February 15, 2014

America's Cigarette Problem as a Segue into Potential Legalization (of Cannabis)

No sooner did I observe in the last entry that,"cigarettes have never been banned despite being responsible for nearly a half million premature deaths a year," than a national Pharmacy chain announced plans to stop selling all tobacco products next October. I must say the decision caught me by surprise, but I also know that because CVS appears more profit driven than most, they wouldn't be making it if sales hadn't been declining. That the overall rate of chronic cigarette smoking in the US has declined to around 20% (as noted in the CNN video) is also good news to this former smoker.

To return to the uncredited benefits of chronic cannabis use, I have long maintained that it is beneficial self-medication for those who need it. For example, when people who drink too much start using cannabis, they tend to moderate their alcohol intake to safe levels. Likewise, those who smoke cigarettes every day begin reducing the number and many ultimately succeed in quitting completely, although many others remain stuck on a minimal number for years– and thus vulnerable to increase under stress. My own experience was similar: although I knew cigarettes were unhealthy and felt guilty because I couldn't quit, I smoked from the age of 13 (in 1945) until I was 43, when I quit for 2 full years; only to relapse while going through a divorce. I was unable to quit for good until 1993, following the death of my younger brother from lung cancer.

Of course, one can't become a repetitive user of any drug without first trying it, a phenomenon that's been labeled initiation (click "look inside") by the two medical specialties that were created by Nixon's CSA: Addiction Medicine and Pain Medicine, both of which are apparently now officially accredited Specialties.

A problem I have with the conventional notion of "initiation" is that it doesn't require that initiates experience the "high" associated with the drug in question. In the case of cannabis, the inhaled high is very complex and not experienced by all would–be initiates even after multiple attempts. Beyond that, the edible high is also very different for anatomic and physiologic reasons– a critical difference that seems to have escaped nearly all researchers.

The bottom line is examiners can only learn about those critical differences by asking about them, which causes me to wonder how many drug researchers have ever experienced the two (very different) marijuana "highs" they write about so knowingly.

In my own case, I realized– belatedly– that although I'd tried "weed" a few times between 1968 and 1971, my first high wasn't until '71 and it was the normally aversive "paranoid" reaction, (about which, more later). Likewise, my third or fourth "edible" high was a memorably incapacitating experience from which I also learned some valuable lessons. It- and those lessons- will also be described in a later entry.

All of which provides a providential seque into an exciting new development, one I found hiding in plain sight in a recent item on marijuana "legalization" in– of all places– The New York Times.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 12:13 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2013

Why Obama Should Endorse Legal Cannabis ASAP

An interesting result of the recent off-year elections was another surge in demand for cannabis ("marijuana") legalization. Legal pot was more popular at the ballot box than the Tea Party, Right Wing politicians, and the (fading} reputation of Barack Obama, whose job approval rating fell to a new low.

Our struggling Prez- one of only 14 American chief executives to win in consecutive general elections- did so despite being perceived as Black and after openly admitting his own aggressive adolescent toking. He should have learned from that experience that such an admission is no longer the kiss of death it had been for Reagan nominee Douglas Ginsburg in 1987 after a tattle-tale NPR columnist disclosed his repetitive use.

In fact, a critical analysis of the progressive, albeit painfully slow, roll-back of state "marijuana" laws since California's passage Proposition 215 passed in 1996 suggests that a youth market had long existed and been growing steadily since the early Sixties. Indeed, it was that very market that had inspired the onerous Controlled_Substances_Act Richard Nixon and John Mitchell had convinced an ignorant Congress to pass in 1970.

That Nixon's law has been so assiduously enforced around the world since 1970 does not reflect well on the cognitive ability of our species. Even so, it's not the only destructive law ever enforced in "the Land of the Free" with near-catastrophic results. One needs only to recall that the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 helped propel our new nation into a catastrophic Civil War, which could easily have been fatal had it not been for Abraham Lincoln.

Instead of dealing with it honestly at their Constitutional Convention in 1787, our Virginia-dominated founders opted to punt, a decision W.E.B. Dubois would later observe, "opened a road that led directly to the Civil War."

In other words, the industrialization of British cotton production facilitated by invention of the cotton gin increased the demand for American raw cotton that it led to destructive monoculture and pressure for progressive Western expansion of slavery as new states were added to the Union: exactly the opposite of what had been predicted when the compromise was adopted.

Similarly, when the Warren Court nullified Harry Anslinger's Marijuana Tax Act in 1965, it could not possibly have known what enormous social and other changes that had overtaken the insignificant criminal market Anslinger had created with the MTA in 1937. Nor was the vibrant youth market for "psychedelics" that had sprung into existence following the experiments described by "beat" authors from the late Fifties onward. "Marijuana" didn't have to be imported; it could be grown locally. LSD could be produced in a lab.

The drugs themselves were not "addictive," but they encouraged the kind of independent thinking that was anathema to "all the President's men."

The next entries will deal with the amazing series of unintended consequences that have followed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

In a sense, they have been more far-reaching than any simple tweaking of a poorly conceived, ad-hoc policy should have produced, but they are both undeniable and responsible for a far-reaching cascade of evil consequences that will be hard to overcome.

Doctor Tom

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

September 24, 2013

Our Brain's flaws & a Ray of Hope

We humans, (Homo sapiens), may have arrived at a critical moment in our existence as a species. Although many remain unconvinced, we are highly evolved mammals, one of the many concepts dependent on observations made by the youthful Charles Darwin during a brief stopover in the Galapagos Islands in the course of his now famous eighteenth Century voyage, but not published until formally until 1859.

During its early history, our species is thought to have survived several episodes of near extinction only to rebound. The most recent such event was caused by a series of epidemics thought to have reduced the population of Europe by half in the 14th Century, but soon balanced by the discovery of two previously unknown continents, each with their own indigenous populations who were mistakenly called "Indians" by Columbus, who had been searching for a western passage to Asia.

Ironically, Columbus had been correct in assuming that the Indies could reached by sailing West from Europe, but he hadn't known his way would be blocked by two continents, nor that the isthmus connecting them would be breached by a Canal four Centuries later.

Those indigenous populations, also unknown to Europeans, would today be called aborigines, but that very concept had not been considered until after the (disputed) discovery of Australia- yet another continent "discovered" (first reported to Europeans) in the early 17th Century.

Descendants of the misidentified Indians have continued to inhabit both "Americas," but have suffered considerably at the hands of Europeans who immediately claimed sovereignty over them based on their own Christian beliefs which led them to assume a cultural and religious superiority.

In other words, because the Europeans Columbus represented thought they were bringing the blessings of "Civilization" to the "savages" he had encountered on the "New World," they and their descendants assumed the right to enslave them in the name of a Christian deity; even as Europe itself was being torn by religious disagreements over how that deity should be worshiped.

That the last inhabited continent "discovered" by Europeans was not only the world's smallest, but also the home of aborigenes is also interesting because recent genomic studies have confirmed that they are probably the descendants of the first of many human diasporas from Africa.

The point of this rambling essay is that the biggest current threat to our survival seems to be our inability- as a species- to control our destructive behavior. Although 500 years may might not seem very long compared to the time required for Evolution to have produced the human brain; that organ- when augmented by the disciplines of Science- has greatly intensified our impact on both our species, and its planetary environment.

Unfortunately, that enhanced cognitive impact has been a mixed blessing; not only has it multiplied our numbers, it has intensified the number and intensity of the disputes we are so prone to engage in.

Although not everyone agrees, there is an abundance of evidence that global warming is a viable hypothesis; however, one can easily find many web sites deriding it as a scam or a liberal plot. If the hypothesis proves "true" (accurate) failure to act now will have huge consequences down the road- and in very little time.

Today's greatest irony may be that many conservatives see global warming as political- a liberal scam- almost certainly not true and one that must be opposed in any event.

Thus has our cognitive ability allowed our species to dominate its global environment, but our serious emotional flaws encourage us to compete for dominance, much the same as males in most mammalian species compete for reproductive dominance and leadership.

Recognition of that flaw should now be possible through the same cognitive processes that have produced quantum theory, space exploration, genetic engineering and organ transplantation, yet both the historical record and the events being reported in our daily media show us headed in the wrong direction: directly away from the critical understanding that any effective solution requires.

It would seem self-evident that in order to solve a problem, one must first understand it and to do that, one must be able to discuss it freely and honestly.

In that context, humanity's "drug problem," became a dominant issue right after Richard Nixon's Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, a law still enforced as federal US law and UN policy. Rather than a "solution" Nixon's "drug war" serves as excellent example of- and metaphor for- our cognitive frailty.

Our species doesn't yet seem capable of realizing that its long term survival now hangs in the balance; thus it will require some critical changes in both our thinking and our collective behavior to avert several looming catastrophes.

The hour is late; but there is a glimmer of hope. President Obama's speech to the UN this morning was the clearest articulation by a world leader of our need to get along and renounce violence that I've ever heard. He hit all he right notes and carefully avoided inflammatory rhetoric in making a plea for peace and rationality. That he was also a beneficiary of adolescent cannabis use, I see as both a blessing and a teaching opportunity.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 03:38 PM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2013

An Unexpeced Wedge Issue?

A few days ago, I blogged about the unexpected drug war defection of two CNN icons over medical cannabis, a "substance" long demonized as “marijuana” in compliance with official American doctrine. I also noted the timid recognition by AG Eric Holder that we can no longer afford to lead the world in incarcerating our own citizens, an issue closely related to the same costly doctrine. After years spent trying to convince the few readers of this blog that our drug war has been a disaster, the recognition of such issues by a source as prominent as CNN has been both a welcome change in the status quo and a challenge- the latter because the sheer speed of developments makes them difficult to keep up with, let alone interpret.

Back to the Present

The first chink in drug war armor appeared unexpectedly when Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Piers Morgan both publicly admitted trying cannabis themselves. Even more significantly, Dr. Gupta revealed he'd been working on a documentary related to its medical benefits. Since a key drug war assertion is that pot can't be medicine, I realized that by simply airing WEED, a powerful American media voice had decided to defect from the drug war; a decision not to taken lightly in the present political climate.

Thus I watched "Weed" last Saturday when it first aired and again last night when it was rebroadcast. For those who haven't seen it yet, the most powerful part deals with the five year old daughter of an American service man then serving overseas, whose 5-year old daughter in Colorado was experiencing up to 300 seizures (convulsions) a week that were unresponsive to conventional medicines. They were finally controlled when growers raising a specific medicinal strain of cannabis made it available to her mother.

In an amazing follow up- one that could not have been planned- another little girl with the same problem has just surfaced in New Jersey. Yesterday, her father was filmed by CNN as he demanded that the state's obviously reluctant Republican Governor allow her to receive the same treatment Colorado had made available.

Thus in one fell swoop, a cluster of vexing political issues latent within the "medical marijuana" phenomenon ever since its origin as Proposition 215 in California over 17 years ago are finally coming to the fore in an amazing coincidence involving two young girls with the same devastating medical problem.

Even with all I've learned from over 7000 individual patients, I could not have conceived of a better scenario for calling attention to the problems created by a terrible policy based on a costly failure we've never officially acknowledged.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:09 PM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2013

The Significance of Dr Gupta's Defection

As noted earlier, the conversion of CNN's Dr Sanjay Gupta from anti to pro with respect to medical marijuana should be too big an event for the embattled forces of pot prohibition to ignore; not that they won't try. When silent denial doesn't work, they will probably switch to their time-honored smear tactics.

That shouldn't work either; Dr Gupta is, to all appearances, a well trained, hands-on neurosurgeon with lots of current medical credibility. One statement of his that particularly caught my eye was that cannabis is effective against neuropathic pain, something revealed by my own study, but almost never mentioned by other medical marijuana supporters (but would be noted by a neurosurgeon).

If Dr Gupta's position has any weakness, it's in the much misunderstood area of juvenile use which is a classic sacred cow and echoes the general misunderstanding of how old "kids" should be when they first try ("initiate") legal drugs.

My study looked at the ages at which Prop 215 applicants (all self-medicating) first did attempt to get "high," which is how novices try any new drug. It turned out to be remarkably similar to the ages at which my peers and I were trying cigarettes and alcohol in 1945: between the ages of 12 and 15.

We pre-boomers knew "Marijuana" existed back then; but its market was simply not available to juveniles, one of the many facets of pot history completely beyond the ken of both today's Drug Warriors and their victims because of their mutual generational blindness- one of the few characteristics they share.

Today's enormous market did not come into existence overnight; it began slowly in the early Sixties, through interest sparked by Beat Generation authors in adolescent baby boomers, who tried it- along with tobacco, alcohol, and an assortment of newly available psychedelic drugs. At that time, America's policy of drug prohibition was in disarray following the retirement of Director Harry Anslinger, from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1962. The rest of that history is all here in old blog entries.

Bringing it to the attention of Dr Gupta and CNN is an opportunity that should not to be missed, as NORML did with Jimmy Carter in '78, right about the time Nixon's CSA starting to generate a critical mass of pot arrests. Instead of working with Dr Peter Bourne, Carter's drug czar, they became impatient with him and "outed" him for snorting coke which became a factor in Carter's 1980 defeat Reagan, which was quickly followed by "Just say No" and Star Wars.

BTW, Today's Presidential news conference just ended. Dr Gupta and pot were NOT mentioned, so we'll have to wait for next shoe to drop on Sunday Evening when WEED airs on CNN.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 03:43 AM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2013

Understanding Adam’s Curse, Part 1

Our species’ struggle to understand its place in the Universe has, until recently, been led by men. In other words, our species has been predominantly patrilineal throughout its history, which, as science also makes clear, is relatively recent. It's now estimated that our emergence as the dominant cognitive species on Earth came after a brief period of coexistence with Neanderthals (and possibly Denisovans. We are thought to have became the planet’s dominant cognitive species somewhere between two and three hundred thousand years ago.

Despite the opposition of traditional Religions, empirical science has been validated by its results. A continued preference for traditional myths is very understandable; they are far more comforting than a universe progressively revealed as both incomprehensibly vast and infinitely tiny by the measuring techniques of Science itself: galaxies too numerous to count and atomic nuclei so complex as to defy understanding are not at all reassuring.

That may explain why the concept of Daddy is now so important. Until recently, human males have been as dominant in human affairs as in other mammalian hierarchies. Ironically, that notion of male dominance is now being reinforced daily by the engrossing footage shown on wildlife TV shows.

Lessons Learned from "Nature"

Competition is contingent on nutrition: herbivores eat plants, carnivores eat plant eaters. The Omnivore advantage is an ability to eat both. We also know that before we could have spread across the whole planet save Antarctica, our prehistoric ancestors must have been omnivores just to have survived in cold latitudes. Also that unknown ancestors in several different parts of the world must have discovered how to grow crops, a skill that characterized their transition from “prehistoric" (aboriginal) societies to Civilizations.

To be continued.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:26 PM | Comments (0)