Points Roundtable, “Becoming a Marihuana User”: Mary Jane Gibson

Editor’s Note: Today’s addition to our ongoing roundtable on Howard Becker’s 1953 book “Becoming a Marihuana User” comes from Mary Jane Gibson, the entertainment editor at High Times magazine. Welcome, Mary Jane!

MJG HTThose who follow our publication may be noticing a growing trend in the evolution of HIGH TIMES. It has gone from a countercultural, back-alley, both literally and figuratively “seedy” magazine to a fully budded and blossoming mainstream lifestyle magazine for the mercifully medicalized, sometime decriminalized—and in some places totally legalized—partakers of the holy smoke, deep dab, and altering edible. I cannot, and will not, endeavor to compete with the other illustrious and accomplished panelists commenting here. Instead, I’d like to offer a few words on cannabis culture and HIGH TIMES.

As Howard S. Becker writes in Becoming a Marihuana User, smoking weed in the 1950s was not a Social Evil. Nobody cared much about people who smoked it, nobody studied it, and nobody apart from Becker was writing about it. The hippie culture’s embrace of weed in the 1960s came to symbolize anti-establishment rebellion, freeing the mind from a mainstream way of life that developed into the now all-too-familiar dominant corporate culture. Smoking weed was paired with psychedelics, and the counterculture tuned in, turned on and dropped out. Along came the 1970s—and at that time of civil rights and anti-war movements, when many Americans believed that marijuana should (and would) be legalized, taxed and regulated like alcohol and tobacco, President Lyndon B. Johnson created the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in an effort to quash social unrest (i.e., drug use) across the country. The federal government’s War on Drugs began in earnest.

In 1974, 21 years after Howard S. Becker wrote Becoming a Marihuana User, Thomas King Forçade founded HIGH TIMES magazine. Forçade was a leader in the underground press, and a dedicated marijuana smuggler. His vision for HIGH TIMES was simple: to give voice to the freedom to pursue alternative consciousness. Forçade believed that marijuana prohibition had within it the seeds of its own destruction. He brought together a community of marijuana smokers and growers by providing the counterculture with a national forum in the form of a print magazine. HIGH TIMES was an immediate hit—the first issue was reprinted four times to meet the high demand. That community of marijuana smokers and growers, without whom, Becker argues, marijuana use and knowledge would not be disseminated, has stayed strong for 41 years. And HIGH TIMES has, for 41 years, been providing authentic, reliable marijuana-related information, activism, entertainment, and news.

Setting aside marijuana use as religious sacrament, or as medication for war veterans, epilepsy sufferers, cancer patients and thousands—nay, hundreds of thousands—of others, the widespread use of marijuana for pleasure, whether learned or discovered on one’s own, is undeniable. As of this writing, recreational marijuana has been made legal in four states: Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon. High-potency strains of weed (“flowers”), cannabis concentrates (“dabs”) and marijuana edibles are widely available and highly effective. On page xiv of the preface to Becoming a Marihuana User, one man addresses Becker’s assertion that one needs to “learn to be high” from smoking weed: “The effects were just… WHAM!!!… like a hammer at the back of the head… that guy Becker should change his dealer.” First-time users needn’t worry nowadays—if you want to get high, you’ll have no trouble finding strong weed to do the trick.

It can be true, as observed by Becker, that for a first-time user who smokes, dabs or ingests a powerful edible, identifying the resulting high as pleasurable can be… difficult. Columnist Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote of her experience after ingesting a medicated candy bar, “I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.” HIGH TIMES staffers now refer to overindulging in edibles to the point of discomfort as “doing a Dowd.” To be clear: Edibles, dabs, and high-potency strains of weed will seriously affect even the first-time user. Just as an inexperienced drinker pounding several shots of whiskey will undoubtedly get uncomfortably smashed and a seasoned imbiber might enjoy knocking back a few martinis without batting an eye, so it is with marijuana. Know your limits. If you’ve never smoked pot, don’t start with a dab or a chocolate bar infused with 1000 milligrams of THC.

Becker writes that smoking weed is a socially acquired taste akin to the acquired taste for “oysters or dry martinis.” That is true for some consumers; however, there are also people who immediately have an affinity for the herb. And when evaluating the effects of smoking pot as opposed to using harder drugs or drinking alcohol, studies show that marijuana is a safer alternative to recreate with. Instead of getting hammered on a bottle of Jack Daniels, take a toke and go to bed. You’ll sleep like a baby, and you’ll wake up without a hangover.

HIGH TIMES provides the ever-growing cannabis industry with a forum for a continuing conversation about marijuana, and offers a vision for all aspects of the cannabis lifestyle. HIGH TIMES is dedicated to continuing the fight for marijuana legalization and campaigning for the release of all those serving prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses.


Mary Jane Gibson

NB: Mary Jane is my real name. I was named for my great aunt. It’s worked out well for me.

Jonathon Erlen’s Latest Dissertation Abstracts

Editor’s Note: Readers of Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society’s journal, are aware of Jonathon Erlen’s ongoing bibliography of recent dissertations related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Until recently, Dr. Erlen, the History of Medicine Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh, curated and published his dissertation lists in the print edition of the journal. In August of 2014, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society moved the publication of Erlen’s bibliography to the blog. Below, we highlight a few of the most intriguing entries from Erlen’s selections from the ProQuest index. 

The War on Drugs in the American states: Variations in sentencing policies over time

Author: Neill, Katharine Anna

Department: Criminology/Public Policy

Institution: Old Dominion University

Advisor: Morris, John C.

Abstract: Since the 1970s US drug policy has focused on harsh punishments for drug offenders. A wealth of research indicates that the social and political context of the drug policy discourse is a greater factor in determining drug policy than rising rates of drug use or drug-related crime. While considerable research has examined the factors driving federal drug policy, fewer studies have examined drug policy at the state level. This dissertation studies state drug sentencing policy to determine what factors may explain variation across states. By focusing on the period from 1975 to 2002, this study concentrates on policies passed during the War on Drugs era, which began in 1971 and has only recently shown signs of abating. A policy design framework is used to argue that the social constructions of drug offenders–the way in which they are perceived in society–determines the policies directed towards them, and that negative perceptions are likely to result in more punitive policy. This research also hypothesizes that several other factors are likely to influence punitive drug policy, including the desire to control threatening populations, a conservative political environment, and bureaucratic incentives to pursue drug crimes. Using panel data analysis, this study finds partial support for the premises that negative social constructions of drug offenders and bureaucratic incentives affect state drug sentencing policy.

The efficacy of substance abuse treatment, as regards patient gender, life stage, primary diagnosis, and level of care: A retrospective analysis

Author: Herman, Paul

Department: Harold Abel School of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Institution: Capella University

Advisor: Kramer, Thomas

Abstract: Substance abuse treatment became formalized in the 1950’s, and the prevalent treatment approach became known as the “Minnesota Model”; it was designed to treat the adult, alcoholic male in an inpatient setting. In time, rehabilitation programs began to treat women, adolescents, those addicted to substances other than alcohol, and those treated in outpatient settings. However, the same treatment model has prevailed, and has been applied to other treatment settings than originally intended. The current research project studied the efficacy of substance abuse treatment when considering the variables of client gender – male or female, life stage – adult or adolescent, primary drug classification – alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, or opiates, and treatment setting – Inpatient or Intensive Outpatient. Efficacy was operationally defined as the client completing recommended treatment, and the research questions included examining which of the variables mentioned was associated with treatment completion rates. The chi-square test of independence was used to determine if there was a relationship between the independent variables mentioned and treatment completion. Analysis showed a significant relationship in every instance tested, though not always what was expected: adults completed treatment significantly more than adolescents – expected; the model was designed for adults; males completed treatment significantly more than females – expected; the model was designed for males; opiate addicts completed treatment significantly more than other drug classifications – unexpected; the model was designed for alcoholics; those treated in inpatient settings completed treatment significantly more than those treated in Intensive Outpatient – expected; the model was designed for Inpatient treatment. The significance of the study was underscored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2008)-based statement that substance abuse treatment spending would reach $35 billion this year, thus suggesting that studying the efficacy of substance abuse treatment is a worthwhile endeavor (Levit et al, 2008).

The relationship between university student Facebook usage and alcohol consumption

Author: Crow, Brent M.

Department: Health Education

Institution: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Advisor: Brown, Stephen

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to investigate whether college students’ use of the social networking site Facebook influenced their alcohol consumption. In particular, the relationship between students’ alcohol use and exposure to alcohol-related content through various features or activities on Facebook was examined. An additional focus was to identify whether certain variables increased the chances of predicting students’ alcohol and Facebook use. The study employed a non-experimental, quantitative, descriptive and correlational research design to examine the relationship between students’ alcohol consumption, Facebook use, and exposure to alcohol-related content through various applications or features on Facebook. The sample consisted of 502 undergraduate students enrolled in the university at the time of data collection. Data were obtained through the use of a survey instrument designed by the researcher, for the primary purpose of soliciting self reported rates of alcohol consumption, Facebook use, and exposure to alcohol-related content on Facebook. The results of this study indicate that student alcohol consumption and Facebook usage are on par with current research. No statistically significant correlations were found between Facebook usage, various features or activities on Facebook, and students’ consumption of alcohol.

The role of rapid dopamine signaling within the nucleus accumbens in natural and drug reward-seeking behaviors

Author: Cameron, Courtney Marie

Department: Psychology

Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Advisor: Carelli, Regina M.

Abstract: Learning about rewards and appropriately directing behaviors to obtain them is critical for survival. These processes are subserved by a distributed network of brain nuclei including the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and its dopaminergic input. In vivo electrophysiology studies have repeatedly provided evidence that NAc neurons encode goal-directed behaviors for both natural and drug rewards. Specifically, work from this laboratory has shown that subsets of NAc neurons exhibit largely differential, nonoverlapping firing patterns during operant responding for natural rewards (food, water, or sucrose) versus intravenous cocaine (Carelli et al., 2000; Carelli, 2002; Carelli & Wondolowski, 2003; Carelli & Wondolowski, 2006; Cameron & Carelli, 2012). Furthermore, the percentage of NAc neurons that encode goal-directed behaviors for cocaine is dramatically increased following 30 days of cocaine abstinence (Hollander & Carelli, 2005; Hollander & Carelli, 2007). While we have observed rapid dopamine (DA) signaling in the NAc during responding for natural (Roitman et al, 2004) and drug (Phillips et al., 2003) rewards on a timescale similar to NAc phasic cell firing, it is not known whether this DA signaling acts in a manner analogous to NAc phasic activity. The first set of experiments detailed in this dissertation used electrochemical recording techniques to measure rapid DA release in the NAc core during performance of two different tasks: a sucrose/cocaine or sucrose/food multiple schedule. This design allowed us to compare DA release dynamics in specific locations in the NAc during operant responding for two natural rewards, versus a natural reward and intravenous cocaine. These experiments revealed that, unlike our prior electrophysiology work, rapid DA release in the NAc was not reinforcer specific during performance of a sucrose/cocaine multiple schedule. In the second set of experiments, we used the same data set obtained from Aim 1 to compare basic shifts in pH in discrete locations in the NAc core and determine if aspects of this signaling differed during each phase of the sucrose/cocaine multiple schedule. Our findings revealed that although increases in pH were observed under both reinforcer conditions, the dynamics of this signaling were significantly different when animals responded for intravenous cocaine versus the natural reward, sucrose. The final set of experiments examined the effects of one month of cocaine abstinence on DA release and uptake dynamics in the NAc core. We found that a month of cocaine abstinence potentiated the peak concentration of electrically evoked DA in the NAc following an acute injection of cocaine. Taken together, the results of these studies indicate that DA signaling in the NAc is highly dynamic and can be influenced by many factors, including the type of reinforcer (natural or drug) being self-administered or the pattern of drug exposure (1 day versus 30 days of abstinence). Furthermore, rapid DA signaling does not interact with NAc cell firing in a simple manner, but instead differentially modulates neuronal activity depending on many factors including reward type, specific afferent-efferent projections, and ongoing behavior.

Points Roundtable, “Becoming a Marihuana User”: Nancy Campbell

howie_bwEditor’s Note: On April 25, 1953, Howard S. Becker, a graduate of the University of Chicago’s famed School of Sociology, presented a paper at the meeting of the Midwest Sociological Association to a room of about a dozen people. It was based on fifty interviews with marijuana smokers and his “irregular and unplanned observation” of their habits, all of this taking place in his “social laboratory” of Chicago. If the confused questions he received afterward were any indication, what Becker sought to explain was stunningly avant-garde: at the core of his paper was a new conception of how and why marijuana smokers got high. As he explains in the new preface to his 1953 book Becoming a Marihuana User“I liked the idea of understanding the characteristic ‘getting high’ experience not as an unmediated pharmacologically induced event, but rather as the result of users’ interpretations of those effects.” This emphasis on ideas that few, if any, sociologists were discussing at the time – personal experience with drug use and individual users’ interpretations of its effects – meant that Becker was talking about things like peer influence and “set and setting” over a decade before Timothy Leary discussed the concept in reference to LSD.

Marijuana was a quiet drug in 1953. It was smoked, and by “many people,” as Becker wrote, but it wasn’t “a Social Evil which deserved a place in the ‘Social Problems’ course every sociology department taught.” Instead, “relatively few people used marijuana and they didn’t make a lot of trouble, so despite the efforts of some authorities, no public was crying out to get rid of the practice.”

So how did the young graduate, who landed a research position on the staff of the Chicago Narcotics Survey, come to write an essay that shaped much of the drug scholarship to come? Mostly by hanging out in jazz clubs as a teen.

Becker BecomingAs Nancy Campbell, the first scholar to participate in our new, six-part roundtable discussing the rerelease of Becker’s 1953 text, will show, it was Becker’s early experiences playing piano in jazz and strip clubs in World War II-era Chicago that exposed him to the world of “deviants” and outsiders who became the primary research subjects of his long and influential career. Better known for his 1963 study Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance, Becker’s first book is finding renewed relevance and acclaim today, as the University of Chicago rereleases it with a smart new cover and streamlined design. Praising the prescience of his “wise words,” Andrew Weil said that Becker’s work long ago “pointed the way toward a more enlightened, rational view of cannabis.”

Becker argued that most marijuana smokers were students of the drug long before they became “social deviants” or consistent smokers. They had to be brought into the community by other, seasoned drug users, who showed them how consumption was done. The first session was invariably a disappointment: smokers didn’t feel any effect because, as Becker put it, “you had to learn to be high.” That meant piecing together a narrative to understand the experience, and then wanting to experience that sensation time and again. After talking with fifty regular smokers, Becker identified the three steps that needed to be taken in order to become a marijuana user:

1.) Learn how to smoke in a way that produces real effects

2.) Recognize the effects and connect them back to the drug’s use

3.) Learn to enjoy these effects, and actively seek out recreating them

From teacher to student, marijuana spread across the country in the 1960s, and Becker saw this kind of shared knowledge creating a legitimate “drug culture,” with experienced smokers bringing new users into the fold. With more people learning how to “properly” use the drug, Becker watched the incidence of unpleasant drug experiences diminish, as remedies were proposed for experiences that remained unsound, and as fears of police intervention were minimized. (Well, for some; several of our panelists will discuss this idea later on).

In a celebration of his work, Points has gathered together five of the most prominent voices in the field of drug studies to comment on this rerelease and the lasting importance of Becker’s work. Ranging from examinations of the book through the lenses of race relations to modern policy recommendations, our five contributors – Nancy Campbell, Mary Jane Gibson, Amanda Reiman, Cookie Woolner and Carl Hart – have each written a short essay on what Becker’s six-decade-old paper means to them, and where they see its applications today. Their contributions will be run every Tuesday from now through October, with the final contribution coming from Howard Becker himself. We are thrilled and grateful to host such a conversation.

In our first contribution, Nancy Campbell, Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, remembers an interview she conducted with Becker in 2005, along with her current thoughts on the lasting importance of his work.

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The Forgotten Drug War: Dorothy Sullivan, Informant (Chicago, 1941)

“There was not the least sign of social disorder in 1942”

—Daniel Patrick Moynihan, speaking at the 100 Years of Heroin Conference, Yale University, 1998

Screenshot 2015-08-27 09.27.33Dorothy Sullivan was an informant for the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. On Tuesday, January 22, 1942, she was scheduled to testify in federal court in support of the government’s case against two men charged with heroin sales. She never made it to court. Instead, she fell, screaming and on fire, from eighth floor of a South Dearborn office building. Passers-by described looking up when they heard screams, and seeing what looked like a “flaming bundle of rags” plunging to the street. Dorothy Sullivan was killed instantly when she hit the ground, just one of an uncounted number of narcotics informants to meet a violent end over the course of the war on drugs. Their stories are rarely told.


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Alcoholism in Communist Yugoslavia


(Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by contributing editor Mat Savelli, a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.)

Yugoslavia had a problem with alcoholism.

Or at the very least, that’s what the country’s psychiatrists generally thought. During the Communist era (from the end of the WWII through to the country’s collapse in 1991), leading Yugoslav physicians routinely warned about the population’s rapid descent into widespread alcoholism.

Year after year, the statistics on drinking seemed to grow. Yugoslavs were consuming more and were beginning to drink heavily at a younger age. Even more problematically, excessive drinking seemed to be spreading to new populations, with women and the country’s substantial Muslim population increasingly taking to booze.

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Public Disservice

Public service announcements of the War on Drugs have long been lampooned, and for good reason. Nonetheless, many have accepted such advertisements as a relatively benign, if irritating, collateral consequence of watching network television. Not unlike obnoxious pitches for ShamWow, we shrug our shoulders, chuckle, and move on. As rates of drug abuse have only increased throughout our long War on Drugs, we know that anti-drug PSA’s are at best an ineffective tactic and a poor use of taxpayer’s money. A closer look at anti-crack PSA’s in the Crack Era suggest that drug warrior TV spots were hardly benign. In many ways, this anti-drug effort proved to be socially irresponsible, misleading, and quite possibly, counterproductive.

If TV news of the period had not made it abundantly clear, PSA’s of the period reaffirmed popular assumptions that crack was an urban nonwhite problem which threatened to spill into suburban districts and victimize white youth. Despite the reality that crack was indeed an urban problem, the target audience of most PSA’s appear to be white cameronsuburban youth—potential victims. A litany of mainstream white celebrities offer their voices to variations of the same message; beware or the dangerous pusher and “just say no.” Kirk Cameron willisadvises youth, “Come on, say no to drugs.” Bruce Willis also invokes the “just say no” tagline in his PSA, reminding children sternly to “be the boss” and make their own decisions. In the same year (1987), Willis seagramsappeared in a series of advertisements for Seagram’s Liquor clad in a white Miami Vice suit with multiple women on his arms. The tagline of the Seagram’s advertisement: “This is where the fun starts.”

In addition to offering an oversimplified message for drug avoidance most spots also advance the myth that one-time crack use kills. Just ask Pee-Wee Herman, “It’s the most addictive kind of peewee.cocaine and it can kill you. So every time you use it you can risk dying. Doing it with crack isn’t just wrong, it could be dead wrong.” Before he took to talking to chairs in public, Clint Eastwood also joined the fray as he channeled his best Dirty Harry. “You see this cute little vial here, that’s eastwood.crack, rock cocaine, the most addictive form. It can kill you.” As with a series of PSA’s geared against crack, the postscript of the spot reads “Don’t even try it. The thrill can kill.” Brat Packer Ally Sheedy appeared in the same line of ads reminding Breakfast Club fans again “crack kills.” Other ads feature an undertaker and a businessman’s funeral, purportedly all casualties of crack.  This myth marred the period, advanced most prominently by the overdose of basketball star Len Bias. Unfortunately, Bias was hardly a first-time user, nor did he overdose on crack, but rather, high-grade cocaine.Read More »

Legal Marijuana – Now and Then

Former member of 98 Degrees Nick Lachay supports Responsible Ohio
Former member of 98 Degrees Nick Lachey supports Responsible Ohio

(Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by contributing editor Adam Rathge. Enjoy!)

As of last week the political group known as ResponsibleOhio successfully secured enough signatures to put their controversial marijuana legalization measure on the state’s November ballot. In the coming months voters in the state (like me) will surely be subjected to campaigning from both supporters and detractors. Regardless of position, almost everyone agrees that the proposed Ohio measure is different from those already passed in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Supporters will argue that is a good thing. They suggest the ResponsibleOhio plan is better than the current prohibition regime, that it will raise millions in tax revenue, and that limiting production to ten highly controlled grow operations will allow them to amply supply the market while ensuring less marijuana leaks into black markets or across state lines. Detractors will continue to assert that ResponsibleOhio’s plan will enshrine a constitutional cartel (or monopoly) on marijuana that benefits only its group of wealthy supporters, while allowing them to restrict the market and price to their control with limited regard to public health and safety. What we are highly unlikely to see in this debate, however, is a  look at historical cannabis regulations in the United States prior its federal prohibition in 1937. This is unfortunate, since there are perhaps some very interesting lessons to be learned from a period in which cannabis was generally legal but often restricted.

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The Forgotten Drug War: Unknown Malaria Victim (New Orleans, 1932)

“The real war will never get in the books”–Walt Whitman, 1875

On October 31, 1932, Charity Hospital in New Orleans admitted a comatose man, diagnosed with malaria and thought to be an opiate addict. The patient deserted the hospital after being revived. Two days later, he was once again brought to Charity hospital, again in a coma. He died the following day. Over the course of the next month, five more Charity Hospital patients, all injecting drug users, died of malaria. Over the course of the following year, a total of 48 injecting drug users were admitted to the same hospital with diagnoses of malaria, 10 of whom died.


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Fiction Points: David Dellecese

DavidDDavid Dellecese is the writer and co-creator (with illustrator Andrew Cieslinski) of the comic-book series Holidaze, about a bar at which a cast of holiday and other mythical icons imbibes and unwinds. Holidaze has earned praise from fellow comic writers such as Todd Dezago and blogs including Bleeding Cool, Comic Crusaders, Panels on Pages, and Pipedream Comics. In addition to his work on Holidaze, Dellecese writes the blogs The Dorky Daddy and All-Star Comics Review. He is an award-winning print, broadcast, and online journalist and screenwriter, and his filmmaking was recognized by the mayoral proclamation that turned October 7, 2006 into “David Dellecese, Filmmaker Day” in the CIty of Utica, New York 

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you write comic books. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

With that kind of lineup at the bar, I’d think we were already IN the comic.

But if they asked, I’d tell them I write a comic book series about what holiday and mythical icons like Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy do when they punch out at the end of the day, which usually involves commiserating over drinks at their favorite bar, Holidaze, and getting into some type of trouble.

The cast of Dellecese's Holidaze.
The cast of Holidaze.

I’d also be sure to tell them that it began as a digital comic available online and on mobile devices through Amazon Kindle or the comic service comiXology, and I’d be especially sure to tell them that we have a 142 page print collection of Holidaze hitting Amazon in…I believe, the Fall. Because I’m told that penguin has money to spend and those two nuns like to let their habits down and have a few laughs now and then. Read More »

The Intoxication Cure: Sickness, Sadness, and the Self-Medication Hypothesis

wine laced with marijuana. I'd need a cup of coffee after that.
Wine laced with marijuana. I’d need a cup of coffee after that.

When we use a drug off label because it makes us feel good and we are tired of feeling bad, or calm nerves with a glass of wine, or have an extra shot of espresso to get through a long day, we are self-medicating. “I’d better figure out where to score some pot,” my friend said before beginning her treatment for breast cancer. People self medicate. Obviously.

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