Wednesday, March 25, 2020

So...I Think I Have the Corona :\

Disclaimer:  Like thousands of Americans with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, I wasn't tested due to a severe shortage of test kits.  So this entire article is based on my own conjecture & suspicion.  Do with it what you will.  

I'm a hermit for whom this whole "social distancing" thing comes naturally.  You don't have to TELL me to isolate.  But I just so happened to require an emergency tooth extraction in the midst of this pandemic, which was scary due to my germophobia.  Luckily I've been in therapy for the past year so I was able to manage THAT fear & focus all my panic on my dental phobia.  Joy.  The extraction was awful but I got Lortabs afterward (score!) so it was all worth it.  The dental assistant was coughing demurely through her mask but I was side-tracked with the 7 shots (!) required to numb my mouth to yank the tooth.  It came out in pieces.  There were tears.  All mine.

The Man Behind the Sunglasses - Pacific Standard
Social distancing king.

That night I noticed the Norcos were barely working at all.  I felt cranky, confused & extremely hot...a combination of feverish & hot flashy in a way I can't quite describe.  I was also moody which is odd considering the relatively large (for me) supply of pain meds I'd just acquired.  Normally this'd be cause for celebration but I just felt unhappy.  And slightly dizzy.  Pain meds don't make me dizzy unless I take a bunch & ride in a car which I hadn't.  (If the mental/emotional symptoms sound odd, check out the Sickness Behavior article I wrote recently.  Very timely, heh).

The next day is when the random waves of fatigue kicked in.  I fell asleep during meditation & again around sunset.  I'm a light sleeper & that never happens.  Even while I was on a Lortab I felt drained of energy & cranky, which is NOT the norm.  They always make me energized & euphoric so I knew something was off.  Maybe it was a dental infection setting in?  My mouth did hurt several days after the extraction.  Better call in some antibiotics.

After a few more days of weird hot flashes, dizziness & fatigue, I got my clindamycin prescription only to acquire a new symptom:  dry cough.  It wasn't an involuntary, unpredictable cough but one I was forcing to clear my lungs of whatever was making it hard to breathe.  While I wasn't gasping or drowning by any means, I can see how someone with COPD or another lung condition would be struggling.  It felt reminiscent of the bronchitis I had as a kid when I was fighting a viral infection.  Lungs were probably at about 80% functionality if I had to guess, and sore.

Symptoms | CDC
Symptoms & duration match my illness

Now I knew it wasn't a dental infection.  And I don't have allergies that affect my lungs.  Still, I checked the allergy report in my zip code just to be sure, even though I REALLY don't have allergies that affect my lower respiratory tract.  Nothing but a little ragweed.  Mold is my main allergy trigger, but even that doesn't cause lung symptoms.  I'm not asthmatic, so that narrows it down even further.  Influenza, which I've only had 2 times in my whole life, is marked by severe joint & muscle aches which are totally absent here.  That leaves 2 options:  a common cold or COVID-19.

My symptoms were unique in that they waxed & waned throughout the day, sometimes seeming completely absent & then coming back full-force (usually worst in the mornings & evenings but not always).  In addition to the dry cough there was also sneezing & runny nose.  And random nausea that lasted only moments at a time.  My dreams were vivid beyond what's normal for me, which is typically what happens when I'm sick or in opiate withdrawal.  (I'm not withdrawing from anything at the moment).  I've coughed up a tiny bit of phlegm so far so I know there's an infection going on.  I won't get into gross details but yeah.  The sputum is not exactly clear.

From start to finish it's lasted from March 13th - March 26th (tentatively).  I'm starting to feel better as of the 25th but still not 100%.  Still feeling wheezy & sneezy but my energy is coming back & my mood is greatly improved.  I've done my best to isolate & haven't left the property since falling ill.  I will continue to be vigilant because I know this is contagious after one begins to feels better.  Hand hygiene is a top priority & high-quality sanitizer is in abundance (thanks, OCD).

To recap, my symptoms were as follows:

Prodrome:  Fever, dizziness, fatigue, low mood, confusion.

Acute Illness:  Dry cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sneezing, runny nose, nausea, vivid dreams.

So did I have the COVID?  No way of knowing, which is beyond frustrating.  The dearth of test kits in the U.S. is inexcusable when the WHO has shipped such kits to 57 other countries.  Yet we insist on "making our own" (and have done a shit-tier job so far).  My state wasted 20% of our entire supply of kits on an NBA team, which tells you just how few we had to begin with.  In the rest of the nation, your only hope of getting one is being a celebrity or someone who's traveled to a "high-risk" area like China or Italy...never mind that the whole planet is high risk since the virus has spread to virtually every corner of the globe by now.

So before you accuse me, Greta Thunberg or anyone else of self-diagnosing or attention-seeking, maybe point the finger at the inept governments that failed to provide adequate tests & other medical care.  Epidemics & pandemics aren't unexpected; new infectious diseases pop up every few years.  What the hell are we paying taxes for if not decent healthcare (among other basic quality-of-life features?)  Oh, and if you haven't done so recently, thank a healthcare worker for their service.  They're battling this nightmare with woefully inadequate protective equipment akin to what the Chernobyl cleanup crew was given.  And we know how that turned out. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

What's in Your Doomsday Stash?

Image result for pandora's box

Annoying as it is, the coronavirus lockdown came at sort of a perfect time for me.  I just got a tooth pulled & was prescribed 30 Lortabs(!) the day before my dentist took leave due to the pandemic.  Score.  I also had 3 giant boxes of codeine tabs arrive along with some coca powder & other goodies.  So I'm set for the apocalypse.

But this quarantine situation has me thinking:  What would happen if my daily drugs of choice suddenly became unavailable for a long stretch?  I use stimulants & opioids every day along with an SSRI & mood stabilizer.  Most of these items come from various pharmacies--I don't buy anything from the black market.  Obviously I'd go into physical withdrawal if I ran out of the SSRI & opiates, which has happened before many times & is highly unpleasant.  The symptoms of both kinds of withdrawal are identical for me:  anxiety, irritability, cold sweats, yawning, fatigue, insomnia & nightmares/brain zaps.  SSRI withdrawal is slightly worse because it lasts around a month while opiate withdrawal only lasts a week at most (with the exception of opium poppy pods, which had me feeling crazy for 2 months after I quit).  Your mileage may vary. 

Thankfully, I've stockpiled enough kratom & codeine to shore up the Hoover Dam.  There will be no withdrawals even if the world goes to shit for a year.  Ditto for my antidepressants.  While I'm not proud to be dependent on stims & opiates, I think it's important to have boundaries & limits to prevent them from destroying your life, such as:

If you're going to get into daily use of an addictive substance, plan ahead so you don't run out in situations like this.  Not everyone has the means to buy drugs in bulk, I get that.  In that case it's better to opt for long-acting options like methadone or buprenorphine instead of heroin or oxycodone.  That way you're not having to seek out a fix every few hours as the drug wears off.  If these aren't available you can always ingest your drugs orally rather than smoking or IV, which generally results in longer-lasting effects.  That's certainly the case with meth, which has a much smoother & longer peak & comedown when taken by mouth.  Granted, IV, snorted & smoked methods provide a more powerful rush but if you're trying to save money or stretch out your supply, oral (and sometimes rectal) administration are the way to go with very few exceptions.

Another rule I have for myself is, if I DO run out, I will face the consequences like an adult rather than spending money I don't have, committing crime to finance my habit or associating with dangerous people to obtain my drug of choice.  If you can't stand the lows, don't get involved with the highs.  Withdrawals suck but as long as they're not the deadly kind (such as alcohol, benzo or barbiturate withdrawals), they're a normal & expected part of being a daily drug user.  Some heavy weed smokers even experience withdrawals, albeit nowhere near as severe as with harder drugs.  If you use your sick time to reflect on your drug use & how you want it to look once your supply is replenished, you can change things for the better & hopefully prevent it from happening again.  Well, once the diarrhea & dry heaves are over that is.

I'm aware of what a first-world problem this is, btw.  We're incredibly lucky to be discussing recreational drug shortages & not deaths in the street due to the virus & lack of infrastructure.  Hopefully it doesn't come to that.  But since this IS a drug blog I figured I'd ask:  What's in your doomsday stash?  What would you like to add to make it better for future emergencies?  What kind of activities do you like to engage in while high & confined to your house?  Some of my faves include:  blogging, sex, taking Lortabs & building dope playlists on Spotify; going for a sunrise jog with a bag of coca powder in my cheek; smoking a doob at the cemetery & chilling with my orange tabby cat Frank.

Here's a quick rundown of my drug stash if anyone is interested:

7 Lortabs, 7.5 mg (started with 30).
Many, many boxes of Tylenol #3.
Weed:  Gummies/chocolates, 3 vape cartridges, 2 home grown strains & 2 dispensary strains.
Xanax & Klonopin.
Coca tea & powder.
Kratom - Pounds of it, mostly red-vein.  
Bentyl (dicyclomine).
Benzedrex - 3 inhalers.
Caffeine tabs (200 mg each).
Black Seed Oil - 8 oz. 
Agmatine sulfate.
CBD flower & isolate.
Old Salvia divinorum leaf.
More Weed:  Rick Simpson Oil, Cannabis tincture.

Ideally I'd have some oxycodone or more hydrocodone in there, along with Adderall, Vyvanse or another prescription amphetamine.  But overall I'm pretty satisfied with what I have.  #gratitude 

Friday, March 13, 2020

Obligatory Coronavirus Post: America's Deadly Pattern

I know, I know.  We're all sick to DEATH of hearing about this stupid virus.  I don't even want to see its name again in print or my head's gonna explode.  And yet here I am, writing a fucking article about it.  But I see an all-too-familiar pattern developing here in America, one that's repeated over & over with a lot more than Coronavirus.  The pattern of which I speak is an inability to navigate the space between blind panic & dangerous apathy.  It's in this space where problems are solved, yet Americans insist on going to extremes, either choosing to shrug off a novel pandemic virus as 'no worse than a cold' OR hoarding goods like toilet paper & ammunition in preparation for a doomsday scenario out of a zombie flick.

A History of Extremes

We did this with AIDS, first choosing to blow it off as a "gay disease" that was "killing all the right people" (that was an actual slogan in the '80s) before flipping the fuck out & going the other direction, telling people you could catch it from a toilet seat or other casual contact.  In the latter scenario, doctors & nurses refused to treat AIDS patients or only entered their rooms with ridiculous moon suits on while EMTs often left suspected AIDS patients to die at their homes rather than making physical contact with them out of fear.  As a result, people died alone without dignity & were treated as pariahs by society in their last days. 

Yet the former scenario of downplaying the seriousness of the disease allowed it to spread unchecked for many precious years when we could've been mounting a response.  Blood banks were afraid of offending gay donors & refused to screen blood for co-infections like Hepatitis B due to increased costs, resulting in a widely tainted blood supply.  Heterosexuals told themselves it only affected those "other" people, which is exactly what's happening with COVID-19 now--it's only affecting "the Chinese," or "the Italians," or "those people in other states" and will only kill "old people or those with bad immune systems".  Both extremes are dangerous in their own way.

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ACT UP activism poster: Reagan's AIDSGate

And then there are all the drugs throughout history we've done this with.  First was cocaine, once hailed a miracle supplement that was "no more addictive than peanut butter".  Sigmund Freud was a heavy user until the tide turned & he became its biggest critic.  The government deemed it a devil drug that made Black men rape white women & it was swiftly banned.  Ditto for opium, which was popular among Chinese-American railroad workers in the late 19th Century.  And then came cannabis which was a staple among Mexican immigrants in the early 1900s before Harry Anslinger waged his Reefer Madness campaign, having it banned in the 1930's.  All were targeted for extremely racist reasons.  We're currently repeating this pattern with OxyContin & other opioid painkillers which we were told through the 1990s were non-addictive & should be used liberally for chronic pain before they were abruptly pulled away from patients, resulting in the fentanyl overdose epidemic.  Oopsie.

Merck cocaine - guaranteed pure.

In each case, the pendulum of public opinion swung from "miracle drug with no risks" to "demon drug with no benefits"...neither of which was accurate.  There have even been entire decades that followed this pattern:  the uptight "Father Knows Best" 1950s followed by the Free Love, Drugged-Out 1960s.  This pattern was repeated in reverse as the heady Disco Fever 1970s bubbled over into the Reaganite 'Just Say No' '80s in which thousands of Americans were sent to prison for non-violent drug offenses--many of whom remain there to this day. At no point did we stop to think that maybe a little moderation was called for.

Sadly, we Americans never seem to learn from history even when it's recent.  Our ever-decreasing attention spans are a major hurdle.  We want information that is exciting, sexy & sensational... to know "special" inside info others aren't privy to, such as hidden cures for, say, COVID-19.  Boring advice like 'wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water' just doesn't grab our attention like 'the virus is a New World Order plot, but not to worry!  You can kill it with elderberry & Vitamin C.'  If a story can be politicized to demonize or praise a certain politician or party, we'll do that too.  And then you can REALLY forget about balanced reporting.  Going to the source is too much trouble for most busy/distracted folks--we'd prefer get our info from social media memes or pundits on 24-hour "news" channels like CNN or FOX.  You know, the ones that already confirm our inherent biases.  The problem is that information is like playing telephone: it contains bits of truth but has been filtered down to present a specific angle, which means you're not getting the full picture.  And that's dangerous when public health matters are involved.

Disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker peddling quack cure for COVID-19.

If you want to know the unvarnished truth about a disease like COVID-19, go to the source:  the scientists, doctors & nurses on the front lines of the epidemic.  Organizations like the WHO, CDC & your state's health department are the places to look for factual tips on how to behave in an epidemic.  If you want the honest scoop on an illegal or novel drug, you'll likely have to look in more than one place since there's so much bias against recreational drugs in our society, but,, The Good Drugs Guide & are good places to start.  Granted, this takes a bit more effort than scrolling through your Facebook feed for passive answers but it's worth it if you want facts rather than half-baked opinions.

And remember:  No source of information is 100% complete.  Science is an ongoing process.  It's easy to critique the work of others but much harder to go into the lab & work with these pathogens, chemicals & other "sciencey" things yourself every day.  Just because there's a dearth of information about a subject doesn't mean there's a conspiracy to hide the truth, or that you can fill in the gaps with whatever suits you.  It simply means we haven't got it all figured out yet.   And the fact that the medical/scientific community is open about that is a GOOD thing, as Martha Stewart would say.

The Future of Public Health

Personally, I'd like to see this lockdown approach applied EVERY cold & flu season to a lesser extent to prevent the spread of these illnesses & the inevitable deaths that result from them.  There's no reason people with something like norovirus should be preparing food at a restaurant or sick kids should be spreading adenovirus or influenza far & wide at school or daycare just because their parents can't afford to stay home from work a couple days with them.  Public school is not your babysitter & kids (as well as adults!) deserve to rest & recuperate at home when under the weather.  Never mind the effect it would have on transmission of these preventable contagions if we isolated ourselves while acutely ill.

We shouldn't wait for a new pandemic like COVID-19 to apply social distancing & universal precautions like hand washing or covering your cough.  If we'd been employing basic hygiene to start with, this and other new diseases never would've gotten off the ground in the first place.  That said, there's only so much we can do at an individual level before our government has to step up & apply things like paid sick leave, universal healthcare, moratoriums on rent/bills while under mandatory quarantine & other measures to close the gap.  Otherwise sick people will continue leaving their homes to go to work, school & other places out of sheer necessity.  And that's not good for any of us, even the wealthy 1% at the top (see: the current stock market plunge).  Whether your primary concern is health or money, you'd do well to be proactive instead of reactive in matters of public health.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Sickness Behavior: The Hidden Link to Mental Illness?

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With all the flu, coronavirus, cold & stomach bugs floating around, it seems like a good time to broach the topic of sickness behavior.  When the immune system is activated & we get sick with a contagious illness, our physical symptoms are also accompanied by mental/emotional symptoms like social withdrawal, fatigue & low mood.  Sometimes nightmares or hallucinations are present if the illness is particularly severe.  Other icky symptoms can include appetite loss, brain fog & reduced grooming.  These are known collectively as "sickness behavior" and they serve a valuable purpose--preserving energy to help us fight off infection & protecting others by isolating ourselves socially & thus not spreading the germ.  Good lookin' out, nature.

But what happens when sickness behavior goes rogue & outlasts the infection itself?  This seems to happen when a long-standing illness like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Crohn's Disease is triggered by an infectious illness like mono or norovirus, which happens occasionally but not always.  (Notice I say "triggered by," not "caused by".  There's a difference.  Genetics load the gun while environment pulls the trigger).

Turns out, it may be the same with mental illness for some people.

Cytokines are inflammatory proteins that play a vital role in immunity & healing.  They may also be making millions of Americans depressed or chronically tired.  They act on the hypothalamus & other key areas of the brain, producing sickness behaviors like social withdrawal & fatigue when we're under the weather.  The hepatic drug interferon and some chemotherapy drugs are known to trigger the release of cytokines, causing these nasty effects on mood, energy & behavior in patients.  These cytokines cause depressed mood predictably when present in excess.  In fact, the suppression of these inflammatory proteins might be how antidepressants like Prozac actually produce their mood-lifting effects.  This is important because we've been told that they work by increasing serotonin & other neurotransmitters and that low levels of these are the main cause of mood & anxiety disorders.

Image result for cytokines
Those complex & pesky cytokines

I'm one of those unlucky folks who got sick one day & never got better.  I was an adolescent when an unknown illness struck--probably mono or influenza--and it wiped out my energy completely.  I'd never felt such fatigue in my life.  At the same time, my chest, throat & head were in agony.  But those flu-like symptoms faded; the fatigue didn't.  I'm now an adult & the exhaustion is as bad as on Day 1.  Doctors are stumped.  Several autoimmune diseases have been proposed along with some sleep disorders...nothing has stuck yet.  I long for the day when my condition has a name, though I fear it'll be something I don't want like Lupus or MS.

There's mounting evidence that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) & some tic disorders may be triggered by strep infection in kids who develop the disorders suddenly before a certain age.  This is thought to be caused by "molecular mimicry", i.e. when the immune system mistakes brain cells in the basal ganglia for streptococcal antigens.  This is what happens in rheumatic fever, a body-wide disease also triggered by strep that can cause something called St. Vitus' Dance--a complex jerky set of movements accompanied by headache, behavior changes, fidgeting & slowed cognition.  PANDAS (the name for strep-induced OCD/tic disorders) is still controversial in the psychiatric field but it seems plausible that physical illness could trigger mental illness.  After all, the brain is part of the physical body--not some separate entity.  In fact, the brain controls literally ALL of the body's vital functions, both voluntary & involuntary.  Why wouldn't this situation work in reverse to some degree?

Next time you're debating whether to go to work, school or the grocery store while sick, think about the consequences of spreading your illness to others who may be immune compromised or prone to developing chronic/autoimmune diseases like these and not even know it.  To every action there is a reaction.  Get your vaccinations, wash your hands, cover your cough/sneeze & stay home when sick if you can afford it.  The chronically ill world will thank you.   

CDC infographic showing proper coughing technique to prevent the spread of germs

[Review] - Tatanol-Codein (80-count box)

Vendor:  haefele-65
Location:  Vietnam
Items:  Tatanol tablets, miscellaneous.  
Rating:  4.9 of 5

As a fan of codeine and frequent user of auction sites, I found these tablets on eBay while searching for my previous codeine staple.  Tatanol-Codein contains the exact same ingredients in the same doses (30mg codeine/500mg acetaminophen) but comes in boxes of 80 instead of 100.  Not quite as good but better than a kick in the ass! 

Shipping from foreign countries is always a gamble due to customs but haefele-65 guarantees delivery "no matter what," so I took the chance.  I ordered on Feb 24th & received it March 8, which is fast for international mail.  When you pay with Paypal as I did here, you can always file a dispute if your order doesn't arrive or the vendor disappears from eBay which I haven't had to do in years.  Most of them want you to contact them personally first, which I highly recommend doing before leaving an ugly review or filing a chargeback.  Be prepared for a long wait when ordering from overseas though--up to 2 months in some cases.  And do your research on the potential risks of ordering large amounts of things like this at once.  You don't want to get busted for distribution when you're actually ordering for personal use.  Be conservative, not greedy. 

Top view of open box

The Tatanol pills are round & thick and thus don't break in half easily, making them somewhat less convenient to dose than the Panactol Plus.  But again, I'm not complaining!  They get the job done, delivering a nice & warm 30 mg of codeine to the dome with every tablet.  These will come in handy if I get surgery & undoubtedly can't obtain as many pain meds as I need due to restrictive state laws that limit prescribing.  (See what your oppressive laws are driving us to, FDA?).  It's always good to have a doomsday supply of various meds in my humble opinion.  We're not hurting anyone & just want to be pain-free like the citizens of every other nation who can get these meds over-the-counter. 

To conclude, I give this order a 4.9 of 5 stars for shipping time & quality.  I was provided with a tracking number quickly & the order went out promptly too.  Could only be better if the price was a bit lower to reflect the reduced number of pills in the box (compared to the 100 in the Panactol Plus) and if it was shipped domestically.  But as long as it arrives eventually that's what counts.

Back of blister pack

If you're going to follow in my footsteps & order this type of item from an auction site, please do so responsibly & don't abuse the privilege.  Don't import large quantities at once, don't overdose & draw unwanted attention to these meds & don't get into public disputes with these kind vendors who are reaching out & selling to us American plebs.  In other words, be discreet & don't ruin it for the rest of us.  I realize that by blogging about it I'm not being very discreet but I'm doing so in the hopes of spreading awareness of safer use of these substances. 

Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.  👲

Monday, March 9, 2020

Seeking the Elusive Jai Paul

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If you're an indie music head like me, you've heard of Jai Paul.  Born in London in 1988, Jai Paul is an underground singer & producer of Indian descent who played a huge role in influencing the sound of R&B and pop music in the 2010's despite only releasing a handful of songs.  And most of those were illegally leaked by a thief.  His voice is like a breezy blend of The Weeknd, Michael Jackson, D'Angelo & french duo Air while his production contains futuristic mashup of claps, whips, spaceship zaps & Eastern instruments.

His story is pretty unique in music history:  after getting massive praise for his songs "BTSTU" & "Jasmine" in 2007 and 2012 respectively, an unknown user stole his laptop & uploaded several of his songs to Bandcamp's website in 2013, ruining his plans to release his debut album on the record label XL.  There was some controversy over whether Paul himself actually uploaded the songs to circumvent record label BS, but the official story is that his laptop was stolen.  He sticks by this today.

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The man, the myth...the legend?

In any case, Paul disappeared from the music scene entirely for most of the 2010's after his promising debut at age 23, leaving fans scratching their heads & filling in the gaps with conspiracy theories.  Some even opined that Jai Paul wasn't a real person or was another famous musician under a pen name.  That was until June 2019 when his website came online & he made an official statement about the laptop incident and future plans.  Fans went crazy.

As of 2020, Jai Paul is working on a project with his brother A.K. Paul under the name Paul Institute.  Their work can be found on Spotify & other platforms for free (which wasn't always the case--users once had to pay to join the institute to access the music).  Jai's illegally uploaded songs were also arranged into a sort of album & officially released in 2019 under the name Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) which can also be found on many streaming music services.  This "album" has been slightly tweaked, with a few movie/TV show samples removed for copyright reasons, but otherwise it's the same as the original leaked songs with some sound enhancement added by an engineer for improved quality.

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04-13 Bait Ones cover

I had never heard most of these songs until I discovered the Bait Ones album on Spotify, which meant I was in for a real treat.  "BTSTU" has been on all my playlists since forever but since it was one of only 3 or 4 songs in his catalog I eventually gave up on him as an artist.  But now I see what the hype is all about.  This guy brings something special to the music that is rare today; letting the mood & feel carry the song rather than the lyrics or his voice.  In fact his vocals often get lost like quicksand in the beat but it's so hypnotic you can't quit listening.  What starts off sounding kinda bland gets more irresistible as you fall deeper into the song, as is the case with tracks like "100,000" & "Desert River".  But my favorite (aside from BTSTU) is "Zion Wolf Theme"--a super mellow track with a slapping beat.  He also dropped two entirely new tracks in 2019 along with this release entitled "He" and "Do You Love Her Now."  Dope.

It's a shame Jai Paul hasn't been able to dust himself off & make lots more solo music since the leak, but I understand how hard that must've been.  The cutthroat music industry isn't for everyone & maybe the idea of being a front man/superstar was too overwhelming for someone so sensitive & humble.  A.K. Paul is extremely talented & sounds a lot like his brother; I probably couldn't tell them apart in a blind listening test.  I'm excited to see what the Paul Institute puts out in coming years. 

Paul Institute track feat. James Vincent McMorrow & A.K. Paul

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Nature's Bounty: Exploring the Mystical World of Plant Drugs

I've never been one to fall for the "Appeal to Nature Fallacy" which holds that anything that occurs in nature is inherently safer than anything synthetic/man-made.  Plenty of natural things can and WILL kill your happy ass:  tigers, tornadoes, deathcap mushrooms, oleander, funnel web spider venom, etc.  Even water or oxygen in high enough doses are deadly.

Likewise, we depend on a number of synthetic inventions to live to the ripe old age of 78 for men & 80 for women (average life expectancy).  Antibiotics, vaccines, hormonal contraception, cancer & HIV medications and other such innovations have vastly changed our world for the better since the beginning of the 20th Century.  Prior to that, we were lucky to make it to adulthood and if we did, we spent our reproductive years popping out babies back to back & suffering numerous mental & physical ailments we can now easily treat.

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The funnel web spider: proof nature can be deadly.

That said, it's also quite stunning the vast array of substances that can be found in nature's medicine cabinet.  No matter your taste in drugs, there's something for you growing in the wild.  Looking for a stimulant rush?  Mother nature's got ya covered in the form of khat, ephedra, coca & caffeine.  Need pain relief?  Opium, kratom & cannabis to the rescue.  Want to trip balls?  No problem:  Ayahuasca, shrooms, salvia, morning glory, mescaline cacti & yopo seeds at your service.  Nature even has a healthy supply of sedatives in the form of kava, valerian root, passionflower, hops & blue lotus to name a few.  The list is nearly endless as & similar sites illustrate.  These plants have not only recreational but very legit medical uses as well.

So why are many of them illegal or on their way to becoming illegal?  Follow the money.

The pharmaceutical industry has a monopoly on medicine & doesn't stand to profit from selling plant-derived compounds when the whole plant can be grown or purchased by patients for much cheaper.  Read that again.  (Ironically, the whole plant is often safer than its isolated parts, as is the case with coca vs. cocaine & opium vs. morphine).  This is why cannabis has been illegal & remains a Schedule I controlled substance federally despite drugs like Nabilone & Marinol existing at the prescription level.  There's been a concerted effort to ban kratom too despite it helping thousands of opiate users safely quit the dangerous & highly addictive drugs.  And that battle is far from over as individual states continue trying to ban it despite its impressive safety profile.

Bill Hicks - On Drugs

As many comedians have lamented, making nature illegal is the height of egotistical insanity.  Or, if you prefer your philosophy religion-flavored, God doesn't make mistakes.  These plants weren't "accidentally" left here by an omnipotent, perfect Creator & people don't need to lose their freedom for using them.  Their alkaloids fit perfectly into the receptors in our brains like a key in a lock which means they evolved right alongside us & have been used for millennia by humans.  Hell, they were probably here long before us.  What gives lawmakers the right to deem them illegal when they're, at the very least, a natural resource?  To quote the late great Bob Marley, "Could you tell God it's not legal?"

Entheogens should be studied extensively for their medical benefits & preserved as the precious resources they are (see: peyote which is nearly extinct due to over-harvesting).  If it's legal for pharmaceutical companies to extract single molecules from these plants or create synthetic imitations such as fentanyl or tramadol while profiting massively, it should be entirely legal for us to grow, possess, use & trade the plant versions among ourselves too.  That's where they got the idea for most of the drugs, after all.  From plants.

Now go outside & enjoy nature in all its glory.

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Cannabis indica

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Papaver somniferum

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Ephedra sinica

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Psilocybe cubensis

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Mitragynine speciosa

Friday, March 6, 2020

[Review] - Kokatonic Coca Leaf Powder, 50 grams

Vendor:  Kokatonic
Location:  St. Louis, MO
Items:  Coca tea, powder & coca-themed merchandise.
Rating:  4.7 of 5 stars

I've reviewed this vendor before but thought I'd drop them another since I'm trying a different product this time around.  Kokatonic is a company operating out of St. Louis that offers a small variety of coca products ranging from Delisse brand tea bags to various powders up to several kilos in weight.  I hadn't tried the powder before so I decided to pick some up since it's cheaper than the tea bags I've been getting.  The main difference is that the tea contains larger particles & comes in ready-to-use bags while the powder is in one big bag of finely ground material.  I spent $36.49 total (shipping was free) for a 50 gram bag.

I like to use coca by putting a quid of it in my cheek & sucking on it for an hour or so, sometimes with a sprinkle of baking soda to help release the good stuff.  Since the powder contains smaller particles & is loose, I bought some heat-and-seal teabags on eBay to pack it in so I could use it the same way as the Delisse tea I've been using.  You can also ingest the powder in a smoothie or otherwise, but I find that it irritates my sensitive stomach (like everything else) so I'm sticking to the chew-and-suck method.

Cheap press-n-seal tea bags from eBay

For those who haven't used them, the heat-and-seal teabags are pretty simple:  you just put the plant material inside & seal them shut with a hot instrument like a hair straightener or hot iron.  I like to fill them about halfway full with the coca powder so they don't break in my mouth.  A few of them were defective & wouldn't seal, which was annoying but not a huge deal.*  The powder has pretty much the same effect as the tea--mildly stimulating with sharpened visual focus & sound sensitivity.  It smells potent and tastes fresher than the tea, sort of like kratom powder but more "green".  It's definitely more messy & somewhat hard to handle, especially if you open the bag too over-zealously.  But again, it's noticeable fresher too so there's that.

*Update:  EVERY LAST ONE of the teabags I filled & sealed has come open, likely due to the humidity in the air.  No matter--it's a huge inconvenience since their function is literally to seal shut with heat.  And they don't.  Guess I can try re-sealing them as I use them, but that's not very convenient.  Some of the coca powder spilled out when I went to grab them too.  Grrrr.  😾

Back of bag (15 calories!)

Is the extra "work" worth the savings?  Meh, I suppose so because I have plenty of time to do the filling of the teabags while working from home.  But if you're busy you should probably opt for the pre-packaged teas unless you're looking to actually eat the coca whole (which is a totally legit method of consumption).  I give Kokatonic Coca Leaf Powder a 4.7 4.8 of 5 stars for quality, price & shipping time.  I can't emphasize enough how convenient it is to have a domestic coca source that is on their game, sending out orders in a timely manner with no shipping fee.  Really hope these guys stick around.  Be sure to hit up their site & give them some business.  They take all major credit cards & several other payment methods.

Update:  Okay, so these heat-and-seal teabags don't break open in my mouth like I worried they would, and the coca powder is WAY more potent than the Delisse tea.  It had me geeked out all afternoon from one bag.  Too geeked.  Definitely go with the powder if you want the full coca experience.  Am upgrading the rating to 4.8 stars for potency.  

2nd Update:  While the powder itself is AMAZING, the fact that the heat-and-seal teabags did came unsealed makes this a less convenient option for me overall.  I can't fault the coca guys for that so I'm leaving the review as it is but will probably opt for the regular Delisse teabags next time.  Which sucks because I really liked this method.  

Monday, March 2, 2020

Make Drugs Boring Again

There's something to the forbidden fruit theory.  You know the one:  forbidden fruit is more enticing to people--kids in particular (and women, if you're a Bible-thumper).  Banning drugs & running high-profile anti-drug campaigns that push zero tolerance "Just Say No" themes is an example of this.  By making drugs off-limits, you unintentionally make them more alluring to rebellious teens & tweens looking to strike out against their parents & society, make a statement, proclaim their maturity/individuality, etc.  What better way to say 'eff authority' than by breaking the law?

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Is this a warning...or an advertisement?

Don't believe me?  Just look what's happened with weed.  Since Colorado legalized in 2014, attitudes have gradually relaxed nationwide and, simultaneously, the overall excitement associated with the long-verbotten "marijuana" plant has decreased.  Cannabis is now everywhere & is sold by CEOs in business suits to moms, elderly folks with medical problems & others who just want an alternative to booze to unwind.  With its ubiquity has come almost a sense of boredom or even annoyance with the discussion of 'should we or shouldn't we legalize' nationwide.  When Bernie Sanders announced he'd issue an executive order to legalize weed in all 50 states if elected president, it barely made a ripple in the national news.  If a candidate had said that 15 years ago?  They would be roundly mocked on both sides of the aisle & their campaign would be in jeopardy.  FOX News would be in an uproar.  But not a peep from the talking heads in 2020. 

Indeed, we're now at the point where talk of decriminalizing psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms or even rescheduling "club drugs" such as MDMA or ketamine isn't generating much more than a "wow, cool."  To be perfectly clear, this is what we want & have been fighting for all these years.  It's a huge victory.  Drugs should be mundane & de-stigmatized so we can view their risks & benefits objectively & without hysteria.  Laws governing their use should be made by medical professionals, sociologists & scientists, not politicians who know nothing of the health effects.  While they can be used recreationally, street drugs ought to be viewed through the same lens as blood pressure or depression medications because they are all part of the same pharmacopoeia, having both positive & negative effects on the mind & body.  Bored yet? 

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The drug war has a VERY racist history...and present.

So why do I say make drugs boring AGAIN?  Because for most of human history, most drugs were perfectly legal.  The concept of drug prohibition is fairly new, beginning in the 1920's with alcohol prohibition and sliding into the 1930's with Harry Anslinger's war on marijuana then spreading out to include many other drugs in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 during the Nixon era.  Tricky Dick declared drugs "public enemy #1" and it's been all downhill from there, with illegal drugs now being more plentiful, potent & affordable than at any time in American history despite their illegality. 

Ronald Reagan cracked down even harder (pun intended) and together with first lady Nancy & her 'Just Say No' campaign, they set the stage for the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980's.  Bill Clinton often gets a pass but his 3 Strikes Law is responsible for the unsightly prison population we have today, incarcerating more Black men than were slaves at the height of slavery in 1850.  A majority of those prisoners were & are sentenced for non-violent drug crimes like dealing or possession.  Thanks to him & other like-minded zealots, America locks up more of its citizens than any nation on Earth. 

And for those released from prison on said drug charges, voting rights are often stripped along with the ability to find a decent paying job, leading to high recidivism rates & endless returns to prison.  The system is set up not to reform prisoners but to create returning customers, so to speak.  This is unacceptable.  Poor children grow up without fathers, ensuring that the cycle of poverty, crime & incarceration is repeated on a loop for generations.  Meanwhile, drug abuse is just as prevalent in rich suburban neighborhoods but police rarely target those neighborhoods.  To quote Van Jones, "I've never seen as many substances snorted off so many surfaces as I did at Yale, but I never saw the cops drive through once." [paraphrased]  To be clear:  The answer isn't to arrest MORE rich white kids; it's to stop arresting people for drugs across the board. 

Legal heroin from pre-prohibition days (Eli Lilly)

It's safe to say drugs have won the war on drugs.  That means We The People have lost.  It's time to try a radically new, yet boring & old, tactic.  One that places harm reduction, affordable rehabilitation & human dignity above stigmatization, criminalization & punishment.  The consequences of being a drug addict are already punishment enough.  It's time to start talking about drugs like adults, not whispering about them like gossiping kids in detention hall.  It's the only way forward in a world of fentanyl, fake weed & fatal addiction. 

We've focused on the supply side long enough.  It's not working.  Now it's time to examine why the demand for drugs is so damn high in one of the wealthiest nations on Earth.  Addiction will always exist at some level.  There will never be an easy silver bullet cure, but we can alleviate much of the death, disease & suffering that come with addiction & drug prohibition if we put our minds to it.     

Sunday, March 1, 2020

No Gold at the End of This Rainbow: Judy Garland

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Judy Garland's life is the prototype of the modern celebrity drug addict.  Pushed into child labor by the studio heads, pimped by her mother & most of her intimate partners, robbed of anything resembling a normal childhood & put on a pedestal by her millions of fans, she never had anything approaching unconditional love except from her children.  The drugs get top billing in her tragic biography but were merely a symptom of something far more painful.

Born Frances Gumm in 1922, Judy was one of three sisters all pushed into showbiz at an early age--Vaudeville to be precise.  But only Judy stayed in the business long-term.  Her first performance took place at age 2.  As child star stories often go, Garland had an authoritative stage mom who pimped out her kids in search of fame & money for herself.  Judy's dad, on the other hand, was a passive & loving father who just happened to be a closeted gay man.  The family was run out of town after he was caught making passes at male ushers at the local theater which was not socially acceptable in those days.  At all.

Judy's true downward spiral began immediately after being signed to MGM.  She was frequently called an "ugly duckling" or variations of "fat" and put on amphetamine "pep" pills to shed weight before the age of 10.  The studio heads controlled her diet, feeding her only chicken soup, cigarettes & coffee during her Wizard of Oz years.  Of course speed causes severe insomnia when taken day after day, so she was also put on barbiturates to knock her out at bedtime--a rare treat.  She & fellow child star Mickey Rooney were often given only 4 hours to sleep after days of work & then re-drugged with uppers to start all over again.

Like Shirley Temple, Marilyn Monroe & countless others, Judy was exposed to sexual abuse & harassment in the industry.  On the set of Oz, she claims Louis B. Mayer touched her inappropriately:

     …Between the ages of sixteen and twenty, Judy herself was to be approached for sex — and approached again and again. “Don’t think they all didn’t try,” she said. Top on the list was Mayer himself. Whenever he complimented her on her voice — she sang from the heart, he said — Mayer would invariably place his hand on her left breast to show just where her heart was. “I often thought I was lucky,” observed Judy, “that I didn’t sing with another part of my anatomy.” That scenario, a compliment followed by a grope, was repeated many times until, grown up at last, Judy put a stop to it. “Mr. Mayer, don’t you ever, ever do that again,” she finally had the courage to say. “I just will not stand for it.” -- (Get Happy:  The Life of Judy Garland)

But it gets worse.  

Another studio exec blatantly demanded sex from the 16-year-old actress as was his style.  When she refused he began loudly threatening to "ruin her" and "break you if it's the last thing I do."  (Source).  And it didn't end there: the adult men who played "Munchkins" in the iconic film also harassed & molested her, making her life on set a living hell.  But things like that tend to not be left on set--they follow you for life, particularly when they happen so young.  

By this time Judy was already waist-deep into the (forced) use of uppers/downers that would remain a staple until her dying day.  As she got older she'd occasionally add alcohol to the mix.  As I can attest, the uptown/downtown combo is particularly damaging to both physical & mental health.  Combined with lack of sleep & poor nutrition, they're a recipe for psychosis.  And Judy teetered on the brink of insanity much of the time.  During a particularly stressful period, she attempted suicide by cutting her throat.  Another time she set her dressing room on fire.  

In her eternal search for love & acceptance, she had a total of 5 failed marriages, the first of which happened at only 19.  Her union with second husband Vincent Minelli produced a daughter, the famous Liza Minelli.  It's said that people often find partners with qualities similar to their own parents, and this appears to be true in Judy's case.  Vincent Minelli was at least bisexual & likely gay.  He was said to be "completely out of the closet" in New York, where he had many liasons with men.  Judy's other two children, Lorna & Joey Luft, were much younger & had a different father--the one with whom Judy had the most tumultuous & deep relationship of all her husbands:  Sid Luft.  

Despite her serious drug problem & grueling schedule, Judy had a genuine love for her kids & they for her.  She took every measure to NOT be like the mother who raised her, though I'm sure her children endured some of the same stresses all kids of drug addicts face...particularly when they lost her so abruptly.  But Mommie Dearest she was not.  

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Looking puffy during her bout with hepatitis

In her final years, Judy's health was noticeably declining.  And not just her mental health.  The 40-something looked closer to 65 due to years of stress & hard drug abuse; she contracted hepatitis & bloated up to 180 lbs. rapidly due to liver failure & nearly died in 1959 before making what doctors called a "miraculous recovery."  Her small frame appeared shrunken & hunched over from her diet of amphetamines most of the time.  She tried to quit drugs many times but was never successful for long.  Makes sense:  when you put a kid on high doses of addictive drugs when their brain is developing, that can make permanent changes that aren't easily undone.  

Garland is seen in her dressing room before performing at New York's Palace Theatre in 1968
In 1968 a year before her death

Her final months on Earth were depicted in the 2019 biopic JUDY starring Renee Zellweger.  It's a harrowing account of speed-induced insomnia, estrangement from her kids, a whirlwind romance with a much younger opportunistic man & several onstage breakdowns.  Judy Garland died on June 22, 1969, of an overdose of Secobarbital (97 mg was found in her blood at autopsy) and liver damage due to a lifetime of drug abuse.  Her liver was 4 times its normal size despite not having an alcohol problem, proving just how damaging prescription pill abuse can be in the long-term.  She was only 47.  

That Time I Tried: 4-HO-MET

I first tried 4-HO-MET around 2012 during the absolute pinnacle of the research chemical Golden Era (2010-2015).  It was the 2nd psychedelic...