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August 03, 2008

A Personal Perspective

Over the past seven years, my acceptance of the idea that cannabis, a pharmacologically complex herbal palliative, is also a useful and relatively safe medication for human use has placed me at increasing odds with the world’s conventional wisdom. On the other hand, that same acceptance had enabled me to ask pot applicants the searching questions that revealed how little both the federal and reform bureaucracies know about the illegal market that’s been growing under everyone’s nose since Nixon summarily turned a failing drug policy into a “war” in September 1969.

Even though it’s quite clear that conventional wisdom still supports the drug war, I’ve been encouraged to criticize it harshly for two reasons: the first is that patients have confirmed what I’d always suspected. The second is that no one will discuss specific findings, which tells me they resonate with their own experiences.

Thus my curiosity as a physician, whetted by learning that the cannabis users I began seeing in 2001 had several features in common, eventually led to a published paper and has since been explored in over three hundred blog entries. There’s also abundant collateral evidence that pot is medicine. However, those in decision-making positions continue to deny the possibility and cling to the same misconceptions that originally inspired the policy.

The unanimous nature of their denial, together with the (to me) appalling dishonesty of those with a vested interest in banning cannabis, led to a change in focus: rather than attempting to understand why so many had become its long term users, I switched to attempting to understand why a global bureaucracy was so determined to protect a failing policy; also why, in a world more polarized than ever, the only thing all governments seem agreed on is that any traveler caught with a few grams of cannabis at an international  point of entry should immediately be arrested and treated as a felon.

The ability to search the rapidly expanding World Wide Web, together with continued access to cannabis users in California, has afforded me an overview curiously analogous to that presented to Darwin in 1831: through a completely unpredictable set of circumstances, he was privileged to observe rare phenomena from which he (quickly) intuited a simple, but revolutionary, insight, one he soon also realized would be profoundly divisive.

Thanks to the (comparatively) leisurely pace of Victorian life, his family’s relative affluence, and his connection with the still-small community of leading “naturalists,” Darwin had almost three decades to explore and develop his thoughts on natural selection before he was forced to publish them in 1859. As anticipated, they immediately proved controversial and he spent the balance of his life defending them.

It’s clear that although Darwin realized his views would be controversial, he could not have anticipated the extent to which his discoveries would be confirmed by Twentieth Century Science; nor the extent to which a human population dominated by religious beliefs would contrive to exploit Science while simultaneously opposing Evolution. In essence, the entire Twentieth Century was dominated by three wars of unprecedented size and danger to humanity, yet the scientific “miracles” they inspired were immediately pressed into military service and exploited by the global economy as soon as possible. Largely because the Cold War had (providentially) devolved into an economic contest after the Cuban Missile Crisis, we escaped from the Twentieth Century without experiencing a nuclear winter.

However, as the Twenty-First begins, our species finds itself in yet another predicament of its own making; the demands of rapid human population growth on the planetary environment may have rendered our competitive mercantile economy unsustainable; however the same mismatch between emotions and cognition responsible for our adverse impact on climate may also be be forcing us into prolonged denial of that possibility.

One of the clearest lessons of modern clinical medicine with respect to life-threatening disease: to the extent the correct diagnosis wasn’t thought of (included in the “differential diagnosis”) at an early stage, treatment is unlikely to be successful, Earth will almost certainly continue to orbit the Sun after humans go extinct, but there may be no pathologist to do our autospy; unless, of course, it’s the same entity Bishop Paley once misidentified as a watchmaker.

Doctor Tom   

Posted by tjeffo at August 3, 2008 08:08 PM