July 01, 2014
Supremes Run True to FormIn a blog entry dated April 20, 2811, I wrote. "Notwithstanding the 2012 election results, the drug war seems assured of enough Congressional support to survive as a protected policy for the indefinite future. Nor does it lack support from a Supreme Court that's been stacked with a Roman Catholic majority by fundamentalist Republicans intent on overturning Roe V Wade.
Yesterday's "Hobby Lobby" decision by the Supreme Court will, if nothing else, cause an increase in the numbers of unwanted children. My work with cannabis applicants revealed- somewhat unexpectedly- that children who–- for whatever reason- do not have the support of their biological fathers during critical childhood years, are prone to exhibit maladaptive behaviors such as ADD and ADHD from as early as age 4 or 5 (some even younger). It was also discovered that adolescent use of cannabis not only mitigated those behaviors, but exerted a positive influence on symptoms by reducing anxiety while enhancing focus, concentration, and memory with attendant improvement in school performance.
Associated findings (which make sense in the light of those discoveries) included an increased tendency by affected children to try (initiate) other psychotropic drugs such as nicotine, alcohol, and a bevy of so-called psychedelics in early adolescence. Needless to say, when the repressive Controlled Substances Act of 1970 with its emphasis on police as society's primary agents for dealing with "addiction," collided with the record population of young people produced in the immediate aftermath of World War Two (the “Baby Boom”) things began to happen.
The unfortunate, but easily understandable, result of that collision-especially in the wake of the JFK's assassination- was a surge in urban homelessness at precisely the wrong time. The surge and its results were aptly described by Psychiatrist Sally Satel in a November 1, 2003 NYT op-ed entitled “Out of the Asylum, Into the Cell."
Unlike Dr. Satel, who is decades younger than myself (and also graduated from Cornell before going to medical school) I'd witnessed the "Asylum to Cell" transition almost in real time. In 1956, while still a 3rd year Medical student, I'd sent a month at a huge VA Hospital in East Orange NJ. It's important to recall that Psychiatry and the VA have undergone huge changes in the interim, thanks to the delusional thinking of a world leader who had risen from obscurity after being wounded and gassed in the service of the Kaiser in World War one.
What Hitler's (and may other "leaders'" careers) illustrate is how the delusional grandiosity typical of Bipolar Disorder (formerly "Manic Depressive Psychosis") can, by afflicting someone with great political potential, alter the course of history and destroy many lives in the process.
If anything, our species is more vulnerable than ever to the noxious effects of such delusional thinking simply because there are so many of us and we have become so mutually interdependent.
Sadly, as a glance at the headlines reminds us, we seem as unable to work together as a species as ever.
June 29, 2014
Ms Dowd's Rocky Mountain High, Part 2In the last entry,I pointed out that edible cannabis is processed very differently than smoke, primarily because it is swallowed; which means it must be broken down by the gastrointestinal tract. Thus rather than traveling immediately to the brain like smoke, the cannabis in a pot confection is digested , a process that takes 20-40 minutes and– so far as I can tell– has yet to be studied in detail in the modern era.
As soon as I read Ms Dowd's account of her edible misadventure, I knew her prominence as a New York Times columnist would evoke considerable commentary and was curious as to whether it would reflect any better understanding of the edible-smoke difference than I'd encountered in my patient histories a few years ago. The first author to deal with what I've come to think of as Dowd's Rocky Mountain High was Steve Wishnia, a medical marijuana advocate whose piece in the Daily Beast included quotes from several prominent medical marijuana supporters, all of whom agreed that edibles and smoke are indeed different, but gave multiple conflicting opinions about why that was so. Read in sequence, the reasons offered were laughably out of synch with basic anatomy and physiology as well as with each other.
Wishnia started out well, "the pharmacokinetics of marijuana—the way it is absorbed and excreted by the body—are different for smoking and eating." However, he then quoted psychologist Mitch Earleywine, a pyofrssor at the State University of New York in Albany, “Smoked or vaporized cannabis bypasses the liver and doesn’t create the same 11-hydroxy-THC." Wrong. The 11-hydroxy-THC idea is a canard dating back to a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 1973 which did not specify how the 11-hydroxy-thc is produced and certainly did not consider the effect of liver processing on the products of enteric digestion. We now know that a plethora of complex molecules are found in 2 different strains (indica and sativa) of cannabis, each with its own plethora of individual components. The truth is that the liver has the last word on edible effects, which are far more complex than smoke because the liver breaks down complex cannabinoid digestion products (that have also been incompletely studied). The liver is clearly the basis for the "body high" which on the basis of patient data, seems more likely to be responsible for the benefits cannabis provides important (and to date unrecognized) relief to people afflicted by a relatively recent cluster of illnesses known as autoimmune disorders.
One would think that with all of the medical interest in marijuana since California opted to vote for "medical" use in 1996, that the physicians charged with finding out what its users found so good about it might have done a better job of learning why its chronic users liked it so much. One of the reasons for the fog of persistent ignorance has been the malevolence of the DEA, but that still doesn't account for why such a stupid and irrational law should remain the global default on an herb that appears to be the richest source of natural medicine ever encountered.
All of which prompts a logical question: can a species this stupid be saved from itself?
June 28, 2014
Drug War Insanity; Ms Dowd's Rocky Mountain High: Part 1Relatively early in the unauthorized study of cannabis users I began 10 years ago, I discovered several differences between the "high" produced when pot is inhaled as smoke vs consumed by mouth. Those differences were well known to chronic users, but– as I also discovered– the reasons for them remain obscure.
In a nutshell. one can get high either way, but the "head" high produced by smoke comes on faster, is over sooner, and– perhaps most importantly– can be titrated (measured) on a toke-by-toke basis. That ability to titrate is important, because contrary to cherished beliefs of the DEA and many pot naive people, "stoners," don't always want to be stoned; they simply want to relax, which brings up a critical difference in terminology.
While being under the influence of marijuana and alcohol are both considered being "high," the marijuana high is most often a therapeutic (anxiolytic) state, under the control of its experienced users, especially when it is inhaled. That's because the quickest route to the brain is by inhalation. The experienced user feels the 1st toke and is thus able to follow the progress of the high, toke by toke. There is no alcohol equivalent because alcohol cannot be inhaled. Thus alcohol is always treated as an "edible;" consumed by mouth and processed by the gastrointestinal tract.
Other drugs inhalable drugs are nicotine, heroin, meth, and more recently- crack. All are sensed almost immediately by the brain with the 1st toke (inhalation) thus giving the user a degree of control over the "high." But when we compare the various “highs,” we find significant differences. That produced by nicotine delivered by a cigarette is of the shortest duration and is now conceded to be the most addictive and dangerous to user health. Nevertheless, cigarettes are still legal everywhere and despite their well-recognized dangers, are used chronically by approximately 30% of people in the US and most modern nations.
On a purely rational basis, if a prohibition policy were really effective, cigarettes should be the first "substance" listed on "schedule one." However that's not the case. Despite relatively huge increase in cigarette taxes intended to discourage their use, approximately 1/3, or more of the world's population still smokes. In fact, China, which has a government monopoly on cigarettes and thus profits from their use, is estimated to consume 3 out of every 10 cigarettes smoked the world today. The long term adverse health consequences of such a situation would seem obvious.
As mentioned earlier, edible marijuana affects all users a lot differently than smoke. That's because its processing by the body is entirely different. The gastrointestinal tract does not provide instant feedback because pot digestion products take longer than smoke to reach the brain thus eliminating any rapid titration benefit. Another big difference is that the breakdown products of cannabis digestion have not been studied in significant detail since 1973, nor have they ever been studied as completely as they might have been to which compounds are produced by hepatic processing, a step that smoke is not subjected to.
NYT columnist Maureen Dowd had a typical edible experience during a recent trip to Colorado.
A self-confessed pot novice, the normally unflappable Ms Dowd was still clearly distraught when she reported on her "bad trip" to readers in a column written the next day. Of considerable interest to me was that the explanations offered for her distress were just as uninformed as I have come to expect from both novices and seasoned heads. In the interests of clarity, I will try again to explain the edible mystery in terms of its pertinent anatomy and physiology.
However, this lesson has already become too long and complicated, so in the interests of clarity, I'll complete the explanation of the "edible" difference in another entry.
April 17, 2014
A Likely ExplanationFor weeks, our busy world has been diverted by the mystery of a missing airliner that simply disappeared. After repeated high tech evaluations of its known course and probable location traced it to a remote area of the Indian Ocean, the search went cold. I was reminded of an entry provoked by the two unfamiliar terms gyer and nurdle back in November 2007.
Sharp eyed readers may note that the link to activist Charles Moore is more recent than 2007. It was updated when the original link was found to be dead. The bonus is that the 2009 reference contains a lot more info on how gyers are produced. Unfortunately,it also confirms the continued lack of environmental concern.
The discovery of a "great Pacific garbage patch" of plastic detritus should have been an item oƒ immediate concern for the world media, but it's been largely overlooked. I was reminded of that seven year old gyer-nurdle entry a while back when film clips of shredded fish net suspended in the water began to accompany TV news reports of the Maylasia 720's puzzling disappearance.
Sure enough, an online query confirmed my 3 worst fears: first, that the floating plastic garbage in our oceans has been increasing since 2007, second that it's probably interfering with the search for Maylaysia 720, and third, that we have no coherent plans for dealing with the increasing pollution of our planet's oceans.
It isn't only nuclear waste that's "out of sight and out of mind."
April 06, 2014
Unwitting Suicide by Policy ?Based on even a rudimentary analysis of its 43 year history, America’s "war on drugs," which skated on non-existent intellectual and scientific ice from its very beginning has compiled an amazing record of failure: our steadily expanding prison population and the enormous cost of the "drug crime" it creates, not to mention the human and social damage it does to designated "addicts" and their families. Our drug policy is long overdue for unbiased critical analysis.
However, honest scrutiny of the drug war will be impossible until the lobbying power of the many US and foreign government agencies that have come to depend on it has been neutralized sufficiently to permit the necessary unbiased analysis.
Dwight Eisenhower's warning about the growing power of the "Military Industrial Complex" was too late to prevent a "Cold War," but was justified because the mutual hostility between Communism and ourselves was real, as indicated by the Soviet deployment of missiles in Cuba. Kennedy's impromptu negotiations with Krushchev clearly avoided a nuclear exchange in 1962. That the danger is still there is implicit in Putin's posturing in the Crimea and the Ukraine. Thankfully, the planet has been spared a third hostile nuclear detonation.
On the other hand, the fear of "addiction" hyped by the Nixon Administration in the late Sixties to justify the legislation that became a "war on drugs" was imaginary. Its cynical continuation in support of a destructive policy is more indicative of our human gullibility and the willingness of our political leaders to exploit fear to their advantage no matter what human or environmental damage may result are tendencies exemplified by Hitler and his modern imitators from Stalin to Saddam but are also confirmed throughout human history. One way or another, slavery has been justified ever since since Aristotle.
In fact, if one were trying to create an almost foolproof method for inducing the unwitting suicide of Homo sapiens as a species, America's drug war would be an excellent model.
Needless to say, this analysis isn't likely to become popular overnight. However, the slowly increasing popularity of marijuana in the US and elsewhere is reason to hope that our slide into the insanity of drug prohibition may be reversible in time to preserve our planet for a more "natural" disaster– another Yellowstone eruption, for example.
The point is that although we are highly evolved as a species and have achieved a steadily increasing degree of understanding of our universe from Science, our inability to get along is an achilles heel that becomes ever more dangerous to our survival as a species.
February 21, 2014
Medicine is Still Under Nixon's SpellAmong the many things I've learned by studying cannabis through the medical histories of people who have been (illegally) self-medicating with it is that Medicine itself has remained blind to a lot of helpful information that would have directed research in more useful directions had they learned what I've been told. Yesterday's (somewhat garbled) entry referred to a hitherto unrecognized source of emotional stress (absence of the biological father from a child's life) which seems still unknown to the psychiatrists treating affected children with Ritalin and other "uppers" for ADD.
Sorry for the poor editing; it's been corrected.
Today, as an experiment, I took a CME course offered through the British Journal Lancet on the latest diagnostic criteria and treatment recommendations for multiple sclerosis, a disease of uncertain etiology (cause) which seems to be increasing- especially in young women. It's also one of several such conditions that have been classified as autoimmune, in other words, associated with an immune system that has trouble differentiating self from non-self and thus attacking normal tissue with an inappropriate inflammatory response. Rheumatoid Arthritis (which also responds favorably to cannabis) is another.
These conditions seem to have been increasing in both the number being recognized as autoimmune, and the number of their victims. MS has long been recognized "anectdotally" as a condition that responds to cannabis. Of course Nixon's doctrine- as officially interpreted by the experts at the DEA, says that no "drug of abuse" on Schedule One can possibly be medicine.
To cut to the chase, my worst suspicions were confirmed when a panel of 4 alleged expert neurologists, three from the US, and one from Canada, spoke for over an hour without mentioning either autoimmunity or cannabis. I wasn't particularly surprised at the omission of cannabis, but their failure to at least mention the autoimmune connection has me worrying about just how deeply Big Brother is snooping and how desperately he is censoring medical information that might challenge official dogma.
February 20, 2014
Gertrude Stein, US Drug Policy and American PresidentsGertrude Stein once famously quipped about Oakland: “there's no there there.” Exactly the same might be said of America's drug policy. When one examines the three criteria for listing a "substances" on "Schedule One" (DEA double talk for illegal) of the Controlled Substances Act, all three are utterly devoid of either science or ordinary common sense.
The first criterion: "dangerous" is not defined at all. Ditto the second: "habit-forming," probably meant as a synonym for "addictive." Finally, the third– and most frequently cited by modern drug police trying to hang on to their meal ticket: “of no recognized use in American Medical Practice.”
Says who? What gives Nixon's DEA, a police agency he created with his fountain pen, the right– or expertise– to define proper medical practice?
Ironically, for anyone who has read history, the question of defining "standard" or "usual" medical practice was what preoccupied the Supreme Court when they considered the Harrison act between 1915 and 1920. Thus we have come full circle in an inane discussion that's lasted 100 years. The most logical– but least likely– resolution is that lawyers and politicians should give up the practice of Medicine.
The judicial intrusion into Medicine plays a major role in Obama's woes, the disappointment of pot reformers (and the detriment of the nation's health care). He's a lawyer who clearly smoked pot therapeutically while in High School (and probably as an undergraduate at Columbia) yet never realized it. He definitely suffered from the paternal deprivation syndrome I encountered in a high percentage of applicant seeking to use cannabis legally in California.
As Obama revealed in “Dreams From my Father," he learned of the death of the biological father who had not been him his since he was two through a phone call from an aunt in Kenya he'd also never met.
Some degree of paternal absence had been so prominent among the thousands of applicants I interviewed in California that i took special pains to characterize it. It's now quite clear that it's been associated with in a forms of both adolescent and adult PTSD, yet has been unrecognized for years and is probably increasing in incidence because of the pace of modern life. Two common syndromes with which it's associated, both of which are mitigated by marijuana are ADD and Bipolar disorder. .
Of particular interest to me has been the knowledge that President Nixon qualified by having a father Frank, who was described as brutal and cruel. That several other presidents and aspiring presidents had fathers who could easily have qualifies for my list was disclosed in a search for this entry. That Nixon's hodgepodge of authoritatively asserted nonsense has bamboozled the world into signing on to a false doctrine is bad enough, but its 40 year durability with UN support at a cost of millions of destroyed lives is a disgrace– not merely for the United States, but also for the UN a and the majority of member nations that enforce the policy.
Hopefully, the increasing push for "marijuana" to be reclassified, together with increasing knowledge of absent daddy disorder and other conditions relieved by America's most popular illegal drug will lead to more questions from a press that has itself been culpable for its own role in the trivialization of what is actually a serious health issue.
February 06, 2014
Postscript to a Disappointing WeekThe past week promised lots of excitement: a State of the Union Address on Tuesday followed by Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday. Sadly, it ended on a flat note: our Toker-in-Chief had nothing new to say about marijuana legalization and Super Bowl XLVIII was one of the least competitive in history. Even the vaunted Super Bowl TV commercials seemed contrived and overproduced. I would guess that except for ecstatic Seattle fans, most of the TV audience had turned off their sets by the end of the third quarter.
However some shocking postscripts arrived on Monday; chief among them, news that Oscar winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead of an apparent opiate overdose in his Greenwich Village apartment– which, according to police, also contained over 20 used syringes and needles plus large supplies of heroin and other opioids, including the powerful morphine agonist fentanyl.
Hoffman, a uniquely talented actor, had copped to a heroin problem decades ago and had been considered to be safely in "recovery" for years. However from my admittedly unconventional perspective, he has just become another celebrity victim of Richard Nixon's evil war on drugs.
I'm able to say that because my interviews with thousands of admitted chronic cannabis users reveal that– contrary to conventional wisdom– self-medication with cannabis protects vulnerable patients against the use of more dangerous substances they may have tried, especially against tobacco and alcohol. While alcohol in moderation may actually be beneficial to health, tobacco in he form of cigarettes is clearly the most addictive and harmful "substance" available. Yet cigarettes have never been banned despite being responsible for nearly a half million premature deaths a year in the US alone.
My interviews with admitted chronic users also indicate that continued self-medication with cannabis is associated with reduced use of alcohol to safe levels and reduced use of cigarettes by people who have acquired a cigarette habit. The great majority of "inveterate" smokers reduce their consumption to safer levels while they continue trying to quit. Beyond that, those who have initiated "schedule one" agents rarely return to them while using cannabis, an observation that directly contradicts the (uninformed) assertions of the DEA and others about a (non-existent) Gateway effect.
I'll have a lot more more to say about the Agency of Fear in another entry.
January 29, 2014
A Movement Still DividedProposition 215, California's landmark "medical marijuana" initiative is still struggling for respect, notwithstanding its passage in 1996 triggered a slow-motion (and grossly underreported) state level rebellion that has led to its "medical" use being approved by over twenty states. Two others: Washington State and Colorado, voted for full "legalization" in 2012.
Not so fast, citizens. There has still been no discernible movement at the federal level, which– because the Nixon-Mitchell Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is federal law–– has set up a classic states vs federal Constitutional conflict of the type that led to our bloody Civil War in 1861 and still clearly divides the nation along "Red and Blue" (as opposed to "Gray and Blue") political and emotional lines.
The same issues are still simmering, with one important difference: In 1857, it was Chief Justice Roger Taney's ruling in the Dred Scott case (that slaves were mere property and thus unable to sue) that infuriated John Brown to the point that he foolishly attacked the arsenal at Harper's Ferry (a federal crime for which he was– ironically– executed by a detachment of federal troops commanded by Robert E Lee).
To say I'm disappointed at the slow pace of cannabis legalization and–– especially by the most recent failure of our toker-in-chief to even mention cannabis in last night's State of the Union Message would be gross understatement
As the only nominally Black American President who was also the first candidate to admit his own (heavy) use in his pre-election biography, it's especially ironic to me that Obama is a classic example of the paternal deprivation syndrome I've identified through a study of chronic cannabis use in California with intensive interviews of applicants seeking to use it medically.
That solo study, now in its eleventh year, has been supported only by one small grant that paid for a modification of a standard database (Filemaker Pro) that has proven invaluable in collecting and analyzing applicant data.
It's a study that clearly demonstrates just how fatuous "Nixon's Law" really is; also how he and Mitchell have been posthumously snookering an entire species with empty rhetoric for over 40 years.
That's a phenomenon begging some important question of its own.
January 09, 2014
More on Dr Livio and ScienceA recent entry was based on a Christmas present from my wife- Professor Mario Livio's Brilliant Blunders, which I'm still reading because it has so much to offer. Livio has a gift for oscillating between the specific problems that confronted some of our most brilliant scientists as they struggled to pin down the elusive concepts that would soon make them famous, while describing how they dealt with both the concepts themselves and the colleagues whose work they were relying on: often competitors with sensitive feelings and egos of their own.
What impressed me most was Livio's consummate scholarship in exploring these essentially human (as opposed to scientific) questions. An impressive example is his handling of the intriguing issue of how mutually aware Darwin and Mendel were of each others' work. As it turns out, Darwin was probably unaware of Mendel, whereas Mendel had certainly read Darwin in translation and made margin notes on a weakness in his thinking- a weakness Darwin later corrected on his own without having read Mendel's notes on the subject. My point is neither the weakness ("pangenesis") nor its correction, but Livio's wonderful lesson of how critcal curiosity and intellectual freedom both are for any science-based policy.
Compare it to the dogmatism and scientific ignorance of a "drug war" prescribed by "Drs" Nixon and Mitchell in 1969, and administered since 1974- with catastrophic results- by the DEA with guidance from NIDA.
I tried (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to include a link to a short lecture by Dr Livio on the subject of "curiosity." It deserves wide attention, especially in the US. A great nation does not inflict a punitive losing war on its neighbors. A "wise" species does not knuckle under to scientific ignorance imposed by corrupt police.
I'll include the "missing link" in an email or the next entry.
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.
October 30, 2013
Congressional HearingsThis morning I spent the first hour of my day watching the Congressional hearings on “Obamacare,” live on TV. They were conducted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and chaired by GOP stalwart Fred Upton of Michigan as a typically partisan interrogation of Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama’s attractive and articulate Secretary of HHS. Unfortunately, further investigation of her stance on medical marijuana reveals that Sibelius, like her boss, is still living in the shadow of Richard Nixon when it comes to thinking of cannabis as a useful therapeutic agent.
Predictably, I found the mindset of the individual representatives typical of their political parties: Republicans were hostile to the ACA from the get-go and oblivious to the fact that America still lags every modern European nation in the ability to provide high-tech interventional care to its citizens. In other words, still reflecting the menu of elitist prejudices that have generally characterized the GOP since the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. GOP members were openly hostile to both the ACA and Sibelius, although some were more gentlemanly than others.
Dems, on the other hand, were much more considerate- especially the women. Perhaps the quickest way to characterize the differences between political parties is that Republicans were so opposed to anything having to do with Obama that they seem willing- indeed anxious- to throw out the baby of “Medical Care” with the bathwater of an obviously troubled plan to improve it. In retrospect, all-too reminiscent of the invidious "Harry and Louise" ads that sank Hillary Clinton's ill fated effort to reform health care delivery back in 1993.
The major weakness of Medicare- LBJ’s limited 1965 attempt to deal with the same failures, was that it tied funding to Social Security, as opposed to employment- had happened from the earliest days of WW2.
Ironically, the best explanation I’ve yet heard of how that particular phenomenon had come to be was by lawyer Joseph Califano, who'd been Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of HEW and has remained a stubborn drug war hawk with a particular need to vilify both cannabis and tobacco. In fact, it might have been Califano’s anti- tobacco stance that prompted Carter to fire him prematurely.
Be that as it may, what I remember with particular disfavor from my earliest days in drug policy reform is Califano’s blatant arrogation of medical expertise as founder and chief spokesman for CASA, which coincided with my own discovery- between 1997 and 2001- of the logical absurdity of America’s mistaken drug war, which had been to repeat the mistake of alcohol Prohibition.
In fact, Califano’s writings on the subject often betray a nostalgic fondness for the absurd idea that we gave up too soon on Prohibition in 1933- as if a few more years of futility and mob violence would been better than never attempting to change human behavior with an ill-conceived "experiment."
What I now understand, along with the current editorial staff of Columbia’s student newspaper, is that Califano’s militant ideas on “Addiction” are an embarrassment to their University.
I'd also be willing to bet that quite a few members of that staff had tried Marijuana themselves; but I realize that in the current political climate it isn't politic to cop to a Federal offense that could hurt them and embarrass their institution.
October 20, 2013
Crimes Worse than Watergate 1When Harry Anslinger's clumsy Marijuana Tax Act (MTA) made inhaled "marijuana" (reefer) categorically illegal in 1937, the drug's inhaled use had never been studied; either clinically or by the primitive pharmacologic methods of that era. Nor- despite Anslinger's claims- had its popularity increased during the Thirties. That a market for inhaled cannabis had long existed is obvious; however its size and economic importance had never been measured. In the early 20th Century, cannabis was of economic interest mostly to drug retailers and their trade associations, as reported by the late Dr David Musto of Yale. For that reason, it hadn't been targeted in the final draft of Harrison Act passed in December, 1914.
Parenthetically, although I disagree with Dr. Musto's barely disguised support for drug prohibition as policy, I also recognize and appreciate the value of his extensive academic research and that he shared it with the world in two extensive updates of a book he first published in 1973.
An inevitable consequence of America's enforced drug ignorance was that when the Supreme Court unexpectedly struck down Anslinger's MTA on Fifth Amendment grounds in 1969, the medical literature contained nothing useful about illegal "reefer," its market, or the youthful population that was just starting to use it; but would not be noticed until youthful "hippies" began attracting generally unfavorable attention from about 1965 on.
In that respect, it is now possible to understand that legislation generated by the short-lived populist awakening was the critical first step that inserted the nose of the federal camel under Medicine's tent.
It's also possible to recognize that the policy that evolved from TR's enthusiasm suffered from three critical weaknesses: 1) A generalized ignorance of what motivates human drug use, 2) An early assumption that its principal consequence is "addiction," and 3) An equally unchallenged assumption that law enforcement and the criminal code are the most appropriate government mechanisms for "controlling" a society's "drug problem."
The quotes are intended to emphasize that addictionhas never been precisely defined as a medical entity. Like "beauty,"- it certainly exists, but unfortunately, too much has been left to the eye of beholders; in this case the host of untrained police and social institutions that have retained responsibility for implementing global policy, they clearly don't understand.
Not only does such an illogical and destructive policy disgrace the nation that enacted it, its uncritical acceptance by the UN raises serious questions about the logical competence of the species that continues to endorse it despite glaring failures in Mexico, Colombia, and Afghanistan, to mention but a few of several possible examples.
We don't punish cigarette smokers for getting lung cancer or any of other diseases cigarettes are known to cause. Rather, tobacco's victims are treated in most nations with the best available therapy. Thus does the futile maintenance of violent criminal markets through an unwise policy of global prohibition suggest that either the lessons of (Constitutional) Prohibition in the US have been entirely missed, that there are multiple ulterior motives, or that humans are easily fooled. Most likely all of the above.
Perhaps the most ironic consequence of Nixon's drug war is that marijuana, the "dangerous and habit-forming" substance, which was among the first to be placed on Schedule One of the CSA, has been the most valuable cash crop in the United States for years and despite the best efforts of several federal agencies, has been smuggled across our Canadian and Mexican border in huge amounts for years.
Sadly, our 44th President, who- by his own admission- had extensive youthful experience with choom in his natal state of Hawaii and also meets my criteria for the paternal deprivation syndrome that characterizes a large percentage of the 7000-plus users I've interviewed doesn't recognize himself; probably because no one ever told him.
On the other hand, he is being told, big-time, by a growing number of former fans and disappointed supporters that his record use of the 1917 Espionage Act is both disappointing and increasingly reminiscent of the Trickster; hardly good company for an ex-member of the choom gang who is interested in his Presidential legacy.
September 30, 2013
An Escalation in Border FutilityMy first year in the US Army (1958-59) was spent working in a dispensary at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Then I was transferred across the highway to William Beaumont General Hospital to do a 4 year residency in General Surgery.
In five consecutive years on the Border I never heard of a marijuana arrest. The most serious "drug-related" problem we dealt with was when drunken GIs got into Saturday night bar fights in Juarez; fairly common events that produced at least two GI deaths I can recall.
Since 2006 and before, the most egregious modern examples of federal "drug control" futility- and American media hypocrisy- have been the smuggling operations of brutal Mexican cartels moving tons of marijuana into the US across and around the border while engaging in brutal turf battles with each other that have killed an estimated 60,000 Mexicans since 2006. Juarez, a city I used to visit frequently without trepidation became one of the the world's most dangerous and remains so despite a recent reduction in killings.
Also, an improbable change in cartel tactics just reported by a New York tabloid is nevertheless convincing: American GIs, desperate for money and trained to kill in Iraq and Afghanistan are being recruited to function as cartel hit men on the American side of the border.
The most obvious questions then become: how much longer can our "mainstream" media pretend not to notice such blatant federal hypocrisy? Also, how long can the Obama administration pretend Mexico is on another continent while Nixon's DEA squanders millions in its pursuit of failure?
September 12, 2013
The Pace of Legalization May be ChangingI just heard from a fellow activist that Senate hearings on state laws relating to "marijuana" legalization began this past Monday, August 10.
The good news is that Patrick Leahy is the chairman. The bad news is that the Senate is not a great forum for intelligent discussion of drug war issues, but real legislative change has to begin with Congress and I was told by my source that the witnesses have been generally positive and quite persuasive. The URL is:http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/StateMar
September 05, 2013
The Genomics of GenderA few months ago, I was given several books by another physician in return for a favor. All were written by Bryan Sykes, a well-known British geneticist I'd never even heard of- an increasingly common phenomenon in our complex, over-informed and overpopulated world.
Dr Sykes (not a physician) writes beautifully about things that are inevitably centered on Genetics- a science in which he's been a modern pioneer- especially as it applies to the hereditary elements of our species that impact our modern world: complex new concepts falling under the rubric of Genomics, a subject that had almost immediate resonance within Academic Medicine.
To my considerable surprise, I soon discovered that much of what I've learned about the behavior of cannabis users seeking "legality" in California has enabled me to identify with a major theme in Dr. Sykes' work: the damage done to our species and its global habitat by the militantly aggressive Y chromosome and its "need" to dominate its more nurturing and compliant X partner with which it must combine if a new human is to be produced.
In genomic terms, sustained male dominance, as mediated through the Y chromosome can be thought of as patrilineal and its behavioral opposite- mediated through its X partner- is matrilineal. Of course, that's not how contemporary humans have become used to thinking about issues of sex and gender, but as Sykes outlines them in Adam's Curse, I quickly began to catch his his drift.
Throughout its relatively short history, Homo sapiens, has been exclusively patrilineal, a characteristic which, as Sykes explains, may not have been the best way to insure our long-term survival. In that context, it's also necessary to understand that there are several other important variables- some of which may not resonate well with contemporary beliefs- but all have been well established by the Medical sciences- especially Genetics.
I will have more to say about these admittedly complex issues when I can find a bit more free time.
August 08, 2013
Is Change (on) the Air?This morning, a non-medical colleague who shares many of my views on both the Drug War and the fallacy of "Marijuana" prohibition called me with exciting news: Dr.Sanjay Gupta, MD, CNN's well known Media Doctor, and Piers Morgan have both admitted to trying marijuana. Beyond that, Gupta was apparently heavily involved in the CNN special, "Weed" that will be aired this coming week-end.
This sounds like the break I've been hoping for since I started blogging: the first real crack in what had become an almost invulnerable policy monster; one based entirely on erroneous beliefs about "Addiction," that persuaded our nation to summarily transfer its management to Law Enforcement in 1914 via the pejorative, and fundamentally stupid Harrison Narcotics Act that was, nevertheless, soon signed into law by Woodrow Wilson.
In essence, the various federal bureaucracies created over the years to enforce Harrison have gradually intensified their grip on what should always have been a Medical responsibility. The results have been a disaster for our species because the policy's underlying Prohibition Fallacy has been accepted globally since the Seventies, despite its predictable failures. Abundant evidence of those failures has been available; also since the Seventies. Despite its being brought to light by respected authorities in Economics and Medicine in the past, it has had no discernible effect on policy.
Nevertheless, I remain optimistic; primarily because Piers Morgan and Dr. Gupta are such popular icons and the ground swell of "legalization" laws and initiatives that began in 1996 demands a rational response from the only sitting President who ever copped to being a "head" himself.
August 05, 2013
How Big Pharma Profits from Illegal DrugsThe other evening I was watching one of those misleading Nat Geo TV productions that admit to drug war failures, while praising the "heroes" who vainly try to enforce it with lame excuses like "at least we kept 2 kilos of cocaine off the street." In other words, failure is really success, because it would be even worse without the cops: a dubious proposition at best,
In another vignette aired on the same program, a DEA agent who was arranging an Oxycontin "sting" complained that prosecutions for "Oxy" crimes are more difficult because "it's a legal drug." It was that observation that led to my sudden intuition: whether they planned it or not, Big Pharma has learned to cut itself in on the drug war in a way that's almost a no-brainer: develop synthetic analogs that closely mimic the effects of popular illegal drugs.
Synthetic "Oxy" is a powerful pain reliever that is also famously liable to produce dependence. An added benefit of effective new synthetics is that they can be patented to maintain high prices on the legal market and to the extent they replicate the desired effects of illegal drugs (heroin in the case of Oxy) they will generate a "crossover" market that adds victims for the enforcement industry that's been evolving steadily around Nixon's CSA since it was passed in 1970.
By an odd coincidence, both "marijuana" arrests and the US prison population have increased dramatically since 1970.
Did Mitchell and Nixon plan this? Probably not. They weren't that smart to begin with and could not possibly have known how their unintended rhetorical disaster would be exploited by our competitive species.
The most important question about the drug war is: can we fix it in time to avert similar disasters? Also, can we save ourselves from our need to succeed at any cost?
June 26, 2013
A New Take on ColumbusWhen I was in grade school in the Thirties, we celebrated the birthday of Christopher Columbus on the 12th of October and everyone regarded him as a hero for having "discovered" America after convincing the Spanish Monarchs to provide him with three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.
A few days ago, late night TV carried a recently made documentary on the fourth voyage Columbus made to the "new world" he'd discovered. While the film leaves us with little doubt that Columbus became the most famous European to sail to the Americas, it also portrays him as a person who would now be considered obsessive-compulsive, greedy, cruel, and driven by delusional ambition. In fact, I found that impression far more believable than the myth I'd been exposed to in childhood.
Columbus was certainly ahead of his time as navigator and seaman, but his greed and ambition undid him in the long run. He also shared the geographic ignorance of his time in that he had no idea that an even larger ocean (The Pacific) was just a few miles overland from where Taino Indians were describing it. He never did find the shortcut to Asia he was seeking and could not have known that a nation, named in honor of another Italian, cartographer Amerigo Vespucci, would eventually construct a canal that turned his dream into reality.
Perhaps the real message from Columbus' epic adventure is that individual humans; especially those driven by completely erroneous delusions, have had an enormous impact on history.
If we hope to improve the lot of modern humans, it probably behooves us to take a more accurate and unbiased look at our own times. In that respect, it's probably significant that the Panama Canal the global economy relies on so heavily is now too small for a majority of modern ships. If one takes the time to read the cited article in the Boston Globe, we are already committed to its expansion. Even worse; the work itself- to say nothing of the investment it entails- will inevitably result in the expenditure of increasing amounts of energy at the risk of further extreme climate change.
June 24, 2013
A Species With an Uncertain FutureIf one were to bet that our species will survive its current dilemma, the odds should be solidly against us. That's entirely speculative, of course. However, it's also true that we've never been in a tighter predicament than the one we now face: overpopulated, addicted to energy, and warming our planetary environment without a viable alternative we can even discuss.
In Medical parlance, the prognosis for human survival seems somewhere between "guarded" and "hopeless;" not news anyone wants to hear; precisely why we almost never hear it discussed publicly.
Ironically, our highly evolved brain, the crowning glory of human evolution, is the source of that dilemma. We have simply become too clever for our own good. In a real sense, the cause of our trouble is that our behavior has continued to be governed by competition and a perceived need to control, which throughout "recorded" history had always generated warfare between rival states. Just because we didn't discover literacy until relatively recently does not negate that assertion, the available evidence from prehistory (Archeology and Paleontology) simply confirms that the planet is old enough to have evolved along the lines suggested by Darwin and amply justify his notion that life is a struggle to survive.
Science also tells us we live in a Universe that's literally too large to measure (more galaxies than grains of sand on all the world's beaches) made up of components literally too small to see (subatomic particles) and obeying "laws" too complex to be understood (black holes).
In stark contrast to our modern command of information is the inexplicable fact that cannabis is still illegal under both US and international law.
Last night, CNN aired a special by Morgan Spurlock that I both watched and recorded. I've now seen it all (some parts twice) and plan to review it in the next entry.
June 15, 2013
History, the Brain, and Our FutureWe humans are intensely curious, especially about our origins. Modern evolutionary theory dates the emergence of Homo sapiens from Africa at approximately 200,000 years ago, but we were not the first hominids to leave the home continent. Neanderthals are known to have preceded us, and perhaps a third primate species, as well.
At the other extreme of time estimates, the biblical research of Anglo-Irish Bishop James Ussher persuaded him that Adam and Eve had been created about 4000 BC, an estimate that was widely accepted for over a Century until evolution of the scientific method fostered by the discoveries of Galileo, Newton, and others began casting serious doubt on long established religious beliefs. Even today, in a world driven by Scientific technology, it's probable that a majority of Western humans believe in an omnipotent Deity. In any event, it appears likely that it will be quite a while before an avowed atheist occupies the Oval Office.
Although Ussher's assertion about Creation may now seem ludicrous to many, the available evidence suggests he was a serious, if somewhat conservative, scholar who relied on the best information available to him that was also consistent with the accepted belief beliefs of his day.
When Columbus discovered two American continents roughly a hundred years following Europe's recovery from the Black Death, our species had sustained a serous setback and was still very ignorant of its global habitat. However, it was was soon launched on a trajectory of population growth that more than made up for the Plague by the discovery of two new continents.
Even as smallpox was decimating the "Indians" Columbus encountered in the Americas, his sailors were acquiring a reciprocal "pox" that would ravage Eurasia until the arrival Penicillin in the Twentieth Century.
While European missionaries were busy converting the Indians to Christianity, other Europeans were expanding the African Slave Trade that had been initiated by the Portuguese in the Fifteenth Century. Thus did a surge in the demand for labor created by the introduction of two new diseases to vulnerable populations play a key role in the evolution of two modern problems, the legacies of which continue to haunt us in modern times: chattel slavery and colonialism.
There is little doubt that Science has greatly enhanced human knowledge, health, and material progress. However it has also encouraged the exploitation of poor populations and the profligate consumption of energy, especially since the Industrial Revolution; thus scientific "progress" has been a mixed bag that now threatens us with two unanticipated consequences: global overpopulation and rapid climate change.
For me, the message of the last five hundred years is that humans are all too prone make dangerous false assumptions; especially on behalf of new profits.
As much as I would like to believe the estimated 7 billion humans now creating problems that threaten our very existence can be persuaded to radically alter their behavior in time to prevent 2 looming catastrophes, there is considerable evidence suggesting the opposite.
Perhaps the most hopeful scenario would be that a series of disasters will depopulate the planet to a level that would persuade survivors to do what we should have started doing long ago: find a way to restrict population growth while embracing an energy conserving lifestyle. Hopefully it might happen in time to prevent the methane release that threatens to make all other efforts fruitless.
June 12, 2013
The Trial of Bradley ManningIn yesterday's entry, I said that Bradley Manning's trial (which began on Monday) would be an "important indicator," by which I meant it would give us an idea of just how much our federal system of "justice" has moved away from the principles of fair play and freedom we claim to endorse.
Based on my reading of the first reports of the trial, I must say that it wasn't as bad as I feared, but that one of the major issues of interest to me: Manning's cruel pre-trial treatment, was not addressed and apparently won't be.
I urge others not to lose interest in Manning or his ordeal. Just imagine what it must be like to be a young gay male targeted by a vengeful bureaucracy with almost nothing to fear from its own government.
June 03, 2013
The Slow Evolution of a Social CatastropheOnce I understood that America’s Drug war is based almost entirely on the "expertise" claimed by Nixon and Mitchell in their 1970 Controlled Substances Act, my most pressing questions soon became: how could such foolish, untested criteria have been accepted so quickly both here and at the UN? Why is our marijuana policy still being vigorously asserted and rigorously enforced after 40+ years of grotesque failure? Finally, how can such "legal" nonsense be reversed?
Unfortunately, the only way the consequences of a prohibition policy can be studied scientifically is in retrospect and then only after a legal market has been in operation for a while. That's because truly unbiased studies of illegal markets are almost impossible because of the prejudice inflicted by years of having been officially "against federal law." Sound familiar?
Although studies of the gray markets produced by state "medical marijuana" laws are better than nothing (they at least have the potential to gather accurate information) but- as I've discovered- they are also plagued by the "illegality" stigma and dependent on the viewpoint of the physician gathering applicant information. In other words, the physician must be intellectually honest and convinced that cannabis offers real therapeutic benefits.
Until Proposition 215 was passed by California in 1996, all American studies of forbidden drugs had been severely handicapped because the Harrison Act of 1914 gave untrained policemen the power to not only define "addiction," but also to hold physicians criminally liable for any prescription law enforcement considered excessive. Once approved by the Supreme Court, Harrison, validated a dangerous principle: that the law enforcement establishment should have the power to enforce its (ignorant) medical judgements through the criminal code.
That "principle" has cost society dearly. The most obvious example to me as a physician, is denial of the great therapeutic benefits cannabis offers to people with serious symptoms, two realities that have been obscured by forty years of uninformed police propaganda in support of the Nixon-Mitchell drug war.
Needless to say, I have a low opinion of those police agencies now squandering scarce tax dollars in a futile attempt to turn back the clock on "marijuana" prohibition.
Don't the Modesto cops get it?
I guess not.
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 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
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.
March 28, 2013
The Drug War as an Indicator of Human "Progress"One conclusion I’ve been driven to progressively in the course of my study of drug policy is that our species may represent a failed natural experiment in that we appear to have dug a hole for ourselves from which escape will predictably be very difficult and may have even become impossible.
The obvious culprit is our marvelous brain, which along with our centers of cognition, also harbors our emotional centers. We now think humans are cognitive mammals that evolved from a line of twenty or so primate species going back to the Miocene apes that first appeared about nine million years ago. Our most recent ancestors were Neanderthals, now extinct, with whom our most remote human ancestors shared the planet and may have exchanged genetic material (but the details are still uncertain).
Human written history began much more recently with the almost simultaneous appearance of literacy in several parts of he world. What is most extraordinary is that the various pioneers of literacy inhabited widely scattered parts of the planet and must have been unknown to each other when they first devised their very different writing systems.
From literacy, human cultural evolution, progressed to an ability to communicate complex ideas, which as the work of Noam Chomsky has convincingly demonstrated, required the integration of separate centers within the brain into a functional language organ.
Nevertheless, as the chaos and disagreements characteristic of our modern world so convincingly demonstrate, our advanced cognitive abilities, especially once they were amplified by the evolution of empirical science about five hundred years ago, seem to have been working against our best interests as a species, which according to Darwin, should be survival.
Rather than the means for survival, what science seems to have provided us with are enhanced tools for mutual destruction in the form of nuclear weapons, exploitation of the planet's finite resources, and the willingness to profit from deep-seated emotional differences between various groups of humans.
Considered within that context, overwhelming international support for a policy that both prohibits and punishes cultivation and use of a therapeutic agent that moderates the emotional differences between humans seems at least irrational, if not insane.
March 27, 2013
The Evolution and Implications of a Modern TragedyThe first unexpected revelation of my ad-hoc study of Proposition 215 applicants was that many had been raised by single mothers or had childhoods otherwise deprived of supportive parenting from their biological fathers. That observation only became apparent after I entered their data into a relational database in 2003 in preparation for a talk I was asked to give at the 2004 meeting of Patients Out of Time, a cannabis-friendly volunteer organization.
Another important revelation is that only 295 (4.25%) of the 6900 Californians now in my data base were born before the 30% increase in live births that marked the abrupt onset of America's Baby Boom immediately following War Two. What now appears to be emerging when data from California's Proposition 215 applicants is considered in conjunction with heretofore suppressed evidence of "marijuana's" enormous popularity is a broad outline of how a huge modern folly, the global "war on drugs," evolved from the combination of a singular demographic event and two unfortunate pieces of US legislation enacted thirty-two years apart.
The key elements were, in sequence:
1) The 1937 "Marijuana" Tax Act
2) The end of the Second World War in August 1945
3)The 1946-1964 Baby Boom
4)The 1965 conviction and 30 year sentence of LSD guru Timothy Leary after he was arrested for possession of cannabis when trying to re-enter the US at Laredo, Texas.
5)The 1969 Warren Court Leary decision unexpectedly striking down the MTA
6)The scientifically uninformed Controlled Substances Act offered by the Nixon Administration in 1970 to "correct the deficiencies in the MTA.
7)The subsequent development of a series of violent illegal drug markets in troubled nations around the world, along with various cynical attempts by US government agencies to exploit those markets for political ends.
8)The passive acceptance, by American media, of both Nixon's refusal to act on the Shafer commission's recommendations on "Marijuana" and its failure to question the woeful record of the "War on Drugs" that followed.
At each step along the way, enough embarrassing deficiencies have been exhibited by people in responsible positions to suggest our overpopulated planet will be hard put to find either the political or financial wherewithal to solve its self-created drug problems, not to mention its more pressing issues with climate change or the nations that see nuclear weapons as essential to their survival.
February 24, 2013
E-mail to 2 Friends (2-23-13)Because I regard the two of you as among my most important friends and supporters in the drug policy "reform" movement, I'm taking the first opportunity I've had in a week to update you on what has happened to me over the past month- and most dramatically- in the past week.
To cut to the chase, I've now been forced out of the house I've been making mortgage payments on since June 2003. The circumstances are bizarre, to say the least, but are eminently understandable in terms of the unique research I've been engaged in since I started interviewing admitted cannabis users pursuant to their requests for the meager legal protection made available to them by California's Proposition 215.
Both of you have met J, my second wife, a person I still love deeply but have just become estranged from since leaving our home under duress last Saturday afternoon following a complex series of events I won't try to describe in detail.
Suffice it to say that her son by another marriage, a boy of seven when we met, but now a malevolent angry male of 43 (as of Feb 16) was primarily responsible. He's a person I have provided total financial support for from the time J and I began living together in February 1977.
Unfortunately, he seems warped beyond salvation by a hatred for me that, in retrospect, I should not find that surprising, based on the unexpected findings revealed by my searching interviews of chronic cannabis users as (grudgingly) permitted by Proposition 215.
Mike, your analysis of the initiative's potential in the last few pages of Drug Crazy was- to use your favorite word- monumental. It was also prescient in ways neither of us could have understood when we spoke about the study in 2004 or 2005.
I knew when you used that word that you'd support my cause with R, and his funding soon produced the specialized data base C created for us. Without it as a research tool, all my applicant interviews would have been indecipherable hash. The DB has not only enabled peer-reviewed publication of a revealing study about an issue that remains inexplicably ignored; that very lack of discussion is begging critical questions which suggest that when the current denial is finally addressed, the human drug problems will can be brought closer to resolution.
Only then will we gain the required understanding of our own behavior rather than dismissing it as a set of unrelated phenomena under the rubric of "human nature."
I will end here by observing that neither Richard Nixon nor John Mitchell could possibly have imagined the misery and repression their "quick fix" for the Supreme Court's unexpected nullification of Harry Anslinger's Marijuana Tax Act would lead to.
For them, it was just a bit of clever rhetoric intended to regain the initiative from their youthful anti-war adversaries. For the rest of the world it quickly became a potentially endless war on both "drugs" and the unborn victims of careless human parenting in a world that's clearly been overpopulated by our species and can no longer afford the energy consumption it has (we have) become so accustomed to.
What is cruelly ironic is that cannabis is a drug that encourages agreement by dispelling the anxiety produced in humans by uncertainty. Had its clinical effects been addressed four decades ago, it would have mitigated our modern crisis. Instead, we rewarded the forces of repression and "control" by making cannabis categorically illegal and forbidding any honest research.
February 19, 2013
The Drug War: Rhetoric Trumps ScienceWhen the Supreme Court struck down Harry Anslinger’s 1937 Marijuana Tax Act in 1969, no one could have predicted the immediate impact of that decision, let alone its long term consequences or their impact on the political careers of the two men required by the Constitution to deal with the Court's unexpected ruling.
The United States takes great pride in its history as a Constitutional Democracy; in fact, we have elevated our Constitution to quasi-religious status since a bloody Civil War was fought to preserve it less than a Century after its ratification.
Indeed, it's probable that the Constitutionality of proposed new federal legislation receives more careful scrutiny from legal scholars than the myriad technical issues any new law will affect profoundly once it is passed.
Unfortunately- and this is the major focus of this essay- the medical virtues of American "drug control" legislation have never received comparable scrutiny from appropriate medical scholars. In fact, an unlikely mix of elected politicians and lobbyists have contrived to elbow physicians almost completely out of the legislative process through a combination of shame, the stigma of "addiction," and the threat of arrest.
At the same time, they also convinced a majority of the world's governments, NGOs, and educational institutions that a "war" on illicit drugs is not only rational public policy, but is also critically important, and capable of being waged successfully.
Another ridiculous premise of the drug war is that because children are so vulnerable to "addiction," it's essential to maintain a list of substances that can't be consumed by law before a certain age (usually 21). To that end, the UN now maintains an international police agency charged with identifying, interdicting, and disrupting illegal drug markets on a continuing basis.
However, medical research- unlike legal definitions- is constantly changing. Thus molecular chemists have, since the late Seventies, taken advantage of a new found ability to create drug agonists- molecules that mimic the effects of a "controlled" drug, but are not the drug itself. Some morphine agonists (fentanyl and sufenta, for example) are so much more powerful than morphine that they are only used by specially trained anesthesiologists. Nevertheless, they have found their way into illegal markets.
The problem with cannabis agonists is even greater; because it is officially on Schedule 1, cannabis agonists are technically just as illegal as "herbal marijuana;" thus they pose huge enforcement problems for the embattled DEA; one that will only grow larger over time.
Thus the planet was saddled with an unwinnable "war" by a resentful American President in 1970. Although further research has confirmed the pharmacologic benefits of cannabinoids, our federal bureaucracy steadfastly refuses to concede an inch and every president since 1974 has continued to enforce the monstrosity created by the only president forced to resign for dishonesty with rhetorical help from his good buddy: the only Attorney General to do time in a federal pen.
Thus the Controlled Substances Act represents a clear perversion of science and common sense by empty rhetoric; nevertheless, it remains the global standard. Are we a great species or what?
January 18, 2013
The Great Gun Debate and other Random ThoughtsIn the wake of the Sandy Hook Massacre, there has been almost universal support ( excluding the NRA and Congressional Republicans) for the idea that the US needs tighter control of guns, ammunition, and the capacity of ammunition clips. What such thinking ignores is that our previous experiences with similar prohibitions involving alcohol and “drugs” were both rank failures, albeit for different reasons. The failure of the 18th Amendment was admitted by its non-government utopian sponsors after a mere 14 years; they then sponsored a Repeal Amendment mitigating some of the social damage done by the "Noble Experiment."
The four decade failure of drug prohibition, on the other hand, has never been conceded by its sponsors, the US Congress that obediently passed the Controlled Substances Act concocted by government insiders John Mitchell and Richard Nixon in 1970 right after the Supreme Court’s nullification of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1969.
The litany of failure I’m repeating may be boring to some, but it's also accurate, unlike much of the nonsense repeated daily on National TV. Speaking of TV, I continue to be fascinated by the several living examples of dysfunctional NRA "logic" recently paraded before us by Piers Morgan, a Briton amazed by the intensity with which some Americans cling to guns and attempt to portray the Second Amendment as tantamount to an 11th Commandment. Precisely because Morgan's interviews have generated so much heat, it's easier to demonstrate the inanity on both sides of the gun "debate" with pages of search results than by citing individual items references.
Some of the arguments made by the gun lobby have superficial merit. For example: rather than legislation, that will inevitably fail, we should keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Of course the NRA has no concrete suggestions for recognizing them (many undoubtedly NRA members) also, as suggested yesterday, Psychiatry is singularly ill-equipped for the task.
Yesterday evening- primarily motivated the gun conundrum, I searched for the first American gun massacre I could remember: the Texas Tower incident of 1966, in which Charles Whitmanan, an ex-marine marksman, killed 14 people and wounded 32 others with a semi- automatic rifle. The more I read about Whitman's father, the more I was reminded of the principal, but still unpublicized, findings of the pot study I’ve been conducting and blogging about for years: namely that lack of paternal approval, as sensed by the pre-pubertal child, is a major cause of the anxiety disorder that seems to have predisposed a majority of my applicants to “initiate” (try) cannabis as adolescents.
There are many critical inferences that flow from that finding; all of which deserve further investigation. However, so long as our federal government is spending so much money to support its failing drug policy and stifle unbiased research, it will be difficult, if not impossible.
Further web research turned up recent evidence confirming that "mental illness" has indeed been playing a huge role in the uniquely American spate of mass gunshot murders that followed the Texas Tower incident.
Unfortunately, the Mother Jones study only went back to 1982, so we don't know how many occurred between '66 an then; but I'll bet it wasn't zero.
January 16, 2013
Annals of VindicationBack in June of 2008, The Atlantic, a magazine I have subscribed to since long before the internet existed, came out with a cover highlighting a lead article by Nicholas Carr asking rhetorically if Google was making us ‘stoopid.’
I took full advantage of that opening to compose a blog entry on one of my favorite themes: namely that US persistence in the enforcement of pot prohibition is powerful evidence of a national insanity.
On reading that earlier entry, the link to Carr's article in my blog was dead, but not to worry, I found the full text on his.
Unfortunately, things haven’t changed much; cannabis is still illegal and can't be considered "medicine" under federal law, while our gun nuts are just as crazy as ever: Ed Meese, the mush-headed “Great Communicator’s" ex-AG was featured today on Fox News for opining that if President Obama issues a Presidential Order directing more restrictive enforcement of existing gun laws, it might be an impeachable offense. All that told me was that Meese, who is my age, just joined John Mitchell and John Ashcroft to form a triumvirate of legal dunces who served Republican Presidents
As for American stupidity: no matter how it’s spelled, the current news tells us that it’s not the facts; it's how they are interpreted. We are now trapped on an increasingly crowded and overheated planet, despite having become demonstrably better informed than at any time in history. To paraphrase the NRA: knowledge doesn’t kill people, people do; or in the words of the mythical, Forest Gump,"stupid is as stupid does.”
January 09, 2013
Annals of American InsanityOne of the modern world’s major conundrums is the peculiar American fascination with guns and our related propensity for using them to express resentment through the mass murder of strangers. Piers Morgan, the urbane British TV import who replaced Larry King as host of the CNN prime time call-in spot, seems to has come into his own with his dogged pursuit of the gun/mass murder issue in the wake of the tragic killings of 20 first graders and six school staff at an upscale Connecticut primary school in December
On Monday of this week, Morgan had as his guest, Alex Jones, a right wing talk radio host from Austin Texas. I happened to catch it in real time on the West Coast where the Morgan show airs between 6-7 PM. The show was already underway, and not knowing a thing about Jones or his background, I was horrified at his over-the-top bombastic style. He literally took over the Morgan’s studio. Having heard similar gun-nuts rant privately, I was familiar with the genre. I have also been exposed to the same kind of hatred from total strangers after trying (vainly) to explain marijuana use to them, so I am not unfamiliar with the underlying personality. It’s one of the reasons I can only tolerate Rush Limbaugh in tiny doses before I'm forced to change the channel/station. That both he and Jones can command such large, approving radio audiences is one of the reasons I think the United States is in an advanced state of intellectual and political decline.
It goes without saying that almost all right wing talk radio hosts are ardent supporters of Nixon's drug war hoax.
January 05, 2013
Still Haunted by Nixon’s GhostIn retrospect, there were several troublesome features of the Controlled Substances Act Richard Nixon and John Mitchell proposed as replacement for Harry Anslinger’s 1937 Marijuana Tax Act after it had been declared unconstitutional by the Warren Court in 1969.
Their new version, while more rhetorically coherent on the surface, was far more punitive. Its rhetoric also concealed a breath-taking expansion of what had always been a failing US policy of criminal drug prohibition, one originally based on devious transfer taxes that allowed untrained federal police to impose their medical judgment in areas that Medicine itself had not (and still hasn’t) defined objectively: the diagnosis and treatment of “addiction.”
Beyond that, the three Schedule one criteria devised by Mitchell for deciding which “substances” (drugs) to outlaw (“control”) were scientifically ludicrous; the first two- “dangerous” and “habit forming” were impossibly vague and the third- “of no recognized use in American Medical practice” ignored the fact that medical standards are constantly changing in response to new clinical and laboratory research.
Although the CSA's provisions were impossibly vague and imprecise by medical and scientific standards, they struck exactly the right political notes with the “silent majority” of the electorate Nixon was courting.
They had been horrified by the rebellious youthful behavior of post-war “baby boomers” who seemed hell-bent on rejecting the values their elders had fought to preserve in Word War Two and Korea by refusing to serve in Vietnam, living in communes, practicing free sex, taking illegal drugs like marijuana or the even more disturbing psychedelics advocated by Timothy Leary and others.
By 1968, the public wanted someone to solve the problems that had undone Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam while also presenting a strong response to the monolithic threat it perceived from both Russia and China. As for the hippie movement, the dramatic events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago reflected their attitude. The public found little fault with the brutal treatment of youthful demonstrators by Mayor Daley’s police. It excited little protest from the press and was quickly forgotten by most.
Ironically, a few months later, the youthful opponents of the war whose hero was Minnesota Senator “Clean Gene” McCarthy, may have played into Nixon’s hands by refusing to vote for another Minnesotan- Lyndon Johnson’s loyal Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Thus young anti-war activists may have tipped a very close election to a man who would compound the misery in Southeast Asia by bombing Laos and Cambodia and also push through a punitive drug policy that quickly escalated into the global “war on drugs” that continues to ruin lives long after its sponsors were disgraced out of high federal office by Watergate and have long since departed this mortal coil.
December 17, 2012
America’s Biggest Drug Problem is its Drug PolicyData gathered over the past 11 years from nearly 7000 admitted chronic cannabis (marijuana) users has provided me with such convincing evidence that the Drug War is so profoundly mistaken, and its claimed benefits so contrary to the tragic results produced, that incremental “reform” is impossible; despite the change of heart expressed by two ex-Presidents who supported the policy while they were in office. Ironically, the present incumbent, a dedicated toker in High School (and an unwitting example of the archetypal teen user in my study) considers it a problem to be dealt with later; even after two states just presented him with a ”legalization” dilemma on the day he was re-elected.
Incremental reforms (which I confess to having once believed in) are almost certain to fail for three salient reasons. First, there's the enormous political and financial power amassed by powerful institutions that have learned to profit from the drug war. Second, is the degree to which modern humans have been conditioned to accept unjust punishment as justifiable "collateral damage." Third- and perhaps most disturbing- is that the policy’s essential features resonate powerfully with behavioral imperatives that seem to have been retained for millions of years before their incorporation within the human genome.
Esoteric concerns aside, it's now clear that the damage done to key institutions by four decades of drug war acceptance can’t be undone incrementally. The policy must first be otally repudiated before it can be replaced by one that's more honest, humane, and based on sound medical principles.
A tall order, but one necessary for any hope of success. In the next entry, I'll start explaining my sudden change of mind.
December 15, 2012
A Unique American PresidentOne of many consequences of Richard Nixon’s truncated presidency was elevation of the unimaginative Gerald Ford from Speaker of the House to the Oval Office for what turned out to be two years of caretaker duty. As it happened, Ford, a lackluster performer at best, would soon be undone by his prompt pardon of the man he replaced, an act permitted under the Constitution, but one that probably resulted in his to loss of the 1976 election to Washington outsider Jimmy Carter, himself a unique White House occupant: Annapolis graduate, nuclear physicist, Governor of Georgia, conservative Southern Baptist, and passionate egalitarian,
The other morning, during a session of wee hours insomnia, I happened to catch an engrossing documentary: The Man from Plains, shot about five years ago by Jonathan Demme. the setting was a book tour by Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter to promote Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid in which Carter took Israel to task for what he considers the unfair conditions under which Palestinians are forced to live in the Occupied Territories.
My interest was piqued by the intensity of the reaction to a book I’d never heard of (and still haven’t read). Much of the reaction was generated by Carter’s provocative use of Apartheid, an Afrikaans word for the South African public policy clearly modeled on the American policy of Segregation that was imposed following the Civil War, especially after the Supreme Court ruled in 1896 that forced separation could indeed be “equal.”
Clearly, Carter was also intending to be provocative and he obviously succeeded in pushing his critics to extremes in voicing their opposition, many in the form of ad hominem attacks, some devoid of rudimentary logic.
There can also be no doubt that the lives of many Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are miserable; also that the concept of jihad, as embraced by Islam, means that suicide and murder can both be justified as weapons to be used against those defined as infidels or oppressors of the faithful.
While I don’t share Carter’s religious convictions, (nor those of Islam) I do admire his intellectual honesty, clear thinking on humanitarian and political issues, consistency and courage- not to mention his amazing energy.
I also think those who slam him as “anti-semitic” are allowing their own biases to show. I’ll have more to say on the contentious issue of the intense attachments humans can manifest for “homelands” in another entry.
However, as an interesting post script, I also discovered that President Carter's role as a nuclear trainee under the legendary Admiral Hyman Rickover also has a dark side. A little known interview of the Admiral by Diane Sawyer revealed that both he and Carter had much in common: both were outsiders who were not afraid to speak their mind. Both also had an association with the first American nuclear disaster at Three mile Island: the plant's design was based on Rickover's concepts and the famous accident that occurred during his Presidency saw Carter quickly on the scene and later generated criticism of his alleged role in covering up the worst implications of the accident, including an interesting statement from the Admiral's daughter-in-law.
December 11, 2012
Same Old, Same OldYesterday, NPR aired an update of a story that’s actually been around for months: there’s a critical shortage of the trained medical personnel needed to treat the growing number of returning veterans with PTSD. I immediately recalled an article published eight years ago in the the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). I remembered it well because it had confirmed something I had already learned from screening pot users: illegal “marijuana” became popular in the Sixties because the “hippies” of that era had discovered (without realizing the medical implications of their own youthful behavior) that it was excellent treatment for a number of psychiatric conditions that had yet to be described or classified by the Psychiatrists of their day. The reasons for those deficiencies are both historical and complex. Some observers claim they were part of a “conspiracy.” My own view is that a conspiracy is unlikely; in any event it would be far more important to understand what happened (so the problem can be addressed) rather than argue about the possible culpability of long-deceased human actors.
I would not have been that familiar with PTSD, one of those very entities; but unheard of by me until long after medical school, had it not been for my experience as an ad-hoc “pot doc” taking histories from people seeking to use “marijuana” legally under the grudging protection of California's proposition 215.
I also remembered being mildly surprised that the NEJM had even printed such a paper in 2004; also hopeful it might be a prelude to recognition of pot’s potential utility as therapy for anxiety.
Now I know better; eight more years of frustration have convinced me that our species' failure to see through the Nixon-Mitchell rhetoric behind the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is a critical litmus test of both our cognitive competence and our ability to ward off serious self-inflicted disasters. Science hasn't helped; in fact its benefits have made us more dangerous than ever to both the planetary ecology and our own long term survival. That's because rather than the kind, loving protectors of our children and the environment we claim to be, modern humans are more likely to be frightened, selfish children themselves seeking to live as long as possible and believing that wealth is the best way to achieve that goal. Not everyone, by any means, but a big enough majority to drag the others into supporting a bogus drug war because it allegedly protects "the kids."
December 05, 2012
Beyond LegalizationI’m going to assume that the recent public announcement- however muted- that two Democratic ex-Presidents, are willing to label the drug war a failure signals its ultimate replacement as both US and global policy, thus it’s not too soon to think about what should replace it.
I’m also going to assume that if the “legalization” process becomes incremental, the first drug to be legalized would be cannabis, thus it's important to decide just how it will be dealt with. In that respect, it will be important to avoid the compromises that have so often dominated in the aftermath of other bitter struggles. All too often, old mistakes have been allowed to survive to the point where they again undo whatever new “peace” emerges.
Perhaps the two best modern examples of that tragedy are American: after both our Revolutionary and Civil Wars: the nominal “winners” retained the racist beliefs that had allowed chattel slavery to play a critical role in the economy of their day. These are matters of historical fact; and while it’s not possible to assign blame to any one actor or group, I would contend it is possible to recognize a dominant behavioral imperative that, if uncorrected, could easily lead to a similar disaster. Just in passing, Hitler and Nazism are extreme modern examples of a similar tragedy; thus it's hardly a unique phenomenon.
Following the American Revolution, the noble expression of egalitarianism in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”) was undone by the compromise with chattel slavery that followed in 1787, a decision that W.E.B. Dubois would later say (1896) “opened a road that led directly to the Civil War.”
As is now obvious, without Lincoln, The US might have been balkanized and history would have certainly been different. Thus has humanity lurched unpredictably from one watershed moment to another since we learned how to record our past in writing.
To pursue the American example a bit further, the tragic assassination of Lincoln at the very beginning of his second term prevented whatever plan he had for Reconstruction from being realized. Instead, Segregation emerged, a policy based on the same racism that had originally justified Slavery, but even more oppressive in practice. It would be another seven decades before the Civil Rights Act would (grudgingly) turn Jefferson’s lofty rhetoric into (still unrealized) reality. Ironically, we now have a nominally black President who experienced the anxiolytic benefits of inhaled cannabis as an adolescent (albeit apparently without fully understanding them).
In the meantime, the lessons of history have been accumulating at a dizzying rate. The one saving grace is that modern Science has given us tools to analyze history in ways that were never possible before and we have yet to become so contentious as to resort to nuclear war; thus we still have a chance to share our home planet without risking its destruction.
To cut to the chase, cannabis, a complex herbal remedy that eventually emerged as the demon drug of Nixon’s drug war, can now be recognized as a single therapeutic source that, if honestly studied and developed, has the potential to mitigate the anxieties of modern life more safely and effectively than any of the agents now being pushed so aggressively by our pharmaceutical industry. As an added bonus, in its edible form, it mitigates chronic pain as effectively as opioids.
To hobble its “legal” debut with the ignorant prejudices and calumnies of John Mitchell and Richard Nixon at this particular time in history would be a tragedy beyond measure.
October 24, 2012
Annals of Human Belief 1One indicator of humanity's unique position atop the cognition pinnacle is the intensity of our beliefs; we are the only species that commits murder or suicide over issues ranging from transient personal frustrations to deeply held religious and political convictions. Although not the only cognitive mammals, we are the only surviving hominids and our greater cognitive abilities are clearly what differentiated us from those who went extinct. Yet ominously, we now find ourselves in a particularly dangerous predicament because we have developed the power to influence our planetary environment to a degree that is both unprecedented and a threat to our survival.
Unfortunately, we don’t seem even remotely capable of modifying the behaviors that have placed us in that position; even worse, we seem strangely indifferent their dangers even though it only requires a modicum of scientific knowledge to appreciate their serious implications. The first indisputable example of existential human risk was the Cuban missile crisis 50 years ago this week. Fortunately, because both Kennedy and Krushchev rejected the advice of their generals, we still don’t know if Nuclear Winter would have followed a nuclear missile exchange, but it would have been a disaster for the US and Russia, to say nothing of Cuba. There were undoubtedly other close calls, Able Archer, for one.
One of the more specific modern dangers, for which a plethora of suggestive evidence already exists, is global climate change, which became a cause for Al Gore after he was snookered out of the Presidency in 2000. Surely both the Presidential candidates, who just concluded their third “debate” without mentioning the subject, were aware of Gore and his issue; yet neither mentioned it or was even questioned about it, which is precisely why I think we should all be worried.
Such existential thoughts were definitely not my main interest when I accepted the invitation of on Oakland cannabis club owner to screen prospective customers seeking to take advantage of California’s medical marijuana initiative in November 2001. Although I’d been an outspoken opponent of US drug policy since 1995 and an advocate of “medical marijuana’ since 1996, my knowledge of both was largely theoretical.
The club owner in question was seeking to protect himself by ensuring that his customers would be in compliance with the letter of California’s new “Medical Marijuana” law; I was seeking to learn about how it was functioning after five years of disputed existence. As it turned out, although our business relationship may have played some role in the sudden expansion of pot’s then-fledgling retail distribution system that took place in 2003, we were both unaware of how implacably the federal government was opposed to any “medical” use. We were also unaware of the the extent of basic human dishonesty, or of the likelihood of “friends” might steal from, or turn on former allies.
My early experiences with those I labeled “cannabis applicants” in the peer reviewed paper published five years ago (but have always thought of as “patients”) quickly told me my original beliefs on the subject were mistaken. I was very aware that inhaled pot’s ability to relieve nausea and prevent vomiting were what had generated the public awareness that put 215 on the California ballot, but I was completely unprepared for the most common complaints I'd be hearing from those seeking to use it medically: a majority of the men were emphasizing chronic pain and though many would also allude to "stress" and "insomnia," women were far more open about emotional symptoms. Somewhere along the line I began asking everyone about their prior use of alcohol and tobacco and it quickly dawned on me that most had tried both as aggressively as I had. I thus realized that if pot had been as available to me when I was in High School, I would probably have tried it and my whole life might have been very different. Shortly after that, I consciously embarked on what has become a 10 year study of pot use that has convinced me the the modern “drug war” has been America’s greatest mistake since our revered founders buried Slavery within the Constitution in 1787, an opinion I know many might bristle at, but am very; sure is accurate.
To be continued.
October 07, 2012
The Worst National Disgrace since SlaveryThat America's Controlled Substances Act is the perfect trifecta: a national, international and species disgrace, perhaps the worst bit of public policy since American chattel slavery led the nation into a near-fatal Civil War in 1860. There is simply no excuse in 2012, to take its central prohibition of Marijuana seriously. Yet the federal agency created by Nixon in 1973 as his personal drug police force is such a colossal failure at “controlling” any of the illegal markets it aspires to shut down, the DEA should have zero legitimacy (are they just stealing the money?). Yet the "heroic" agency continues to wreck young lives and spew incoherent propaganda to the diminishing number of people who take it seriously.The DEA's most noticeable failing is that it can't articulate a coherent theory of drug use for any "drug of abuse." They are stuck with Mitchell's mandate, but they have no clinical research of their own, just the usual vague incoherent garbage they've been spouting ad nauseam since 1973. Their ignorance should be embarrassing, but it isn't because they simply don't know how ignorant they are.
Almost as bad, although it has been taking a lower profile since the odious Alan Leshner moved over to the AAAS (!) is NIDA- another agency Nixon created via Executive Order; not to arrest people but to shill for a policy they are literally paid to block all honest research into, misrepresent data from, and never say anything good about. That they can claim to support "evidence based" policy boggles the mind.
The list of drug policy dupes and knaves is as long as it is dishonorable. My particular villains are the wannabe docs who have decided, on the basis of zero medical training or clinical experience that they can recognize "legitimate" pot users from across the street because they aren't wearing a cast, limping, or appear to be dying.
Before closing, I should probably explain why I am so exercised. It's because another general election appears to be slipping by without any discussion of either the drug war or medical cannabis. Given their history and social implications, I don't understand the disinterest. Also,given Obama's paternal history, for him to dodge the issue is as puzzling as his earlier silence on DEA raids and the aggressive new campaign his "Justice" Department dragon lady is waging against dispensary landlords. As a physician who has taken careful histories from thousands of patients, I know there are many who are placed at real financial, time, or personal safety disadvantages by Ms Haag's malicious dispensary closures.
October 04, 2012
An Overview of (Recent) Human HistoryUntil the landmark Seventeenth Century discoveries of Galileo in Astronomy and Newton in Physics, the cognitive tools of modern Science had been generally unknown to other Western thinkers pondering complex natural phenomena; but without the success enjoyed by the two Renaissance giants. In retrospect, the two had also- and almost simultaneously- discovered new investigative principles that would shape future research, and were rooted in the importance of a disciplined and rigorously honest approach to the study of natural phenomena. They are the same principles that dominate what is now referred to as the Scientific Method.
What is also now clear from our modern perspective is that Galileo and Newton, whose lives almost overlapped, were at least as important for the investigative principles they demonstrated as for their monumental findings. That those findings ultimately challenged long accepted religious beliefs would, of necessity, bring the methods that enabled them to the attention of other "naturalists."
Shortly before Galileo and Newton, there had been Columbus, another pioneer, but of a different stripe, whose adventures changed the then-known world in totally unpredictable ways that would soon dovetail with scientific "progress" by adding two new continents and 6000 miles of ocean to the (then) "known world" as areas to be both exploited and understood (in that order).
When we consider how recently the discoveries of Columbus, Galileo, and Newton took place in the context of time as is now understood by the scientifically literate, perhaps we can gain a better understanding of how important human cognition has been to what now- since Darwin- can also be seen as the cultural Evolution our species has been experiencing through use of its cognitive powers, as critically assisted by our unique curiosity.
To return this short essay to this blog's customary focus on cannabis, our contemporary world is now overpopulated, divided by murderous competition, and being uniquely threatened in ways we refuse to address. None of those conditions could possibly exist without our marvelous brains, which are not only uniquely cognitive, but also prey to debilitating anxiety.
September 09, 2012
Post Convention ThoughtsAs yet another Presidential campaign grinds toward its November conclusion, its strident debates have become as revealing for what is never discussed by either party, as opposed to the issues they wrangle over incessantly. Specifically, neither mentions the perennial failure of American drug policy, let alone how the scope of that failure was increased dramatically right after the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970.
In fact, considerable popular dissatisfaction with our drug policy is evidenced by the existence of "medical marijuana" laws in a third of all US states and the fact that similar laws remain under active consideration in an increasing number of others. Nevertheless, the federal government continues to insist that "herbal" cannabis cannot possibly be medicine and neither political party has taken a stand on the issue in the 16 years since Proposition 215 was approved by California voters in 1996.
On the political front, despite the partisan differences that erupt every four years over taxes, national defense, and other "social" issues, the drug "war" that began almost immediately after passage of the CSA in 1970 continues to receive bipartisan support.
That should be amazing, especially when one realizes that the CSA was based entirely on the medically incompetent assertions of US Attorney General John Mitchell in 1969 at the behest of his Watergate buddy, then-President Richard Nixon. Mitchell's excursion into Pharmacology was clearly prompted by the Supreme Court's unexpected decision, in a case involving LSD guru Timothy Leary: that the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was unconstitutional on Fifth Amendment grounds.
Nixon needed Mitchell's rhetorical help because he was under attack by a youthful peace movement for escalating the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam; the Court's decision not only took away federal power over "marijuana," it also threatened the Harrison Act by which the feds had arrogated the power to "regulate" opium and coca products in 1914. In other words, the Court had, perhaps unwittingly, threatened all federal jurisdiction over drugs, something the punitive Nixon could not have tolerated under any circumstances.
That the drug war is an abject policy failure has been an open secret since the late William F. Buckley Jr. first said so in print in 1995. Twenty-seven years after Buckley and forty-two years of Drug War defeats, that's hardly news. The question its victims (who serve the time and foot the bill) should really be be asking is what would it take to at least mitigate such a rip-off policy failure?
Perhaps the answer may be revealed by another question: why did Hitler's Third Reich fail in a dozen years, while Fidel Castro has retained control of Cuba since 1959, despite intense American hostility?
The answer is that Hitler and Germany committed mutual suicide by attacking too many enemies in too short a time. Castro, on the other hand, has skillfully retained control of Cuba by exploiting his advantages. The closest he, Cuba, (and the world) came to nuclear war was when Kruschchev was forced to back down after smuggling nuclear weapons into Cuba in 1962.
The lesson seems to be that wars that don't threaten their antagonists with destruction can be fought indefinitely; especially if they manage to reward all sides. Those conditions were admirably met by America's war on drugs; especially after the CSA became UN policy retroactively upon passage: drug "criminals" are rewarded by enhanced profits, law enforcement agencies, by guaranteed budgets and enhanced opportunities for graft, and "rogue" nations- Mexico and Colombia- for example, have learned to tolerate illegal drug production and smuggling on an industrial scale for the increased foreign exchange they generate. Oh yes; all it takes to create a brand new illegal market under the CSA is an administrative decision by whoever happens to be the American AG.
Given the emotional nature of "drug" issues and the enormous reluctance of politicians to admit old mistakes, we may have a long wait before any American President would risk modifying the CSA.
That said, I'm sure an Obama Administration would be a lot more open to the idea of ratcheting down the drug war than one led by a (Mormon) President Romney.
August 30, 2012
Science and Population 2Last week I posted a short entry on the noxious environmental effects of overpopulation. Since then, I've had a bit more time to look at the issue from a variety of different viewpoints and have found that, like so many other problems we haven't had time to think about for a while, all aspects have become worse a lot faster than was thought possible. It's not just greenhouse gases and our failure to address the climate problem; it's also about the impetus our rapidly growing US population (which has at least doubled since the end of WW2) is having on American farming. In a word, Agricultural industrialization since the Fifties, largely driven by greed, has been a disaster. Meat production has been streamlined and consolidated for beef, pork and poultry. Animals are treated less humanely than ever in crowded conditions, they are fed a generally unhealthy diet in the interest of diminished cost and convenience.
Waste storage and disposal are major problems with all three industries and has a significant ripple effect, on the environment, on water, on other crops, and also on human consumers. Ultimately, grain fed beef is almost certainly contributing to human obesity. We are also receiving obligatory hormones and antibiotics from all.
A current environmental example is that the Gulf Coast states now being inundated with record rainfall from Hurricane Isaac also account for the bulk of our record chicken production; thus massive stream and groundwater contamination must be taking place as this is written.
It's also interesting that John Calhoun, the modern researcher who identified and forecast this problem also carried out a classic experiment that demonstrated the noxious effects of overcrowding in Norway Rats alongside of the emergent Agricultural Industries that were busy proving his point.
Behavioral trends also suggest that humans are starting to respond to the emotional stresses of overcrowding in much the same way as Calhoun's rats.
August 26, 2012
Science and Population 1Even though its precise definition remains elusive, there can be little doubt that the combination of unbiased observation, hypothesis, and experimental validation now generally recognized as the Scientific Method revolutionized our species' ability to both understand and exert a measure of control over its planetary environment. Not until the advent of Science five centuries ago could human culture have been accelerated to the degree that has allowed our species to progress from its first steam locomotive in 1815 to the successful launch of a Mars explorer in a just under two hundred years.
Ironically, our exploitation of Science and the ever increasing material rewards of scientific technology have not been accompanied by a commensurate degree of wisdom or restraint; thus we are continuing to exacerbate a uniquely human debacle: our single-minded pursuit of progress has overpopulated the planet without regard to potential consequences and despite a series of timely warnings, both early and late, that too many humans on the planet could represent a serious problem with dire repercussions.
Rather than take those warnings seriously, they were rejected out of hand. Apparently, because the authors' specific dire predictions didn't come true, their underlying ideas were ignored and have continued to be ignored even after credible evidence of a specific problem: that of anthropogenic climate change, began to accumulate over forty years ago. It's now clear the the build up of CO2 would have started with expanded use of the fossil fuels and population growth that accompanied the Industrial Revolution we are now trapped in and must somehow sustain as we attempt somehow, to mitigate the effects of increased levels of greenhouse gases on Earth's climate.
The underlying explanation seems to be that we humans were so easily seduced by the siren song of scientific "progress" that we ignored the threats implicit in the alarming Twentieth Century population growth for far too long.
More on this subject later.
August 22, 2012
Generational DifferencesNews that Mark David Chapman will be considered for parole a seventh time seems like an an appropriate subject to consider because the dominant themes in his assassination of John Lennon and fixation on J.D. Salinger’s
What examinations of thousands of cannabis applicants have quite unexpectedly- but convincingly- revealed is that today's "cannabis industry" didn't begin to grow to its present size until the early Sixties after Baby Boomers had been exposed to Beat Generation authors in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Clearly, their youthful interest in a plant made illegal in 1937 is what led to development of an illegal market under very noses the feds from about 1960 on.
After the Supreme Court struck down the MTA in 1969, it was quickly replaced by an even more arbitrary piece of legislation based on the ridiculous drug "scheduling" concept contrived by John Mitchell and still fiercely defended by the DEA.
The resonance between a disaffected adolescent as personified by Salinger himself, his Holden Caulfield character and Chapman would be as obvious to many as the grotesque mismanagement of Chapman's case by the American legal and psychiatric establishments. Beyond that, Democrats and Republicans will probably see the issue along lines dictated by dogma.
Most Democrats are likely to see it as irrational to confine a mentally ill patient 21 hours a day in a high security prison rather than a secure hospital where he could be managed by medical professionals. The response of the GOP to Chapman's petition will predictably be to "throw away the key;" perhaps with an expression of regret that his trial wasn't followed by speedy Texas style execution.
A further thought: Holden Caulfied was clearly modeled on Pre-Boomer Salinger, who had a distant father and problems succeeding in the expensive prep schools he was sent to; also a marvelous ability to speak directly to troubled youth. Yet he didn't mention marijuana in Catcher. On the other hand, Boomer Chapman, for whom Caulfield was a hero, was abused by his own father and also a high-school toker.
August 20, 2012
Population Growth and Competitive Self DestructionOne of the great anomalies of human history is that the founding of the United States in 1787 corresponds roughly to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, less precisely defined chronologically, but acknowledged as a phenomenon that has radically reshaped the modern world over the same general interval. Since 1804, about when the IR is thought to have started, the planet's human population has grown from an estimated one billion to an astounding seven billion today.
Ironically, the fusion of thirteen separate ex-colonies, each struggling to go its own way under Articles of Confederation into a single nation under a tripartite Constitution was a critical first step in the creation of the United States. During and after its (their) subsequent erratic development as a single nation, the US has risen from relative global insignificance into a veritable superpower. By the end of World War 2 in August 1945, it had become the sole possessor of nuclear weapons and its own territory had been nearly untouched by a war that left other "advanced" nations in ruins. It had also played a decisive role in the defeat of the three rogue dictatorships that, as the Axis Powers, had been most responsible for the conflict.
Since August 1945, the United States has hosted the United Nations and become a mecca for seekers of both political freedom and economic opportunity. Its colleges and universities have helped educate hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of advanced students from around the world, many of whom later made major contributions to their chosen fields. Its own population has more than doubled from 149 million in 1945 to over 311 million today. Yet; sadly, any claim that those changes represent “progress,” or have been accompanied by an increase in overall happiness and satisfaction would be difficult to make. Quite the opposite: America leads the world in incarceration. It is increasingly seen as an inept meddler in the affairs of other nations and the attempts of its military to enforce American notions of “democracy” and "freedom" have inspired violent- even suicidal- resentment of the type that produced 9/11 and still smolders beneath the surface in many parts of the world.
At the same time,it would also be difficult to claim any other nations are in better shape on a planet struggling with economic instability, violent religious conflict, and accelerating climate change. How this state of affairs developed is something many people simply don't want to discuss- or even consider- but, as a species, we ignore such painful reality at our peril.
Concerns about the planetary consequences of human cultural devolution were beyond my wildest imaginings when I started asking cannabis applicants why they were seeking a medical dispensation in 2001. How the two have come to be so densely connected will be the subject of subsequent posts.
August 18, 2012
Annals of SpeculationA favorite human speculation is considering what might have happened if a particular event or human decision had either not taken place or had a significantly different outcome. For example, if an eighteen year old Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip had not assassinated Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia, on a 1914 June day in Sarajevo, would World War One have even happened? What if the Archduke had survived? Indeed, one could ask similar questions about any of the myriad assassinations that abruptly changed history: Julius Cesar, Abraham Lincoln, the Kennedys, to name but a few of the most familiar. Beyond that, a detailed review of each reveals several contingencies that might have altered their outcomes. Thus we are left with the idea that human history has been shaped by cascades of unpredictable events.
On the other hand, a very different concept has dominated religious thinking for centuries, one that may still be preferred by a majority of humans: that an omniscient, all powerful deity created the universe and would not be surprised by any single human action or decision; nevertheless, God is also believed to judge individuals on the basis of their specific choices ("free will"). That such a belief is inconsistent with ordinary logic does not appear to faze "true believers" of many persuasions.
My purpose here is not to discuss religion, but to question how a US policy that was radically altered when the Supreme Court declared the Marijuana Tax Act unconstitutional in 1969 was not only replaced, but greatly intensified in less than a year, thus becoming both a domestic and an international “war on drugs,” almost without missing a beat and without any serious discussion; either in Congress or at the UN. An additional irony is that the same federal bureaucrat primarily responsible for the deceptive 1937 "tax" act nullified by the Court had, as the first-ever UN "High Commissioner of Narcotics," led the campaign to convert his dubious legislation into global prohibition.
It's also important to note that as this is written in 2012, there has never been an unbiased modern study of cannabis- clinical or otherwise- in a setting where it was not already "illegal." Also, the US prison population, already spiking up in the early Sixties, has quadrupled since the MTA was replaced by the Controlled Substances Act conjured up by Watergate conspirator John Mitchell in 1969 was passed by Congress in 1970. The bottom line is that a small amount of "marijuana" detected at any UN member nation's port of entry can result in arrest and prosecution based on the UN's (impossibly vague) version of Mitchell's nebulous "Schedule One."
These policies offend me as a physician because a comparatively simple clinical study of its chronic users reveals that cannabis is a safe and useful medicine; despite the DEA's (uninformed) opinion. The primary reason its obvious medical benefits haven't been recognized has been its US illegality, which- ironically and tragically- was somehow “grandfathered” into UN policy after John Mitchell’s imaginative scheduling algorithm became the basis for American domestic policy.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, more properly-the Criminal Market Creation Act- made things a lot worse. Not only did it make useful medicines categorically illegal and create multiple violent criminal markets; it also denied important medical benefits to the whole world and anointed the US Attorney General as overseer of the ever-expanding list of categorically illegal Schedule One substances!
The disastrous American experience with (alcohol) Prohibition should have taught us that illegal markets for desired commodities are potentially enormous and impossible for police to "control;" they are also bereft of the usual safety and quality standards.
Over four decades of experience with this expanding US/UN folly have produced rogue nations with economies dominated by the global illegal drug trade; yet the pressure to change an obviously failing and destructive policy has been scant and largely ineffective.
Why the silence? What would it take to change such an obvious act of cognitive folly? Are we even capable of saving ourselves? The available evidence suggests we are not and the outcome of the raucous, impossibly stupid American Presidential campaign may turn out to be an important straw in the wind.
August 07, 2012
Why Analysis of the War on Drugs is ImportantAmerican drug policy, which began with the Harrison Act of 1914 and had evolved into a global “war on drugs” by 1971, has been such an obvious policy disaster that its continuing enforcement by both America and the UN can be seen as a disturbing manifestation of humanity's tendency to ignore serious existential threats. In a world where overpopulation, rapid climate change, damage to the global ecology and a struggling economy, are but a few of the serious problems confronting our species, it behooves us to study such problems rather than ignore them on the very logical premise that the better we understand them, the more intelligently they can be dealt with. Unfortunately, many humans still seem reluctant to do so, an attitude that encourages apathy and calls for urgent change if we hope not to be overwhelmed by a “perfect storm” of long-neglected problems.
That the US had no national drug policy before 1914, makes the Drug War amenable to contemporary analysis. That it has been endorsed by the world via UN treaty means the world’s political leadership has embraced it; thus an objective analysis, if possible, might potentially be understood by a majority of literate humans. This is written in the hope that the policy's approaching centennial (December 17, 2014) might provoke a long overdue objective discussion of two rather obvious problems: first, a fundamentally flawed and and destructive drug policy affecting the entire world, and second, the human preference for denial; a behavioral characteristic that has allowed similar anomalous policies to be imposed on whole nations and blocs of nations with calamitous consequences.
What has motivated me to undertake this expanded analysis has been the opportunity to conduct a study of American “marijuana” prohibition (euphemistically referred by proponents as “control”) from the perspective of its victims. The accumulated data, which appear unique, have persuaded me that they should be shared with as many others as possible for the reasons listed above.
Because the modern internet allows individual bloggers of limited means to share information with the whole world, it seems like the least I can do.
July 31, 2012
American Irony: “Gun Control” or “Drug Control?”More than a week later, the mass shootings at an Aurora, CO theater are still attracting the attention of a world that was already overflowing with bad news. As more information about James Eagan Holmes trickles in, he seems even more a typical schizophrenic of the type housed in state mental hospitals by the thousands in the Fifties.
Well before Ronald Reagan became Governor of California in the Sixties, the state had started reducing the state hospital system that was caring for thousands of inpatients considered too unstable to be managed at home. To single out Reagan for all the changes that transpired before and after his tenure would be to oversimplify some very complex issues: both the state's population and the number of patients in state hospitals were increasing rapidly; pressure to "de-institutionalize" mental patients for both humane and fiscal reasons had actually begun with the availability of Phenothiazines, the first “tranquilizers.”
I would argue that a more critical factor has been (and still is) Psychiatry's lack of a coherent classification for the conditions it has been attempting to treat from the late Nineteenth Century on. The problem is readily understandable: emotional and behavioral problems simply do not lend themselves to the type of objective analysis Pathology provides so readily for the rest of clinical Medicine.
What I do hold Psychiatry and its affiliated disciplines responsible for is their delusion that the highly conjectural DSM system of classification which has been expanding since the Fifties, allows the objective clinical management similar to that provided by medical disciplines.
The results of relying on an imprecise nosology have been chaos; especially once the DSM began to evolve into a mental illness “bible” for non-clinicians: police, judges, social workers, teachers and counselors who do have legitimate professional interests in the same general population, but tend to lack the clinical focus physicians are traditionally expected to emphasize. Unfortunately, punishment has been emphasized at the expense of prevention and treatment which have also been forced by prevailing dogma to conform to a punitive model.
One result is the controversy now swirling around James Eagan Holmes: people of varying backgrounds heatedly arguing over how an obvious schizophrenic should be managed within the Criminal Justice System. At the same time, there is meager discussion of the incredible ease with which disturbed people can purchase guns legally in the United States, which has the dubious honor of leading the world in gun ownership, gunshot deaths, and levels of incarceration.
On a related subject, we passed a Prohibition Amendment to our Constitution in 1918; after it failed to produce the utopian benefits predicted, we repealed it, but failed to notice that it had provided criminal gangs with a successful business model, one that could be readily adapted to other illegal markets, such as the one for "narcotics" created by the Harrison Act of 1914. In 1937, we created a criminal market for smoked "marijuana" (“reefer”) for devious reasons almost as an after thought. When it suddenly expanded for no apparent reason in the Sixties, the problem was "fixed" with new legislation (The Controlled Substances Act) proposed by an Attorney General. Almost immediately, global criminal organizations were able to develop multiple illegal drug markets for the drugs the CSA prohibited (“controlled”). Forty years later, they are still expanding. The sheer number of “controlled” substances increases almost weekly and Marijuana, the most lucrative crop harvested in North America for over a decade, is also being smuggled in massive amounts across our Southern border.
Instead of questioning why those phenomena have occurred, right wing politicians demand more cops and bigger prisons, while their more timid opponents in “reform” damn “recreational” use without understanding that most chronic users (themselves included) were troubled adolescents who had tried "weed" before the age of 18 and have benefited substantially from its anxiolytic effects, which are far safer than those of other drugs, especially its 2 legal alternatives.
All of which prompts me to wonder if there is any hope for the survival of the smartest of mammalian species, the only one with the scientific skills to have allowed them to overpopulate the only planet available for the foreseeable future.
The stage now seems to be set for the most gripping human melodrama of all time: how will we deal with the global climate change we are producing? Unfortunately, before we can start correcting that problem, we will have to understand another: our own behavior.
July 24, 2012
Stop the Presses! He’s a Schizophrenic, not a Mass Murderer!I found myself screaming that at the TV as I watched the blank, disinterested face of James Egan Holmes while he sat in a Colorado Courtroom with his red-dyed hair listening to, but clearly not comprehending, the monotonous drone of court functionaries scheduling his next hearing at which he is expected to be charged with murder! I wondered, “has it really come to this?” Have we as a society become so confused that we've consigned nearly all of what was once Psychiatry to the Criminal Justice System? Doesn’t anyone realize that back in the Fifties, Holmes would almost certainly have been recognized as a schizophrenic long before he started spending the grant money he’d been awarded to pursue a PhD in “neuroscience” at a leading Medical School to purchase the guns and ammunition used shoot seventy-odd fellow humans in a spasm of uncomprehending rage?
Not that schizophrenia was that well understood in the Fifties. Nor is it understood any better today; rather, it's largely ignored until or unless, a schizophrenic commits a "crime;" which may help explain why our jail and prison system has expanded four-fold since 1970, even as the once huge state hospital system we built for the "mentally ill" has all but disappeared.
Telling the story of our nation's descent into Drug War Madness won't be easy; it involves far more than drugs and the vague concept of "mental illness" (for which Medicine still lacks a coherent system of classification). Among other things, it will require an understanding of America's fixation on guns and killing, a trait that has made us the most over-gunned society on Earth by a wide margin and imposes a penalty of thousands of extra deaths from homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings. Just how many is a matter of "debate" because the NRA is also one of the most powerful and dishonest lobbies on Earth.
Another critical element in the early history of drug plicy has to do with President McKinley's assassination in 1901 because it propelled Teddy Roosevelt into the White House. Among many far-reaching decisions, TR elevated a medical bureaucrat named Hamilton Wright MD to a position that allowed him to pursue his obsession legal prohibition of as the best way to prevent "addiction." Wright's concept meshed with that of Francis Burton Harrison, who helped write the deceptive Harrison act that would eventually give our federal bureaucracy the power to both define "addiction" and decree its treatment; a powers it has never relinquished and which enable the drug war to use its enormous legal, political and economic clout with such abandon.
This seems like a good place to stop for now. I hope soon to resume this narrative; in the meantime, I'm willing to predict that until very recently, James Holmes was what his record suggested, bright, albeit shy; a good student with no significant red flags in his family or behavioral background.
July 21, 2012
Mistakes Too Big to be AdmittedIt has become increasingly obvious to those with an interest in cannabis ("marijuana") policy that either the Obama Administration can’t control its bureaucracy, or the President and his AG were just blowing smoke when they said shortly after the 2008 election they would take it easy on states with medical marijuana laws. Nor, could their message have ever reached Melinda Haag, Holder's US Attorney for California's Northern District (and a 2010 Obama appointee!).
After Haag's October 2011 press conference, in which she reaffirmed total federal rejection of any possibility that "marijuana" could be considered "medicine," DEA raids on dispensaries ceased (they were, in any event, becoming sources of local hostility and anti-government resentment). Instead, dispensary landlords began receiving letters from Haag's office threatening them with forfeiture if they continued renting to violators of federal drug law.
The new tactics are working; a record number of dispensaries have been evicted by landlords who chose not to risk loss of valuable property to the government. The down side has been a lot of unnecessary suffering by "legitimate" patients. Unfortunately; because government propaganda has convinced most "straights" that much of "medical" use is simply "recreational," the cannabis-naive public doesn't realize the importance of the relief it provides, nor the needless cruelty of making it nearly impossible to obtain by someone who has come to depend on it.
However, change may be in the air; recent high-profile forfeiture actions brought by US Attorney Haag against Harborside, the entity that operates dispensaries in Oakland and San Jose that have been targeted, will bear watching. The Harborside organization has emerged as an important player in the shadowy world of "medical marijuana" beyond California. It has also been the subject of widely seen and generally favorable documentary videos stressing its professionalism and commitment to both cannabis science and to product quality. Harborside is clearly "not your nephew's pot club," to paraphrase an obnoxiously overworked item of federal propaganda. Harborside's brain trust has promised a stout defense of its record-keeping practices and compliance with existing law.
Prosecutor Haag, on the other hand, revealed that her suspicions regarding Harborside's culpability had been whetted by her belief that any operation doing that well must be doing something illegal!
Thus do the advocates of arbitrary medical practice unwittingly reveal their ignorance and prejudice, even as they presume to enforce a law rooted in similar errant beliefs against patients who were often the victims of careless or dysfunctional upbringing.
History is replete with similar examples: poorly conceived policies that were rigorously enforced for long intervals despite the obvious social damage they were producing.
So has the ultimate replacement of such policies often been needlessly difficult, especially if long delayed by denial or stubborn defense of the policy's essential doctrine. The American Civil War, qualifies in both respects and the depth of "Dixie's" intrinsic racism, though lessening, cannot be denied.
Also, one has only to mention Tiberias, Caligula, or Nero to appreciate that history has a long memory for bad behavior. In the modern era, just as Hitler's name is inextricably linked to Nuremberg, so will Nixon and Mitchell likely be associated with Watergate and the Controlled Substances Act.
Ms Haag would be well advised to read more history before marching destructively through California's Medical marijuana experiment.
Perhaps she should also ask herself why a drug that was attacked by two disgraced lawyers with no expertise in Pharmacology has remained America's most frequently tried and commonly used illegal drug since the original Monitoring the Future surveys began in 1975.
Finally; one of the more consistent scenarios exposed in the wake of embarrassing political failures (like the drug war will inevitably become) is misplaced confidence in the false assumptions on which it depends.
In the case of the drug war, the key assumption that underpin the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 are more thread bare than ever: what they really add up to is that cannabis can't possibly be medicine because John Mitchell (who died in 1988) and Richard Nixon (ditto 1994) said so.
Isn't it time we freed ourselves from the ghosts of Watergate? Doctor Tom
July 12, 2012
A Draft from the Past- and a new clinical correlationI don't post every entry I compose. Some are saved as drafts for possible later use or because something else caught my eye before I got around to posting it. The following was composed in July, 2012, but never posted. Just this past month, I somewhat belatedly realized that an unusually high percentage of the patients I've been taking histories from for over ten years were self-medicating for autoimmune disorders. The July 12, 2012 entry noted, "An exciting recent insight requiring further investigation is that it (cannabis) may also relieve a wide variety of symptoms of autoimmune disorders." Today, I Googled that same issue and was rewarded by an exciting hit. This is a rare case of old clinical correlations being confirmed by new research.
Text from July 2102: I just became aware of NIH grants that have been supporting research at the University of South Carolina Medical School for over five years. The Doctors Nagarkati, both PhDs, appear to be husband and wife. although limited to animals and tissue culture, their work clearly indicates that both cannabinoids and endocannabinoids possess enormous potential benefits for human patients- even as the DEA and local police continue to raid California dispensaries asserting that marijuana is still "illegal under federal law," (one based on the unfounded assumptions in Schedule One of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970).
Aren’t the FDA, the DEA, NIDA, and the NIH part of a federal bureaucracy nominally controlled by President Obama? Is it possible to embarrass either them, or Obama for their continuing observance of the scientifically baseless and intellectually bankrupt Controlled Substances Act passed over 40 years ago at the behest of two lawyers forced out of office for dishonesty? Given the circumstances, isn’t it time to rethink our destructive “War” on drugs?
My own interest has been sustained by an ongoing study of the benefits to (now over seven thousand) Californians seeking protection from arrest under the aegis of Proposition 215.
July 10, 2012
Geo-Climatology and PoliticsWeather is to climate as daily news is to history: both tend to occur in patterns that have facilitated important human activities- agriculture is perhaps the best example because it clearly allowed the first civilizations to develop.
However, science also discloses that long established patterns are occasionally punctuated by one-off events that would have been unpredictable. Perhaps the most familiar example is the extinction of the dinosaurs as first proposed in 1980 by the father and son team of Luis and Walter Alvarez, both UC Berkeley professors. They were led to predict such an event because of a thin layer of iridium found at the same geologic stratum (K-T Boundary) all over the world.
Their prediction was dramatically confirmed within a few years by the discovery of a crater near the tip of the Yucatan peninsula. It is now widely accepted that an asteroid the size of Manhattan struck near the present-day Mexican village of Chicxulub roughly sixty-five million years ago and among that event’s many consequences was the survival of a clade of mammals that was then able to evolve; thus do we modern humans owe our existence to a remote event that has become so well accepted that astronomers maintain a watch on the most likely sources of such missiles so as to anticipate not only arrival dates, but those that may graze Earth's atmosphere.
While there could have been no human observers to record the Chicxulub event, the accumulated evidence adds up to one of the best vindications of modern science one could imagine: the existence of such an impact site had been predicted by the global presence of a thin layer of iridium that corresponded to the time dinosaurs were suspected to have gone extinct.
Nevertheless, nay-sayers (usually fundamentalist defenders of the tenets of traditional "Desert" religions on rhetorical or theoretical grounds) abound. They may not have even heard of the dinosaur extinction hypothesis, but would, in any event, be required by their faith to oppose it.
What characterizes such rhetorical arguments is an ignorance that requires essential facts to be either ignored or misrepresented. Thus does ignorance support further ignorance; a rhetorical technique that essentially cancels out logic and science.
Thus is it likely that current scientific evidence casting doubt on belief in an anthropomorphic creator is either ignored or doubted by a majority of our species.
I can't think of a better reason to support an admittedly wishy-washy incumbent in November. His challenger is an unabashed fundamentalist, almost a cultist. Not only does Romney have the advantage of obscene amounts of money and the backing of four doctrinaire Catholics on the Supreme Court, he would, if elected, be able to appoint one or more assistant justices and thus guarantee both the drug war's survival and the continued implosion of our species.
As it is, the recent (and somewhat surprising) defeat of the fundamentalist wing of the Supreme Court by its Chief Justice may have been both a reprieve for Obama and a chance for me point out the drug war's largely unsuspected contributions to the decline of American health care.
June 27, 2012
Questionable Practices by State Licensing Boards; Questionable Medical Assumptions by Federal AgenciesI was recently surprised to learn that physicians in the Eastern US are being punished by their state licensing authorities for opting to treat a controversial form of Lyme Disease in patients who remain symptomatic after a standard course of antibiotic therapy. Two groups are being punished: the doctors whose licenses were suspended and the patients they were treating. The latter have been told that because their symptoms are psychosomatic, the only therapy they are eligible for is psychiatric. Although not identical to a similar controversy over the benefits of “Medical Marijuana,” the parallels are striking nevertheless.
One important difference is that at least some of the state officials disputing the treatment of Lyme disease are physicians, whereas he federal provenance for “marijuana” legislation has always lacked professional standing.
The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was sponsored by Harry Anslinger, a bureaucrat without medical credentials long before there were any peer reviewed studies of inhaled cannabis, clinical or otherwise. Thirty-two years later, the Marijuana Tax Act was declared unconstitutional on legal(First Amendment) grounds; yet the same assertions were repeated and expanded to include other drugs by lawyers (John Mitchell and Richard Nixon) who were just as unqualified to rule on what constituted "acceptable American Medical practice" in 1970 as Anslinger had been to condemn "reefer" in 1937. Even more unwarranted was assignment of the statutory power to make such decisions to the Attorney General.
Given the enormous amount of published evidence supporting the efficacy of both inhaled and orally ingested herbal cannabis as medicine over the past 42 years, the continuing insistence of the DEA, NIDA, and other federal agencies to the contrary is ludicrous, unwarranted, and self-serving.
To base such a destructive and expensive policy on empty rhetoric is disgraceful. That most of the post hoc behavioral research supporting the drug war has been sponsored by NIDA, and how compliant "research" relies on the erroneous assumptions of policy supporters who should know better will be the subject of future posts.
June 24, 2012
Discrediting the Drug War: Part 1The United States has been pursuing an intellectually dishonest policy of criminal drug prohibition ever since the Harrison Act was signed into law by Woodrow Wilson in December 1914. Never remotely successful at achieving its stated goals, the policy survived the demise of alcohol prohibition in 1933; primarily because it was not based on a Constitutional Amendment and the markets for opiates (now opioids) and cocaine it was assumed to "regulate" never became large enough to attract very much attention.
In 1937, the reach of American drug prohibition was expanded to embrace cannabis by Harry Anslinger's Marijuana Tax Act. Like Harrison, the MTA was a deceptive transfer tax that expanded federal police power, but with two important differences. First, Anslinger used the then-rare slang term "marijuana" as an all-inclusive generic for all products of the hemp plant, a detail that has had both a crippling effect on their commercial development and increasingly significant negative economic and environmental consequences. Second, also unlike Harrison, the MTA made no allowance for any possible medical use even if, as Doctor Woodward presciently suggested at the brief Congressional hearing, one or more therapeutic benefits were later disclosed by research.
What "Beat" writers would discover when they became the first authors to both inhale "marijuana" and write about their drug experiences were the instant anxiolytic effects of inhaled cannabis. Unfortunately, they were not able to describe their experiences in medical terms for a variety of reasons. Rather, the effects of inhaled cannabis became known collectively as the "high" produced by "weed," an eventuality that made it easier for John Mitchell's and Richard Nixon's Controlled Substances Act to demonize all "illicit" drug use after the MTA was unexpectedly declared unconstitutional by the Warren Court in 1969.
Thus was a critical dichotomy established between Baby Boomers and their elders, one that has been maintained and exploited by drug policy defenders since passage of the CSA in 1970. Whether originally based on bureaucratic ignorance (as seems likely) the stubborn defense of their destructive policy by an obviously self-interested federal bureaucracy in the face of mounting contradictory evidence is a disturbing abuse of power that tends to negate all the claimed benefits of democratic government.
Ironically, whether President Obama realizes it or not, he is an exemplar of the typical cannabis user profiled by my study: male, biracial, born after 1946, an unknown father, raised by a single mother with or without an assist from grandparents. The only intensifying circumstance would be an early adoption in which both parents remain unknown to the child.
June 21, 2012
The Human Tolerance for EvilModern humans have acquired an enormous amount of reliable information since Empirical Science began roughly five centuries ago with the brilliant work of two men: Galileo in Italy and Isaac Newton in England. However, what we don’t know is what the course of human history might have been had neither one survived the hazards of childhood. In other words, was science inevitable?
The remarkable acceleration of learning that followed is a matter of record; although opinions on the precise chronological boundaries of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution that followed may differ considerably, what can be appreciated is the accelerating rate at which new technologies have impacted our species and its planetary environment. Deep water navigation, more efficient weaponry, increased means of production, and gains in knowledge by the various physical and biological sciences have led to population growth, greater life expectancy, and an abundance of food and consumer goods. Unfortunately, what hasn't changed is an enduring human tendency: that of the more fortunate to use whatever means are available to exploit their less fortunate fellows
Thus the benefits of science and technology have been unevenly distributed from the outset. From our current vantage point, a convenient starting place for recognition of that situation and the discontent it produces may be early Nineteenth Century London which brought together two well known people of European heritage who chronicled the evils of inequality and whose writings can be studied: Karl Marx and Charles Dickens.
Neither man was a paragon in his personal life, but both were obsessed by injustice and railed against it. Ironically, Victorian London, where they wrote was also the capital of the first truly global empire, the breakup of which would generate a two stage "World War," the aftermath of which still divides the planet, both politically and ideologically.
Indeed, the human paradox, which has become more pressing with each passing year, was eloquently stated in a question asked by an unfortunate victim who died earlier this week.
May 30, 2012
Blame it on the Brain; Fear vs LogicThat the human brain is the "most complicated machine in the Universe" is, of course, hyperbole: not only do we lack the wherewithal to measure the cosmos, the attempts made thus far suggest that it's vast beyond our ability to measure, or even comprehend.
Nevertheless, our brains are far more complex than those of other mammals; also more highly evolved. Anthropologists estimate that as many as twenty-one hominid species went extinct before modern humans appeared some two hundred thousand years ago. The very looseness of that estimate suggests it has taken a long time for Homo sapiens sapiens to reach its present degree of uncertainty.
Nevertheless, we have learned a lot about both ourselves and our environment. Paradoxically, that accumulated information hasn’t been very reassuring. In fact, it may be that rather than satisfaction, our insatiable curiosity has generated more uncertainty than ever about our future as a species. In essence, that's because individual humans are prone to interpret information about similar phenomena quite differently, and equally prone to resort to violence in settling those differences.
Back to brain evolution: at some point a process now known as cognition enabled us to encode abstract ideas in ways that allow their more or less reliable transmission and discussion. Unfortunately, the more Science and literacy have informed us, the more they have divided our species, a truism famously exemplified by Galileo's punishment by the Pope for daring to publish telescopic findings that appeared to confirm unwelcome Copernican ideas relating the sun to its planets.
Galileo and Newton (near contemporaries) are also logical avatars for Empirical Science, the most reliable method for investigating the "natural" universe yet developed, a notion that has since been validated by the sheer mass of accurate information generated by scientists all over the world. Paradoxically; that enormous glut of scientific information has yet to make us feel safer or more secure; largely because of the disagreements it gives rise to.
In brief, the more we humans think we know, the more we disagree; but because science also made us more numerous and technology has enhanced our weaponry, it has also rendered us more capable of killing each other and/or disrupting our planetary environment without an accurate understanding of the culprit mechanisms or their consequences.
Several examples come to mind; "recorded" history is largely a record of wars fought between rival nations for economic advantage. As weaponry has been enhanced by technology, wars have became progressively more deadly for combatants and civilians alike. Although two "atomic" bombs arguably hastened Japanese surrender and thus saved both American and Japanese lives, and the atom was quickly hailed as the key to a more prosperous and peaceful future, the triumph of Teller over Oppenheimer told a different story. After several fusion weapons were tested by both sides, the dangers implicit in testing were realized and a degree of sanity has prevailed.
However, a realistic analysis of the current risk of nuclear war would be that ever since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a fragile nuclear truce has been in effect, one that could easily be broken if one of several nations that have pursued nuclear weapons development in violation of international treaties becomes convinced it has been targeted by another.
Beyond that, the “weaponization” of suicide, pioneered on a large scale by Japan towards the end of WW2, has been embraced and further refined by Islamic extremists who successfully used civilian airliners as flying bombs in September 2001 and have since demonstrated that the degree of suicidal extremism extant in various Muslim populations is enough to provoke reasonable concern.
Equally paradoxically, one of the few things the nations of the world do agree on is that anyone daring to bring even a small personal supply of cannabis across an international border should be immediately arrested and detained.
That such innocuous travelers are far more numerous than would-be suicide bombers is both a given and a reality that makes real suicide bombers more difficult to detect.
Talk about mistaken priorities...
May 21, 2012
A Courageous JudgeHopefully, this story will go viral on the internet, leak over to the rest of the media, and finally get the attention it deserves. It's the kind of man-bites dog human interest story that could put political pressure on both candidates in an election year and thus open them up to questions from the media about why they support the DEA and a policy as heartless and stupid as cannabis prohibition.
May 19, 2012
Headless in MexicoThe recent grotesque murders in Mexico, that (finally) caught the bemused attention of CNN, are a result of poverty and desperation; fallout from a brutal turf war over the smuggling of “marijuana” and other drugs that has been assiduously ignored by both governments for years; each for its own reasons. Another painful irony is that the most popular drug now being smuggled into the US is “marijuana,” the most benign of all "substances" on the DEA's forbidden "schedule one." In fact, were it not illegal, an honest Pharmaceutical industry could almost certainly have come up with a panoply of cannabis-based drugs that would be safer and more effective than the flood of synthetics touted in "ask your doctor" TV ads as palliation for the same symptoms: stress, insomnia, depression, and trouble focusing.
As an added bonus, herbal cannabis also relieves a plethora of somatic symptoms: various types of chronic pain, chronic diarrhea, whether caused by ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It also predictably lowers intaocular pressure in Glaucoma and effectively controls nausea; whether produced by cancer chemotherapy, antiretroviral drugs,or associated with migraine. Equally sadly, the generations of psychiatrists and psychologists whose "peer-reviewed" literature has been co-opted by NIDA since 1974 have had severely restricted choices for the treatment of vexing emotional symptoms.
Even less well known is suggestive evidence furnished by a study of cannabis users that many symptoms of stress can be traced to emotional trauma unwittingly inflicted within the family during childhood.
Although Mexico's prohibition-related murders only began in earnest in the late Nineties, their historical roots extend back to the utopian beliefs that persuaded bible-thumping Nineteenth Century US fundamentalists that prohibiting the sale of alcohol could succeed. That effort, an ignominious failure, was abandoned in 1933, but its failure was never officially conceded. Instead, the equally feckless federal policy of drug prohibition has not only survived, it has attained the status of a federal sacred cow- beyond the reach of Presidents, Congress, and the Judiciary. The policy's early survival is attributable to a dominant federal bureaucrat, Harry Anslinger Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 to 1962.
At about the time of Anslinger's retirement in 1962, a then largely unnoticed demographic phenomenon was already well underway; it began with VJ Day and would continue through 1964: the Baby Boom. As the huge crop of post-war babies began reaching maturity, it fell under the influence of a small coterie of literary shamans who were writing about their experiences with newly available consciousness-expanding drugs (psychedelics), including the inhaled form of cannabis that had been demonized by Anslinger as "marijuana." To Boomer parents, it may well have seemed that blowhard Harry actually knew what he was talking about.
In any event, the generation gap between the youthful "drug culture" and their “moral majority” elders led to a 1968 disaster: the election of the most insecure President in US history, a development which, in conjunction with a rare Supreme Court moment of clarity, quickly produced another tragedy: Anslinger’s Marijuana Tax Act was replaced by the even more invidious Controlled Substances Act. The CSA was almost demonic; although as historically bereft of scientific support as the MTA, it was promptly approved and immediately began empowering UN-mandated global drug prohibition through a treaty dating back to Anslinger.
Thus, as a bewildering footnote to history, we now have global drug prohibition supporting robust illegal markets in arms, drugs, and disadvantaged people that collectively generate billions of dollars a year. UN endorsement of the laws that enable those markets suggests that the human capacity for denial may be the greatest single threat to the long term survival of our species.
A recent example, familiar to anyone who has read history, was the acceptance of Adolph Hitler's racist doctrines by a German polity that was arguably as well educated and technically capable as any in Europe; yet enthusiastically followed Hitler into World War Two and national near-destruction less than seven years after his appointment as Chancellor.
However German acceptance of Hitler's policy was motivated, it led directly to World War Two. Paradoxically, it was only because his grandiosity led him to overreach that the threat he represented was ended by military defeat.
That the drug war's opponents have been both cut in on its profits and successfully scapegoated makes its ultimate termination less certain and more difficult to even conceptualize. Apropos of legality, it's probably significant that the German populace wasn’t required to actively support Nazism in 1935; only to accept the the Nuremberg laws by which Hitler consolidated the total power that encouraged him to invade Poland on September 1, 1939.
The tortuous path from the false doctrine of "Reefer Madness" to decapitated corpses in a Mexican mass grave has been more tortuous and slower to evolve, but the risks to our species may be even greater, given the planet's huge human population and degree of interdependence.
As for timing, we should remember that 11 months before the invasion of Poland, the British Prime Minister promised "peace in our time."
May 13, 2012
Cognitive Dissonance on the BorderYesterday I came across a “documentary” on Rupert Murdoch’s Discovery Channel entitled “Texas Drug Wars,” it turned out to be a state police clone of the federal “Border Wars” trash I’d seen earlier on Murdoch's National Geographic Channel; only worse. The decidedly mixed message is that evil Mexican Cartels are doing their level best to smuggle deadly “narcotics” across, under, around, and over the border with a bewildering panoply of techniques that simply can’t be stopped. Fortunately, Texas Rangers and other State Police are on the job with flak jackets, automatic weapons, helicopters, and a panoply of high tech sensors to harass them and (occasionally) intercept their evil contraband- or at least force them to abandon it; thus keeping (some) “off the street” and hurting the cartels in their wallets, “where it hurts."
Unfortunately, there is no data on either the evil product line’s production or other costs, or their sales volume, thus the Cartels' profit and loss picture remains highly speculative. In fact, the whole exercise was such utter nonsense, the immediate question any rational viewer should be asking is: why bother?
Silly me. The drug war’s sponsors have been doing this for years because it works. We know that because no matter how much money the drug war wastes and how much human damage it causes, it continues to be a high priority policy for the US and the other “sovereign” governments that pretend to take it seriously.
So long as that’s the case, the drug warriors on both sides of the border will have job security, bribes will be paid, court dockets will be choked with interminable drug cases, the prisons no one can afford will be kept full and we can go on polluting the planet with CO2. Oh yes; we can also save money on public education because many of the the kids arrested on pot charges won’t finish school. An overlooked saving is that because the symptoms they can’t obtain medical insurance to treat are more effectively treated by cannabis, they don’t add to our sky-high medical costs and the booze they don’t drink won’t encourage violent behavior.
There are, of course, other consequences of Nixon’s forty year folly, but discussing them has never been a high priority with the Fourth Estate for reasons they prefer not to discuss; perhaps because the drug war’s villains and heroes in uniform are more interesting to advertisers than a bunch of desperately poor “illegals” willing to risk their lives to cross a dangerous border in search of a better life.
May 12, 2012
Science and Belief“Connecting the Dots” between what one already knows and new phenomena one has just recognized describes one aspect of intuition, As such, it’s also an important component of cognition and scientific progress. In the Eighteenth Century, Scottish Geologists James Hutton and Charles Lyell, after becoming aware of marine fossils on upland locations in their native land, became convinced that the world was considerably older than previously believed. Lyell’s views, in particular, were already well known to Charles Darwin, when the young naturalist made his brief, but pivotal, visit to the Galapagos Islands during the Beagle’s five year voyage.
That was because, by remarkable coincidence, Lyell had given a copy of the first volume of his seminal Principles of Geology to Robert FitzRoy, Captain of the Beagle, who would become Darwin’s room-mate and companion on their historic voyage. Thus, the fledgling naturalist was intellectually well prepared for the critical intuition that would eventually mature into a theory that, although still scoffed at and actively opposed by many educated people, has reshaped both Biology and modern thought.
Interestingly enough, both FitzRoy and Lyell eventually disagreed with Darwin’s hypothesis as expressed in The Origin of Species. The emotionally unstable FitzRoy, who would eventually take his own life in dramatic fashion, was far more outspoken; and Lyell more reserved. In fact, Lyell may have been a part of the arrangement that eventually protected Darwin's claim to priority over that of the younger and less well connected Alfred Russel Wallace, whose work some find more thorough.
Be that as it may, what Darwin actually intuited was an idea that obsessed him for the rest of his life: namely that a causal relationship existed between the different beak structures he observed on birds of the same species, and the strikingly different climates and growing conditions he found on nearby islands. His intuition was that, over time, the beaks had somehow become adapted to the different environment. Darwin had no knowledge of the multiple other factors that made the Galapagos environmentally unique, such as the the Humboldt current; nor, because SCUBA diving was unknown, that Marine Iquanas would have been even better examples than his (misnamed) "finches."
He also had no way of knowing that other similarly situated large islands adjacent to continents (New Zealand, Madagascar, and Greenland) would eventually be recognized as examples of the same general phenomenon; nor could he have realized how much validation his intuition would receive from other scientific discoveries long after his death.
Indeed, discovery of structure of DNA provided both a logical and biochemical explanation of how natural selection could have been operating over millions of years to produce the species variety exhibited by Earth’s biota, absent any “intelligent designer” but has not convinced the most die-hard theists who continue to flaunt their misunderstanding of both Science and history.
That the same disconnect between factual observation and belief continues to haunt modern American political and “scientific” thought is well illustrated by the continued insistence of several Federal agencies that herbal cannabis (“marijuana”) cannot possibly have “medical” benefits despite a massive accumulation of credible evidence to the contrary. There are several reasons for that anomaly, many of which have to do with what I now think of as federal “M and M’ (Money and Morality) logic: they have a monopoly on tax dollars while reform had to depend on contributions from a disorganized gaggle of medically uninformed activists. Beyond that, he smear of illegality has an obvious effect on belief despite the fact that the federal government position is the one that is both factually and intellectually dishonest.
May 01, 2012
Is Latin America Finally Waking Up?I have a friend who has remained more in touch with the Drug Policy Reform “movement” than I have. Recently, when I’ve been pessimistic about Obama’s lack of resolve, he has countered by claiming that Latin American leaders are uniting to force him into a more realistic position on the drug war. Today, I did a little checking and found a recent Miami Herald column that backs him up and can be found all over the internet
Oppenheimer is a well informed, no-nonsense, commentator on drug policy, so I am impressed. What he says about Mexico also makes sense: the new President will have to back away from the carnage on the border and the only way US demand can be reduced would be lowering US prices by forcing the DEA to back off.
It promises to be interesting. At the same time, it’s disgusting that those at the top of “sovereign” nations have to use the lives of their poorest citizens as bargaining chips in an argument over a stupid, failing policy left over from the 2nd Nixon Administration.
April 29, 2012
A Politically Incorrect Study; Challenging a PresidentWhen I realized, relatively early in the course of screening Cannabis applicants in 2001, that all were chronic users to one degree or another, I saw the examinations required by Proposition 215 as an opportunity to learn about what had impelled them to become "heads." At the time I was actually embarrassed at how slowly I'd tumbled to that opportunity, but thinking about it almost ten years later, I realize that although the basic intuition had been correct; I'd been laughably naive to think an objective study would please either side of the "legalization" debate because it turns out that, even now, neither has the requisite objectivity to recognize the glaring errors embedded in their own positions.
Beyond that, their mistakes have not been identical; the federal error, more profound and longer in the making, has been their attempt to enforce a policy of criminal prohibition that can only fail. Thus they have become progressively adept at rationalizing the expensive failures they can neither recognize nor admit.
The errors and false assumptions of "reform" are more recent and easier to understand; for one thing, most reformers were not alive when Anslinger retired, or even when his MTA was overturned by the Warren Court in 1969. Thus the Mitchell-Nixon Controlled Substances Act of 1970. was their powerful ruling paradigm. Their goal was correspondingly timid: carving out a limited medical exception for "medical" marijuana while continuing to agree that "recreational" use should be punished as before. They were so unprepared for any possibility that youthful pot use could be effective self-medication for common emotional problems that they rejected it out of hand and sadly, have not looked further at the evidence; a position that appears vindicated by the absence of similar studies and the obvious interest of most "pot docs" in revenue.
Thus I've spent nearly 10 years simply unraveling the intertwined errors afflicting both sides in the legalization debate: although the federal position is weaker and must ultimately fail, it can probably hold out for quite a while because it's supported by the law, fear, tax dollars, and a host of powerful vested interests.
Last night, I was heartened by a rare breath of fresh air when Jimmy Kimmel twitted the President about DEA raids and reminded him that pot smokers also vote.
However the early media response has been disappointing: the usual unfocused confusion and denial. With each passing month I see a last-minute Obama epiphany as progressively less likely; it's even possible enough pot smokers will either sit out the election or vote against him to elect a clueless religious fundamentalist as his successor. It's happened before.
April 24, 2012
How the Drug War Evolved from imposed "Public Health" to an International ConundrumThe "war on drugs" is a major American conundrum: how does a nation that imposed a seriously mistaken policy on the rest of the world admit it made a mistake? The obverse is even more troubling: why has the only species blessed with our complex cognitive skills, continued to endorse that policy through the UN?
That question becomes even more pertinent when one remembers that the US promptly canceled alcohol prohibition, the drug war's conceptual twin, by passing an ad-hoc "Repeal" Amendment in 1933, an event that might have warned of a similar fate following any attempt at rigorous enforcement of then-extant drug policy or sudden increase in drug markets it was focused on (precisely what happened in the Sixties). Thus the continued acceptance of a failing drug prohibition policy by the nations of the world becomes an issue for serious consideration: are human governments unable to think very clearly? Or do the various organization now benefiting from criminal drug markets have the political power to keep them in existence despite the harm they cause? I suspect it's a bit of both.
However, any idea that the various disparate groups profiting from the drug war are conspiring is nonsense. Drug criminals profit from breaking the law; they are also essential job security for police, as well as a source of bribes and other favors. Modern "Treatment," "Prevention,"and "Rehab" industries are also beneficiaries of drug prohibition, as are those who advocate (and promise) "drug free" schools and workplaces. Then there is the dubious moral imperative that "legalization" would be irresponsible because it "condones" use. What none of those "anti-drug" arguments recognize is that the ignorance imposed on all concerned parties by drug illegality eliminated the best opportunity to have understood what made them popular, the basis for their appeal to users, or how their use might be related to other factors just as their markets began flourish in the Sixties. Instead, a robust criminal drug culture based on youthful initiation of new agents was fanned by the CSA, a repressive omnibus prohibition law. The same markets, plus several new ones, have since been expanding uncontrollably for four decades; materially assisted by the ignorance and official myopia imposed by the CSA's two supporting agencies.
A major disadvantage of having a mistaken policy imbedded in criminal law has been the automatic support commanded by Law Enforcement Agencies and the Judiciary. In that respect, early supporters of drug prohibition were more aggressive than their opponents; they passed off the deceptive Harrison Act as a way to track problematic prescriptions, but began arresting physicians who were writing them on the notion that they were fueling "addiction." The Supreme Court's agreement expanded the law's intent and allowed the federal bureaucrats to prescribe specific treatment, a right they have yet to relinquish.
Medicine defines disease based on its pathological anatomy; legal precedents, are established by case law, in which outcomes (and precedents) are determined largely by rhetoric. That disconnect between objectivity and opinion remains at the heart of the drug policy controversy; it has allowed the drug war's claim to be a form of Public Health to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, it was based entirely on the medically incompetent rhetoric of John Mitchell, as protected by Richard Nixon.
Thus the drug war remains an incoherent policy without grounding in objective clinical studies, which have been literally impossible from the time Harrison was approved by the Supreme Court in 1920 until the first medical marijuana initiatives finally created the possibility of clinical access to "drug criminals" in 1996.
Although interval clinical research on cannabis users has been discouraged, enough recognized therapeutic benefits have been documented to render continued federal claims that "marijuana" has "no recognized use" in American Medical practice both embarrassing and stupid; yet that argument seems to the DEA's sole excuse continuing its raids in California.
If Obama would reign them in and make some positive noises about cannabis well before November, he'd probably be re-elected. But, given his recent clueless behavior, I'm not betting on the outcome.
April 08, 2012
Epistemology & Common SenseAnyone interested in how we know what we think we know should also realize that to be consistent, the concept of culture should have been upgraded to accommodate the then brand new concept of evolution shortly after publication of Darwin’s landmark On the Origin of Species in 1859. Unfortunately, the many serious implications of Darwin's work have still not received the attention they deserve; probably because the most troubling of all were so contrary to the widely held (and comforting) religious beliefs of the mid-Nineteenth Century.
Ironically, the first solid confirmation was work by Mendel, a Roman Catholic cleric whose inspired insights almost certainly didn’t extend to rejection of an omnipotent Creator. Mendel and Darwin probably didn't read each others' work, and Mendel would certainly have disagreed vigorously if they had. The first decisive confirmation that an evolutionary process had been operating for billions of years was disclosure of the molecular structure of DNA (1953). The fall-out from that discovery has already been enormous and is just beginning.
Even given the relatively brief interval since Evolution was first proposed as a hypothesis, the rich context it has established within Biology renders the percentage of modern skeptics and naysayers surprising. Beyond that, the degree of denial our species is obviously so capable of is disquieting: that we are clever enough to create technology that poses serious dangers to the planetary environment while blindly pursuing it to excess is now painfully evident; but still not widely acknowledged.
The term “culture” almost certainly predated “evolution,” but once the former acquired its specific biological connotation, both terms have acquired new meanings. We can now think of culture as evolving, a concept that modifies the idea of "history." Further, if “evolution” is “true,” (an accurate theory) that circumstance necessarily casts great doubt on the concept that had dominated Cosmology (then known as Metaphysics) towards the end of the Eighteenth Century about the time the US Constitution was being debated in Philadelphia (en era still known as the Enlightenment to Philosophers and Historians). Before this short essay becomes too complicated, I just want to point out that we live in a changing world; one in which the rate of change has itself been accelerated, and that it would be unreasonable to expect that the underlying phenomena could not be having important, but so far unrecognized consequences. In other words, our IT capabilities are not necessarily a guarantee we won’t be blindsided by some new reality the same way mid-18th Century Victorians were by the most obvious implications of evolutionary theory.
The Universe may not have been planned and created by an omniscient god after all. Indeed, what we have been able to learn about what we now call the Cosmos is that it’s more likely a random, self-adjusting system infinitely older and bigger than we are yet able to measure. While our species certainly seems unique and has unquestionably had an important impact on events on our planet and within our solar system, we are comparatively insignificant on a cosmic scale.
At the same time, we can also recognize that other factors related to human thinking and behavior have been evolving in dangerous directions: there are more humans now alive than ever, and our accelerating acquisition of knowledge has unquestionably made us uniquely dangerous to both ourselves and other life forms. For one thing, we recently learned that Yellowstone National Park, in addition to being a "national treasure," represents an existential threat to all humans for reasons we are, thus far, unable to “control.”
Speaking of “control,” our species seems to have succumbed to that comforting euphemism as it has been applied to the lunatic American policy known as the “War” on Drugs. The idea that handing designated criminals a monopoly on the production of a commodity many people are willing to pay high prices for and risk arrest to possess deserves more than a quick stamp stamp of approval by politicians, academics and others who aspire to be taken seriously as policy mavens. Just what is it about Al Capone, Chicago, and bathtub gin that those smug idiots don’t understand?
On the other hand, a species so incapable of learning from its past mistakes may just have to reinvent itself. Unfortunately, and thanks largely to Harry Anslinger, John Mitchell, and Richard Nixon, hominids may have to start over from the cognitive level reached by Miocene Apes about nine million years ago. Even then, there’s no guarantee the conditions that ultimately produced Homo sapiens could be replicated.
It would be far better to learn from our mistakes before it’s too late.
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.