Hawaii has highest well-being scores in three of five well-being elements
Alaska among top two well-being states for third straight year
West Virginia is lowest well-being state for eighth straight year
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hawaii residents had the highest well-being in the nation in 2016, with the state reaching the top spot for the sixth time since Gallup and Healthways began tracking well-being in 2008. Alaska finished in the top two for the third consecutive year, while Colorado finished in the top 10 for the ninth straight year and joins Hawaii as the only two states to earn this distinction.
Here’s something they won’t teach you in school: The United States has more than one canyon! Really, it’s true. The Grand Canyon is big and beautiful, but it’s not the only chasm in our land worth visiting. Our canyons stretch from New York to Hawaii, span the spectrum of colors, lengths and foliage and all may be experienced in various manner, by your outdoor-loving self. September and October make some of the best canyon-experiencing times in ‘merica—gone are the hoards of tourists and face-slapping heat. And since you’ve all heard about the Grand Canyon, and that crazy Bright Angel Trail, here are ten more must-do canyon hikes to check off the list.
Cannabis tour operators are heading for Colorado where new dispensaries (shops), and weed-friendly clubs and hotels are popping up to make the most of the relaxation of marijuana laws
As the sun rises over the Rockies, a tour bus pulls up outside the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver and deposits a new load of tourists. It’s not your usual busload, though.
This group has come from Texas for a weekend organised by Spiro, a luxury cannabis tour operator, and its package includes a visit to a spa, dinner, a trip to a farm and a weed-infused cooking class. Some of them will buy and smoke, some are just curious, but they’re all here for the pot.
Until now choices for pot tourism have been limited. There’s Amsterdam, of course, where tourists can buy up to five grams and smoke in coffee shops, but this year in the US, since Washington state and Colorado legalised personal recreational purchasing and consumption of marijuana, there’s been a rush to open dispensaries and growing operations, particularly in Denver.
Medicinal marijuana has been available in Colorado since 2000, so many existing suppliers are investing in more plants, space, shops and staff. There are, as yet, no Starbucks-style chains though; many of the dispensaries (selling everything from ready-rolled joints to smoking paraphernalia) are small and independently owned.
Drawn by the mountains and the laid-back atmosphere, tourists arrive daily in Colorado from other US states and, increasingly, from overseas. Buying cannabis is the easy part; smoking it is another story, as Colorado also has tough anti-smoking laws.
Whether in edible or smokeable form, marijuana use is prohibited in public spaces, including streets and parks, and in places visible from public spaces (such as your hotel balcony). You can smoke inside at clubs such as Studio A64 in Colorado Springs, and a new wave of hotels allow smoking (of tobacco or weed) in 25% of the rooms.
Cannabis-infused trail mix is put in containers for participants in a cannabis cooking class in Denver. Photograph: Alamy
Since the beginning of 2014, it is estimated that cannabis sales have brought Colorado $47m in tax revenue, with an estimated third of those sales to customers from out of state. From resorts in western Colorado, such as Aspen, to the university town of Boulder, new dispensaries are opening to take advantage of those looking for a more-refined buying experience.
They tend to look like luxury fashion boutiques, with no tie-dye or Bob Marley shirts in sight. You’ll find ads for cannabis yoga, pot reading groups, arts clubs and other social activities meant to help take some of the stigma out of smoking and make it more communal. Edible products are becoming popular, with treats from chocolates to cocktails on sale – their serving sizes limited to 100mg (milligrams) of active ingredient THC per product.
From sea to shining sea, states are watching how the situation in Colorado develops – with, of course, an eye on the tax dollars. It must only be a matter of time before you can book a marijuana tour of the entire US – yoga and chocolate brownies included.
•My 420 Tours has packages from $1,295pp, including two nights’ accommodation. Spirotours has half-day tours from $399pp
There are hundreds of strains of marijuana — each containing hundreds of different chemicals — but only one molecule makes much difference, scientists say.
It’s all about the THC.
Purveyors and boosters of marijuana — or cannabis — whether recreational or medicinal, counterclaim that the experience varies to great effect among all the amazing varieties cultivated over thousands of years.
Almost five millennia after the Chinese used medicinal cannabis, Colorado voters approved it in 2000, and they did the same for adult recreational use in 2012. A majority of the state’s voters have decreed cannabis is good medicine and good fun, but they might not know what the drug is doing to the body.
When a person smokes, inhales or ingests marijuana or pot — the green, brown or grayish dried and shredded leaves, stems, flowering buds or seeds of plants called cannabis sativa or cannabis indica — more than 200 different chemical compounds course through the body. About 60 of them are called cannabinoids.
“Everybody likes something different,” said Ean Seeb, co-owner of the Denver Relief Medical Marijuana Dispensary. “They can now pick what really works for them.”
Yet after some 75 years of scientific research, it has been found the concentration of the psychoactive compound, THC, is what really matters, said psychopharmacologist Kari Franson, an associate dean and professor with the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Franson worked at an institute that studied the effects of cannabinoids in healthy volunteers in the Netherlands, where it was easier to do research on it than in the U.S.
“You can study, study, study it, but it’s THC (Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) — that is the active ingredient,” Franson said. “And there are certain things that happen to everyone who takes THC.”
These, she said, are a feeling of pleasure or high, motor instability, decreased reaction time, attention deficit and increased heart rate.
“People think it mellows them out, but it causes an average increase in heart rate of 16 beats per minute,” Franson said. “That’s why people who take high doses they are unaccustomed to can experience significant anxiety or paranoia.”
Other THC effects commonly experienced are increased appetite, decreased nausea, decreased motivation and decreased pain perception.
Additional typical effects are bloodshot eyes, decreased pressure inside the eye (it’s used to treat glaucoma), heightened sensory perception (intense colors and sounds), distorted sense of time and sometimes a dry mouth.
Some effects are felt as soon as THC enters the bloodstream — much more quickly if inhaled. Delivery is key — joint, blunt, water pipe or a volcano (in which vapor only is collected in an expandable bag). Effects typically last an hour to a few hours, but the fat-soluble chemicals stay in the body for much longer.
Absorption of ingested THC is much slower.
After the high is over, some users feel sleepy or depressed.
Whatever is happening, Franson said, it’s THC that’s doing it.
“I think it all has to do with dose. The rest is marketing,” Franson said. “It’s folklore.”
Users beg to differ.
Seeb and many others say the two main types of cannabis, sativa and indica, produce very different effects. Marijuana strains range from pure sativas to pure indicas, but most are combinations or hybrids after thousands of years of cropping and recropping, he said.
Indica, nicknamed “in da couch,” provides a deep feeling of relaxation or sleepiness compared with sativa, “viva sativa,” which provides a more energetic or uplifting high, Seeb said.
Other users have strong preferences for different tastes and smells, which contribute to the subjective experience of pleasure.
“There are really pronounced differences across thousands of strains,” Seeb said. “Some smell very sweet, like oranges or grape Kool-Aid. Some people like the stinkiest cannabis they can find. It can smell like skunk, diesel fuel (Bio-Diesel) or a dirty diaper (Sour Diesel). Gumbo is a delicious, sweet and spicy indica strain with beautiful floral hints, but also strong and pungent.”
Seeb, who suffered a traumatic skiing accident that left him with chronic muscle spasms in one arm, said he is a big fan of Ultimate ’91 ChemDawg. It helps him relax his muscles and fall asleep after long workdays of 16 to 18 hours. No motivation problems here.
“I can’t make any claim one strain will have any one effect on everybody,” Seeb said. “What makes one person giggle will make someone else paranoid.”
For those who abstain and wonder about whether making their way through a haze of marijuana smoke can get them high, Franson says not to worry.
“It takes an absurd amount of marijuana secondhand smoke to cause a positive test in a nonsmoker,” Franson said.
A test 20 years ago showed that it required the smoke of 14 marijuana cigarettes in an unventilated 10-foot-square room before a nonsmoker had detectable amounts in his system.
“That’s pretty smoky,” Franson said.
Most of THC’s activity is in the brain and central nervous system, although there are receptors located in the heart and other cells, such as the body’s inflammatory-response cells.
Human bodies naturally manufacture chemicals similar to THC, which is why it works on us, Franson said. It hijacks receptors in the brain used by natural chemicals called neurotransmitters, specifically endogenous cannabinoids. One of them, anandamide, has been identified as regulating mood, memory, appetite, pain, learning and understanding.
These receptors are all over the brain — including the basal ganglia (which affects involuntary muscle movements), the hippocampus (used in short-term memory) and the cerebellum (which controls motor coordination).
“The cannabinoid receptor system is one of the biggest systems. Your brain is chock-full of them,” said Dr. Christian Hopfer, an associate professor of psychiatry at University of Colorado Hospital’s Center for Dependency, Addiction and Recovery.
“You need (the body’s natural cannabinoids), and it has an effect when you’re messing with those receptors,” Hopfer said.
THC mimics the body’s cannabinoids. Both interact with the same receptors. When THC binds to the receptor, it interferes with normal brain function, such as dopamine regulation.
Dopamine is part of the body’s natural reward system and a key molecule in many brain functions, such as attentiveness, motivation, learning, memorization and motor control. THC increases dopamine in the short term, but ultimately interferes with the body’s own reward circuit.
One of the body’s own cannabinoids’ purposes is to decrease the excitability of brain cells, or neurons, activated by adrenaline (or norepinephrine) in a fight-or-flight response to a perceived threat.
“But we eventually have to turn off this response or the neuron dies,” Franson said.
That’s the job of the body’s cannabinoids. But they jump on and jump off receptors much faster than THC, Franson said. The body’s cannabinoids don’t create a high.
“But THC jumps on and stays there,” she said. “It has a prolonged and pronounced effect.”
With chronic cannabis consumption, the body decreases the number of receptors for its cannabinoids. Researchers have found that this results in reduced blood flow — and glucose and oxygen — to the brain. This could manifest as attention-deficit, memory loss and other impaired mental abilities.
“There is evidence you don’t recover all your mental capacity when you quit using,” said Hopfer, who treats marijuana and other addictions. “It’s a very insidious addiction. It’s very hard to treat. Its effects are subtle, gradual and less dramatic. And it’s been trivialized.”
He said he thinks the media overall has been pro-marijuana in its coverage of legalization.
“People shouldn’t assume they know this drug based on Cheech and Chong movies,” Franson said.
Marijuana continues to be listed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a Schedule I drug — high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use — along with opiates and derivatives (heroin), stimulants (methamphetamine) and hallucinogenics (LSD) and depressants (methaqualone).
“There’s something crazy about the feds labeling cannabis Schedule I and states legalizing it,” Hopfer said. “It strikes me as a bad way of doing public policy. The truth is we don’t really know that much about marijuana. We need to sort it out. But we have declared it a medicine by popular vote. It’s a bad system. Now the popular view here is that it should be regulated like tobacco.”
When cannabis is smoked like a cigarette, the smoker’s lungs take in a horde of chemicals and particulates.
“Do I know that direct contact of these compounds doesn’t harm the lungs. I don’t know that. And nobody knows that,” Franson said.
Cannabis boosters and detractors offer conflicting evidence of whether it prevents or causes cancer, or does both.
“We just don’t have full understanding,” Franson said. “I think we ought to know what this stuff does before we (broadly) use it as medicine.”
Her main complaint about cannabis as medicine is that it’s not “pharmacological,” by which she means you can’t administer a consistent dose and predict a consistent response.
Nevertheless, she acknowledges cannabis is being used successfully to alleviate pain, lessen the bad side effects of chemotherapy and prevent blindness from glaucoma.
And, with much less scientific evidence behind it, it is also used to treat epileptic seizures, stop the spread of cancer (with a chemical called cannibidiol, not THC), slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and more. Franson said these claims are not well-supported.
Where cannabis is concerned, however, many voters and users are willing to rely on anecdotal evidence and personal experience — and are just trying it out as a cure for an increasing number of ailments.
“We have such a wide variety of patients who come,” Seeb said. “We’re really starting to see the plant is a miracle plant that heals many things.”
The state has joined the list of places that have replaced a “420” mile marker sign to curb the ongoing theft (sorry, college students looking for dorm room decor).
Adam Rush of the Idaho Transportation Department says officials replaced the old sign along U.S. Highway 95 with “MILE 419.9,” just south of Coeur d’Alene.
Rush added that this is the only 420 sign the department has replaced in Idaho, a state known for its strict anti-marijuana laws despite being nearly surrounded by states with relaxed pot regulations.
The particular mile marker is a popular target, given its connotation with marijuana, for thieves in states with routes than span for that long.one
Washington and Colorado have taken similar measures with the 420 signs; pot has been legalized in both of those states.
In Washington, the marker along Highway 20 has been replaced by a “419.9” sign, while the state’s other 420 mile sign, on U.S. Highway 12, is reportedly missing.
Colorado’s 420 sign, located along Interstate 70 roughly 150 miles east of Denver, was replaced last year with a sign that read “419.99.”
Sometimes, such mile markers can become historic simply based on coincidence. In Montana, the state’s largest pot bust occurred in May 2014 when a driver was pulled over at milepost 420 along Interstate 90.
Law enforcement officials found 115 pounds of marijuana hidden in the car.
Mexican cartels are often compared to corporations. And in some ways they are. Like any international business, they are constantly innovating and adapting to compete in one of the fiercest capitalist markets of all: the transnational drug trade.
Legalization advocates argue that Mexican cartels are taking a hit from the gradual legalization of marijuana in the United States, which has allowed U.S. consumers in a handful of states to purchase domestically grown weed.
While some analysts remain skeptical about the impact legalization is having on the overall cartel business, there are indications that these criminal organizations are adjusting to shifts in the marketplace by targeting domestic consumption, diversifying their product offering, and tapping unexploited areas of criminal opportunity.
“Approximately 30 percent of cartels’ drug export revenues come from marijuana,” Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope told Fusion. “In the long term, Mexican marijuana could be displaced by legal production in the United States.”
Hope says there’s still a market niche for Mexico’s lower-end drug trade weed, since legal marijuana in states like Washington and Colorado is more expensive.
“Complete substitution has not gone into effect,” he said, “The market is definitely changing, but cartel adaptation will happen in years not months.”
There are other signs of market disruption. In some instances, the entire flow of the drug trade has changed course. DEA spokesman Lawrence Payne told NPR last year that “Sinaloa operatives in the United States are reportedly buying high-potency American marijuana in Colorado and smuggling it back into Mexico for sale to high-paying customers.”
Mexico is still a limited market. Overall, Mexicans are nowhere near American consumption levels. But according to a 2014 study published by Mexican research university CIDE, the latest government reports “suggest that the number of consumers in Mexico is considerable.” The study says that a 2010-2011 national poll reported 1.2 million drug users.
Mexican cartels are also diversifying the types of drugs they smuggle. The 2014 UN World Drug Report found a “large increase” in the number of methamphetamine laboratories seized in Mexico and the United States.
In 2012 “Mexico dismantled 259 methamphetamine laboratories, up from a few dozen a few years earlier, and it reported the world’s largest aggregate amount of seizures of methamphetamine for the period 2010-2012,” the report found.
The increased availability of methamphetamine drugs in the U.S. is “directly related to high levels of methamphetamine production in Mexico,” according to the DEA and U.S. Department of Justice 2014 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary. The report notes that meth and heroin seizures have increased dramatically along the border while marijuana busts remained stable from 2010 to 2013.
“Between 2013 and 2014, U.S. Customs and Border Protection saw an increase in seizures of heroin, up 5.2 percent, and methamphetamine, up 9.8 percent,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection media spokesman Carlos Lazo told Fusion. “During the same time, CBP saw a decrease in seizures of 20.9 percent in marijuana, a decrease of 3 percent in cocaine, and a decrease of 87.7 percent in ecstasy.”
If those trends are accurate, it would mark the beginning of an important market shift, according to Javier Osorio, a professor and criminal violence researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
“Assuming that marijuana is legalized entirely in the United States, the quality of American pot could displace Mexican pot … between 16 and 20 percent of Mexican drug trafficking income could be affected,” Osorio told Fusion.
The problem, he warned, is that cartels don’t play by normal business rules.
“Cartels have a competitive advantage. They specialize in violence, and they will not hesitate to use it in order to enforce their product above better quality and other factors.”
– Javier Osorio
Legalization advocates remain hopeful that legalizing marijuana will weaken the cartels.
“The competitive advantage of criminal organizations stems from their proficiency in violence, intimidation and smuggling, none of which are essential to compete in legal markets,” Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told Fusion. “One would expect the more sophisticated drug-trafficking organizations to try to adapt to marijuana legalization in the US, but in the long run they will not be able to compete with a legal industry, just as Al Capone and his ilk ultimately lost out to a legally regulated alcohol industry.”
Indeed, the cartels, which have the manpower and resources, are already involved in other illicit business ventures, including extortion, kidnapping, oil trafficking, and trafficking of persons, to name a few. And some analysts think that’s a natural progression that’s not necessarily related to the legalization of marijuana in states like Colorado and Washington.
“These groups diversified before legalization took place,” said Georgetown University professor and security expert John Bailey.
Ultimately, he said, the fate of Mexican black-market weed could be determined by price points established in legal U.S. markets.
“In the early marijuana legalization phase local governments need to decide what price to set on marijuana,” Bailey told Fusion.
If the price is not too high, cartels could be snubbed out of the biggest marijuana market in the world.