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Rain, wind equals no 4-20 blow out for Parliament Hill, but West Coast shines

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  • OTTAWA — It was a blow out, man, the kind that’s a total drag.

    Protesters dotted one half of Parliament Hill’s front lawn on a blustery, rainy Saturday at the climax the first 4-20 “Weed Day” demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

    The turnout disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed as the Peace Tower clock struck 4:20 p.m., sparking simultaneous smart phone photography and the lighting of joints, bongs and pipes.

    “The weather didn’t co-operate. It kind of shut us down,” Shawn Mac, a program director for 4-20 Ottawa, said moments earlier. “Coming and going, we’ve probably seen about 3,000, but right now, probably about a thousand.”

    A bout of blowing rain earlier in the afternoon meant the shutdown of a public address system, and a made for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, most huddled under plastic ponchos or tarps.

    Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa was one of early arrivals, dressed in a dark hoodie under a black umbrella.

    “It’s still nice to be out with a few like-minded people,” she said laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty and soaked brownish yellow lawn. 

    Organizers learned a tough lesson even before the rain started falling — new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.

    Mac said his group is encountering more red tape Saturday than on past April 20 protests.

    Organizers can’t use the steps to the now-closed Centre Block, which means spectators will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear — something Mac calls a “huge letdown.” 

    “Hearing is already a problem so not being able to see is a crushing blow,” he said.

    Organizers have also been told to limit musical performers to just two, Mac said, adding that isn’t in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill. 

    New limits on auto access also meant organizers had to haul equipment and material by hand up to the lawn from Wellington Street, he added.

    “It’s frustrating because legalization was supposed to … make things easier and not more complicated,” he said.

    Lingering post-legalization concerns are sustaining a sense of protest among 4-20 event organizers across the country.

    They include concerns over the government’s decision to tax medicinal marijuana, slow progress on legislation to expedite pardons for people previously convicted of simple pot possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are grappling with retail sales and land-use laws for growing pot.

    The federal government also has yet to legalize edible marijuana products and has six more months to set rules to do so. 

    “Everything about legalization has made things harder, which is the opposite of what is was supposed to be,” said Mac.

    Others were more upbeat and saw Saturday’s event as an inspiration to the world.

    “Again, the world is watching, and I’m very proud of Canada today and Canadians,” said Kelly Coulter, a cannabis policy adviser based in British Columbia.

    She said Canada is helping change global attitudes and policies as the first G7 nation to legalize pot, and she expected people from Germany and Britain to take part in Saturday’s festivities on the Hill.

    It was a far cry from Ottawa’s subdued festivities on the West Coast, as hoards of people crowded Vancouver’s Sunset Beach to mark the city’s 25th annual 4-20 event warmed by rays of glorious spring sunshine amid a low lying marijuana haze.

    A much smaller crowd gathered at the front lawn of British Columbia’s legislature in Victoria, but the mood was equally celebratory and defiant.

    “Today, in many ways, is bittersweet for us,” said long-time marijuana activist Ted Smith, who led the countdown chant to 4:20 p.m. in Victoria. “We’re happy it’s legalized, sure, but there’s a lot of things to protest.”

    Smith, in between puffs from a large joint, said the current marijuana rules are biased against entrepreneurs who want to sell their products in much the same way as craft brewers and winemakers.

    And a downpour didn’t dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end, where revellers trampled through the muddy grass to the steady thrum of house music.

    Cannabis artisans sold their wares at tarp-covered stands, many expressing hope that they could one day emerge from the “grey market” to set up shop at brick-and-mortar storefronts.

    Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said the mood Saturday was more celebratory than in past 4-20 gatherings, which felt more like protests.

    The current regime may not be the “legalization people asked for,” Loizos said, but the cannabis community should take heart in just how far Canada has come.

    “I see a lot of people complaining, whatever — don’t,” he said. “We’re just going to celebrate here and enjoy the day.”

    — with files from Adina Bresge and Dirk Meissner.

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press



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    Healthy eating obsession can be a sign of mental-health struggles: study

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  • TORONTO — While we should all strive for a balanced diet, York University researchers say the extreme pursuit of healthy eating can be a sign of mental-health struggles.

    Jennifer Mills, an associate professor in York’s psychology department, co-wrote a recent paper on orthorexia nervosa, which she describes as an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, published in the journal Appetite.

    In reviewing academic literature on the subject, the authors found that people with a history of eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, perfectionism and other psychological and behavioural tendencies were at higher risk of developing orthorexia.

    “There is nothing wrong with healthy eating. Healthy eating is something we should all aspire to,” Mills said in an interview. “But (we need) to be aware that mental-health difficulties can manifest through food.”

    Orthorexia has not been recognized in the standard manual psychiatrists use to diagnose mental disorders, and the York study found research on the subject is limited.

    But as so-called clean diets have picked up steam, Mills said there’s been growing interest in medical and research circles about the social and psychological side-effects of a “pathological” preoccupation with healthy eating.

    While there’s overlap between the risk factors for orthorexia and certain eating disorders — such as poor body image, a drive for thinness and dieting — Mills said the conditions differ in key ways, particularly their motivations.

    People with a restrictive eating disorder like anorexia will typically reduce their food intake in order to reach a low body weight or change their appearance. But for those with orthorexia, Mills said the focus on food is about quality rather than quantity.

    Many people with orthorexia are proud of their bodies, she said, but are decidedly picky about what they put in them.

    This often involves eliminating certain types of food from their diets, such as sugar, saturated fat, gluten, animal products, artificial flavours and preservatives.

    For some, she said, the list of forbidden foods can grow so long that their diet may be lacking in essential nutrients, which in severe cases can lead to health hazards such as anaemia, vitamin deficiencies or excessive weight loss.

    But Mills said one of the reasons orthorexia tends to go overlooked, including by medical professionals, is that many people with the condition are physically healthy, even though they may be suffering psychologically.

    “When people go to their doctors and say, ‘I eat really healthy,’ the most typical response they’ll get is, ‘That’s great… Keep doing what you’re doing,'” said Mills.

    “But they may be struggling more privately with just this sense that they’re starting to lose control, that this is actually taking away from their life.”

    For individuals with orthorexia, eating foods that conflict with their diets is likely to cause extreme guilt or anxiety, said Mills. This distress is usually bound up in perceived risks of disease or physical impairment. But in treating their bodies as temples of health, some may lose sight of their mental welfare, she said.

    They may spend a lot of time and money planning and preparing meals, and can find it difficult to eat food made by others, Mills said.

    Some strict dieters find these sacrifices are worth it given the health benefits, Mills acknowledged. But people with orthorexia may feel their fixation on food is so all-consuming that it interferes with their work, family and social activities, she said.

    “When we’re extremely stressed or overwhelmed, we look for ways of coping. And for some people, having very, very tight control over their eating is a way for them to feel like they’re in control, but then the irony is that they’re not,” she said.

    “Being healthy mentally means having flexibility, and having time and mental space freed up for other kinds of things, and not having your world revolve around food.”

    Mills said one of her research team’s most surprising findings was that orthorexia occurs in relatively equal rates between men and women. This suggests the condition may be less like an eating disorder, which disproportionately affect women and girls, and more like anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, which are similarly prevalent across genders, she said.

    She said diagnosing orthorexia can be slippery, because it isn’t defined by specific eating habits, but rather, a pattern of problematic thoughts and behaviours that detract from a person’s quality of life.

    Mills hopes the study increases awareness about orthorexia, a condition she believes is on the rise, fuelled by a culture that prizes healthy eating and wellness among its ultimate virtues.

    “It’s all around us: messages about how we should be doing better; we should be eating better; we should be constantly striving to improve ourselves,” she said.

    “I think it has a way of encouraging black-and-white thinking about food … and (that) can make people feel worse about themselves.”

    Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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    Ontario researchers invent way to store vaccines at higher temperatures

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  • Ontario researchers say they’ve come up with a simple way to store vaccines at higher temperatures for weeks at a time, potentially solving a major problem in the fight against preventable diseases around the world.

    The cheap technology from the team at McMaster University involves the use of a sugary gel that allows for easier, longer shipments of vaccines that typically need to be consistently stored at cold temperatures.

    “If we can make vaccines easier and more accessible through technology, then we can save a lot of lives,” said Vincent Leung, a chemical engineering professor and the lead author of the study that was published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports.

    Most vaccines require the “cold chain,” an uninterrupted refrigerated supply chain where they’re stored at temperatures between 2 C and 8 C at all times. Otherwise, the effectiveness of vaccines can be greatly affected, the study notes.

    Leung worked for four years on the project as part of his doctoral research and had help from other disciplines, including biochemists and immunologists, he said.

    The solution the researchers devised is simple.

    McMaster chemical engineers had previously created a sugary gel for use in various applications, including an edible coating that can prolong the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.

    The research team mixed two sugars — pullulan and trehalose — with the vaccines and let them dry, either by air, or vacuum to speed up the process. The gel seals in the vaccine, which can later be reconstituted with water by clinicians in the field and given to patients.

    “It’s easier to think of Listerine breath strips because that’s the main material,” Leung explained. “It will form a film like that, then (is) put into a vial for deployment.”

    For the study, the research team stored mixtures of the sugary gel and numerous vaccine types at various temperatures for different lengths of time and then tested the vaccines.

    They found, for example, that “enveloped DNA vaccines” that usually require consistent cold storage, such as the herpes simplex virus type 2 vaccine, retained their efficacy for at least two months of storage at 40 C with the use of the sugary gel. The team also showed the inactivated influenza vaccine remained effective after three months of storage at 40 C.

    “This can really improve deployment and give easier access to those that don’t have refrigeration or access to electricity,” Leung said.

    The fact that the dried gel vaccine can easily be reconstituted by clinicians in the field could make the storage and transportation method invaluable in certain situations, such as the delivery of Ebola vaccines in remote areas of Africa.

    “Part of our goal was to have a very simple and cost-effective solution to address this accessibility issue for vaccines,” Leung said.

    The research team is now looking at partnerships and more funding to further develop the technology, and is also going through the proper regulatory procedures to be approved by the likes of Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

    “The good thing is the sugars we’re using are already used in the food and drug industry and approved by FDA and Health Canada,” Leung said. “On that end, it should not be as hard to get it approved.”

    Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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