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February 22, 2008

Pot’s Delayed Popularity Part 2 (Historical, Logical, Scientific)

Part 1 of this entry dealt with the fact that cannabis, in its inhaled form, wasn’t experienced by large numbers of young Americans until the mid Sixties, an historical event that marked the first stirrings of today’s huge illegal market and pushed Richard Nixon, the clever, insecure and and famously paranoid Thirty-Seventh US President, into declaring “war” on drugs as a way to both punish his perceived political enemies and give his administration the police powers it coveted.

Although far more advanced by the Sixties compared to 1937 when the MTA was drafted by AnslingerPharmacology was still quite primitive in terms of what is known today. Also, John Mitchell’s rewrite of the MTA as the CSA doesn’t seem to have involved any “research” beyond what Anslinger relied on. Finally; although specific knowledge of human responses to designated “drugs of abuse” has always been their blind spot,  NIDA-sponsored drug studies are, nevertheless, among the most sophistcated being done. There are two general reasons  for that apparent contradiction: one is that NIDA has control over all research involving “drugs of abuse” and is thus positioned to automatically block any in which the study design might challenge drug war dogma.

Tending to balance that restrictive power and cast the agency in a more enlightened role as a promoter of science: the initial funding of cutting edge techniques in many disciplines has become a federal function by default; at least until potential commercial applications and economies of scale entice industry to take them up. Such was the case with the in-vivo microdialysis techniques that have become both routine and a mainstay of animal studies in both neuroscience and neuropharmacology: in return for NIDA funding, individual researchers often allowed NIDA spokespersons considerable latitude in spinning their results.

Beyond that, the fact that emphasis on such techniques has focused both psychiatric and pharmacologic research  on species other than humans has tended to keep studies of human behavior severely resticted. In addition, discouraging clinicians from discussing drug use with patients denigrated as “addicts,” or “criminals” has been effective since the Twenties; further stigmatizing clinical research as “anecdotal” (and therefore unscientific) was enough to dissuade physicians from undertaking them, at least until Proposition 215 made my own ad-hoc effort possible.

Finally; in the Anslinger era, his effort to block tenure for Alfred Lindesmith for daring to ask questions about policy didn’t excite much interest from academia; achieveing a similar effect in today’s more complex environment requires (far) more expensive methods. Hence (more or less) coordinated federal propaganda in support of the drug war that extends to all agencies under the nominal control of a drug czar. As for the scientific quality of that control, I can only offer the names of the last four czars in rebuttal: William Bennett, Lee Brown, Barry McCaffrey, and John Walters,

Doctor Tom


Posted by tjeffo at February 22, 2008 06:26 PM