#DetentionIsDeadly  #FreeThemAll #D4CCQuiltProject


Guest contributor: Jane Hopkins Walsh

Background

 Social justice movements have historically incorporated arts based visual components to amplify their messages by using images and visual art to literally making the invisible more visible. Examples of this include Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party  and the AIDS quilt

As an arts based medium, quilts are powerful semiotic vehicles for protest and memory, and actual representations of comfort and care. Throughout history, suffragettes, abolitionists, enslaved people, Vietnam war protesters, and HIV/AIDS and 911 survivors have used fiber art and the quilt medium to come together in communal spaces for the purpose of grieving, memorializing and honoring others, and for communicating political opinions about important issues of the day.

This week, health care providers from the group called Doctors for Camp Closure, (D4CC) are coordinating a nationwide 24-hour protest vigils outside detention centers to draw attention to the serious risks of infection from CoVid-19 in detention centers and prisons nationwide. In solidarity and collaboration with community groups around the nation, D4CC are incorporating many arts based events including poetry reading, music, story telling, reflective journaling, and the creation of a virtual and actual protest quilt called the #D4CCQuiltProject.

 Using the social media platform Instagram and the use of the project hashtags, the virtual  #D4CCQuiltProject project will “sew” together images from the nationwide protest, banner messages, and other images or words drawing attention to the risks of CoVId-19 infection for detained and incarcerated people. The #D4CCQuiltProject can also spotlight less obvious historical and structural issues of the Capitalocene that are driving refugees to immigrate around the globe including persistent white settler colonialism, neoliberalism, militarization, persistent extraction of living and non living resources around the world by the Global North, and climate related extremes- all factors driving im/migration globally and to the US, and contributing to conditions of extreme poverty, violence, and food and water insecurity throughout the world. Structural violence issues 

MIssion Statement:  The #DetentionIsDeadly  #FreeThemAll Quilt Project messages are intersectional social justice messages and may include these ideas among others :

  • Show healthcare worker support for the Free Them All movement to release people detained by ICE during COVID pandemic, draw media attention to the dangers of incarceration, and increase public support for decarceration
  • Prisons and detention centers are filled with impoverished Black and Indigenous People of Color, and Undocumented People, and they are increasingly the largest sites of COVID-19 infection
  • Social distancing in detention or prison to reduce the risk of COVID-19 is impossible.
  • As health care providers we oppose detention.
  • Many prisons and detention centers in the US are capitalist oppressive for-profit systems that filled with people who have been disadvantaged across generations by the very systems that now hold them prisoner.
  • Migration to the US is driven by intersectional issues for which we as US citizens are complicit including US colonialism, climate injustice, capitalist extractive industries, globalization and neoliberalism (think sugar, palm oil, hydroelectric power, coffee, lumber, beef, global agriculture to name a few).
  • Native American and Indigenous land rights issues in the US are erased within discussions of immigration. (One example among others is: May 2020 The Wampanoag Tribe in in Massachusetts are struggling to retain land rights).
  • LQBTQI issues get erased in the discussion of immigration and detention.

Project Vision   

  • A virtual quilt that “sews” together square virtual images that align with the purpose of the action. and/or 
  •  An actual quilt that has names, images etc on fabric and that can be actually sewn together and/or 
  • An intersectional art project that is open to the greater art community. 

Project Guide: How to Participate 

DIRECTIONS  

There are TWO WAYS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE QUILT PROJECT

VIrtual Quilt 

  • Take a square photo of any message or image that aligns with issues of social justice, examples above, open to interpretation; the only restriction is the photo/image must pass minimum standards for social media, ie) non vulgar non obscene etc
  • Can be poetry, single words or phrases, a photo of a flower, headline in news, anything, names of deceased persons to honor who have been impacted by structural violence, See some image examples below. 
  • You may superimpose a message on a photo you already have. You may superimpose the project hashtags, or a message on a picture of your Protest Banner.
  • A Square image is needed to “fit them together “
  • Upload to Instagram with 3 primary hashtags #DetentionIsDeadly  #FreeThemAll#D4CCQuiltProject
  • Secondary hashtags are fine too but you have to use these 3 so we can “find” the “images” on Instagram you can also Tag @doctorsforcampclosure 
  • Ultimately, the images can be placed on colored squares see below and “sewn” virtually into a virtual quilt. This will happen in the near future after we have a number of images.
  • The quilt will be shared on social media to amplify the messages

Actual Quilt

  • During the vigil, before or up to two- four weeks after vigil,  people can mail me 12 by 12 inch squares of actual fabric with messages hand written or sewn , and I will sew them together and make them onto a physical quilt. 
  • Any fabric is acceptable but dimensions should be 12 inches by 12 inches
  • This is a way to get the public, friends, kids,  and family members involved in this cause.
  • People can include the creation of a physical square as a way of reflecting during the 24 hour vigil. Think child art, spontaneous, no pressure to have any “art” or sewing skills. Just has to be about 12 by 12 fabric based no rules on type of fabric.
  • People can invite local community groups to participate in the creation of squares.
  • PM Jane Hopkins Walsh for address where to send fabric.
  •  Fabric must reach me by +- June 15th 2020. 
  • The actual quilt could be part of a larger traveling protest quilt that gets added on to in other future protests. 
  • Ultimately the actual and the virtual quilt could be part of larger intersections with the art community to amplify and intersect our messages. For example we could have sew-ins in protest in NYC or other places, intersecting with other protests, or the quilt could travel to other cities and immigrant groups to include diverse social movements and groups all over. This is fluid and open to discussion as it unfolds.

EXAMPLES OF IMAGES BELOW- PLEASE IF YOU SHARE THESE IMAGES  GIVE CREDIT  AS LISTED BELOW.

Credit these 4 tags for this image above please
@voxpopuliprintcollective @shimartnetwork #voxpopuliprintcollective
#shimartnetwork

Credit for this image: from Twitter user@denimfemme Lou Murrey

Credit for the quilt images are
Instagram @janewalsh357 #BorderQuiltProject

Credit for the two quilt images above are
Instagram @janewalsh357 #BorderQuiltProject

Credit for this image
@voxpopuliprintcollective @shimartnetwork #voxpopuliprintcollective
#shimartnetwork

 

About Jane Hopkins Walsh

Protest Opinions in this document are My own
Pronouns She / Her
Jane Hopkins Walsh MSN, PNPC
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Primary Care at Longwood
Boston Children’s Hospital
300 Longwood Ave
Boston, MA  02466
jane.hopkins-walsh@childrens.harvard.edu

Volunteer and Board Member
Cape CARES
Central American Relief Efforts
www.capecares.org

PhD Candidate and Research Fellow
Boston College
William F. Connell School of Nursing
Enrolled: Center for Human Rights and International Justice
Lynch School of Education
Jonas-Blaustein Scholar Cohort 2018-2020
walshjm@bc.edu

 

 

Nurses’ Concerns with COVID19: Update April 17, 2020


The COVID19 pandemic continues to be quite an issue in New York, with over 14,000 deaths reported. I found this link to the New York Times to be helpful in assessing where we are with official numbers of reported testing and deaths (NYTimes CVOID19), though in many states we know that testing remains very limited and accuracy of tests is still only at about 67-70%.

PPE: Nurses are still without proper PPE. While the federal government claims to have distributed millions of masks and gowns, frontline workers are still faced with shortages and putting themselves at risk. Now we are seeing surges in the cost of PPE, with costs going up over 1000%, according to a report published last week by the Society for Healthcare Organization Procurement Professionals. Competitive bidding for these supplies both internationally and within our own county has compounded the issue, and if we had federal government oversight and processes in place, it is likely these issues could be addressed in ways that would help to prevent price inflation ( CNN review of the inflation of PPE cost).

This video that appeared on CBS’s 60 minutes made it clear that nuses like New York nurse Kelley Cabrera are beginning to speak out. Nurse Cabrera works at Jacobi medical center in the Bronx. She makes the point that when nurses are required to reuse N95masks for up to 5 days, they are literally being provided with medical waste to be used as PPE. Nurse Kelley Cabrera 60 minute’s interview

Nurses Stories: Meanwhile, I have heard the stories of nurses continuing to work without proper PPE and we reultantly have high numbers of nurses testing positive in areas like Ohio.

Nurses have started to reject the idea that they be considered to be angels or heroes. They didn’t become nurses to die, and they don’t want to be martyrs. While the 7 pm clapping and cheering ritual in New York City seems to have built a community spirit, some nurses experience this differently. One New York City nurse wrote: ” I ask that you do not pity me, that you do not call me a hero. I do not wish to be made into a martyr….Clap for me and other healthcare workers at seven o’clock if it makes this pandemic feel more bearable. I concede, your cheers help us trudge on. Just know that cheers and hollering don’t change the outcome. This is my fervent plea – that we change what we can after all this is over”.

Fallen Nurses: The loss of nurses becomes hard to track as the numbers increase. NYSNA has set up a memoriam page: Fallen Nurses Memoriam

A 28-year-old pregnant nurse in the UK passed away on 4/12, RIP nurse Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong. Her father passed away two weeks before she died. Mary’s baby daughter was delivered via cesarean section before Mary died.

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Many other nurses and hospital staff in the UK have also died (daily mail review of nurse and staff COVID19 deaths).

Two nurses in Palmetto, Florida have also died from work related exposure to COVID19. Nurse Danielle Dicensio leaves behind a 4 year old son and hubsand. Nurse Earl Bailey also worked at the same hospital, Plametto General Hospital, and he passed away from CVOID19 a few weeks ago. Both nurses complained about not having access to proper PPE, which the hospital denies (two nurses die of COVID19 ). 

A colleague of Nurse Cabrera’s (mentioned above), Freda Orcan,  who worked at Jacobihospital in the Bronx passed away March 28.

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ANA’s response to COVID19:

The Ameican Nurses Association has issued a statement that nurses should be reporting when then experience retaliation around their raising concerns regarding their personal safety in the workplace, as these are OSHA violations (OSHA and retaliation issues). While hundreds of complaints have been filed, it’s difficult to determine specifically how OSHA is responding to reports made. There is a plethora of information on their website regarding COVID19 issues (https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/),

The ANA has created a page of resouces for nurses (ANA COVID19 page). There have developed a corona virus response fund for nurses. There is also a section about ethical guidelines for nurses that may help some in their decision making process and calls forward the bigger ethical issues that nurses are facing, and  links that show all of the steps that ANA is taking in advocating for nurses.

The latest ANA/ AHA/AMA letter witten calls for the government to address the issue of minorities and the disparities they experience with receiving adequate care for their COVID19 issues. (ANA letter to the Secretary, US Department of Health and Human Services). The letter in part reads:

“As organizations that are deeply committed to equity in health status and health care, we have long recognized differences in the incidence and prevalence of certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension — conditions that are now known to exacerbate symptoms of COVID-19. We also recognize that other factors, including but not limited to socioeconomic status, bias and mistrust of America’s health care system, may be resulting in higher rates of infection in communities of color. Lack of access to timely testing and treatment will inevitably lead to worse outcomes for these patients.

As America’s hospitals and health systems, physicians and nurses continue to battle COVID-19, we need the federal government to identify areas where disparities exist and help us immediately address these gaps.”

While ANA has been interacting at the national level, my perception from the nurses directly working with patients on the frontlines is that they feel under-represented and that ANA is not providing them with the voice they need. One time letters to federal authorities seem to make little measurable immediate impact. around what matters for nurses being able to practice safely. They also feel that many of the practicing nurses don’t belong to ANA exactly for this reason: that there is somehow a gap between the reality of nursing practice and the work and publications of the ANA. The crisis is far from over.

May all nurses and all beings know some peace and ease.

Nurses’ Concerns COVID19: Update March 23,2020. Take Action.


Today in social media land, nurses state that they are being told to not use PPE for MRSA and VRE and other contact precaution patient care situations. I think we all know the dire implications around this.

Some are claiming that in other countries they have contacted nurses and doctors who do have access to adequate PPE.

Additionally, many are discussing at what point do you refuse to work because you don’t have proper PPE, or any PPE at all. Some nurses are grateful to be working and still have an income, others are worried and exhausted, some haven’t seen their kids or family in a week out of fear of exposing them to COVID19.

There are private companies that are helping hospitals and healthcare systems access more PPE for their needs. A former state legislator from Maine, Diane Russell, has been working as a broker to help state legislators from Massachusetts to procure PPE. So, instead of the federal government helping to ensure that the people on the front lines are protected, states and healthcare systems are having to turn to private organizations for assistance in just finding PPE: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/03/21/metro/message-maine-massachusetts-yields-much-needed-medical-supplies/?  I do not know much about the company, I don’t know if the pricing is fair, but I do know they are able to provide many with PPE. https://noblemedicalsupply.com/products

It’s still early on the east coast, but I am not expecting the president to take action on the Defense Production Act today. I implore you to do the grassroots things and contact our representatives.

Be direct and clear; state your name, where you live, your contact information, your profession, and that you are asking them to ensure that the federal government takes action on the Defense Production Act so that healthcare workers have access to Personal Protective Equipment and patients have access to ventilators.

I suggest both phone and email messaging. I suggest leaving messages with the president’s office, and each of your representative federal lawmakers. It took me about 30 minutes to organize myself, write out my message, and both call and email the president, my governor, my federal legislators.

The full list of how to contact all of your federal and state lawmakers is found here on this main landing page: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

This link takes you to your house of representatives legislator and provides phone and email contacts: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

This link takes you to the senator’s contact information: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

It’s also important to contact your state government and aks them to request that the federal government take action. You can find your state government links here: https://www.congress.gov/state-legislature-websites and also from the main landing page, including your governor’s information.

*Thanks to those of you who dialogued and posted yesterday, though I haven’t had the energy to respond. I am trying to take good care of myself, as I still have a sore throat, headache, runny nose, body aches, no fever. All of the symptom checkers say it’s not COVID19. I wish you all wellness and peace.

Nurses’ Concerns with COVID19: March 20, 2020


Like many of you reading this, I have a range of emotions and feelings as the pandemic of COVID19 grows in the USA: anxiety, fear, and anger. Today (and for the last several days), I am angry about the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available for nurses who are being called to care for those who are most ill and the most contagious. The following is my attempt to express my personal concerns and align them with nursing’s guiding ethical principles.

There may be flaws in my thinking and I am open to respectful dialog about these issues. I understand that emotions are running high and that we may not agree, but we can and should have civil discussions and dialogs.

Lack of Personal Protective Equipment. On February 7, 2020, the World Health Organization warned of a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment in China and beyond. As that was 6 weeks ago, there has been time to ramp up the production of PPE. Meanwhile, state’s governors from Maine to Wisconsin to Florida and Washingon are asking to access the federal stockpiles for access to PPE:

https://www.penbaypilot.com/article/governor-mills-urges-federal-government-vice-president-release-personal-protection-eq/131972

https://www.nbc15.com/cw/content/news/Evers-asks-federal-govt-for-much-needed-supplies-from–568975621.html

https://www.propublica.org/article/heres-why-florida-got-all-the-emergency-medical-supplies-it-requested-while-other-states-did-not

https://www.doh.wa.gov/Newsroom/Articles/ID/1117/Addressing-shortages-of-Personal-Protective-Equipment-PPE

Nurses Quitting: A few days ago, one of my Facebook friends quit her job because she was no longer being provided the proper PPE, She was not directly caring for COVID19 patients, but she needs proper PPE to keep herself and her patients safe during the provision of care,  and her quitting her job got me thinking, considering ethical issues, advocacy, the role of the nurse, and so on.  I respect her decision, and I hope this post makes it clear that during these frightening and murky times, the decisions we make as nurses are going to be hard ones.

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I want to say, from an ethical perspective, it is perfectly acceptable for nurses to quit their jobs and/or refuse to work without proper PPE. Refer to my previous post of the ANA calling for the CDC to provide evidence when they make guidelines, and consider the recent use of bandanas and reuse of face masks protocol from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/ppe-strategy/face-masks.html. This flies in the face of everything we know about the transmission of viruses.

Ethical Principles: The overarching ethical principles at play here that help to guide nurses’ decision making are beneficence (doing the good thing, moral obligation to do the right thing, what is best for the patient) and nonmaleficence (do no harm to patients). When we work without proper PPE, there is a very real risk that not only might we harm ourselves, we potentially spread pathogens to patients. When we don’t have proper PPE, our stress, fear, and anxiety can be magnified and potentially may harm patients.

Additionally, The code of ethics for nurses (https://www.nursingworld.org/coe-view-only) requires a lot of us.  To begin with, we must be deeply familiar with The code and how it guides our decision-making processes. The following are some excerpts from The code that guide our decision making at this time:

The code: 3.5 Protection of Patient Health and Safety by Acting on Questionable Practice 

This concept is all about the reporting of inappropriate and questionable practices. We may become stymied when even our boards of nurses are aware of dangerous and non-evidence-based practices, but they may see no way around them. We can report the issues, but when the governing bodies we report to are not holding up our own ethical standards, the field is put at greater risk for collapse (from infection spreading and/ or providers quitting).

Even as standards are relaxed, entities such as the Oregon Board of Nursing should be taking more responsible action and not placing nurses and patients at risk. The following is a statement by the Oregon Board of Nursing that states that nurses cannot refuse assignments because of sub-par PPE that does not align with CDC or WHO regulations. In other words, in this case, the BON is either not considering the greater harm for both patients and nurses by not recognizing the greater ethical concerns and personal risks nurses are being asked to take, or they simply see no other solutions. The paragraphs about the social contract and evidence-based approaches contradict the highlighted area regarding changes in PPE approaches and the right to refuse assignments.

Screen Shot 2020-03-20 at 8.55.47 AM.png

Regardless of what our boards of nursing state, Provision 4 makes it clear that we are ultimately responsible for our own practice:  “The nurse has authority, accountability, and responsibility for nursing practice; makes decisions, and takes action consistent with the obligation to promote health and to provide optimal care”. Specifically, Provision 4.1 states that “Nurses bear primary responsibility for the nursing care that their patients and clients receive” and “Nurses must always comply with and adhere to state nurse practice acts, regulations, standards of care, and ANA’s Code…”. This does lead to interesting paradoxical issues with the Oregon Board of Nursing, as one could view this as a regulation, but it contradicts further statements in The code, including:

Provision 4.3: “Nurses are always accountable for their judgment, decisions, and actions: however in some circumstances, responsibility may be borne by both the nurse and the institution. Nurses accept or reject specific role demands and assignments based on their education, knowledge, competence, and experience, as well as their assessment of the level of risk for patient safety. Nurses in administration, education, policy, and research also have obligations to the recipients of nursing care” and “Nurses must bring forward difficult issues related to patient care and/or institutional constraints upon ethical practice for discussion and review”.

Most importantly, The code calls for us to take good care of ourselves so that we can take care of others. We see this shown in Provision 5, particularly:

Provision 5.2 Promotion of Personal Health, Safety, and Well-Being

“…nurses have a duty to take the same care for their own health and safety. Nurses should model the same health maintenance and health promotion that they teach and research, obtain health care when needed, and avoid taking unnecessary risks to health or safety in the course of their professional and personal activities.” The sticking point here is arguing whether or not the risks of not wearing proper PPE, which include risks of death for oneself or other patients who have not yet been exposed, is necessary or not. From my perspective, I can see where working without proper PPE could be too large of a risk to oneself and the communities served.

And I get concerned when nurses seem to think it’s only about them be willing to take on the personal risk for themselves, forgetting about how they may also become the vector.

One last ethical issue, we have to do our own self-care during these challenging times. As nurses, we are required to take care of ourselves. Provision 5.2 continues: “Fatigue and compassion fatigue affect a nurse’s professional performance and personal life. To mitigate these effects, nurses should eat a healthy diet, exercise, get sufficient rest, maintain family and personal relationships, engage in adequate leisure and recreational activities, and attend to spiritual or religious needs…it is the responsibility of nurses leaders to foster this balance within organizations”

Now onto a round-up of current COVID19 issues for nurses as I am seeing on social media:

Masks: Some nurses are being told to store their 1 daily mask in a paper bag and remove/ doff between patients, and replace/don the old mask for new patients. Of course, the bag and the mask would all be potentially contaminated; the bag actually creates a source of contamination and risks for greater transmission. I also heard rumors on social media of nurses being told to share masks, and I am hoping this is simply just false information, as I couldn’t verify that claim. I did hear that eye shields were being shared. I have confirmed that nurses who are normally required to wear masks because they have not been vaccinated for the flu are now being told to not wear masks because there is a shortage of masks. I have also confirmed that having a doctor’s note regarding why one must wear a mask (verification that they are immunocompromised) may work in some settings to either ensure masks are available to the person or excuse them from work.

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We are vulnerable: Nurses are humans and many of us are vulnerable, whether that means we have chronic health conditions and co-morbidities, or we are at risk because of age.

Nurses are also fighting amongst themselves about whether it is okay to quit the workplace now. We have to recognize that these are complex decisions; nurses are real people who have their own health issues. Getting angry about people not willing to take the risk is not productive in both the short and long term.

It’s okay to choose your life and your well-being over the “duty” or social contract to work. It’s okay to make those tough decisions, like quitting your job, and, for some folks, they may be willing to risk their license by refusing assignments where they can’t keep themselves or their patients safe, even if their board of nursing disagrees.

Many nurses will carry on, work hard, provide excellent care, and do their best.

It’s also okay to feel vulnerable and scared in these uncertain times and to question your decisions and the decisions of administrators, regulators, and leaders.

It’s okay to organize and advocate for our needs, whatever that looks like.

Always remember, you have ethics on your side.

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Evaluating the Evidence: Cannabis and Psychosis, Part II


As promised, I am back with more of the analysis. Before I jump into the findings, I do want to let you know I have been ruminating a bit about the issue of cannabis testing. 

To attempt to state my thoughts succinctly here, until we start testing the cannabis that patients in these types of studies are using, we won’t be doing good science. Granted, we know that THC is responsible for many of the side and and adverse effects of cannabis, but to state that the issue with the cannabis is that it has become so high in THC% is far too reductionistic. There is no specific proof that this one cannabinoid alone is the issue when it comes to the relationship between cannabis and new onset of psychosis. The researchers did state that they opted not to test patients’ cannabis because it provides only a snapshot of a moment of cannabis use in the person’s history.

However, relying on reports of what cannabis is available in the area, because it still in my mind, when I think of the wide variety of cannabis strains available, leaves too much of a gap in getting a handle on what patients are actually consuming. Cannabis is a complex plant with over 500 chemicals, but a few simple tests could provide a wealth of information when it comes to determining if high potency THC cannabis truly does play a role in onset of psychosis, or if something else is going on here.

If a similar study were run again, I would suggest testing the actual cannabis that these psychosis patients had used. Those tests should minimally include the cannabinoid and terpene profiles, in addition to testing for heavy metals and pesticides. While this would have some associated costs, it may at least let the researchers know if the profile of the last cannabis used, which could be very enlightening.

Another consideration with testing cannabis: there is a long history of concern when it comes to the role of heavy metal ingestion and the onset of psychiatric symptoms (Attademo , Bernardini , Garinella , & Compton 2017; .Orisakwe, 2014 ). Cannabis plants can easily become contaminated with heavy metals when grown in soils containing heavy metals. Pesticides can also contaminate cannabis, and the consideration of pesticides as both endocrine disruptors and a possible contributing factor to schizophrenia/.psychosis has also been researched over the years (Maqbool F1, Mostafalou S2, Bahadar H3, Abdollahi M4,, , 2016). What if what we really need to regulate or worry about is not the cannabis plant and THC potency so much as what contaminants are in the plant? In my thought process, this really becomes an ethical question of what we are researching, and what might actually bring harm to patients and vulnerable populations. One of the issues around the end of cannabis prohibition and the beginning of regulation of cannabis should be that people have access to a an herbal medicine that is tested and safe, so people know what they are consuming. Beneficence and autonomy come to mind.

This would encourage cleaner product to be produced and help support people with their own healing quests and/or help them to be a more informed consumer. While I don’t particularly care to draw analogies to alcohol (which comes with its own costly public health concerns namely that alcohol is potentially deadly and cannabis is not), imagine buying alcohol without knowing how strong it is, what is really in it, and so forth. Remember the days of prohibition of alcohol and all of the issues with people making “moonshine”?

And now I will continue to look at the findings. 

Participants: Theres seems to be a good split between male/female, with the median age of 36 for control and 31 for case. The median age coupled with the wide range of ages (18-64) included in the study was just a bit concerning, because we know that first time psychosis tends to happen in the early-mid 20’s. The vast majority of all participants were white with at least some college or vocational training and full time employment. It was also clear between case and control, there was much more use of cigarettes, cannabis, and other “drugs” (stimulants, hallucinogens, ketamine, etc) by the case group. Alcohol was not included the summary data table, but in the body of text it states there no difference in alcohol consumption amongst the case vs control groups. And this points to another issue, that it’s really hard to control these types of studies, because most people who are using “drugs” tend to use many different types of substances and it is hard to determine which is having the impact, particularly as we know their can be short term and long term implications. I began to question the issue of poly substance abuse perhaps being a greater issue here then just looking at the % of THC in cannabis, and that lead me to this research….

The International Early Psychosis Association published research by Neilsen et al (2016) that found that alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs increase risk for developing schizophrenia later in life. This was a large retrospective study with the Danish population. The full paper can be accessed here: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1d58/2eaad2f2f9b61f5952f2ecf696bb81a55c7e.pdf Actually, as I ruminate and dig deeper into the Neilsen et al study, I discover it’s having the diagnosis of substance abuse that is correlated with the risk for being diagnosed with schizophrenia 6 fold.  Indeed both cannabis and alcohol greatly increased the risk for diagnosis, but Neilsen et al are careful to state that they cannot say alcohol and substance abuse caused the schizophrenia.

Let’s keep in mind with the study being analyzed DiForti et al (hopefully you aren’t getting lost as I move between the primary study and supporting studies I have included!) also found in their population that most people who have a substance abuse disorder do not use one substance alone. In fact the case participants in most of the drug categories used nearly twice as much as the control groups. So is poly substance abuse a factor here? 

And that brings me to my next thought: Self-medicating. I don’t see this addressed at all in this article, but were the participants asked about why they used cannabis? Seeing as most people with  psychosis have at least 1 year of symptoms prior to being diagnosed with the new onset psychosis, during that time they may be self-medicating or abusing many different substances. My mind starts to question: What if cannabis is actually helping them manage their symptoms, and they would actually would be worse off without it?

And then I come along this little article, that although it’s not in a peer reviewed journal, it clearly explains a possible link between THC, reduction in glutamate, lowered NMDA, weakened CB1 receptors, dopamine receptor D2 being elevated….all this comes together to create hypersensitivity in the limbic system, which may create an environment where schizophrenia could occur.  I didn’t see any of this info in the article be analyzed, f I missed it, somebody let me know! There is conflicting research on whether CBD might help with schizophrenia as it changes/modulates CB1 receptors, but we can ‘t forget that CBD % is an important consideration when looking at cannabis plant profiles. https://www.leafly.com/news/health/link-between-cannabis-and-schizophrenia

The leafy article also linked me out to another article looking at causation between cannabis use and psychosis. The authors Louise Arseneault (a1), Mary Cannon (a2), John Witton (a3) and Robin M. Murray

in their meta analysis of five other research articles found that while youthful cannabis use may create a two fold  a risk factor for psychosis, and may be responsible for up to 8% of the worlds schizophrenia diagnoses, it also is just one part of a “complex constellation of factors”, and of course vulnerable youth should avoid use of cannabis. 

What if people with mental health issues find some relief, for some period of time, from cannabis, that they don’t find from other medications or activities? Why are there so few qualitative studies around cannabis use and self-medication? And why do we have such a stigma associated with self-medication, in much the same we have a stigma around being diagnosed with a mental health issue? The questions go on and on in my mind. 

Overall Findings: Okay, let’s get down to the meat of the findings here. The statistical analysis seem logical and well run (I am not a statistician, in fact I found a statistician to work with as I am doing my own quantitive study on an unrelated topic at this time.).  

Simply stated, the findings correlate starting use of cannabis before age 15, using high potency cannabis (>10% THC), and  daily use as seeming to have the greatest correlation to psychosis (keep in mind causation is not proven here, and almost all of the case participants had also indulged in other substance use at much higher rates than the control group, the issue of possible contamination of ingested cannabis, the lack of knowledge around the full cannabinoid and terpene profile of the cannabis used, and so on). 

Conclusions: For me personally, this study did little to change my mind about cannabis and its safety profile, nor change my overall thoughts on safe use of cannabis, including the idea that cannabis should likely not be used recreationally by young people in their teens and early 20’s.

For most people using cannabis medicinally,  a high potency THC cannabis is likely not needed, but having safe tested cannabis helps people to make informed decisions about the quality of cannabis they are ingesting and the amount of THC they are consuming. High potency THC cannabis or escalating doses of THC may indeed be risky for some people, most likely young people, those with a predisposition to addiction or history of familial psychosis episodes, those with childhood trauma, those with familial history of substance abuse, and those who currently are poly- substance users. 

  • Avoid using cannabis (and really all “drugs” and alcohol) until one is in the mid-20’s and the brain is well developed. This does not account for the idea that teens will use substances, so I would say avoid poly-substance use, and cannabis is still generally safer than alcohol (psychosis risks aside). Alcohol is far more readily available for teens to access, also it too is a significant risk factor for psychosis (and of course immediate death if one becomes extremely intoxicated….you can’t die from cannabis ingestion).
  • Use tested cannabis that is free from heavy metals, pesticides, fungus, and mold.
  • Know the potency of the cannabis medicine you are using. Avoid long term use of “high potency THC cannabis”, or better yet know your THC consumption in mg and limit it to 15 mg max/ day (divided into TID doses), balanced with CBD (up to 20 mg/ day) and terpenes from whole plant medicine (MacCallum & Russo, 2018). 
  • Take regular cannabis breaks (for the recreational user,  avoid daily use and avoid regular use of high potency THC strains; for the medicinal user, consider working with your healthcare provider to determine what a break schedule might look for you, and use lower THC strains if they are still effective at managing symptoms). The website www.healer.com has great info about dosing. 
  • Medicinal users of cannabis: start low, go slow with the THC dosing. One does not need to be “high” in order to feel relief of symptoms, and with cannabis being a biphasic medication, sometimes less is more. For specific dosing guidance, see MacCallum & Russo (2018). 
  • For researchers: as prohibition ends and we move toward an era of regulation, let’s find ways to create the best body of evidence available when it comes to the benefits and risks associated with this herbal medication. Let’s base our public policy and educational efforts in sound science. Let’s not jump from correlation to causation, which means we will have to approach the study of this plant with a complexity lens. 

 

References:

 Arseneault, L.  (a1), Cannon, M.,  (a2), Witton, J.  (a3) & Murray, R.M. (a4 .

(2004). Causal association between cannabis and psychosis: Examination of the evidence. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 184(2), 110-117. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.184.2.110

Attademo L1, Bernardini F2, Garinella R3, & Compton MT4.(2017). Environmental pollution and risk of psychotic disorders. Schizophrenia Research, 18, 55-59.

MacCallum, C.A.. & Russo, E.B. (2018). Practical considerations in medical cannabis administration and dosing. European Journal of Internal Medicine, 49 , 12–19.

(Maqbool F1, Mostafalou S2, Bahadar H3, Abdollahi M4,, ,(2016). Review of endocrine disorders associated with environmental toxicants and possible involved mechanisms. Life Sciences, 145, 265-273. 

Nielsen, S.M., Toftdahl, N.G., Nordentoft, M., & Hjorthoj, C. (2016). Association between alcohol, cannabis, and other illicit substance abuse and the risk of developing schizophrenia: A nationwide population based register study. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1d58/2eaad2f2f9b61f5952f2ecf696bb81a55c7e.pdf

Orisakwe O. E. (2014). The role of lead and cadmium in psychiatry. North American journal of medical sciences, 6(8), 370-6.