November 27, 2007
Anxiety Planet (Logical, Historical)
The last entry began with a reference to modern "problems" that confront our species and are being exacerbated by IT; but I didn't list any specific problems or tell just how Information Technology may be making them worse. I hadn't meant to be coy; I simply wasn't sure which of several possible examples to cite. Certainly, one of the more pressing, and sure to concern those most influenced by IT, is Global Warming (GW).
GW’s most troublesome aspect is probably that despite general agreement that the planet has recently become warmer and human consumption of fossil fuels has played a role, there’s still no consensus on severity or how best to address it. Although some experts have expressed concerns that a rise in sea levels large enough to be significant may already be inevitable; others have been far more sanguine and also warned that that attempts to ameliorate GW by rapid reduction of CO2 emissions may be premature, could have dire economic consequences, and shouldn't be hastily undertaken.
As this is written, there seems a growing recognition that the planet’s warming and weather related problems are real, related to human activity, and more severe than first believed; thus there seems an increasing eagerness to take action. However, an oft-repeated caveat is that until China and the US, the planet’s biggest CO2 emitters, begin taking definite steps, other nations will be hard pressed to even come up with a plan.
The last time I checked, NASCAR racing was still a growth sport in the US and the authoritarian Chinese government just opted to invest in Airbus over Boeing.
Since there's a possibility that we may already be facing worse consequences from GW than first thought, our inactivity to date has really been a policy decision that may be compounding inevitable environmental damage; yet meek acceptance of that inactivity is the present default. Any "sense of the species” sentiment with respect to climate issues has yet to emerge; however, realistically, they are so broad and will require so much cooperation from such a large percentage of living humans that GW represents a kind of challenge our species hasn't knowingly had to deal with before.
Unfortunately, our species' history is also one of inability to cooperate. Whether acting as tribes, villages, city-states, or nations, humans have always tended to favor destructive competition over constructive cooperation. The most hopeful aspect of Global Warming could be the unique opportunity it offers for humans to work toward a common goal; but such thinking would require that the problem be seen as one of survival. Right now, the issue is seen more as a divisive one pitting low-lying island populations against those living at higher elevations or those with a vested interest in oil against various proponents of "green" energy.
Two other modern problems, also chracterized by denial, are the wars being waged against “terror” (WT) and “drugs,” (WD). Both are US policies, which despite definitional problems, have nominal UN support; either through treaty (WD) or Security Council approval (WT). Both have also been waged for a while: the WT from September 2001, and the WD from September 1969. Both are also destructive, failing expensively, distorting both American and Global society, and unsustainable. Yet, an increasingly unpopular president can be confident they will contine long after he leaves office in 2009.
Ironically, the most important reason for scrapping both wars is their implicit rejection of the importance of emotions in determining human behavior. Such denial flies in the face of both history and reality, and also compounds the emotional stress now being inflicted on our increasingly youthful human population. We humans, now competing for resources and living space on Planet Earth in unprecedented numbers, are increasingly finding ouselves on the receiving end of a daily flood of information that needs to be anwered, dealt with, or otherwise responded to in timely fashion. There has probably never been so much emotional stress inflicted on so many vulnerable people as now, and it only promises to get worse. Here in the US, the sharp increase in prevalence of stress-related syndromes like ADD, Bipolar Disorder, Panic Attacks, PTSD and persistent Insomnia (perhaps also morbid obesity) that have been observed over the past two decades should, ideally, have generated completely different kinds of assessments than were possible under the doctrinaire drug war beliefs now restraining Psychiatry, the Behavioral Sciences, and all of Medicine.
The big question is similar to the one posed by Global Warming: have we been dithering too long, or is there still time to undo the damage?
November 24, 2007
How IT is Endangering Humanity (Personal, Logical, Historical)
“To err is human...yet we remain all too prone to hasty judgments requiring later correction, which then often stay uncorrected. In fact, that tendency, coupled with our equally obvious reluctance to admit past mistakes, can be seen to account for some of our bigger modern problems.
The evidence that Science has been dominating human thought for about 500 years is all around us. Yet, most humans stubbornly cling to older belief systems rooted in Religion. it’s also evident that although several complex literate cultures evolved among the isolated groups of humans who survived the several emigrations our ancestors made out of Africa over several thousand years, Homo sapiens is still a relatively new species and our “modern” brains are far more remarkable for their similarities than their differences.
The precise origins of empirical Science are debatable, but the names of several European polymaths stand out as major contributors. Copernicus, an ascetic Polish churchman was clearly not the first to propose that the Earth isn’t the center of the Universe, but did so within an organized hypothesis, and in a setting in which his ideas could be validated by near contemporaries. One such was Gutenberg, less ascetic but nevertheless a very talented inventor, who made a critical contribution to Science by inventing moveable type and thus facilitating both its dissemination and democratization; both of which acted as multipliers
It’s also clear that the ideas of Copernicus were known to Galileo, another polymath credited with being the father of Astronomy. Gallileo used his early version of the telescope to validate the heliocentric hypothesis of Copernicus, and was thus famously punished by the Church for what was the first transformation of an unwelcome (“inconvenient’) hypothesis into useful scientific theory.
An equally prodigious intellect, Isaac Newton, born in England about six decades after Gallileo, is accorded similar status as a giant of modern Science. Considered the father of modern Physics, Newton was the first to describe gravity and also also made original contributions to Optics, Mechanics, and Mathematics. He is less well known for his later interests in alchemy and biblical scholarship.
My point here is that despite its importance, Science remains very poorly understood by the masses and its empirical methodology and findings are not nearly as integrated into policy decisions as they should be in an increasingly complex and overcrowded world. It is now possible to at least begin to understand why that rather ludicrous situation prevails: we are so distrustful of our emotions, as a species, that we have not been able to study them with the same degree of detachment we routinely bring to bear on more purely physical phenomena. As a consequence, as we are becoming ever more overwhelmed by information, thanks to modern IT, our collective responses are becoming ever more malleable and misdirected; and thus more dangerous.
The culprits are our emotions, in the form of modernized variants of the same basic conflicts that have always divided humans and have, with increasing efficiency, also been multiplying the wealth and technologic prowess of our species to a point where our Darwinian need to survive is, ironically, pushing us towards what could be our own extinction.
These seem to be possibilities very few want to consider; yet, that the primacy of human emotions in determining human behavior is perhaps, the most important lesson to be learned from a systematic study of chronic drug use, particularly the use of inhaled cannabis.
Note: Now that a population study of chronic pot smokers has been "officially" recognized, I intend to comment more freely here on what I consider to be its implications. Rather than engage in sterile arguments with those who disagree, I would challenge them to do their own studies.
November 22, 2007
Focusing and Getting High: A key relationship. (Clinical, Legal, Historical)
Whether considered from the standpoint of optics, geometry, or cognition, “focus” involves bringing attention to bear on a central point. As a practical matter, most humans can only focus comfortably on one image or thought at a time; so much so, that one can easily understand how a child’s powerful impulse to investigate several stimuli at once could be both distracting to him and a distraction for those around him.
It’s precisely that pattern of behavior that many of the young male pot users treated for ADD in school over the past twenty five years are now able to recognize in themselves. Rather than boredom or inattention, ADD may be better understood as representing a fear of missing something: in essence, a pediatric anxiety syndrome characterized by the child’s chronically heightened awareness and the frustration produced by his rapidly shifting attention and list of unfinished assignments.
That anxiety seems expressed somewhat differently when the same children become young adults. At that point, it seems to be more a concern over having too much to do; one that can turn them into frazzled multitaskers. They are also the same patients who have discovered that a few morning tokes can provide just enough relief for them to make a list and thus become more efficient.
There are several directions I could go from here in attempting to clarify what may already sound like heresy to the DEA: inhaled pot became popular with troubled adolescents in the mid-Sixties precisely because it was a reliable anxiolytic that can also be easily controlled by experienced users. In that context, it may be most helpful to consider what getting high” actually means.
Following pot's discovery by juveniles in the late Sixties, a ritual quickly developed for trying it, usually with friends or older siblings, that was akin to those already observed by first-time users of alcohol and, to a lesser extent, tobacco. Also; comparison of the ages at which pot applicants were trying all three agents reveals that within a few years of its introduction to the teen market, pot was being tried at the same age as the other two agents. Consumption of alcohol to the point of intoxication, often accompanied by vomiting, is almost routine. For cigarettes, the “head rush” felt when nicotine is first inhaled is a simpler end point. For pot it's a more complex and subtle dual process; the first part is registering the very rapid anxiolytic effect of inhaled cannabinoids and the second is becoming able to recognize and control it by toking. Because it's so subtle, at least 40 percent of initiates didn’t "get high" until their second or even third attempts. Most experienced users will then usually describe the feeling simply as “relaxing,” but a more helpful description is that
almost immediately following the first toke, "the world suddenly becomes a nicer place.”
Once a user has been high, the ability to recognize that feeling becomes the key to its precise control. It's really the point at which one stops toking that ends a session. In essence, knowledge that one is “high” is what allows pot’s anxiolytic effect to become a guide to dosage. When a session is over; usually within an hour and a half, the user can either light up again or wait until later. What’s clear from interviewing thousands is that nearly all chronic users have developed consistent schedules and techniques for dealing with a range of individual symptoms. Employing those techniques involves several factors, including their own experiences, personal beliefs about drug use, and fear of having that use exposed.
Given its plethora of complex effects, the varying uninformed opinions about its use and the amount of "scientific" misinformation that's been promulgated over the past four decades, the highly variable, yet strikingly similar patterns of use employed by its illegal users is seen as powerful evidence that cannabis is being used safely and effectively for self-medication; undoubtedly by a larger fraction of the American public than has been realized.
Also, our vain attempts to repress that use over the same interval may well have kept us ignorant of its many benefits far longer than was necessary and done far more damage than we realized.
November 15, 2007
Drug War “Science” (Logical, Historical)
My last entry ended on a somewhat stuffy note: a promise to “deal with how drug war precepts have distorted the important lessons we might have been learning from less biased studies of drug use.”
A good example of the kind of “research” I was talking about was recently published; not only does it exemplify the thinking that has inspired most such studies since 1975, it also contained just enough of an unexpected twist to provoke favorable notice from several nominal proponents of medical marijuana. An additional advantage, at least in terms of what I hope to demonstrate, is that it deals directly with material similar to that examined by my own study: the relationship between the various psychotropic agents commonly tried (initiated) by contemporary adolescents.
The marked differences between the two study populations are also obvious: mine was of admitted chronic pot users of all ages willing and able to supply longitudinal data about their initiation and use of several agents; the Swiss study is a typical cross-sectional school survey with the usual restrictions: it could only look at a few arbitrarily selected behavioral features in those students who admitted to having tried cannabis
It also helps to remember that there had been very little adolescent interest in cannabis until relatively recently and that its market really didn’t begin growing until after its discovery by thousands of “kids” provoked America’s (Nixon’s) “war” on drugs toward the end of the Sixties.
One of the earliest consequences of that war was a spate of pot busts which, in turn, led to the formation of NORML (1972) as the drug war’s first full time opposition. Typical of federal bureaucracies, formation of the two agencies charged with fighting that war, the DEA (1973) and NIDA (1974), was more leisurely.
One early drug war shock was the MTF report that by 1976 almost half of American high school kids were sampling pot; yet the same limitations imposed by its illegality have continued to preclude the kind of in-depth clinical studies that might have allowed an understanding of its sudden popularity within the same age group that had been ignoring it for three decades.
Once my study had established enough historical and clinical context from details supplied by several cohorts of applicants (all chronic users), the answer became obvious: the unique and rapid onset of the anxiolytic effects of inhaled cannabis (reefer) were almost certainly what accounted for its popularity with the troubled baby boomers who had been the first large group of teens ever to try it at about the same time they were also trying tobacco and alcohol.
Not unexpectedly, the same propensities of most pot initiates to also try tobacco, and a minority of all tobacco initiates to resist regular tobacco use, had both been observed in my population; along with the reduced cigarette consumption by those who have been trying, so far without success, to quit cigarettes completely.
As with most other studies, the information gathered depends a lot on what could have been sought...
November 13, 2007
Generational Influences (Logical, Historical)
The first of three themes I’ve been emphasizing lately is that today’s illegal marijuana market really didn’t start growing until inhaled pot (“reefer”) was discovered by hippies in the mid Sixties. The second is that pot’s popularity with the then-youthful counterculture was the inspiration for Nixon’x disastrous “war” on drugs. The third is that the repressive prosecution of that war over the past four decades was enabled by an invidious law, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970. which was simply an amalgam of two failing and deceptive older pieces of legislation,the Harrison Act of 1914, and the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. The CSA completely neglected the woeful results of both while endorsing the already-discredited basic assumption they were based on: criminal prohibition is responsible public policy.
This entry will consider a somewhat different theme: that generation gaps, like the one between Nixon’s "silent majority” and their less disciplined Democratic opponents, have always existed. Indeed, although it may now seem unlikely, today’s gap, which is deeper than ever, still has the potential to turn 2008 into “deja vu all over again.”
That "marijuana," an illegal drug, had so much appeal to the youthful counterculture in the Sixties was the phenomenon turned it into such a troubling symbol for their parents and older Americans. In that context, it should be pointed out that both World War Two and Korea were fought by young Americans with similar values. Most WW2 veterans had been born in the Twenties. The Korean War, which began only 5 years after WW 2 ended, was fought by a mix of WW2 holdovers and draftees who were often their younger brothers, nephews and cousins. They also rememberd the Great Depression and tended to share similar attitudes, beliefs, and drug preferences.
The situation was dramatically different when the Viet Nam War began heating up in the Sixties; a new crop of American draftees was being threatened with combat in Asia. Almost exclusively baby boomers who had been born after 1945, and thus had become the nation’s first TV generation. They had also been raised in relative affluence during the Eisenhower Fifties. Data from Viet Nam vets who became career cannabis users suggests that those differences critically influenced not only their attitudes toward the draft and the Viet Nam war, but also reflected— and were influenced by— the availability of several new drugs during their adolescence. The prefrerences of those who became career pot smokers also usually included experimentation with newly christened “psychedelics,” most frequently peyote and/or LSD.
The next entry will deal with how drug war precepts have distorted the important lessons we might have been learning from less biased studies of drug use in contemporary society, rather than the highly restrictive “studies” allowed by a self protective policy committed to hiding its failures.
November 11, 2007
Denial as Intellectual Dishonesty (Logical, Political)
The opportunity Proposition 215 provided for a systematic study of pot smoking for the past six years was completely unexpected; the study became a high point in my professional career. Unfortunately, the knowledge obtained has generated more pessimism than hope because it reveals that not only has American drug policy been based on deception and fraud, the degree to which it has been accepted and exploited by governments around the world suggests a deeply ingrained human tendency to compete for bureaucratic control by cheating whenever possible, and to whatever degree seems necessary.
Of course, humans don’t readily admit to cheating, especially in “official” matters, thus the protocols by which nations deal with each other have always been deeply dishonest. Even now, when it appears our environment may have been seriously compromised by an uncritical reliance on technology, that idea is being denied by those with the most to lose, and at the risk of squandering precious time.
Denial has been defined psychologically as, “an unconscious defense mechanism used to reduce anxiety by denying thoughts, feelings, or facts that are consciously intolerable.” The implication left unspoken is that if what is being denied could be true, the act of denial becomes tantamount to lying. The most obvious contemporary drug policy example is the mainstream media’s apparent deafness to the APA’s announced support of medical marijuana. Three days following that surprising development, the internet is aware, but no major newspapers have even reported it; let alone commented.
When feigning deafness eventually becomes impossible, as with Evolution, Global Warming, or certain aspects of the “wars” on drugs and terror, the fall-back positions of those in denial often become unsupported claims that their favored alternativea are morally superior, and the ones they oppose will lead to disaster. Thus do they usually favor war over negotiations, profits over environmental preservation, and imprisonment over rehabilitation.
In the case of the drug war they have gotten away with a particularly egregious injustice by defining safe self-medication as a crime; entirely on the basis of deductive logic which has been assiduously protected for nearly a century from the rigorous scrutiny supposed to be applied to “evidence based” policy, and despite its obvious failures and piously dishonest claims.
Even if we acquire the courage to change American drug policy, a huge mess will remain....
November 08, 2007
Is the Drug War Ending?
I've long believed the drug war couldn’t end so long as organized Medicine provided it with even tacit support. That belief will soon be put to the test because the support of Psychiatry, the branch of Medicine arguably most crucial to the drug war, has just been ended by the American Psychiatric Association's announcement that it will now support the concept of medical marijuana and is opposd to the federal prosecution of marijuana users in states with medical marijuana laws. That could be very big news for the Californians who have been convicted of marijuana violations in federal court, have accepted plea bargains, or are awaiting trial on federal dharges. While this new stance by the APA should ultimatly lead to significant changes in the nation's drug policy, those now implementating that policy will retain considerable power to affect the pace at which those changes occur; as will our federal courts.
For example, my friend Dustin Costa, whose plight I've often referred to, and who was convicted a year ago following an egregiously unfair change in jurisdiction from state to federal, is scheduled to have his appeal heard by the Ninth Circuit on December 3 in San Francisco. Not only is the APA's announcement a stunning reversal, it was completely unexpected; in many respects, far more than the fall of the Berlin Wall which signaled the end of the Cold war.
One other thing: the Harm Reduction Journal will publish my paper on the use of cannabis by over 4000 Californians seeking a recommendation to use cannabis medically.
November 06, 2007
A Recent Bust...and How the Hippies Found Pot (Legal, Historical)
A key element in the development of what has become an increasingly grotesque American cultural anomaly was the introduction of pot to a youth-dominated hippie counterculture over forty years ago.
Recently, I promised to tell that story, and indeed, will do so. But, as so often happens, a local item in the San Francisco Chronicle is such an apt demonstration of “grotesque” and “anomalous” that I’m forced to discuss it first.
One might assume that in the tradition of Horatio Alger and Bill Gates, two hard working young brothers who became millionaires by starting a legal business, paying taxes, and playing by the rules would be left to enjoy their prosperity— not arrested on federal charges that could send them to prison for forty years— but, because the source of that prosperity was pot, one would be wrong.
To complicate matters even further, their plight reflects the cowardice of the US Supreme Court, which has passed up at least two opportunities to to resolve the conflict between a state law that allows marijuana possession for medical purposes and a federal law that absolutely forbids it. Could it be that the Court is skittish because the federal law is so illogical and increasingly bereft of scientific justification, while the one voters supported in 1996 makes more medical sense than ever? In other words, is their fear of being on the wrong side of history behind their embarrassing denial of judicial responsibility? Just how naked does our federal emperor have to become before our institutions (including the media and smarmy reporters) dare notice?
To return to how hippies discovered pot, it all began in the late Fifties when Beat writers and hangers-on from New York City began to develop a following that agreed with their rejection of the cultural homogenization being pushed by Madison Avenue under the spell of TV during the Eisenhower years. In the early Sixties, they began interacting with similarly disaffected, but somewhat younger, Pranksters then based in Northern California. The Beats were generally ten years older; to the extent thay had an intellectual center, it was Columbia University, where Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg met as freshmen in 1946. The Pranksters’ was Stanford, where Ken Kesey had studied creative writing under Wallace Stegner before writing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest."
The comings and goings of both groups, well documented in David Halbertstam’s classic generational history were heavily influenced by both drugs and the times. The Beats had tried pot through their admiration for blacks, whom they regarded as singularly free of American culture. What is also interesting to me is that what is known of their family relationships suggests they would have prized its anxiolytic properties.
Early on, the Pranksters had clearly discovered LSD and Peyote; in fact, they were disappointed in not being meeting Timothy Leary after their famous trip to NYC in “Furthur” because he was then recovering from an extended acid trip. Nevertheless, contact was established and a kinship of sorts developed between the two groups, as confirmed by the obscenity trial that followed Ginsberg’s memorable reading of Howl in San Francisco and the publicity created in its aftermath.
November 05, 2007
The rates at which American adolescents try (“initiate”) marijuana for the first time have been followed since 1975 when MTF surveys were devised by University of Michigan researchers. Limited to 12 graders at first, the surveys have since been expanded to include 8th and 10th graders and track initiation rates for alcohol and tobacco as well as for several other illegal agents. Although Michigan researchers have continued to conduct the surveys, their funding and analysis have been NIDA responsibilities since 1991 and protocols have changed considerably, making comparisons between different eras somewhat difficult. Recent data confirms that alcohol is the most frequently tried agent with 12th graders admitting to a 72% “lifetime” initiation rate in 2006. Marijuana and cigarettes had been tried by nearly half, but while the percentage trying cannabis has remained steady or increased, progressively fewer teens have been trying cigarettes over the past few years.
What wasn't noted in NIDA's text was that no other illegal drug has ever approached marijuana’s popularity with high school students nor do we know what comparable initiation patterns were for the various agents before 1975. Additional light has been shed on both questions by data provided by medical marijuana applicants in California, all of whom admitted to chronic use when first seen. When looked at by year of birth, 95.6% had been born during or after the post WW2 baby boom; also their initiation ages placed the great majority in high school or junior high when they first tried pot. Also, after the first wave of baby boomers, the age at which adolescents tried pot began falling progressively. Most revealing of all is that the average age of applicants born prior to 1945 had been over 25 at initiation, and only 13.07% had been younger than 19 .
Blending that data with MTF results allows us to trace the the origins of today’s illegal pot market to the late Sixties with great confidence. Thus when the “hippie” movement was in full swing, Nixon was about to become President; the war on drugs was less than a year away and the Controlled Substances Act had yet to be written. We can now also see clearly how today’s huge illegal market has grown incrementally: after each new cohort of adolescents enters secondary school, about half will try pot and an unknown percentage will become chronic users, either then or later. What isn’t known with certainty is what percentage of teen initiates eventually become “chronic,” or how long that phase lasts, but the fact that thirty percent of Californians seeking recommendation to use pot medically were between the ages of forty and sixty suggests it's comsiderable.
One of several logical questions raised by these considerations is how did the hippies discover pot? Another is what made it so popular with adolescents after that happened? Finally; why has cannabis commanded so much greater consumer loyalty than any other "drug of abuse?"
Answers to follow.
November 01, 2007
Is there a Gyre-Nurdle Connection? (logical)
First a disclaimer: the Google Ads are there because I expect this blog to be attracting more traffic in the near future. Their presence doesn’t constitute my professional endorsement of the services offered.
It’s only in the past twenty years or so that we’ve been coming to grips with the notion that the increasing energy consumption that’s been driving the Industrial Revolution for a little over two centuries may finally have raised atmospheric CO2 levels to a point where the Earth’s climate is being affected in ways that could threaten human survival. Although denied at first- and still far from a settled issue- Global Warming is clearly being taken more seriously in recent years, precisely because the planet’s weather has seemed to become progressively more extreme.
Even more recently, further evidence has emerged that carbon, the essential atom of both life and petroleum, may have once again been thrust by commercial interests into yet another role as stealth pollutant. My first awareness was coming across an unfamiliar word, nurdle, several months back. I remember being surprised that tank cars of plastic pellets were being shipped as raw material and that so much was somehow apparently leaking into the world’s oceans.
A more recent item, this one in the San Francisco Chronicle, called my attention to another new word, gyre, and to work by a concerned oceanographer named Charles Moore. It also raised the possibility, to me, at least, that nurdles might be both pre-production and post-production phenomena; the latter as a result of photodegradation of the ocean borne flotsam found in gyres. If so, the problem may eventually be even more urgent than Global Warming.
In either event, nurdles and gyres add up to trouble we may be hearing a lot more about in the near future.