December 27, 2013
A Pleasant Surprise from ArgentinaThis morning's e-mail contained a surprising link from a colleague now living in Argentina. What surprised and encouraged me was the depth and accuracy of the criticism of our drug war in an article by an author I'd never heard of. It was gratifying evidence that an increasing number of young people are starting to see through the bogus science upon which our War on Drugs has been based for over 40 years. The importance of such false theories to evil policies is underscored by the use Hitler made of the pseudoscience of Eugenics to justify the wholesale murder of supposed untermensch.
In much he same way, Nixon's CSA was quickly conflated by medically ignorant supporters into the bogus belief that- any possession, use, or "manufacture" of a schedule one substance represents "addiction" requiring "rehab" resulting in "sobriety" (total abstinence).
What is most troubling is that my 10 year study of chronic pot users seeking to take advantage of Proposition 215 not only disproves the Federal government's position, but exposes it as irrational nonsense that has evolved to support a destructive, inhumane policy. While our drug war hasn't been as deadly as Nazism, it has survived far longer and because it is still endorsed by the UN, its scope and impact have been much greater.
Simply by encouraging the production of illegal drugs in poor nations as diverse as Colombia and Afghanistan, US policy remains a major factor in the destabilization of volatile regions in the overcrowded planet that is home to a demonstrably warlike species.
Those who think, like certain European nations did in the late Thirties, that "it can't happen here" are courting disaster.
A rethink of America's futile drug war is long overdue. That it serves the vested interests of so many beneficiaries makes it an almost Perfect War Crime in the same sense that Sebastien Junger's Perfect Storm was produced by a rare confluence of deadly circumstances.
December 25, 2013
Good and Bad BlundersI'm currently reading an interesting new book by astrophysicist Mario Livio. Entitled Brilliant Blunders, it examines unlikely errors made by respected scientists. Among them: Charles Darwin, Fred Hoyle, Linus Pauling and Albert Einstein. The point Livio emphasizes is that everybody makes mistakes at one time or another- and stellar scientists are no exception. However what often saves them is a collegial spirit that allows colleagues to work with, as opposed against each other in ways that reduce the impact of errors and may even enhance their results when one is corrected. Livio's first example is Darwin, who originally propounded The Origin of Species as a somewhat lonely theory without a mechanism. Amazingly its basic concept was rescued and expanded by Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk he'd never met. Mendel's brilliant, original work on genetic inheritance in fruit flies and legumes established the "gene" as the theoretical mechanism Darwin's theory required and even- more amazingly- preserved it in a way that was consonant with the structural mechanism DNA would become after its structure was published in 1953.
What Livio stresses throughout is that the cooperative spirit and collegiality that dominates science can result in a mistake proving helpful.
His description inspired me to compare his Darwin example with the blunders of the CSA, a repressive policy based- not on cooperation- but on a perceived need to punish drug users as criminals. The nullification of Harry Anslinger's marijuana Tax Act by the Warren Court in 1969 would have been an unpleasant surprise for just-elected President Richard Nixon. The last thing he would have wanted would be for the hippies then protesting the Vietnam war to escape from the "control" of the criminal justice system. His "solution" was the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) which he and Atty. Gen. John Mitchell put together rapidly enough for passage with little debate in 1970. Rather than a desire for truth and protection of Public Health, Mitchell and Nixon was were clearly motivated by their desire to punish what they considered criminal behavior.
The result was a punitive law based on fear that not only broke broke every rule in the canons of Science, but was based on a total ignorance of drugs and their effects. Whether
Nixon and Mitchell intended it to be as bad as it would eventually become is moot because both men died long before the CSA's worst effects became manifest. However it is difficult to imagine a worse cascade of adverse consequences from any public policy.
Two unique factors clearly played a critical role in 1970. The young protesters the CSA was aimed at were not regarded favorably by their elders for their 60s behavior: aggressive drug use and a reluctance to serve in Vietnam. Another factor was that cannabis ("marijuana") had remained an unfamiliar substance to older Americans because its market had remained insignificant from 1937 until the early Sixties.
Finally, Nixon and Mitchell knew very little about drug use themselves. As a result, the Controlled Substances Act which they based on 3 absurd new "principles" sought to justify criminal prohibition of drug use over all other outcomes.
Unfortunately it would create the worst imaginable public policy, one that would worsen progressively as it evolved beyond the possibility of remediation or repeal. Over the four decades since its passage it would become a disaster both domestically and abroad. Nevertheless, it would continue to enjoy the protection of the two dedicated federal agencies created by Nixon right after its passage: the DEA (in 1973) to enforce his law and NIDA (1974)to defend its threadbare intellectual flanks.
December 08, 2013
New Revelations from Old DataI'd like to remind readers that this blog is based on anonymous data from pot users; it comments on a study that would have been impossible before California's Proposition 215 was passed in 1996. An added benefit is the ability to compare federal claims with reality, and thus see how much the DEA and NIDA must either deny or distort their inevitable failures in order to claim an occasional (bogus) "success."
Unfortunately, Reform has its own problems: a divided leadership, lack of cohesion and interminable wrangling over strategy; mostly within states with "medical marijuana" laws. Coordinating separate State Organizations dedicated to reaching that goal is a project for the future. Nor do such organizations have much appeal for me; my recollection to the collegial atmosphere exhibited in most hospital morbidity and mortality conferences- contrasts with hat it's almost nonexistent among the "pot docs" who have become so essential to state "legalization" efforts; probably because anything related to an illegal drug is considered too dodgy to discuss openly.
Illegality has another seldom acknowledged downside: I've met more than a few people whose symptoms might have responded well to cannabis, but absolutely refuse to consider it because of the attendant stigma.
Which brings up another sore subject: I strongly suspect- without having absolute proof- that Big Pharma prefers that cannabis remain illegal because there's more money to be made by producing its less effective- and much less safe- substitutes than by improving the real thing. Not only can "natural" cannabis not be patented, its availability in legal, more convenient dosages and modes of ingestion (both of which should be easily produced by an ethical Pharmaceutical Industry) would almost certainly reduce demand for the legal, but less effective and more toxic cannabis substitutes now advertised so aggressively (and expensively) on TV.
The "surprise" mentioned above began a few weeks ago when, in the course of scanning older paper records for digital storage, I discovered a large subset of applicants who'd clearly been self-medicating for a wide variety of conditions that have been recently been either recognized or reclassified as autoimmune.
I soon understood how that might have happened: "autoimmunity" was not an item in the database created for this study in 2005. That entire category is still quite new and being debated within Medicine. As such, it has yet to attract much attention from the Law.
All of which tends to confirm that the drug policy created by two lawyers in 1970 has always been bogus Public Health. That it's still responsible for blocking effective treatments for both anxiety and autoimmune disorders should be intolerable in a nation that considers itself a bastion of tolerance and "Justice." I will have a lot more to say about autoimmune disorders as soon as I can develop a reasonable list; (they are now estimated to number somewhere between 80 and 120). I'll also have more to say about the risks Big Pharma is forced to warn consumers about, whenever they choose to be treated with the legal alternatives to cannabis their physicians are allowed to prescribe under "Doctor" Nixon's 1970 law.
Doctor Tom NB: This entry has been extensively edited since it was posted last evening.
December 04, 2013
The Drug War: an American Tragedy in Three ActsIn December 2014, America and the world will mark a tragic Centennial: the 100th anniversary of the Harrison Narcotic Act, a (perhaps) well intended, but ill-conceived, effort to limit the production and consumption of drugs considered too dangerous or "addictive" by its sponsors to be sold to the general public or prescribed by physicians. The first "narcotics" targeted by Harrison were cocaine and heroin. The law's dubious strategy was to punish physicians for prescribing them in an apparent belief that all doctors who did so were more interested in money than in their patients' welfare. Some were, but many were not and cops are not equipped to recognize the difference.
Significantly, the 1914, New York Times had devoted two separate Sunday supplements to separate propaganda blasts against each drug; both were alarmist and racist in tone, as exemplified by this item which appeared in the Special on cocaine published in February. In January, an egregiously misinformed article forecasting the special on heroin had appeared; Harrison was eventually passed by Congress less than 12 months later. It was a legislative victory based on ignorance that would set the standard for a grotesquely ill-conceived policy of failure for the next Century.
The errors implicit in that early faith in prohibition- and the policies it gave rise to- are emphasized by the continued popularity of heroin and cocaine on modern criminal markets. Not to mention the huge markets for other "narcotics" created as human governments have stubbornly persisted in trying to make a conceptual failure work. The institutionalization of those failures as a Drug War simply reinforces their intrinsic errors. Wars cannot be turned into Public Health, by either devious rhetoric or legal definitions; yet drug prohibition supporters still see "addiction," as a dread disease for which only Law Enforcement can provide acceptable treatment; what I have come to think of as the Nixon Doctrine.
That stubborn idea has been leading our species into disaster for over forty years; not all by itself, but as an one of several reigning misconceptions now being stubbornly promoted by elements within our species: that murder and suicide are valid as manifestations of religious faith, that money can purchase security, and that human activity doesn't affect the planet's climate are just the three most dangerous.
Drug prohibition's evolution from an ill-conceived American law into today's disastrous War on Drugs was more erratic than linear. It would take another 56 years- from 1914 until 1970- and require two additional pieces of misguided legislation: the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, and the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
What they had in common was adherence to the same misguided belief that inspired Harrison: that the criminal prohibition of drugs is a good idea that should work, a notion that should have been rejected after Repeal was required to cancel the Eighteenth Amendment.
Instead, Nixon's CSA has given us mounting woes on our Mexican border plus the corruption of Burma, Colombia, and Afghanistan by a huge international drug trade.
Tragically- all three major American drug laws were promptly approved and uncritically adopted; first as US policy and subsequently by the UN.
Their detailed histories are both ludicrous and related: the 1937 MTA was a deceptive transfer tax clumsily modeled on Harrison. It required tax stamps that were never printed, probably because the insignificant "marijuana" market extant in 1937 was expected to remain small. When its unexpected expansion in the Sixties was signaled by the sentencing of LSD guru Timothy Leary to 30 years, the medically ignorant Warren Court struck it down on Fifth Amendment grounds.
Ironically, cannabis- re-named "marijuana" by Harry Anslinger, the MTA's original sponsor- has yet to be studied by competent scientists in a setting unburdened by the stigma of illegality during an era capable of recognizing its many and varied therapeutic attributes.
My necessarily limited study of cannabis users suggests that the DEA's ALJ Francis Young's 1988 ruling was correct, cannabis is a therapeutic agent of enormous promise: perhaps the single most valuable plant source of medicine yet to come to the attention of our species.
Thus was a golden opportunity missed in 1969 when the MTA was nullified by the Warren Court and President Richard Nixon took it upon himself to punish youthful anti-war protesters by enhancing the power of law enforcement agencies (and Psychiatry) to practice bad medicine.
A second opportunity was missed in 2000 when the theft of our Presidency by Dubya's supporters was enabled by a minor Florida functionary and later endorsed by a Supreme Court that had been configured by Republican presidents to overturn Roe-V-Wade.
Thus has support for the drug war becomes a good litmus test for political ignorance. With over 60% of the electorate now in favor of legalizing marijuana, will the Prez and enough of his political supporters please get the message? Legal pot is desperately needed by humans ASAP.
In another entry, I'll explain just why "decriminalization" and "medical" use are rhetorical traps.