May 22, 2013
Meteorology, Denial, and the Drug WarI’ve long been puzzled by the tendency of our media to deny any connection between the planet’s swollen human population and obvious evidence of extreme change in its weather patterns. That denial is often expressed passively; a failure to mention either "climate change" or "global warming" when reporting on the latest weather disaster; Monday's huge tornado, for instance. I've been paying increased attention to television news for such omissions and can’t remember any mention of climate change; even when reporters were citing the extraordinary coincidence of powerful tornadoes hitting the suburban town of Moore, Oklahoma, on May, 3 1999 and again on May, 21 this year. Nor for that matter, have I heard Joplin mentioned in discussions of the Moore disaster.
Shifting from tornadoes to hurricanes, I can’t remember any mention of extreme weather after two water-laden monsters- Irene and Sandy- struck the Northeastern United States in successive years.
Thus, out of curiosity, I googled the subject of extreme weather denial and was rewarded by a top hit from Germany, of all places.
My interest in denial was prompted by the frequency with which I experience it when I try to engage relative strangers in a discussion of our failing drug war: "I don't want to talk that about that now," is often their blunt response if I persist. A less personal form is the failure of reporters to question why "marijuana" is now our most popular "drug of abuse," and commands so much popular support.
I will try to connect those dots between denial and the drug war's expensive failures in future posts. There's more than enough time remaining; provided we are not drowned or blown away in the meantime.
A Distressing RevelationI have long known who Mark Kleiman is: Professor of Public Policy at UCLA and highly opinionated drug war "expert." We became mutually aware in 1995 after publication of a letter I wrote criticizing an Op-Ed he'd co-authored with Psychiatrist Sally Satel. Much more recently I've been annoying him by sending him copies of this blog, which I'm now quite sure he doesn't read or can't understand; perhaps both. The distress referred to above was mine at learning that Washington, one of two states that approved "legalization" of cannabis last November had hired him to head a committee to recommend how to implement their new policy.
What I also know from occasionally monitoring his "group" blog, is that although Kleiman has varied somewhat in his antipathy to cannabis, he has remained opposed and has never questioned the legitimacy of the Controlled Substances Act.
While I'm painfully aware that a majority of American institutions pay lip service to that view, I would have hoped that an acclaimed Academic expert on drug policy would have done a bit more digging. On the other hand, Professor Kleiman and his closest academic colleagues have long been shills for a grotesquely failing policy.
Just how Washington state officials arrived at their choice isn't clear from the limited research I've had time for. That the modern cannabis market began evolving with with the maturation of the post war Baby Boom isn't completely obscure; however, Kleiman, an early boomer himself (born in '51) seems strangely unaware of that key demographic relationship. A major implication of my study is that anyone born when he was would have had many opportunities to try weed between the eighth grade and graduate school, but Kleiman, a la Bill Clinton, waffled. Either he didn't try it, or he failed to get high.
Now that I know a bit more about his background, following the Professor's public career as Washington State's pot czar promises to be both interesting and instructive.
May 17, 2013
Nixon and Obama; a ComparisonFor over eight years, this blog has focused on the benefits "medical marijuana" applicants have derived from their use of (federally illegal) cannabis under the aegis (protection) of Proposition 215. More recently, it has aired cautionary opinions about the human cognitive function that has endorsed the American ban on weed through UN Treaty.
Unfortunately, Prop 215's "protection" has been dubious at best. Although now in its seventeenth year, the DEA and NIDA, federal agencies created by President Richard Nixon to enforce and protect his questionably legitimate drug war, are still tall in the saddle. Also, given his record of waffling on the subject, it would be a stretch to imagine that "Barack the Uncertain," the first admitted toker (non-white in the bargain!) to become an American President, would exercise the power of his office to restrict the DEA in any way.
When one learns additionally that the DEA was created by Nixon's Executive Order in 1973, Obama's position becomes even more hypocritical. Didn't he specialize in Constitutional Law while at at Harvard? I guess intellectual honesty wasn't included.
Obama's waffling on medical marijuana is especially troubling to me in light of what I've discovered (and often blogged about): the heretofore unrecognized role of biological fathers in the emotional health of their children. Obama himself is a prime example of that Paternal Deprivation Syndrome; he was raised by a single mother; the only time he even met his biological father was to say good-bye at an airport when he was 10 and Barack Sr. was headed back to Africa- where he would die in an automobile accident.
Unfortunately, neither Obama nor those with an interest in "legalizing" the use of cannabis know how clearly that connection emerges from my data.
Given the budget disparity between Nixon's DEA and the highly fragmented drug policy reform movement, that's not a surprise. Nor does it prevent us from understanding how the "liberal" Obama can order the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists in Afghanistan: didn't Richard Nixon expand LBJ's contrived Gulf of Tonkin Resolution into an order for B-52s to bomb Cambodia and Laos?
Nor sadly, does here seem to be any limit on the use of terror governments can "legally" employ, once a properly worded law has been is on the books. How long did it take for military-style SWAT team raids to become SOP against suspected marijuana "grows," even in "medical marijuana" states. Lest anyone point out their use has declined in the past few years, Obama appointee Melinda Haag has been shutting down pot "dispensaries" by simply threatening owners who refuse to evict them with forfeiture and 40 years in prison!
Is that a tactic our founders would have endorsed? Not likely.
The next entry will discuss why an incredible appointment by Washington State has finally convinced me that the likelihood of meaningful change in American drug policy before humans finally decide the threat of accelerated climate change is real are- at best- 50-50, about the same as the chance Obama will restrict the police powers of Nixon's DEA before leaving office.
May 15, 2013
Science, Law, and the TruthScience and the Law are human institutions. Each claims to seek the "truth," but their methods and venues are so radically different that it shouldn't surprise us that their conclusions often conflict.
They also very considerably in their ability to have those conclusions enforced on the populations of the sovereign nations that make up our modern world, each of which have legal systems to administer "justice." In general, disputes are resolved in courts that may vary radically in the beliefs they subscribe to. Some are predominantly religious, while others claim to be neutral, but all are obviously influenced by the dominant religious and moral beliefs extant within their national borders.
Against that background, the anomalous status of cannabis ("marijuana") in our modern world is a prime indicator of some serious human problems.
The best evidence is its current status within the United States, the nation most responsible for "marijuana" being outlawed by UN treaty. There is a quiet guerrilla war underway between those who think its production, possession, and use should not be illegal for a variety of medical and other reasons and those dedicated to continued harsh prosecution and punishment of any use whatsoever.
When one examines the history of US pot laws, one finds they were never justified by research- clinical or otherwise- prior to passage. That was certainly true of the Marijuana Tax Act championed by Harry Anslinger in 1937. That said, prosecutions under the MTA emained vanishingly rare until the Sixties when a case involving LSD guru Timothy Leary resulted in the Warren Court overturning it in 1969, a decision based on legal- rather than medical- grounds.
Also unfortunately, the Court's reversal in Leary took place shortly after Richard Nixon's pivotal 1968 election, at about the time youthful pot-smoking "hippies" were protesting his extension of the Vietnam war into Laos and Cambodia.
With key help from his Attorney General, Nixon "corrected" the MTA with legislation based on an expertise neither man possessed: an algorithym classifying "addiction" and- implicitly- its punishment.
Enforcement and intellectual defense of the CSA , have been conducted under the direction of the two federal agencies Nixon himself created- through separate Executive Orders- in 1973 and 1974 respectively. A careful reading of NIDA's history reveals much criticism, but little real change, while the DEA, even though a police agency, has been forced to assert drug war dogma in far more authoritarian (and simplistic) terms.
That said, the two agencies, with support from others in the federal bureaucracy, have guaranteed that the Controlled Substances Act would not lack support from tax-supported lobbyists within government.
To return to the differences between Science and the Law mentioned earlier, Nixon and Mitchell were both lawyers bereft of medical training, yet were able to embed "scientific" principles within a destructive, failing law. Nixon exercised even more debatable authority by creating tax-supported agencies to enforce and defend the same law. The ultimate irony is that although both men were promptly ousted from Government for lying to Congress the legitimacy of the CSA has never been seriously questioned
A mark of our national (and global) infirmity as a species is that we have been so slow to correct the obvious injustice of cannabis prohibition. In the forty-first year since the CSA was passed by Congress and signed by the Trickster, it has been used illegally, but safely, by a growing population of largely unwitting "patients" for its medical benefits it delivers.
Research conducted on its long term users confirms both qualities. The real reason the drug war should be nullified is that it was based on pseudoscience propounded by two convicted liars and long defended by an expensive, self-serving federal bureaucracy.
May 12, 2013
Origins of the Modern "Marijuana" MarketMy surprise at the high incidence of ADD among applicants seeking a "recommendation" to use cannabis legally led me to a search for other common factors in their histories. That all would admit to chronic use of cannabis shouldn't have been a surprise; nor that they'd tried it at relatively early ages. However, once I'd collected enough data to see patterns, two other phenomena become obvious. The first was that the self-confessed "heads" I was interrogating were members of a subculture I'd been only marginally aware of for years. The other was that cannabis itself is an amazingly valuable therapeutic "substance" that has been so effectively demonized by the US federal government that its use is prosecuted all over the world under UN treaty. The most pressing questions for me as a physician thus became, how could such a destructive policy be taken seriously? and can it be reversed before inflicting even more damage on a desperately overpopulated planet?
The first question is essentially historical. Cannabis prohibition in the US began when Harry Anslinger's clumsy Marijuana Tax Act was thoughtlessly endorsed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by a distracted FDR in 1937. From that point on, the potentially lucrative criminal market created by the MTA remained strangely dormant until "marijuana" burst into prominence as a mainstay of the youthful drug culture that became infamous in the mid-Sixties.
Tragically, the federal response to the unconventional behavior of rebellious youth protesting Richard Nixon's handling of the Vietnam War was acceptance of his disastrous Controlled Substances Act, a classic (but painfully common) example of how easily empty rhetoric triumphs over objective reality.
In the case of "marijuana," mainstream publications between 1937 and the early Sixties reveal only a few sensational arrests: Gene Krupa in 1943 and Robert Mitchum in 1948.
In fact, the first writers to mention "marijuana" openly were not journalists; they were Beat Generation authors who had become pot users themselves and then, by writing openly about their drug experiences, become the Pied Pipers of the post war "Baby Boom."
I was an intern at San Francisco General Hospital in 1957-58 when the "Beats" were trivialized as "Beatniks" by Herb Caen, a journalist I once read frequently, but later became so annoyed by his smug put-downs I rarely bothered for the last ten years of his overlong career.
Perhaps my crack about a deceased, but unlamented Herb reveals a personal weakness; I am easily angered at what I consider persistent stupidity, the same response I have whenever Richard Nixon's destructive ""drug war" is taken seriously by people who should know better: police agencies, elected politicians, psychiatrists, managers and others in authority. In short, the people running our modern world.
Which leads me to the person I'm most disappointed in: President Barack Obama. If anyone should realize the benefits inhaled cannabis provides to troubled juveniles, it's a nominally black former member of the Choom Gang who met his biological father only once and- against all odds- became a re-elected US President, just like RMN before him. Obama is thus capable of reining in the two federal agencies created by the Trickster just before he and his AG were disgraced from power by Watergate.
May 07, 2013
ADD: Misunderstood, but Nonethless RealAs often pointed out in this blog, I had little knowledge of "marijuana" when I began taking histories from Californians seeking to use it legally under the protection of Proposition 215 in 2001. Without going into tedious detail, the "medical marijuana" phenomenon has also shown amazing durability in the US since 1996, a fact of curiously little interest to federal politicians or the "mainstream" media.
A major reason for that suppressed interest may be that once one could be officially labeled a felon and incarcerated for daring to self-medicate with cannabis, it became too shameful/costly for most users to discuss openly. In striking contrast, drinkers defying the Eighteenth Amendment were never arrested as felons or labeled "drug addicts," nor have smokers maintaining their nicotine addiction with cigarettes ever been stigmatized as criminals. Quite the opposite; Bond and Hammer, the fictional heroes made famous on both sides of the Atlantic by Ian Fleming and Mickey Spillane were both avid cigarette smokers who could handle their favorite liquor with aplomb and no loss of deadly efficiency.
Think also, of what might have happened to Laura Bush or Barack Obama had cigarette use been made a crime. FDR, a notorious chain smoker himself, signed Harry Anslinger's Marijuana Tax Act into law in 1937 without comment, while "Uncle Walt" Disney, who died of lung cancer on his 65th birthday, has somehow managed to have cigarettes posthumously air brushed out of almost all surviving photos.
Finally, patients tend to trust doctors with information they wouldn't consider telling anyone else. Perhaps not all doctors; but at least some of us. From the beginning, I've treated pot applicants as patients, an approach that seems to work with most.
Be that as it may, what I'm most interested in at this critical juncture is describing the connection I've uncovered between cannabis and an increasingly common- but still terribly misunderstood- condition known as ADD, or "Attention Deficit Disorder."
No, cannabis doesn't cause ADD; rather it mitigates its symptoms quite effectively when consumed in appropriate doses, a complex issue because of the ignorance imposed on all by a ridiculous policy. But that's another matter.
To be stressed at this juncture is that ADD is a syndrome, as opposed to a disease because there's no characteristic biopsy or laboratory test. It's really a cluster of characteristic behaviors that can be seen in both children and adults. In my opinion, the critical mechanism responsible for those behaviors has yet to be recognized despite the increasing attention ADD has been receiving for over forty years.
Ironically, being allowed (required) to question the steady stream of applicants I began seeing at a busy Oakland "pot club" about their use of a criminal drug is what opened my eyes to the fact that they were self-medicating. Not that they understood it themselves; an important clue was learning that significant numbers had been diagnosed as having ADD and treated with Ritalin in primary school. Following that key revelation, a series of light bulbs went on one after the other: ADD is a pediatric anxiety syndrome that frequently persists into adult life. Depending on severity, it can range from a minor nuisance to a serious state of chronic rage or anxiety encouraging hostile behaviors ranging up to homicide and/or suicide by those severely affected.
A final thought I want to leave behind (but plan to return to frequently in the future) is that ADD begins with children missing the presence- either actual or perceived- of their biological fathers over some critical interval between sentience and puberty. Why daddy is absent seems far less important to the child than the fact that he's not there when needed. The consequences of such paternal deprivation can range from mild to severe and, most importantly: can be significantly mitigated by cannabis.
Thus the search for daddy has dominated both my history taking and collateral research for several years. The increasing depth of biographical coverage through search engines has added a dimension that is very helpful and together with accumulated patient data, has given me enough material to last a (literal) lifetime.
May 06, 2013
Nixon's Vice President & Other EmbarrassmentsIt's likely that most Americans under thirty-five would have trouble identifying Spiro T. Agnew, the ex-governor of Maryland who became Nixon's running mate in 1968 and was later propelled into national notoriety when, following their re-election- but before Watergate- was himself forced to resign for accepting bribes as a state official. In fact, it was established that Agnew was personally receiving envelopes containing weekly cash pay-offs being hand-delivered to his Vice Presidential office (no pun intended).
Given that disgraceful litany, is there any reason to respect a federal government that passed Nixon's drug war in 1970, and still imposes its ban on "marijuana," and an identical UN policy imposed on the entire species?
To illustrate the abysmal ignorance our national (global) drug policy, here's an (embarrassing) clip of recent testimony by Obama's DEA Chief at her confirmation hearings.
Is this a great country (species) or what?
My Transition from "Pot Doc" to Accidental PsychiatristRelatively early in my screening of cannabis users seeking the protection of California's Proposition 215, I discovered an interesting connection between their chronic use of the forbidden weed and ADD/ADHD: two related conditions being diagnosed with increasing frequency among primary school children from the mid-Seventies on and often treated by pediatricians or psychiatrists with the stimulant methyl phenidate (Ritalin).
The patients I took histories from- mostly males- had clearly been using cannabis in patterns of self-medication from adolescence, despite the implicit risk of harsh punishment for using an illegal drug. Close questioning revealed they had experienced the same improvement in school work and focusing ability as those who had persevered on Ritalin (many drop out); but they hadn't suffered its oft-noted collateral effects: feeling like "zombies." As one put it, "I felt like I was looking at myself from the outside." In fact, those who had taken Ritalin in school and were then using cannabis as young adults were (are) in the best position to report on both drugs. They are also adamant: inhaled cannabis is better in very rspect .
Such responses, recorded from among the large number of applicants I began screening in 2001 led me to tell my sponsor, the owner of a bustling Oakland "club," that instead of twenty applicants/day, I could see only about half that many because I needed to take more complete histories. His response was to recruit more physicians to handle the growing numbers seeking recommendations, a move that would eventually have its own impact on the political evolution of Proposition 215, specifically on the "guerrilla war" then developing in response to what amounted to a new medical gray market- tolerated in some parts of the state- but detested by the feds and most local cops.
Another surprising item I began to pick up on in applicant histories was the relative absence of biological fathers from the lives of many; especially within the 7 to 9 year interval between pre-school and early puberty. What gradually became clear was that the hurtful influence on the child was the paternal absence itself, whatever the reason. As more specific information was accumulated, it also become clear that certain circumstances intensified the trauma, but the main point was/is that human children have a special need to know their biological fathers; also that the emotional trauma produced by paternal absence can be effectively mitigated by cannabis.
Eventually, that general idea has become the nexus for a coherent explanation what seems an important- but heretofore unrecognized- aspect of human emotional development.
That an entity fitting Paul Wender's general description of "ADD" really exists is obvious to most adults dealing with primary school children on a daily basis. That it carries over in a high percentage through high school and into adult life is also obvious. That its symptoms can be significantly mitigated by inhaled cannabis has only been observed by a few of the physicians who have been dealing with medical marijuana users in one guise or another since California voters surprised themselves and the feds by approving Proposition 215 in the 1996 General Election.
In future entries, I will try to connect the dots relating the admittedly complex observations made on applicants self-medicating with an illegal that drug that Watergate criminals John Mitchell and Richard Nixon insisted in 1970 could not possibly be "medicine."
One could reasonably ask why such nonsense is still endorsed by the entire federal government over four decades later. Is it dishonesty, ignorance, or stupidity?
There seems no reasonable alternative.
May 05, 2013
Mike Gray RIPMike Gray died suddenly on April 30; my first awareness was late in the afternoon of May First through a somewhat confusing forwarded message I simply didn't want to believe.
Mike and I had not met very often; probably on fewer than a dozen occasions, but we'd grown so close through frequent telephone conversations over the past dozen or so years that I'd come to think of him as both mentor and close friend. Not only were we close in age, we shared a profound contempt for America’s war on drugs and were dedicated to trying to change the policy through exposure of its many flaws.
When I was finally able to accept the reality of Mike's death, I was filled with a deep sense of loss. Mike will always be special to me, as I'm sure he will be for many others who were even closer to him than I was.
I discovered the cause of drug policy reform in 1995 after attending the 9th Annual meeting of an organization called the Drug Policy Foundation (now the Drug Policy Alliance) in Santa Monica. At the time, I knew almost nothing about the “movement” as anti drug war activists are wont to call it, but I learned enough at that meeting to radicalize me. I was then 63, had just cut back on active surgical practice by limiting myself to assisting other surgeons and thus had unaccustomed free time for the first time as an adult.
Armed with my first computer and thrilled by the early Internet and free-wheeling e-mail discussion groups, I was ready for a new career. By early 1997, I found myself editing an online newsletter for an organization called Media Awareness Project. In a fit of enthusiasm, I began pulling together what I’d was learning with the intention of writing a book. That was when I first heard about Mike and someone sent me a galley-proof of Drug Crazy.
Reading it was both a chastening experience and an essential part of my education: I suddenly realized that I lacked the writing and editing skills that Mike had in abundance. Although I'd acquired a lot of information, I didn't know how to organize it coherently in a way that would motivate people to change deeply held beliefs. My recognition of that reality was expressed in a book review that noted another Gray insight: California's successful 1996 Medical Marijuana initiative had unique potential for bringing about a change in policy.
Ironically, our relationship would gradually grow closer as that prediction began to be realized. In 2001 I was recruited to screen potential customers at one of California's first gray market "medical marijuana clubs," an experience that led to a unique study of applicants. Mike recognized its potential immediately and helped secure the funding that enabled publication.
At this point, it's also important to acknowledge that a significant fraction of the leadership of the reform "movement" have their own ideas about the medical benefits of cannabis and are generally hostile to what I have been reporting about its emotional benefits; both within California and nationally.
But that's another subject and I don't want to detract from Mike's memory by arguing with people who should be our allies.