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musicians on drugs

8/20/14 10:30am

Documentary Examines Addiction Among Classical Musicians



A new U.K. documentary is taking a closer look at the surprising trend of drug addiction among classical musicians.

The documentary, Addicts Symphony, brought together several classical musicians who are former addicts and desperate to reclaim their careers. After sharing their life story, the documentary concludes with them performing as an ensemble with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Addicts Symphony primarily features Rachel Lander, a cellist who suffered from alcohol and prescription pill addiction. While she doesn’t place blame on anyone but herself, she also reveals that the long hours and somewhat bizarre lifestyle of a classical musician can exacerbate an addiction problem.

"Many players use alcohol and beta-blockers to control their performance anxiety,” she explained. “After the 'high' of a performance, musicians can struggle to 'come down' and therefore drink to relax—which becomes habitual."

Lander struggled with performance anxiety and panic attacks before performances as a teenager, which was the catalyst for her taking up drinking. "When I drank, these attacks stopped. I also took Valium and beta-blockers…so you could block the adrenal gland and still hang on to your mental capacity,” she said. “The valium was great…because I didn’t really have to be in the room.”

Composer James McConnel led the performance and said he was inspired to do so after the death of his 18-year-old son, Freddy, who passed away in 2011 from a heroin overdose. Freddy was a friend of the late Peaches Geldof and wrote in his diary that he planned to inject heroin for the first time during a visit with her.

"[It’s] one of those rare programs which is not only entertaining and informative, but which has done some real, long-term good,” he said. "For me, watching a group of people brave enough to address their addictions and fear—through music—was both humbling and inspirational."

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By McCarton Ackerman

prescription drugs kill

8/20/14 8:30am

Rob Schneider Blames Big Pharma For Death of Robin Williams



Actor Rob Schneider, best known for his role in bro-flicks like Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and The Hot Chick, has blamed prescription drug companies for the death of Robin Williams.

Schneider first met Williams on the set of Saturday Night Live and the pair had maintained a friendship for 20 years. He took to Twitter last week and commented on the reported suicide of the beloved actor, blaming prescription drugs that Williams was taking for the early stages of Parkinson’s with contributing to his already existing depression and anxiety.

"Now that we can talk about it. #RobinWilliams was on a drug treating the symptoms of Parkinson's. One of the SIDE-EFFECTS IS SUICIDE!" he wrote. "The Evil pharmaceutical industry ADMITS TO OVER 100,000 people in the USA DIE A YEAR FROM "PRESCRIPTION" DRUGS!! #RobinWilliams."

The late actor had struggled with alcoholism and cocaine addiction since the ‘80s. He maintained sobriety for about 20 years before  a “very gradual” relapse. After getting clean once again, Williams had returned to the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center last month in Minnesota to “fine-tune” his sobriety.

“You really think you can [do it on your own], then you realize, I need help, and that's the word,” he said in 2006. “It's hard admitting it, then once you've done that, it's real easy."

Rumors of drug use surfaced shortly after his death on Aug. 11, but his wife Susan Schneider released a statement last week to put those reports to rest.

“Robin’s sobriety was intact. He was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly,” she wrote. "It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid.”

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By McCarton Ackerman


8/20/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: Aug. 20, 2014


Ryan Malone. Photo via

By Shawn Dwyer

tobacco cure

8/19/14 7:30pm

Tobacco Plants Are Key in Containing Ebola Outbreak



The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has claimed more than 1,200 lives, the World Health Organization reported Tuesday. As authorities hasten to contain the deadly virus, which kills at least half of those infected, a new plant-based experimental treatment is on their radar after it has helped five infected people—two Americans and three Africans—survive.

The drug ZMapp was administered to two Americans infected with Ebola in West Africa, Ken Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who are currently in an isolation unit at Emory University Hospital. On Friday, their friends and family reported that the two are doing “very well” and are getting stronger every day.

ZMapp was also used to treat three African doctors, who are showing “remarkable signs of improvement” according to Liberia’s information minister, Lewis Brown.

The plant-based approach, which is also known as pharming, produces complex and valuable proteins for medicines. The genetic blueprints for a particular protein is “infiltrated” into a plant, which then produces the proteins to be harvested from plant tissues.

Tobacco plants are preferred by scientists for this method because they grow quickly and their biology is familiar, according to Ben Locwin, a pharmaceutical biotech consultant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But proteins can also be produced in other plants such as safflower and potato.

“It’s definitely not something you smoke,” Jean-Luc Martre, spokesman for Medicago, notes. The tobacco plant used for this method is just a relative of the plant used to make cigarettes.

Medicago is a Canadian company that is testing flu vaccines made with tobacco plants. It is awaiting the approval of federal authorities before it can utilize its new production facility in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

The facility, which can handle about 90,000 plants, is expected to be able to make 30 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine a year, or 120 million vaccine doses to fight a major outbreak of pandemic flu.

The benefits of plant-made vaccines include lower cost of production, according to Locwin, who said it has a “tremendous amount of promise.”

The plant-based approach to obtaining complex proteins is more popular than ever, in the context of the Ebola outbreak and the threat of bioterrorism. It is a “fast and cheap” method of producing a lot of vaccine material, explains Daniel Tuse, a consultant and managing director of Intrusept Biomedicine. If a new germ produces a threat, its genetic material can be inserted into large numbers of plants, which will churn out material for vaccines.

You can start making a protein within a matter of days, according to Robert L. Erwin, president of iBio, but tobacco plants must be grown for about a month before they can be infected with the protein’s genetic material, and the proteins are harvested and purified.

The federal government, specifically the Defense Department, is funding research on quickly producing proteins in tobacco plants to produce these vaccines.

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By Victoria Kim

rolling papers

8/19/14 5:30pm

Al Olson Leaves NBC News for Marijuana News



Veteran journalist Al Olson is leaving his senior editor job at NBC News to head Marijuana.com, a news site dedicated to reporting on all things cannabis.

For Olson, marijuana and journalism are fatefully intertwined. “I’ve been a journalist for as long as I’ve been a marijuana advocate—my first byline was at the age of 14, the same age I smoked my first joint,” he said in a press statement.

Olson took the reins as Marijuana.com's managing editor on Monday and will be in charge of expanding the site's cannabis coverage, as well as building the site's team of reporters.

"For the last three and a half years I've taken this deep dive into this marijuana industry and movement and just what is happening to this country," Olson said. "I think this is a real interesting time for America."

He also admitted to being a recreational marijuana user for over 40 years, is a medical marijuana card holder in Washington state, and has seen how medical marijuana has helped many of his friends and family.

It should also come as no surprise that Olson holds gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson as one of his heroes, as well as Walter Kronkite. "Although these two journalists were on opposite ends of the news spectrum, both understood that the War on Drugs was a colossal failure. My goal is to make both of my heroes proud of the journalism we will produce at Marijuana.com.”

"We're going to shake things up a little bit, have some fun," Olson continued. "We're going to tell stories in a new and exciting way and not in the mainstream way. It kind of angered me, frankly, to see how mainstream media is covering this issue. There has been a real lack of understanding of what was happening here. I'm very excited to do this."

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By Bryan Le

marijuana arrests

8/19/14 3:30pm

National Marijuana Arrests Have Tripled Since 1991



While the national call to legalize marijuana—both medical and recreational—is higher than ever before (and includes more than half of American voters), you wouldn’t know it by looking at the issue from a law enforcement perspective. The number of marijuana arrests have more than doubled since 1991, and as a percentage of arrests, they have more than tripled.

As Christopher Ingraham pointed out in a recent Washington Post article, this makes for a somewhat confused climate as far as the status of marijuana. On one hand the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy is trending toward a more tolerant attitude in handling drug use. (On the ONRCP’s website you can read about its “collaborative, balanced and science-based approach.”) On the other hand, law enforcement seems to have favored a different, if not altogether opposite approach. Ingraham’s article explains how, although total arrests for any charges have gone down since 1991, the number of marijuana related arrests have somehow doubled—hence the percentage of marijuana arrests tripling.

This is counterintuitive for the news-following legalization enthusiast. These past 10 years have marked some serious victories for the industry, like California’s passing of proposition 215 in 1996, allowing the cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes; or the legalization of recreational use in Colorado and Washington 2012; or the House of Representative’s recent passing of the Heck Amendment, which (if passed by the Senate) will ban the Treasury from spending federal money to penalize banks for providing service to marijuana related businesses.

So why is it that the FBI reported 658,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2012? This made up 42% of all drug arrests and 5.4% of all arrests. In 1991 marijuana-related charges made up less than two percent of all arrests. But the arrests made in 2012 cost law enforcement roughly $3.6 billion, which, as Ingraham points out, excludes the financial and social cost to those who were arrested, and their communities. Aside the expenses inextricably tied to legal trouble—paying for a lawyer, bail or rehabilitation classes—the person arrested carries a highly contingent stain on his record, threatening his ability to get hired and fairly compete in the job market. And, as ACLU has reported, the people most commonly arrested for pot are the ones who can least afford it: low-income minorities.

According to Ingraham’s article, less than one out of every 100 arrests in Massachusetts is for marijuana possession. Drive west into New York and rates rise dramatically, where one out of every eight arrests is for marijuana possession. That is 12.7% of all arrests.

This massive discrepancy has nothing to do with New Yorkers being more likely to toke up. In fact the people of Massachusetts carry that crown, with 9.4% of them admitting to using marijuana (and 8.2% of New Yorkers admitting to using marijuana), according to the Washington Post. With such similar percentages of users, and such dramatically different arrest rates, it is hard to tell that the two states fall under the same federal umbrella.

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By Ryan Knapp/AlterNet


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