March 27, 2012
Predictable NIDA Nonsense... and worseA recent survey confirming that teen use of both alcohol and cigarettes has declined substantially since 1996 was greeted with predictable satisfaction by NIDA Director Nora Volkov MD. However, true to form, Volkow also complained that the same surveys showed adolescent use of “marijuana” had increased substantially during the same interval. Thus the NIDA director was simply confirming what I have long suspected: America’s prohibition bureaucracy is either woefully ignorant or incredibly cynical; depending on whether it is aware of information I’ve been gathering (and describing) from a study of (now) more than 6500 unselected cannabis applicants since November 2001. One of that study's most important findings is that chronic use of cannabis is regularly associated with less problematic use of both alcohol and tobacco by a population that has been particularly liable to try ("initiate") the panoply of illegal drugs created after the mid-Sixties. Most were agents declared illegal under the feckless provisions of the Controlled Substances Act.
The obvious implication is that rather than "controlling" dangerous substances, America's war on drugs has been creating new markets for a succession of agents that became popular and were then declared illegal on the basis of that popularity. More recently, a number of new opioid and cannabis agonists have been introduced to consumers; a particularly worrisome development, since they are apparently becoming easier for molecular chemists to create.
That both NIDA and the DEA have remained blind to the realities of cannabinoid use since the mid Seventies is bad enough; that they are still unwilling (or unable) to recognize their intrinsic medical benefits is nothing less than a disgrace. To add insult to injury; neither agency (both of which speak with great authority on drug use) has yet discovered there's a significant difference in the therapeutic effects of inhaled cannabinoids and edibles. Beyond that, cannabinoids are among the most effective therapeutic agents for the symptoms of PTSD, a condition wreaking havoc among the "volunteers" in our armed forces being repeatedly deployed to combat zones in Asia.
The premise our applicant study is based on was arrived at only after gathering data the first 660 applicants (roughly 10% of the current total). It's that anyone willing to undergo the expense, risk, and inconvenience of obtaining what remains a federally disputed, renewable state license to use an illegal drug must be someone for whom its use was important: either because they were “addicted” or were self-medicating.
Indeed, my detailed findings amply confirm that chronic users of cannabis have been self-medicating safely and effectively with a remarkably benign and effective, albeit complex, therapeutic agent; one tragically declared illegal in 1937. A further legislative development was that after the Supreme Court struck down the original law in 1969, the worst Attorney General/President combination in American history contrived to replace it with one that has been much more damaging to those arrested and is proving far more difficult to overturn. That’s especially true now because we are dealing with the most biased and medically incompetent Supreme Court in history (because it has been stacked by Republican Presidents with appointees hostile to abortion a qualification that's been abundantly clear for years) The anti abortion agenda of Republican appointees was never openly addressed by America’s Fourth Estate, itself an institution that long ago forfeited any serious claim to be “guardians of truth.” Given the easily available evidence of the benefits cannabis confers on its users and the human damage inflicted on them by mindless federal prosecution, our press bears a heavy responsibility for taking both cannabis prohibition and the drug war as seriously as they pretend to.
Even less informed and more cynical than Congress, America's press corps has been a major component in the failure of its Democracy. According to early reports from Washington, the next disaster could easily be a negative Supreme Court ruling on “Obamacare;” thus bringing down a well-intentioned, but mediocre Presidency in favor of one that would be far worse.
The question we should now be asking is, “how many policy disasters can one nation tolerate before imploding?”
March 22, 2012
Humanity's Biggest Problems may be EmotionalThe car radio had been tuned to the local NPR station; thus when I turned the key the next morning, Melinda Haag, US Attorney for Northern California, was giving the usual lame excuses for a new federal crackdown on medical marijuana “dispensaries.” She was discussing one I was familiar with, the Berkeley Patients’ Group, long considered one of the better ones in the Bay Area.
Ms. Haag, like most of her colleagues in the DOJ, is an obligatory doctrinaire prohibitionist; her script was written long ago and no deviations are allowed. All prohibition bureaucrats must profess an unshakeable faith in the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to “control” commerce in services and products our Federal Government has decreed too dangerous (or immoral) for citizens to use or possess. That belief has survived for over a century despite the well documented failures of all anti-prostitution laws (for millennia), a Constitutional Prohibition Amendment in the 20s, and the modern “war on drugs" since 1971.
Despite doctrinaire prohibition’s remarkable lack of success, Ms. Haag’s statements are consistent with the widely held belief that it should be successful, a notion born somewhere in the muddled Populist Movement near the end the Nineteenth Century and never abandoned. Faith in prohibition as policy inspired two separate federal legislative efforts; one to reduce or eliminate consumption of drugs (1914) and alcohol (1918). The first to be passed was the deceptive Harrison Act in 1914. Portrayed as merely a tool for tracking use of heroin and cocaine by its sponsors, Harrison was almost immediately enforced as prohibition by Treasury agents who arrested hundreds of physicians for prescribing either Heroin or cocaine, the two named drugs (as required by the law) for patients, some of whom were clearly addicts. The physician arrests were based on a claim that had not been made clear in of the legislation itself: that prescribing for "addicts" goes beyond the “normal” practice of Medicine, thus such prescriptions were considered illegal and deserving of punishment. The law was really a deceptive usurpation of medical practice by untrained federal bureaucrats.
Because "addiction" was not then, and has yet to be satisfactorily defined as other than a troublesome behavior, a dangerous precedent was covertly established and hardened into prohibition by the Supreme Court's decisions: untrained bureaucrats were given the power to overrule the medical judgment of licensed physicians on what amounted to specious moral grounds. Even worse, a specious concept, and its underlying moral implications, effectively froze research into addiction at a very early stage in its evolution while actively corrupting federally sponsored "studies" with official bias since 1973-74 when the DEA and NIDA created with an official mandate to bot define and enforce a law based on (ridiculously) erroneous assumptions dating back to 1937. If a piece of maladroit legislation was worse timed and more disastrous consequences, it may have been the secret "three fifths" Compromise by which chattel slavery was buried in the Constitution of a new nation that proudly proclaimed in its revolutionary manifesto that "all men are created equal."
Harrison was upheld several times by the Supreme Court between 1915 and 1920 by 5-4 margins. In 1925, the same Court reversed itself in Linder, but, unfortunately, because Medicine never appealed, the original error was "grandfathered in" and the way thus paved for the Draconian Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (a circumstance that dramatically underscores the crucial difference between Medicine and the Law.
The CSA, was conceptualized by then-Attorney General John Mitchell in 1969 after the Supreme Court struck down the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 (which had also threatened Harrison (because both laws were transparently spurious “taxes” with no legitimate taxation purpose). Their real purpose, thinly disguised from the outset, was control of Medical prescriptions for designated drugs by unqualified federal agents based on ill-defined and (to this day) completely unproven hypotheses about “addiction.”
The obvious shortcomings of the drug war are augmented by Psychiatry's lack of verifiable objective standards: other than "organic" brain diseases, the conditions psychiatrists treat cannot be defined by anatomic Pathology, nor can “addiction” be considered as other than a behavioral manifestation.
Classifying "addiction" as a "disease" for which total abstinence is the obligatory "cure" and prison the only allowable "alternative therapy" is irrational, unjust, expensive, and has become increasingly destructive as new "substances are readily developed by molecular chemists for burgeoning criminal markets. Beyond that absurdity lurks another: we don't imprison non compliant diabetics for the "crime" of spilling sugar in their urine; why do we imprison drug users for a positive urine?
What has been (slowly) exposed by the unprecedented “push back” against federal marijuana prohibition in current state “medical marijuana” laws is disquieting evidence of a far deeper, and even more disturbing, flaw in human nature: our species, despite its vaunted cognitive prowess, seems intent on failure. Its exact mode is, as yet uncertain, but can be readily summarized: the more scientifically talented we become, the more dangerous we are to both ourselves, the environment, and to other species.
That notion was memorably summarized by cartoonist Walt Kelly in the Fifties when Pogo, his main character observed, ”we have met the enemy and he is us.”
March 20, 2012
Annals of WeaponizationThe notion of weaponization is fairly straightforward. It involves the use of either old ideas or new technology as weapons that allow users to influence decisions by either killing their opponents or rendering them defenseless. In modern parlance, the concept of asymmetric warfare has emerged as a generic description of such tactics. The speed with which weaponization takes place can be appreciated by the evolution of powered flight from its first demonstration at Kitty Hawk in 1903, to the use of solitary B-29s to deliver the atomic bombs that convinced Hirohito to overrule his advisers and end the Pacific War in 1945.
Although seldom mentioned in accounts of that war, the national characteristic that made a conventional invasion and conquest of the Japanese so daunting was their embrace of suicide as a weapon, a belief deeply rooted in their history and mythology. Also seldom mentioned in conventional accounts was the abrupt turn around in their behavior after Hirohito's historic speech; finally, their high level of cooperation with the Occupation under General MacArthur between September 1945 and his sacking by Truman for insubordination. The high level of cooperation continued after MacArthur's termination and helped rehabilitate the nation from the terrible wounds of WW2.
Unfortunately, the concept of suicide as a weapon has recently been expanded to involve religious martyrdom for Moslems of many different national origins. While its use is now an almost daily event in South Asia, its most dramatic and effective expression was the coordinated 9/11/01 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which not only inflicted severe psychological damage on Western nations, but also spooked (tempted?) an inexperienced Presidential Administration into waging a ruinous war that was more unfocused, wasteful, and destructive than need be; results that were explicitly warned against before the search for bin Laden at Tora bora was abandoned.
By chance, my entry into the practice of "cannabis medicine" (a designation I abjure) began at almost the same time as 9/11. Although already convinced by working for 5 years in Drug Policy "Reform" that America's drug war was a huge policy mistake, it has taken a decade of clinical experience with cannabis users to appreciate its enormity and far reaching consequences. Those concepts have led me to theorize about why our entire species now seems so intent on its own destruction and so blind to its imminent possibility.
I have accordingly decided to limit my practice to "renewing" old patients as I attempt to inform readers about the unpalatable reality I see as awaiting our species. My fervent hope is that humans will find some way to avoid that looming disaster, but escape seems both unlikely and would be intrinsically painful in any event.
March 19, 2012
How Wars can be lost suddenly and unexpectedlyAmerica has now been waging, and losing, its metaphorical "war on drugs" ever since it was declared by Richard Nixon in 1971. Although credible victories are non-existent, there has been a surprising degree of acceptance of a policy many privately agree is a loser. That there have been almost no serious calls for an end to the drug war begs a logical question: Why? What accounts for that immunity from criticism, or at least calls for change, in a policy lacking any credible claims of victory?
The answer has just been hinted at by events in Afghanistan: we have have been asked to withdraw our troops from a troubled nation we entered as ally in the fanciful and unnecessary "War on Terror" declared by the an illegitimate Bush-Cheney Administration after the shocking (but hardly surprising) events of 9/11. The facts at that time were that Afghanistan was a proud, but poor nation that was earning most of its foreign exchange from the heroin trade carried out by its Northern Alliance (of heroin growers with the knowledge of the CIA.
Our misbegotten drug war had been playing a not-so-hidden role in shaping our Afghan misadventure well before 9/11. In fact, the global market for illegal heroin was an American creation that predated both the modern "Drug War" and our military involvement in Vietnam, facts documented in the first edition of Alfred McCoy's "Politics of Heroin" in 1974. The later use of drug smugglers by the CIA was documented in McCoy's second edition in 1991. Since stumbling into an Asia version of the "French Connection," as a twenty-five year old graduate student at Yale, the Australian born McCoy has earned his PhD in Asian studies, become a full professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and also an obsessed student of America's favorite folly: the war on drugs.
Against an updated background provided by McCoy and his graduate student Brett Reilly, it becomes easy to understand how a cascade of bad decisions, cover-ups and assorted misadventures have plagued this nation since its founders made their own great mistake: secretly agreeing to mollify South Carolina planters by retaining chattel slavery and referring its victims in our Constitution as "those obligated to service."
Although American "Democracy" has been seen as a success by much of the world, it has not lived up to its own promises and may already be in serious decline, a process accelerated considerably by the spectacular maturation of Science over the two centuries since the Constitution was written.
It's still too early to tell, but we may just be another empire of the type that's been failing in the same part of the world since the days of Alexander the Great.
March 18, 2012
Annals of Persistent FutilityOne need not be an economist to understand that only governments can create criminal markets; also that whenever desired products or services are made illegal, a potentially robust criminal market is created automatically. That reality as old as prostitution. The "oldest profession," although illegal in most countries, it exists virtually everywhere. Often responsible for spreading disease, and preyed upon by pimps, customers, and police; its workers may also be protected by the wealth or influence of their clients. Thus prostitution has evolved into a complex, multilevel industry in "advanced" nations. However, even when "decriminalized," a stigma remains, and prostitution's harmful consequences are only mitigated, rather than "cured."
Recent American attempts at prohibition have been directed at two "substances," alcohol and "drugs," which until recently, had not even been thought of as in the same category. Although it was a mainstay of Colonial American commerce, the damage produced by excessive consumption of alcohol led to a Temperance Movement by the 1830s. During the balance of the 19th Century several state prohibition laws were passed, primarily in Midwestern states, but all were eventually undone by smuggling from adjacent "wet" states. That pattern encouraged the Anti Saloon League to adopt Constitutional Amendment as a new strategy in 1893 in the belief that a national law would have a greater chance of success. The Eighteenth Amendment was finally passed in 1918 and went into effect in January 1920; the idea that it would lead to national sobriety quickly proved delusional. Although the failure of Prohibition had been obvious to many from its inception, the federal government has never formally admitted that reality; even after a novel Repeal Amendment passed in 1933. Beyond that, the economic woes of the Great Depression may have helped obscure the historic necessity of Repeal.
Despite its relatively brief duration, the "Noble Experiment" generated several adverse consequences that have become part of American Culture. Perhaps the worst was the transformation of localized crime into a National Industry, one that received another break when the federal agency that should have become its nemesis (the FBI) became controlled by J. Edgar Hoover, a Director whose human weaknesses allegedly allowed the Mafia to blackmail him into denying its existence for decades. Thus the Thirties witnessed the growth of protection rackets, illegal gambling, and union corruption; all of which helped replace the criminal funding lost when alcohol was "legalized" by Repeal.
World War Two added to the Mafia's coffers by adding black markets for goods rationed because of wartime shortages. The power of the mob was also demonstrated by the deal Lucky Luciano allegedly made from his prison cell after the French Liner Normandie mysteriously caught fire and burned shortly after docking in New York.
Thus it's clear that the failed "Noble Experiment" triggered a cascade of adverse long term effects. Ironically, Harry Anslinger, the federal bureaucrats appointed to head the FBN in 1930, benefited from the same tactics J Edgar Hoover used used to protect his FBI. That America's founders would have been pleased by the federal police agencies the two bureaucrats worked protect is as unlikely as it is unknowable.
The surviving American policy of prohibition is expressed as the invidious War on Drugs, now enforced under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Its euphemistic invocation of "control" can't put lipstick on the prohibition pig, no one will mention, nor can it transform its increasingly costly policy failure into a "success."
Whether that reality will be appreciated quickly enough by enough citizens to bring about much needed change is not at all certain; it seems more likely that denial will continue to characterize our species' uncertain future while obscuring recognition of its all-too obvious dangers.
March 02, 2012
Humanity and the Illusion of ProgressThe Impact of Scientific Thinking
Since the advent of empirical Science five or so centuries ago, our species has made spectacular progress in its attempts to understand and control its environment. Unfortunately that progress can now be seen to have been rather uneven: too much of the former and not enough of the latter. The most obvious result of our rapidly evolving technological prowess is a corresponding increase in the number of humans now inhabiting the planet; unfortunately, it's also likely that a majority are less content and more worried about their future than ever.
The reasons for that population explosion and its attendant discontent are both multiple and complex; my own opinion is that it's related to an evolutionary flaw in the development of the human brain, our organ of survival and cognition, which is also the source of the new ideas that have been impacting our planetary ecology at a progressive rate. The glitch I have in mind is the parallel evolution of our brain's emotional and cognitive centers, both of which had survival value and were thus retained in such close physical and synaptic proximity that an immediate emotional response to any cognitive stimulus ultimately became the human default, a concept first articulated by American neurologist Paul McLean in postulating the Triune Brain.
Pressure from Recent Developments
It's now generally accepted that the universe (cosmos) is more vast and timeless than could have been imagined even a few centuries ago; there's also increasing evidence that the survival of all species, including our own, has been shaped by unpredictable evolutionary processes that have been determining the survival of myriad complex organisms for at least 500 million years, a time span most humans still find either very troubling or impossible to believe. In any event, this rapidly accumulating flood of new information casts considerable doubt on still-extant religious beliefs in an omniscient deity primarily focused on individual human behavior.
The speed with which new scientific discoveries are forcing our species to confront complex and generally unwelcome ideas can be appreciated from the fact that the Darwinian intuition that led to the concept of evolution occurred less than 150 years ago and was validated relatively quickly; first, by Mendel's systematic studies of what came to be known as genes (although he would have disagreed with Darwin, had they ever met). After the structure of DNA was disclosed in 1953, progress became especially rapid; most educated people now have at least a nodding acquaintance genetic engineering, and the mapping of genomes. Some of the less predictable uses of DNA have tracking human migrations from Africa, and the positive identification of individuals, even down to providing unequivocal proff that we avenged 9/11 by assassinating Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan last May.
In stark contrast to those achievements, we have not learned to live in harmony despite the obvious danger that our disagreements, when magnified sufficiently, can easily lead to war, or that war in the nuclear age runs the risk of nuclear winter. Although doubted by skeptics, the nuclear winter hypothesis was (fortunately) not tested by an exchange of missiles when the actual danger had been greatest. For what it's worth, some confirmatory evidence was supplied by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.
Perhaps the most important thing we can learn from recent history is how lucky we have been as a species to have flirted with disaster and been spared. I hope our good luck continues.