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The Racist Past and Present of Cannabis (De)Criminalization

The Racist Past and Present of Cannabis (De)Criminalization

As more and more states like Oregon legalize or decriminalize weed we see an influx of interest, both scientific and civilian, in its many potentials. From musculoskeletal pain to PTSD to autoimmune conditions, cannabis and its byproducts show enormous promise as therapeutic agents. In a vacuum, this interest is harmless - beneficial, even. But if it eclipses awareness of the highly racialized, anti-Black legacy of its criminalization, it will perpetuate harm against oppressed communities.

The DEA first named cannabis a Schedule-I drug, meaning it has “no accepted medicinal use, high abuse potential, concerns for dependence,” in 1970 during Nixon’s disastrous drug war. This has come to be understood as a broad program of anti-Black legislation under the guise of social intervention and community safety whose ramifications are felt generations later. 

Mandatory minimum sentencing, incarceration, and penalties related to cannabis use, possession, or distribution were designed to comprehensively target and punish Black folks. Policing practices like stop-and-frisk and disproportionate surveillance developed during the drug war remain in use today.

A racist legacy continues

At present, despite equivalent rates of cannabis consumption, Black people are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people according to a 2020 report by the ACLU. Arrests, incarceration, and convictions are only part of the story. Job loss, housing insecurity, financial aid ineligibility, child custody loss, and immigration status endangerment due to lifelong categorization as “criminal” are enduring everyday realities for anyone facing such charges. But because of the disproportionate enforcement of laws against and incarceration of BIPOC in this country, drug legalization is inherently an issue of racial justice, and thus an issue of public health.  

BIPOC and specifically Black people, those most harmed by cannabis criminalization, shouldn’t be excluded from the economic boon offered by the cannabis industry. In Portland, licensing costs for starting a dispensary amount to $5000, plus a $480 annual fee. This is in addition to startup costs, which generally number in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This represents an insurmountable financial obstacle to all but the wealthiest among us which, as the systemic nature of oppression reinforces, tend also to be the whitest among us. 

Does a solution exist?

The inequality can’t be countered simply by equally distributing profit. Change must be adopted at every level. This means advocating for the release of anyone incarcerated on cannabis-related charges, expunging of criminal records, social assistance for the formerly-incarcerated during re-entry in society (top of mind for all of us emerging tentatively from a pandemic), rallying against employment discrimination on the basis of a criminal record, reparations paid directly to families, and so on.  

What can be done on a practical level? This is neither a definitive guide nor exhaustive history, and your individual means and capacity must be considered. But you can:


It will take the work of generations, but we must begin now.

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HPA Axis Dysfunction

HPA Axis Dysfunction

Stop calling it Adrenal Fatigue, it’s HPA Axis Dysfunction.

We’re relatively casual with our use of the word stress but few of us truly understand its full impact on our lives.   Even when we’re not aware we’re experiencing it, our bodies are carrying out the mechanics of a stress response as we proceed with the business of daily living.  Previously described as adrenal fatigue, we now know that the full effect of chronic stress goes beyond just the adrenal glands.  It affects the entire HPA axis, which is why when it comes to the insidious and far-reaching effects of stress, it’s HPA Axis Dysfunction that we need to understand.

What is the HPA axis?

The HPA Axis describes the interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands.  The main function generally attributed to the HPA axis involves the body's chain reaction to stress as follows:

 The hypothalamus triggers our fight-flight-freeze response which stimulates the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) into the bloodstream. ACTH then causes the adrenal glands to release cortisol. When cortisol reaches peak levels in the blood, the hypothalamus responds by turning off the stress response.   

What does that mean for you exactly? It means there is a myriad of ways this chain reaction presents in the body, all of them worth noting and worth learning so that you can understand how your body works and better discern signals of distress. 

A stress response means an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and the body’s immune response shutting off.  It means blood flow to the prefrontal cortex is deprioritized, weakening your ability to use adequate judgement.  Blood flow to the gut is also deprioritized, decreasing your ability to digest and absorb nutrition. Your blood sugar goes up to fuel the muscles responsible for the fight-flight response, increasing your risk of insulin resistance.  There is pupil dilation, muscle stiffness, a 30 point drop in IQ and finally, bronchial dilation, which can make it hard to breathe and is sometimes described as “air drowning.” These are just some of the known effects on the body during a stress response.  They may not be fun to read but are empowering to know.


What causes HPA axis dysfunction?

When stressors continue to present themselves, the fight-or-flight reaction stays on, keeping cortisol elevated.  This chronic or prolonged stress reaction, when cortisol remains high, is when dysfunction of the HPA axis occurs.  Because occupying the human body is a complex and diverse experience, we all react to stress differently. Here are some of the notable ways an HPA axis dysfunction can affect us:

  • Addiction:  HPA axis dysfunction causes a decrease in dopamine which is responsible for our pleasure response.  As we feel less pleasure, we need more of (insert applicable substance here) to achieve the same pleasure response, which can lead to overuse, addiction, and substance abuse.

  • Never Get Sick: You read that right, but in this case, it’s not a good thing.  Your immune system does what it does, it pushes back to protect you, but this comes at the cost of it becoming increasingly dysregulated.  This can lead to being sick all the time or weirdly, never getting sick.  And while never getting sick sounds great, when its’ because of an imbalanced immune system, it’s a sign that your immune system is potentially on overdrive.  Under prolonged stress, the immune system becomes either over or under-reactive and will eventually prove inefficient (burnout), increasing your risk for auto-immune diseases and an increase in cancer cells.

  • Gut Health, Food Intolerances, + Allergies: Chronic stress can lead to a decrease in gastric integrity which can cause holes in the gut lining. This leads to food particles being where they shouldn’t and an increased immune response to foods that never caused an issue for you before. This type of immune response, when repeated, can even train your body to become allergic to these previously unproblematic foods.

  • Slow Healing: The body is slow to heal or does not heal at all from injury.

  • Memory Matters: The Hippocampus, which is responsible for turning short-term memory into long-term memory and turning experiences and felt memories into narratives, shrinks from chronically elevated cortisol. This can even contribute to creating damaging or distorted narratives about who we are and what our life is.

  • Impaired Judgment: The prefrontal cortex becomes atrophied, lessening our capacity to use judgment.

  • Increased Estrogen-Progesterone Imbalance: Over a prolonged period, the body can’t sustain the necessary cortisol levels. It starts to use the building blocks from other hormones to keep producing cortisol which can lead to a decrease in hormones like progesterone, causing a corresponding spike in estrogen. Elevated estrogen, as we know, can cause many health imbalances including an increased risk for breast cancer. 

So, what can we do?

It can feel overwhelming to learn about all the ways stress might be affecting us, but the good thing is, there are always ways to counteract it.  A great strategy for overcoming chronic stress, or trauma-related stress, includes feeding our nervous system and regulating our HPA Axis.  One of the ways to do that is to work on increasing the tone of our vagus nerve by stimulating it.  One effective way to stimulate your vagus nerve is to practice meditative, deep breathing exercises, and to access co-regulation with your massage therapist or acupuncturist. We’ll be sharing more in our next few blog posts as well. Stay tuned by signing up for our newslettter

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Visceral Manipulation With Clara Parnell by Our Healing House

Visceral Manipulation With Clara Parnell by Our Healing House

Visceral Manipulation With Clara Parnell

Clara Parnell has always known what she wanted to do. She’s a licensed massage therapist who has studied visceral manipulation, chi nei tsang, western clinical herbalism, and cranial sacral therapy. Growing up partially deaf, her other senses were amplified and in practice, she uses this ability to perceive what her clients are physically experiencing and intuit what will bring release and change. Today, she’ll be telling us all about visceral manipulation, so let’s dig in.


What made you decide to go into holistic healing / wellness as a career?

I began receiving communications directly from the plant and spirit realm as a child, and the passion to learn everything about health, healing, and wellness became a constant in my life and hasn’t ever really changed. I dreamt continuously as a child of being in the role I am in now, so I can’t say it was ever a new concept in my adult life. For me, it was more work and effort to resist going in the direction of holistic healthcare.

“Visceral manipulation is a kind of massage that focuses on relieving and resolving restrictions to the proper functioning of our organs, whether that restriction is occurring outside or inside the organ itself.”


Can you explain what visceral manipulation is?

Visceral manipulation is a hands-on modality which focuses on the organs in the body, specifically their mobility and motility. Motility refers to movement inside an organ itself, such as the peristalsis (involuntary constriction and relaxation of muscles) of the small intestine, the turning of the stomach to break down foods, and the moving of liquids through the kidneys. Mobility refers to the ability of an organ to slide and glide within the body itself, the abdomen, pelvis, and thorax. When we bend forward or breathe in, our organs need to be able to adjust accordingly. Visceral manipulation is a kind of massage that focuses on relieving and resolving restrictions to the proper functioning of our organs, whether that restriction is occurring outside or inside the organ itself.

What is visceral manipulation like from the patient’s point of view?

The body is resiliency in action. Visceral manipulation is like a nudge or a gentle reminder towards health and wellness. Sometimes we feel pain in an area which is not the root cause, but an experienced and accomplished practitioner can find the source of this tension through hands on listening via palpation and thermal sensation (such as increased heat in the tissues from inflammation, or cold due to hypertonicity causing decreased circulation and lymph flow), in order to effect change to where we feel pain and discomfort, or have an imbalance.

Visceral manipulation is often practiced with the patient standing, sitting, or lying on their side, and uses light pressure techniques to directly alter tensions in or surrounding our organs and their connective tissues.

That said, visceral manipulation isn’t all light touch. A lot of this work focuses on compressing restricted tissues in the direction of ease. By guiding something to where it is trying to go or stay will release the tension and constriction centered in that area. A good analogy is when you try to open a drawer and it gets stuck, so you close it all the way back to get it to fully open on the second try. That’s what we’re doing. If layers of connective tissues are adhered or restricted surrounding the organ or within the organ itself, we hold or recreate that tension in our hands, and it will give up holding that tension itself, releasing the holding pattern causing imbalance.

For example, the uterus has a motility that helps bring the endometrial lining down and out and helps with fertility. If this innate movement gets out of sync, it can impact fertility, conception, menstrual cycles, hormonal balance, and contribute to endometriosis. Listening to the motility of an organ and gently bringing it back into rhythm with itself and the rest of the body can alleviate health imbalances.

What’s truly different about visceral manipulation is that it requires more time for integration. This work is so deep and changes such integral function in the body that many people won’t feel or notice immediate change, and some might even feel worse at first. That’s okay. This practice is not like muscle work, which focuses on the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia of the body, and often promotes immediate relief before tension builds back up. Visceral manipulation is slower to integrate and the changes are more permanent.

The body can only integrate so many changes at once, so a practitioner won’t usually work on more than 1-3 organs in a single session. This work can last 30-90 minutes, depending on the case and how slowly a change needs to be fostered. Sessions should only be received at most once every 3 weeks, in order to give the body time to integrate.

“This work is so deep and changes such integral function in the body that many people won’t feel or notice immediate change. It’s slower to integrate and the changes are more permanent.”


What sort of health challenges can visceral manipulation be effective for and why?

Visceral manipulation is great for any chronic pain or health imbalance, frankly. It can be a great source for targeting digestive imbalances and food sensitivities, hormonal imbalances and reproductive health for any gender, psycho-somatic trauma stored in the body, urinary issues such as chronic UTI’s or incontinence, breathing issues, asthma, and heart health.

I am certain we practitioners will have our hands full post COVID19, when it is safe to work again. Releasing fascial adhesions in the thorax and lessening the severity of scar tissue in the lungs of patients who have recovered will make a great impact. I will be focusing on increasing my services and offering sliding scale work specific to these cases.

This week’s story interview is about SIBO. How can Visceral manipulation be helpful for that?

People struggling with Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth often benefit from visceral manipulation, as bringing their motility back into balance helps support the body’s innate healing. SIBO is often caused or made worse by inefficient timing in the digestive tract. When food is moving too slowly or too soon, it won’t break down enough, can ferment in the gut, attract an inflammatory response, and clog both the hepatic artery and lymph absorption in the lining of the small intestine, thus diminishing nutrient absorption.

Visceral manipulation helps get the digestive tract back in sync in terms of timing and the release of gastric juices, which leads to less flairs of SIBO symptoms, such as bloating and cramping. This practice can also be used to release more bacteria located deeper in the folds of the intestinal wall so that it can be naturally discarded by the body.

“Getting solid and plentiful sleep, staying hydrated, and minimizing toxic stress are the three easiest and most effective steps we can take to keep our health in our own hands.”


Do you have any universal health and well-being tips that you’d like to share?

Nothing beats the basics. Getting solid and plentiful sleep, staying hydrated, and minimizing toxic stress are the three easiest and most effective steps we can take to keep our health in our own hands. The boring answers are often the best. We don’t need fancy fads or inaccessible products to get us there, and we should be skeptical of marketing that says otherwise.

What would you say to someone who is skeptical about visceral manipulation?

I would say that I understand the skepticism. We are surrounded by spiritual bypassing, toxic positivity, and people pedaling false hope and products in a capitalist world. So, skepticism is healthy. I would also say that a lot of skepticism is based in fear of practices that are outside of societal norms. That said, this work is supported by the science we depend on in our everyday lives. The same science used in allopathic western medicine. This work is also part of a first tier in health screening and preventative medicine. Here’s a few cases that highlight the efficacy of visceral manipulation both for direct improvement and as a tool for health screening:

  • I had a woman come in who’d developed severe food allergies a few months postpartum. Sensitivities she’d never had previously. Her Doctor told her that she had no other choice but to cut wheat, dairy, and other allergy inducing foods from her diet. This was her second birth, a c-section, which left adhesions in her small intestines to the scar tissue and mesentery. We worked directly on this scar tissue, her mesentery, liver, and all the valves of her digestive tract. After three sessions together, along with taking recommended digestive bitters, she was symptom free and back to being able to enjoy and digest all previous foods.

  • A woman came to see me with severe abdominal pain. She had seen her doctor multiple times, who diagnosed her with IBS and left it at that. After beginning our work together, I found her intestines were inflamed and that she was unable to receive any touch comfortably, including light palpation. This is a red flag, as our work should never be uncomfortable or painful. After a few attempts at working together, I referred her to seek out a second opinion, possibly from a specialist. She was eventually diagnosed with C-diff (clostridium difficile colitis), a severe infection of the lining in the intestines. Though the hands-on work didn’t alter her situation directly, it led to her getting the adequate care she needed. So much of what manual therapists / massage therapists are able to do is direct first tier screening for wellness, which can be life-saving when issues are caught early on.

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