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July 31, 2008

A Personal Note and a Statement

As the twelfth anniversary of California’s Proposition 215 approaches, it’s fair to say that although a cascade of unpredictable responses greeted the nation’s first medical marijuana law, nothing has been resolved. In fact, that particular response, which simply confirms the enormous appeal of pot for its consumers, is now so politicized that it reinforces the same stereotypes that enabled Richard Nixon to declare his mindless war on drugs in 1969.

Although several other medical marijuana laws have also passed, some by initiative and others by the legislative process, it’s fair to say they were so restricted by compromises forced on their sponsors that they are little more than vaguely perceived (and easily dismissed) echoes of support for a change in US drug policy. The real battleground remains California

Profound disagreement continues here over the “legitimacy” of any pot use whatsoever. Consistent with their murky historical records of involvement in Medicine, neither state nor federal courts have rendered very helpful decisions; because each left the initiative process intact, 215 remains the law; however the circumstances under which it should function remain as uncertain as they were when it passed.

What has changed has been the emergence of a large, but impossible to measure gray market, along with the parallel development of a patchwork bureaucracy claiming to regulate it. In the resultant bureaucratic chaos, patients trying to comply with the law are subjected to capricious arrest at the hands of patently dishonest state and federal law enforcement entities that increasingly collude in harassing them, stealing their property, and incarcerating them unjustly while wasting ever scarcer public funds in the process.

Although a firm supporter of the concept of medical use and the campaign for Proposition 215 from 1995 on, I hadn’t realized my own ignorance of pot culture until I began screening applicants in late 2001, and similarly didn’t tumble to the entrenched ignorance of the medical marijuana bureaucracy until I began reporting what applicants were telling me. Although still supporting the goals of the “movement,” I have been forced to conclude they are just as human, and therefore as prone to illogical thinking, as their political opponents.

In that spirit, I’ve tried to use this blog as a workshop for both reporting and understanding what patients have told me in confidence. Such is the essence of clinical research. Although I also realize that it took a controversial new law to recruit my research population, I remain convinced there are sufficient mechanisms for neutralizing whatever bias may have resulted.

At an early point in my involvement, the state’s licensing body, the Medical Board of California, revealed its own opposition to Proposition 215 by several attempts to investigate, or otherwise harass, the relatively few licensed physicians then daring to comply with its requirement for a written recommendation. Because I realized my own activities might also make me vulnerable, I decided to advise the board of my study and the degree to which its results challenge federal policy. The following report was delivered at the quarterly public meeting in May, 2005.

I’m posting the text here because I intend to update it with a more detailed account in the near future. Suffice it to say that the new data is even more supportive of the tentative conclusions reported then.

Doctor Tom

05/06/05: Dr. O'Connell's Statement to Medical Board of California

Although, cannabis had been widely used as an herbal palliative in Western Medicine for nearly a century, all prescriptive use was abruptly ended by passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Thus, whatever evidence persuaded California voters to pass Proposition 215 in 1996 must have been provided by individuals engaging in what was- of necessity- illegal self-medication during the late Eighties and early Nineties.

In fact, the disclosure of those illegal experiments by Doblin and Kleiman in the peer-reviewed medical literature in 1991 had called attention to the phenomenon and also provided some initial impetus for what eventually became a successful initiative.

After I began screening cannabis applicants in late 2001, the discovery that nearly all were already chronic users who had originally tried it during adolescence-- at about the same time most had also tried alcohol and tobacco-- led me to develop a structured interview aimed at a better understanding of that same self-medication phenomenon. Over three thousand such encounters have now been recorded and enough data from over 1200 structured interviews has been analyzed to permit the admittedly startling conclusions I will share with you this morning:

1) Demographic data amply confirm that a vigorous illegal "marijuana" market didn't begin until cannabis was first made available to large numbers of adolescents and young adults during the 'hippie' phenomenon of the late Sixties.

2) The subsequent sustained growth of that illegal market, although difficult to measure precisely, is widely acknowledged. Those same applicant demographics also suggest that the continued growth has resulted from chronic use by an unknown fraction of the teen initiates faithfully tracked by annual federal surveys since 1975.

3) The striking temporal association between initiation of cannabis on the one hand, and tobacco and alcohol on the other, first noted by researchers in the early Seventies was confirmed; however, the "sequence" they also noted in which cannabis was usually the third agent tried no longer obtains. All three are now tried at similar ages-- and in random order.

4) Those findings, together with an almost universal acknowledgment of similar emotional symptoms, suggests that rather than acting as a "gateway" to other drugs, cannabis has, since the late Sixties, become a third agent tried unwittingly along with alcohol and tobacco by troubled adolescents-- and for similar emotional symptoms.

In other words, what the three agents have in common is an ability to treat symptoms of adolescent angst and dysphoria; and thus function as self-medications.

5) That interpretation is further supported by several other findings developed by systematic inquiries into their family and school experiences- plus their initiations of a menu other illegal drugs- including both psychedelics and "street" drugs.

6) There is also startling-- yet conclusive-- evidence that once they had settled on cannabis as their self-medication of choice, this population then dramatically diminished its consumption of both alcohol and tobacco in sustained fashion. Federal statistics gathered since 1970 also show a gradual parallel decrease in the consumption of both-- plus some related improvements in health outcomes.

7) The bottom line seems to be that in addition to its better-known ability to relieve several somatic symptoms, cannabis has also been a beneficial psychotropic medication for many of its chronic users since their adolescence.

This unique clinical evidence also suggests that cannabis was a benign and safe anxiolytic/antidepressant long before any pharmaceutical agents were even available for those purposes-- and that it still outperforms most of them in both efficacy and safety.

This evidence further suggests that current attitudes toward cannabis are not only profoundly mistaken; but that continued aggressive prohibition inflicts great damage on both individuals and society.

My primary reason for sharing this information with you at this early phase is precisely because it is so radically at odds with both official policy and popular beliefs; a collateral reason is to point out that gathering such data wasn't even possible until 215 was passed.

Finally, because the 'medical marijuana' laws passed by other states have been so restrictive, the acquisition of such data has only been possible in California.

A more detailed account of these findings is available at:http://www.ccrmg.org/journal/05spr/anxiety.html.


Thomas J. O'Connell MD

CA Lic. G20034

Posted by tjeffo at 07:00 PM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2008

How a Mistaken Drug Policy is Distorting Reality

The below-the-fold story on PTSD on the front page of this morning’s SF Chronicle indicates how both Psychiatry’s and the VA’s unproductive approach to the condition has resulted from relentless enforcement of a flawed drug policy. That such an aberration could occur so easily and completely over the span of a mere four decades is still a bit shocking to me, but recent history confirms that similar aberrations are neither unprecedented nor uncommon. Unfortunately, the outlook for a quick or easy recovery doesn’t seem all that good, but we are, after all, in uncharted waters.

To cut to the chase, the notion that cannabis (“marijuana”) can’t possibly possess “medical utility” became an article of faith for policy hard liners almost as soon as Nixon’s drug war became both our domestic and International drug policy in 1970. Doctrinaire support of that policy has been unabashedly emphasized by Congress to all federal agencies with essentially no recognition of the degree to which biased “research” inevitably becomes counterproductive and misleading. The same cognitive gap between Science and Religion was first brought into the open when the observations of Galileo confirmed the informed speculations of Copernicus that Aristotle's Astronomy required some correction and incidentally suggested that Papal Infallibility might require a bit of rethinking as well. Thus began the modern conflict between authoritarian deductions based on religious thinking and the inductive logic of Science relying primarily on empirical observation. The basic argument concerns the power of the state: what’s the most reliable basis for governing human political units? It’s really a conflict between logic and feelings that is rooted in how our brains have evolved as cognitive organs and how the accumulated culture created by all that cognitive activity should be interpreted.

We seem to have reached a point where population and other pressures are forcing us to choose, as a species, between several familiar alternatives we are clearly unwilling to give up and some frightening new uncertainties we are loathe to consider.

What we must also consider is another possibility: if our faith in a Creator turns out to have been misplaced, our prolonged denial may have already resulted in a choice.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 08:01 PM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2008

Additional Thoughts About "Dr.Kush"

The last entry, like many others, was written on the run, primarily because I think fleeting opportunities to score political points should be taken advantage of ASAP. One impression I didn’t want to leave, however, was that I was dissing “Dr Kush;” far from it. Yesterday afternoon, I was fortunate to have enough time to read it more slowly and discover that not only did Samuels provide useful information about the evolving medical gray market, his detailed observations of people (some known personally, and others easily recognized as types) both updated what I know and enhanced my understanding of key relationships between cognition and insight.

To deal with market concepts: it’s obvious that before demand can develop, a product must be introduced to potential consumers. Although no mass market for “reefer” existed in 1937, its illegality soon produced some interesting consequences. The first was in World War Two when the government had to seek a replacement for hemp. That both generated a film documenting the hemp-marijuana nexus and helped to create a tax-supported police boondoggle that continues to this day.

Once we understand that hemp was a fungible commodity and “reefer” (inhaled cannabis) a specific product thought of (erroneously in 1937) as a mere intoxicant, it’s understandable that its popularity with adolescents would be seen as confirming the fears Anslinger had used to justify the Marijuana Tax Act. Nor did those fears work against the improbable election of Richard Nixon in 1968, or public acceptance of his 1969 war on drugs.

It’s ironic that the election of Nixon, who remains deeply unpopular, has contributed so much to the cultural polarization that still dominates US politics: although the obvious emotional fault line is the Sixties and the first Baby Boomers are just about to reach retirement age, our political and law enforcement biases still clearly reflect those of the Silent Majority Nixon successfully appealed to for support almost forty years ago.

The real question for Americans is, how much costly failure will be tolerated before an obviously silly policy can be scrapped?

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 10:53 PM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2008

More From the Gray Market

In a fortuitous coincidence, David Samuels’ long article on California’s burgeoning gray market for medical pot fleshes out my recent comments on the same subject while adding a note of verisimilitude with details I knew of only as abstractions.

However, true to the unwritten rules that seem to govern articles on medical use, he displays no curiosity about pot prohibition as a historical phenomenon, or the implications that our own government seems firmly committed to a destructive policy it refuses to discuss openly. An interview with Samuels tends to confirm that impression.

A third New Yorker item, one from their archives, may be the most significant: telephone delivery services, as pioneered by a New Yorker in the early Nineties could become the silver bullet that slays the werewolf of prohibition in California; not as a triumph of logic, but of greed. What defeated New York’s market in the Nineties had been the almost unlimited arrests authorized by Giuliani. Proposition 215 has shown that a liberal pot initiative can create a big enough gray market to (perhaps) allow man’s basic commercial instincts to grind out a win over his fear and greed.

But there's still a lot of denial that must be overcome...

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:17 PM | Comments (0)

July 23, 2008

Support for the Drug War as a Litmus Test for Intellectual Honesty

Stated as succinctly as possible, the most obvious lesson I've learned from the almost seven years I've spent conducting an essentially solitary study of California pot users is still evolving, but in a more precise direction, one still somewhat surprising to me, and distinctly at odds with popular notions of human nature: rather than special beings created in the “image and likeness” of an all-powerful creator, we humans are cognitive mammals driven by our existential fears to create the comforting fantasy of a humanoid, all-powerful God.

Connecting the dots between a plodding low-tech study of vilified “druggies” and such breath-taking heresy is not as far fetched as it might seem; for one thing, there have been growing suspicions in that direction for well over two centuries, but the human tendency to deny troublesome truth has impeded their articulation. Equally importantly, our modern information explosion is making the increasingly rich treasure trove of human culture more available and searchable by the week. Added to that is the the fact that my birth in the early Thirties gives me irrefutable personal experience that exposes certain key assumptions of the drug war myth as bogus. Finally, there is a lifetime of clinical experience that has allowed me to recognize the logical incompatibilities between NIDA-inspired “Behavioral Science” and the growing commercial interest of Big Pharma in the endocannabinoid system.

Perhaps most convincingly: there is the consistency with which daily news from around the world reveals that the same emotional problems being effectively treated by my pot smoking patients are so universal as to expose the continued endorsement of cannabis prohibition by governments as both the litmus test referred to above and, given the current drift of world affairs, serious cause for alarm.

That one can find abundant, well-financed, propaganda offered in refutation of the ideas voiced in this short narrative is undeniable; perhaps the best way to understand their underlying intent is the degree to which they don't mention alternatives to our wars on terror or drugs and implicitly support notions that global warming is a myth, further expansion of the human population is of no concern, and the technologically enabled Utopia imagined in the mid Twentieth Century is still possible.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:28 PM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2008

The Unification of Science (Personal)

Current evolutionary theory holds that Homo sapiens sapiens (modern humans) are descendants of Great Apes (Hominidae), now often referred to popularly, if less precisely, as hominids. The theory also holds that thanks to the enhanced cognitive abilities conferred on them by their more rapidly evolving brains, our now-extinct hominid ancestors ultimately gave rise to our own species roughly one hundred thousand years ago.

Since then, although the human genome has not changed perceptibly, the surviving descendants of separate groups of humans migrating at intervals from Africa would eventually be found on all continents except Antarctica, as well as most of the planet’s large islands, having completed all those migrations sometime after the last of several Ice Ages ended about eleven thousand years ago.

That remarkable survival required that humans learn how to fashion tools and weapons, control fire, out-compete larger and stronger predators, and survive otherwise lethal cold by producing clothing and shelters adequate for whatever conditions developed in their new environments. It follows logically that all those developments must have taken place during a relatively brief, but critical interval in the recent geologic past.

Supporting evidence for the foregoing narrative is still fragmentary, which is understandable because systematic studies of Geology only began about the time of the US Revolution just over two centuries ago, specifics are still being gathered from widely scattered places around the globe, and the theory is often bitterly contested by scholars, usually non-scientists, with ethnic and/or religious commitments that make them hostile to the basic concepts of Evolution.

Most recently, in concert with the unprecedented population expansion and increased prosperity that followed World War Two, there has been a proliferation of scientific disciplines tending toward a "unification" of Science, as heralded by Wilson a decade ago. As it generates an increasingly coherent history of our planet, at least for those able to accept the reality of empirical science, the concept will, predictably, be hard to resist, but acceptance by enough humans to make a difference certainly won't happen overnight and may not even occur quickly enough to avert the worst of the climate change now underway.

With respect to the always contentious issue of human evolution, it must also be remembered that it's now just under one hundred and fifty years since its intellectual foundations were described, almost jointly, by Darwin and Wallace.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 09:06 PM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2008

An Unhappy Fortieth Anniversary (Historical)

The same “perfect storm” that enabled Nixon’s improbable 1968 resurrection also contributed greatly to his Drug War which, along with diplomatic recognition of China and the Watergate fiasco, will be the three items for which his truncated Presidency will be best remembered by historians.

Even more ironically— at least from my perspective— the same key elements that combined to allow his election, would later enable his Drug War: the discovery of pot by the first wave of maturing Baby Boomers and the fear inspired in their parents by an evolving Counterculture.

Proximate triggers of that perfect storm, without which Nixon probably could not have been elected, were the assassinations of MLK in April, RFK in July, and the shocking brutalization of youthful anti-war protesters by Richard Daley’s police on live television during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Parenthetically, RFK's remarkable performance in averting a riot while announcing MLK's assassination to a largely black crowd is a poignant reminder of both the President we got that year and the one we lost.

I'll have considerably more to say about several of these subjects, but for anyone interested in how I see the Drug War in context, I haven't seen a more succinct articulation than the one that appeared in CounterPunch almost ten years ago.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:26 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2008

The Importance of Perspective

Apropos of yesterday’s post pointing out that the popularity of medical marijuana in California continues to grow despite the nearly total opposition of state and federal enforcement bureaucracies, here’s an item from a right wing publication in which the author makes no bones about his opposition to medical use while artlessly revealing that he hasn’t the foggiest idea of what he’s talking about.

In fact, a prominent hallmark of conservative “scientific” analysis is the almost automatic assumption of causality; conservatives never seem to consider alternative possibilities to the conclusions their doctrine demands. In this case, clinical evidence of a type not usually available, was readily obtained from admitted pot users, many of whom were inclined to minimize the possibility that their use of cannabis was psychotropic. It suggests very strongly that depressed and otherwise troubled adolescents are impelled to experiment with drugs more often than their peers; also that several other factors, including poverty, parenting, the prejudice of the educational bureaucracy, and the drugs available to each generation in school, all play a role. Finally, evidence that self-medication with pot is both safer and more socially benign than either alcohol or tobacco is overwhelming; all that was needed to appreciate that finding was to allow it as a possibility.

Beyond the study itself, the ready availability of such information in response to searching questions suggests that prolonged approval, by the UN, of a global ban on cannabis is itself a worrisome indicator that cognitive incompetence at high levels may be much more common than has ever been suspected. The longer the global pot ban remains unsupported by credible research, the more suspect becomes our ability to think effectively about other pressing problems facing our species.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 08:19 PM | Comments (0)

A Thriving Business

In December 2007, I was still receiving forty or fifty e-mails a day from various drug policy discussion groups when one of the senior participants, a Southern Californian who’d helped the movement become web-savvy in the early Nineties (and also persuaded me to become involved in 1995), called attention to dramatic developments in medical pot distribution in Southern California. A majority of list respondents were frankly unimpressed; they thought his emphasis on the commercial aspects of medical pot was both unseemly and misplaced.

My reaction was different; I was pleased that at least one member of a group I was starting to see as seriously out of touch was paying attention: I’d also noticed the same phenomenon in Northern California; especially since the Raich fiasco. Pot retail outlets were doing well; even though the feds and their willing state and local stooges were busy arresting, prosecuting, and generally harassing medical users to the extent possible. My friend’s novel suggestion was that they might eventually become overwhelmed by the booming gray market Proposition 215 had created. The “movement’s” cool reception to his idea was the last straw for me; I decided to cut myself loose from the e-mail lists I’d been reading so compulsively for a dozen years.

I now see that as a long overdue decision.

It’s been just over six months; anyone paying even minimal attention can see the American economy is facing unprecedented uncertainty; but a little-noticed bright spot continues to be the still-thriving gray market for medical pot. To prepare for this entry, I’ve been studying two issues of a glossy 45 page magazine called West Coast Cannabis. The cover of the first identifies it as number 3 (May-June) of Volume One; the second is simply issue 4, July, implying that it may have gone from bi-monthly to monthly since its debut in January. Both covers state ”always free,” suggesting it’s paid for by its advertisers. The latter are both numerous and predictable: retail medical marijuana outlets, medical groups and individual physicians providing the required medical evaluations, and lawyers specializing in legal defense for the unlucky. There are also ads for growing equipment, etc. What’s unusual is how openly the ads are written.

In addition, some are considerably less conventional; Oaksterdam University, in the same neighborhood as the OCBC and the original “third Floor” is portraying itself as a high tech trade school intended to prepare students for lucrative careers in a growth industry.

It’s more than just ads; several well written articles report the travails of those unlucky enough to have become ensnared (clearly the most applicable word) in the ham-fisted, always-incompetent and increasingly dishonest police efforts to punish medical use. The more one knows of the details, the more contemptuous one can be of both American “justice” and the bureaucracies implementing it; especially when one realizes, as I do, that the cases reported are simply the carefully selected tip of a much larger and even less fortunate iceberg.

Also, just as the injustices and legal issues breathlessly reported on our evening news are but a pale reflection of our brutal federal and state prison systems, the land of the free has unwittingly become the world’s leading jailer by becoming desensitized to reality: a flawed, but relatively humane state hospital system that evolved to care for the “mentally ill” in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries has, somehow, been almost completely replaced by a brutal, unjust, and far more expensive prison industrial complex since the mid Sixties.

I’m now reasonably confident I now understand the key steps of that transformation and plan to outline them ASAP.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 12:07 AM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2008

The Importance of Context

Almost from the beginning, the study I’ve become so involved in has tended to isolate me because it was providing reliable information confirming a long-held suspicion that seemed to be shared by remarkably few people: despite its obvious failures, America’s drug war continued to receive undeserved respect and exerted far more influence on medical practice than it should have. As it progressed, the study also confirmed the absurdity of cannabis prohibition, clearly a key drug war element, one about which considerable doubt had already been expressed.

Important nuances apply to both areas: my judgment about prohibition laws had been mostly intuitive, requiring little specialized knowledge beyond an awareness that (alcohol) Prohibition in the Twenties and the earlier 18th Century attempt by China to ban importation of British opium had both failed for what appear to be very similar reasons, thus suggesting that any law seeking to thwart a popular illegal market may be doomed from the start.

On the other hand, the study demonstrating both the medical absurdity and adverse social consequences of cannabis prohibition, although requiring some clinical expertise, had been relatively straightforward and could have been done at any time without the oppressive restrictions created by the policy itself. What most clearly brought the integrity of both “reform” and the feds into question was their apparent blindness to a simple fact I know beyond question to be true: there had been no measurable youth market for pot from before 1937 to the mid Sixties. How do I know that? I was a sentient observer, having graduated from grammar school in ‘45, HS in ‘49, college in ‘53, and medical school in ‘57; I started drinking and smoking at age 13 in New York City. If pot had been around, I’d have found it

Before proceeding I should emphasize another key point, one already made at length, but important, nevertheless: precisely because the clinical information in my peer-reviewed report on pot use by applicants is unique, straightforward, internally consistent, and casts so much doubt on an already questionable policy, its summary rejection by the drug policy reform community requires explanation.

My best effort in that regard:  Humans were the first long-term survivors from what may have been several primate species with similar cognitive potential. As suggested earlier, we also seem to have been victimized by an evolutionary mismatch in which our language and rational centers remain subject to powerful influences from separately evolving, but more “primitive” emotional centers in the limbic system. That situation could easily have added erratic and combative emotional elements to the evolutionary imperative shared by all species to compete for food and habitat.

Our historically recent development of empirical science provided a more productive way of investigating our environment; nevertheless the implications of Science were opposed by religious leaders, even as it began enabling and sustaining the spectacular growth in human population of the last two centuries, thus intensifying humans' impact on the planet’s environment and ecology.

Ironically, those opposing Science on religious grounds are among the more prolific users and developers of the technology it generates. What all humans have been slow to appreciate has been the speed with which we have exploited our planetary environment and how rapidly the unanticipated consequences of that exploitation can occur. Global climate change may be but the first such example. Critical water and petroleum shortages are already looming.

In that context, the acceptance, by world leaders, of the egregious errors of cannabis prohibition, indeed all prohibition policy, can be seen as but one more manifestation of how deviously our species has been using its cognitive powers to cheat. Recognition of that reality may now be an index of our ability to survive for the simple reason that we are in a predicament entirely of our own making, one compounded by the intransigence of traditional religious thinking and its inhibitory effects on rational thought.

It’s well beyond time to admit that our Science- enabled population expansion, welcome at first for the increased wealth it produced, is now revealing the enormous dishonesty that’s been built into our complex global economy. That economy depends on trust; it’s being stressed as never before by accelerated climate change, a rapidly developing energy crisis, and our innate preference for denial over reality (to say nothing of long-standing conflicts that have been raging for years).

Are we up to the challenge of thinking and responding as a species? Perhaps more importantly, can our current leadership fend off chaos long enough for us to adapt to our new reality?

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 02:11 AM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2008

More Bad News

To one who is not in terminal denial, there seems no end to the stream of bad news emanating from all media sources, whether the TV set, the radio, the occasional anachronistic newspaper, or the web itself; each of which can now be searched and items found by Google with an efficiency that seems to be increasing by the week. Two recent examples, both heard in their entirety on my local NPR station will be cited and commented upon briefly.

The first is a riveting verbal description of the depressing conditions that exist at San Quentin, a venue already made infamous by several documentaries aired on MSNBC; but they had all missed the most important point made, almost casually, by Laura Sullivan in this one: most of the men now herded into a cramped prison gymnasium and living in dangerous, unhealthy, filthy, nearly impossible circumstances are parole violators! What that means is that the most populous and richest state in the union, which is now facing a budget shortfall of immense proportions is being brought to its financial knees by a combination of bureaucracy and a Correctional Offers Union long infamous for its intransigence,corruption and dishonesty.

The other bad news source was Terri Gross, whose interview of a knowledgeable expert on the mind-numbingly dull (to most of us) subject of mortgages allows an understanding of the latest grotesque scenario by which our leading financial institutions, once again, managed to parley their wealth, greed, and public trust into a gigantic scam that may have finally, by combining with a plethora of other missteps, brought the huge global economy to an unprecedented point of no return. It turns out to have been very simple: there was no oversight from the top down; every element of the scam, from the generation, sale, packaging, and (often multiple) resales of suspect mortgages was simply people doing their job. As the business grew ever more lucrative, so did the pressure to cash in. Had these people never heard of classic bubbles? Tulipmania, the S & L crisis? Enron? Surely the dot com crash?

The answer, as it turns out, is a resounding no.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:50 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2008

Newsweek on ‘shrooms

The holiday weekend provided a rare opportunity to browse recent magazines; while checking out an unrelated item at the Newsweek web site, I came across one on psychedelic mushrooms that permits me to call additional attention to the ignorance and misinformation our drug policy has been promulgating for nearly four decades and reinforcing with NIDA propaganda for over three.

Before going any further, and for the sake of clarity, I should point out that I see my encounters with chronic pot users as confirming that “recreational” drug use is such a poorly-defined concept as to be seriously misleading and best avoided. When drugs under the control of experienced users are shared with novices, such events are best considered “initiations” which may or may not ultimately lead to repetitive self-medication. It’s also my contention that when novices take control of their own use, it becomes therapeutic; whether they agree with that designation or not.

In other words, it’s not the prerogative of clinical research subjects to define either their own medical conditions or their optimal therapy. Beyond that, the real importance of my findings may be that the patterns of rejection they (unexpectedly) uncovered highlight some additional human characteristics that become quite worrisome; both in their own light, and in the context of current developments.

One is our tendency to avoid unwelcome (“inconvenient”) truth by flagrant denial; the other is that our need to deny may be so deeply rooted in an intrinsic cognitive flaw that its correction becomes unlikely.

One such inconvenient truth is that those creating and enforcing drug policy have never understood the significant differences in the way illegal psychedelics and equally illegal therapeutic drugs (pot, “uppers” and “downers”) are used; to say nothing of alcohol and tobacco. Beyond that, the (embarrassing) federal ignorance can also be seen as an indicator of the degree to which our vaunted governmental and scientific organizations have bought into drug war nonsense.

If our species’ leaders can be so wrong about such an important issue, what does that imply about the other problems we face?

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:16 PM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2008

In the News (Personal)

The cover article in this week’s Newsweek magazine was based on the fact that both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day in 1809, and was more intelligently written than I might have expected, given the intrinsically fatuous nature of the question asked by its title. As an example of how unpredictably the human brain can generate ideas, the reference to Darwin was still reverberating this morning when I happened to watch a new program on Science Channel dealing with earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural disasters. That linkage led me to ask a rhetorical question of my own: why we have yet to hear any complaints from creationists about Tectonic Plate Theory despite the fact that it dovetails so elegantly with the basic premise of Evolution?

By the same token, why is Charles Darwin such a well known name and that of Charles Lyell, a contemporary who exerted considerable influence on Darwin so relatively unknown?

The answer to my rhetorical question is that Darwin, just as he and his wife had feared, has become a whipping boy for religious fundamentalists for daring to announce findings that so clearly challenged prevailing religious beliefs. Ironically, as the Newsweek article pointed out, both he and Lincoln, were shy, talented mavericks. Neither was an early bloomer nor particularly religious; yet both pursued compelling ideas with an obsessive intensity that eventually led to profound changes in human culture, but probably didn’t provide any tangible rewards to either during their lifetimes; other than (perhaps),the satisfaction of knowing they were right.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 09:27 PM | Comments (0)