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June 06, 2010

The Impact of Policy on Research

The last entry described the discovery of what I initially mistook for a whole new area of research on youthful “stress” by two neuroscientists using exotic techniques for gathering blood samples from unstressed subjects. Among other things, I would soon learn that similar physiological "stress" research has been far more common than I'd realized; although not necessarily as focused on differences between youthful and adult subjects as in my two examples.

In the first, East African baboons were being surreptitiously darted by the researcher himself, a Stanford professor who had developed it as a virtuoso technique during annual visits to Kenya over a span of decades. The other, younger and also a PhD with post-doc experience at Rockefeller, was using a more lethal technique: guillotining rat pups for the same purpose: obtaining blood samples as free from the effects of stress as possible.

As I read further about what had at first impressed me as an exotic new subject, I came across names and concepts from my college and medical school days, both now over fifty years behind me. The first was Claude Bernard, a Nineteenth Century giant considered by many to be the father of modern Physiology, and also famous for his insistence on objectivity and the concept that a millieu interieur compatible with survival had to be maintained in all species. Another was early Twentieth century American Walter B. Cannon, a Harvard professor who helped Bernard's concept along by linking psychological stimuli to physiological responses and introducing the concepts of fight or flight and homeostasis to the dialog. Cannon had also identified the adrenal gland as the source of adrenalin and a key component in a non specific pituitary-adrenal response to change ("stress") a theme that was quickly developed and expanded between 1936 and 1956 by Hans Selye as the General Adaptation Syndrome.

Based on my own certainty that cannabis became popular in the Sixties because it had been so effective at relieving adolescent stress, my immediate response was to wonder why Doctors Sapolsky and Romeo (both of whom had professed a desire to see their results extrapolated to human behavior) had gone to such lengths.

Then I got it: human subjects would have been verboten. One of the drug war's greatest successes has been to persuade laymen that research on "drugs of abuse" is illegitimate; studies of cannabis most of all. The mechanisms are federal control of most drug research funding, fear of incurring federal displeasure, and the second of three (never-validated) claims concocted to justify Schedule one in 1970: arbitrarily designated "drugs of abuse" have no "accepted" medical utility. Why? Because we say so.

Sadly, the more respected one becomes in academic research, the more important it is to remain NIDA compliant.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at June 6, 2010 08:01 PM