

Here are my Top 5 reasons all drugs should be legalized, starting with plants & moving into more popular "staples" like LSD, DMT, speed, GHB & 2C-B.

1.  Legalizing a drug does not = condoning its use.  It's a purely legal decision, not a moral message.  It also doesn't increase the rates of use of said substance.  Quite the opposite.  It merely takes control of the drug supply back from the violent cartels, smugglers, gangsters & dealers who currently profit from the black market trade, de-funding these criminals & putting that money into the hands of entities who must check customer ID & follow rigorous safety standards when manufacturing their product.  As with legalized cannabis, it would also bring in a great amount of tax revenue for states...money that's currently funding violent groups like the Sinaloa Cartel, the Bloods & MS-13. 

2.  Your body, your choice.  Drug legalization should not be based on the merits of each individual substance nor their perceived harms but on the principle that locking people up for altering their own consciousness in private is inherently anti-constitutional & cruel.  As long as you don't impose your drug use on others via bad behavior, it should be your personal business alone.

3.  Increased purity & safety.  Legalizing drugs like opium, amphetamine, mushrooms, ketamine, MDMA & other popular recreational substances will automatically reduce or even eliminate the market for Frankenstein chemicals like like synthetic cannabinoids ("Spice"), bath salts & carfentanil.  The only reason these drugs have a foothold is because they subvert the legal system & allow users to get high without breaking the law or failing a drug test--not because they're more desirable or safe.  Also: no more tainted drugs in a legalized market because everything will come in measured doses & be regulated for purity.

4.  Real drug education for kids.  Legalizing drugs will allow for honest, practical drug education programs in schools that give students harm reduction info in addition to the abstinence-only, zero tolerance message they currently receive.  We know abstinence-only education doesn't work, whether it's Sex Ed or drug education, so to continue the "Just Say No" method without offering alternative safety tips is sending the message that anyone who experiments with drugs deserves to die, get addicted or whatever other awful fate befalls them.  This is callous, untrue & has no place in the 21st Century.  Yet with drugs currently being illegal, it's the only socially acceptable message educators feel they can give--particularly if those educators are police officers like in the D.A.R.E. type programs.  Legalization would open the door to more effective & compassionate harm reduction education that would save lives.

5.  Less waste of taxpayer dollars/more efficient policing.  Once we stop wasting taxpayer resources locking up non-violent drug offenders, we can direct those resources toward filling our prisons with rapists, child molesters, murderers, large-scale environmental polluters (i.e. BP execs), stalkers, animal abusers, domestic abusers & others who pose a real threat to the safety of law-abiding citizens.  That's what prisons are for; not for those whose lifestyles we simply disagree with.  As for drug addicts, we can use the money saved to offer them affordable treatment if & when they're ready to receive it.  Literally everyone wins.

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In no way does this promote a lawless society.  Someone gets behind the wheel intoxicated?  They go to jail.  Show up to work higher than a kite?  Congrats, you just lost your job.  Neglecting your kids because you've been up for days tweaking?  You stand to lose custody just like any other neglectful parent.  Drugs are no excuse for bad behavior.  Just the opposite--in a prohibition-free society, drugs will no longer be as readily scapegoated for the decisions consenting adults make. 

If you're afraid of people using drugs, just be aware that it's already happening at an unprecedented rate.  Literally nothing we could do would make it worse except to stay on the current path.  We've tried prohibition for 80-some years & it hasn't worked.  Drugs are more potent & abundant than ever.  You can't arrest your way out of a public health epidemic.  Like arguments against abortion, those against drug legalization are usually based on feelings like fear, bigotry & disgust rather than logic & facts.  Laws governing peoples' bodies must be based on facts...not feelings or politics.

Disagree or have anything to add?  Hit me up in the comments.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Bizarre Life of Bizzy Bone

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You don't have to be a hardcore rap fan to have heard of Bizzy Bone, the lightning-tongued member of multi-platinum Grammy winning group Bone thugs-n-harmony.  What you may not know is that Bizzy (Bryon McCane) has one helluva crazy life story behind his success.  He's appeared on America's Most Wanted, Oprah & the Maury Povich Show over the years to talk about his pain & inspire fans as well as founding several charities.  But there's been plenty of drama & controversy along the way too.

Bryon was the product of an interracial union between a social worker mother & absentee father.  He was only 4 when he & his 2 sisters were kidnapped by their stepfather.  They were taken across the country, told that their mother was dead & subsisted on whatever food they could obtain by begging.  (His stepdad was an ex-NFL player named Byron McCane who played briefly for the Pittsburgh Steelers).  During this nightmare trek, Bizzy was molested by another child & likely experienced other forms of sexual/emotional abuse by his stepfather.  I recall reading somewhere that he'd watch porn in motel rooms in front of the kids which is probably only the tip of the iceberg.  They were finally discovered after Bizzy's photo was aired on the first episode of America's Most Wanted with John Walsh following the murder of John's son Adam.  By sheer chance, a neighbor recognized Bizzy living on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma.  The kids were returned home to Ohio but the happy reunion would be short-lived.

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Photo of Bryon aired on America's Most Wanted

Unfortunately, Bizzy's mom would enter a string of abusive relationships that would directly affect her kids.  Bizzy & his sisters were battered by these men until they were finally placed in foster care for what was supposed to be a temporary placement until their mom Rosanna could get on her feet.  While Bizzy's stepmother was a loving figure he bonded with deeply, he eventually missed his biological sisters & moved back to a rough Cleveland neighborhood to be with them.  (His foster mom claimed that, at 7 years old, Bizzy didn't know how to work a telephone & had never seen the inside of a refrigerator.  This indicates unimaginable neglect if true).  In Cleveland, Bryon's drug-dealing career would begin.  It's also where he would meet the 4 friends who would forever alter the course of his future.  In a positive way for once.   

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From left:  Layzie, Bizzy, Wish & Krayzie Bone

While in high school, Bizzy hooked up with the other members of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony--Layzie, Wish, Krayzie & Flesh-n-Bone--& began performing in local talent shows.  He also fathered a child at only 14, though in one of his songs he rapped that "I was a daddy at 12" so there's some discrepancy there.  Either way, that's extremely young.  Eventually the guys would formulate a plan to track down Eazy-E & audition for him after one of his shows, buying a one-way Greyhound bus ticket to California & betting it all on that one shot.  It worked & the rest is history.  They joined Eazy's record label Ruthless Records & began their career as legit rap artists.  Bizzy was only 16 at the time they signed their first contract. 

Bizzy was one of the first--if not the only--rappers to put his personal story of being sexually abused on wax & speak openly about it in interviews.  That's significant in an industry that was, especially in the '90s, highly homophobic & hyper-masculine.  He was even mocked for it by Wendy Williams.  He's also endured homophobic taunts over the years from fans & haters which has to hurt considering he doesn't identify as gay. 


ADULT / HOOD

Like any real-life story, Bizzy's bio hasn't been all sunshine & rainbows.  He's fathered a total of 10 children by around 8 different mothers (depending on which source you consult); lost many close loved ones including Eazy-E prematurely; went through an extreme period of drug abuse & mental illness; had multiple breakups with his band mates & record label; was beaten/choked/robbed in an L.A. hotel in 2009 & did some assaulting & threatening of his own.

The most troubling instance by far is an audio recording of a drunken Bizzy verbally assaulting & throwing things at his ex Ranna Royce while he calls her sickening names like "whore" & "slut" in an almost demonic voice as she screams for him to stop.  I admittedly boycotted his music for a while after hearing that.  His misogynistic side definitely comes out while intoxicated, as in another video on Youtube of him sending a message to his daughters that their worth is in their "pussy" and they better not let a bunch of men "beat up their womb" thereby decreasing their value as humans.  The guy's got unresolved mommy issues for sure, and who can blame him after what he's been through?  Still, at his age (early 40's) there's no excuse for not getting that ass in therapy & working through your trauma like an adult.  Especially with that many kids to raise.

Still, through it all, Bizzy's pulled off an amazing transformation that's immediately apparent just by looking at him.  This photo from 2005 shows a bald, bug-eyed, leathery skinned dope fiend who looked at least 20 years older than his age.  In the last few years, Bizzy has been hitting the gym, eating healthy, foregoing the hard drugs & taking better care of himself.  And it really shows.  See the two pics below for comparison:

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Bizzy circa 2005 (horns added for effect)

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Bizzy with wife in 2018



In addition to all this other craziness, Bizzy has changed religions several times, converting from Catholicism to Islam to who knows what at the current time.  After becoming emaciated & attempting to walk on foot from Columbus to Cleveland in 2004, his weight then ballooned up by at least 80 lbs, putting him in the overweight/obese category.  He's beefed publicly with too many rappers & singers to list here.  Including members of his own band.  And he was slated to appear on Dr. Drew's Celebrity Rehab during the early 2010's but that season was nixxed for some reason.  But that's all behind him...for now.  

Despite his sometimes violent behavior, I'm quietly rooting for BB to keep his shit together.  Love can be a stabilizing force but even if the marriage goes South I hope he stays off the drugs/booze & in the gym.  And if he's not already in therapy, here's hoping he will get there one day.  I suspect he's bipolar based on his pattern of wild up & down mood/energy swings and self-medication, but of course you can't diagnose someone you've never met and without a medical degree.  PTSD?  Absolutely.  Anyone with that history would naturally experience that.  Something would be wrong if they didn't.  

From abducted boy to foster child to legendary hip-hop artist, Bizzy Bone has led one interesting & inspiring--and at times baffling, disturbing & scary--life.  Maybe "Bizzy" is short for "Bizarre".  😋

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Monday, October 14, 2019

[Video] - This Is Life with Lisa Ling: The Benzo Crisis

Holy fuck, guys.  If you're reading this now, take a few minutes to watch this excellent piece on benzos by Lisa Ling.  If you're feeling brave, go to Youtube & read the comments under the video itself.  It's full of identical stories of almost unbelievable suffering due to these innocuous little "chill pills".  I can attest to the fact that it's ALL TRUE.  I've spoken about my own benzodiazepine withdrawal experience many times here & it's exactly in line with what's shown in this piece.

Unlike the opiate crisis, the benzo crisis won't consist of peaceful overdoses but deaths by suicide, homicide, violent seizures & other ungodly manifestations of the insanity they can cause with long-term use.  To be clear, I don't advocate banning benzos; doctors just need to prescribe them responsibly for occasional use in severe panic or anxiety--not as a nightly sleep aid or daily anti-anxiety/depression meds.  They make ALL of these problems infinitely worse over time and then when you quit, your mental health can deteriorate further.  Withdrawal can even be fatal.


This Is Life: The Benzo Crisis

Watch full video on Dailymotion.com here.

Many of the teens & other young folks substituting Xanax & other benzos for opiates that are now harder to come by have no idea what they're getting into.  While opiates have their own serious risks, benzos are insidious in their ability to make anxiety, insomnia & depression worse with repeated use, causing you to increase your dose to combat those symptoms.  You eventually reach a point where no dose helps & you're having inter-dose withdrawals all the time.  At that point, you've got two choices:  continue down the miserable, hopeless path you're on or quit the meds altogether--the latter of which will somehow make ALL of this worse than it already is...sometimes for months or years.  Even if you taper at a snail's pace.  

If you already happen to suffer with an anxiety or mood disorder, all of this can be enough to drive you over the edge into suicide territory.  But even if you don't, benzos have been shown to cause mania and depression in people who have never experienced either condition.  They also make sleep quality & cognitive functioning worse with repeated/frequent use as well as damaging your physical health in numerous waysAgain, this is only when used long-term on a frequent basis.  They can be quite safe if reserved for situational, occasional uses like public speaking or flying on an airplane once in a while.  But it sure is tempting to overuse them if you enjoy that laid back booze-in-a-pill feeling.

Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell & Sparklehorse lead singer Mark Linkous all had benzos in their system when they committed suicide.  In the Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven, it's claimed that Klonopin affected Kurt worse than heroin, making him "delusional, paranoid & manic" shortly before his death in '94.  Actor & comedian Freddie Prinze Sr. was addicted to Quaaludes, an older drug with a similar mechanism of action when he killed himself.  Ditto for Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, who was prescribed phenobarbital for his seizures & rapidly developed crushing depression according to his band mates.  This family of GABA-binding drugs all work in a similar manner, slowing down neuronal signalling in the brain to produce relaxing/sedative effects.  The flipside of this is what's known as the rebound effect, which is what happens when you attempt to stop taking the drug.  Neuronal impulses speed up to dangerous levels, causing symptoms like severe panic, high blood pressure & even seizures or convulsions.  

If you're looking to quit a benzo habit, please check out The Ashton Manual for advice on safe tapering & what to expect.  It pretty much saved my life when I quit etizolam & is considered the "Holy Bible of Benzo Withdrawal".  Dr. Ashton was sounding the alarm bell long ago in the 1980's but few doctors would listen.  There was a huge public call to ban the drug temazepam (Restoril) in Scotland in 1995, so it's safe to say the U.K. is better informed than the U.S. about the dangers of benzos in general.  I fear we'll be learning too late as usual & go too far in banning the drugs rather than simply prescribing them more sensibly.  That seems to be the pattern.  

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Unbelievably Tragic Life of Punker David Rubinstein




Some stories are so depressing as to be almost unbelievable.  If God exists, it's biographies like these that make one question whether He/She/It has any empathy or humanity at all.  

Dave Rubinstein--son of two Holocaust survivors--was the lead singer & founding member of hardcore/punk band Reagan Youth, which was a staple at CBGB's in the 1980s.  While the band never reached mainstream success, they toured with famous acts like Dead Kennedys, Beastie Boys & Bad Brains & performed at Rock Against Racism throughout the early '80s.  The name "Reagan Youth" was a satirical take on the hypocrisy of the so-called Moral Majority of the conservative Christian/Reaganite era.  They were a decidedly leftist group in a world of predominantly right-wing bands, eventually making them outcasts as punk rock morphed into a more Nazi-tinged hardcore scene.  


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Promotional poster

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Reagan Youth in their heyday


By the end of the decade, Ronald Reagan had left office & the group disbanded due to lack of income & general exhaustion.  Rubinstein also had a pretty serious heroin habit which he dealt drugs to support.  He was still attempting to record music with his newly formed band House Of God during this period, though he ran into a major roadblock when he was brutally attacked during a drug deal gone wrong.  His former bandmate Paul "Cripple" Bakija describes finding out about the situation as follows:

He told me that Dave sang two tracks on each song before he left, and that he said he'd come back to fix up all his weak spots, which were many, let's face it. But days went by and soon they turned to weeks and it became obvious that Dave wasn't in any rush to come by the studio. As the lead singer, laying down vocal tracks are important, but as the leader of the band, mixing down the record was just as, if not, more important. Nicky had been so patient with us but by this time his patience was just about gone. So Nicky asks me what should be done and I tell him "Just go use whatever we have" as I figured Dave would call up eventually, outraged that he didn't sort through and edit out all the bullshit. Basically, to come in and give it a final mix. I was pissed something fierce at the way Dave was behaving, so my thinking at that time was "Let Dave go bitch to Nicky about how it can't be released like that when he finally decides to show up". I knew in the back of my mind that Nicky would allow Dave to do that, but unfortunately, Dave never ever did show up at the studio.

Soon after that I get this phone call, but it's not from Dave or Nicky. Some police officer is calling to ask me what I know about Dave. I ask him "What happened?" and the cop says "You tell me" like some real wise ass. So I'm like "Okay, so Dave's in jail?" and the cop says "No, no, no. He's not in jail". Next I ask "Is he dead?" and the cop chuckles at that one as he says "Oh no, he's not dead". I take a moment to think what's left and I say "So he's in rehab?" and the cop says "Nope. He's not in rehab". At this point I'm all out of ideas so I'm like "I give up, so where is he?" and the cop tells me to "Go call his parents if you want to find out", and so I do. I get Dave's mom on the line and she tells me that "Someone beat David up with a baseball bat and he just came out of a coma".

The next day I visit Dave in the hospital and boy is it tough, he looks like hell. Dave's eye lid was swollen so much it reached all the way down to his upper lip. His parents were there and I find out that he needed a lobotomy to save his life. Eventually, he gets discharged from the hospital but Dave now has stitches going around his forehead from ear to ear. When Dave finally recovered, as best he could, I asked him what happened. Dave told me he couldn't remember anything. Neither Dave nor I insisted on getting back the tapes and giving it a real final mix. 

Yep, you read that right.  David Rubinstein was given a lobotomy...in the late 1980s.  

For those who don't know, lobotomies involve taking an ice pick or similar device & hammering it into the eye sockets, scrambling the frontal lobes of the brain around randomly & hoping for the best.  Why this particular procedure would be chosen to alleviate brain damage is a mystery, as it was considered dangerous & cruel by the 1950s when meds like Thorazine hit the market & it was discovered that lobotomy turned people into vegetables more often than not.  Yet it continued covertly "well into the 1980s" in America & other countries.  


Retro Report: Lobotomy

Not much info can be found about who performed the procedure on Rubinstein...or why.  I would be interested in "picking their brain" (pun definitely fucking intended) to understand their reasoning.  Did they bother consulting with the family first, or did some lone nut doctor just take it upon him/herself to lobotomize an already brain-damaged man?  While it's unlikely Dave's leftist politics came into play, his "lowly" status as a drug addict might've made him more vulnerable to predatory practices like that.  That he was a child of Holocaust survivors only makes it more chilling to think about.        

Understandably, Dave was no longer himself after the beating & lobotomy.  His new band House Of God never took off due to his personal problems.  He became lethargic & continued using drugs, marijuana primarily but eventually dope again, & was abandoned by most of his old music scene friends.  Around this time he started a relationship with a prostitute named Tiffany Bresciani who supported their drug habit by stripping & sleeping with men for cash.  What happened next sounds like something out of a Law & Order SVU episode.  


Photo of Dave after lobotomy & beating, circa 1990


Tiffany went off to meet a familiar client one warm night on June 24th never returned.  Rubinstein called police & searched all her local haunts & hospitals to no avail.  A few weeks later, Tiffany's decaying body was found in a truck after a car crash during a high-speed chase.  The killer was notorious serial killer Joel Rifkin.  He was later linked to the murders of numerous prostitutes in and around Long Island.  Tiffany was only 22 years old when she died.  


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Tiffany Bresciani (1971-1993)

Unfortunately, David was unable to emotionally recover from this terrible loss.  His mother had also been killed in a car accident recently, so on July 3, 1993, less than a week after his girlfriend's body was found, he committed suicide with a lethal drug overdose.  

Today, Reagan Youth still perform & maintain social media accounts albeit with a different lineup.  Andy "Apathy" Bryan died of an overdose in 2002 while most of the other original members went their separate ways for other reasons.  Founding member Paul Bakija appears to maintain the brand but it'll never be quite the same without their passionate frontman Dave "Insurgent" Rubinstein.  

Is there a moral to this story?  Aside from "don't do hard drugs" or more specifically "don't sell drugs or your body," I don't think so.  Dave & Tiffany were victims & victim-blaming has no place in the 21st Century.  R.I.P.  









Thursday, October 10, 2019

What's the Deal With: Poppers?

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The inhalant alkyl nitrite class of drugs, commonly known as "poppers", are most famous for their use as a sexual stimulant among gay men but they were originally prescribed to treat angina/chest pain in heart disease patients.  They work by smoothing the muscles around the body's blood vessels, including most notably, the anus and vagina.  Hence their use as a sexual aid.  They also provide a head rush that lasts about 10-20 seconds.  They're sold under the guise of "nail polish remover," "tape head cleaner" & other such things that are, of course, not for human consumption.  They're sold in sex shops under suggestive names like Ram, Rush, Man Scent & Jungle Juice which belies their actual use.

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Vintage ad for poppers

But not all poppers are created equal.  There are many different varieties, some more potent or toxic than others.  Amyl nitrite was the popper du jour in the 1970s, while today you're more likely to encounter pentyl, isobutyl, isopropyl or butyl nitrite due to the scheduling of the original Amyl version.  According to some studies, the isopropyl variety can cause serious eye damage in the form of maculopathy, and accidental ingestion of any popper can cause lipoid pneumonia & other potentially fatal outcomes like cyanosis.  More common side effects of sniffing poppers can include pounding headaches, dizziness, erectile dysfunction (temporary) and nose bleeds. 

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Variety of popper brands

So why would anyone want to risk all that for a short-lived rush?  The same reason a tobacco user starts using the most addictive drug in the world--one that doesn't even get you high & has a good chance of causing disease & early death:  because they like how it makes them feel.  Because others in their peer group are using it.  Because it's part of the culture they belong to & they want to know what it's like.  Overall, poppers are less harmful than many other recreational drugs so long as you don't combine them with erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra or have pre-existing diseases like glaucoma or heart disease.  The risk of physical dependence & addiction is relatively low as well. 

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Another retro popper ad from a gay mag

For a short time in the early '80s, the CDC & other health agencies suspected a bad batch of poppers as a possible cause of AIDS.  But that was quickly discarded when the HIV virus was discovered.  Still, the abuse of inhibition-lowering drugs like poppers, MDMA & cocaine can indirectly increase the risk of acquiring the virus as well as other STDs like Human Herpes Virus-8, which causes Kaposi's Sarcoma in AIDS patients with compromised immune systems.  Indeed, these men living in the "fast lane"--taking recreational drugs & partying nightly, going to bed with multiple anonymous partners every week--were the first to acquire the disease & die, signaling the tip of a very large iceberg.  And according to DanceSafe.org, the vasodilating effects of poppers might make HIV & other STD transmission more likely too. 

But blaming a drug...ANY drug...for the acquiring of a deadly disease is scapegoating at best.  Using the substance is a choice, as is having unprotected sex (with a stranger outside a monogamous relationship at that).  Many choices must be made along the way before one can make the connection between Point A (poppers) and Point B (AIDS).  Drugs don't make decisions; people do.  Various countries have banned certain poppers.  For instance, Japan & Canada have made a blanket ban on all forms while the EU has outlawed only the isobutyl nitrite variety.  The UK has also called for bans but ultimately decided they didn't fall within the scope of the Psychoactive Substances Act.  In the U.S. the law is more hazy:  all alkyl nitrites have been banned except for "commercial use," defined as any use other than producing a high in humans.  Hmph.  

What more is there to say on the subject?  Be safe, be aware & use moderation as you would with any other substance.  Never ingest (swallow) poppers & don't forgo protection while under their influence if using them for sexual enhancement.  And have a gay ol' time!  





Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Does Rick Simpson Oil Cure Cancer?

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For decades we've heard whispers that cannabis has cancer killing properties.  At worst, it doesn't appear to cause lung cancer even in long-term heavy smokers the way tobacco does.  At best, it's been shown to have anti-tumor properties in petri dishes & lab animals.  But the biggest anecdotal reports have come from a man named Rick Simpson, the Canadian who invented Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) and the documentary "Run From the Cure".  In it, he claims his cannabis concentrate cures everything from skin cancer to concussion symptoms to HIV/AIDS.  These claims are backed by glowing anecdotal reports of his clients who use the oil.  These people undoubtedly are 'true believers' in the power of cannabis--I don't begrudge them that one bit.  Ditto for Simpson.

Run From the Cure (2008)
I recently bought my first batch of RSO at a local medical dispensary & am quite impressed with its full-bodied effects.  Unlike most other weed products, it has an opium-like feel that relaxes the body without causing a racing mind or pounding heart (as long as you keep the dose exceedingly low).  It turns my muscles to jelly & eases any pain or tension right out of my bones, making it a perfect nightcap.  I've even reduced my sleep aid intake since trying it.

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Typical sample of RSO
But what of the cancer-curing claims?  Thankfully I've never had this dreaded disease & pray I never do, but if that should occur I would definitely reach for RSO & other cannabis medicines as an adjunct to pharmaceutical therapies like chemo or radiation.  My beef with Rick Simpson the man is that he denounces these scientifically proven treatments on his website, even going so far as to claim that the patients who couldn't be saved by RSO were actually killed by too much chemo/radiation rather than their primary terminal disease.  This is offensive to anyone with two brain cells to rub together.  He also throws around words like "toxins" & "natural" which is a major red flag for quackery.  This is known as the Appeal To Nature fallacy, in which anything that comes from nature is erroneously deemed safe while anything synthetic/man-made is dangerous.  
Yes, radiation & chemotherapy ARE harsh & caustic and can even increase your risk of developing other types of cancer down the road.  This has been known as long as they've been in use.   But they're currently the best treatment we've got (along with immunotherapy, surgery & some emerging treatments like stem-cell therapy).  As scary as the side effects of these treatments are, they pale in comparison the the horror of wasting away from terminal cancer.  However, it's often too late when patients have this revelation.  Bob Marley, Steve Jobs & Andy Kaufman are among the many cancer patients who succumbed to their diseases due to a combination of denial & choosing "alternative medicine" over evidence-based treatments for too long.  Since cancer is a time-sensitive disease, they were too far gone by the time they decided to endure science-based treatments.  

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Fear-selling propaganda of the "alternative" medicine industry

One interesting & possibly unrelated factoid is that Rick Simpson himself developed skin cancer--the basal cell kind which is far less deadly than melanoma--after using his miracle oil for a head injury.  That in no way proves the oil causes cancer but it certainly didn't do much to prevent it in his case.  And therein lies the biggest problem with the whole 'cannabis cures cancer' debate: the only proof of efficacy in humans are anecdotes--i.e. individual stories with no controls to compare them to.  None of them know exactly how much of the active ingredient they're getting per dose, they're often getting oil made from different "strains" with different terpenoid levels, etc.  Plus, there's so much variability in the human body that, just because something kills cancer cells in the lab, that doesn't mean it'll work in vivo.  Hell, soap or a gun kills cancer in a petri dish... won't work so well in the human body.  

Without a placebo controlled group, there's nothing to compare the RSO group to.  Everyone's just going in with a hopeful heart & wishful mind.  That makes for some seriously skewed results even with the best intentions.  There's also the fact that many of these patients have previously had chemo or radiation, which is likely the real reason their disease improved.  And sometimes cancer spontaneously remits.  That's the problem with the lack of controls--there's no way to prove the RSO should be credited for "curing" anything in those who in fact improved.  

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Snake oil cancer cures are as old as the printing press.

To be clear:  I don't begrudge these very sick people the right to use ANYTHING that eases their suffering or might increase the quality (or quantity) of their days, be it cannabis, Dilaudid or crack.  Terminal patients should be allowed to do with their last days what they wish (as we all should, but terminal patients would be a great place to start).  We all have the innate right to pursue a pain-free life & death.  

When it becomes dangerous is when someone without any sort of medical degree or scientific training comes along & fills dying people with false hope based on essentially nothing.  We've seen it with apricot pits ("vitamin B17"), oleander (yes, the extremely poisonous variety), urine-drinking therapy, coffee enemas & countless other quack "cures" guaranteeing to rid the body of cancer while doing no such thing.  Many are useless or outright deadly.  Some kill directly while others do so by letting the disease advance to a metastasized degree where it can't be cured.  RSO would fall into the latter category.  

These treatments prey on the public's (understandable) desire for a cure for one of the most dreaded diseases plaguing humanity.  We all know someone who's died from cancer; wouldn't it be amazing if there was a NATURAL way to cure it?  And wouldn't it make sense that Big Pharma--whose #1 priority is profit--would try to suppress it?  There has been a dearth of cannabis medical research in the last 80 years due to prohibition, so there's a lot of catching up to do in that regard at least.  While weed is a promising adjunct therapy for cancer & other serious disease, there's not currently enough evidence to suggest it as a standalone therapy for these conditions.  Doing so would lead to certain death.  Perhaps when we can surgically open up patients & slather a concentrated form of cannabinoids directly on the tumor it will be considered a legit remedy, but currently not.  

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A common refrain from fraudsters

The question that repeatedly comes up is, "If they're dying anyway, what's the harm in letting them try anything that MIGHT work?"  The harm is that you're feeding a system of quackery with your money, thereby helping fund these fraudsters.  There are stories of dying people being essentially tortured in their last days, spending every last dime of their children's inheritance on the "privilege" of dying without dignity.  Entire families are driven into poverty over this tripe.  And there is no chance for a cure--only additional suffering & bankruptcy.  Americans (and others) need to come to grips with the concept that life is finite & some diseases simply aren't curable.  Doctors focus on prolonging life at any cost even when quality is zero.  That too is a problem.  End of life care is something we should all talk more about before we get to the point of needing it.  Preventative medicine too.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes.  

When a patient is declared terminal, that would be a time when foregoing chemo/radiation or other harsh treatments might be justified.  If there's no hope for a cure, then choosing cannabis or other palliative medicines is an acceptable route.  But not when a cancer is in Stage I or II and typically responds well to proven treatments.  Cancer is not one disease so there will never be one cure for all types.  Even "chemo" isn't a single drug but many different ones.  Anyone who tells you they've got THE cure for "cancer" is selling snake oil.


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Learn to spot bullshit claims like this one.

What we do know based on actual evidence:  cannabis has legit effects on the symptoms of many diseases including cancer & its harsh treatments.  Nausea, wasting, pain, spasticity, insomnia, anxiety & neurological symptoms like epilepsy & migraine to name a few.  It keeps the appetite up, which is vital during chemo which often causes dramatic weight loss.  These things alone are reason enough to suggest it for cancer patients.

But that's a very different thing than claiming cannabis alone CURES CANCER.  Claims like that do more harm than good to the cause and certainly to the individuals who opt out of real treatment that could save their lives.  In some cases, cannabis might actually do a bit of harm.  CBD is a cytochrome P450 inhibitor, meaning it can reduce the effectiveness of some medications also metabolized by this enzyme.  So check with your doctor before supplementing with weed or anything else.  




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