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April 08, 2008

Annals of Addiction: how cannabis initiation became an adolescent rite of passage.

Of the several unexpected (and to many, unwelcome) discoveries uncovered by questioning pot smokers over the past several years, two stand out. The first is that in the early Sixties, well before its existence had been clearly recognized by society at large, the generation we now know as the Baby Boom was just starting to discover the unique anxiolytic properties of cannabis (but only when it's inhaled).

Ironically, the term “anxiolytic” was coined at about the same time to describe the then-unique effect of benzodiazipines, of which Valium (1963) became the best known. The second discovery referred to above is more subtle because it involves a negative: very few have realized that because delivery by inhalation allows even more rapid onset than the IV route and more precise user control of the effective dose, inhaled pot (the "reefer" demonized in 1937) became the preferred anxiolytic of the youthful counterculture then beginning to emerge.

Thus from the historical and sociological points of view, what has ensued since the Sixties has been a result of the  blending of unique demographic and pharmacologic phenomena on a huge scale, in other words, what happened when the largest generation in American history discovered pot's unique pharmacologic properties in a setting that was already hopelessly confused by a long-standing federal policy failure and its (still successful) cover-up. In fact, the best modern evidence that the same cover-up is still successful is another negative: the almost unanimous
refusal by the media to ask even the most obvious questions about the drug war. Whether that refusal is out of conviction or ignorance is immaterial; what’s become most important is the denial itself.

Data from admitted pot smokers of all ages also reveals that from 1968 on, the age at which kids tried pot fell so rapidly that by 1975, it was being initiated in tandem with alcohol and tobacco. Also important is that the initiations are often in the form of a ritual in which small groups of naive initiates try to experience the drug's effects under the tutelage of a more experienced peer- often a cousin or older sibling. In essence, the typical “high” of cannabis is apparently so nuanced and subtle as to be missed by at least half of its would-be initiates the first time around. An implication of that finding is that there is probably a residual pool of people who never tried it a second time. Because of pot's documented anti-alcohol effect and two other facts: that all chronic users eventually tried alcohol and many became aggressive drinkers; it's quite possible that a number of people who were prone to become problem drinkers were denied an opportunity to benefit from pot by their initial failure to get high.

Needless to say, those who apply to use pot legally eventually did get "high," and it's equally clear that the anxiolytic state created when pot is inhaled is what jump-started its illegal market in the mid-Sixties and thus became the focus of Richard Nixon's drug war. Also clear is that pot's immediate anxiolytic effect, which is subject to precise user control, is what explains the gradual "bottom up" development of its huge illegal market, now estimated to be the most valuable of any harvested crop in the US, yet still welcoming huge imports from Canada and Mexico.

Ditto the still shadowy gray market, still thriving in California, despite staunch federal opposition for the past eleven years.

At some point, we humans may eventually recognize the enormity of the follies our species is capable of, but I wouldn’t bet on that happening anytime soon.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at April 8, 2008 03:57 PM