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Elvis Presley: The Dark Truth of Addiction

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Elvis Presley is considered to be one of the greatest musicians of all time. His beautiful voice, shaking hips, and stylish aesthetic will forever be remembered by the entire world. Whilst his career was fruitful, it only lasted until the youthful age of 42 when he sadly died. However, In recent news, Baz Luhrman has just released his new film: an Elvis Presley biopic.

This movie – starring Austin Butler as a very believable Elvis – does a great job at bringing the star back to life and allowing his fans to relive some of his greatest moments. But with each great moment, comes an equally distressing one, as Elvis struggles with addiction. It’s important to remember that with stardom, there are both highs and lows. Let’s take a look at the dark truth of Elvis Presley. 

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Elvis Presley 

To understand the dark side of his fame, first we need to understand how Elvis Presley became who he was. Elvis was born in Mississippi in 1935 and had a modest upbringing. Elvis lived in a poor neighbourhood, which meant he was surrounded with a diverse collection of cultures – including many African American families. Whilst slavery was abolished in 1865, it took a long time before racial equality existed in America. In fact, like with much of the world, no one can say with all honesty that it yet does in 2022. Nonetheless, in 1935, when Elvis was born, racial mixing was frowned upon. In his book in 1935, Du Bois writes:

“What are American children taught today about Reconstruction?… He would in all probability complete his education without any idea of the part which the black race has played in America; of the tremendous moral problem of abolition; of the cause and meaning of the Civil War and the relation which Reconstruction had to democratic government and the labor movement today.”

As you can see, the US establishment did not want to accept the guilt of human slavery, or give credit to the work that black communities had done to make America what it was. This was much the same with music. Rock n Roll, blues, jazz – all of these genres of music were born from black culture. Like many other musicians – including Johnny Cash – Elvis Presley was inspired by this sound from a young age and made it his own. Graceland writes:

“Elvis grows up within a close-knit, working class family, consisting of his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who all live near one another in Tupelo. There is little money, but Vernon and Gladys do their best to provide for their son… Elvis attends the Assembly of God Church with his family, and the music and preaching register deeply with Elvis Presley. Childhood influences include black blues-men in the neighborhood and country music radio programs enjoyed by his family.”

It’s a difficult debate. Elvis Presley was hugely inspired by this kind of music and the dancing around it, but he was allowed to perform and become famous due to the colour of his skin. However, those he was inspired by, had to sit idly by and do the best they could in a world that did not accept them. Many of his hit songs – including Hound Dog, Mystery Train, Money Honey and Milkcow Blues Boogie – were first sung by black artists. So, the question is, did Elvis steal music from black communities? Or did he shine a light on the greatness of that music? The answer to this is definitely up for debate. Nonetheless, Elvis Presley had a charisma, a moving style and a sound that was unlike anything that the mainstream media had heard before. 

His Career

Elvis Presley was bought a guitar by his mother when he was only 11 years old, and from there, he went on to win a talent show at his school in Memphis. He continued to sing and play, until he was signed by a record label. His first single was That’s All Right, which was released in 1954. In 1955, his career started to heat up, with his number 1 hit: Heartbreak Hotel. People loved his goodlocks, sound and promiscuous hips. In response, he signed with RCA Records – thanks to his manager: Tom Parker. Elvis Presley’s manager was an infamous figure:

“Colonel Tom is credited as being the man who made Elvis Presley a star. He received more than half of the income from Elvis’s early success, which at the time was an unprecedented figure for a music manager. The manager negotiated Elvis’s expensive merchandising deals, TV appearances, and acting roles, but turned down offers to allow Elvis to tour overseas, potentially due to his status as an illegal immigrant, which would have been exposed.”

The role of Tom Parker in Elvis’ death has been much debated. Nonetheless, From the 50s to 60s, Elvis’s career went from strength to strength. He became a Hollywood star, a TV host and continued to release some of his greatest ever music: Viva Las Vegas (1964) and Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962). He also married Priscilla, the mother of his children and true love. Presley went on to win three grammy awards, the lifetime achievement award and had 18 number 1 hits. He is considered by many as the best solo artist that ever lived. 

The King’s Fall

Every bright star will inevitably one day go out. Elvis Presley, at age 42, was found dead in his Memphis mansion. It was 16th August, 1977. At first, it was released to the press that he had died from a natural heart attack, not triggered or involving drugs. However, it was soon revealed that drugs had played a major part and, in fact, Elvis Presley had been suffering from a prescription drug addiction for many years. PBS writes:

“When the toxicology report came back several weeks later, however, Elvis’ blood was found to contain very high levels of the opiates Dilaudid, Percodan, Demerol, and codeine — as well as Quaaludes.”

Elvis Presley, like many others, had an opioid addiction. A drug that is highly addictive due to its pain relief. It can be very hard to wean yourself off it once you get used to it. Elvis was given an illegal amount of prescribed drugs by his personal physician, “Dr Nick”. Dr Nick went on to give Elvis Presley thousands of opioids and amphetamine drugs to help him through arduous tours and performances. This became an addiction. Dr Nick, when being trialled for his irresponsible dealings with Presley, said that Elvis… 

“felt that by getting drugs from a doctor, he wasn’t the common everyday junkie getting something off the street.”

Unfortunately, Elvis, like many others, was struck by the power and hollowness of fame. What began as a passion, became work. Elvis Presley was made to perform like a puppet, and was fed whatever drugs would keep him from cancelling a show. His manager, Tom Parker, is highly responsible for this. He was an avid gambler, and had a deal with the Las Vegas Hilton that Elvis played a great deal of his shows at. He owed the casino around 30 million dollars. The deal was that they would eradicate all of Parker’s debts, if Elvis Presley continued to play. Elvis played there for months without the knowledge of this deal. By the end of Elvis’ life, his addiction and long tours meant he really didn’t have that many people  around him left that he could trust. Priscilla had divorced him after Elvis rejected her plea for him to get medical help. Elvis History writes:

“In 1976, at the age of 41, he worked tirelessly on the road—122 concerts in 74 cities. In the first six months of 1977, he kept up the tempo with 54 shows in 49 cities. That frenetic pace fueled his drug habit and certainly contributed to his early death.”

In his last ever performance on June 26th, 1977 in Indianapolis, there were 18,000 people present. From watching the video, you can see that Elvis still had the same natural ability and charm. It is, however, obvious to see how the drug addiction had changed him. It became more usual to see him slur his words and mumble his crowd interactions out. He was a different person to who he had been, but he still had the undoubtable talent within him. 

Conclusion

Elvis Presley is one of the most adored and successful solo musicians ever. The music he played will forever be listened to for centuries to come. The sad truth is that his death, unlike his career, was not extraordinary. In the history of fame, it was a very usual demise. He, like many other musicians, was swallowed by the world of music business and fame, packaged, used, and thrown back up again. The young boy from Mississippi that loved to play and sing was never lost. But as time went on, the drug use – brought about by deep unhappiness – made that version of him harder to find.

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Lifestyle

Are Penis Envy mushrooms actually 2-3x more potent than other strains?

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These notorious shrooms often pack high amounts of psilocybin and psilocin. But according to the experts, that doesn’t necessarily translate into an intense trip.

Sheesh, what would Freud have to say about these??

Although tons of different strains of psychedelic mushrooms grow across the planet (and get cultivated in labs), only one variety has become iconic in its own right, and even managed to penetrate the American mainstream.

Aptly named for its phallic shape—and boasting a peculiar backstory to boot—Penis Envy (PE) has gained a wide-reaching reputation for its extraordinary potency. 

Various reports and spore retailers claim that PE packs two to three times the punch of a standard mushroom. Its potency deviates so much from other strains, according to the journalist and scientist Hamilton Morris, that it’s “almost treated like a different species entirely.”

As a result, PE has become one of the most sought-after strains of psilocybe cubensis, the most common species of psychedelic mushroom. According to the spore retailer Mushly, PE is the second-most searched variety in its catalog. And Morris, for one, attests that “many spore retailers” report that it’s their best-selling variety, period. 

Penis Envy’s popularity and reputation, however, invite many questions on the subject of mushroom potency: How exactly do we determine the strength of a particular mushroom, and how much weight should we put in those numbers? In other words, does high potency necessarily translate to a more intense experience?

To learn more about PE mushrooms, their potency, and what the data actually means for consumers, I reached out to Oakland Hyphae, a leading organization in the field of mushroom testing and research. Oakland Hyphae additionally runs the highly influential Psilocybin Cup series, as well as regular conferences on psychedelics. 

And along the way, naturally, I tried some Penis Envy for myself to see whether they hit as hard as their reputation led me to believe.

“Absolutely there’s a zeitgeist around this, a buzz around this,” Ian Bollinger, the Scientific Director at Oakland Hyphae, told Leafly. “Penis Envy are the long-stemmed beauty roses of the environment at this point.”

A most enviable name

Needless to say, Penis Envy has found an audience in no small part because of its eye-catching name. “I think it’s brilliant marketing, period,” Reggie Harris, the founder of Oakland Hyphae, told Leafly.

“It does look like a little circumcised penis,” Harris added, in regards to the mushroom’s thick stem and bulbous cap, which hardly extends beyond the stem.

“It’s one of the few mushrooms that you could look at and identify what it is. With most mushrooms, the phenotypes are different. A Burma mushroom could look one way if I grow it under certain conditions, and a whole different way if someone else grows it under different conditions.”

two men, one in blue skirt, standing in front of Oakland Hyphae sign and psych conference sign
Who ya gonna call? Shroom busters! Meet Ian Bollinger and Reggie Harris of Oakland Hyphae (Courtesy of Oakland Hyphae)

Experts and growers have identified and cultivated other PE crosses as well: For instance, as Harris noted, Albino Penis Envy (known commonly as APE) boasts a white coloring. Penis Envy Uncut, on the other hand, takes its name from, well, the particulars of its contours.

Peeking into PE’s murky, murder-tinted history

The aforementioned Hamilton Morris has played an outsized role in educating the public about the history of Penis Envy. Morris is additionally responsible for revising his own admittedly inaccurate reporting.

In 2009, he wrote an article for Vice that long served as the de facto history of the singular shroom. Morris reported that in 1971, the famed ethnobotanist Terence McKenna discovered a flush of psychedelic mushrooms growing on a pile of cattle dung in the Colombian Amazon, and brought spore prints of the shrooms back to the United States. 

Morris wrote in Vice that one of the spore prints found its way to a doctor and shroom enthusiast named Stephen Pollock, who cultivated the spores into a particular mushroom that “burst from its jar like a glistening Oscar Mayer wiener.” Pollock was shot dead in 1981, and, as Morris alleged, the “great Amazonian proto-penis lay beside him.” The case was never solved.

But in 2021, in a two and a half hour podcast uploaded to YouTube this April, Morris acknowledged that one of his own sources, an infamous mycologist known as Mushroom John, had intentionally misled him about the history of Penis Envy. 

In the revised story, much credit for the cultivation of PE goes to a reclusive mycologist named Richard Guitierrez, also known as Rich Gee. Morris interviews Guitierrez, who explains that he received one of McKenna’s original spores from a hairdresser named Jules, who was “the guy you talked to” about acquiring mushrooms.

The mushroom’s name, Guitierrez alleges, came from a chat he had with a gaggle of strippers in 1977, whose description of the mushrooms as “donkey dongs” inspired Guitierrez to ask them if they had penis envy.

You know, standard nomenclature.

Related

Do magic mushrooms have ‘strains’ like cannabis?

So is Penis Envy *actually* that potent?

Evaluating the potency of Penis Envy—or any psychedelic mushroom, for that matter—underscores a deeper question at the heart of Oakland Hyphae’s work: What does potency data even mean in the context of psychedelic mushrooms?

Harris and Bollinger have no trouble identifying and measuring the various active compounds in their samples, which include, but are not limited to, psilocybin and psilocin. (To do so, they employ some of the same machines that chemists use to test cannabis for cannabinoid content.)

But that data, they argue, doesn’t paint a full picture. 

They explained that the ways in which those compounds interact with each other—a process somewhat analogous to cannabis’ entourage effect—remain quite mysterious.

Furthermore, they pointed out that anecdotal accounts from consumers muddy the metrics of potency. 

white mushroom with large cap grows in soil
C’mon, little guy! An APE grows upwards and onwards. (Peter/AdobeStock)

Harris recalled situations in which particular mushroom samples did not boast particularly high quantities of psilocybin, psilocin, or other active compounds, but, according to consumers, fueled extremely intense trips. 

“High numbers don’t always equal a long trip or an intense experience. ‘Big number doesn’t equal good’ is the argument we’re trying to bring to the conversation. It’s understanding the profile and the experience. It’s going to be a lot more personalized,” he explained.

So when it comes to Penis Envy’s notorious potency, it may be wise to consider its reputation with a grain of salt.

“Our data shows that PE tends to perform higher, but it’s random every single time,” Harris said.

“From the testing we’ve done, PE is, more consistently than not, more potent than other cubensis varieties of mushroom,” he added. “It comes out a little stronger than your average run of the mill cubensis mushroom.”

The owner of Mushly—who asked to remain anonymous for this story—similarly downplayed PE’s notorious potency. “People say PE is three times stronger,” they told me in an email. “But in my personal experience that hasn’t always been the case.”

large Penis Envy mushroom in hand
That’s one big shroom. (Courtesy of Instagram account @she.grows.fungi and Oakland Hyphae)

Microdosing didn’t cut it for me

When I tried PE myself, I took a very small dose: Just under one gram. I’ve tangled with mushrooms on a handful of occasions, and consistently prefer a small dose. Since I’d heard PE was so potent, I figured I’d go small to ideally set myself up for a similar experience.

Alas, I found out, I’d gone too small.

On a summertime hike through western Montana, I kept waiting for, you know, something to happen. But it never really did, aside from an occasional visual shimmer and mild euphoria. I had a swell day, but the PE acted more like a buzzy sativa than a potent psychedelic. 

In other words, what I’d hoped would be a light dose turned out to be a microdose.

Related

What are the potential risks of microdosing psychedelics?

When I mentioned my experience to Harris, he chided me gently. “To be honest, taking less than three and a half grams of any mushroom, I think, is unfair, period. What you took was the high end of a microdose, which is supposed to be barely perceivable,” he said.

Bollinger countered that a little less—two or two and a half grams—would have sufficed as a “good exploratory space.”

Oops. 

At any rate, I hope to have another chance to try them again soon, or, for that matter, one of the growing number of PE hybrids. Thanks to its popularity, PE has become a common strain to cross, in a lab setting.

“[Growers] are creating very interesting non-natural forms that are just as variable as the cannabis plant. Nothing is sativa, nothing is indica anymore. Everything’s a hybrid,” Bollinger said.

“We’re at the outset of that in the mushroom space. And Penis Envy is leading the charge,” he added.

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Max Savage Levenson

Max Savage Levenson likely has the lowest cannabis tolerance of any writer on the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other bespectacled folk. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.

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Study: Kids who vape tobacco are more likely to go on to use cannabis – Cannabis Business Executive

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Is There Sufficient Clinical Evidence To Reschedule Cannabis?

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The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies all drugs under five distinct categories (from schedule I, to V). The listing and scheduling of drugs by the DEA is contained in the Controlled substances act (CSA).

Currently, cannabis is classified under schedule 1 in the US, together with other “hard drugs” such as peyote and heroin. Drugs in this schedule have “no known medical value and a high potential for abuse.” One can argue that if science can prove that cannabis indeed has medical value then it will no longer qualify to be classified under schedule 1, right?

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Photo by ChrisSteer/Getty Images

A recent study published in the Journal of Cannabis Research showed that to date close to 30,000 cannabis-related studies have been conducted.  However, when it comes to getting FDA approval for drugs, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are the gold standard for evaluating the safety and efficacy of investigational drugs.

RCTs use “randomization” to eliminate bias. Because they have comparable groups, they are likely to provide the highest evidence for establishing a causal relationship between an intervention and the outcome.

The Therapeutic Use of Cannabis Goes Way Back

Cannabis sativa has been used as medicine in different parts of the world for over two millennia. However, due to propaganda and personal interests, cannabis use was banned by the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act and consequently it was removed from the 12th edition of US pharmacopeia. In 1985, pharmaceutical companies in the US received the go ahead to develop synthetic THC preparations on the form of dronabinol and nabilone which are still in use today.

  • Dronabinol is used to treat HIV/AIDS related anorexia and chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting (CINV)
  • Nabilone is also used to treat CINV and neuropathic pain

Nabiximols is an oromucosal spray containing THC and CBD in a 1:1 ratio that’s used to treat MS pain and spasticity. It is approved for use in the UK and Canada, even though the drugs is still undergoing phase 3 clinical trials in the US.

Science-Backed Evidence to Reschedule Cannabis

This 2017 review by the National Academies of Science, Eng, and Medicine claims that the only evidence (randomized trials) for the efficacy of medical cannabis is for the following conditions:

  • Chronic pain
  • Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
  • Patient-reported spasticity symptoms in MS

Evidence for Chronic Pain

Five systematic reviews were considered and eventually Whiting et al 2015 was the most comprehensive. It included 28 randomized trials with a total of 2,454 participants. Most of this trials evaluated the efficacy of nabiximols in relieving chronic pain. The authors concluded that there’s substantial evidence to support cannabis use in treating chronic pain in adults.

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Evidence for Chemotherapy Induced Nausea and Vomiting (CINV)

The review by Whiting et al which included 28 RCTs with 1,772 participants was used here. Cannabinoid therapies included the following:

  • Nabilone
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol
  • Levonantradol
  • Dronabinol
  • Nabiximols

The authors concluded that oral cannabinoids (dronabinol and nabilone) are effective as anti-emetics in the treatment of CINV.

Evidence for MS Spasticity

Two systematic reviews were considered here, one of them being Whiting et al 2015. Nabiximols and nabilone showed a positive improvement in spasticity symptoms in both reviews. The authors concluded that there’s substantial evidence supporting the usefulness of oral cannabinoids in reducing spasticity symptoms in MS.

Conditions With Limited Evidence

The authors evaluated the usefulness of cannabinoids in treating several other conditions for which they found “insufficient or limited evidence.” They include the following:

  • Cancer
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Dystonia
  • Dementia
  • Glaucoma
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia and other psychoses

Three medical conditions seems like good enough evidence to remove cannabis from schedule 1, but is there other credible research that supports medical cannabis for other conditions?

In 2018, the FDA approved the first CBD-based drug, Epidiolex, for the treatment of severe childhood seizures: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Dravet syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis complex. Does this ratify the medical value of cannabis?

This article originally appeared on MyCannabis and has been reposted with permission.



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