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January 27, 2011

The Impact of Tabu on Belief, Behavior, and Policy

Tabu (taboo) is a Polynesian term for something so off-limits that even discussions about it are forbidden. US drug policy is best understood as our government's attempt to render both use of certain drugs and any questions about the policy itself equally taboo. What recent experience shows is that if a prohibited item was- like alcohol- already well known and popular, its criminal prohibition is unlikely to succeed, primarily because of the profits that become available to those willing to defy the law. The most familiar example is our failed experiment with Prohibition between 1920 and 1933.

In retrospect, the chronic failure of laws against prostitution should have been a warning to those who predicted, in 1919, that Prohibition could not be repealed and would soon lead to a new Utopia. As we now know, our 14 year experiment left us a legacy of organized crime which then used its profits to become institutionalized as an American version of the Mafia and, after Repeal, quickly shifted its focus to labor racketeering, protection rackets, illegal gambling, and illegal drugs.

The basic lesson of Prohibition, that criminal bans inevitably create new opportunities for crime, seems permanently beyond the comprehension of certain moralistic types who can't wait to pass new laws that also fail for the same reason. It was probably no accident that Harry Anslinger's uncle transferred him from the Treasury's Prohibition unit to take over as Director of a brand-new Bureau of "Narcotics" in 1930. That the new agency began existence under an archaic name is an indication of how the ambient ignorance of that day has persisted: "Narcotics" remains code for "illegal drugs" to this day.

Two features make America's failed experiment with "marijuana" prohibition unique; one is that it was an attempt to ban a relatively unknown product for which the potential demand had been essentially unknown when it was made illegal through devious legislation in 1937. There is no way Anslnger could have foreseen the enthusiasm with which Baby Boomers (who wouldn't begin arriving for another ten years) would, as Sixties adolescents, give his "reefer madness" fantasy an aura of verisimilitude with their enthusiastic reception of "marijuana," or that the main reason would be its most characteristic pharmacologic effect: an immediate, brief, and easily managed anxiolytic state (but only when smoked). A final irony is that the key reasons for pot's commercial success and user loyalty would remain beyond the awareness of self-appointed cognoscenti in both camps and would then be disbelieved by most; even after being pointed out.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 09:45 PM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2011

Spinning the Truth

For the past several years, the focus of my (limited) ability to study the phenomenon of cannabis (“marijuana”) use from a clinical perspective has shifted from defining pot's appeal to its chronic users to an attempt to understand why (how) such a badly mistaken and intellectually shabby policy as "marijuans" prohibition has been able to retain the allegiance of government policy makers the world over. This morning, quite by accident, I stumbled into a major new insight; one that's still evolving and yet has taken my understanding to a whole new level. I awakened to TV: the program being aired had been produced for cable by an entity known familiarly as “Nat Geo.” It was a slick, brand new production dated 2011 and entitled “Drugged, High on Marijuana."

 It’s axiomatic that new insights favor a prepared mind (Darwin, for example, was familiar with the then-novel work of Geology pioneer Charles Lyell before he visited the Galapagos). As for me, I'd long been suspicious that “Nat Geo,” for all its undeniably interesting educational and scientific programming, was also a shill for the Drug War’s fascist status-quo. This morning, I finally had that confirmed by doing something I should have done a long time ago: I Googled "Nat Geo,Discovery" and was amazed to learn that their majority owner was that well known international fascist, Rupert Murdoch.

To back up a bit, I'd originally become suspicious of Nat Geo's basic motivation: from their Border Wars series, which is so highly selective in its characterization of marijuana and human smuggling that it could easily be accused of intellectual schizophrenia: no mention of even the possibility that US efforts at "control" on the border are failing for the same reasons: endemic greed and dishonesty in both nations. Instead, while Mexican suffering is largely ignored or minimized, the personnel in our militarized Border Patrol and ICE are portrayed as heroes frying to keep the rest of us safe from the twin scourges of illegal drugs and illegal aliens.

Another thing I have only recently had time to confirm: so far as I can tell, I'm the only "Pot Doc" who has been asking the same questions of applicants in any state with a medical marijuana law. I would not have believed I could spend almost 10 years taking histories from pot smokers (and reporting the results to any who would listen) and still encounter such dedicated ignorance from "colleagues." However that statement seems at least as accurate as my patient data.

To return to this entry's purpose; it's aptly summarized by its title, which, in turn, turns out to be the shorthand answer to the question raised in first paragraph: the drug war bureaucracy has been successful because of support for fascist causes by wealthy people (Rupert Murdoch is but one of several possible examples) many of whom are also committed to the extreme conservatism that fell under the rubric of "fascism" early last century. Once one understands Mussolini and Hitler (his best pupil) it's but a short step to the realization that extreme "control" policies often end up justifying the imprisonment (or destruction) of perceived enemies.

In the fascist movements of the early Twentieth Century, the common good came to be defined nationally in Germany and Japan. In the case of the drug war, the context of its (presumed) "control" mandate was enlarged to embrace the whole species when its responsibility was arrogated into a need to protect (all the world's) "kids" from "addiction" (similarly; some opponents of abortion believe they have the right to protect fetuses by killing physicians who perform legal abortions).

More, later.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 05:36 PM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2011

A Breath of Fresh Air

The carnage in Mexico tragically provoked by the Bush-Cheney Administration's thoughtless 2006 request of newly elected President Calderon to “clean up” drug smuggling along the US-Mexican border shows no sign of abating. But there is hopeful evidence that at least one person in a position to influence policy has been paying attention and has (at least partially) changed his mind. This blog has long asked how such a stupid and destructive “War” on Drugs could fool so many allegedly bright humans for so long; thus I have learned not to become too hopeful. However, Time Magazine’s confirmation that Vicente Fox (Calderon’s immediate predecessor) has had a change of heart is encouraging.

However, we’ve been here before: a similar announcement by the late Wm. F. Buckley Jr. in 1995: that the drug war was a failure, had provoked excitement, but follow-up was disappointingly slow (although it may have helped passage of California’s Proposition 215 later the next year). Buckley’s main reason for changing his mind was that he saw the drug war as ineffective. Fox’s is essentially the same; plus his nation’s appalling bloodshed. However, both men were careful to add that they didn’t “approve” of drug use. In that respect, they may have touched on the main reason a stupid policy has been politically correct for so long: it has been successfully cloaked as Public Health for some and a Moral Imperative for others through equally false, but widely accepted, notions about “addiction.”

Most repetitive drug use is not a disease; nor is it a sin. The urge to try drugs during adolescence is a complex behavior suggestive of symptoms that appear to be implanted in vulnerable children between ages 4 and 11. Furthermore, not all arbitrarily designated “drugs of abuse” are the same; some (including alcohol and cigarettes) are considerably more dangerous than others. Some illegal drugs (especially cannabis) are popular because they relieve troublesome symptoms more safely and effectively than others, including legal Pharmaceutical products.

Such conclusions weren’t remotely possible before a large sample of illegal cannabis users were grudgingly allowed to consult with physicians after a California initiative passed in 1996. Although my data has yet to be replicated, the passage of similar initiatives in several other states since 1996 suggests that cannabis (“marijuana”) is popular all over the country, a situation that should call for more unbiased research rather than more spending on the ineffective punishment of people who are more likely to be victims of dysfunctional or absent parenting than born criminals.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 09:38 PM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2011

Symptoms of an Ailing Species, 1: Suicide

Humans are the only mammals who deliberately kill themselves; we do so for a variety of reasons about which we are also in serious denial. The conversion of suicide into a weapon of war by the Japanese toward the end of World War 2 probably played a role in the US decision to attack Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear weapons. Its modern use as a weapon by Muslims began with the destruction of the Marine barracks in Lebanon by massive truck bombs in 1983. The first use of suicide against Israelis in the First Intifada was non-explosive; but bombing by individuals using suicide vests soon became standard in the Second.

In the United States, where suicide is generally regarded as a manifestation of mental illness, it was the 10th most common cause of death in 2007. A closer look reveals reveals that the risk of self-destruction varied considerably with certain general factors: age, gender, and ethnicity, as well as understandable specifics such as general health, marital or financial problems, a history of depression, or certain provocative events, such as death of a loved one, social disgrace, etc. One key understanding that can be derived readily from all the data is that both emotions (feelings) and cognition (rational processes) play a role in any given individual’s decision to end their life. Another is that an unexpected suicide can be a very traumatic event for friends and family members, but under certain circumstances: when it’s a rational choice that had been planned in advance and was assisted by a licensed professional, that trauma can be mitigated considerably. At present, Oregon, Washington, and Montana are the only states that have approved initiatives allowing some form of legal “assisted suicide” (euthanasia) and it is specifically forbidden in the majority of others, but attitudes are clearly changing.

Suicide rates seem to be increasing around the world, although statistics are probably unreliable; particularly where a majority of citizens are either Christians or Muslims (it's considered a sin by both religions). In that respect, there is striking cognitive dissonance in Muslim nations in which modern suicide bombers are routinely considered "martyrs" rather than sinners or murderers; even when a majority of their victims may be other Muslims.

However, non-Muslim nations should not be overly comforted or succumb to feelings of moral superiority; they have sins of their own that are seldom admitted and many are seeing a parallel increase in non-lethal forms of self-mutilation such as cutting, particularly among adolescents.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:56 PM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2011

Thoughts on My Birthday

Today is my 79th birthday. I didn't expect to live this long, but as my 80th year came within hailing distance, I began hoping I would, especially with the discovery that I had also obtained, quite by accident, information I believed could change the world for the better. I’m still reasonably sure it could do that; but only if enough people were to understand it. Sadly, that's very unlikely in a world where the human population is nearing seven billion.

Which calls attention to what I see as humanity's biggest problem: there are too many of us and a critical evolutionary flaw in our brain almost guarantees that so long as even a few survive, we are likely to continue fighting among ourselves. Indeed, for that to change would probably require some further physical evolution of the brain that has become- paradoxically- both the crown jewel of hominid evolution and the reason we probably won’t reach our full potential.

What gives me the chutzpah to sound off like this? That's easy: what I learned from nearly ten years spent talking to pot smokers; not that pot smokers are so smart (some are), but what I’ve earned from them is so applicable to human behavior. If we take a couple of intellectual giant steps backward and look at human history as a discipline that became much better informed after Science was added to our cognitive skills, we can also see that today’s ordinary humans have been afforded an understanding of the universe that far surpasses what had been possible for the brightest and best-read humans in the thousands of years before Galileo (I think of Science as beginning with him and Newton, who was born the year he died). Science soon blossomed into an Enlightenment, which didn’t help us get along any better (in fact, quite the opposite) but did enhance the ability of Europeans to sail to distant lands where they “discovered,” and quickly began to exploit their fellow humans, especially in the Americas.

We now know that modern humans are literally brothers under our different-hued skins; that those differences were relatively recent evolutionary adaptations to the different climates that various “out of Africa” survivors encountered following their separate migrations from the home continent. That they also possessed language is quite certain; it’s difficult to imagine the successful mass migrations we now know took place without some critical elements of planning and cohesion. We also know from DNA evidence what routes they took and over what relative intervals; therefore we should, someday (if we can stop squabbling long enough and find enough spare cash) be able to trace their migration itineraries with even greater precision.

That touches on another reason we humans will probably never straighten out the mess we find ourselves in: there are some very bright “Creationists” who believe so strongly ins their cause they keep trying to pass laws requiring that their belief become part of the public school curriculum. That seems little different from Muslim Jihadists who believe that killing innocent infidels will result in a more sexually gratifying afterlife in an earthier and more misogynistic version of Christianity's of “heaven;” but similar in the basic conception of an afterlife restricted to the Faithful.

Returning to pot smokers, the opportunity to take their histories provided by proposition 215 was, as I have repeatedly pointed out, unique. Also when I attempted to report what they were telling me, I was surprised to learn others weren’t seeking the same information. That refusal of physicians to do straightforward clinical research was a shocking change from the attitude that had permeated the practice of Medicine when I’d been in a student and a surgical resident (between ‘53 to ’63). In retrospect, I’d also done a Thoracic residency in San Francisco at the epicenter of the latest cultural change to shake humanity during its apogee (‘67 to ‘69). Although I’d sensed there was something important happening then, it wasn’t until now that I think I’ve gathered enough information to understand it.

All of which brings me to perhaps my most important point: history is made every day, but it’s perceived very differently by different people (and affiliated groups). Soon, innumerable arguments begin about how those different impressions should fit into a coherent narrative.

Unfortunately, that narrative also becomes a matter of dispute within the arbitrarily created political entities we call nations and have endowed with “sovereignty.” Thus a dangerous tipping point may have been created by the conflation of excess human numbers and our stubborn consensus problems, especially since World War Two ended.

That seems like quite enough rain for one parade.

Docto Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:56 PM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2011

The Marijuana High from a Clinical Perspective

One of the (still) unrecognized benefits of Proposition 215 is that it has allowed, for the first time ever, protected clinical contact between physicians and the hitherto closeted users of reefer, which, as “marijuana,” took then-young Baby Boomers by storm in the Sixties and soon impelled an insecure President Nixon to declare “war” on all drugs declared illegal by the US Attorney General. One of several important points lost on most observers during that turbulent era was that whatever medical evaluation of “reefer” had taken place in the past had been neither thorough nor systematic and was, in any event, woefully out of date. When a special commission appointed by Nixon himself called those facts to his attention in 1972, he buried their report and scolded its chairman for ignoring his wishes

Thus have the imagined evil effects of smoking marijuana, now known by most as getting “high,” been demonized by those opposed to its use, even as a substantial fraction of those who have tried it either continue to use it or remain willing to again if they develop certain symptoms. Thus- equally ironically- has the relief of severe symptoms remained an excuse for the harsh punishment those who choose to self medicate on the grounds that they are criminals or "addicts." for over four decades with virtually zero recognition of the incongruity.

That such a bizarre situation could have evolved shouldn’t surprise a nation that fought a bloody Civil War over chattel slavery after seventy years of existence, and then accepted that “separate” is the same as “equal” for another sixty, and still struggles with the notions of equality so eloquently stated in its founding manifesto.

To return to why marijuana’s characteristic “high” remains so misunderstood: it’s really a pharmacological phenomenon that’s far more complex than either its opponents or proponents ever imagined. The most accurate descriptive term for its unique effect is “anxiolytic,” a word (unwittingly) coined by a pharmaceutical company in the early Sixties to describe the effect of an an entirely different drug after oral ingestion. Another surprise is that smoking cannabis is an advantage because it provides the experienced user with almost instant awareness that an effective dosage level has been reached, an advantage that’s only possible when a drug can be delivered by inhalation and crosses the blood brain barrier (both of which cannabinoids do readily). Also, with respect to smoking “marijuana,” the extensive work of academic Pulmonologist Donald Tashkin, an unusually honest investigator, suggests that its carcinogenicity, like so many of its other presumed dangers, has been grossly exaggerated and may even be blunted by an anti-cancer and other beneficial effects.

The bottom line is that limited clinical evaluation (the only kind possible under the grudging restrictions that applied to how Proposition 215 could be implemented) has revealed important findings that remain either unknown to, or disbelieved by, many who should be interested. They include the current occupant of the Oval office, the family and fans of a recently deceased entertainer, and any number of other public figures whose personal drug use is sufficiently well known to allow discussion without breaching ethical canons.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 10:09 PM | Comments (0)

Questions Answered: #2

Question #2 on January 12th asked why “Reefer Madness” (a.k.a. America’s marijuana prohibition) survived Repeal. Although it should have been asked more precisely as "HOW did our drug policy survive Prohibition’s failure?" a major factor was obviously the care taken by federal bureaucrats from Anslinger forward to avoid any use of the “P word” in official documents. That practice became universal after Nixon and has also been honored by the media; just like they never mentioned FDR's polio residuals.

The implicit dishonesty with which a failing drug policy was given a pass became even more evident after Nixon; the drug war has been euphemistically described as drug “control” without it enforcers being asked any hard questions: how can a valuable commodity can be “controlled" when designated criminals are given a monopoly on its production, transportation, and sale. Also remarkable for their scarcity in the media are other hard questions: why is a chronically failing policy awarded a bigger budget every year and why has it been accompanied by a quadrupling of prison inmates since it was instituted in 1970? Finally, the same hard questions are never asked of aspiring Presidential candidates.

Thus are what may be the most important lessons to be learned from Prohibition’s failure either ignored or misunderstood by both political parties and the media and so, beg more questions: are they all stupid, cynical, or both? There seems no logical alternative. That the same policy is also implicitly, albeit cautiously, defended by the similar failure of professors of “Public Policy” at "leading universities" to ask the same questions is another puzzle. Are (we) humans simply consummate liars and equivocators?

While that may be a deeply disturbing idea, history tells us it shouldn't come as a surprise. Although we are the most recently evolved primates and the most capable of cognition, it's only a relatively short time since we even learned to write and an even shorter interval since we gained the ability to sort and classify various abstract ideas (Psychiatry hasn't even come up with a rational classification of our own behavioral problems).

Since we are also highly competitive mammals, only too willing to kill both ourselves and others for our strongly held personal and religious beliefs, the imposition of a silly drug policy by our political leaders may be just a passing phase and shouldn't panic us into throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Given all our other faults: murder, child abuse, torture and criminal neglect of the same environment our grandchildren may need to survive in, perhaps a failing drug policy shouldn't be of primary concern.

If we were to practice a bit more denial, things may even get better by themselves. Out here in California, where progress has been inching along for 14 years, we even had a legalization initiative to vote on last November. If the people who already had a doctor's recommendations, hadn't voted against Proposition 19, it might even have passed; but I haven't heard anyone complaining...

Doctor Tom (only slightly tongue-in cheek; see Fred Gardner)

Posted by tjeffo at 05:08 AM | Comments (0)

January 15, 2011

Unexpected Results; Unintended Consequences

Apropos of the shooting rampage in Tucson last Saturday: survival following a penetrating gunshot wound of the brain is indeed rare; that it should have occurred under such arresting circumstances and have victimized such a high-profile and sympathetic public figure endows it with the potential to begin civilizing our deeply divided and generally clueless species at a time when some rudimentary awareness of its increasingly desperate plight is long overdue. The question is really one of survival; the situation itself, and the logic behind it, are both relatively easy to grasp: despite our highly evolved and undeniably brilliant cognitive abilities, we humans are now embarked on the destruction of our own future because our emotions have been leading us into indefensibly stupid and destructive mass behavior.

Once Darwin’s intuition began leading biologists inexorably toward the conclusion that life is less likely to have been planned by a humanoid intelligence than to be random; an increasingly bitter contest between those able to accept cosmic uncertainty and those who cannot became started. Over time, It’s become obvious that disagreement is now so profound, yet inchoate, that it has acquired the potential to do great harm to both our species and our planetary environment.

These thoughts are an unexpected result of my continuing study of cannabinoids and the people who use them. I feel no need to defend it; instead I’m almost equally reassured about its validity by the consistency of the data and distressed by the implications of the (illogical) refusal of others with the same opportunity to do a similar study. Ditto, the relative lack of any coherent discussion of drug use as a phenomenon requiring understanding rather than punishment. Instead; the usual sources cling stubbornly to the glaring inconsistencies of a drug war dogma now invalidated to a grotesque degree and yet seemingly well beyond repudiation by either Congress or the Supreme Court.

The almost unbearable irony is that the shooting was done by a mentally ill person who symbolizes the inability of Medicine to either classify such problems in a meaningful way or shake its own drug war restrictions. Also that it took place in Arizona: a state that's become both a Second Amendment focal point and the most glaring example of our failing federal immigration and "drug control" policies.

However, it’s said hope springs eternal; which is why I will continue calling attention to these follies as long as I'm able.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 05:10 PM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2011

Questions Answered: #1

The first question listed as needing an answer in yesterday's entry was:

How did such an intrinsically stupid policy ever get started?

The answer begins with the Harrison Act of 1914 and the Supreme Court of that era. By upholding it in a series of narrow decisions rendered between 1917 and 1919, the Court unwittingly opened the door to what it should have seen as an unconstitutional intrusion by government into individual liberty. That error was facilitated by several factors: the then-recent prominence of drug addiction as a new social problem and the (uninformed) beliefs by the Court that addiction is a “disease.” Also that physicians could not be trusted to treat it properly. Essentially, the law they upheld assumed that federal agents with police powers would be more reliable than physicians in the treatment of “addiction.” They thus voted to uphold Harrison in both the Jin Fuey Moy (1917) and Webb (1919) cases.

Ironically, the Court later reversed itself completely in the Linder case (1925) but, unfortunately, no challenge to Harrison ever materialized. Thus for all practical purposes, Harrison remained both law and policy under Harry Anslinger’s reign over the FBN until his Marijuana Tax Act was also declared unconstitutional in 1969.

Thus, in 1970, the sweeping Controlled Substances Act drafted by the Nixon Administration replaced both Harrison and the MTA, perpetuating not one but two, unconstitutional invasions of individual rights under cover of Public Health and the need to regulate interstate commerce. Nevertheless our present Supreme Court chose to rule narrowly on the Raich case on the basis of a (totally unrelated) World War Two case. Thus once again, has an errant policy escaped meaningful judicial review while continuing to inflict great harm on innumerable individuals and the social fabric of both American and global society.

Equally ironically, when unbiased medical scrutiny of that policy was finally enabled by passage of Proposition 215 some 82 years after Harrison, most full-time "reformers" (many of whom had been using cannabis illegally since adolescence) rejected compelling clinical evidence that inhaled cannabis is actually safer and more effective anxiolytic therapy than any of the legal medicines produced for that purpose by Big Pharma.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:48 PM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2011

Questions seldom asked about “Reefer Madness”

In 1937, the possession and use of cannabis were so effectively discouraged by the wording of the Marijuana Tax Act (MTA) that, for all practical purposes, it soon became effective prohibition of any amount whatsoever. Beyond a disproportionately high fine for failure to pay a small tax (for which the required stamps were never even printed) the Act also called for such tedious and intrusive record keeping as to discourage medical prescription of what had become a rarely ordered oral medicine, one already falling out of favor with Pharmaceutical companies; primarily because of their difficulty in standardizing its dosage.

The MTA was the brain-child of Harry Anslinger, the self-promoting Director of the FBN who, since his appointment in 1930, had combined his considerable bureaucratic skills with an antipathy to "addiction" to assert near-total control over a punitive American drug policy despite his obvious lack of medical expertise. From 1937 on, while Anslinger remained in charge of the FBN, "marijuana" arrests were rare. Essentially all prosecutions were at the state level during the Forties and Fifties, but thanks to his influence, the law was rigorously enforced and harsh penalties routinely imposed, especially in “Bible Belt” states.

In the Sixties, that situation began changing almost as soon as Anslinger retired (1962). Young people born during World War Two and its subsequent “Baby Boom” began entering high schools and colleges where they soon became noticed; not only for their sheer numbers, but also for their rejection of traditional norms, support for liberal causes, and experimentation with then-unfamiliar drugs. Somehow, they had even discovered the "reefer" damned by Anslinger in 1937 and were using it enthusiastically; along with some other even less familiar psychedelic agents: LSD, Psilocybin, and Peyote. That Boomer drug curiosity was triggered by a small, contentious Fifties literary movement that had became notorious for both its put-down of American consumer culture and its members' own enthusiastic drug use is obvious in retrospect, however the connection was described by only by few more perceptive observers like David Halberstam, and Tom Wolfe. That the Beat-Boomer connection has remained so unrecognized by "mainstream" media thus becomes one of several long-avoided questions about both America's drug use and its drug policy that should have been addressed long before a "drug war" could have been declared by Richard Nixon, let alone matured into a dutifully enforced UN policy failure.

1) How did such an intrinsically stupid policy ever get started?

2) How has it survived the failure of Prohibition in 1933?

3) What made inhaled cannabis ("reefer") so attractive to Baby Boomers in the Sixties?

4) Why is a "war" on drugs still global policy?

There are several other pertinent questions, but the ones listed here seem to be the ones most demanding of thoughtful answers.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 12:32 AM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2011

Evolution, Genes, "Race," Denial & "Justice"

When the young Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos in September 1835 as part of a daunting around-the-world voyage on HMS Beagle, he couldn’t have expected to gain the critical insights that would make him famous within his lifetime and leave him both hated and revered today, some 180 years later. Back when the voyage began in 1831, he was a youthful medical school drop-out whose decision to quit his studies had disappointed his physician father, yet he'd still managed to persuade the older Darwin to finance a position for him as resident “naturalist” on the Beagle’s ambitious (and risky) project of global circumnavigation, a voyage that would last five years.

As we now know, the younger Darwin was familiar with the then-new concepts of Geology pioneers James Hutton and Charles Lyell ; thus he knew that the discovery of marine fossils on upland slopes was casting serious doubt on traditional Biblical notions of time, one of the many Enlightenment discoveries that would prepare him for the insights he would be exposed to on his now-famous voyage. Those insights began with observations made during a relatively short visit to a cluster of volcanic islands off the coast of South America. The Galapagos, then nearly unknown to Europeans, are now recognized by the scientifically informed as one of the few locations on Earth where evidence hinting at Evolution would have been obvious enough to catch the attention of even a prepared mind like Darwin's in the early Nineteenth Century. Even so, other circumstances would be required to nurture those insights to fruition: the financial means to pursue what became a life-long obsession, a supportive family, and the production of an historic manuscript that would both satisfy Huxley and electrify the world in 1859.

Thus did Charles Darwin labor long and hard to generate a hypothesis that is still either unknown to, or resisted mightily by over half the world's humans. Even where it has been heard of, vested interests oppose it; primarily on religious grounds. At the same time, Evolution has matured into the most important biologic theory yet. It guides progress in the Life Sciences and has been further confirmed by Mendelian Genetics, a Science that didn't exist before Darwin (Darwin and Mendel were probably unknown to each other). Also elucidation of the structure of DNA (published in 1953), has led to a progressive understanding that a complex chemical has probably enabled inheritance in all life forms, provided invaluable forensic tools, and still offers exciting new possibilities such as back-tracking human migrations.

All of which brings up the distinction between an hypothesis and a theory: the former is an explanation proposed for an observed natural phenomenon. As such, it's also a preliminary form of the latter; to the extent an hypothesis proves useful, it tends to be retained as a guide to further investigation. At some point successful hypotheses becomes theories. Those that don’t fulfill their original promise, may be either radically modified or completely discarded. Phrenology is a good example of the latter: its logic depended on the localization of brain function demonstrated by the work of Hughlings-Jackson, but alas, bumps on the skull could not be similarly related to personality.

The process by which theories are discussed, modified, or discarded has itself evolved along with empirical Science. In general, the entrance of government into such discussions has been neither helpful no efficacious and often had the opposite effect.

Many glaring examples are provided by the Drug War, which is itself bereft of a coherent hypothesis (except, perhaps that "drugs" of abuse," as decided by a lawyer, should be prohibited in the criminal code). That notion has only fostered crime, murder and corruption in every nation that has implemented it, an observation readily confirmed by Google, but not acknowledged in the "mainstream" press of any nation.

Thus a reasonable litmus test for a rational drug policy becomes failure (refusal?) by the American "Drug Czar" and NIDA director to acknowledge the carnage "marijuana" prohibition is causing along our border with Mexico

That NIDA is now headed by a native Mexican is hardly an auspicious omen.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:52 PM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2011

Marijuana's Delayed Popularity; the Case Against the Drug War

When Harry Anslinger introduced his inane Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, the only thing we can be sure of is that he knew almost nothing about “reefer” from either personal experience or the medical literature because the prescribed use of inhaled cannabis was so rare as to be relatively unknown, especially when compared to its use today. We do know there was some non-medical (but legal) "recreational" smoking of “reefer” (“muggles,” “gage”). Also that Anslinger was a shameless liar who routinely made up evidence to justify the FBN’s existence. In fact, one of the most damning bits of evidence that the current US and global) “war” on drugs is based on nonsense is that an ignorant buffoon like Anslinger could have been the driving force behind such pivotal legislation.

"Marijuana” was finally discovered by American adolescents and young adults a little less than thirty years after the MTA was passed and just about the time the man most responsible for it was shuffling off to senescence and retirement. "Reefer's"delayed popularity could not have been forecast in 1937, nor indeed was it even recognized until the mid-Sixties. It's explosive popularity, almost three decades after all use had been made illegal, is without parallel in the history of illegal drugs. Ditto the youthful nature and enthusiasm of its first devotees. A third phenomenon requiring explanation has been the sustained loyalty of so many chronic users despite progressively severe prosecution (and persecution) at the hands of our criminal justice system.

Were it not for the nearly simultaneous emergence of information in the late Eighties that inhaled "marijuana" was relieving the nausea and vomiting then interfering with two newly effective treatments for cancer and AIDS, it's likely California’s Proposition 215 would not have even made the 1996 ballot, let alone passed by a comfortable maegin. Even more distressing, from my point of view, is the remarkable resistance of both our media and political power structure to factual information about cannabis, still a.k.a. “marijuana.” Anslinger may have been a clumsy liar, but he was a skillful enough propagandist to infect the general public with the same prejudices he'd displayed throughout a long life; perhaps that's the reason so few biographers have been inspired to tell his story (and none have praised his dubious "accomplishments").

All of which leads me to have contempt for academic gurus at "leading universities" who should have been smart enough to know better, but have continued taking Anslinger's ridiculous claims seriously throughout their (now) relatively long academic careers. We have been seriously led astray on drug policy; not only by all three branches of government, but also by those claiming special expertise in "Public Policy" an academic career field that didn't begin developing until after World war Two.

Anslinger didn't fool everybody; a few prescient authors, notably Dan Baum & Mike Gray published critical appraisals right around the time 215 passed. One, inspired by his earlier study of Nazism, pointed out that such academic and judicial blindness is not without precedent. In fact, a compelling example was flowering in Europe just as a still-vigorous Anslinger was selling the MTA to a gullible American Congress in 1937.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 09:46 PM | Comments (0)