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November 19, 2009

Help from an Unexpected Quarter

Although it’s long been clear to me that genetics play an important role in human behavior, I hadn’t expected much help from that quarter because I regarded my investigation as an opportunistic chance to study drug use as a reflection of “nurture,” rather than “nature.” Wrong. An article by David Dobbs in this month’s Atlantic focuses on an easily recognizable sub-set of the population I’d also become involved with through their illegal self-medication with cannabinoids. To my surprise, I hadn’t finished the first paragraph before I could have supplied the names of at least two famously troubled children whose behavior had been indistinguishable from those Dobbs’ article is about: one for her controversial death at the age of four, the other from a detailed case report I’d first heard presented at a national meeting of cannabis reformers in 2004.

Although the initial focal point of his article is a celebrated researcher at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, Dobbs makes clear that support for the controversial notion summarized by the catch phrase “orchid children” comes from many respected academics in several nations. The basic notion seems to be that gene variants already known to be associated with serotonin transport are not only associated with early development of problematic behavior in toddlers and pre-school children, but there is solid evidence that improving the way mothers deal with those children can modify their problematic behavior in positive ways. Beyond that, and even more exciting: the same heredity that impels similar troubled behavior, when properly nourished at home, may unlock expressions of unusual talent.

What my own work has suggested to me is that when vulnerable adolescents have been fortunate enough to begin self-medicating with a drug that, although illegal, allows them to control certain destructive impulses, a vulnerable few will blossom as “orchids,” while the majority who represent the more common (and hardy) “dandelions,” also benefit from the protection cannabis confers against excessive use of its two legal alternatives which, sadly, an ignorant policy still prefers.

Perhaps we can wake up in time to save ourselves.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at November 19, 2009 06:04 PM