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December 27, 2010

Prohibition and Addiction: 1

In 1918, the United States ratified the 18th Amendment to its Constitution, a step intended to reduce alcohol consumption. Although known ever since then as Prohibition, it did not make consumption of alcohol by an individual citizen illegal; only its commercial production and sale. Even so, the new policy represented a radical social change its supporters justified by claiming it would induce the working-class men then frequenting saloons and spending their wages on alcohol to bring them home for the benefit of their families. Thus the new policy represented a risky experiment in utopianism based on an amalgam of Morality, Public Health, and some novel assumptions about respect for the Law. The tactic of choosing a Constitutional Amendment was equally simplistic: similar laws had been passed at the state level; not once but several times in the mid Nineteenth Century, but had always failed because of a combination of smuggling across state lines and prompt replacement of the legislators who had passed them.

After formation of the Anti-Saloon League in Ohio, the strategy shifted because it was assumed an Amendment would be too difficult to repeal and that smuggling across international borders could be more readily controlled. It was also assumed that having a national law would somehow ensure its observance; thus the cost of arresting and punishing law breakers would shrink after the first few years. When the “bad apples” were weeded out (it was claimed) the cost of enforcement would be drastically reduced. The policy's most enthusiastic advocates really oversold it egregiously as an essential step toward utopia that was guaranteed to succeed.

We know what happened instead; even as Prohibition was going into effect on January 16, 1920, the first illegal stills were running full blast. Alcohol consumption had simply been too important a part of the American experience from the earliest Colonial days to expect it to be “controlled” by voluntary compliance with a simplistic law. That the "Noble Experiment" lasted fourteen years is both amazing and a sad commentary on the intelligence of the American polity; that we have yet to learn- or even admit- that our failing "Drug Control" policy is really one of prohibition that has been failing for the same reasons as the Eighteenth Amendment raises even more serious questions about "human nature;" particularly in terms of intelligence, honesty, and our vaunted cognitive ability.

Finally; that our domestic drug policy failure became global through a UN treaty raises exactly the same doubts about our species, which is the major reason I see global acceptance of marijuana prohibition as both an important litmus test and an urgent problem.

I'm very aware that raising such questions two days after Christmas is unwelcome; however time seems to be running out on us in other cognitive areas as well, so I see no reason to soft pedal the bad news.

We'll either wake up in time to save ourselves or we won't.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:57 PM | Comments (0)

December 25, 2010

Long Overdue Change

Harry Anslinger’s sponsorship of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act set in motion an unplanned (and unwitting) natural experiment the results of which are still neither complete nor final. However, thanks to the remarkable series of events set in motion by California’s Proposition 215 in 1996, the weaknesses of our national drug policy are now so evident to so many people that its radical alteration over the next ten to twenty years is far more likely than its preservation. That said; both the direction and rapidity of those alterations are difficult to predict, precisely because the policy’s ardent defenders (including many who are also its dupes) have done such a good job of selling fear of addiction to their distracted, anxious fellow citizens. In essence, America’s experiment with drug prohibition has been a bipartisan disaster; however because of its support from both major political parties, it has also acquired a degree of veresimilitude sufficient to immunize it against its many failures and thus convince a majority of citizens they had no alternative to continuing the same destructive policy year after year. What has gradually eroded that belief since 1996 has been the revelation of how many ordinary people have continued using “marijuana” despite its considerable social and legal risks and how much benefit it seems to confer on them. Ironically, disagreement within the pro-legalization community over the nature of those benefits is perhaps more of a threat to their political success than the (understandable, but disgraceful) tendency of professionals in the medical and behavioral sciences to adapt their own beliefs and studies to supporting the increasingly disorganized requirements of federal dogma.

Although the Controlled Substances Act (1970) gave the drug war its modern arsenal, its remote federal origins were in the deceptive 1914 Harrison Act, which was then critically modified by passage of the MTA in 1937. It's important to remember that both older pieces of legislation were passed before modern Biochemistry, Pharmacology, or medical imaging had elucidated what are now considered the basics of "neuroscience," thus allowing the timely injection of just enough bias to keep drug war dogma current. It's even more important to note that even as the CSA was being drafted during the first two years of the Nixon Administration, there was no review of the implicit assumptions about "addiction" made in either Harrison or the MTA.

The evidence for that assertion is well documented, but not well known, because our mainstream press, which has always had a soft spot for lurid popular notions of addiction, buried Nixon's rejection of the Shafer Commission report: itself a timid statement of available evidence that should have persuaded more people to question the judgment of one of the biggest liars ever to occupy the Oval Office.

It's my contention that the hardening of those false assumptions about addiction into dogma over a long interval, together with the implicit support of the whole body politic, has had the effect of normalizing them in the minds of otherwise bright people who then looked past the glaring lack of clinical studies on people being labeled "addicts," "junkies," and-finally- "criminals" by whole new professions engaged in treating "patients" (clients) for a living.

Thus a lot of bright people will have to consume an enormous amount of crow before any real change in drug policy can happen. Fortunately the state initiative process has been left alone and if there's any solace to be found in our economic "downturn," it's that Prohibition was trashed early in the "Great Depression."

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 05:38 PM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2010

Yet Another Cannabis Video

Yesterday was busy; among other things, I happened to catch part of a documentary on cannabis that seemed a big improvement on the smarmy Marijuana Inc. that had become so hard to avoid on cable. I thought I was programming my DVR to record it, but I was wrong. That turned out to be a good thing because a Google search led me to a site where it can be watched on demand for nothing. Many of the commentators are people I know; some fondly, others not. Aside from lacking a coherent comment on Mexico, it covers much of current scene in reasonably balanced fashion.

Although the tone is more reasonable than most earlier documentaries, it still pays lip service to the ludicrous extremes... the good news is that it’s generally closer to reality and the overall message is that legalization is inevitable (but don't hold your breath).

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

Good News, Bad News

Watching the Brain Series episode on “Addiction” yesterday afternoon was both exhilarating and depressing; exhilarating because it confirmed that cannabis IS being used as a safe and effective, albeit illegal, medicine by a significant segment of the American population. Depressing because it signals that complete national legality may be delayed for years because all use is almost universally opposed by both the Medical and Law Enforcement establishments for reasons that, although profoundly mistaken, seem quite valid to them. Thus barring some sudden and unpredictable insight affecting a substantial minority of the ruling establishment, their opposition is liable to remain as a formidable barrier to a more rational drug policy for some time to come. One consolation is that it seems based on a combination of (understandable) false assumptions and characteristic human weakness rather than any malign “conspiracy.”

Explaining all these conclusions in detail right now would be both impossible and non-productive. Suffice it to say that my clinical findings remain unique because there are still no “pot docs” in a position to query applicants who are seeking the same clinical information and disseminating their results (if there are, I would like to hear from them). That such would be the case fourteen years after California passed Proposition 215 may be the most improbable of many improbable developments in the entire history of state “medical” marijuana laws; however, it is.

I do plan to offer limited explanations of the above conclusions as time, and my energy, permit. The first is that the main reason American drug policy began evolving into a tragedy nearly a century ago was that mistaken Supreme Court beliefs on “addiction” were able to block clinical medical research, thus creating a professional vacuum that has been eagerly filled by Law Enforcement ever since. Thus the research establishment has been busy sponsoring and distorting "research" so its results will comply with the policy's increasingly bizarre and incoherent "party line."

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:06 PM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2010

Truth; Unwittingly Revealed.

Do you think the Russians allow dope? Hell no. Not if they can catch it. They send them up,
You see, homosexuality, dope, uh, immorality in general: These are the enemies of strong societies.That's why the communists and the left-wingers are pushing it. They're trying to destroy us.

President R.M. Nixon in a taped conversation with aide John Erlichman.

That excerpt from the Nixon tapes can be found in a recent item which also quoted presidential historian Michael Beschloss as saying that important people tend to reveal their true feelings in private conversations. My own experience is that’s also true when influential people are involved in discussions with other influential people they generally agree with. One such venue is Charlie Rose’s Brain Series, in which he conducts interviews of small groups of people with an interest in "neuroscience." Many are academic stalwarts; psychiatrists or others involved in mainstream academic medicine or research. After exploring the site, I settled on a program that aired on April 21, 2010, primarily because of its subject (human emotions) and its participants, one of whom was Nora Volkow.

I've now watched enough (abut half) to realize that the opinions expressed go a long way toward answering a vexing question my own study raised for me very soon after I realized what I was hearing from the the population I began interviewing in late 2001. Parenthetically, my vexation was further intensified by the obvious (but unspoken)disbelief my findings were greeted with by both opponents and supporters of "Medical Marijuana." I now realize that most of the (relatively few) people reading this will probably not be motivated enough to watch he entire one hour discussion emotions, but I plan to watch it all and then discuss it thoroughly because of how well it reveals the fatal error responsible for the American policy disaster that began around the turn of the Twentieth Century and has evolved into a "War on Drugs" in a little less than a hundred years

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:28 PM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2010

Faux Science 2

The last entry was intended to set NIDA up for criticism of its extreme bias in support of the drug war. As I was busy with its composition and editing, I had no way of knowing that NIDA Director, Nora Volkow, MD, was herself busy holding a press conference on the evils of "marijuana,” nor that it would be replete with a host of drug war misconceptions begging for rebuttal.

My work has not been publicized like that of Dr. Volkow, for whom propaganda is the most important part of the job at NIDA (she's charged with overseeing drug war “science,” perhaps more accurately thought of as “anti-science” or Faux Science). Although the lack of unfavorable publicity long enjoyed by the drug war may be about to end, the policy’s most ardent defenders would hardly be the first to admit such a dire possibility.

For example, the idea that an increase in youthful marijuana initiation at all three grade levels surveyed by SAMHSA is "fueling" the use of other drugs may well be based on accurate data, but Volkow’s interpretation is almost certainly nonsense- a simple-minded extrapolation of the bogus "gateway" concept embraced so profitably by Robert Du Pont, Gerald Ford's "drug adviser and NIDA's first designated Director. DuPont's predecessor, the first-ever Presidential “drug adviser” was Jerome Jaffe, then a young Jewish psychiatrist (remember how Nixon felt about them?) who was recruited by the Nixon White House staff because they feared (on the basis of secretly screening the urine of Vietnam returnees for opioids) that the nation was about to be inundated with GIs turned heroin junkies.

As it turned out, that didn’t happen, but Jaffe was able to sell a truncated and less-than-ideal-methadone maintenance program to the feds. That he is still active in “substance abuse,” but has switched his focus to alcohol suggests he probably agrees with Volkow that "marijuana" is a "drug of abuse" without either of them knowing that virtually all the long term marijuana users I've interviewed consistently consumed less alcohol once their use of pot had become repetitive. The reasons for that unexpected finding became clear from their aggregated histories: many had been self-medicating with both drugs for a while because both address symptoms of teen insecurity. However the two drugs do so very differently: alcohol diminishes judgment while enhancing aggression and cannabis does just the opposite. Whenever a pot initiate becomes "chronic," alcohol consumption is reduced to safe levels

I would have been content to end there, but two recent news items have added weight to my indictment of Volkov's intellectual honesty: she is the Mexican-born great granddaughter of Leon Trotsky; she was raised in Mexico and went to Medical school there before coming to the US for post gradate training in Psychiatry and Nuclear imaging. She succeeded the assertive Alan Leshner as NIDA Director in 2003. What troubles me is her faithful compliance with drug war dogma which takes no responsibility for the carnage created by the illegal markets it gives rise to. The Mexican Mafia is a US policy curse on the poor people of Mexico; why that simple fact is so blatantly ignored by Volkow and a host of others is a phenomenon I'm frankly unable to understand myself. However, I now see their refusal to address the issue, even when challenged, as as form of both denial intellectual dishonesty.

The second item was related; a massive jailbreak just across the border in Nuevo Laredo does not auger well for either the immediate or intermediate future of both nations. It's now four years since President Calderon began trying to comply with the abysmally stupid Bush-Cheney request that he attempt to "root out" drug dealers on the border.

Just how long will it take both the US and Mexican governments to realize that drug prohibition has been even more deadly than our failed attempt to "control" alcohol? Another way of asking that question is just how stupid are we?

Doctor Tom (Entry revised on 12/18/10)

Posted by tjeffo at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)

December 14, 2010

How Faux Science supports Bad Policy

As the late Barbara Tuchman pointed out in March of Folly (1984), powerful and respected governments sometimes pursued policies that were contrary to their nations’ best interests long after they should have recognized that fact. Although Tuchman was clearly writing as an historian, the psychological implications of her analysis are unmistakable and compelling. Even more to the point, her insights serve to remind us how bitterly our policy in Afghanistan is still divided over the same issues we couldn't agree on four decades ago in Vietnam, another poor nation with a history of resisting foreign domination. Then, as now, we were pursuing the same failing idea: that we could win the "hearts and minds" of a people with entirely different cultural and religious beliefs simply by sending our armed forces over to act as their police.

In a similar vein, the idea that persistence in harmful behavior (as defined by outsiders) is both "addiction," and a "disease" requiring imprisonment is a bizarre notion that has evolved into a core belief of the drug war. Yet drug warriors themselves are clearly unable to that their demand for blind obedience to an oppressive law is tyranny. Have they forgotten how this nation freed itself from England? Or do they think all US laws are equally just, logical, and deserving of obedience?

Such flagrant incongruity in core beliefs was once called cognitive dissonance, however the far Right now seems as bereft of irony as they had always been of humor. Which brings me, by a roundabout way, to my point: the "drug czar" is just as powerless over his policy's enforcement bureaucracy (the DEA) as its "scientific" agency (NIDA) is bereft of scientific credibility; yet neither our mainstream press nor our scientific establishment seems willing to admit those glaring deficiencies.

In other words, because "truth" is whatever the establishment's propaganda organs can bring themselves to admit, any significant changes in a bad policy will require a lot more revision than one might think.

Doctor Tom

Entry revised on 12/18/10

Posted by tjeffo at 04:15 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2010

Emotions and Cognition; Belief and Denial

Perhaps the most important lessons to be learned from my ten year study of Californians seeking formal approval of their use of cannabis as “medical” are that humans- the most highly evolved species on Earth- are now in trouble because they (we) have overpopulated our home planet and are prevented by an emotional commitment to deeply contentious beliefs from even recognizing that problem, let alone "solving" it.

Nor will an understanding of how we got into this dilemma come easily; it will require nothing less than an extensive rethinking of several basic ideas about "belief" and "faith" that have been dividing the species for millennia. Yet, because the potential consequences of doing nothing have become so dire (think Nuclear Winter, Global Warming, or Airborne Pandemics) we should start addressing them ASAP.

DENIAL is a pervasive human characteristic that literally allows us to look past those things we don't want to deal with; it has had survival value in the past by allowing "bygones" to become "bygones" despite painful reality ("inconvenient truth"). For that reason alone, getting past our need for denial may turn out to be more difficult than we now imagine.

Recent European history provides a helpful short-cut to further understanding of our population problem: the Enlightenment gave birth to both Science and Democracy, two of the phenomena that have allowed our species to get itself into so much trouble. Thus it behooves us to ask ourselves which of our modern existential threats, overpopulation, nuclear weapons or airborne pandemics, for example; didn't require the assistance of either Scientific Technology or its political homologue, Multiculturalism for their generation.

In a similar vein, both Understanding and Belief are brain functions; although the brain is a vital organ like the liver, kidney and heart, its array of functions is orders of magnitude more complex and its dependence on oxygen much more intense (we start "graying out" after seven seconds without oxygen and are unconscious in 15; brain cells begin to die after three minutes of circulatory arrest).

From an evolutionary perspective, the brain is a triumph: a problem solving machine that has allowed our species to dominate all others in terms of both its global distribution and the habitat it can render viable; we now can live year-round on every continent. We have visited the Moon and the Deep Ocean and can visually explore its extreme depths, even as we await information from a probe sent to "outer" space in 1977.

Paradoxically, what the brain (and thus our species) is now having the most trouble coping with is the very cognitive function that has enabled human dominance. We are threatened by an internal conflict created by the parallel evolution of two of its cortical structures. One, the Amygdala, is older on the evolutionary scale and has been recognized relatively recently as dominant in emotional responses in many species; some as primitive as reptiles. The other, relatively much newer, and obviously essential to both language and critical thinking, is the neocortex.

The concepts just outlined are offered as background for an updated look at the policy known by its supporters as "drug control" and to its detractors as "drug prohibition" or the "War on drugs."

Hopefully, these ideas will be fleshed out in greater detail in the weeks to come.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:45 PM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2010

Obama's Capitulation

Although the choice of Obama over McCain in ‘08 should have been a no-brainer for any intelligent electorate, my doubts about the depth of his appreciation of key issues began to emerge as early as January 2009 when his campaign promise on federal pot raids was tested by DEA bureaucrats. From there, he has exhibited a steady decline on all fronts. Thus while the contempt and hatred far-right crazies have for him has become almost palpable, it's now nearly matched by the disappointment of some who had once been his most hopeful supporters.

Yesterday’s performance in a hastily-called press conference intended to explain his sell-out on the insane Bush tax cuts was probably as close as we will come to a decisive moment marking his last chance to become a two-term president. The best hope for liberals would now seem to be that a viable third alternative will emerge between now and 2012.

I feel no need to equivocate on that opinion because my study of pot smoking allows creation of a surprisingly accurate profile of cannabis use as a behavior. Our forty-fourth President is almost an archetype; he is typical of someone who fit the pot-smoker profile but was deterred from self-medicating with it by its well established pejorative effect on any user being “outed.” (Another fitting that description far more tragically was Michael Jackson, whose childhood abuse by his biological father was well known and who died from a benzodiazepine overdose administered to treat his extreme insomnia.)

Barack Obama was born in 1961, near the tail-end of the Baby Boom; he is the only President ever to admit to getting high on marijuana; but so great is the pejorative impact of repetitive use that he would never have become a nominee for the Presidency if he'd ever been a serious “head.”

The characteristics that qualify him as meeting the pot smoker profile are: a) a history of absent or dysfunctional male parenting (he met his biological father only once for two hours during an airport stopover when he was 12). b) biracial origins (the disapproval of both extended families, even when subtle, is almost inevitably felt by the child). c) cigarette addiction (96% of cannabis applicants tried them, two thirds became daily smokers and half are unable to quit completely although all but a few are trying). d) initiation of other drugs (we know Obama has an occasional drink and once tried cocaine; there may well have been others).

What that profile suggests (but does not prove) is that adolescents whose childhood experiences left them uncertain and insecure are prone to try (initiate) drugs, starting around age 12. The agents tried are selected from among those available at that age and repetitive use of any, although a function of several other variables, does fit certain demonstrable patterns. In general, “reefer”, which didn’t become widely available to adolescents until the mid Sixties, soon joined alcohol and cigarettes as one of the three most commonly tried agents; precisely because it treats adolescent uncertainty so much more effectively.

The major hazard of repetitive use is a function of its illegality and the (mindless) social disapproval triggered by any revelation (or credible allegation) that use was chronic.

Obama, like many others, was victimized by his childhood. The big question for me is what would have happened if he hadn’t quit using pot? That’s a moot question that won’t be answered until pot is "legalized" by the dishonest and insecure representatives we keep sending to Congress.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:49 PM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2010

Anslinger’s Gift

Harry Anslinger was a relatively uneducated liar who, through a series of improbable events, was given the Federal Bureau of Narcotics to run in 1930 just as the Great Depression was about to plunge the world into a protracted economic debacle that wouldn’t start correcting itself until World War Two became global in 1941 and wouldn't be seen as finally over until it was ended by the nuclear destruction of two Japanese cities in August, 1945.

Although those responsible for guiding and protecting American drug policy since 1970 would clearly prefer to ignore Anslinger, there is no denying his critical role in their policy's evolution: in 1937 his Bureau sponsored the blatantly dishonest “Marijuana” Tax Act, a law based entirely on his “Reefer Madness” myth. Although Anslinger could not have known it at the time, the drug he demonized so effectively would eventually be enthusiastically embraced by the first Baby Boomers to reach adolescence almost thirty years after the MTA and twenty after Hiroshima. Even so, that Boomer discovery of “reefer” changed the world both rapidly and profoundy; thus in a real sense, Harry Anslinger, not the most honorable of men, deserves great credit for the current popularity of cannabis. Given what we now know, it’s nearly impossible to imagine any other scenario by which that might have happened.

As it turns out, seeing the introduction of cannabis as a positive event is still a tall order; however some understanding of the basis for pot’s undeniable appeal to adolescents offers important clues required for an accurate understanding of human behavior. Even though the hour is late, such understanding can still help us mitigate the human and environmental damage we now seem so impatient to bring about.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:13 PM | Comments (0)

December 04, 2010

Wikileaks & the Drug War

The latest Wikileaks "dump" generated a firestorm of headlines and opinion, much of which echoes those expressed almost four decades ago following publication of the Pentagon Papers. Although the stimuli for both unauthorized releases of classified information were foolish, expensive, and fundamentally dishonest American wars, the two people most responsible for the exposes could not be more different. The Pentagon Papers were gathered and turned over to major newspapers by Daniel Ellsberg, Harvard Phd (Economics) and ex-Marine officer who had accidentally discovered the illegitimacy of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution while serving as an aid to then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. His younger counterpart, Julian Assange, the founder and driving force behind Wikileaks, is an Australian career activist who became committed to political causes in his teens and was thus probably searching for an opportunity to be disruptive on behalf of a just cause.

Their methods and tools, also different, primaily reflect their different generations and intervening technical advances. Ellsberg's main tool was a Xerox machine- woefully slow by modern standards- but in 1971 it could amass enough damning evidence to convince the NY Times and other influential Newspapers to publish it. Finally; the enhanced capabilities of modern IT explain the huge volume of the Wikileaks dump, while the Internet it gave rise to also provided Assange with the dedicated coterie of helpers Ellsberg lacked. The sheer volume of the Wikileaks dump also raises its own questions: would it have been better to parcel it out bit by bit to keep other important issues from being overlooked? We simply don't know that answer yet, but I suspect Google will prevent that from happening.

For example, the US is now engaged in another foolish, futile, and expensive war much closer to home than Afghanistan. Among the Wikileaks revelations was a refreshingly frank assessment of the drug war's most recent failure to "control" smuggling, which was grievously exacerbated by Bush & Cheney's pressure on newly elected Mexican President Calderon to use Mexico's Army (and later its Navy) in 2006.

Ironically, one of the best current descriptions of our Mexican debacle appeared in an Australian newspaper, suggesting we are now truly a "global village" in which embarrassing secrets are harder to hide than ever.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:50 PM | Comments (0)