Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 6 – Manipulation Of The Endocannabinoid System)

Marijuana – An Exploration

Part 6 – Manipulation Of The Endocannabinoid System Via Cannabinoids


I decided to kick off the newly emerging year AND decade by tackling another segment of the marijuana project. This time, endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system.

The Endocannabinoid System

One surprise that I encountered in my research was how little is currently known about the endocannabinoid system generally (let alone what is available). This network of receptors and their cannabinoids came to light in 1988. And with research into cannabinoids being heavily restricted pretty much right up to the tail end of the 2010s, the field has advanced very little in the past three decades. Like every other area of research concerning cannabis, the legitimate research data is now years (if not decades) behind the uncontrolled public experiment that is legalized marijuana.

Something a pot alarmist would say? Maybe.

However, it is far more of an indictment of countless politicians and other leaders that have stood in the way of cannabis research. Many of which now trot out the “But there is no research! This is unprecedented!” argument against legalized marijuana.

I have said more than enough about the idiocy of a previous generation of busy idiots, however. On to the good stuff.

What do we know about the Endocannabinoid System so far?

We know that there is no part of the body of which is not touched by the ECS. The main three components of the system are:




The body manufactures endocannabinoids (also known as Endogenous Cannabinoids). In total, there are three different types of cannabinoids.




So far, only two types of endogenous cannabinoids are known.

Anandamide (AEA)

2 Arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)

The primary role of the endocannabinoid system is homeostasis. Though both endocannabinoids can be detected, the precise levels that constitute an average concentration of each are not currently known. Part of this is due to the fact that the body manufactures endocannabinoids as needed.

Endocannabinoids serve as agonists, binding to endocannabinoid receptors located throughout the mass of the body. These receptors keep tabs on activity outside of cells, triggering a response if activated by a cannabinoid of any kind.

The two primary endocannabinoid receptors that we know of so far are:

CB1 Receptors (in the central nervous system)

CB2 Receptors (in the peripheral nervous system, particularly within immune cells)

Since endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor, the effect all depends on where the location of the receptor. And which endocannabinoid links with it.

Enzymes in the endocannabinoid system break down endocannabinoids. The main two that we know about so far is:

Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (breaks down AEA)

Monoacylglycerol Acid Lipase (breaks down 2-AG)

The endocannabinoid system is integral to the following processes:

  • Appetite and digestion
  • Metabolism
  • Chronic Pain
  • Inflammation (and other immune system processes)
  • mood
  • learning and memory
  • motor control
  • sleep
  • cardiovascular function
  • muscle formation
  • bone remodelling and growth
  • liver function
  • skin and nerve function
  • reproductive system function

How does cannabis play into all of this?

It’s all about the receptors.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the well known main cannabinoid of the cannabis plant, has the powerful ability to bind to both CB1 and two receptors. Thus driving the various effects of THC intoxication (not all of them desirable).

Research is underway to create a version of THC which is more endocannabinoid system friendly. In people like me terms, the effects you desire without those you don’t. For the medical community, the resulting compound could end up being far safer than many alternatives (particularly in the area of pain relief. Imagine not ever needing opioids!). For me, no more paranoid walks down dark streets four blocks from my house. And for the world of recreational marijuana in general, the possibility for . . . Endless possibilities.

Marijuana and THC strains that people can consume without the risk of accidentally triggering schizophrenia?

What about CBD?

At the moment, the mechanisms through which CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system are unknown. Researchers know that CBD does not bind to either CB 1 or 2 receptors. However, the picture beyond these findings is not as clear.

One is that CBD may interact with metabolic enzymes and cause them to be less effective, leaving endocannabinoids active for more extended periods. Another is that they may bind to a receptor that has yet to be found. Even with all of the unknowns, research still shows promising results when it comes to treating pain, nausea and other characteristics of multiple conditions.

There is also a hypothesis that considers the possibility of the newly discovered endocannabinoid system as being the missing link for many illnesses that don’t otherwise have a clear origin. This general condition is known as endocannabinoid deficiency. Reduced levels of endocannabinoids may manifest in abnormalities.

A few examples of such possibilities are:

  • Undiagnosed migraines

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

As significant a role as the endocannabinoid system plays in our functioning; we still have a lot to learn.

What a fascinating time the coming decades are going to be.

Closing Notes

In the time between deciding to write this segment of the project and concluding, two potential problems came to light. One came to light last October when a research study discovered lowered sperm count in male daily cannabis users (compared to their non-using counterparts).

The other, released just yesterday (January 23ed, 2020), highlights an active link between cannabis use and increased potential for certain cancers of the head and neck. Researchers identified the mechanical pathway in which THC was activating, which resulted in unchecked growth of cancerous cells.

In hindsight, the above may NOT be endocannabinoid system related (I’m not an MD). But I’ll cover it anyway for the sake of honesty.

When considering the 2 cases above, remember how little we know about this area of human physiology. Not smoking cannabis (or otherwise ingesting cannabinoids) may be a good idea if you are trying to have children or at risk for the cancers outlined above. However, I caution everyone else from reading too much into this.

The way that scientific studies often get covered in the media is problematic as it is. When you add the fear, ignorance AND bad faith reporting which often goes into marijuana complication reporting . . . you get the picture.

These examples are used strictly to illustrate the time period in which this was written. I don’t know when future readers will find this post, so as such, I want it to be taken in the current context of research (we’ve hardly scratched the surface!).




Part 1 – Intro


For those of us living in the modern world, it is an essential aspect of everyday life. It both guards our secrets and keeps other’s secrets safe from us. To borrow a quote from one of my favourite shows of all time:

“The world’s run on codes and cyphers, John. From the million-pound security system at the bank to the PIN machine, you took exception too. Cryptography inhabits our every waking moment.”


Series 1 / Episode 2

The Blind Banker

As one may gather, this is an enormous topic. Even I didn’t realize the scale of it until setting out on this journey — yet another giant branch of the interconnected set of issues that surround modern-day digital technology.

The Sherlock Holmes quote neatly describes the security aspect of cryptography in modern-day life. What is far more pertinent to most people in this age, however, is cryptography’s other significant benefit that we all reap.


In general, the rule of thumb has been the more that technology (particularly communication technology) advances, the better it’s inherent privacy characteristics become. You can observe this through-line cordless and cellular phones, to modern-day cable tv.

Gains are particularly visible in transitions from analogue to digital. First, the development saved bandwidth (freeing up room for the bandwidth-intensive applications we take for granted today). The change also allowed the addition of cryptography into these distribution systems. Thus keeping older baby monitors out of your cellphone conversations, and making the management of signals by cable companies easier (along with countless other advances). And as technologies continue to advance, so do their inherent encryption characteristics. Though seldom fast enough to keep pace with the black hats looking for holes in the software to exploit, however.

A common saying in the IT security universe is that attacks never get weaker; they only get stronger. Such is the reason why your many devices are always prompting you about updating this and that.

Part 2 – The Definition of Privacy

Before I go any further, I have to pause and define precisely what I mean when I use the word privacy. Because in the context of the modern internet, precisely what is meant by this word can become quite convoluted.

First of all, I will grab the dictionary definition of the word.

A state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people.”

“The state of being free from public attention.”

When it comes to the online world (and interpersonal communication theirs in general), privacy invaders fall into three categories based on agenda.

a.) Evesdroppers

b.) Government Officials / Law Enforcement

c.) Advertisers

Going back to the days of analogue cordless phones and cellphones, we were at pretty much everyone’s mercy. Though all cellular network transmissions from the 2ed generation onward are nowhere near bulletproof, it’s far more challenging to accomplish a breach than in the early days. A mere two decades out from the first cell phones, we now find ourselves entirely in the internet age. Though advances in cryptography now do a reasonably good job in protecting communications from those in our immediate surroundings, most of the eavesdropping has shifted alongside the nature of modern-day interaction.

Whether you are using a direct connection (ethernet) or wifi, most prying eyes are likely between the modem and the packet’s destination. Every node that handles the packets on their journey has the opportunity to intercept, alter, copy or otherwise tamper with the data as it transits the web.

Part 3 – TLS

To combat this problem, much of the internet (at the behest of privacy advocates) has embraced various Transport Layer Security (or TLS) protocols. One of the most visible forms of this (to the average end-user) is Https://. Any website that you visit that presents the green padlock in the address bar is using TLS encryption. In English, this means that the only entities that know what links you are clicking within site are your browser, and the website itself. All that an intermediary (including your ISP) can see is gibberish flowing between you and the website.

Thanks to the work of groups like Mozilla and The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the internet isn’t far from becoming ubiquitously https (and otherwise TLS) based in its entirety. Since all browsers give users warnings when visiting partially or unsecured websites, full encryption will become necessary for sites that want to remain accessible in the coming years.

Along with web and email protocols, work is being done to shift the Domain Name System (or DNS) to a more secured status (called DNSSEC).

Anything devices do online requires knowing where to find or send this data. Here is where DNS comes in.
In a nutshell (see link above for more details) organizational LANS, ISP’s, or private organizations (e.g. Google Public DNS, OpenDNS, or Cloudflare) all have DNS repositories that provide client devices with IP addresses.

Though DNS inquiries generally provide scant information (particularly if much of the HTTP traffic is encrypted), it still serves as a map to your footsteps all around the web. Akin to how a car’s GPS history can serve the same purpose for your travels in the real world.

Part 4 – Cyber Security

One of the biggest drivers of the push towards TLS encryption wasn’t privacy, interestingly enough. One of the biggest drivers was cybersecurity. An interesting and facinating timeline (that goes all the way back to the begining) can be seen HERE.

Although the more sensitive areas of online life-like online banking already employ encryption, much of the other stuff was transmitted transparently for years. Meaning that all of those MSN Messenger conversations, search engine queries, forum visits, and sent/received email messages were more than likely to be easily intercepted.

Consider the possibilities:

  • snooper on your LAN (particularly if in a public place) or within range of your WEP enabled or unencrypted wifi network.

  • Your ISP (be it for mandated record-keeping, or at the behest of a law enforcement request)

  • Anyone with ill intent can plant themselves anywhere between your machine and the destination IP (be it foreign governments or blackhats with a variety of agendas). Some ISP’s have even been known to intercept and cut off P2P traffic to minimize network load.

Wifi Hell

Speaking of wifi, I should also note that WPA2, the current wifi standard, has now as been broken. With ease, it seems. A researcher playing with the newest standard (WPA3) accidently found the krack vulnerability in conducting his work.

Oh yeah, someone also broke the WPA3 standard already.

Did I say that all of this stuff was fascinating? What I should have said was facinating, but also often times frustrating, and occasionally downright terrifying.

Back to it

While the potential of prying eyes on the wire was terrible, the far more damaging and dangerous potential lay in the potential injection of malicious code into passing traffic. For example, if an eavesdropper notices their target fetching photos from a webpage, they may be able to inject malware into the picture as it transits back to the user.

The rise in attacks like this (along with the public becoming increasingly more sensitive to privacy issues) ended up driving both platforms and browsers towards adopting transport layer safeguards. While this has not stopped the distribution of malware VIA web browsers, TLS encryption has still succeeded in making the internet safer and somewhat more private for all users. Particularly the increasing number of novice users (who’s ignorance of cybersecurity knowledge often leaves them reliant on the default settings of the various software vendors that they utilize).

Part 5 – Going Dark

While protocol level encryption has proven beneficial in contributing to both the privacy and security of everyone online, it has made surveillance much more difficult. While higher-level intelligence organizations tend to be less affected by this than lower-level organizations (such as local police forces), encryption hinders investigations at all levels.

I will now cite a recent mafia bust in Ontario as an example of the changes happening in this area.

The operation was named Project Sindacato, and it took place in Vaughan, Ontario. After over a year of listening in on nine members and associates of the Figliomeni crime family via wiretaps, York police moved in and made the arrests. In a joint effort with authorities in Italy (who also arrested 12 people), York police seized $35 million in assets from the family.

The reason this is on my radar is that it made me consider the age of most of those arrested. Of the nine people arrested, they range in age from 30 to 56, with the bulk of the group either over or approaching 50. The reason I find this interesting is, frankly, the everyday habits of those of that cohort. Though far from being a ubiquitous trend, that cohort tends to have reservations towards embracing (or at times, even understanding) new forms of technology. And even for those that aren’t afraid to embrace new technology mediums, old staples tend to remain the dominant go-to (i.e. Cable TV and landline phones).

Though authorities don’t explain what is entailed by their use of the word wiretapping, I will go out on a limb and say that it is likely self-evident. Whether they were using primarily landlines or cellphones, both technologies are relatively easy to wiretap.

Going back to my teen years, one could say that I was a bit of a geek. Alongside my fascination with all types of infrastructure, I was often curious about how many digital breadcrumbs were left behind by my day to day activities. Growing up in a post 9/11 world, I always assumed that something was watching. Whether it was ISP’s keeping records and logs, or automated systems scanning communications traversing the internet, I never believed I was truly alone.

Edward Snowden Rant

Hence why I never took the Edward Snowden revelations seriously. It’s not that what he did was not commendable; it’s that it was shocking to me that what he exposed was considered outrageous. Both because of the social media revolution (with people sharing all kinds of details publicly), and because it all seemed rather obvious. It only took a decade for the world to completely forget about one of the ongoing hangovers from the 9/11 era, the patriot act.

All of this made even more annoying by the fact that Nova’s documentary “The Spy Factory” was released long before Snowden was ever in the spotlight. It aired and published online in 2009, 3 years before Snowden would make his debut on the world stage in 2014.

As is blatantly apparent, I don’t particularly like Edward Snowden. Though he most certainly did the world a favour, the fact that he had to do so was bothersome. Not to mention the whole Assange-esk, “I am a martyr for your freedom!” act.

Look where he ended up — the bastion of human rights, free expression, and digital privacy oasis that is RUSSIA.

Back to it

Either way, even before seeing the story of the fallen Figliomeni family on the news, the question “How surveillable am I ?” occurred to me. In pondering this, I found myself coming to a surprising conclusion. Though the answer is far fr on “Not at all” or “Impossible,” I do conclude that the response in recent years would have to be “Difficult.”

Advertisers And Data Brokers

First of all, one can’t fully explore this topic without touching on one of your main adversaries when it comes to privacy online. That is, data minors and advertisers.

Existing to resell every data point that they can get (in the context of individual internet users), advertisers/data brokers are the biggest threat to privacy online. Be they transparently visible or under the guise of some other internet business, it’s challenging to maintain an identity online without coming into contact with these parasites.

Much like anyone else using the internet that is aware of this stuff, I am conscious of my at times involuntarily shared breadcrumbs that life online creates. There are ways to push back (ad blockers, anti-tracking browsers and browser add-ons, using a VPN all the time), but no way is truly foolproof. It is indeed possible to avoid many of these pitfalls, but it is at the expense of the convenience and ease of use that we all often take for granted. Thus, you have to decide what is more relevant to you: privacy or comfort.

Back to it

Despite everything contained in the previous paragraph, I still have to say think that I am difficult to wiretap. The main reason for this being everything that happens on most platforms accessible by browsers has now shifted onto the TLS protocol. While this is not always the case, users tend to be less wary of using platforms that don’t trigger scary warnings and signals from their web browser. Thus, it quite literally pays to ensure that your advertising and tracking methods fit into the secure tunnel environment.

This is where this all gets interesting is from a surveillance perspective. What may be useful in the stream of data entering and leaving my various devices? At this point, almost none of it.

Let’s consider the mafia bust that I referred to earlier. I ran with the assumption that much of the intel on the case originated from telephone conversations. If they had cellphones, text messages might have helped as well (if not from the phones, then from the carrier records). Interestingly, authorities will have no such access if they used iPhones/iPads with iMessage enabled. Not only will the messages be encrypted, but so to will the phones themselves.

If I look at myself, there are a few possibilities — my cellular carrier stores all of my text messages for 30 days. Though I do make phone calls, they tend to be few and far between (like others in my generation, I’m not a big fan of phone conversations). Not unlike most others my age and younger, much of my communication has shifted into the cloud.

While we interact on devices kept in our homes and pockets, the real action happens far from where most of us live — making surveillance of individuals utilizing this technology, challenging.

That is why the Ontario mafia bust caught my eye. Police didn’t have to go further than a local court to obtain the wiretap warrants, which is simple, compared to surveilling someone using cloud platforms.

Though one could start by going after the data gathered on this person by their ISP or cell carrier, one is likely to learn minimal (thanks to TLS protocols!). Which only leaves going to the social media platforms themselves. Often, this involves dealing with a company in another country, which may or may not grant your request on account of their local laws. Since most of the big guys are in the US, these companies may be compelled to follow US law.

While this can be problematic for authorities, the increasingly ubiquitous nature of unbreakable encryption is far more troublesome. In cases where targets use robust encryption platforms on encrypted devices, obtaining access can be very difficult (if even possible). With more manufacturers shipping devices with encryption enabled by default, and more platforms than ever announcing experimentation with fully encrypted messaging services, the possibility of all communications going dark is not out of the realm of possibility.


Part 6 – The End Of Encryption?

Not to long ago, I wrote a piece about cryptocurrencies. I compared the decentralized nature of the blockchain-based crypto ledgers to that of mid to late 2000’s era P2P networks and the bit torrent protocol. Neither of which will ever be fully shut down, but both of which will become far more of a hassle to access


While this hassle imposed obsolescence has already happened with legacy networks like Gnutella (think Limewire) and Fastrack (think Kazaa), BitTorrent is still in the early stages. No, BitTorrent will never cease functioning. However, it’s user base will become far more limited than it is now.

I carried this argument over to modern-day cryptocurrencies, citing their common utilization by criminal elements on account of their deliberate lack of transparency. Since there is money to be made in the business of cryptocurrencies, I doubted that government-sanctioned versions were too far off into the future. These will give legitimate investors a pathway to continue building and growing their investment without the worry of eventual crypto bans freezing all of their assets.

As the reality of this situation becomes apparent (libertarian forms of cryptocurrency are on the way out), the falling valuation will drive the remaining holdouts over to the now more valuable government-mandated ledgers. As such, though there is no way to halt any cryptocurrency blockchain entirely, enough legitimate investors will bail on them to shrink the user base enormously. Once bans are announced, more users will flee, particularly if they need to convert the coins into real-world fiat currency.

It was this write-up (and some discussion of this very subject on a tech podcast I listen too) that made me consider the fate of encryption as we know it. Unlike Gnutella, BitTorrent, and modern-day cryptocurrency, governments can quickly stop encrypted connections. All they have to do is force ISP’s to block such connections from ever being made (as noted by Steve Gibson in a recent Security Now episode). Though no governing entity would consider such a tactic today (the economy would grind to a halt!), we should not take the modern-day internet for granted. Even though companies and organizations are fighting for our right to privacy ought to be commended, we must consider the reality of the situation. If the flick of a switch can hinder all of the privacy gains of the modern-day internet, we are NOT in control.

Though I have no doubts that all interests involved will continue the fight right to the bitter end, I also do not doubt that the status quo WILL eventually change. The real question mark for me is exactly how this change is going to look.

Part 7 – Options

One way in which this might go would be a mass revert back to weaker forms of encryption. While this would solve the going dark problem, this ought to be a non-starter since it re-introduces every issue resolved by strengthening encryption. Sure, law enforcement and the five eyes alliance now have NO problem seeing into the world’s data. But so to will anyone willing to dig up old exploits and vulnerabilities. It’s terrible news for anyone who values even a modicum of privacy and, horrifying for dissidents and whistleblowers living anywhere on this earth.

The next option would be to keep the secure encryption (and therefore, all the gains that have come from it), but ensure some form of back door accessibility.

Indeed, this argument is controversial. And honestly, I don’t know that I necessarily agree with the premise, either. However, I feel the need to be pragmatic. Though I’m not fond of making it easier for authorities to intercept communications, it would be delusional to think that governments will accept being locked out. After all, we already know that the NSA is vacuuming up petabytes of data traversing around the internet. They don’t know what they have, but have all the financial resources they need to keep trying to break the cryptography.

Although figuring out precisely what this new accessible encryption is going to look like is going to be up to the companies implementing it, a couple of methodologies come to my mind.

One of them would be to enable the cloning and decryption of packets as they traverse on the wire (making for an updated version of a traditional wiretap). This method has the benefit of exclusivity. Authorities can put in requests to access specific traffic (e.g. Social media messaging apps) while leaving everything else unreadable.

Another method that is far more invasive than the last one is mandating an Operating System backdoor in all devices. While the benefit is no required weakening of any TLS protocols, the drawback is the considerable amount of accessibility you gain into someone’s life. Instead of just instant messages and social media, you get everything.

Part 8 – Who will be the gatekeeper?

A far more complicated problem than even figuring out the technical aspects of this is figuring out who will be in control of the keys to the kingdom. And not just who controls the keys, but who decides how much accessibility is acceptable in each instance.

This mattering because the difference between monitoring selected traffic and an OS backdoor is the difference between wiretapping a phone line and placing cameras and microphones in someone’s home. The saturation of various technologies into modern-day life promotes a need for a change in how wiretapping used. Since modern devices contain far more information than they once did, what will be the new limitations when it comes to accessing this personal information?

Let’s consider a possible real-life example. Police suspect that Person A is selling drugs (or some other contraband) using end to end encrypted chatrooms. Since the old method (slap a wiretap on the phone line) won’t work, what then?
The next step would likely be to go to the platform and request access. However, if that fails, what is the recourse? Aside from the seeming necessity in catching the person red-handed (so there is no shadow of a doubt), it seems that getting their hands on the device becomes very important.

Using the same situation, let’s say that law enforcement finds enough probable cause to request (and be granted) an arrest warrant. So person A is picked up, and their devices are seized and entered into the case as evidence. However, the devices are encrypted (as is typical, these days), and the person refuses to divulge the password. At this point, authorities strongly suspect that the devices contain valuable evidence to support their case. So:

  1. How much access should be granted to their devices?
  2. Who makes the decision?

While it depends on the manufacturer, the answer to that question these days is generally none. Since most modern devices contain all of their decryption keys internally, manufacturers can’t even help law enforcement break-in.

Which is the point.

Not only is it a good selling point, sticking to privacy principals is worth more than gold in terms of public image (particularly in high profile cases).

A Slightly Fruity Rant

Here is a big reason why the most anti-competitive and anti-consumer device manufacturer on earth is still widely adored by the public at large.

Having said that, why device manufacturers embrace full device encryption is not the issue. Even if it does come across as a glaringly transparent marketing ploy (since their largest competitor’s core business model heavily relies on data-mining), the result is still an overall net positive. However, as stated previously, I don’t think that taking such a hard-nosed stance is necessarily beneficial for digital privacy in the long term.

Part 9 – The Post-Encryption World

When (I don’t believe that it is a matter of if) the floodgates do finally open, decisions will have to be made.
Will (should?) all levels in the law enforcement hierarchy have equal access to all potential data? How will these determinations be made?

Given the sensitivity of the information involved (often people’s entire lives), I think that a third party auditing process should be established. We know that law enforcement will ALWAYS push to get their hands on as much data as they possibly can. And manufacturers will generally be inclined to fight tooth and nail (the more publicly, the better) NOT to divulge anything more than they have to. With two interests so opposed (and one side holding the stick that is the Patriot Act), there comes the need for a neutral zone of arbitration. An entity that can evaluate both if such a breach of one’s privacy is warranted, and how far the parameters of the search will extend.

In conclusion, we have come a long way when it comes to personal privacy. And with more and more services starting to embrace end to end encryption even for everyday use cases, things are only getting better. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that no matter how you feel about all levels of government, they WILL win on this issue.

We likely won’t see governments becoming aggressive around this issue anytime soon. However, this is no reason to sit on your hands.

ISP data-mining

Though not necessarily related to the previous subject matter, people in the United States should consider their online privacy on account of a very recent revelation.

As of 2017, ISP’s now have been given the green light to sell data they harvest from their customers to data brokers. While these ISP’s mostly only see metadata these days (thanks again, TLS!), you can still learn a lot from that. An ISP may not know what I am reading on or what my uncle is reading on However, repeated behaviour (visiting sites like these repeatedly) is valuable information in itself. As would be visiting a page like
Both AT&T and Verizon have already jumped into the advertising game. And Google (think Google Fiber) is already well known for AdSense.

It’s something worth considering. While a VPN would fairly quickly get around this privacy invasion now, it may become challenging if VPN’s are forbidden (and actively blocked) by law. Given that ISP’s have a vested interest in making encrypted tunnelling disappear, it’s average Americans that need to keep their eye on the ball.

Part 10 – Addressing The Whistle Blower / Dissident Dilemma

I can not conclude this without taking the whistleblower and dissident argument into consideration. Of all the people that such a drastic move against blind encryption would affect, whistleblowers and dissidents are going to be impacted the most. Both the future that I envision (law enforcement and intelligence agencies turning on end to end encryption) and the technology I envision will solve this problem are inherently antithetical to the highly sensitive needs of the whistleblower or dissident. While I am fully aware of this . . . I don’t know what to tell you.

Are these changes going to further discourage people from coming forward with injustices they discover?

It seems a likely scenario of such a world.

Could this make it close to impossible for a whistleblower or dissident to embrace electronic communications of any kind?

Again, this is not out of the realm of possibility.

I don’t like it, either. And honestly, it would be much easier to fall in line with the “Down with spying!” crowd and call it a day. Given my increasingly pragmatic nature, however, I feel compelled to bring issues like this to the forefront.

Indeed, I don’t have the answers required to put a cute bow on everything outlined in this writing. In a sense, though, that is the point.

The problem is far more significant than me. And it is going to impact us all, whether we like it or not. The silliness of the average anarchist or libertarian comes to mind. We Should do this, and we should do that. This is how things should be.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but what you/me/we think should be the case means diddly squat. While persevering over the worldwide signals intelligence apparatus certainly makes for a nice thought, that is all that is.

A dream.

Even if there exists no looming deadline in which to fixate on, it is in everyone’s best interest to start considering this problem NOW.
Doing so will ensure ample time to perfect these new standards (whenever they become relevant legislatively). Doing so will give governments and companies time to figure out how to deal with the privacy dilemmas explored previously. And most importantly, doing so will ensure more time and resources are devoted to figuring out a potential solution for the whistleblower / dissident problem.

This does not mean that this problem will be solved. However, we have a much better chance of a positive ending if the expirimentation begins long before any hard deadline is ever proposed (let alone enacted).

The Future Of The Alberta Tarsands Industry, And The Future Of Work

Part 1 – Introduction

Back in 2015 and into 2016, the world looked at the choices of the American electorate and wondered . . . why?

Though it may have been a fairly small part of the campaign picture, why on earth are these people doubling down on coal?!

In terms of fossil fuels, there is nothing dirtier. In terms of economic efficiency, natural gas is far superior to coal. Even without factoring in renewable sources, the cleaner fuel natural gas is already winning against coal when it comes to North American electricity generation. And when one takes into account renewable sources of power, the necessity for coal is actively dropping.

At the moment, the necessity of fossil fuels in electricity generation is apparent. Peak electricity use tends to fall during times not conducive to solar power. A huge problem for electricity-hungry economies.

It’s a problem, but it won’t be a problem for very long in my estimation. The solution to the problem is storage. Instead of throwing away an afternoons worth of solar energy, how can it be harnessed and stored for release at a more opportune time?

Fortunately, that problem is actively being researched by people as we speak. Since it corresponds to 2 very important sectors of our modern-day society . . . electricity generation and transportation. The 2 are inherently interconnected by nature. With extended range and reliability in the EV will come better electricity storage solutions, and vice versa. Just give it 10 or 15 years.

Having said that, coal IS out. Even though fossil fuels are still necessary for the generation of electricity, coal is obsolete. Meaning that anyone willing to double down on its future is either lying for personal gain, or delusional.

Part 2 – Oil Sands

The same goes for Alberta bitumen. The Alberta Tar sands have no future.

Truthfully, I don’t even like calling it oil because it is far from it. It’s all in the name. It’s tar, not oil. It seems more reminiscent to the bottom of the barrel bunker fuel that powers the worlds seagoing cargo fleet than anything else it likes to compare itself too (West Texas Intermediate?).

My first exploration is as surprising as it is interesting.

When checking that bunker fuel (or marine fuel, alternatively) was indeed what I thought it was, I was correct. But it seems, only for a short time.

The International Marine Organization (a specialized agency of the United Nations which is responsible for regulating shipping) announced in late 2016 its plan to limit the sulphur content of marine fuel oil to 0.5% from its current 3.5% status. Though there is much groaning in the industry about the cost of changes and lack of time to prepare (imagine that), I don’t doubt that it will all sort itself out. Either a few lower sulphur bunker fuel sources will become much more valuable, or fleets will embrace alternatives (such as diesel or liquefied natural gas).

This made me wonder about how much sulphur is contained in Alberta bitumen (and if this would further erode its value). As it turns out, a worthwhile inquiry.

Bitumen has an extremely high amount of sulphur content, earning it the designation of heavy sour within the industry. Sour crude has less sulphur than sweet crude, and it seems that bitumen is one of the most sulphurous fuels on the planet. Adding yet another problem to the ever-growing list against Alberta oil production.

There do exist options to remove this sulphur content. However, the process is very expensive and will only add a further discount to Alberta’s bitumen. If producers don’t remove it then it will be up to the customers themselves.

Though I had approached these 2 topics (ISO 2020 and Alberta Bitumen) separately, it seems that the 2 are inherently connected.

When it comes to the refinement of sweeter forms of crude oil, the result is generally a majority of gasoline, diesel fuel and other end products, with a mere residual amount ending up as low-end bunker fuel. When it comes to tar sands production however, the refined amount of gasoline and diesel fuel is closer to 50% of a barrel, with the rest being heavy sour crude. This can be coked into more usable transportation fuels, but again, this all costs money.

It’s a big problem for the oil industry in general, have always used marine the marine shipping market as an outlet for the residual leftovers of production. I can only imagine the scope of the problem is magnified when close to half of the end product is this heavy sour crude. Particularly if the producers don’t own or build their coker facilities.

Part 3 – The Future Is Not Bright

I will now move back onto the original track that I had started with this writing. That being, the tar sands is obsolete. Any major investment put into the project now is going to be wasted capital in relatively short order. And from an ecological perspective, if the Canadian Government does not start dealing with the toxic legacy of the oil sands NOW, the problem is going to be a WHOLE lot worse later. Because companies that go out of business don’t have to bear the burden that is reversing the ecological footprint they created when they were operational.

Consider the scope of tar sands operations. Now, consider the amount of infrastructure (potentially dangerous or environmentally damaging) which will need to be either dealt with or left to rot. And while we are at it, consider the fate of towns and cities alike that are driven primarily by oil patch revenues. When commodities and industries go away, communities shrink and contract. Not to mention the toxic legacy that the remaining longstanding residents will have to endure.

Not all that long ago, taking this stance on the Alberta oilsands would have seemed asinine.

We have always had an ecological and moral argument. But let’s be honest . . . civilizations blinded by easy money tend to be shortsighted to the point of being delusional. In the past, this delusion was a source of deep depression for many like me. As long as the money was flowing, the ends justified the means. Even though past examples of the risks of gambling on one single industry (particularly one driven by huge corporate multi-national entities) are numerous. Often even if the gamble potentially has very real implications for the lives of their children. The ends always justify the means.

Part 4 – The Changing Winds Of The Market

To make these arguments 10, 15, 20 years ago would have been certainly premature. And rightfully. Alternatives to the internal combustion engine were barely out of the realm of the pipe dream, and the footprint of renewable energy on the grid was hardly worth noting. However, as explored before, that is no longer the era we live in.

Hybrid vehicles have been on the market for around 2 decades now. However, it wasn’t until the past 2 years that we seen adaption to EV’s start to ratchet up on a worldwide scale. It’s a change in market wind direction that has not gone unnoticed in overall market trends, either.

Consider the sale of electric vehicles (either fully electric or plug-in hybrids). Adoption in North America has been slow, with new EV sales accounting for 2.16% of Canada’s and 2.1% of the US’s 2018 vehicles sales. For Canada, that is a fairly large jump from 0.18% back in 2013 (0.60% for the US in 2013). However, it’s tiny in comparison to Norway.

Whilst most nations were below 0% adoption back in 2013, 2 notable exceptions are Norway (6.10%) and The Netherlands (5.55%). Though adoption in the Netherlands seems to have plateaued in the following 5 years, not so for Norway. They skyrocketed to 49.1%.

Though Norway is the shining beacon of EV adopters, most of Europe (excluding France, Denmark and Germany) are ahead of North America. Though I am not entirely sure why adoption rates are lacking in the 3 European nations, range anxiety and extreme climates tend to be the big worry in the North American market (particularly in the continental interior). 
That, and the fact that no one seems to want to deploy level 3 charging stations even in areas suitable to current day EV technologies (in, and equally between, population centres).

Part 5 – The Drawbacks Of EV’s

When it comes to problems which need to be resolved in regards to electric vehicles, they are not all limited to the obvious ones. For example, in North America, a big source of funding for roads (and other public infrastructure) maintenance currently comes from gas taxes. If this is not addressed, the infrastructural shortfall will only grow as more and more petroleum-powered vehicles are scrapped.
Another far more potentially problematic factor in this could be the North American electricity grid itself.

Part 6 – The Grid

It depends on collective charging habits. Since solar power is fully online in the afternoon, the best time to make use of this clean energy is the afternoon. However, since most of us spend that time of the day working (usually without access or permission to company electricity), the charging has to happen in the evening or at night.

It all lies in electrical demand patterns of any given timeframe. In a nutshell, when most people are awake, demand goes up. When most people are asleep, demand goes down. The demand begins early in the morning and generally peaks at around 4pm. The late afternoon peak is when all major users of electricity (commercial, residential, industrial) are online simultaneously.
Though all of this demand would have to be met by coal, gas or other plants 24/7 previously, numerous recent solar energy installations in many areas help by single-handedly being able to cover much of this daytime peak demand. However, the problem comes when the sun goes down. Even though the demand still tends to be high at sundown, the previously abundant supply goes away fairly quickly.

This problem is known in the industry as the duck curve. Though the sun does a great job of taking care of the daytime demands, the rapid transition into the evening hours can be rough on existing generating infrastructure (which was generally not designed for rapid changes in demand).

EV’s come in here because charging them could make this peak power usage problem worse. For example, if peak loads now tend to start dropping at around 6 pm, EV charging may push this peak further into the evening or night. And even if longer demand periods are not much of an issue normally, consider times of weather-induced demand on top of regular demand. For example, if EV charging coincides with commercial, residential and industrial peak usage AND air conditioning.
A valid consideration not just on account to typical summer weather patterns (let alone what the greenhouse gas afflicted future holds), but also because the international grids of North America have already demonstrated such vulnerability in the not too distant past.


The 2003 blackout in the northeast happened on account to a series of cascading failures on both sides of the border, a big factor being demand. A system that was already immensely stressed due to increased load was thrown into complete chaos by what would likely otherwise be a minor set of events in the grand scheme of things.

  1. A problem with telemetry data flowing into what’s known as a state estimator is corrected by staff at Midcontinent Independent System Operator, who forget to reset the monitoring tool after correcting.

  2. A powerplant in Eastlake, Ohio trips offline (unrelated).

  1. About a half-hour later, transmission lines in northeast Ohio start to trip on account to sagging into nearby trees (presumably on account to carrying the extra electricity needed to make up for the lost power plant)

  1. Alarms are either unnoticed or ignored by staff in charge of regulating electricity flow in Ohio

  2. Another local line fails due to sagging into a tree south of Clevland.

  3. ANOTHER localized failure in Ohio (one called the Hanna-Juniper Interconnection) trips yet another feed offline. As utility officials and MISO attempt to troubleshoot the failures, they don’t inform any interconnected utilities of their internal problems.

  4. Another line is tripped off somewhere in Ohio

  5. The major failures begin as several high capacity lines connected to another Ohio electricity utility fail in rapid succession

  6. Between 3:46 and 4:13 pm, grid instability causes interconnected grid management systems to automatically trip offline power plants and connector lines serving the most populated areas of both eastern Canada and the eastern United States.

Of course, this succession of failures represents a very different time in North American electricity grid management. On account to this set of failures (a situation fairly reminiscent to issues leading up to the 1965 Northeast blackout as well), governing bodies on both sides of the border tightened up processes and communication between all interconnected entities. But on the bright side, it’s been 15 years since the last burp on this segment of the North American grid, so maybe the systems are indeed better suited for the ongoing (and really, growing) electricity demands of a growing economy.

When it comes to the problems potentially posed by electric vehicles on already strained power grids (at least during peak periods like hot windless evenings and nights), we have to consider one important aspect. This is a potential problem to North American and European (I am assuming) grids as they are currently deployed.

Profits in electricity generation, like profits in commercial sectors such as big-box retail, are all about scale. Generating power for customers of a localized area is inherently reliable (fewer points of failure that can cascade), but scaling up tends to be far more profitable for all involved. When you can sell power externally, your infrastructure investment and repair budget are that much larger. Meaning that customers should see lower electricity costs as a result. The bigger your customer base, the more spread out the costs.

Scaled up electricity grids are efficient and good for regional and national economies, but they come with the inherent risk that faces any machine dependant on many interconnected parts. Not to mention the problems posed by the sheer geographical spread of the operations. Widespread power grids are extremely efficient, but not at all resilient. Few forms of infrastructure are more vulnerable to climate change than interconnected international power grids.

Which is where ever-evolving battery technology may present a potential fix to an issue caused by increased electrification of vehicles. To provide the comforts and range necessary to quell range anxiety in much of the public, batteries will both need to store a lot of power (at a wide range in temperatures), be stable, and be fairly compact. Though lithium-ion has brought us a long way, there is definitely still room for improvement on many fronts.

When battery storage becomes cheap and compact enough to make new EV’s (and EV conversion kit’s for those so inclined) affordable to the average person, it stands to reason that scaling this technology up for use in power grid stabilization will also become cheaper.

The duck curve will become a thing of the past. With the ability to store extra energy created by solar and other methodologies comes increasing freedom from previously necessary fossil fuel-driven peakers, as the industry calls then. Not just the peakers, but also many existing generating systems. Coal is facing that reality right now, but so to will oil, gas and most other fire fueled stations.
Maybe even nuclear. It may be carbon neutral by nature, but the technology comes with a whole new set of nightmarish problems of its own. And no, I’m not talking about one in whos how huge the number incidents such as Chernobyl, Fukushima or Three Mile Island either. More, the already huge and constantly growing number of spent fuel rods, irradiated water and all the other waste generated by nuclear power. Most of this waste is currently stored in and around the nuclear facilities in which it was generated (for lack of anywhere else to store it). Given the constant maintenance that this stuff needs, it is the definition of non-resilient. A nasty pandemic could have the potential to upset this powder keg, let alone unpredictable chaos in the natural world.


Maybe a little. In this context, a good candidate for an entirely new piece of inquiry. However, when the topic of electricity generation is on the table, one should explore all aspects. Particularly when this increasingly ageing technology is almost obsolete at this point.

The economic argument is obvious. The initial investment may be steep. But the returns once the system comes online (and eventually pays for itself) are virtually limitless. Every other non-renewable generation method requires the ongoing purchase of raw material (be it biomass or trash, coal, oil, natural gas or uranium). A grid powered by renewables runs on freely available ambient energy.

Part 7 – A Real World Example

The benefits of an early form of such tech are already deployed (with a measure of success) in the interior of Australia.

Australias interior now enjoys a reliable electrical grid thanks to the battery banks ability to smooth out periods of instability. This setup seems to work for Australia (it has both smoothed out grid instability AND paid for itself by offering storage access to the rest of the continent).

It is far from accessible (or sustainable!) in other ways, however. For one thing, the price tag ($90 million) is steep for even the largest of electric utilities. While significantly less than the cost of building new conventional generation plants, it’s still a bitter pill when the longevity is only 15 years (or potentially less, if the batteries don’t hold up). Which means both a further investment AND the need to dispose of all of these batteries properly. Not to mention the fact that lithium is also not a limitless resource (soon leaving us back at square one).

While current-day lithium-ion battery technologies are relatively well suited for use in electronics and modern-day EV’s that don’t typically have much of a lifespan beyond 15 years, this isn’t suitable for such long term installations as power grids. None the less, it’s still a promising technology that will no doubt help bridge a transition into firstly, a more renewable-powered electric grid. And secondly, a more resilient power grid.

Part 8 – The Future Of The Power Grid

When the word resilient hits my ear in this context, the implication seems to be local and regional over national and international. If the goal is reducing reliance on fossil fuels and being more chaotic climate adaptable, then this is certainly a good game plan. However, the issue then becomes how to bring power companies into compliance with this (being that electricity profits are generally greatest for energy which is exported to other regions or electric utilities).

Naturally, this does not have to be a dichotomy. AKA small self-contained grids VS gigantic macro grids.

I suspect a better usage of resources would be a hybrid of sorts. A co-operative approach to how utilities keep the electrons flowing. More or less how the system works now, but without the inherent vulnerability of being reliant on ever more strained power infrastructure. I can picture something like the internet . . . many grids of all sizes which can be interconnected, but only sharing power if it’s needed. Advances in battery storage even open up the possibility of exporting electricity out of the country (imagine sailing a ship charged with energy to Europe, China or elsewhere), or even flying it into places which are hard to reach (like the Canadian north). Such places currently rely on diesel generators.

Fortunately, we’re not entirely dealing in the realm of utopian future technologies when it comes to this stuff. We’re not quite there when it comes to retrofitting the electrical grid in any sustainable way, but defeating much of the range anxiety associated with EV’s is now within reach.

Part 9 – The Trans-Canada EV Corridor

Back when I began writing this paper in its rough draft form months ago, the Canadian charging network for EV’s was virtually non-existent for the entire corridor between British Columbia and Southern Ontario. That is not to say that charging stations didn’t EXIST. They just weren’t the level 3 chargers capable of quick charging an EV to the 80% level in a half hour. Level 1 (ordinary outlet) would take forever, and level 2 wasn’t much better (at least 5 hours).

Recently, however, a partnership between the Canadian government and a flagship Canadian gasoline brand is going to bring a pair of level 3 chargers to many of its stations located along the Trans Canada highway. Thereby effectively erasing what was once the enormous range gap that represents the prairie provinces.

Granted, that has to be supplemented by more infrastructure within city limits once EV adoption takes off (imagine the line-ups!). Even so, however, entirely enabling of the Trans-Canada highway as an EV corridor is a big step. Not to mention it being an inherent business opportunity for restaurants, stores and other attractions located near charging stations.

Part 10 – The Future Of Transportation

When it comes to the trajectory of both the mobile technology and the motor vehicle industry, this change fits right into where this is all going. Vehicle anatomy is the way of the future. Though it can likely just as easily be deployed in petroleum-powered vehicles, I am confident that we’re not far from the day when running gasoline and diesel will become more expensive than it’s worth. And not all based around fuel prices, either. Once demand starts to drop, I suspect the price of oil will also drop. Rather than pushing the prices up, the race will be in the other direction.

While fuel prices are one aspect, maintenance is another.

Everyone (particularly those in charge of a fleet) knows how much it takes to maintain an internal combustion engine.

Oil changes. Lubrication jobs. Fluids for all manner of purposes. And of course, the fact that a machine of many moving parts is a machine that has many failure points.

Unlike its gasoline and diesel counterparts, EV drive trains are a whole lot simpler of a machine to maintain. For one, oil is unnecessary, and lubrication is minimal (compared to a fuel-driven vehicle).

Part 11 – Canadian Politics

Which brings us back to there here and now.

The latest attempt by seemingly all parties equally (minus the Greens) to appease Canada’s oil patch workers is making the argument that the road to a cleaner future is paved with tar sands bitumen. Or to put it in a way that every single Alberta resident that I have talked to puts it:

“People don’t get it. We HAVE to build these pipelines!”

Whilst the proposal would seem to strike a balance between career tar sands workers and ecologically conscious Canadians, it’s still bullshit. It might be grounded in reality if we were Texas or Saudi Arabia, but the product we offer the world is FAR from it.

This paper alone illustrates pollution problems (namely, high sulphur content) which are going to be affecting the value of bitumen IMMEDIATELY. And even with the gradual transition of Asia onto cleaner energy sources that the majority of bitumen supporters seem to be banking on, consider this little nugget of information. Air pollution in China is now hindering solar power output from the nations many installations. At a cost of billions of dollars.

I understand that Trans-mountain can support either bitumen or conventional oil. If China (presumably, as the largest market opportunity) is to purchase bitumen, then it must be transported back home and further refined into usable fuels on arrival. Adding to this already dire air pollution problem.

And if they choose to purchase the already refined stuff, it’s antithetical to their place in the Paris agreement. It is antithetical either way!

Part 12 – WCS vs. WTI

A common comparison that I often hear in the media is the price differential between Western Canadian Select and West Texas Intermediate. Both are umbrella’s covering a general type of petroleum-derived from a general geographic area. However, though they are usually put side by side, I would argue that to be akin to the well-understood description that is Apples VS Oranges.

It is true that in terms of market accessibility, West Texas Intermediate has Western Canadian Select beat. WTI has always had the infrastructure for export, as opposed to tar sands exploration (which only began in 1967, around 100 years after the discovery of oil).

However, there are important differences in the end product that needs consideration. A big reason why I keep using the term tar sands, as opposed to oil sands. It’s meant to drive home an upcoming point. West Texas Intermediate is fairly light and sweet (low in sulphur). Western Canadian Select is heavier, sourer (more sulphur content).

Crude oils that are light (higher degrees of API gravity, or lower density) and sweet (low sulfur content) are usually priced higher than heavy, sour crude oils. This is partly because gasoline and diesel fuel, which typically sell at a significant premium to residual fuel oil and other “bottom of the barrel” products, can usually be more easily and cheaply produced using light, sweet crude oil. The light sweet grades are desirable because they can be processed with far less sophisticated and energy-intensive processes/refineries. The figure shows select crude types from around the world with their corresponding sulfur content and density characteristics.

In processing this grade, existing refineries have to be upgraded. Will markets that Western Canada hopes to attract be willing to make the commitment on account to the lower price?


Will refineries here in Eastern Canada be willing to make upgrades if access to WCS were more streamlined?

I doubt it.

I can’t help but seeing WCS producers as always facing a catch 22. Being the nature of what they are making available, it will never be as valuable as other common standards of quality (for example, WTI). And if Canada were to expend the capital to build the facilities needed to create a product that the world wants, the industry will STILL be operating at a loss. In most market cases, complex manufacturing process costs are passed on to the consumer. However, you can’t do that if you wish to remain competitive with even other North American benchmarks.

The debunk

I would not be doing my job if I didn’t note here that this point of mine has already been destroyed.

My argument is both wrong and flawed because processors of heavier grades of crude can get more usable end product out of a barrel of oil (by way of cracking the larger hydrocarbons down to the smaller ones more suited to running machinery) than processors of lighter crude can get from that raw material. Processers of lighter crudes end up with more heavy waste product just on account to the inability to refine it further.

Although it sounds counter-intuitive, refineries can actually make more money by processing heavy sour crude. Over the past 10 years, most refineries in the Gulf Coast and US Midwest have been modified into high-conversion facilities. These refineries crack and coke the heavy crude “bottoms” into high-value products, removing all traces of sulphur to produce expensive low-sulphur fuels. These highly complex facilities are specifically designed to process heavy sour feedstock, such as Western Canadian Select. In fact, refining margins are better with heavy crude feedstock than lighter oil.

Though I don’t doubt the logic, it is not without cost.

First of all, working with heavy feedstock requires a steep initial expenditure or pricy upgrades. And on top of that, the cracking process itself is very energy-intensive. It is true that there are many refineries stateside that have been built (or retrofitted) to process this crude since the early 2000s or so. However, the past 20 years has also had oil prices that more than justified the expenditure. But going forward, this is changing.

Demand is what keeps the price of oil high, and keeps even heavy hydrocarbons profitable. However, there is more progress than ever towards alternatives to the once irreplaceable fluids that are gasoline and diesel fuel. More than that, these internal combustion replacements are tending to be far less maintenance intensive than today’s engines (perfect for fleets, let alone daily use). And most prominently, citizens and societies are becoming far more aware of our changing climatic realities than we were previously.

It dosesn’t matter how you slice it. The future is coming, and it is NOT heavy energy friendly.

Part 13 – Pipeline Logic

Profit in this business goes hand in hand with demand. It’s why we’re all hearing about pipelines, here, there and everywhere. We have the supply, Asia has the demand, so LOGIC! Build the pipeline!

Current day oil consumption certainly makes the gamble seem worthwhile. At least 50% of global oil consumption goes into transportation. It makes for a huge pie in which to grab a slice of. But also, an ever-shrinking pie, given obvious trends visible on the horizon.

With the reduced need for lubricants like motor oil and others in EV’s, demand will inevitably fall even below the original 50% number. Also not considered are potential alternatives to diesel fuel for power generation in remote areas.

We will now pivot back to where we started.

Back to my claim that Albertans (and Canadian’s) are betting a losing hand when it comes to backing Alberta bitumen. Though a lot of this analysis is based around shifting winds in the industry as a whole and transitions based around technology which has not yet been realized, this is not entirely the case.

Remember, IMO 2020 regulations kick in NEXT YEAR (that is, 5 months from when I finish this paper!). And though electrification of the transportation sector will take time and planning, bitumen-based products will become un-profitable LONG before the entire world fleet is switched over. As demand for oil gradually falls, producers will adjust prices to keep customers. Not unlike any other high competition sector anywhere in the world.

In this dynamic, producers of sweeter crude are inherently better positioned, since they have a desirable product as a baseline. Though they won’t be making TODAY’s prices, they will still win on the profit angle. And as one travels down the sour spectrum, this product will be much like it is now . . . a bit lower quality, but still valuable for a time.

One benchmark that will NOT stack up in this dynamic, is WCS. As it stands, the industry goes into turmoil if the price of oil takes too much of a dive. If sentiments and trajectories remain firmly tied to the oil sands extraction industry (without even an attempt at creating a safety net), the result will only be downsized people and communities, and more human suffering. Not unlike the fate of any number of communities worldwide which were intimately tied to a now obsolete industry or resource.

Part 14 – Where To Go From Here

Though it may seem like I am laughing in the face of the inevitable impoverishment of many thousands of people, I can assure you that is not the case. It is easy to highlight problems and wrongs. But the more difficult task is often in looking for answers.

When it comes to the technology side of this stuff, I am full of possibilities. When you break open the barriers and let the mind free, the sky is the limit on this stuff. And one of the most fascinating parts about these technologies is the fact that they are no longer mere theory anymore. What is my and your current day pipe dream is likely future reality. Heck, we may be closer to that point in time than we think. I only drafted this paper back in May (it is now July) and have already observed at least one paradigm-shifting change. Canada will soon have an operational EV corridor!

The more difficult part is the social aspect. Progress is all well and good for the species, but such is hardly consolation for those cast aside by the transition.

It gets even dicier when one considers that in the grand scheme of things, this is just the beginning. Of all the jobs that the loss of the oil sands extraction industry will eliminate, it is NOTHING compared to what automation of an increasing combination of industries will bring us.

The Transition Economy

At the moment, we seem to be entering a period which is oddly reminiscent of a transition period between the era of workers and the era of machines. Referred to colloquially as the gig economy (and also the sharing economy), we’re in a time where sharing our goods for cash or working on a freelance basis is increasingly becoming the norm for many. Many of these positions are tied to smartphone apps acting as a middle man in connecting various businesses with their desired customer base.

Rather than a path to the future, however, I can’t help but see this as a stepping stone to the age of automation. Though automation can not replace the human for all roles, many of the current day gig economies positions are FAR from immune, given the right advancements. We are well on the way to self-driving vehicles and autonomous delivery drones already.

The Downward Spiral?

The era in which we find ourselves barreling toward, the era of automation, may well test the bounds of civility in many places. Given the already rocky path that we find ourselves on as it is, one can’t help but worry. And I am not just worried about the political reactionaries dragging the enraged masses further and further to the right. I also worry about the habitual knee jerk refusal to even deal with the problem that manifests itself in anti-automation stances. For example, refusing to use a self-checkout or menu terminal on account to not wanting to eliminate jobs.

I hate to break the news to you, but those cashier jobs are ALREADY on the way to being obsolete. These companies made the choice a long time ago to make the switch, and it is GOING to happen. My advice to you is to get used to it.

Part 15 – Focusing On The Real Problem

So much energy is wasted on boycotting cashier replacing machines that could be focused to other far more pressing problems. For one thing, cashier jobs eliminations due to machines are generally net negative, as these employees are often shifted elsewhere in the store. I suspect that this will the case for a while yet since productivity needs of much of the service industry are still complex enough as to be hard to automate.

Amazon may have opened a store without cashiers, but the shelves don’t stock themselves. Furthermore, Walmart developed an order writing robot (which bases its decision on empty holes on shelves), but they still don’t have one that can fill that hole when the truck arrives.

Of course, there is likely a time limit on these jobs, too. We wouldn’t be here if cost-cutting wasn’t priority #1, to begin with.

And so the question becomes, what then? If my job were to one day be eliminated by progress, obsolescence or collateral damage of a combination of the 2, what do I do?

Given that I have always had an interest in technology, that seems like the most obvious route to choose. Though the term is a HUGE umbrella with seemingly unlimited possibilities (my current day excuse for not moving forward in this area), the industry comes with inherent stability.

As social media has taught me, the sky is the limit when it comes to future tech. And as the Security Now, Darknet Diaries and Hackable podcasts have taught me, there is even more career stability in the probing and prodding of every exposed surface of this new technology. Whether your goal is planting a crypto miner, cashing in a bug bounty or pen-testing companies weak points, your advancement opportunities are virtually endless.

When it comes to retraining, the tech and IT industries are going to be one of the bright spots as time goes on. Whether on the front lines as a mechanic or in the background keeping all the systems online, there will always be a place for people with the right certs. And when it comes to getting such certs, there are already many online resources that help make the learning curve (or just keeping up to date) much easier.

If federal and provincial governments spent as much money on establishing and maintaining programs like this as they currently do on creating and airing propaganda for the oil & gas industries, imagine the possibilities!

Of course, this lateral movement is not for everyone. Which brings us to the VERY difficult part of this thought experiment. Going outside the box.

Part 16 – Re-Writing The Story Of Human Purpose

For likely as long as there has been industry, jobs have been more than simply a means to an end. Hard work is considered a virtue. And as such, the simple fact of being employed tends to be a big part of a person’s identity. Both in terms of their self-worth, and in terms of how they are perceived in society. While this is blatantly visible in how people look at so-called welfare queens or the homeless, a more interesting case study is older generations working habits. Many that have chosen to retire end up back in the workforce. Not always out of necessity. It’s more to do with a lack of meaning. Without a place to be at a set time, they find themselves without purpose in life.

It’s an interesting problem. One that I can’t help but see this as somewhat cruel, being that “The hard work tide lifts all boats!” mantra is an increasingly rare phenomenon. People are so brainwashed by corporate growth propaganda that they can’t even fully enjoy life when they finally get some free time to do so. After helping benefit these faceless entities with all the good years of their lives, these people can’t even fully enjoy their Golden Years.

Despite having such a strong opinion on the matter, though, I live by the mantra that is to each his own. The matter that is more important is this societal conditioning. The notion that we are defined by the work we do. Though this certainly had a place in the previous status quo’s, we are rapidly moving into a different era. Machines are far more efficient (and less in need of physiological conditioning) than human resources. The benign yet terrifying corporate derived terminology which sounds like it was ripped out of the Matrix.

How’s THAT for a red pill?

The era of jobs is looking like it’s coming to a close. Okay, this is not entirely true. However, given that this change is going to impact pretty much every sector in the economy, this is going to be big. One can draw comparisons to the industrial revolution, or the automobile revolution, but a HUGE difference between then and now is the sheer number of bodies on the planet. During those transitions, there were both fewer people in need of accommodation due to mechanization AND there were generally other fall back jobs to go into (the service industry). Of course, those seldom paid as well as the jobs removed, but it was still something.

Part 17 – What’s Next?

If previous economic strategies are to prove the way forward, nothing will be done. Where applicable, social safety have been available to soften the blow. However, the situation has generally been quite pragmatic. Frankly, the cost of sacrificing a Detroit or a Cleveland has never outweighed the benefits. To be fair, we’re playing a bit of an apple vs oranges game here (free trade agreements in combination with automation drove a lot of this). None the less, lost jobs are lost jobs.

Though the sheltered elites could afford to lay waste to selected regions or urban areas which were heavily reliant on now obsolete (or outsourced) income sources, that is not the case now. This wave of change will reach every single city and region, worldwide.
Not dealing with this in a guided manner runs a high risk of throwing society into chaos, and thus putting the economy into jeopardy. To some extent, we already see this happening in the form of the twins ultra-nationalism and fascism once again taking root in the liberal world. However . . . you ain’t seen NOTHING yet.

When it comes to the question that is “Where from here?”, there will always be a salesman of controversy that will have an answer to that question. Though culling the herd conspiracies of all kinds already exist, they are likely to only get stronger. Given the current inability of modern media platforms in dealing with the spread of other false information, we likely also have more of this to look forward to. Along with whatever ramifications that may bring. Unstable minds can create all manner of chaos.

Do I think that is our future?


There is no doubt that the future certainly looks dark from this vantage point. Not only are people themselves not adequately preparing (aside from fruitless or pointless measures for the sake of feeling like they are making a difference), nor are the people at the helm (governments). Of course, this is not a surprise. Government officials are not usually chosen by merit or intelligence. But none the less, the extraordinarily short term outlook of many of these officials (often in the name of voter pandering) can be depressing.

Having considered all of that, barring something unforeseen, I don’t see us as descending into some post-industrial capitalism hellscape (at least, not anytime soon). While we have seen the devastation that economic stagnation can bring to communities, unlike the automation and outsourcing changes of the past, the enormous change brought by the elimination of even half to 60% of all human labour is impossible to ignore. Because it’s not just a handful of cities or regions.


Part 18 – Lunar Lunacy

As much as the scared elites of the world would love to jump ship and hop on over to a new colony on the moon or mars . . . they have to live here too.

  1. Don’t shit where you eat.

  1. There are a WHOLE lot more of us than there are of them.

Speaking of the moon and Mars colonizing craze of recent years, it’s about time we quit beating that drum.

Spearheaded by such well know figures as Stephan Hawking and Elon Musk, the reasoning behind this (at least as comprehended by me!) seems to be “We done fucked this up, so time to try again elsewhere!“. The accepted mantra is that we have around 100 years of familiar climatic conditions left before the proverbial shit hits the fan. And the solution is. . . get the hell outta dodge.

Though I don’t disagree with the often grim assessments of the earth’s climate in the not too distant to distant futures, I think that dumping an enormous amount of resources into moving humanity onto another planet is a HUGE mistake. Though it is being made out to be a necessity for the survival of humanity, this seems more like an excuse to fund the pet project of a set of billionaires.

Before I go any further, I will state my somewhat controversial take on the issue. I do not consider hopping over to mars or the moon (and possibly elsewhere down the road) a valid option for a few reasons. One, because I find it hard to believe that this new world will have space for everyone. Indeed, I am going down a road I had criticized just a paragraph ago. Having said that, however, I highly doubt that the journey to (or existence within) said colonies will be free. Much like a 2 million dollar home in a nice area of town, technically anybody can buy it.

The second reason is more philosophical. I don’t like the idea of leaving behind a trashed and exploited earth just to hop onto the moon/mars/wherever else because chances are we will be in the same situation there. If humans just transplant the philosophies that have driven us to the brink on earth (mass consumption is driven by free-market capitalism), then how will this new world be any different?

As I see it, the only non-delusional way to interpret this would be to view us as the most dangerous parasites in the observable universe. Forwarding the desire of the organism takes priority over all other considerations. Including the long term health and well-being prospects of the organism.

Part 19 – Re-Writing . . . EVERYTHING

Rather than put all of my eggs in an outgoing basket to mars, my focus would be right here on earth. The first thing that comes to mind is carbon capture. Using a combination of natural and mechanized methodologies to try and mitigate the now dangerously high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Next is making sure that things stay that way. Having the technology to reverse the damage of fossil fuel pollution may bring a positive light back to the industry. NOT a good thing, given the non-renewable nature of such fossil fuels to begin with.

The next step requires a radical change in the current status quo operations of the world today. The world is currently being piloted by numerous cancerous ideologies. Though all are not equally influential in shaping today’s status quo, it is fruitless to attempt drastic change without putting all under the microscope.

The umbrella ideology that I would argue caps all of them currently, is free-market capitalism. In the globalized world that we live in today, nothing arches over the capitalist free market. While you see various levels of acceptance of the language (places like China come to mind), non-participation in global trade is exceedingly rare. When nations that are barred from such trade for various reasons are removed, the list shrinks even more.

Some are likely to dispute this point (the power of the capitalist ideology), citing religion, ultra-nationalism and other ugly markers of our time. While all of these things are indeed often a force to be reckoned with, they are still generally directly interconnected to the capitalist macrostructure.

Consider religion. Though individual churches are not always swimming in cash (many smaller congregations are likely just barely keeping the lights on), those with a well-organized parent religion tend to hold enormous amounts of wealth. The wealth which is at times used to make pesky problems within the bureaucracy disappear (shuffling ministers around, handing out bribes, etc). Some of these organizations are arguably just as unethical as any other international organized crime syndicate you might come across. Certainly much better funded than most such syndicates.

All of this wealth (or more accurately, power) is currently being maintained in large part because of currency.

This is not to say that organized religion has not been at the head of the power structure in the past (with or without the influence of its wealth). Nor that some unforeseen future may bring about a re-visitation to this era.

It is to say that in a world where financial capital equals power, such capital means nothing if the fiction that lends it meaning means nothing.

My next example is the major swing to the right that has gripped the world in the past 3 or 4 years. Though these things indeed tend to happen in waves (at least traditionally), it’s hard not to consider the place of social media for acting as an amplifier for already simmering human rage.

The first thing that should be said here is that no social unrest is ever without nuance. The relationship between humans and their reactions to both their external environment and internal factors (such as biases) has yet to be understood by ANYONE. It’s a fascinating (yet terrifying) realization that I’m sure anyone taking the Artificial Intelligence conversation with any seriousness has concluded at some point. The human brain is the ultimate black box.

Having said that, however, this unpredictable nature tends to vanish the further you get from the person. You don’t need to know how a person came to their conclusions to be able to utilize (or exploit) this data for various purposes.

But again, I am dragging this out into the weeds.

Though it is only only one factor of many (for example, racial power dynamics are starting to change in places like the US), employment displacement due to outsourcing and automation is feeding into this anger already. And as more and more mechanization comes online, this problem is only going to get worse.

Machines are both cheaper and more efficient than human labour. For an entity that has only one purpose for existence (generating a constant growing profit margin), the choice between human and machine is an obvious one.

Part 20 – A Whole New World

The jury is still out on whether or not human-created artificial intelligence will end human life as we know it. However, it seems almost a certainty that capitalism is going to end up being this driving force. While one can understandably interpret this statement as being apocalyptic, this is not entirely the case.

Consider the place of human dating back to the early days of agriculture. Without the need for looking after one’s subsistence, the human mind was generally free to get creative. That is, aside from the catch 22 that is none of this abundant food was free. Particularly when the industrial revolution got going strong, the mentality has generally been “you earn your keep, or you don’t eat“.

In essentially the blink of an eye, an essential part of the human experience will effectively disappear for many. As inherently inhuman and problematic as this macro philosophy of the western world (and probably beyond) has proven, it is all that a great many people know.

Of all the great changes that are on the horizon for human society, this will prove one of the biggest challenges. This is MUCH bigger than avoiding self-checkouts at the supermarket or digital menus at fast-food restaurants.

Universal Basic Income

One method of tackling this problem which is gaining steam (including with a democratic candidate running in currently upcoming 2020 presidential election campaign) is with a Universal Basic Income (or UBI). In a nutshell, it is a no strings attached payout from the government (a form of social security, if you will) that is meant to offset income lost due to employment displacement. As the Universal term implies, this would go to every single citizen in a nation (no matter their tax bracket or employment status).

Though this seems like a good solution on the surface, problems become apparent with even a little digging. One of the more concerning ones (highlighted by many progressive leftists) is the possibility that this payment may be used to cancel out other currently available social safety nets. For example, will someone currently getting disability benefits (gotta love the implicative nature of these terms) have to choose between one or the other?

While this may not seem like a big problem on the surface (money is money!), consider what this money might be covering (pricey but necessary equipment?). Forcing people to make this choice (or just eliminating all other social safety nets with a flat UBI) only succeeds in transferring modern-day inequalities into the new paradigm.

With or without health insurance premiums to also take into consideration, a universally distributed income payment is not without potential drawbacks.

The Human Toll

Aside from all of the problems that stem from UBI, you also have the inevitable problems that always come from simply throwing money at an issue to make it disappear. The article above makes it abundantly clear why the private sector generally likes the idea of a UBI. It’s great for business, no matter what the social cost.

That social cost is what a UBI (or any other solution that only focuses on the financial aspect of existence) doesn’t do anything to alleviate. Loss of a previously reliable income source is just part of the problem. Having such a safety net may indeed help prevent some of my darker hypothesis from coming to reality. But this is still only part of the solution.

Though work is just a means to an end for some people, one shouldn’t underestimate the purpose that it gives to others. Or what dark places some of these people may find themselves in without this guiding light of existence. After all, a UBI can pay for a lot of self-destructive temporary relief.

And again, I find myself asking . . . where to from here?

I couldn’t tell you because I have no idea. What I can say, however, is that this is a problem that is about more than money. Though that will certainly be a component, far more emphasis will have to be placed on social dynamics. For example, how can so-called meaningful employment be replaced in an era without?

Meaningful Employment . . . it amazes me how much bullshit and corporate deceit is tucked into the everyday language we use every single day without a second thought.

And now, back to where we started.

Part 21 – Closing Arguments

What was initially conceived as an opinion piece (of sorts) about how Canadian’s doubling down on oil sands resources are doing so at their peril, has evolved into something else entirely. An investigation of 2 very different topics that are vastly separate at first glance, yet inherently interconnected upon closer examination.

In closing, we live in an era of change and disruption. So accelerated is this rate of change that visible and drastic societal behavioural alterations can now be observed in time frames as short as 5 to 10 years. With the rate of change that is being seen in ALL sectors of the economy, it’s becoming clear that almost no previously stable jobs are safe from the massive paradigm shift that is upon us. Even the at one time bulletproof oil and gas sectors are now being viewed with a skeptical eye by an increasing number of high profile big-money investors. More and more institutions are starting to put the brakes on further investments in fossil fuel oriented projects for fear of being stuck with Stranded Assets in the future.

Rather than again explain my rock-solid reasoning for coming to the very controversial conclusion that is embedded in the title of this paper, I will instead end with this excerpt from the Pembina Institute article (linked above), which was published back in 2015.

Throughout the last decade, the oilsands sector has grown in importance to Alberta and Canada. But given the world’s increasing focus on climate change negotiations, it may be time to ask where Canada’s oil and gas sector is going in the future.

High cost, high impact oils are particularly sensitive to the stranding risk. Given that oilsands disproportionately fall into that category, Canada and Alberta should take note of the material risk stranded fossil fuel assets pose to investors and their own coffers alike.

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 5 – Synthetic Marijuana)

Synthetic Marijuana

Since I first came across this substance (well, phenomenon) a number of years ago, it annoyed me. A substance that shady marketers have dubbed Synthetic Marijuana. Back when I first was made aware of it (2009 or so), it was commonly referred to in the media as Bath Salts and by a few other pseudonyms which have likely evolved over the oncoming decade. Back then, sold everywhere from drug paraphernalia shops to C-stores, this stuff seemed easier to obtain than aspirin. Or even healthy food (depending on where one resides in the US of A).

I can put a timeline on it because I first learned of this substance through a segment on the Dr. Oz show. Something that is significant, because I was an avid viewer of Dr. Oz (and The Doctors) for a span of only a year or 2.

In a nutshell:

  1. I wasn’t transitioning any of the information from said shows into my everyday life anyway, so I questioned why I was watching in the first place.

  1. I started to see inconsistencies and problems in the material presented, particularly with regards to Dr. Oz’s program.

I list all my reasons for tuning out in the following post, published in June of 2014. The other 2 are follow-ups, of sorts.

Getting back to the topic of this piece, again, this whole phenomenon was irritating to me. Were talking rubbing 2 pieces of Styrofoam together, or scrapping long fingers down a chalkboard level irritation. All because of the preventability of it all.

Before I go down that road, I should first give my readers somewhat of an idea of what we’re dealing with. The name is really all you need to know. It’s basically synthesized cannabinoid compounds which are made and sold in bulk quantities online, sourced out of Asia. Though many of the compounds are rendered illegal (nothing sold back in 2009 is likely to be lawful now), evading this is as simple as tweaking the formula. Turning this into an endless game of Cat and Mouse between authorities and criminals.

Aside from homeless populations (due to its low price), teenagers were the largest cohort thought to be obtaining this substance. Likely because it is easier (and far less risky) to purchase than, anything else. While I would NEVER argue that marijuana is harmless or benign as a rule of thumb, given the choice of the 2, the best option is clear.

Indeed, I would rather minors not be experimenting with potentially dangerous substances at all. However, assuming prohibition is going to make this happen is delusional thinking at it’s finest. In fact, on par with the assumption that abstinence-only education is going to scare kids out of promiscuous behaviour. It might make parents feel better (“Let’s just put aside this, pesky, difficult little problem . . .”), but it sure as hell isn’t helping minors.

Marijuana, particularly the often ultra high THC/negligible CBD containing strains of today’s marketplace, are not harmless for the developing brains of children. But they are also generally not the misunderstood packets of who knows what that make up the synthetic marijuana marketplace.

There is something to be said about the purity argument (“
You can’t trust that your weed has not been chemically altered before you buy it!”).

I don’t disagree. However, the same goes for anything you buy or consume, legal or prohibited. Indeed, those skirting the law have less incentive to focus on the safety of the end user. None the less, life is fraught with risks, one of them being contamination of one’s consumables.

Keeping marijuana (and really, any commonly sought after substances) at the level of prohibition actually makes the job of quality control more difficult. Unlike food and drug manufacturers that track product production with batch numbers and expiration dates, there is no such tracking of illicit substances. As such, while a food or drug maker can issue a recall based on said numeric tracking codes, the best authorities can do to curtail the distribution of tainted licit substances is PSA campaigns on the local news. Campaigns that are often very easy to overlook due to the fact that almost ALL interaction with the public on the subject of drugs comes across as paranoid propaganda. The government cried wolf too many times over the years. So now all they can do is watch as versatile synthetic compounds, tainted party drugs, and god knows what runs increasingly rampant everywhere.

Do I blame ill-informed PSA campaigns for all of today’s drug whoa’s?

Of course not. There is a whole slew of socio-economic factors at work here. However, I don’t think it helped the situation. Not just the overtly dramatic demonization of the illicit, but the market-driven risk reduction of the truly dangerous. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that opioid addiction is now a common term pretty much no matter where one looks.

Getting back to the original topic (synthetic marijuana), it should be noted that this is not encompassing of the whole picture. While synthetic marijuana is a big part of it, it exists alongside some legalized derivatives under the umbrella term Synthetic cannabinoids. Though the 2 are not often mentioned alongside one another, there are legally available and prescribed synthetic cannabinoids. One is Dronabinol (marketed as Marinol or Syndros), which is approved for use an appetite stimulant, antiemetic (prevents vomiting and nausea), or sleep apnea reliever. Though available in the US, it is no longer available in Canada (I assume due to cannabis-derived options drying up the market).

Other legally synthesized cannabinoid agonists include:

Sativex– Known medically as nabiximols, it is a spray that delivers measured concentrations of both THC and CBD. It’s approved for the treatment of some symptoms of multiple sclerosis and advanced cancer pain.

Cesamet– Known as nabilone, it’s approved to treat chemotherapy-induced vomiting.

Though these are under the umbrella synthetic cannabinoids, I suspect that they make up a very small part of the whole picture (compared to the illegal synthetics).

While so-called synthetic marijuana has been available online since 2004, later variations of the substance are typically very different than those from the early days. Though the older varieties were primarily derived to produce similar effects to marijuana, newer variants often don’t keep this focus. Due to the constantly changing nature of the substance (sometimes even on a batch to batch basis!), all effects (both the positive AND the negative) can be hard to pin down.

Whilst this stuff does not seem to be as easy to get as it was back in 2008/2009 when the newly created epidemic was in its infancy (not to mention that I suspect vaping may take a big chunk out of its market share), it’s still occasionally in the news. While it’s price will almost always be lower than that of marijuana (wherever one procures it), I can’t help but think that easier access will eventually destroy its marketability. If I use alcohol as a comparison, people living in jurisdictions allowing legal marijuana tend to buy less alcohol. I suspect it’s due to the nature of the intoxication. Marijuana tends to be far less rough around the edges than alcohol, and this is almost certainly going to be the case with synthetics too. And marijuana will almost always have the natural element to its advantage. It’s part of a plant, as opposed to synthesized god knows what.

As long as one makes the healthy alternative hard to access, these substances will always have a dominant place in any given market. It’s cheap to produce, fairly easy to sneak past customs checks (border security can’t check everything. The economy would grind to a halt!). But most importantly, people would not be chasing chemical based marijuana alternatives if the real thing weren’t so hard to get.

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 4 – CBD)


It’s time to move on to another (in a way, THE other) cannabinoid of importance in relation to this discussion. That cannabinoid is CBD. A cannabinoid that is increasingly characterized by its absence in a great many strains of unregulated marijuana crops being sold these days. Granted, strains lacking the cannabinoid to various degrees are available legally. The difference being that in this avenue, you KNOW and can make a choice. As opposed to being tied to whatever your dealers can scrap out of their supply chain. Which tends to be the good stuff.

It’s just the law of the market. There is far more money in high potency strains for repeat users than there is in more mellow CBD heavy stains for novice to infrequent users. Or to put it another way, yet another area in which the decades-long status quo has created a huge problem for society.

One good example of this is the extreme scaremongering argument that is “Marijuana = Schizophrenia!”. It is true that there can be an association. However, did you know that CBD has a role to play here as well? In particular, that it’s absence is a big reason why high potency THC strains can serve as a trigger to problems far from just the mere munchies?

I love Marketplace. The show is worth ten times its cost in educational value. It was this episode that initially turned me onto the important role in which CBD plays, to begin with.

Though legalized marijuana and THC products are relative newcomers to the market (well, the above ground market), CBD has been available even previous to legalization in some areas. Since it’s not inherently psychoactive, many jurisdictions didn’t object it being derived or sale. Granted, the finished product had to stay a threshold of 0.5 to 4% THC content (depending on the locality) in order to remain legal.

Unsurprisingly, this substance (particularly CBD oil) is starting to make a splash in the alternative health scene. Though the cannabinoid mirrors THC in the lack of detailed information that we have on the substance, this has yet to stop snake oil salesman from making bold claims about its medicinal properties. Some that go all the way to citing it as a cure to autism.

Part of this is the hands-off nature in which supplements are regulated in the United States, and elsewhere. It’s easy to get your foot in the door when there is no one standing guard. FDA and Health Canada’s regulation for supplements is a joke.

As proven by marketplace!

So, much like marijuana, the same obvious rules apply here. Don’t let the overzealous and unethical capitalists get the best of what can be a useful and therapeutic substance.

But on with the show.

While anyone with any knowledge of the marijuana plant knows about it’s most notable chemical property (Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for the rest of us), few know about its sister chemical property (Cannabidiol, or THC). THC is responsible for the more euphoric traits associated with marijuana consumption.

However, THC is also increasingly thought to be a trigger when it comes to mental issues typically associated with marijuana use (everything from anxiety to the schizophrenia connection). Which is where it’s longstanding sister property CBD comes in. Whilst THC is psychoactive, CBD seems to play the role of a sort of regulator when it comes to the THC intoxication experience. If I understand it correctly, it allows for the high without the potentially mentally risky rough edges associated with primary THC exposure only.

Alone, cannabidiol already has many usages in the medical field. It is at times utilized as a pain reliever. It also has been found to have positive effects in terms of mitigation of epileptic seizures. It is also utilized as an anti-nauseant for use in cancer patients. At a glance, it would seem that the uses mirror those attributed to THC. The big difference being the lack of psychoactive properties.

The National Institutes of Health has an even more fascinating list of conditions that are positively influenced by CBD exposure.





-Multiple Sclerosis

-Neurodegenerative Disorders (Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Tourette’s, Alzheimer’s)





-Cardiovascular Disorders



-Metabolic Syndrome related disorders

Some overlap with what I already mentioned. But a whole lot more. Including some quite unexpected listings. None the less, all patients potentially benefit from what is known as Cannabinoid Agonists/Antagonists/Cannabinoid Related Compounds.

Let’s unpack that.

Cannabinoid Antagonist – Also known as an anti-cannabinoid, this is a cannabinoidergic drug which binds to cannabinoid receptors, preventing activation by the bodies native endocannabinoids. These include antagonists, inverse agonists, and antibodies to cannabinoid receptors.

Inverse Agonists – These bind to the same receptor as an agonist, but elicits a response that is opposite to that of an agonist.

Cannabinoid Related Compound – While harder to nail down than the previous 2, it looks to be anything originating from the cannabis plant. Therein are at least 400 compounds, 80 of which are unique to the cannabis plant alone. All of which react to the human endocannabinoid system in different ways.

It seems that CBD is a very useful property all to its own. However, I suspect that it is often lumped in with it’s far more commonly known sister property THC. I can attest to this myself, as the distinction certainly wasn’t exactly clear to me at first glance (even as a pro-cannabis proponent!). But I suppose this will get better with time and public exposure. Whilst the capitalists will certainly market the differences, hopefully, the research side can keep up.

I opened this piece with the bold claim that was the seemingly unknown Yin and Yang relationship between THC and CBD, as played out in the marijuana plant. I have yet to quantify this claim with anything but speculation. So I shall take care of that issue now.

It looks like CBD’s previous role (as it stands much of the time, these days) was in modulating receptor signalling associated with THC, helping to mitigate the anxiety or paranoia sometimes related to THC intoxication. One of the ways in which this is accomplished is by activation of serotonin receptors (which reduces anxiety). I would hazard to guess that this is also the reason why it is utilized in the treatment of schizophrenia.

For a more in-depth analysis of the science surrounding CBD (it is both fascinating and in its infancy!), visit:

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 3 – Addiction)

Part 3 – Addiction

Next, on the docket, we have addiction. Or rather the very important question that is, can marijuana be addictive?

Anything other than an automatic “YES!” would likely set off many a guidance counsellor, police officer, social worker, or anyone else with a distinctly distant relationship with the substance. This is not to say that they all don’t have a point. More, their interactions with many of these substances tend to be under negative circumstances. Police officers, guidance councillors and social workers would not be in the picture if those they were protecting were keeping it together. Though, as is insinuated by my use of italics, their presence can at times be reactionary.

So, is marijuana addictive?

Yes. But as in pretty much all other areas of life, there is a nuance curve.

One of the first areas one has to explore is the type of addiction one is dealing with. As explored a bit in the previous section, marijuana is known not to be a chemically addictive substance. Its addictive traits are thought to be strictly psychological. And whilst there can be withdrawal symptoms for heavy users, they are not dangerous (unlike those associated with say, alcohol or opiates). It works by way of the dopamine reward system, but there is no requirement of continued consumption to avoid harmful withdrawal symptoms.

Whilst I do take the anecdotal experiences of the agents of influence (police officers, social workers) in our society into consideration, reactionary rhetoric based on the horrors of drug use is hardly a helpful argument. It’s but a red herring. Given that with or without the presence of substances to abuse, there will always be irresponsible people.

In short, one can no more solely blame marijuana (nor any other substance, really) for neglectful parenting then one can blame a single gun for the perpetration of a school shooting. In either situation, disregarding all (or much of) the background nuances of the given situations is helpful for nothing but pushing an agenda. It does not serve to help current (or future!) victims of the same circumstance. It just ensures that there will always be more.

Nuance may not be an easy pill to swallow as a Red Pill argument, but tackling it is the only way to finding an eventual satisfactory middle ground.


Moving onto the science of addiction, I turn back to the United States’s National Institute Of Health. If the question is “Can marijuana be an addictive substance?”, it would appear that the answer is yes. But, again, with a bit of a caveat. They only use the word addiction to describe the most severe of cases.

It is thought that around 30% of all marijuana users have some form of a marijuana use disorder, with users starting before the age of 18 being four to ten times more likely to develop the disorder (compared to users who started using as adults). Dependence on the drug can be characterized by the following withdraw symptoms:

  • irritability

  • mood and sleep difficulties

  • decreased appetite

  • cravings

  • restlessness

  • other physical discomforts

All of which typically peak after one to 2 weeks after ceasing use of marijuana.

The addiction vector appears to occur when the brain adapts to the constant presence of large amounts of cannabinoids in the body, causing the reduction in the production of (and a growing sensitivity of the body towards) the bodies native endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.

The endocannabinoid system is a large part of the bodies nervous system, tasked with the regulation of many aspects of mammalian stasis. Marijuana works by mimicking the bodies own endocannabinoids, thus achieving the many both positive and negative traits for which it is known for. Addiction is defined by the NIH as when marijuana use is pursued even if it has negative ramifications in other areas of life. Which is a fair definition, given the information.

There is much controversy when it comes to the term
Marijuana Addiction. One just has to be aware not to use the words Addiction and Dependence interchangeably. Those that take their research or representation jobs seriously will know this and act accordingly. Those that don’t . . . you now know how to spot.

When it comes to the development of a marijuana use disorder, the numbers are favourable (albeit in a good way). It is thought that only 9% of users will develop a misuse disorder (with that number rising to 17% for users that started in their teens). While that can be an eye-opening number on its own, consider opioids. Or more, this first sentence from the mayo clinic’s webpage titled How Opioid Addiction Occurs:

Anyone who takes opioids is at risk of developing an addiction. Your personal history and the length of time you use opioids play a role, but it’s impossible to predict who’s vulnerable to eventual dependence on and abuse of these drugs. Legal or illegal, stolen and shared, these drugs are responsible for the majority of overdose deaths in the U.S. today.

A better way to explore this drug (instead of just following the addiction route) could be to look at its long term effects. After all, alike sugar, not being addicted to a substance doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s presence in the body in benign.

Most animal (and an increasing number of human) studies agree that marijuana use during the development of the fetus can cause long term (and possibly irreversible) changes to the developing fetus’s brain chemistry. Being that the changes seem to be most pronounced in adolescences (with the endocannabinoid system still in the process of forming new synapses during this stage of life), the connection would seem to be well founded. However, human studies leave a lot to be desired when other variables are considered (such as the usage of other drugs in combination with cannabis).

But there is hope.

The NHI is funding a major study on the subject, the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Over a period of 10 years, it will track it’s participants right from pre to post marijuana usage phases. The goal is to get a clearer picture of the effects of cannabinoids both with and without the presence of other substances.

However, that study just began in 2018, and thus we are waiting until 2028 for anything definitive (well, ANYTHING). And so it goes for any studies related pretty much in any way towards marijuana, THC, CBD and anything else related therein. Kind of a sad state of affairs to be in. But, it is what it is. The show must go on.

In the meantime, I suppose the only thing we can do in play gatekeeper to marijuana information trickery. Make sure those in the old status quo are refuted when using misleading or deceiving arguments. But also make sure our proponents (the capitalist element!) aren’t stretching or manipulating the facts for the sake of making a profit.

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 2 – Gateway Substances)

Part 2- Gateway Substances

Owners of pizza parlours and convenience stores the world over, agree. Marijuana is definitely a gateway substance.

With that out of my system, my first area of exploration is, I will admit, based on an anecdotal conversation with a former addict of alcohol. In talking about this, he cited both the addiction potential of cannabis as well as it’s status as a so-called Gateway drug. For those unfamiliar with the term, it essentially refers to any substance that is thought to be a stepping stone towards more potent substances. Even that description seems extraordinarily nuanced, given that I’ve never seen the concept utilized outside the context of cannabis. Well, aside from in my past explorations of the topic of drugs.

When I consider the concept of a Gateway substance, several things come to mind. Interestingly, almost none of them involve the consumption of marijuana. In one case, it involves the procurement of the drug, however.

I will start with something that has been apparent to me for a long time (albeit anecdotally). The first drug that I considered as a gateway substance has always been alcohol. This is based around personal experience with various intoxication levels of both substances, and knowing how these don’t differ much from the common experience. Marijuana tends to induce a relaxed mindset (though paranoia and bad trips can happen). On the other hand, alcohol tends to greatly reduce one’s inhibitions in many situations. Not to mention the well-known phenomenon of magnifying underlying personalities (most noticeable when it comes to aggressive types). A concept poked fun at by a fridge magnet that I picked up in Nashville that reads “Instant Jackass. Just Add Beer”.

While the loosening up trait of alcohol can be seen as useful for less outgoing people (like myself, frankly), the trade-off of this is apparent in the last paragraph. Not to mention, the very reason why I have always listed alcohol as Gateway drug #1. Can these chemically reduced inhibitions lead to people trying even more potent drugs?

Marijuana tends to be the next step up from alcohol, but what about beyond this?

Here, I indeed acknowledge that there does seem to be a hierarchy of sorts when it comes to Gateway intoxicants. And Marijuana does indeed seem to have a place on the hierarchy. Where I deviate from most people, however, is where on the hierarchy I place marijuana. While most people have been conditioned to see marijuana as step #1, it is typically step 2 for me (if not 3, or even 4!).

Marijuana as step 2 was just explained. When it comes to step 3, I have to start one rung below alcohol, at caffeine. Whilst it has always been present in one form of food or beverage or another forever, the emergence of energy drinks in the past 20ish years has solidified their place in the hierarchy. Certainly so, after I thought I was having a heart attack after pounding back 2 Redbull’s in the span of an hour and a half at an old job. Don’t get me wrong, I still drink them on occasion. Just . . . not more than 2 in a day.

I bring this up on account to the continued marijuana is not a benign argument, as vocalized by layman and experts (including some MD’s) alike. Indeed, this shouldn’t be a marijuana-selling point. However, it’s hard for me not to think that highly caffeinated energy drinks aren’t being perceived as being far more benign than marijuana, just on account to how they are retailed. Be it from a dealer or behind an age limit, marijuana retail has always had an err of caution to it.

Energy drinks . . . not so much.

A brilliant example of this is the types of events and people that these companies tend to sponsor. Generally, extreme sporting events and athletes at the top of their game. Back when George St Pierre was in his UFC heyday, he was sponsored by NOS energy. Something that bothered me at the time, being that I doubted someone in such peak physical condition would have a place in that regiment for highly surgery and caffeinated sugar water.

In an old job, I once limited a teenager to purchasing just 4 of 12 energy drinks be put on the counter. I didn’t have to do this, by law. Had I sold the beverages to the teen and something happened, I (and my employer) would likely not be liable. But even so, such is a flimsy excuse reminiscent to that of a pharma company that accidentally addicts millions of its patient customers.

Either way, caffeine is my typical Gateway #1 drug for good reason. But having said that, it is really the first potential gateway substance? Or is there another substance that is even more prominent than caffeine?

What about sugar?

Though it is often paired with caffeine when consumed (be it in coffee, soda, or energy drinks), it’s consumption does not mandate the presence of caffeine. It is well known that food companies use sugar (and to a smaller degree, salt) to make all kinds of food products irresistible. Where things get fuzzy, however, is where the line between irresistible and addictive lies.

In fact, even this little thought experiment is filled with uncertainty. Based mainly on the uncertainty as to whether sugar (salt?) could or should be considered to be a drug. Can a substance which is not a drug still retain truly addictive properties? More on the topic on which I had originally set out on, can a non-drug be a gateway substance to more pharmacologically potent substances?

For the sake of this paper, my consideration of sugar is indeed, just a thought experiment. For the time being, I consider Caffeine to be gateway #1.

Having said that, however, there now exists some new substances on the market of which are comparatively as easy to obtain as both caffeine AND unregulated marijuana.

Both bath salts (or synthetic marijuana) and vaping solutions are becoming more and more popular within the younger demographics. This could skew this entire Gateway hierarchy (or add more branches than the traditional single one).

Another substance that I am completely overlooking which may also play a part in this matrix (though increasingly less so on account to flavouring bans and vaping) is tobacco (nicotine). Does this fit into this paradigm, or is it it’s own thing? Does smoking cigarettes make one more likely to smoke weed, or is that mostly just a consequence of social connections?

In any case, whether or not there truly are Gateway substances or drugs, the scope has to be more encompassing than of just marijuana. On account of this, I have broken this section of the long form up into several sections so as to explore some of these branches in as much detail as I can.

Part A

This next thought of how marijuana could play the part of a gateway drug actually involves its absence within a given marketplace. Or to put it another way, it’s lack of availability through the same underworld channels which have plenty of other types of substances to unload. I will state up front that, yes, this is also somewhat based around anecdotal observations within my life experience.

Though it has been years since I have last consumed marijuana in any way (I don’t even really drink alcohol all that often), I still remember the conversations with the drug dealers. Not
my conversations with the drug dealers, mind you (I was never more into the scene than passively in social situations). More like overhearing friends and acquaintances calling up their given handful of contacts retailing their desired herb. Though they more often than not had no Green to offer, Rock, Snow or Ice was never hard to find. For everyone outside the lingo, in order of appearance:

  1. Marijuana

  2. Crack

  3. Cocaine

  4. Meth

This time of my life was a time of change and experimentation.

To put it in context, I had lived most of my previous 16 or 17 years with the mindset towards drugs (and of course, those of whom take them) that is not unlike a current day Jeff Sessions. I had absorbed that drugs were bad news, as were the people that did them. Though one of my closest friends was a user (pot smoker. I use the word because my ignorant mind auto equated with a crack smoker), he fit the mould of what such a person looked like in my mind. As such, my inner narrative wasn’t questioned. That is until I found out that another fairly close friend of mine (of whom DIDN’T fit the profile) was also a regular dope user.

In the coming year or so, this would happen once more with another close friend. Interestingly, the same one who got me into smoking by way of little flavoured cigarillos. This was around 2006. Unsurprisingly, movements towards bans on flavoured tobacco products started in 2009, with bans starting to roll out across Canada in 2010. And as of October 1st, 2017, menthol products are also banned across Canada.

Quite the downer that is, considering a part of my pain had just activated with the thought “I am REALLY craving a menthol smoke now!”. Shucks.

Either way, this was also around the time when I would leave home and live with a roommate for the first time. A roommate who enjoyed smoking marijuana, drinking and otherwise partying. Even despite living here, it took some time before I finally get the courage to try the stuff for the first time. After which it actually became a desired experience.

It was here, where I overheard the phone calls. Observing my roommate (or someone else present at the time) cycle through their list of dealers looking unsuccessfully for marijuana. It made me think back to my previously sheltered existence, seeing articles in the paper or stories on the evening news of our local police force boasting about busting dealers and confiscating tens of pounds of weed. The kids are safer because now there is less marijuana available for them to buy on the street, they said.

Meanwhile, in an apartment filled with young stoners, phone calls to many dealers uncover the availability of almost every other common drug BUT marijuana.

So, did we find some?

Yes. But not before being offered a laundry list of other more harmful substances first. Be it Ice, Snow, Rock, or good ole E. Or as it seems to be called these days, Molly. Though THAT may well be something else entirely (I’ve been out of the loop for close to a decade).

Either way, in this instance, marijuana could very well serve as a Gateway substance. However, if my hunch (as insinuated) is correct, the reason for this status IS the very war being waged on its distribution in the first place. Prohibition should have been an excellent example of what happens when you attempt to artificially smash a market with a shitload of money left of the table. In an ideal world, no, teens should not be smoking marijuana. But since we don’t live in an ideal world, is having them resort to meth, crack or cocaine any better?

You can not claim to be for the safety of children if you can not answer that question honestly.

Thankfully, the majority here in Canada have finally gotten the memo and this problem has started to be dealt with. Granted, we are very early in the transition process (as of this writing, it hasn’t even been a year since legalization). The bulk of marijuana sales are still happening through illegal channels, thus kids are (in theory) still not safe. However, the saturation of fentanyl, methamphetamine and other more powerful drugs tends to (rightfully) occupy more police time than marijuana. Thus, whilst not ideal, the teens might not be as vulnerable to something much worse than ANY strength of cannabis.

In time, I suspect that the modern day underground Cannabis economy will go the same way as the underground alcohol economy after the cessation of prohibition. Price, variety, and primarily convenience will eventually drive the majority of consumers to legal sources. Without the demand, all the problems that came with the illegal suppliers go away along with their economic viability.

Unfortunately, I suspect that this will just mean many will make the switch to producing or selling other substances without legal competition. This is an unfortunate side effect of legalization. However, it is also a sign that simple marijuana legalization really doesn’t go far enough.

Part B

Which is why I am of the opinion that ALL drugs ought to be legalized. Or at the very least, decriminalized. Indeed, that is a very bitter pill for even a legal weed accepting society to swallow. However, it is not without precedent.

A good methodology that I would follow would be the to completely decriminalize everything, then transition the money that was once designated for the elimination of drugs towards treatment. Rather than treating addictions (and whatever underlies that symptom) by just rounding up the junkies and throwing them in the slammer, let us show our fellow human beings some care and compassion. And when I say treatment, I don’t necessarily mean your typical faith-based 12 step program either.

Should they play a part in the solution to the rampant fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other drug epidemics?


Should that be the ONLY option that is well funded?



The system of which I was eluding to earlier (decriminalize everything, focus on treatment) is actually the current status quo of Portugal. Having found itself in the midst of multiple drug epidemics at the same time during the 80s on account to its geographical location (among other economic and demographic factors), the nation found itself with a very serious problem in need of drastic action. And drastic action was indeed the action that the nation’s leaders took.

And it would seem that they were successful.

Since decriminalization, lifetime prevalence rates (which measure how many people have consumed a particular drug or drugs over the course of their lifetime) in Portugal have decreased for various age groups.

-students in 7th–9th grades (13–15years old) – 14.1 per-cent in 2001 to 10.6 percent in 2006.

10th–12th grades (16–18 years old) –27.6 percent in 2001 (the year of decriminalization) to 21.6 percent in 2006.

In fact, for those two critical groups of youth (13–15 years and 16–18 years), prevalence rates have declined for virtually every substance since decriminalization (see Figures 4 and 5).33

Interestingly, that white paper was published by Glenn Greenwald for (or VIA, however these things work) The CATO Institute. Though I’m not a big fan of either entity, but data is data.

Part C

And finally, we come to the darkest corner of the Gateway drug rabbit hole. Opioids. Poppies on steroids.

By now, it’s safe to say that Opioid addiction is a pretty common phenomenon in all corners of the western world. A big part of this prevalence I suspect lies with manufacturers misinforming doctors about the addiction potential of these medications. This no doubt causing otherwise good MD’s to make bad calls, thus turning a routine back or neck injury into a slippery slope into addiction hell.

In the places where greed and medicine are legally allowed to coexist, the former often became a big factor in the choice of prescription. Be it little perks or huge paydays, the end results are often the same. The patient is the loser.

Thus, my final contestant for the Gateway Drugs competition should be obvious. In fact, blatantly apparent. All you have to do is listen to one of the hundreds of stories originating from people that ran out of legitimate prescriptions, only to look to the black market to keep getting the fix they now needed.

No, not the fix they desired, like every marijuana smoker. I am indeed saying the fix they needed. Because chemical dependency is a very different beast than marijuana addiction, which is thought to be less chemical dependency than it is a physiological dependency (a characteristic also shared by Nicotine, Cocaine, Methamphetamine and some others, interestingly enough). This is not to say that long term users of any of the above substances won’t run into withdrawal symptoms (fatigue, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and trouble eating are common). It’s more that those withdrawal symptoms tend to be much less severe (or in some cases, life-threatening) than those related to substances such as opioids and alcohol.

Part D

I must now admit defeat. Everything I said was wrong. It’s time for me to go to medical school because I don’t know a fucking thing about Cannabis, cannabinoids, addiction or how gateway substances work.

Well, sort of.

As it turns out, there does indeed seem to be a connection between cannabis use and the development of what researchers term alcohol use disorders. As shown in some studies, those who used cannabis without a previous alcohol use disorder tended to end up with the condition, and those with the condition previously tended to have it get more intense. Scientists hypothesize that the condition is due to a process of the cannabinoids priming the brain (known as cross-sensitization) both for enhanced effects of further cannabinoid use, as well as that for other drugs.

Whilst many readers may be tempted to hop out of their rolly office chairs and shout “HA!”, I encourage you to wait. The results of these studies not only show that most of those users don’t move onto heavier drugs (unlike prescription opioids!), but also that cross-sensitization is not unique to marijuana. Alcohol and Nicotine are also shown to demonstrate a similar response.

It should also be noted that the source above states what would seem to be obvious . . . people that are vulnerable to drug use are most likely to stick with what is easy to obtain, and that social interactions with other drug users tend to influence these choices. Or to put it in the way of every guidance councillor ever:

Beware the follies of peer pressure! Just say no!”

Having said that, I can’t help but think that my life is a perfect example case of such. Well, sort of. No one has ever truly pressured me into doing anything I didn’t want to do (well, short of dragging my ass into work far more often than is healthy). Every previously defined red line crossed was indeed voluntary. None the less, without having the right people with the right connections present, I may well have not had the chances that I did. As it happened, however, not only were they properly connected, but they were also people I felt comfortable around.

Though they (and really, I) didn’t know it at the time, this may well have been the inspiration for my truly open mind. Without them, I may well have turned out to be just another Jeff Sessions clone.

Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 1 – Intro)


In the past 3 to 5 years, few issues have gained more traction than the state of marijuana legislation in many nations. In the United States alone, legislation has gone from common sense status quo to overly draconian relic of a bygone era in the span of around 4 or 5 years (with medical marijuana breaking the ice in many states even before this). And as of 2018, Canada has federally followed suit (with medicinal marijuana being available for at least a decade previous already).
Despite not being a regular user of marijuana, this (along with marriage equality) has been an issue I’ve done what I could to forward since coming of age. As such, it’s nice to see both making headways in the wider world. Even if painfully slowly.

Speaking of the painfully slow forward momentum, the gains that have been made are not without resistance. Much of which is likely based on outdated (or flat out false!) information regarding all aspects of the substance at hand. While this is a bit of a strawman, one needs to look no further than the media to find people who SHOULD know better, talking out their asses. I highlighted a perfect example of this phenomenon HERE.
While the piece is fairly long (I was commenting on an article), it quoted at least 2 MD’s who seemed far more interested in sticking to medicine as they know it than in learning new ways to help patients. This is indeed, an assumption on my part. Even so, however, you will notice the bias demonstrated in their views. The most obvious example of this being making mountains out of molehills. Taking problems with the Canadian system as it stands NOW, and seemingly making no attempt at voicing a possible solution. Despite the fact that I came up with a few of my own. Despite NOT being an MD.

Misinformation (and just old biases) towards marijuana are everywhere, however. Whilst it is annoying when some of the professionals in which people trust with their health and well being are so prone to bias, it is what it is. Marijuana is essentially coming out from a state of taboo so we will be fighting the scourge of misinformation for AT LEAST many years to come. Scientific research has a long ways to go in catching up, which is unfortunate, being that:

1.) The lack thereof is often a source of this misinformation and bias

2.) The plant has massively evolved even under the paradigm of the war on drugs. Legal cultivation practices are going to speed up the process, branching off into who knows how many secondary avenues

Will the researchers ever catch up?

The last point is less stated out of fear than it is out of annoyance. The fact that next to no research has been allowed to commence involving marijuana is a continuing sore spot with me, on account to the stupidity of it all. It would seem to be yet another case of us starting 10 steps behind for no better reason than ideological bias.

In this long form project, I will attempt to explore the many avenues connected to the subject of Marijuana and drugs in general. Despite always having an interest in this subject, some of these branches have been surprising even for me. As of now, I don’t know how many parts this project will have, nor am I following a timeline. It’s just an open-ended piece that I will continue working on until I run out of information.

I hope that this project is useful (or at least, interesting) to read. As usual, any comments, concerns or otherwise can be voiced in the comments section(s).

Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – (Part 5 – Into The Murky Waters Of The Thought Leaders)

Into The Murky Waters Of Expert Testimonials Thought Leaders

In hindsight, I don’t think my usage of the word expert is appropriate in this piece. I ran with it for the gist of my writing despite this feeling, having no suitable alternative occur to me at the time. However, I now tend to favour Thought Leader over Expert.

Online discourse is driven by many different minds that are regarded as being legitimate schoolers be their many followers (the Intellectual Dark Web is a brilliant example of this), but one is often hard-pressed to make a term like Expert fit. 

Which is why I made the change (with slight alterations for purposes of flow) to the rest of this piece.

On a strictly personal note, I can’t help but notice a big reason why Thought Leader may be out of favour to other options (Expert, Intellectual, Scholar, Philosopher etc). Indeed, this piece is not debunking the legitimacy of many of those labels in these contexts. However, one can see why they are preferable to thought leader, because of what the label entails.  

One brilliant mind. Many adoring and inherently inquisitive fans, to the brilliant ideas of my mind. If this leader were a priest or a cult leader, no one would pay any heed, as that is just how she goes. But if the context is so-called rational discourse on real-world subject matter, one should be inspired to pause and truly consider their position.

Is it REALLY a strawman? Or has the popular thought leader indeed become your new high priest?

Another issue of concern in the realm of educational online content is what I call thought leaders. Generally, these people are academics, with credentials relating to their background. The thought leader is generally seen as an invaluable source of information for inquiries within their chosen field of work or study. However, as you get further out from that sweet spot, it is good to evaluate where one stands. If one has a background in (and credentials relating to) neuroscience, then should they be considered a reliable source for gauging the interconnected and multidimensional layers of a subject like the politics of the middle east?

That is the area in which I want to focus on. Thought Leaders that dabble in areas outside of their studied subject matter, or thought leaders that should know full well that their propagating long debunked nonsense.

At times, these 2 categories merge when the out of their league thought leader invites the junk peddler onto their podcast. After which the aforementioned thought leader is horrified by accusations of racism. These accusations based on many things, one of which includes inviting a racially biased junk peddler onto their podcast. Multiple times.

I kept it ambiguous in the last section I wrote. However, I did tip my hand here (and in the intro) as to EXACTLY who I am speaking of. Those that make the connection may feel the sudden urge to rush to my comments section and remind me that I am clearly viewing the whole thing out of context.

Feel Free. You know my views on free speech. I won’t stop you. Now, whether or not I actually care enough to respond . . . that’s on you.

But enough fun.

Online discourse (well, discourse in general) is an interesting thing. Since it is a free for all, everyone has a say. When you have notable status in society, your say has more impact (be it warranted or not). And when you have become known as a thought leader and have the credentials to back it up, your words carry A LOT of weight. In fact, such speech takes on the status of being almost infallible.

Not because the argument is necessarily strong. And not even because the person has any special insight that can’t be found elsewhere. Its all in the speaker.

Of course, most won’t openly admit this, particularly anyone with any ties to the rational community. None the less, the behaviour says it all.

When it comes to many of the more well-established Thinkers of this space (how I hate that concept and label . . . ), their status seems almost equivalent to that of demigods. Figureheads of a collective case of committing the argument from authority fallacy on a mass scale.

This is indeed a controversial view, not to be taken lightly. Worry not. I show my work.

First off, the obvious. Some arguments just can NOT be won.
You can lead with logic and reason. You can even utilize academics when their scope of focus has bearing on the argument at hand. However, sometimes there will simply be no budging the opposing viewpoint. Whether the cause is stubbornness, fear or the very human tendency to refuse the possibility of being incorrect, the end result is the same. They did their heels in even more, and the only thing accomplished is further strengthening their ideology.

In such cases, it is entirely probable that even relevant expert opinions may be discarded. When critiques of an argument (be it from an authority or not!) can not be agreed upon by way of any validated means of doing so (eg. The scientific method), it can generally be regarded as illegitimate.
This can get tricky when the argument is based around an informational vacuum (a common trait of both conspiracy theory and religious dogma). Having said that, however, one can sometimes change the insight of such situations by simply changing their area of focus. Rather than the
What, consider asking Why (at least in the context of conspiracy theory).

We know that there is simply no changing some people. Even if you brought your die-hard creationist friend to see an evolutionary biologist, it likely still won’t do any good. However, aside from making sure we don’t fall into the same bias traps ourselves, we must ensure that our chosen authorities are indeed the best choice. For example, is an evolutionary biologist the best source for information when it comes to the nature of a given religion (ANY of them)?

Many of us tend to idolize personalities with credentials. I can’t be too judgmental here, because I did a short few years ago as well. Given the celebrity culture that this new digital culture has sprung up from, it’s unsurprising that this is where we are today. But that does not make it any less problematic. Particularly when our standards (in terms of analyzing information) are lowered just on account to the source.
This used to primarily entail celebrities endorsing the idiotic and the asinine (thanks for the new wave of measles, guys!). However, the age of digital video and has given birth to a whole new beast. The phenomenon of the credentialed expert openly willing to speak out of his ass on topics they have little insight into.
This makes the discourse even more difficult. Because after all, I don’t have a Ph.D. or any other credentials (aside from a high school diploma). But THEY do. If a layman can’t trust the decorated academic, then who CAN they trust?

Excellent question, and really, the bane of my existence. One has no idea how much faith (or trust, if you are a so-called Apistevist) one has in anything until they are forced to give it up. Which is what makes most of the following fairly easy for me to grasp, yet a challenge to most others.

It all starts with remembering the primary component in all of this. We are complex creatures, and we have built up complex cultures with complex hierarchies. We have learned to give priority to status and other fundamentally flawed markers of credibility (unless demonstrated otherwise). However, the primary component is, and always will be, the human instinct. For better or for worse, in bias or in accuracy.

In the realm of debate, every single participant is equal until demonstrated otherwise. All humans are prone to the same traits (greed, arrogance, fame etc). While education should theoretically serve to temper these oh so primal phenomenons, it doesn’t. Particularly not when money is increasingly entering the mix.

As should be apparent by now, I generally don’t acknowledge so-called experts thought leaders any differently than I do any other person. Or more, I treat their arguments as no different than that of any other person unless proven otherwise. No one should ever be taken at face value. Certainly not when the ability to check is literally at our fingertips.

Not unlike the YouTube personalities of the last chapter, it is not unreasonable to question motives. Why is this person lending credence to this idea?

There is indeed a bit of a pattern here at work here. A pattern that can be summed up by my life lesson of the past 2 years or so. That being simply that we are all human, for better or worse. Education is a good way to help soften the rough edges of the mind, but none the less, the human mind is still the human mind.

Whether the argument is coming from a layman or a decorated intellectual, it must receive the same critical analysis as any other. Particularly so when the expert of authority making the argument (or being cited) is talking beyond their typical scope of research.
However, this is not the only thing to watch for.
Some people are experts in fields that others have long since debunked. Topics that were once previously displaced and left behind, have now made a comeback in the 
Free and open marketplace of ideas.

The free and open marketplace of ideas is a handy and useful thing, at least in theory. Everyone speaks, no one is stifled, and the bad ideas are destroyed by the sunlight that is the opposing arguments.
While it works well in
theory, there is an unacknowledged assumption that all participants are equally equipped to account for all aspects of the debate stage.
Though all voices indeed get heard, there will always be a bias towards the crowd pleaser. Your argument is only as strong as it’s best representative.

Like the big personalities of YouTube, many of the most referenced academic voices of such people also live in that space. They have YouTube Channels and are active on social media. Many have monetized their materials VIA YouTube partnerships, Patreon and other ways. Not unlike much of the rest of the most popular white noise of the space.

It’s hard to point a finger because short of being able to read minds, proving motives can be next to impossible. Having said that, however, fame and fortune are still an excellent corrupter of the mind. Though the modern definitions are slightly modified (you no longer need to break into the societal mainstream to achieve fame), the same phenomenon applies. Add in a healthy dose of personal arrogance in combination with being surrounded by primarily yes men for an entire career, and you end up with a formidable challenge of an academic.
This is not to say they don’t ever 
debate or converse with opposing views. They just tend to pick the lowest of hanging fruit of every criticism available, and then gain merit for debunking that.

Frankly, much of the Nu-atheist movement in a nutshell.

It may make for entertaining pablum for devoted followers of these academics, or for the participants in their various communities. But if my cats could have achieved similar results, I am not impressed.

Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – (Part 4 – The Power Of Charisma)

The Power Of Charisma

We now come to another point of concern I touched on earlier. That is the mass promotion of information based primarily on its popularity (as measured by content interaction). I do not have much concern when it comes to mass showcased content (for example, the general trending now section of a site showing what content is generally liked by most users across the entirety of the platform). Media has always been dictated by collective trends, and this is just a newer (and far more quickly adaptable) variant of this phenomenon. The problem with this methodology arises when the same type of phenomenon is broadly applied within a micro-targeted environment.

Or I should say, problems can arise. It all depends on what kind of niche content one is dealing with.

The social media business model is all about interaction. Something insiders (and increasingly psychologists) have labelled The Attention Economy (remember that?). These platforms and apps bread and butter rely on keeping their users engaged as long as possible, so they use every trick in the book to accomplish this (even psychological manipulation akin to that of a slot machine).

Is this Ethical?

Good luck getting a straight answer to that question.

One of these methods which are employed by platforms is called micro-targeting. It’s all based around the sum of your interactions with the platform. Based on both the information that you share and on your behaviour within the platform environment, the algorithm learns about your various preferences and begins tailoring your daily feed based on this information. This is based on every kind of behaviour, from the explicit (liked products or shared content) to the implicit (how long you lingered on an item before scrolling past).

Platforms take this data and compare it against the millions of samples already in their possession, focusing on serving up the content that is most broadly appealing across the given cohort. With the massive database they are working with, it’s almost impossible for a user to NOT fit into some widely cast net. No matter how individualistic one likes to think you are.

Which made for an interesting new twist to the term Trendy (or in online terms, what is trending now). While one still has trends that cross most demographic boundaries (what I call Macro Trends), there exists a new phenomenon. What I like to call Micro Trends. Such trends are generally limited to a fairly small demographic within the larger picture. However, these demographics can range in size from thousands and tens of thousands to millions and can encompass pretty much any subject matter you can think of. Though I label them Micro Trends, the size of some of them is hardly representative of the word.

As with any other human endeavour, where there is an opportunity there are opportunists. There is generally no shortage of the white noise present in any given popular online topic. However, some traits can help a person rise to the top of the pile.

While these topics have chatter in every form available, there is an inherent bias when it comes to the written word. It’s not exactly a bad thing. When given the choice between reading a fairly lengthy blog post or watching a video (of any length), most will opt for the path of least resistance. Despite my love of the written word, even I prefer getting most of my news in the form of short clips. It’s just the nature of the current paradigm.

To be successful in this format, one first has to have some level of public speaking ability. Whilst one is not necessarily talking live to an audience potentially bigger than any venue on earth could handle, you still have to keep them engaged. Which is where charisma comes in. Though it could be possible to teach this trait, it just comes naturally to some people.

Since social media is a toy and a time waster for a person’s free time, you have to give them a compelling reason to watch your content. If a person has the charisma of a 10th-grade biology teacher who hated teenagers and should have given up his career 20 years previous, you won’t do very well in the marketplace. However, if a person has the natural charm to enteral a crowd in combination with a passion of any sort, you will gain ground. You have the potential to become trendy, even if just for a localized demographic.

I happened across a nice example of this while out for coffee with friends recently. In the form of a YouTube channel run by a retired mechanic named Scotty Kilmer. He seems to know his stuff well and presents this material in an entertaining fashion. As such, he has become very popular (over 1 million seven hundred thousand subs) in his localized demographic.

This system generally has few implications in the realm of benign topics and material. However, problems can come up when the often complex realities of the real world meet the simplistic comprehension of the average layman. Take that not as an insult, but as an observation. Not everyone has the time or desire for in-depth insight into everything, so we make do with what we’ve got (I have a tax guy that I trust for a reason). And what we’ve got, is an ever-growing library of knowledge of every type imaginable. All at our fingertips, generally in whatever format we prefer (be it text or video). All continually updated and curated by millions of people from all different backgrounds.

The obvious downside of this being, it is contributed to and curated by people of all backgrounds. A million different opinions and viewpoints to satisfy a million different curiosities. Even if the material is less word of the gospel than universally agreed upon fact. Take Scotty Kilmer, the popular mechanic I made mention of earlier. Upon probing by a friend of mine with a bit of experience in the trade, I learned of some of Scotty’s not so well documented flaws. Ranging from seemingly unwarranted smearing of German makes (particularly Mercedes) to not knowing where the fuel pump is located on a Toyota Rav 4, all the way to recommending a highly dangerous fix to use on ones brake lines.

I am not an academic elitist. I don’t dismiss an individual’s right to an opinion, nor their right to publicly share it as they please. For me, democratized media is still better than the alternative reality of a decade or 2 previous (despite the flaws). However, where we as a society dropped the ball was in any manner of education regarding this medium beyond the very basic. People learn how to use operating systems, apps and other user interfaces, increasing the number of IoT connected devices that they own as the years march on. What we do NOT learn about, are long term implications (and the virtually unlimited lifespan) of pretty much any public facing interaction with the internet. Nor do we learn about the importance of cybersecurity not just for our own good, or the good of all in our interconnected online orbit, but also for the good of the whole of the internet itself. Few know that older (or simply unpatched) consumer hardware and IOT are a growing source of many online attacks (most notably DDoS attacks), with the most common source devices being old printers and routers. Devices that came out of the box 7 or 8 years ago, but then were forgotten. But whilst good cyber housekeeping and hygiene are important, far more pertinent to this paper is the mass oversight of what was once a common sense rule of thumb (albeit, targeting a different medium). An old adage that (somewhat ironically) lives on in memes one still sometimes sees on social media.

You can’t believe everything you see on TV.

I remember seeing the commercials when I was a kid. There was one with a giraffe, and if I recall, a house hippo. But whilst this would seem to be more important a safeguard to internalize than ever, it seems to have gotten lost in the transition. Filed away somewhere between an MSN chat and a Geocities website.

The concept that I am grappling with (or it seems, the lack thereof) is media literacy. The ability to critically analyze the information you are presented with for any biases or other factors of which may shift your viewpoint in a given direction (be it intentional or not). Though it is a global problem (on account the internet being a global phenomenon), there are variations to the degree of media literacy in people. One of the most obvious predictors in generational.

One can generally drop a pin in at around the millennial generation. From us and forward, people tend to be more aware of the shortfalls of the internet. Going backwards from the millennial’s however, the trend tends to be reversed the further away ones get back. I suspect this to be a product to the very different environments in which we all grew up. 4 different generations, ranging all the way from one that embraced this late in life, right to one that grew up with this technology embedded in modern existence.

Media literacy has never been a priority for society. It’s highly unhelpful to have the cogs TOO educated when just enough to keep the machines running is adequate to run an economy. In this new paradigm, however, learning of the pitfalls of the internet the hard way has meant that subsequent generations tend to view the internet with some skepticism. As opposed to the old, who consume media in exactly the same ways as they consumed the old media. Without any analysis whatsoever.

Though one big thing that has changed is the amount of reach they now have. Instead of being limited to the living room or the local coffee shop, they now have the ability to engage with anyone connected to them. Since the mean number of friends that the average Facebook user has is around 200, that is a whole lot of potential eyes.

In the realm of media literacy, fake news tends to be the focus. And for obvious reasons. After all, we are still grappling with the potential consequences of intentionally orchestrated fake news campaigns. However, there is one new phenomenon of the new media space (particularly in the video category) which is arguably even more slippery than even fake news. That is a segment of the space that I will call Academic YouTube. Not because many of them are in any way fitting of the word. More, because that is the label that many like to assign themselves.

This is a huge umbrella term, encompassing of all manner of content made available to help the public enrich their minds. While there can be good material to be found here, like every other area of the web (and life, really), the other stuff ranges from very light grey to black hole. It’s a cohort that tends to be difficult to analyze because of the sheer amount of nuance involved. Outside of the good stuff, you have the seemingly unknowingly misinformed. Along with those, you have those that SHOULD know they are playing with a flawed deck of cards, but apparently, don’t care. Since we can’t read minds, it’s hard to know who is truly misguided, and who is just playing the part.

We now come back to the concept of charisma. With the open mic show that online streaming platforms are, many will jump on camera to share, rant or otherwise discuss something they are passionate about. But only the most entertaining and engaging personalities will rise to the top. This dynamic is true for regular people, and this dynamic is also true for online intellectuals. Well, intellectuals.

While passion no doubt plays a pivotal role in determining people take the stances that they take on a variety of issues, the evolution of how fans can support content creators has also added a whole new layer of uncertainty to the situation. Digital payment processors like Patreon have not only made up for falling revenue shares for YouTube partners but have now more than ever before, begun to eclipse these earnings. Indeed, this can be a hard claim to back, with the choice to disclose the true amount of funding a creator is getting firmly in their hands. More to the point, however, are the questions in which financial commitments should raise. One of the selling points often parroted by these creators (layman or intellectual) is that they are independent. While most of the news commentators do this a lot (aligning under the banner of independent media), individuals often make this point too. Since the YouTube platform essentially serves as a firewall between creators and their ad revenue, they are supposedly not subordinate to any bosses or other hierarchy.
While this is in a sense true (they are not in a big corporations pocket, generally), one has to consider if the new
bosses are the financial supporters of the material. In the so-called Marketplace Of Ideas, these ones have obviously struck a chord with many. However, if the day comes when this seemingly correct way of thinking is ever exposed as being incorrect, would the supporters accept this? How can you tell if a paid commentator is being authentic with their beliefs when their lifestyle (or potentially even their livelihood) may well be tied up in communicating these beliefs?

When it comes to many of these instances, there is no way to tell. In a sense, you take it on faith that you are not being hoodwinked by a modern day charlatan. This may be an easy circle to square for many, but not for this overtly analytical critic of all that is.

You may notice that I said earlier that one must take it on faith they are not being deceived by a charlatan. This actually is a problem that comes in 2 layers, in terms of potential corrupting sources of funding. And only one of them involves the organic dollars of the crowdsourcing platforms.

It is incredibly easy for traditional lobbyists of traditionally elite benefiting ideas to fund creators which are singing the right tune. They have always done this. However, YouTube is just the path to reaching the latest generations.

And so we come to yet another generational divide brought on by innovation.

In order to reach the powerful voting blocks of both the Baby Boomers and Gen X, Television, radio and print were (and really, still are) the way to go. If not through advertising, than in buying up enough of a stake in these organizations so as to have a say in what makes it to the newsroom floor. However, since the Millennial and Z generations are killing traditional media forms such as print, a new way to target this demographic (and growing voting block) had to be found. And though these kids don’t seem to read much nor watch much television, a huge number of then use YouTube. And not only do they use YouTube, but they also willingly seek out educational content exploring all manner of different ideas. Some of these ideas are beneficial for the status of the elites. Some of these ideas are harmful to the status of the elites. However, all it takes is a small investment to ensure that the ideas that YOU want to spread, go far and wide. All you have to do is work with the voices that are already on the scene, doing the work for you. As these channels grow in popularity, the fans spread the message even further. Considering that each Facebook user has about 200 friends, no advertising campaign could hope to come even CLOSE to that amount of market penetration. Much like the days of AM radio, if you throw funding to 100 seedlings, one of these shows is bound to gain traction and become influential to your target audience. The same is true for cable news. And the same is true for YouTube.

Ideas are big money. Or more accurately, trending ideas are big money.

All of this may come off as a tad conspiratorial. Given that the burden of proof is almost impossible to meet, it’s not unfounded criticism. However, such is just another aspect of the world we live in. With new technology and means of mass communication comes a new means of deceiving people. After all, such opportunities don’t disappear with time, they just evolve.

Such is why I decided to leave this piece ambiguous, politically or otherwise. I know what this looks like to me. I have more than a few examples that I am familiar with. However, since your micro-targeted existence likely differs from mine, I want you to be able to identify these problems in your own context. Free of bias, be it your or mine.