As you gaze upon these words, dear reader, a horde of alien marauders are ransacking all corners of the globe, chewing through the latest pharmaceutical defenses and leaving behind a gruesome trail of dead and weakened victims. According to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), ferocious tribes of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi are on the rampage, and some are proving virtually invincible to the so-called “last resort” antibiotics.
WHO has identified the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” as one of the major looming heath crises of the 21st century. These crafty, elusive shape-shifters are not only capable of surviving an onslaught of antibiotics, but they continually reinvent themselves by genetic mutation, horizontal gene transfer and natural selection, developing new tactics against even the most powerful drugs and spawning malignant offspring that wreak havoc with devastating vitality. They even share their genetic material with other pernicious bugs.
The major offenders in this perilous conflict are not just the superbugs themselves but the rampant overuse of antibiotics. It’s estimated that 30% of all prescribed antibiotics are unnecessary, a testament to our culture’s desire for quick-fix solutions to our health woes. (This doesn’t take into account the fact that the bulk of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to livestock, a whole other ball of worms.) The practice of scribbling a script for every little sniffle has helped create a vicious circle of weakened immune systems, ravaged gut microbiomes, and the escalating spread of dangerous diseases by people, animals, and agricultural crops.
When the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) throws words around like “nightmare” and “sound the alarm,” it’s time to take notice. “Without urgent action,” the CDC warns, “many modern medicines could become obsolete, turning even common infections into deadly threats.” The CDC’s recent antibiotic resistance initiative includes a key goal: to cut inappropriate prescribing practices by 50% in doctors’ office and 20% in hospitals. And while this protocol has helped to rein in some infectious foes, others are on a frightening upswing.
One of the most treacherous malefactors on the prowl is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA. This highly contagious bacterial infection is commonly associated with people who have compromised immune systems, like hospital patients and the elderly. Over the past decade, an even more menacing strain of community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) has muscled its way into healthier populations, popping up like a malevolent jack-in-the-box in places and situations where people are packed tight– contact sports teams; gyms and locker rooms; schools and daycare facilities; prisons, homeless shelters, and military barracks. CA-MRSA is even turning up in spas, resorts, cruise ships, and nail salons.
One out of every hundred hospitalizations in the United States is due to a MRSA infection, and about a quarter of those become seriously invasive, killing 20,000 people each year. A recent report by the CDC indicates that hospitals have made progress in reducing rates of MRSA, but CA-MRSA rates have not declined and now comprise 80% of all MRSA infections. The disease has become so prevalent that October 2 is depressingly called “World MRSA Day.”
According to researchers, CA-MRSA is a cunning bacterial strain with a bunch of biological tricks up its sleeve. It has the unique ability to hide and disguise itself against neutrophils. Neutrophils are commonly known as white blood cells, specifically the ones tasked with fighting off these Machiavellian villains. Even more sinister, CA-MRSA secretes a nasty little peptide that wreaks havoc in two ways: it helps build a biofilm, a slimy structure that enables the bug to stick to its host and spread rapidly, and even creepier, it commits a heinous bio-crime called lysis, infiltrating neutrophils and actually causing them to explode, thereby shattering the body’s immune defense mechanism.
Left untreated, CA-MRSA can lead to sepsis, endocarditis, pneumonia and necrotizing fasciitis (necrosis comes from the Greek nekrosis, “to make dead”). All of these complications are potentially fatal, and the beta-lactam antibiotics typically prescribed for staph (single-molecule drugs such as penicillin, cephalosporins, monobactams, and carbapenems) are proving to be no longer effective. Even Vancomycin, an “antibiotic of last resort,” is losing the fight against CA-MRSA. To complicate matters even more, the use of antibiotics – and the resulting disruption of the body’s healthy gut bacteria – is increasingly shown to contribute to future health problems.
Angry red pustules
The first time I heard of MRSA was in the late 1990’s. A dear childhood friend contracted the infection, and it had become dangerously systemic. After doctors tried every available treatment – including a powerful course of IV antibiotics that turned my friend beet-red, covered him in hives, ravaged his kidneys, and made him so dizzy and nauseous he couldn’t keep food down -he died from associated complications.
What does it mean to protect ourselves in a world crawling with MRSA and other superbugs? Beyond the obvious like washing our hands, we need effective options to fight infections that don’t rely solely on antibiotics. Scientists are researching new treatments that target bacterial bad guys in novel ways, but this is a laborious and time-consuming process. In the meantime, there are other weapons we can wield to protect ourselves from these insidious infiltrators – as I learned the hard way when I myself was infected by MRSA a few years ago.
I’d spent a pleasurable California weekend in the nearby resort town of Calistoga, soaking in healthful, mineral-rich waters. I returned home fully rejuvenated and free of stress. Or so I thought. Two days later, my body was bitmapped in boils and I was losing my mind. A platoon of angry red pustules had taken up residence across my back. For a mild skin condition, I would typically reach for a plant-based treatment, but this bacterial ambush was so sudden and aggressive – and so disgusting – I wasn’t going to mess around.
I went straight to my GP, who diagnosed a staph infection and prescribed an antibacterial skin cleanser and a topical antibiotic ointment. At first, I was somewhat relieved that this treatment wouldn’t involve carpet-bombing my friendly neighborhood of gut bacteria, given the importance of an up-to-snuff microbiome in so many aspects of our health. But after a week of washing my occupied territory as directed and applying the ointment twice daily, my betes noires show no sign of retreating. Like Napolean’s army, they were conquering new territory and morphing into something even more repugnant.
I felt contaminated, radioactive. I avoided people and slunk around like Quasimodo, lurking in the shadows. And I worried. Covered by crusty carbuncles, I was becoming a modern-day version of Baba Yaga, the boil-ridden witch of Russian folklore who lived deep in the forest in a hut that stood on a pair of chicken legs. Alas, I had her pus-filled boils, but none of her magic powers.
Cannabis & antibiotic resistance
Alarmed at my lack of improvement, my doctor prescribed a course of oral antibiotics. I knew about the association of the microbiome with mental health, and now pictured myself rotting away in an asylum, my mind gone to mush after all of my gut bacteria had been wiped out. There had to be a better way. Increasingly desperate, I started looking into whatever research was available about cannabis and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Unfortunately, due to marijuana prohibition, there’s not much out there on this subject. (Thanks again, Feds, for the lack of science.) I found a few relevant articles in peer-reviewed journals, which underscored the complex and nuanced effect cannabis has on immune function. In a recent review in NeuroImmunoModulation, a team of Mexican scientists reported that cannabinoids demonstrated a statistically significant antibiotic effect on some infectious diseases, and actually impaired the body’s immune system for others.
The good news is that several plant cannabinoids have been shown to wreak havoc against Staphylococcus aureus – the very bug I was fighting. A 2008 study in the Journal of Natural Products, published by the American Chemical Society, found that cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG), two nonintoxicating cannabinoids, “showed potent activity against a variety of MRSA strains.” Three other plant cannabinoids – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabinol (CBN) and cannabichromene (CBC) – also showed encouraging results in preclinical research. How the cannabinoids work is not fully understood, but it appears to be due to natural antimicrobial defense mechanisms.
The journal concluded: “Given the availability of C. sativa strains producing high concentrations of nonpsychotropic cannabinoids, this plant represents an interesting source of antibacterial agents to address the problem of multidrug resistance in MRSA and other pathogenic bacteria. This issue has enormous clinical implications, since MRSA is spreading throughout the world and, in the United States, currently accounts for more deaths each year than AIDS. Although the use of cannabinoids as systemic antibacterial agents awaits rigorous clinical trials … their topical application to reduce skin colonization by MRSA seems promising.”
CBD and manuka honey to the rescue
I also heard about the potent antibiotic properties of manuka honey, and I thought about combining it with a CBD-rich cannabis extract. While honey has been known since ancient times for its antibiotic and wound-healing properties, manuka is something special. Made by bees from the nectar of Leptospermum scoparium (more commonly known as tea tree, a plant indigenous to New Zealand and Australia), manuka honey has unique bacteria-busting abilities that scientists have only recently begun to investigate.
A 2016 article published in Frontiers in Microbiology discusses how manuka honey disrupts invading bacteria’s ability to produce biofilms. In another study, manuka was shown to prevent bacterial subdivision, and it appears to evade bacterial resistance. Not only is manuka honey effective on its own, but it also works synergistically with other antibiotics, increasing their effectiveness.
So, I took matters into my own hands and made my own bacteria-killing juice. I decarboxylated the dried flowers of a CBD-rich cannabis strain called Blue Jay Way, which was lab-tested to show a 2-to-1 ratio of CBD-to-THC (14% CBD and 7% THC). I infused some olive oil using the old hippie Crockpot method. After straining out the plant material, I added some beeswax for its thickening properties. And when the infusion was mostly cool, I mixed in a generous amount of New Zealand manuka honey with 20+ bioactivity.
I applied this salve to my skin infection twice per day. It was a little sticky, but that was the worst of it. Within 24 hours, it started working! Like the water-splashed Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, the lesions began shrinking and drying up. Over the next few days, I gleefully watched as the skin on my back became a killing field where all those little, white-blood-cell-exploding staph-holes were obliterated forever. Within a week, the infection had resolved completely, leaving my gut flora intact.
Unlike my experience with pharmaceutical antibiotics, whole-plant CBD-rich cannabis combined with manuka honey did not cause any adverse side effects. Nor did it trigger a backlash of antibacterial resistance, which is threatening the very foundations of Western medicine. We’ve become increasingly dependent upon medical conveniences, quick fixes and silver bullets, while often ignoring their broader consequences. In our impatience to get on with the business of life, we don’t always pay attention to the subtler conversations our bodies carry on, day and night, in our microbiomes and beyond. Maybe it’s time to listen.
Melinda Misuraca is a Project CBD contributing writer with a past life as an old-school cannabis farmer specializing in CBD-rich cultivars. Her articles have appeared in High Times, Alternet, and several other publications.
Alvarez-Suarez JM, Gasparrini M, Forbes-Hernandez TY, Mazzoni L, Giampieri F. The Composition and Biological Activity of Honey: A Focus on Manuka Honey. Foods. 2014 Jul 21;3(3):420-432. doi: 10.3390/foods3030420. Review. PubMed PMID: 28234328; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5302252.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — As hemp enters a new era as a legal agricultural commodity, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday he’s willing to offer follow-up legislation to resolve any “glitches” stemming from mistaken identity between the crop and its lookalike, illicit cousin.
That includes safeguarding hemp shipments stopped by police who can’t tell whether they intercepted a legal crop or marijuana.
“Some glitches remain to be worked out, and some of it may require legislation,” McConnell told reporters after a hemp forum in Louisville, his hometown.
Using a football analogy, the Republican Senate leader said hemp supporters have reached the “red zone” in restoring the historic crop to mainstream American agriculture. He added: “I’m prepared to do my job … all the way into the end zone if it requires additional legislation.”
Since hemp’s legalization, some truckers with interstate shipments have been stopped and sometimes arrested. The only way to distinguish hemp from marijuana is by measuring their tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and officers don’t have the testing technology to do so on the spot. Marijuana, illegal under federal law, has enough THC to get users high. Hemp has almost none — 0.3 percent or less under U.S. government standards.
Kentucky and Oregon are big hemp producers, and much of what they grow is processed in Colorado. Companies that transport hemp often drive through Oklahoma and Idaho, where some arrests have occurred.
McConnell, who led the push in Congress to legalize hemp last year, said Monday that regulations might be sufficient to help some aspects of the hemp business.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Greg Ibach, who attended the hemp conference, said USDA has asked federal drug enforcement officials for a “coordinated effort” on interstate hemp shipment.
“That might be an area where USDA can work together with other federal agencies to not only help them understand hemp, (but) look for testing protocols that might be able to be used on the road to be able to differentiate between hemp and other products that aren’t legal,” he said.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said ensuring unimpeded hemp shipment requires communicating with officials in other states “about what hemp is and what hemp is not.”
Other concerns have included making sure the fledgling industry gets the financial backing it needs to grow.
McConnell recently teamed with Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, in seeking to ease concerns about credit availability and other financial services for hemp farmers and businesses. They urged federal financial regulatory agencies to make it clear that hemp is legal and to issue “guidance” to institutions under their jurisdictions to ease concerns.
McConnell orchestrated successful efforts last year to attach hemp legalization language to the new federal farm bill. The provision removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances and treats the low-THC version of the cannabis plant like any other agricultural crop.
Now, the USDA is crafting rules for a nationwide hemp program. The Kentucky forum was part of the effort to gather input. The goal is to have the program in place for the 2020 crop season, Ibach said. The work includes developing a crop insurance program for hemp growers.
“My goal is to get this product out as quick as we can, but yet it’s got to be right,” USDA Risk Management Agency Administrator Martin Barbre told reporters.
Deeply rooted in Kentucky’s past, hemp was historically used for rope but has many other uses, including clothing and mulch from the fiber; hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds; and soap and lotions. Other uses include building materials, animal bedding and biofuels. Hemp-derived CBDs are touted by many as a health aid.
While hemp’s commercialization is still in its infancy, Quarles said he hopes Kentucky hemp someday becomes as recognizable as Kentucky bourbon and horses.
The state’s hemp processors reported $57.75 million in gross product sales last year, compared with $16.7 million in 2017, Quarles said recently. Processors paid Kentucky farmers $17.75 million for harvested hemp materials in 2018, up from $7.5 million the year before.
Nearly 1,000 farmers will grow hemp in Kentucky this year and more than 120 companies in the bluegrass state are processing the material, Quarles said.
Glassware has always served as a fundamental part of cannabis culture, from simple one-hitters and bespeckled bowls to elaborate rigs and bongs. Step into any conventional head shop or bodega, however, and the aesthetic has remained largely the same: psychedelic pattern work, cartoonish riffs on pop culture icons, and corny stash devices. But as cannabis moves into the mainstream, a new generation of independent artists are injecting personal aesthetic and style into functional pieces of art worthy of open display.
Los Angeles-based artist Sibelle Yuksek (@sibelley) didn’t go into glasswork with the intent of making pipes. But that’s precisely what makes her art so different. Combining influences from her teen obsessions with Japanese comic books and gaming, her experiences with yoga and bodywork, and her education in fashion illustration, Yuksek specializes in creating delicate, naturalistic interpretations of female bodies that double as a pipe.
Fondly referring to her pieces as her “little women,” Yuksek might be one of the few people that can get away with objectifying them. Each piece bears its own personality and a sense of movement within the inanimate–long legs, outstretched arms, arched backs. Her most complex piece, which took roughly 40 hours to make, is of a female rig outfitted with a machine gun wrapped from back to belly that looks straight out of “Ghost In The Shell” or “Tank Girl.”
They’re so beautiful that it’s easy to forget that you actually use it to smoke flower or concentrate. In fact, she says most of the people who have bought her pieces haven’t.
“I want to approach it as a fine art perspective; classy, fresh,” she says. “I like the idea of that these are objects first, but the fact they have that function is the cherry on top. You might see a figure on a tableside and turn it over, and you realize it’s completely functional. It adds this hidden surprise.”
Considering the complexity of her art, it comes as a surprise that she fell into the practice accidentally. Majoring in illustration at Virginia Commonwealth University, Yuksek had her sights on fashion before falling in love with a glassmaking elective. She decided to pick up flamework as a double major, which would come in handy for sculptural installations or jewelry making. But it wasn’t until relocating to the West Coast and reconnecting with her mentor, 2 Stroke, that she’d reignite her interest in flamework.
“He was the first person who really inspired me in flameworking,” she says. “He actually contacted me about assisting him at this glass show in Vegas, the AGE show. When I saw him there, he asked me what I was up to, and I was just making jewelry. And he was like, ‘Hey, look at how much money we’re making and what we’re doing in the pipe scene. Marijuana is really popular. You’re on the West Coast–think about it.'”
Like most young artists who can’t afford a studio space or kiln, Yuksek had to get creative. She began the completely ill-advised route of working with a flame torch in her bedroom before eventually landing a gig (and proper workspace) at Neptune Glassworks. There, she learned how to make vessels and glassware, while experimenting with smokables on the side.
“The pipes, I was just trying it on my own,” she says. “I didn’t have anyone to tell me exactly how to make rigs or anything. So, I was looking at what people were doing when I went to the shows, talking to people.”
Last year, it all came together after taking a master class with OG glassmaker, Robert Mickelsen, who taught her how to refine her sculpting with holloware. “I spent so many years studying figure in illustration, doing live drawings, looking at comic books, drawing and drawing and drawing. So. the body has always been with me. But when I took his class, everything fell into place. I know how to work with glass and I know bodies, so he was the glue that put it together for me.”
She still smokes out of her first piece, a “janky” nude she’s kept for sentimental value. “You smoke out of her butt and pack the head. She’s pretty dirty because she’s my personal piece.” Most of her work moves through her Instagram, where she has built a growing following. After focusing primarily on nudes, Yuksek is shifting her energies into making video game characters and anime characters outfitted with accessories and garments. “I think that there are just so many people who can relate to those characters the way that I do, and I don’t see anyone creating them the way that I do. I know I can add my own twist to them,” she says.
Between the pipe scene and glass world, Yuksek is still carving out her own territory as a functional sculptural artist. There’s something daring and uniquely fitting about a woman facing the flames, not adhering to preconceived notions about how a pipe should look or devaluing its legitimacy as art because it can be used for cannabis. If anything, it’s another example of the limitless ways people are reexamining and elevating cannabis culture to a broader market.
“I’m jumping in and seeing what happens. I’m still trying to figure out where my pieces exist. Are they in head shops and smoke shops, or interior design settings? Should they be functional or sculptural?” she says. “From a personal aesthetic, I’m not as attracted to zigzag patterns or rasta colors. But because marijuana is so much more accessible, of course not everyone is going to have the same aesthetic or preferences. Maybe I’m the type of person that reaches out to a different market: people who love smoking, but have a nicely designed home or this item is part of the overall aesthetic that they’re going for. Or maybe it goes on the shelf because they think it’s really cool but they don’t use it. That also informs how I approach the work.”
The STATES Act, one of the leading efforts to end cannabis prohibition at the federal level, has stepped back into the spotlight.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) this week reintroduced the bipartisan bill, which would allow states to craft their own policies on cannabis. While it wouldn’t legalize the drug nationally, it would largely resolve the existing conflicts between state and federal law.
But although the measure has support on both sides of the aisle in the Capitol–and President Trump has signaled last year that he’ll “probably end up supporting” it–it’s by no means a done deal.
Created by Coalition
The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act was first introduced last year by Warren and Gardner–both of whom represent states that have legalized cannabis– after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, an Obama-era policy document that shielded legal cannabis states from federal interference.The act was intended to replace and expand on the Cole memo, and to enshrine cannabis protections in law rather than the Cole memo’s nonbinding Justice Department policy. In addition to harmonizing state and federal cannabis laws, it would also fund further inquiry into matters such as cannabis and traffic safety.
The newly reintroduced version has already earned the support of members of both main political parties. Although Warren, who is running for president in 2020, was absent from Wednesday’s event, Gardner was joined by his peers in the House of Representatives, who have put forward a virtually identical bill. They included Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer (OR), Barbara Lee (CA). and Joe Neguse (Colorado), as well as Republican Reps. David Joyce (Ohio) and Matt Gaetz (Florida).
“It’s past time for Congress to clarify cannabis policy on the federal level and ensure states are free to make their own decisions in the best interest of their constituents,” Joyce said in a statement. “The STATES Act does just that by respecting the will of the states that have legalized cannabis in some form and allowing them to implement their own policies without fear of repercussion from the federal government.”
Will It Pass? Roadblocks Remain
Although the STATES Act boasts broad bipartisan support, it’s by no means guaranteed to pass. The political climate around cannabis has changed dramatically since the Act was introduced a year ago. There’s a chance that progressive Democrats will shoot down the act, which doesn’t address questions of social justice or equity. A legalization measure in New York died this month largely because lawmakers couldn’t agree on such issues.
“Communities of color are being locked out of this industry,” Rep. Lee, who nevertheless supports the STATES Act, said at the bill’s reintroduction. “We have the opportunity to make this the most equitable industry in the country. Right now less than 1% of the cannabis industry is owned and operated by people of color. We can do much better than that.”
Sponsors will also have to push the act through both the Republican-held Senate and the House Judiciary Committee, which is currently bogged down in investigations related to Russian interference in the 2016 election and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent report.
“That committee is pretty overwhelmed,” acknowledged Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who supports legalization. “They’re dealing with a dozen different pressing problems.”
Optimists, however, argue that momentum for cannabis reform is building, particularly after the SAFE Banking Act cleared the House Financial Services Committee last week. Prohibition’s end, they say, is drawing near.
“This is an opportunity for us to break the logjam,” said Rep.Blumenauer, a longtime legalization proponent and co-founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “The STATES Act is the next logical step in a comprehensive blueprint for more rational federal cannabis policy. It’s time for Congress to catch up with the rest of America are and fix a badly broken system.”