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Psychosis, addiction, chronic vomiting: as weed becomes more potent, teens are getting sick

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Psychosis, addiction, chronic vomiting: as weed becomes more potent, teens are getting sick

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Elysse was 14 when she first started vaping cannabis.

A young woman uses a vaporizer to dab, a method of inhaling highly concentrated THC, in Los Angeles, June 19, 2022. With THC levels close to 100 percent, todayÕs cannabis products are making some teenagers highly dependent and dangerously ill. Michelle Groskopf/The New York Times

By Christina Caron, New York Times Service

Elysse was 14 when she first started vaping cannabis.

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It did not smell, which made it easy to hide from her parents. And it was convenient; just press a button and inhale. After the second or third try, she was hooked.

“It was insane. Insane euphoria,” said Elysse, now 18, whose last name is being withheld to protect her privacy. “Everything was moving slowly. I got super hungry. Everything was hilarious.”

But the euphoria eventually morphed into something more disturbing. Sometimes the marijuana would make Elysse feel more anxious or sad. Another time, she passed out in the shower, only to wake up a half-hour later.

This was not your average weed. The oil and waxes she bought from dealers were typically about 90% THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. But because these products were derived from cannabis, and nearly everyone she knew was using them, she assumed they were relatively safe. She began vaping multiple times per day. Her parents did not find out until about one year later, in 2019.

“We got her in a program to help her with it. We tried tough love. We tried everything, to be honest with you,” Elysse’s father said of her addiction.

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Starting in 2020, she began having mysterious bouts of illness during which she would throw up over and over again. At first, she and her parents — and even her doctors — were baffled. During one episode, Elysse said, she threw up in a mall bathroom for an hour. “I felt like my body was levitating.”

Another time, she estimated that she threw up at least 20 times in the span of two hours.

It was not until 2021, after a half-dozen trips to the emergency room for stomach illness, including some hospital stays, that a gastroenterologist diagnosed her with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a condition that causes recurrent vomiting in heavy marijuana users.

Although recreational cannabis is illegal in the United States for those younger than 21, it has become more accessible as many states have legalized it. But experts say today’s high-THC cannabis products — vastly different from the joints smoked decades ago — are poisoning some heavy users, including teenagers.

Marijuana is not as dangerous as a drug like fentanyl, but it can have potentially harmful effects — especially for young people, whose brains are still developing. In addition to uncontrollable vomiting and addiction, adolescents who frequently use high doses of cannabis may experience psychosis that could lead to a lifelong psychiatric disorder, an increased likelihood of developing depression and suicidal ideation, changes in brain anatomy and connectivity and poor memory.

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But despite these dangers, the potency of the products on the market is largely unregulated.

‘I felt so trapped’

In 1995, the average concentration of THC in cannabis samples seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration was about 4%. By 2017, it was 17%. And now cannabis manufacturers are extracting THC to make oils, edibles, wax, sugar-size crystals, and glasslike products called shatter that advertise high THC levels — in some cases exceeding 95%.

Meanwhile, the average level of CBD — the nonintoxicating compound from the cannabis plant tied to relief from seizures, pain, anxiety and inflammation — has been on the decline in cannabis plants. Studies suggest that lower levels of CBD can make cannabis more addictive.

THC concentrates “are as close to the cannabis plant as strawberries are to Frosted Strawberry Pop-Tarts,” Beatriz Carlini, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Addictions, Drug and Alcohol Institute, wrote in a report on the health risks of highly concentrated cannabis.

Although cannabis is legal for recreational use in 19 states and Washington, D.C., and for medical use in 37 states and D.C., only Vermont and Connecticut have imposed caps on THC concentration. Both ban concentrates above 60%, with the exception of pre-filled cartridges, and do not permit cannabis plant material to exceed 30% THC. But there is little evidence to suggest these specific levels are somehow safer.

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“In general, we do not support arbitrary limits on potency as long as products are properly tested and labeled,” Bethany Moore, a spokesperson for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in a statement. She added that the best way to keep marijuana away from teens is to implement laws that allow the cannabis industry to replace illegal markets, which do not adhere to age restrictions, state-mandated testing or labeling guidelines.

The Food and Drug Administration has sent warnings about various cannabis products, including edibles, but so far, federal regulators have not taken action to curb potency levels because cannabis is federally illegal, said Gillian Schauer, executive director of the Cannabis Regulators Association, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that convenes government officials involved in cannabis regulation across more than 40 states and territories.

California lawmakers are now considering adding a mental health warning label to cannabis products specifying that the drug may contribute to psychotic disorders.

National surveys suggest that marijuana use among eighth, 10th and 12th graders decreased in 2021, a change partly attributed to the pandemic. However, over the two-year interval from 2017-19, the number of kids who reported vaping marijuana over the past 30 days rose among all grades, nearly tripling among high school seniors. In 2020, 35% of seniors and as many as 44% of college students reported using marijuana in the past year.

Elysse got sober before entering college but soon found that seemingly everyone on her dorm floor habitually used weed.

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“Not only carts,” she said, referring to the cannabis cartridges used in vape pens, “but bongs, pipes, bowls — absolutely everything.” Each morning, she found students washing their bongs in the communal bathroom at 8 a.m. to prepare for their “morning smoke.”

After a few weeks, she began vaping concentrated THC again, she said, and also started having dark thoughts, occasionally sitting alone in her room and sobbing for hours.

“I felt so trapped,” said Elysse, who has now been clean for nearly two months. “This is not fun in any way anymore.”

Teens are particularly affected by cannabis

Michael McDonell, an addiction treatment expert at the Washington State University college of medicine, said that more research is needed to better understand how much more prevalent psychosis and cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome have become among teenagers and others using high-potency products.

Even so, he added, “we definitely know that there’s a dose-dependent relationship between THC and psychosis.”

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One rigorous study found that the risk of having a psychotic disorder was five times higher among daily high-potency cannabis users in Europe and Brazil than those who had never used it.

Another study, published in 2021 in JAMA Psychiatry, reported that, in 1995, 2% of schizophrenia diagnoses in Denmark were associated with marijuana use, but by 2010, that figure had risen to 6% to 8%, which researchers associated with increases in the use and potency of cannabis.

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which can often be alleviated by hot baths and showers, is also linked to prolonged, high-dose cannabis use. As with psychosis, it is unclear why some people develop it and others do not.

Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, said there is “no doubt that higher-concentration products are increasing the number of people who have bad experiences with cannabis.”

When her clinic opened in 2000, marijuana was illegal in Massachusetts. At the time, Levy said far fewer kids came in with psychotic symptoms, “and we almost never saw cannabis hyperemesis syndrome.”

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Now, she said, those numbers are shooting up. Psychotic symptoms while high can include hallucinations, trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality, strange behaviors (one young man would spend his days tying plastic bags into knots) or voices talking to them in their head, she added.

If a teenager displays these symptoms, getting that person off cannabis “becomes an emergency,” she said. “Because maybe, just maybe, they’ll clear up, and we’re preventing someone from developing a lifelong psychiatric disorder.”

‘Oh, well, It’s just weed’

Laura Stack, who lives in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, said that when her son Johnny first confessed to using marijuana at the age of 14, she said to herself, “Oh, well, it’s just weed. Thank God it wasn’t cocaine.”

She had used marijuana a couple of times in high school and cautioned him that marijuana would “eat your brain cells.” But at the time she was not overly concerned: “I used it. I’m fine. What’s the big deal?

“But I had no idea,” she added, referring to how marijuana has changed in recent years. “So many parents like me are completely ignorant.”

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Initially, her son did not have any mental health problems and excelled in school. But he eventually started using high-potency marijuana products multiple times a day, and this, Stack said, “made him completely delusional.”

By the time he reached college, he had been through various addiction treatment programs. He had become so paranoid that he thought the mob was after him and his college was a base for the FBI, Stack said. At one point, after he moved out of his childhood home, he threatened to kill the family dog unless his parents gave him money. His mother later discovered that Johnny had obtained his own medical marijuana card when he turned 18 and had begun dealing to younger kids.

After several stays at mental hospitals, doctors determined that Johnny had a severe case of THC abuse, Stack said. He was prescribed an antipsychotic medication, which helped — but then he stopped taking it. In 2019, Johnny died after jumping from a six-story building. He was 19. A few days before his death, Stack said, Johnny had apologized to her, saying that weed had ruined his mind and his life, adding, “I’m sorry, and I love you.”

A recent study found that people who used marijuana had a greater likelihood of suicidal ideation, plan and attempt than those who did not use the drug at all. Stack now runs a nonprofit called Johnny’s Ambassadors that educates communities about high-THC cannabis and its effect on the adolescent brain.

There is ‘no known safe limit’

It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how much THC enters someone’s brain when they are using cannabis. That is because it is not just the frequency of use and THC concentration that affect dosage; it is also how fast the chemicals are delivered to the brain. In vaporizers, the speed of delivery can change depending on the base the THC is dissolved in, the strength of the device’s battery and how warm the product becomes when it is heated up.

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Higher doses of THC are more likely to produce anxiety, agitation, paranoia and psychosis.

“The younger you are, the more vulnerable your brain is to developing these problems,” Levy said.

Youths are also more likely to become addicted when they start using marijuana before the age of 18, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Furthermore, there is growing evidence that cannabis can alter the brain during adolescence, a period when it is already undergoing structural changes. Until more is known, researchers and clinicians recommend postponing cannabis use until later in life.

“I have kids asking me all the time, ‘What if I do this just once a month; is that OK?’” Levy said. “All I can tell them is that there’s no known safe limit.”

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McDonell agreed that avoiding drug use entirely is always the safest option but said that some kids might require a more nuanced conversation. He advised having open discussions about drugs with middle schoolers and teenagers, while also educating them about the dangers of high-potency cannabis products compared with those that are mostly made of CBD.

“I think that’s something we’re all struggling with as a community,” he added. “How do we get this information to parents and kids fast enough?”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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EU’s Michel: Oil services price cap must hit Russia, not G7 and partners

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EU’s Michel: Oil services price cap must hit Russia, not G7 and partners

European Council President Charles Michel attends a news conference during a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium June 24, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

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SCHLOSS ELMAU, Germany, June 26 (Reuters) – The Group of Seven nations will discuss a proposal to impose a price cap on services related to oil trading, European Council President Charles Michel said on Sunday, adding that any measures must minimise the impact on the G7 and its partners.

“If we go in that direction we will need the support of European Union members and we want to make sure the goal is to target Russia and not make our own lives more difficult,” he told a news conference at the G7 summit.

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Reporting by Phil Blenkinsop, writing by Thomas Escritt; editing by Matthias Williams

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Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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In Texas, Mayra Flores is latest Latina to win big in politics. Can others do the same?

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In Texas, Mayra Flores is latest Latina to win big in politics. Can others do the same?

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  • Latinas represent 9.1% of the total U.S. population but only make up only 2.8% of all lawmakers in Congress.
  • Twenty-seven Latinos have won primary battles for the U.S. House of Represenatives so far this election cycle. That’s up from 2018, when 20 Latinas won their primary contests.
  • “We have seen places like Texas, Arizona and Florida, more Latinas are running and winning,” said Anna Sampaio, a politics, race and gender professor at California’s Santa Clara University.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores of Texas became the first Mexican-born woman to be sworn into Congress last week, the latest major victory for Latinas, who are increasingly running for political office – and winning.

Latinas represent 9.1% of the total U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census. But Latinas make up only 2.8% of all lawmakers in Congress, according to the Center For American Women and Politics. They are also underrepresented in local and state political offices. 

Recent election cycles, however, have shown Latinas clamoring to take up more space in U.S. politics. Twenty-seven Latinas have won primary battles for the U.S. House of Representatives so far this election cycle. That’s up from 2018 when 20 Latinas won their primary contests. 

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Democratic Convention speaker: Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada delivers remarks on the first night of the Democratic National Convention.

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“We have seen places like Texas, Arizona and Florida, more Latinas are running and winning,” said Anna Sampaio, a politics, race and gender professor at California’s Santa Clara University. “There are several factors at work in both of those equations, but we see underrepresentation as well.” 

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Political experts said Latinas are deeply underrepresented in political office for a variety of factors, including discrimination based on gender, ethnicity or race that can limit economic, education and other opportunities. Latinas are the most likely group of people actively discouraged from running by their political party, according to the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, who was running for governor of Massachusetts before she dropped out Thursday, said the underrepresentation of Latinas holding political office correlates with multiple barriers, including psychological, financial, childcare and being a marginalized community member. 

“We know that you don’t have to raise the most money in order to win office, I’m living proof of that. But you need to raise enough to run a vetted campaign,” said Chang-Díaz, who became the state’s first Latina state senator in 2009. 

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Stephanie Lopez, program director for LatinasRepresent, a national, nonpartisan organization focused on increasing the number and diversity of Latinas in public office, said many Latina candidates are still fighting off outdated assumptions about their electability. 

“It is incredibly difficult for Latinas to run for office, I think that needs to be said. A ton of barriers exist even before they decide to run,” Lopez said. “A lot of the time, they’re not receiving the support from major parties. So, what are the options, wait for them or run as independents?” 

Despite the barriers to a victorious Election Day, more Latinas have steadily won high-profile electoral contests in recent years, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez becoming the youngest woman at the time to serve in Congress in 2019 and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham becoming the nation’s first Latina governor in 2019. There’s also Elizabeth Guzmán and Hala Ayala, who in 2017 became the first Hispanic women elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates. That same year, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) became the first Latina to serve in the U.S. Senate. 

“Communities realize that they need to be politically engaged,” said Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. “And right now, Latinas realize that they need the political power to change the dynamics in their community.”

Christina Bejarano, a professor of political science at Texas Woman’s University whose research focuses on Latinas in politics, said much of the growth of women of color running for political office stems from the growing networks of political and civic organizations aimed at helping such candidates.

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Bejarano said Latinas sometimes can benefit at the polls by leaning on their identity to draw support and interest from multiple demographic groups, such as other women and people of color. 

“They often run as highly qualified candidates, likely due to the expected obstacles they will encounter running as women of color,” Bejarano said.

Flores’ campaign focused on her culture, pointing to her parents’ history of being migrant workers. Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, has celebrated her family’s links to Puerto Rico and aligned with other women of color in Congress. 

Sonja Diaz, founding director of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Latino Policy & Politics Institute, also said Latinas do not need to run in a Latino-majority district to win. 

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“One thing that is true from our political science research and history is that Latinas are ideal candidates who can win districts that are a variety of voters from a different race or ethnic backgrounds,” Diaz said. 

Latinas candidates need more support

Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics, said the key for Latinas is to maintain political momentum. She said profound structural change must happen within the major political parties to bolster the success of Latina candidates.

“You need to create networks, what we call a support infrastructure, for women in ways that speak to their own distinctive experience,” said Dittmar. “There is also the potential to create a funding stream, reducing some of the financial barriers.” 

In November, the final midterm elections will show how well Latinas candidates perform this election cycle. Flores is likely to face a tougher road to victory when she faces off against Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez in a redrawn district that leans overwhelmingly Democratic.

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Whether Flores wins or loses, Chang-Díaz and others are hoping to see more Latinas in office in the near future. 

“I want to be clear; we should be encouraging more Latinas to run,” said Chang-Díaz. “Our country needs more Latinas in offices. We need to have people at the table who represent our country’s full breadth and diversity.”

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As an adoptive mother, I know adoption doesn’t fix a lack of abortion access

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As an adoptive mother, I know adoption doesn’t fix a lack of abortion access

“Your son is so lucky.”

As mother to an 11-year-old who came to our family via adoption four years ago, I hear this comment a lot. Friends and strangers alike tell me that my child is fortunate, that he “seems like such a happy kid” and “You would never know he’s adopted, he’s so well-adjusted!” Some say these things within earshot of my son or my biological daughter. 

I know that their comments are mostly well-meaning, so I usually just change the subject, not wanting to start a weighty conversation at the grocery check-out line or at school pickup. But what I want to say is, “He is not ‘lucky.’ He will never ‘adjust.’ Adoption is trauma, and no child — or birth parent — should ever have to go through it.”

It took me a year to find an adoption-literate therapist who could take us on (at $200 per week, no less) and longer to find a trauma-trained caregiver.

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Yet ahead of the anticipated overturning of Roe v. Wade, many opponents of abortion rights held up adoption as an antidote for unwanted pregnancies. After the draft opinion leaked in May, Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, in a typical comment, told ABC News’ “This Week” that his solution if abortion were outlawed would be “increase the services for maternal health, to increase the services for adoption services … We want to invest in those areas that will help those women with very difficult circumstances of the pregnancy.” He did not elaborate on what specific “adoption services” he would invest in, or how much, or where the money would come from. It’s almost like he hadn’t thought about that part.

He certainly didn’t acknowledge what those services entail, and how they can never compensate for the difficulties adopted children or their parents face. As life without Roe becomes a reality in the United States, lawmakers must understand the toll they are foisting on families if they don’t allow women to pursue abortions.

My son is funny, gregarious and wise, with arresting almond eyes that take up a third of his face and a killer jump shot. If anyone is lucky, it’s us; being his mom is one of the great joys of my life. But that joy comes with trauma — his, ours, his biological family’s — that has forever changed us. We chose to adopt and therefore accept the humbling, messy, demanding work of navigating the road toward healing and connection. Our son did not get to choose, and soon thousands of infants and birth mothers may not have a choice, either.

In my work as the director of a nonprofit supporting child welfare-involved youth and families, I’m well aware of how there is already a serious lack of accessible, effective trauma-healing resources for children, birth mothers and adoptive families in this country. But then I experienced this first hand after bringing our son home. 

Though my husband and I had ready access to experts in adoption and trauma via my work, a supportive network of family and friends, and the time, money and desire to provide every available resource to support our son’s healing, we struggled. It took me a year to find an adoption-literate therapist who could take us on (at $200 per week, no less) and longer to find a trauma-trained caregiver who we trusted to watch our son for even a couple of hours. 

We needed help addressing his intense rages, in which he punched himself and the walls while wailing from a place so deep inside that it sounded primal — which it was. He would fight in school and run away; he scrawled “I hat u mom and dade” in Sharpie on his bedroom wall. Despite being loved, wanted and safe, he was operating in fight-or-flight mode 24 hours a day, his pulse racing under my tentative fingers even as his eyelids drooped during book time. 

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No amount of training or education could have prepared my husband and me for the force of his pain, but slowly, day by day, we inched forward. We threw “normal parenting” out the window, battling our own triggers so we could model calmness and safety even as he tantrumed. We patched the holes in the drywall without a word and stopped chasing him when he ran away. 

Over time our son’s nervous system came out of overdrive, and he stopped perceiving everything and everyone as a threat. We started to see glimpses of the compassionate, silly, creative boy trapped inside that shell of fear. Exhausted but hopeful, we stayed the course.

Not every adopted child will rage, but every one will carry trauma that manifests in diverse ways until it is faced and processed. The son of a friend, adopted at birth from a mother who experienced food insecurity, suddenly began hoarding food as a teen; an adult I know, adopted at two months old, was a self-described “happy, perfect child” until she left for college, when seemingly out of nowhere she began cutting herself, failing classes and fantasizing about suicide. The transition of leaving her safe hometown, where everyone knew her as so-and-so’s daughter, and going to college, where her dorm room photos raised questions about why her entire family was white though she was Asian, opened up the wound of her early trauma.

As for birth mothers, the young women who never wanted to be mothers in the first place, they also suffer complicated losses — the loss of their freedom to choose when and under what circumstances they give birth, the loss of the children they never intended to have.

Four years later after his adoption our son is thriving, though the impact of his past has changed him — and us — forever. He steps out of that shell of fear almost every day now, but it is always there, just as the ache for his first parents will always be there, too. He trusts and loves me but remains hypervigilant, anxiously asking “What’s wrong, Mom?” when he observes even the tiniest micro-expression of frustration or annoyance crease my brow. He wakes often at night and paces; at 11, he worries about the future.

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Republican lawmakers are prepared to take away a woman’s right to choose without any sign that they’ve given earnest consideration to, let alone resources for, the long-term effects of such a decision. Adoption, a fraught reality for many that is made more complicated because it contains both beauty and pain, should never be propped up by lawmakers as the easy solution to a problem they created by wielding their outsized power over millions of Americans. 

Adoption requires a lifelong commitment, and serious patience, time and therapeutic interventions. It should never be forced on anyone. Lawmakers should strive to understand, plan for and fund trauma-healing support services for the thousands of youths and families in the United States already touched by adoption, instead of committing thousands of more Americans to it without their consent.

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