January 30, 2009
Say It Isn’t SoWhile googling away in the wee hours on Friday, I came across references to one Ed Jurith, an ONDCP lawyer, who was quietly appointed interim drug czar some time after Obama's Inauguration. What little I was able to learn reveals him to be an even more faceless ONDCP functionary than John Walters, Dubya’s eminently forgettable choice who will someday be best remembered for his over-the-top attacks on medical marijuana.
Anyone familiar with the history of the position knows it started under Nixon with the appointment of Psychiatrist Jerome Jaffe as presidential "drug advisor" and was then occupied by another Psychiatrist, the untruthful Robert DuPont after Nixon was forced to depart suddenly. Then came Carter's man, the unfortunate Peter Bourne, who was destoyed when the founder of NORML had a fit of pique. Bourne, who would be the last physician to hold the job was replaced by Carelton Turner after Reagan was elected. Then came the execrable Bill Bennett, appointed by Poppa Bush and the first advisor to become a "czar." Because the job doesn't confer any executive power, it is an apt metaphor for the fraudulent policy it's intended to defend. Every subsequent czar from Clinton's Lee Brown, who was unceremoniously dumped in favor of Barry McLiar in '96, and especially the colorless John Walters, has been either a fool or a charlatan; take your pick.
Nurith sounds like a worthy successor. What little can be learned about him reveals he’s long been employed by ONDCP. The one public interview I had the patience to read about, quoted him as mouthing the usual doctrinaire garbage.
Now I know why a club in South Lake Tahoe was raided last week. Although I'm discouraged to learn Obama is no smarter than NORML when it comes to pot policy, I’m still optimistic enough to believe that Carter and Bubba held out the promise that Democratic Presidents are more educable than their GOP rivals and that a (nominal) black man who is obviously very intelligent, once got high, and fits the pot smoker profile by having been abandoned by his father in infancy and finding it difficult giving up cigarettes, may “get it” in time to make a difference.
What other choice is there?
January 29, 2009
Lessons Learned: Clinical Effects (Benefits) of Cannabis 1One of many drug war anomalies that's been hiding in plain sight ever since 1975 when the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future studies began tracking adolescent drug initiation rates, is that certain general findings have not changed much: legal alcohol and tobacco are still the two agents most often tried by young people with cannabis ("marijuana") remaining a fairly close third behind tobacco and unique among "drugs of abuse:" not only is it the one most commonly tried by youth, but it has generated the largest adult market; one that continues to expand.
Neither noted or commented on is another fact that must be deduced from MTF data: because cannabis has consistently been tried (initiated) by nearly half of all American "kids" by the Twelfth Grade, an overwhelming majority of those who tried any one of the three most popular agents must have done so by age twenty.
In other words, by 1975, less than a decade after the Summer of Love, “marijuana” was already one of three entry-level drugs tried most frequently by youth. My data suggested that adult chronic use of pot had been quite rare until large numbers of Baby Boomers had a chance to try it in the late Sixties and that a substantial fraction of those who did so are still using it in medicinal patterns to relieve a wide variety of symptoms despite their government's insistence, on strictly a priori grounds, that such benefits simply can’t be taken seriously.
The duration and obstinacy of (ridiculous) federal claims about "marijuana" actually reveal the most glaring deficiency of NIDA/DEA "science:” its failure to ask the most obvious questions raised by their own data: why did an agent for which there had been little demand between 1937 and 1967 become so popular with the first adolescents with a chance to try it? Why has that popularity been so durable? How did such an obviously unscientific and punitive policy become so firmly entrenched globally in a mere four decades that one of the few things our deeply divided modern world can agree on is that any attempt to bring cannabis through any international port of entry justifies immediate arrest?
Finally; why is the same policy here in the United States still so stubbornly supported by both major political parties despite its widely acknowledged record of failure?
January 25, 2009
Proposition 215: Lessons LearnedIn December 2008, Fred Gardner, one of the nation’s better informed journalists on the subject, asked me to summarize the most important lessons learned from seven years of clinical contact with applicants seeking to legitimize their use of cannabis under the provisions of Proposition 215, California’s landmark 1996 “medical marijuana” initiative.
It proved more daunting than expected; I soon discovered that while I had lots of facts, I wasn’t as prepared to place them within their proper historical context as I thought; thus I was forced to do a different kind of research for a while. Fortunately, the steady accumulation of information on the web and greatly enhanced search engines have both made that easier than it would have been five years ago. Much of that information was posted to this blog between December 20 and January 10.
A More Accurate Historical Context for American Drug Policy
Although a punitive high-profile “War” on Drugs has been the nation’s drug policy for the past 40 years, that was not always the case. Until the early Sixties there had been relatively little media interest in illegal drugs for three reasons; first, Harry Anslinger, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 -62 had preferred it that way, second, neither he nor anyone else had anticipated the baby boom, or how quickly the first wave of children born right after World War II would mature into young rebels aggressively trying marijuana and several of the other agents that had appeared so unexpectedly shortly after the war ended.
Further; after Anslinger had been forced into a long overdue retirement by the Kennedys in 1962, no one could have anticipated the perfect storm that would eventually follow: both Kennedys would be assassinated, racial unrest would roil the Deep South, our deepening involvement in Viet Nam would produce a rebellious Counterculture, and Timothy Leary’s pot conviction would inspire the Supreme Court to reject the Marijuana Tax Act; finally, a Chicago police riot in 1968 would lead to the election of Richard Nixon. Thus did Anslinger's bureaucratic success at maintaining personal control over a simplistic drug policy by a process of intimidation help set up both the chaos of the Sixties counterculture and the election of a man whose expansion of that policy into a "war" would have its own profound effects. Before Anslinger entered his terminal dotage, he twisted the knife once more by authoring the Single Convention Treaty that has globalized his folly and provided reliable sources of revenue to rogue governments and criminal organizations around the world.
The rash of changes that surrounded Anslinger’s departure from the FBN, in concert with those wrought by the drug war itself, can now be correlated with other profound changes affecting both American and global institutions, especially in the areas of Mental Health, Criminal justice, and Prisons. In essence, we have substituted prisons for the network of state mental hospitals that once provided domiciliary care for those incapable of caring for themselves. The changes have been neither humane nor inexpensive, but they have quadrupled our prison population while leaving an uncounted army of homeless to fend for themselves in our big cities. They have also facilitated the adoption of an absurd and misleading classification of Psychiatric diagnoses that has played into the hands of the drug war and Big Pharma, but one I think will ultimately have to be abandoned or radically changed.
I now understand the most important lesson taught by my study of chronic pot users is its confirmation that the drug war is phony morality posing as Public Health. The reason is really so obvious we should all be ashamed of the respect the policy has long been granted; NIDA's and the DEA's insistence that neither pot nor any other "drug of abuse" could possibly be medicine is blatantly unscientific; once the possibility that pot's anxiolytic properties were the reason for its sustained popularity with adolescents is conceded, the absurdity of dogmatic US policy becomes obvious (to say nothing of the damage done in its name).
Since I’m also aware of animal studies supporting my clinical and historical perspective on drug use, the best way to satisfy Fred’s request would seem to be an outline of the new scenario. Even though it's far more likely to be regarded as heresy than established fact for a while, it's a far more coherent explanation of recent history, one that will ultimately have to be investigated under some future drug czar.
January 24, 2009
What Raid?While I can’t be certain at this point, it appears that part of this AM’s entry may have been inspired by a hoax. The obscene Hannity-Limbaugh interview was real enough, but the DEA raid may not have happened. As of now, over 24 hours after it was supposed to have taken place, all the reports of a DEA raid yesterday on a South Lake Tahoe dispensary are from reform sources like ASA, the Drug War Chronicle and NORML.
January 23, 2009
Straws in the WindBlinkered extremists representing both the political far Right and and the most strident faction of the medical marijuana movement couldn’t wait to demonstrate how slowly ideologues of all stripes adjust to new realities.
When a clearly discomfited Rush Limbaugh was interviewed by a snide Sean Hannity, neither could conceal their true feelings in a TV segment both will have to live with for a long time; also Limbaugh’s statement that he has yet to meet the new President is unlikely to provoke a White House invitation anytime soon.
On a matter of more immediate interest to me, I would be very surprised if the business-as-usual DEA raid in California had been cleared in advance by the new President, thus I don’t see it as the “betrayal” complained of by some. Instead, I tend to favor the more carefully researched position of ASA and find Obama’s statements on medical use, like so many of his others on controversial subjects, both cautiously noncommittal and consistent.
I do agree the raid will be impossible for him to ignore; thus we should soon have clearer signals about both the accuracy of his information and his true feelings.
January 18, 2009
Truth Abuse by “Drug Science”Last week’s happy outcome after what might have been a disastrous airplane crash points up a critical difference between Science practiced as it should be and the phony variety.
Accepted as a dangerous undertaking from its origins in 1903, powered flight has evolved with amazing rapidity from the Wright Brothers’ first biplane into today's huge and essential global industry. Even as its development accelerated, the safety record of Commercial Air has continued to improve for two obvious reasons: commercial airplane crashes are impossible to conceal and the flying public requires continuing reassurance that the system is trustworthy.
Those two circumstances have worked to keep commercial aircraft accident investigations unbiased, thorough, and open; yet the simple lesson implicit in that example isn’t routinely carried over into other areas of human endeavor or public policy. Unfortunately, quite the opposite; as the recent Wall Street vs Main Street imbroglio confirms, whenever humans can cheat for profit with relative safety, many will be tempted. Certainly the records now being compiled by public policies based on the “Behavioral” Sciences are worsening despite increases in the time, money, and effort being spent to enforce them.
A major difference between government regulation of flying and drug use is that one activity is being encouraged and the other banned. Another is that both the profits and dangers of drug use are (somewhat) easier to misrepresent than those accruing to publicly traded corporations.
A major implication of my opportunistic and relatively primitive study of the population of pot smokers made available through Proposition 215 is that the biggest reason our drug war fails is that it’s based on false assumptions about human behavior. An important collateral reason is that the same assumptions have become such an intrinsic part of the policy itself, they are difficult to even identify, let alone subject to scrutiny.
The best example is that until 215 passed, every study of pot smokers from 1975 onward has required NIDA approval of an experimental design required to assume cannabis is a dangerous "drug of abuse."
Similar obligations are required of the Pharmaceutical industry, now fascinated by the Endocannabioid system, yet precluded from exploring the possible therapeutic use of its agonists in humans, naming them, or even mentioning such restrictions.
The most pernicious blinders of all may be those donned by Psychiatry and Psychology in a quest for a more “scientific” classification of Psychiatric conditions they began shortly after World War Two. It has since expanded into an absurdly detailed set of descriptions of symptoms and behaviors without any recognition that, absent verifiable objective criteria, the whole exercise becomes hopelessly misleading.
It does, however give Big Pharma more targets for profitable moral molecules able to obtain FDA approval while helping the feds maintain the confusion that precludes accurate analysis of their policy.
If your anti depressant isn't working, ask your doctor to try adding Abilify; but don't smoke pot or we'll bust your ass.
January 17, 2009
Meanwhile, on the Road to Fascism...Hardly noticed in the excitement over the approaching Inaugural and Thursday’s dramatic plane crash in the Hudson, a predictably pernicious, ruling by the anomalous new Curia appointed to overturn Roe V. Wade foreshadows what could well become a series of 5-4 decisions favoring a moralistic police state.
It also reminds us that among the many urgent problems facing the Obabma Administration will be the recent failure of all three branches of American Government to understand and apply our vaunted Constitution’s reasonably clear intent to modern reality rather than that of 1787.
January 13, 2009
Land of the Free?As the US economy continues to unravel like a cheap suit in a hurricane, the day’s news supplied an overdose of prison-related irony: a thoughtful AP item asks an obvious question about the possibility of reducing the financially burdensome prison population that has quadrupled since passage of the execrable Controlled Substances Act in 1970, making us hands-down world leader in incarceration.
One is hard put to come up with a government entitlement program with greater built in cost, less scientific validity, or more onerous social consequences than the drug war and the prison expansion it has spawned. Nevertheless the hatred and violence now endemic in our overcrowded prisons are real, as anyone who has watched a few of the proliferating TV prison documentaries or read any thoughtful descriptions of modern prison culture knows only too well. Thus the choice of which prisoners to release early would become critical and, given the track record of our criminal “justice” system (how’s that for an oxymoron?), I wouldn’t trust them to get it right.
In another incarceration-related item, a federal magistrate in New York decided that Ponzi King Bernie Madoff isn’t a flight risk; thus allowing him to remain on house arrest in his luxurious penthouse. That may even be true, but I have several bitter personal memories of sick medical marijuana patients who were terribly mistreated by federal judges; at least one of whom was murdered, and another who was denied bond and forced to remain in a miserable county jail while awaiting trial after a purely vindictive change in venue. The deliberate mistreatment with which our federal government routinely treats Californians it has arrested for medical marijuana violations has made me more contemptuous of those who work for it than I ever believed possible.
Oh yes; the twerp in the White House gave his last press conference today; he admitted to some rhetorical excesses, but stood by his disastrous invasion of Iraq. I suspect history will have a very different opinion.
January 12, 2009
An ExplanationYesterday’s entry made the point that both America’s witless drug war and its illegal marijuana market have been wildly successful; the former because it has been global drug policy for over forty years, the latter, for its steady growth over the same interval. The larger point: that each “success” is dependent on the other, is both undeniable and never acknowledged. That circumstance, I suggested, may indicate a flaw in the vaunted cognitive machinery between our ears. How could the same brain that has propelled us to the moon and back and is now searching the universe for “intelligent” life be so prone to cognitive dissonance?
I also referred to Al Gore’s now famous “inconvenient” truth and promised to explain why. Oddly enough, that allows me to bring up the Baby Boom into which Gore, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were all born: Bush and Clinton during the Summer of ‘46, and Gore in March ‘48. All three eventually received Ivy League educations at a time when many of their contemporaries were being drafted into dangerous and unpopular military service. Of the three, Gore was the only one to enlist and actually spend time “in country;” neither Bush nor Clinton ever went overseas in uniform.
Another common circumstance all three would have faced as Ivy League Boomers was whether to try pot; given the increasing depth of Google’s reach into the past, it’s now possible to do armchair research on such questions. While (as usual) the evidence isn’t conclusive, it’s very likely that Al Gore became a typical head for several years, Dubya tried pot, but opted for booze until he sobered up on Laura’s religion, and Bill Clinton, famously didn’t inhale.
That none could have aspired to the Presidency after openly confessing to the same behavior a very high percentage of their Ivy League contemporaries engaged in is a form of hypocrisy our society accepts without question; just as a majority still pays lip service to the notion we are all god’s children.
January 11, 2009
Two Inconvenient American Success StoriesSuch an abrupt change in title requires some explanation: this exercise, which began 21 days ago, has been written one installment at a time; consequently much of the supporting evidence was, of necessity, either updated or gathered as entries were written. Thus my own knowledge of key details of post-Nixonian cannabis culture and history has been considerably enhanced; along with my ability to search the web with Google.
To shorten a long story, I’ve also become increasingly aware that I’ve really been telling two separate, but parallel, success stories. Although each is essential to any responsible analysis of drug policy, the stories themselves have been studiously ignored by major protagonists in the drug policy debate, as has their essential linkage.
Is such apparent blindness a “conspiracy?” As with most alleged conspiracies, it’s usually impossible, even years later, to be certain of the roles played by either enlightened self-interest or prior planning. Thus scholarly arguments can continue ad infinitum.
One conclusion I've been forced to accept after attempting to report my findings for over five years, is that although unique lifetime clinical data supplied by illegal drug users doesn’t support the scenarios advanced by either major protagonist in the “drug debate,” both have chosen to ignore information they have an obligation to respond to. That's a fact suggesting that our species may be troubled by a serious cognitive flaw.
Ironically, as the Inauguration of the one human offering the best hope for early recognition of that flaw draws closer, he is being progressively insulated from reality by the appalling mess his predecesor will leave behind.
Before closing, the two parallel success stories referred to in the new title are:
1. How an uninformed and destructive policy began with a false hypothesis hidden within deceptive legislation nearly a century ago has matured into a global policy of failure accepted and defended at the highest levels of planetary leadership.
2. How (and why) the criminal market for a unique herbal remedy declared harmful and illegal without credible evidence in 1937 began to thrive three decades later and has since continued to grow steadily despite sustained opposition from all world governments and most scientific organizations.
If anyone can offer a better explanation of either the world’s drug policy fiasco or the sickening unraveling of the global economy than our sustained inability, as humans, to analyze our own problems without crippling bias, I’d certainly be interested.
BTW, the reference to Al Gore in the new title is intended; i plan to explain it in the next entry.
January 08, 2009
An Untold American Success Story; Part 10It’s now three weeks since I began summarizing seven years of clinical interaction with California pot smokers seeking to use it legally under the provisions of Proposition 215. That effort, like the initiative itself, turned out to be far more complex than one could have assumed at the outset; and for similar reasons. Both the tendency to underestimate complexity and the reluctance to admit mistakes are very human, but the ability to recognize and correct mistakes becomes increasingly difficult for bureaucracies. All US laws banning "drugs" have been based on morality masquerading as Public Health. That intrinsic confusion had remained intact for decades, and was especially important when "marijuana's" original i937 prohibition was rewritten as the CSA in 1970, despite specific 1972 recommendations that its medical use be studied objectively.
Quite the opposite happened: the CSA intensified punishments for all illegal drug use while expanding the number of banned agents, promulgating irrational criteria prohibiting new ones, and entrusting that responsibility to the least appropriate federal agency. In other words, Congress used the Supreme Court's Fifth Amendment rejection of the Marijuana Tax Act to combine two bad laws into a greatly expanded policy of drug prohibition based on the same uninformed fear of addiction that had inspired the Harrison Act in 1914; all without any additional medical input.
That same policy, now known simply as the drug war, had remained beyond scrutiny until Proposition 215 passed in 1996. Still, it took until early 2002 and the discovery that most applicants had already been chronic users for years before any objective clinical assessment of that particular behavior began. To date, mine seems the only such study to have been published, but before considering its most inconvenient revelations, I'd like to take another crack at psychedelia.
The distinct properties of psychedelics and how they differ from other illegal drugs have yet to be directly addressed by the drug war. Although it’s common knowledge that certain illegal agents are typically used on a daily basis, often at short intervals, it’s less well known that psychedelics maye be used once or twice in an initiate's lifetime and, even when repeated, is often at longer intervals. Indeed, a few experiences (“trips”) seem to have been enough for most of my applicants thus differing significantly from their use of other illegal drugs. That those differences are important is suggested by data revealing that chronic users of different ages and ethnic backgrounds also exhibit characteristic patterns of lifetime psychedelic use.
The agents I selected for specific inquiry were psilocybin LSD, peyote, mescaline, and MDMA. The first three had been readily available to older baby boomers who were also the first to try marijuana in large numbers, MDMA didn’t become available until the early Eighties and wasn’t finally declared illegal until 1988. In general, although the first (now the oldest) baby boomers tried pot and other illegal drugs after alcohol and tobacco, their successors soon began trying pot alcohol and tobacco at a comparable ages and before all others. . Typically, psilocybin, on the form of “magic mushrooms” (‘shrooms) has remained the most popular; LSD had been second most until its market was affected by a huge bust in 2001.
Among other points about psychedelic use confirmed by this study and ignored by the anti-drug lobby: even though a “recreational” purpose may be intended at first, most who do try them discover that their benefits came in the form of insights, qualitatively different and longer lasting than other pharmacologic effects. Finally, not all reactions were pleasant, especially if the drug had been unwittingly ingested.
Finally, before psychedelic agents that are now illegal were banned, their histories, early users, and initial markets were all strikingly different from more typical criminal markets for addictive opioids and stimulants. It’s thus clear that the DEA and the other police agencies defending drug policy make decisions about individual drugs that are far more focused on transient alteration in consciousness than any Public Health concerns.
Two additional points: there has been, and still is, considerable interest in psychedelics' utility in psychotherapy and the treatment of addictions. In that respect, my own data show clearly that chronic use of cannabis is nearly always associated with diminished alcohol intake, especially in those who were already heavy drinkers. Most pot smokers who had become daily cigarette smokers have quit and those still unable to quit have reduced their intake. Finally, AA founder Bill Wilson, tried LSD shortly before his death and was intrigued by its potential benefits; there are current studies (cautiously) exploring the use of MDMA in PTSD,
Another impression gained from my study is that cannabis exhibits psychedelic properties which seem more important to some users than others; in fact, a small minority (perhaps five percent) of all applicants might better be classified as "psychedelic," rather than “therapeutic.”
As with just about everything else in Medicine, “more research is needed.” It’s too bad that the drug war “research” must be directed at defending a failing policy.
January 07, 2009
An Untold American Success Story; Part 9As indicated on December 20 2008, this series was prompted by a challenge: that I summarize the most important revelations of the seven year study of pot smokers this blog has (sometimes tediously) reported on since 2005. As I’ve been hinting throughout, the exercise, together with the research required and the stimulus of a deadline, have combined to focus me as never before. After I began writing Part 9 yesterday, I realized that I was finally in possession of enough data to not only sketch a broad outline of what I’d learned, but also to issue a public challenge those who support the drug war, whether wittingly or unwittingly, will find difficult to ignore.
Thus I plan to deviate a bit from the format of the first 8 parts and jump ahead to a history of Proposition 215’s evolution since 1996 and how it has influenced the accidental study begun in late 2001. There are several reasons for thinking the time is right for such a move, but rather than present them, I’ll just go ahead and trust astute readers to understand.
Proposition 215: A Personal History
That California voters passed Proposition 215 by a comfortable margin in 1996 clearly surprised both sides of what had become a slowly progressive and long-standing argument over the wisdom of a federal marijuana policy that had quickly assumed a key role in America’s “drug war” dating from its inception as the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Unrealized by all but a few policy wonks, the CSA itself had been Richard Nixon’s radical expansion of an already stupid and irrational policy with legislative origins in the deceptive Harrison Act of 1914.
What is now also clear is that in 1996, neither side of the “medical marijuana” argument had the foggiest idea of how to proceed after the election: the federal government and its allies had been confident of victory and remained adamantly opposed to any concession of “medical utility” to cannabis, while their political opponents had relied almost completely on its well-documented properties as an anti-nauseant in cancer and AIDS, and thus lacked both a coherent pharmacological theory and clinical data for any additional benefits.
At first, implementation of the new law was hampered by the unfocused opposition of its opponents and the absence of any patients with recommendations. However, thanks to a few activist physicians and an injunction from the Ninth Circuit, a grower-retailer network gradually developed and began supplying reliable cannabis products to the twenty thousand or so patients, mostly in the Bay Area, who sought and acquired the needed “recommendations” during the last four years of the Clinton Administration.
My entry into that budding network was as an experienced clinician, but a relative pot novice two months after 9/11, soon after Bush Administration drug warriors, who had been as sluggish as their national security counterparts in sizing up their opposition, were suddenly distracted by the destruction of the World Trade Center. One of my vivid recollections of 9/11 is that I turned on the kitchen TV expecting to watch John Walters’ confirmation hearings, only to see the North Tower burning .
Although I had no way of knowing it at the time, the ensuing postponement of Walters’ appointment would provide me with additional time to grasp the significance of applicant histories and begin developing a coherent hypothesis for integrating pot’s multiple complex medical benefits into a (long neglected) clinical perspective.
I can now see that three other historical accidents were of critical assistance in that respect: the first was that rigorous law enforcement had rendered any unbiased clinical evaluation of pot’s steadily growing (and slowly aging) user population nearly impossible during the Eighties and Nineties. The second was the simultaneous development of the DSM into an improbable, but dominant system of psychiatric nosology (nomenclature) that prompted the third: Big Pharma’s eagerness to develop a profitable, but relatively ineffective (and dangerous) panoply of federally blessed palliatives for anxiety, insomnia, and mood disorders at a time when the traditional (legal) self-medication mainstays, alcohol and tobacco, were both falling out of favor.
Finally, my increasingly solitary efforts to understand the emerging picture of chronic marijuana use were assisted by the relative lack of interest displayed by other “pot docs;” the veterans because most were themselves pot smokers in denial of their own symptoms, and the younger late arrivals who seem most motivated by easy money from the flood of chronic users who began seeking medical recommendation in late 2003 and early 2004.
That demand, in turn, prompted the opening of a spate of lucrative new “dispensaries” around the state in locations where none had existed. They finally caught the attention of local police and their federal allies, thus provoking a backlash, the early phase of which was signaled by the “Oaksterdam” furor in the Spring of 2004 that was reported with (typical) incoherence by the local press.
The next installment of this saga will be the last for a while. In addition to describing the current stand-off between police and the medical marijuana industry, it will document the absurdity of America's drug war and point out the relevance of that absurdity to contemporary domestic and global messes
January 04, 2009
An Untold American Success Story; Part 8The last entry dealt more extensively with shamans than with the psychedelic agents that had excited their interest, thus I still have that deficiency to contend with. Along the way, I’ll probably be as likely as ever to take on obvious drug war absurdities whenever that opportunity arises. I should also note that the challenge of writing a summary of what I’ve learned from studying applicants for the (contested) right to use marijuana legally in California has enhanced my knowledge of several academic disciplines in ways I could not have imagined. In that connection, the very existence of the internet and the increasing power of Google to search it have been invaluable.
The last fifteen or so years have witnessed the beginning of a golden age of Information Technology, one in which more of the total knowledge accumulated by humans has been made more accessible to more people than ever. In many respects, a moderately fast modern computer and an internet connection now provide twenty four hour a day access to a library of unprecedented size; the down side is that an enormous amount of misinformation is included; thus one must also have some means of sorting out “truth” from that which is false. Thus we return to what has always been square one of cognition: what to believe?
In an earlier entry , I explained why I think that only in the past century or so (less than the metaphorical blink of an eye), have we accumulated enough evidence to place our faith in empirical science rather than ANY religious belief. In a very real sense, the information explosion we now find ourselves in gives our species the power to transform human society at a time when such a transformation was never more desperately needed. Whether that happens, and the speed at which it might occur, are both obviously unpredictable; but that need to change and its urgency have never been more obvious.
Another requirement, perhaps most critical of all, is that we abandon our futile search for an absolute system in which to believe. The connection between that need and drug policy should also obvious, but unfortunately, is not. Our brain, the organ that makes our species unique among life forms, is the only one capable of accumulating, storing, and retrieving information for later use. Over the past three centuries or so, the growing impact of those uniquely human abilities on our planetary habitat has been enhanced to a point where we are now literally able to threaten most planetary life with destruction; yet we remain as incapable of rational regulation of our own behavior as ever.
Rather than inflaming partisan emotions, the purpose of the last two links was to show how easily one can find evidence of intractable human conflicts and how easily they can escalate beyond rational compromise. I could just as easily have cited ongoing conflicts between Republicans and Democrats, Pakistan and India, North and South Korea, or any one one of several (violent) sectarian religious disputes. To state the obvious as succinctly as possible: irrational belief in the power of force to solve problems is itself a problem we need urgently to address. Thus do we need to change the way we think. Not only should we discard ALL religious absolutes, but we must also find an ability to sniff out new forms of religious thinking before they seduce millions of followers while, at the same time, remembering that reason can be only means of persuasion allowed.
To return to the question of why drug policy is important, ours is one of criminal prohibition that continues to insist that it's one of "control." It's based on the myth that it's a form of public health, yet it's a potent force for spreading AIDS and Hepatitis C. While we trumpet a need for the "rule of law," widespread police corruption by illegal drug markets has been just as obvious as the failure of alcohol prohibition in America, yet the two phenomena are rarely compared, except by known drug policy opponents.
Are we capable of change we can believe in? The hour is late.
January 02, 2009
An Untold American Success Story; Part 7I ended Part 5 with the following statement: Leary's career was so interesting I will be forced to break up what was intended as one entry into two. The next will focus on the psychedelic agents he is most famous for using, some other, generally younger "shamans" of the Sixties and Seventies, and why I think the manifest ignorance of the drug war on the subject of psychedelics in general is such convincing evidence of our policy's intellectual bankruptcy (and our species' craven cowardice).
The 6th installment dealt fairly completely with the intellectual bankruptcy of American drug policy and its legacy of fear, but barely touched on either psychedelics or "shamans," two deficiencies I'll try to remedy, at least briefly, before summarizing, as cohesively as I can, what has evolved into a somewhat rambling narrative.
On the subject of "shamans," I should first point out that I meant latter day European and American "psychonauts;" not the original nameless humans who had studied a variety of New World plants and accumulated knowledge of their remarkable psychoactive properties long before Columbus. Indeed, without them, modern shamans would have had nothing to study.
In terms of those modern shamans and their age relationship to Leary (born in 1920), at least two European centenarians were older; one, Albert Hoffmann, is very famous; the other, Ernst Junger, is famous in Europe, but nearly unknown here. His important influence on Hoffman, as well as Hoffman’s revealing impressions of Leary over several encounters, are well described, in Jonathan Ott’s English translation of Hoffman’s LSD experiences, a book that calls attention to two other circumstances: during the Fifties: just as the Beats were becoming known in North America for their rejection of social norms and their advocacy of marijuana, a parallel development: interest in ethnobotanical agents derived from plants native to the Americas, was taking place in Europe with relatively little American input.
Although American influence on early psychedelic studies was quantitatively less; it was still important, as witnessed by key roles played by Harvard professor Richard Evans Schultes, who collaborated with Hoffman and another whose contributions seemed unlikely at the time because of his gay job, but R. Gordon Wasson became an early contributor to psychedelic knowledge and a member of Hoffman's inner circle. Finally; there is Aldous Huxley, born in Europe, but later a permanent resident of the US. Like Leary, his influence was considerable and still draws mixed reviews.
Perusal of psychedelic literature quickly reveals that both amateur and professional enthusiasts, were interested in all aspects of consciousness and cognition; also that they held opinions (often varied) on the degree to which youth should be exposed to such agents and if so, at what age.
In rather striking contrast, is the lack of recognition in either official or unofficial “anti-drug” writings, of obvious differences in the effects of psychedelics on their users or the equally striking differences in patterns of use that developed once they became popular.
When psychedelics came into prominence in the Sixties as drugs that were also popular with baby boomers, it should have quickly become apparent to those studying drug use in the early days of the drug war that they do not lend themselves to repetitive use on a daily or near-daily basis similar to the heaviest marijuana users, or the compulsive patterns characteristic of most cigarette smokers and people addicted "hard" drugs. Instead; all have been lumped under the rubric applied to users all (illegal) 'Drugs of Abuse," and thus implied to be "addictive."
It's a particularly blatant example of how mere rhetoric can be successfully manipulated in defense of a policy claiming to me "scientific."