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Rob Waugh

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Dinosaur tail found in amber at market in Myanmar

The tip of a preserved dinosaur tail section, showing carbon film at its surface exposure, and feathers arranged in keels down both sides of tail.

Source: Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar)
The tip of a preserved dinosaur tail section, showing carbon film at its surface exposure, and feathers arranged in keels down both sides of tail.

Scientists browsing a market in Southeast Asia have uncovered a highly unusual 99-million-year-old feathered dinosaur tail encased in amber.

It is rare to find a feather attached to a dinosaur’s body in an amber sample, and it supports the position among researchers that many dinosaurs had feathers rather than scales, like the birds that have descended from them.


This reconstruction depicts a small coelurosaur approaching a resin-coated branch on the forest floor.

Source: Chung-tat Cheung
This reconstruction depicts a small coelurosaur approaching a resin-coated branch on the forest floor.

The study’s lead author, Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, found the unusual specimen at an amber market in Myanmar in 2015, and urged the Dexu Institute of Palaeontology to buy the piece after recognizing its potential scientific importance.

The team used a CT scan to peer into the fossil, finding that the long and flexible nature of the tail meant it had to belong to a dinosaur, not a bird.

The tail belonged to a dinosaur called Coelurosaur — a dinosaur about the size of a small bird, from the same theropod group of dinosaurs as Tyrannosaurus rex. Despite the feathers, the dinosaur was not able to fly, providing more evidence for the contention that plumage originally began popping up on animals for reasons other than flight — such as for camouflage or attracting mates.

Amber is fossilized tree sap, and it acts as a kind of resin that can preserve organic matter that would otherwise be lost.

“Amber pieces preserve tiny snapshots of ancient ecosystems, but they record microscopic details, three-dimensional arrangements, and labile tissues that are difficult to study in other settings,” one of the study’s authors, Ryan McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, said in a news release. “This is a new source of information that is worth researching with intensity and protecting as a fossil resource.”

The mystery planet that could destroy the Earth


Just in time for summer movie season comes news that something huge is lurking out there at the edge of the solar system. It’s really big. It’s never before been detected. It’s warping gravity fields.

No, it’s not the latest Michael Bay disaster-fest or the mothership from “Independence Day.” It’s not the hypothesized Planet 9 that everyone was talking about a little over a year ago. Probably it’s another planet. Or maybe that mothership.

Back in 2016, the Internet was all atwitter with the news that astronomers believed they had located another planet at the edge of the solar system. Planet 9, as they called it, was discovered through a study of disturbances in the orbits of Sedna and other less-than-planet-size objects out there in the vicinity of Pluto (which was a planet when most of us were kids and now isn’t).

This area is known as the Kuiper Belt. Astronomers, who don’t like to waste mental energy deciding what to call things they study, have a name for objects in the Kuiper Belt: Kuiper Belt Objects. It is through modeling the movement of these KBOs (see what I mean?) that the search for Planet 9 has proceeded. Nobody has seen Planet 9 yet, even with the most powerful telescopes, although with the help of millions of citizen astronomers, researchers have narrowed the field of possible suspects.

Anyway, it turns out that Planet 9 is not the only massive object out there warping the orbits of the KBOs. According to soon-to-be-published research by Kat Volk and Renu Malhotra of the University of Arizona, there’s another one. It’s called . . . well, it doesn’t have a name yet, but we can make a good guess.

Malhotra has such a nice way with an explanation that she could play the scientist in the movie version:

“Imagine you have lots and lots of fast-spinning tops, and you give each one a slight nudge . . . If you then take a snapshot of them, you will find that their spin axes will be at different orientations, but on average, they will be pointing to the local gravitational field of Earth.”

She continues:

“We expect each of the KBOs’ orbital tilt angle to be at a different orientation, but on average, they will be pointing perpendicular to the plane determined by the sun and the big planets.”

Only the angles are wrong. They’re warped in a slightly different direction, as they would be if the gravity of another planet were affecting them. But Planet 9, wherever it is, would be too far away to have the effects they have found. So there is almost certainly another mass out there. (The researchers estimate only a 1 percent to 2 percent possibility that the measurements represent a statistical fluke.)

You don’t have to be a science nerd to be fascinated. You can be a garden-variety sci-fi fan. Or you could just happen to like disaster movies.

The researchers tell us that these unseen planets are rogues. At some point they wandered into the solar system, and were captured by the gravity of Sol, our puny little sun. Now they’re stuck in orbit, messing with our calculations.

Maybe. But maybe not. Let’s sit back and don our 3-D glasses and grab a handful of popcorn (or perhaps don our foil hats) as we take a moment to consider a more sobering possibility. Here’s the thing to remember about rogue planets: They’re not just wanderers; they can be destroyers, too. Simulations tell us that some 60 percent of rogue planets that enter the solar system would bounce out again. But in 10 percent of cases, the rogue will take another planet along as it departs.

Just like that, Neptune is gone. Or Mars. Or, you know, us.

Tell me that’s not a weapon of interstellar war. (OK, fine, the capture of another planet would take hundreds of centuries. So it’s a weapon of war for a very patient species. Or one that perceives time differently. But how do we know it’s not already happening? Anyway, never mess with the narrative!)

And there’s something else for the sci-fi paranoiac to chew on along with the popcorn. The sequence. In early 2016, astronomers find a disturbance in the Kuiper Belt Objects and think “planet.” Fine, natural phenomenon. Then this year, they find another disturbance and think “another planet.” Fine, natural phenomenon. Then how is it that we never noticed before? Maybe the disturbances are . . . recent. So if by chance we’re soon told of a third disturbance, then by the James Bond theory of conspiracy it’s enemy action.

Cue heavy overdone music. Cue our most powerful weapons having no effect. Cue a broken family trying to reunite. Cue Roland Emmerich. I mean, somebody’s got to make this movie, right? I’ll be there on opening day.

Stephen Hawking says we have 100 years to colonize a new planet—or die. Could we do it?

Here’s what it would take to survive this particular doomsday prophecy

Why Brain Scientists Are Still Obsessed With The Curious Case Of Phineas Gage ?


Image result for images of the brain

It took an explosion and 13 pounds of iron to usher in the modern era of neuroscience.

In 1848, a 25-year-old railroad worker named Phineas Gage was blowing up rocks to clear the way for a new rail line in Cavendish, Vt. He would drill a hole, place an explosive charge, then pack in sand using a 13-pound metal bar known as a tamping iron.

But in this instance, the metal bar created a spark that touched off the charge. That, in turn, “drove this tamping iron up and out of the hole, through his left cheek, behind his eye socket, and out of the top of his head,” says Jack Van Horn, an associate professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

Gage didn’t die. But the tamping iron destroyed much of his brain’s left frontal lobe, and Gage’s once even-tempered personality changed dramatically.

“He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity, which was not previously his custom,” wrote John Martyn Harlow, the physician who treated Gage after the accident.

This sudden personality transformation is why Gage shows up in so many medical textbooks, says Malcolm Macmillan, an honorary professor at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences and the author of An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage.

“He was the first case where you could say fairly definitely that injury to the brain produced some kind of change in personality,” Macmillan says.

And that was a big deal in the mid-1800s, when the brain’s purpose and inner workings were largely a mystery. At the time, phrenologists were still assessing people’s personalities by measuring bumps on their skull.

Gage’s famous case would help establish brain science as a field, says Allan Ropper, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

One Account Of Gage’s Personality Shift

Dr. John Harlow, who treated Gage following the accident, noted his personality change in an 1851 edition of the American Phrenological Journal and Repository of Science.

“If you talk about hard core neurology and the relationship between structural damage to the brain and particular changes in behavior, this is ground zero,” Ropper says. It was an ideal case because “it’s one region [of the brain], it’s really obvious, and the changes in personality were stunning.”

So, perhaps it’s not surprising that every generation of brain scientists seems compelled to revisit Gage’s case.

For example:

  • In the 1940s, a famous neurologist named Stanley Cobb diagrammed the skull in an effort to determine the exact path of the tamping iron.
  • In the 1980s, scientists repeated the exercise using CT scans.
  • In the 1990s, researchers applied 3-D computer modeling to the problem.

And, in 2012, Van Horn led a team that combined CT scans of Gage’s skull with MRI scans of typical brains to show how the wiring of Gage’s brain could have been affected.

“Neuroscientists like to always go back and say, ‘we’re relating our work in the present day to these older famous cases which really defined the field,’ ” Van Horn says.

And it’s not just researchers who keep coming back to Gage. Medical and psychology students still learn his story. And neurosurgeons and neurologists still sometimes reference Gage when assessing certain patients, Van Horn says.

“Every six months or so you’ll see something like that, where somebody has been shot in the head with an arrow, or falls off a ladder and lands on a piece of rebar,” Van Horn says. “So you do have these modern kind of Phineas Gage-like cases.”

Two renderings of Gage’s skull show the likely path of the iron rod and the nerve fibers that were probably damaged as it passed through.

Van Horn JD, Irimia A, Torgerson CM, Chambers MC, Kikinis R, et al./Wikimedia

There is something about Gage that most people don’t know, Macmillan says. “That personality change, which undoubtedly occurred, did not last much longer than about two to three years.”

Gage went on to work as a long-distance stagecoach driver in Chile, a job that required considerable planning skills and focus, Macmillan says.

This chapter of Gage’s life offers a powerful message for present day patients, he says. “Even in cases of massive brain damage and massive incapacity, rehabilitation is always possible.”

Gage lived for a dozen years after his accident. But ultimately, the brain damage he’d sustained probably led to his death.

He died on May 21, 1860, of an epileptic seizure that was almost certainly related to his brain injury.

Gage’s skull, and the tamping iron that passed through it, are on display at the Warren Anatomical Museum in Boston, Mass.

Scientists say your “mind” isn’t confined to your brain, or even your body


Image result for mind blown gif

You might wonder, at some point today, what’s going on in another person’s mind. You may compliment someone’s great mind, or say they are out of their mind. You may even try to expand or free your own mind.

But what is a mind? Defining the concept is a surprisingly slippery task. The mind is the seat of consciousness, the essence of your being. Without a mind, you cannot be considered meaningfully alive. So what exactly, and where precisely, is it?

Traditionally, scientists have tried to define the mind as the product of brain activity: The brain is the physical substance, and the mind is the conscious product of those firing neurons, according to the classic argument. But growing evidence shows that the mind goes far beyond the physical workings of your brain.

No doubt, the brain plays an incredibly important role. But our mind cannot be confined to what’s inside our skull, or even our body, according to a definition first put forward by Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and the author of a recently published book, Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human.

He first came up with the definition more than two decades ago, at a meeting of 40 scientists across disciplines, including neuroscientists, physicists, sociologists, and anthropologists. The aim was to come to an understanding of the mind that would appeal to common ground and satisfy those wrestling with the question across these fields.

After much discussion, they decided that a key component of the mind is: “the emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within and among us.” It’s not catchy. But it is interesting, and with meaningful implications.

The most immediately shocking element of this definition is that our mind extends beyond our physical selves. In other words, our mind is not simply our perception of experiences, but those experiences themselves. Siegel argues that it’s impossible to completely disentangle our subjective view of the world from our interactions.

“I realized if someone asked me to define the shoreline but insisted, is it the water or the sand, I would have to say the shore is both sand and sea,” says Siegel. “You can’t limit our understanding of the coastline to insist it’s one or the other. I started thinking, maybe the mind is like the coastline—some inner and inter process. Mental life for an anthropologist or sociologist is profoundly social. Your thoughts, feelings, memories, attention, what you experience in this subjective world is part of mind.”

The definition has since been supported by research across the sciences, but much of the original idea came from mathematics. Siegel realized the mind meets the mathematical definition of a complex system in that it’s open (can influence things outside itself), chaos capable (which simply means it’s roughly randomly distributed), and non-linear (which means a small input leads to large and difficult to predict result).

In math, complex systems are self-organizing, and Siegel believes this idea is the foundation to mental health. Again borrowing from the mathematics, optimal self-organization is: flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable. This means that without optimal self-organization, you arrive at either chaos or rigidity—a notion that, Siegel says, fits the range of symptoms of mental health disorders.

Finally, self-organization demands linking together differentiated ideas or, essentially, integration. And Siegel says integration—whether that’s within the brain or within society—is the foundation of a healthy mind.

Siegel says he wrote his book now because he sees so much misery in society, and he believes this is partly shaped by how we perceive our own minds. He talks of doing research in Namibia, where people he spoke to attributed their happiness to a sense of belonging.

When Siegel was asked in return whether he belonged in America, his answer was less upbeat: “I thought how isolated we all are and how disconnected we feel,” he says. “In our modern society we have this belief that mind is brain activity and this means the self, which comes from the mind, is separate and we don’t really belong. But we’re all part of each others’ lives. The mind is not just brain activity. When we realize it’s this relational process, there’s this huge shift in this sense of belonging.”

In other words, even perceiving our mind as simply a product of our brain, rather than relations, can make us feel more isolated. And to appreciate the benefits of interrelations, you simply have to open your mind.

Evidence shows that marijuana works for pain, the medical reason most people want it — but doctors still have questions

Kevin Loria,Business Insider

marijuana cannabis pot weed bud nug(Shutterstock)

The most common reason that people seek out medical marijuana is for chronic pain.

According to a report released earlier in January by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), that makes a lot of sense.

One of the strongest conclusions of the report, which provides basically the most comprehensive, up-to-date look at what all available research on cannabis tell us, is that there is conclusive or substantial evidence (in general, enough to make a firm conclusion) that cannabis or cannabinoids, found in the marijuana plant, can be an effective treatment for chronic pain.

This matters because it has implications for how we treat pain and how we assess the value of medical marijuana. It also helps illustrate how — despite its DEA Schedule I status that declares it has “no currently accepted medical use” — most research indicates there are indeed potentially important medical uses for cannabis.

But at the same time, doctors still want more research to help them decide when marijuana might help a patient and when something else is a better idea.

How marijuana can help

Pain itself is a weird and complex thing. It’s subjective and personal and can’t be precisely measured with a test. That’s because even when it’s pain associated with a part of your body, it’s really your brain that’s telling you to hurt. If a pinched nerve in your spine is causing your back to spasm, your brain’s way of telling you that something is wrong is to make you feel an ache that might throb constantly or make you feel an explosive jolt if you worsen the pinch with certain movements.

But all those sensations are coming from your brain, telling you to take action to deal with some part of your body. And everyone reacts to these stimuli in different ways.

That’s why there are so many different ways to treat pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce inflammation by blocking the chemicals your body creates in response to an injury that cause that inflammation. Opioids bond to opioid receptors you already have in your body, which can cause feelings of euphoria and block sensations of pain. We know that acetaminophen (Tylenol) can treat some forms of pain, but we don’t know how it works or why. Even non-pharmacological treatments can stop your brain from telling you to feel hurt, with interesting research showing that meditation and virtual reality can both effectively treat pain.

According to the NASEM report, studies show that both inhaled marijuana (vaporized or smoked) and cannabinoid compounds that come from the cannabis plant (like THC, mostly responsible for the high, or cannabidiol, CBD, one of the most medically promising of the hundreds of chemical compounds found in marijuana) work for pain. This is likely largely related to natural cannabinoid receptors that we already have in our body and that doctors think play a role in pain control. But the exact mechanisms showing how marijuana relieves pain are not fully understood yet.

marijuana pot weed flower bud dispensary store(John Locher/AP)

It’s no surprise that people seek out cannabis for chronic pain, as it’s incredibly — in some ways disturbingly — common. About 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, about one-third of the population, and it’s difficult to treat, especially in cases where the cause is unclear. Such pain is the leading cause of long-term disability. In some cases, opioids may be the best treatment for this pain, but the rapid rise in opioid addiction over the years makes many people want to find safer solutions.

With that in mind, cannabis seems like a good option. In states that have legalized medical marijuana for pain, addiction and opioid overdose rates have dropped.

But doctors still have questions.

Why some doctors are still hesitant to suggest marijuana

“Usually when you make decisions about which drug you are going to take for pain, you make that decision based on the type of pain you have and the relative risks for side effects,” says Ryan Vandrey, an associate professor of psychiatry who researches marijuana at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

When it comes to marijuana, “millions of people are using different types of cannabis products for supposedly therapeutic purposes,” says Vandrey. That introduces a lot of uncertainty to the equation. The marijuana bought at one dispensary in California is going to be very different from an oil bought at another Colorado medical marijuana shop; both will be different from a cannabinoid drug designed to help with pain. All of these substances fall under the cannabis umbrella, but depending on their specific cannabinoid content and the means through which they are ingested, they’re going to have different effects. All those people using those products for therapeutic purposes are “lacking information about which types of products to choose, what doses to use, and how cannabis compares to other medications,” according to Vandrey.

There’s already uncertainty over whether the pain relief from marijuana is on the scale of an over-the-counter drug like ibuprofen, or, more powerful, able to relieve the same pain as an opioid. Different sorts of cannabis products might fill different roles. With all of these questions, it’s hard for doctors to know when recommending marijuana makes the most sense, even if studies indicate that it works.

More research will be needed before we have answers to those questions, and as the NASEM report, Vandrey, and other researchers Business Insider has interviewed all point out, there are obstacles that make it hard to study marijuana.

But clearly, if it’s effective — especially if it can replace more dangerous drugs like opioids — that research is important.


Calling Good What Is Evil And Evil What Is Good

Christina Forreste


Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

I truly believe the Word of God is living, staying relevant to each generation as we apply it to today. Indeed, it is sharper than any two-edged sword. So, when I come upon a verse such as Isaiah 5:20 at a certain time, it cuts through all the rhetoric, all the arguments, all the politics, all the religious talk and “Christian-ese” and gets to the heart of the issue. This is a verse for such a time as this. For months, I and millions of others have been witness to this scripture being lived out in churches and on the national stage. It does not matter whether you are a Democrat or a Republican – this comes down to basic values and crosses party and denominational lines. I have seen what is good called evil and what is evil called good.

Putting Light for Darkness and Sweet for Bitter

Speaking in anger…is not good. Hateful attitudes and lack of compassion towards a person or group because of their immigration status, color, country of origin or religion…is not good. Pride and exalting oneself above others, ego that is out of control, and lack of humility…is not good. Bragging about sexual assault, stereotyping, lying, sexism, exalting one’s wealth, bullying…is never good. None of this is good, yet we have 81 percent of white evangelicals who have supported and called out what is evil as being good. We have a situation where a large population of our nation’s churches have declared that what Jesus said was evil in his sight, is now good. They have said that what He declared as bitter is now sweet, what He preached as darkness is now light! Thus, we have a spiritual crisis in America.

This isn’t about political and differing views on policy or “how to make America great again.” I am certainly not saying that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is not a Christian. It is never OK to make that accusation, as only God knows the heart. I am talking about those religious leaders and Christians who have embraced ideology of hate and judgment and supported, even promoted, values that are completely contrary to God’s Word and called it “holy.” For months before the election and even more so after the election, I have seen Christian people telling the followers of Christian Democrats of America and me personally that they are not Christians if they vote for Democrats, but they are good Christians if they vote for someone who said you can sexually assault women without their consent. They have embraced racism, bigotry, xenophobia and sexism and called it Christian values. They need to remember what Jesus embraced: character, love, and the outcasts of society.

Just look at Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman – an outcast because of her religion, her ethnic status, and because she was a woman. He not only broke the religious and society rules by speaking to her, He shocked all with His love and He touched her heart by reaching out to her. He was continuously criticized and degraded by the Pharisees and teachers of the law on who He dined with, and let’s not even start on the “riff-raff” He asked to be His disciples! And since this is Christmas, remember the complete humility of Jesus very beginnings. He was born in nothing more than a barn, and He rode into Jerusalem not on a beautiful noble steed with gold plated saddle, but a simple donkey.

So, to put this into perspective, let’s use this example: say you are a Republican Christian and you care deeply about the working poor of this country, as I, a Christian Democrat, do. We both care based on our Christian values, we just reach a different conclusion as to what will help the poor. This is not you being evil as a conservative and me being good as a liberal or vice versa – this is a difference of political views. We can and should hold mutual respect as believers on this standpoint, even as we disagree on policy and vote differently – remembering we have a mutual goal and value. However, if you belittle the poor, if you scapegoat minorities who are poor, if you insult them, if you are hardhearted and without compassion…we now stand on opposite ends of scripture and you have just embraced an ideology that calls what Jesus Christ said is evil, good.

Sometimes what is passed off as good or holy on the outside is not. Jesus made this abundantly clear in Matthew 23:5-7, “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” And in verse 28, “In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Matthew 23 lays out very clearly the seriousness of this issue of hypocrisy, religious bullying and “gagging on a gnat while swallowing a camel.” Here is the best way to tell if you are dealing with a person or church that is calling good what is evil – the Pharisee will point out your sin and condemn you, Christ will point out your value and love you.

Putting Darkness for Light and Bitter for Sweet

Likewise, we have also seen good things and good works called bad. I have seen liberals mocked relentlessly for pushing an agenda of love and compassion. Efforts to help the poor are said to be giving handouts to drug addicts. A Christian President who has had no scandals while in office, no investigations for corruption, who has upheld the office with decency and a high moral grounding accused of being a Muslim terrorist and disrespected in every way. And I’ve seen a lifelong Christian woman who made her campaign slogan about love and kindness be slandered, insulted, threatened, and falsely accused of the worst things you can think of. She continually quoted the famous Methodist quote by John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can,” and spoke of social justice and lifting every one up – but certain Christians called this, which was good, evil.

Divorce in many conservative Christian circles is still a very dirty word, yet they embraced and excused a man with three divorces and multiple adulterous affairs, and mocked a candidate who had stood through the trial of extra-marital affairs and saved her marriage. There was a special kind of hypocritical irony to watching Christian Trump supporters completely denigrate something which has always been applauded by conservative Christians…calling saving a marriage bitter and multiple divorces and affairs, sweet. One must begin to wonder what “family values” this group of believers actually believe anymore.

You may not have agreed with Hillary Clinton’s policies. You may have disagreed with her approach to the issues – and that’s fine. But what we saw this year was not simple disagreement. The Republican convention and the Trump rallies were full of hatred – it was chanted, it was on signs, even little children held signs with curse words. They said it with bitterness, they treated her supporters with hatred. This kind of visceral attack I saw from people who claim to know Christ, towards this woman who is a fellow sister-in-Christ, can only be put best into words by Jesus Himself: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Never murder. Whoever murders will answer for it in court.’ But I can guarantee that whoever is angry with another believer will answer for it in court. Whoever calls another believer an insulting name will answer for it in the highest court. Whoever calls another believer a fool will answer for it in hellfire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

Michael Gerson, columnist for the Washington Post, said, “Evangelicals in particular should be speaking out for values, not just being on a team…it’s what they said was the most important thing and now that’s totally discredited.” What so many in the conservative Christian church-world preached for decades they called bitter this year. So how can any person take seriously a staunch message of values from the church-world anymore? Well, if any of you are searching or are unsure, let me leave you with this: Let the Bible itself be your guide, and if your preacher is calling what Jesus said was good, evil, and what Jesus said was evil, good, get away from that place as fast as you can and shake the dust off your feet! People reach out to us at Christian Democrats of America on a daily basis, with a great increase after the election, asking if we know of a church they can attend that is not preaching Right-Wing politics, focuses on love and social justice, and is friendly and open to all people. We are building a national list of “safe churches” for this very reason.

Marijuana’s Expansion Could Turn Into a Nightmare for Employers

While marijuana marches forward, drug-testing policies for employers remain stuck in neutral.

Man Holding Marijuana Plant Leaves In Hands Getty

As we look back at what’s transpired in 2016, it could rightly be argued that this was the most successful year ever for marijuana.

2016: Marijuana’s most successful year ever

Entering 2016, 23 states had legalized cannabis for medical use, while residents in four states — Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska — had approved the sale of recreational pot to adults ages 21 and up. Furthermore, Gallup’s 2015 marijuana poll found that 58% of Americans favored the legalization of recreational weed.

Now, less than two weeks before the end of the year, 28 states have legalized medical cannabis, two of which did so entirely through the legislative process (Ohio and Pennsylvania). The number of recreational pot states has also doubled to eight from four, with residents in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada all approving statewide initiatives to legalize adult-use weed. Even marijuana’s public approval has increased, with the 2016 Gallup poll finding that 60% of Americans want to see pot legal across the U.S. — a new all-time high. For added context, just 25% of Americans wanted to see marijuana use legalized two decades ago.

The proof of marijuana’s success can be seen in its election near-sweep (sorry, Arizona), as well as in the rapidly growing legal dollar figures behind the industry. Investment firm Cowen & Co is forecasting compound annual growth for the legal pot industry of nearly 24% through 2026, while ArcView is calling for 30% annualized legal sales growth through the end of the decade.

Marijuana Cannabis Bud On Top Of Hundred Dollar Bill Getty

Marijuana’s expansion could very well lead to an employment boom within the industry, with some pundits calling for a 100% to 200% increase in pot jobs available in the near future. CNBC is estimating that the cannabis industry already employs about 150,000 people, so we could be talking about another 150,000 to 300,000 jobs being created solely because of marijuana’s state-level expansion.

However, outside the marijuana industry, it could be another story.

A nightmare for employers is brewing

While marijuana’s expansion is setting up bountiful opportunities within the pot industry, it could be narrowing employment opportunities elsewhere.

Even though more than half of all U.S. states have legalized medical cannabis, and more than a fifth of the U.S. population will soon have access to legal recreational cannabis following the November elections, the federal government still holds marijuana to be a schedule 1 substance. Schedule 1 drugs are deemed to have no medical benefits and are thus illegal. Employers are within their right to follow federal law during the hiring and/or employment process and administer drug tests that screen for marijuana, even if the state a worker resides in has legalized medical and/or recreational pot. Given that marijuana can stay in a person’s system for a considerable amount of time, this could prove a problem for infrequent users in legal states, and especially for medical marijuana patients who need the drug to treat a specific ailment.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, companies in certain safety-sensitive industries, as well as those that operate directly with the federal government, are unlikely to relax their drug-testing qualifications for initial or continued employment. Industries such as trucking and construction, which require the user to operate heavy machinery, are almost assuredly not going to budge on their marijuana-testing standards, especially with the full effects of marijuana on drivers still not fully known.

Employer Drug Test Marijuana Pot Cannabis Weed Getty

Likewise, federal contractor Boeing (NYSE:BA), which employs nearly 162,000 — many of whom are in Washington and California — has firmly stated that it has no intention of changing its drug-testing policy regardless of what laws individual states pass. According to the company, “As a federal contractor, The Boeing Company’s Drug Free Workplace policy is based on federal standards which define marijuana as an illegal drug. Therefore the use of marijuana by Boeing employees is prohibited.” For what it’s worth, Boeing hasn’t experienced major shifts in hiring despite the passage of recreational marijuana laws in Washington state, but that isn’t the case with other industries where it has been difficult to find workers to hire who can pass (and continue to pass) a drug test.

Barry Sample, the aptly named Director of Sciences and Technology for Quest Diagnostics, the company that handles most drug testing for employers, told the Los Angeles Times that most California employers don’t plan to change their policies on marijuana, and many of those in Washington and Colorado that had suggested they would alter their drug-testing policies have not followed through.

A reminder of marijuana’s many challenges

If there’s a lesson to be learned behind the growing clash over legal state-level marijuana use and employers that ardently oppose their employees’ use of pot, it’s that marijuana’s path to success is probably more challenging than most people realize.

Scientist Writing On Clipboard Marijuana Cannabis Getty

Until marijuana is rescheduled by the federal government, many employers that are currently testing for it (along with other illegal substances) are probably going to continue to do so. But that’s the problem — the federal government isn’t liable to alter its stance on cannabis anytime soon. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency had its opportunity to reschedule pot this summer but declined. The DEA cited a lack of safety and medical evidence, as well as a lack of knowledge surrounding the chemical makeup of marijuana, as reasons for declining to reschedule pot. Petitions that call for the DEA to reschedule or de-schedule marijuana can take years to review.

Also, even though President-elect Donald Trump has demonstrated support for medical marijuana, it doesn’t mean that Republican leaders in Congress will agree. Of the states that have not legalized medical marijuana, many are led by Republican legislators.

These employment challenges compound a number of existing challenges that actual marijuana businesses are also facing, which stem from the federal government’s stance on marijuana. As long as cannabis stays as a schedule 1 substance, access to basic banking services (i.e., checking accounts and lines of credit) will remain constrained, and pot industry businesses probably won’t be able to take normal business deductions come tax time.

Though marijuana’s expansion could continue in 2017 and beyond, it’s expected to be filled with some sizable hiccups and speed bumps.