March 29, 2014
What Applicant Demographics RevealOne of several things I discovered shortly after starting to take medical histories from people seeking my "recommendation" to use cannabis medically (cannabis applicants) in accordance with Proposition 215 was their division into 2 groups based on year of birth. Fewer than 5% of all the 7200 applicants I've seen since November 2001 were born before 1946. That unexpected finding helps establish origins of the huge modern market for "marijuana" that inspired Richard Nixon's Controlled Substances Act after the Warren Court unexpectedly struck down the Marijuana Tax Act pf 1937.
That early pot smokers were so predominantly “Baby Boomers” was also unexpected and raises its own questions: what had encouraged so many "boomers" to discover cannabis, a drug that had been poorly understood when first outlawed by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937?
We know from the dearth of press coverage devoted to "marijuana" between 1937 and the early Sixties that its market must have remained small until the Sixties when members of the newly emergent Counterculture began challenging the norms of the Eisenhower Fifties become the first ever mass market for a "Drug of “Abuse” in history and- quite likely the same young people Nixon was targeting with the "War on Drugs" implemented with the CSA in 1970. Those same applicant demographics also reveal when adolescent boomers first began trying pot in large numbers; also when they liked it well enough to begin growing it domestically.
In a word, California "medical users" reflect the huge modern market that began when the oldest baby boomers began aging into adolescence in the early 60s. It has obviously aged into Medicare right along with them as a thriving illegal market for "weed" that has been sustaining itself as it has matured into a senior market and continues to defy the best efforts of global police forces to suppress it.
Could it be that we have something to learn from questioning those satisfied customers– not as "addicts" who are defying a foolish law but as rational people with good reasons for their continued use of an illegal drug at significant personal risk?
August 13, 2013
Dr. Gupta and the AG: an historic one-two punchRichard Nixon’s Drug War just sustained two historic setbacks within 48 hours. The first was when Neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, CNN's highly regarded "media doctor," said unequivocally in a Sunday evening documentary called WEED, that cannabis is medicine and backed it up with before-and- after video of en engaging toddler having non-stop seizures who became almost seizure free on oral cannabis after conventional treatment had failed. It was an anecdote that didn't surprise me; I have signed "recommendations" for several patients with similar stories, although none were so young or dramatically afflicted.
Nor is it new. Valerie Corral, was a young woman who survived a serious head injury in 1973, but was left with disabling seizures controlled only by cannabis. She became an icon for medical marijuana after her grow was spotted by a sheriff's helicopter 20 years later. Her fascinating story is told by sociologist Wendy Chapkis and reporter Richard Webb in Dying to get High, which also reveals how malevolently the DEA, Nixon's federal drug police can enforce his Controlled Substances Act.
I now compare the DEA to the Gestapo and Hitler's Nuremberg laws to Nixon's CSA. Both were created by national leaders suffering from the same emotional disorder I've discovered is responsible for the sudden success of "marijuana," an herbal remedy that had been readily available in America as "hemp," but had remained relatively unknown to the public until it was discovered by the leading edge of the Hippie movement in the early Sixties, one of whom was LSD guru Timothy Leary.
In the forty years since Leary's remarkable adventures provoked Mitchell and Nixon into their ignorant transformation of Anslinger's shoddy Marijuana Tax Act into a truly disastrous law, there has been so much fear generated by the DEA and NIDA, the drug war's designated enforcers and liars, that the "truth" of anything written about hemp, marijuana cannabis is always suspect.
To paraphrase a popular world war 2 adage: never have so many profiteers told so many lies to so many dupes on behalf of so many control freaks for such devious reasons.
The second attack on drug war was when AG Eric Holder finally agreed that our bloated Incarceration Industry needs to be trimmed down to size. The whole criminal justice system has become so dependent on illegal drugs that the nation may never fully recover; but we'll never know if we don't try.
The only bright spot for me is that Holder is a pal of our toker-in-chief, so he must have cleared the move with Barack in advance. The major problem, of course, is the number of jobs that depend on continuing Nixon's unaffordable and (unwinnable) war.
June 08, 2013
Extreme Weather and Extreme DenialAfter the GOP's successful theft of the 2000 Presidential Election, Al Gore became an evangelist for the related causes of climate change and global warming, phenomena I’d first become aware of in the Eighties after reading that meteorologists were concerned about rising CO2 levels in air being sampled from above Hawaii's Mona Loa volcano. Their fears were vaguely disquieting, but I soon found other issues to replace them.
Gore’s post-presidential campaign changed all that. I bought Inconvenient Truth, watched the video, and read most of the book. Since then I've followed weather news with increasing interest as extreme weather events have proliferated, even as the media, politicians, and many others have refused to notice.
It didn't take long for me to become a believer in the reality of climate change; or to appreciate the ubiquity of denial as a technique for dealing with all kinds of unpleasant news.
To Al Gore's very appropriate concerns, I’ve added a few of my own, mostly related to my own consuming interest: the insanity of American drug policy and the needless damage it inflicts on innocent people everywhere. I’ve long since decided that support for our drug policy is a litmus test for intellectual honesty: speaking out against it is the only honorable course for concerned people. That many more people oppose it than believe in it is evident from the increasing (but anonymous) support for “medical” use of cannabis, but I fear that- like appreciation of the dangers of climate change- it’s occurring way too slowly to bring about effective change.
The main reason for that admittedly dreary judgement is the sheer size of the Earth's human population. Once one realizes how much inertia is built into our genome by behavioral traits that appear to be shared by a majority of humans, one realizes that the only “demand reduction” able to reduce our energy consumption enough to mitigate the weather damage already in our future may be rapid depopulation, a concept global political leaders are clearly unwilling to address- if they think about it at all. In the meantime, evidence that Gore is right keeps piling up. All one has to do is tune in to the weather channel fairly regularly. I have yet to hear any mention of a “Tornacane” season, but we have clearly entered one; whether or not (pun intended) it’s been given a name.
One way to spot denial is the absence of questions that should be generated by official claims or reported facts such as: if why cannabis is so dangerous, why is it still so popular?” More evidence of pot's appeal surfaced in affluent NY suburb when a single mom was unmasked as a very clever pot entrepreneur. What I also recognized from the article is that while her cleverness, botanical ability, and management skills seem outstanding, her childhood had been all-too similar to those experienced by many of my applicants of both genders: blighted by the emotional absence of their biological fathers.
Also typically: the absent daddy doesn't seem evil, simply unaware of the enormous impact of his physical absence (or lack of interest) on a vulnerable young psyche.
The nugget that remains buried in my study of pot use is the critical importance of the biological father to the future emotional health of their children. I'll be more specific in future entries
March 03, 2013
An American AnomalyDespite the somewhat surprising popularity of "marijuana" that slowly become evident following passage of California's disputed Proposition 215 in 1996, "weed" is still "illegal under federal law," a mantra routinely intoned by supporters of the DEA whenever another state initiative makes the ballot or a "medical marijuana" law is passed by a state's legislature and signed by its governor; no longer a rare sequence.
My impatient response has been to wonder why, given its obvious popularity with the electorate, and the increasing evidence that cannabinoids relieve an even wider variety of symptoms than previously realized, do so many people passively accept the perennial failure of the American "drug war" launched by the Controlled Substances Act in 1970?
Don't people get it? Or are they just like the "good Germans" who failed to protest the progressive persecution (and disappearance) of their Jewish neighbors that started immediately after passage of the infamous Nuremberg laws in 1935? Are we Americans no more capable of critical thinking? Why are the drug war's outrages so widely accepted?
A logical reason was just provided by Skeptic columnist Michael Shermer in this month's Scientific American. The phenomenon known as pluralistic ignorance may help explain it. It seems that people can be induced to support a policy they don't agree with if they can also be convinced that most of their neighbors support it; sort of an intellectual herd instinct based on fear and the desire not to become involved in something we don't really understand. A preexisting prejudice against the victims and an occasional dollop of fear at odd intervals also helps to reinforce the public's acceptance of an unfair policy.
Somewhat disturbing to me was that Shermer himself, in discussing the problem in contemporary America, cited only gays and atheists, but made no mention of "druggies" who are not just scorned and discriminated against, but also arrested, thrown into prison, and under a comparably oppressive policy and ; even killed for the crime of self-medication with a drug they have discovered relieves troublesome symptoms better than the dangerous and less effective products of our rapacious Pharmaceutical Industry.
Perhaps the more inclusive reason is that human behavior, as ultimately determined by our cognitive brains, is still more of a mystery than "neuroscientists" are willing to admit.
March 02, 2013
Humans, the Brain, and DiasporasOur relatively small planet is, so far as we can tell, the only one in our vast universe harboring life. We humans are also the only species to have evolved a brain complex enough to master both language and literacy. That they are not the same is evident from the enormous number of spoken languages still in use, while the number of writing systems (literacy) is far smaller. The first evidence of literacy also suggests that it evolved well after the first successful diasporas forced humans from their ancestral homelands in Africa and distributed them (plus some Neanderthals) widely over the world's continents and large islands.
It’s also obvious that our neolithic forebears must have developed spoken language long before leaving Africa on journeys as frightening as diasporas. How else could they have planned such complex undertakings requiring (at a minimum) close cooperation, complex planning, and the agreement by several families that a desperate move was necessary in the first place? We can only imagine because there is no written record.
However, the conditions that can stimulate populations to leave homelands on dangerous, one-way journeys have always been with us.
In fact, a brilliant study by Isabel Wilkerson describes how lack of faith in their futures impelled modern American blacks to migrate from the deep South to different parts of the United States in search of better lives. It takes but a moment to realize that Mexican "illegals" are now making the same choice with even less hope of employment than that awaiting immigrants to the United States in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.
Diasporas are possible whenever a discrete population shares the belief that life where they are has become intolerable; they are then motivated to undertake journeys into the unknown with no guarantee of return. Such is the plight of the “illegals” now besieging our border with Mexico. It also impelled large numbers of European Jews to emigrate to North America and elsewhere just in time to escape Hitler's final solution. After enabling the population of Ireland to reach eight million, potatoes imported from Peru were stricken with a blight that resulted in the mass starvation noted in history as the Irish Potato famine. The exodus from Ireland was focused on the United States, principally its Northern cities of New York and Boston, where they have had far-reaching effects.
A straw in today's wind may be that among recent cannabis applicants, several from states in the South and Southwest seem to nave opted to move to rural Northern California where they hope to live "off the grid" and grow cannabis.
March 01, 2013
Why is Science Important to Drug Policy?We are a curious species; we want answers to all kinds of questions; especially about ourselves. Where did we come from? Why are we here? are two perennials. Unfortunately, they remain unanswerable for a majority of the planet's humans because we (they) are also bitterly divided by political and religious differences. Thus the answers to two unanswerable questions have morphed into two of the most vexing human problems faced by planet Earth's biota; (including non-humans, because they are critically affected by human activity).
Throughout known human history (itself, only a tiny fraction of our existence as a species) our curiosity has suckered us into a variety of logical assumptions that didn't pan out. One, made in the 18th Century after publication of Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest in 1859, was the belief that a lifeless “azootic zone” must exist in the world’s oceans. It was an hypothesis based on both logical assumptions and facts: that because sunlight could not penetrate below a certain depth, all life would have to be restricted to the same depth. As the cited article clearly shows, that (absurd) hypothesis had been amply refuted by data while it was still being taken seriously enough for publication.
The other side of the coin is how important skepticism is to Science, especially when combined with an understanding that logic- all by itself- is untrustworthy; especially in the absence of accurate observation. That the principles of Science have revolutionized human culture and our notions of “progress” is amply confirmed by the incredible growth of two critical entities since the Pope had Galileo placed on house arrest. The devices produced by scientific technology and the planet’s human population have both exploded since 1642. In other words, people create wealth; smart, well informed people create the most; and at the fastest rate. An added consideration is that because we are so competitive, there has been a race to accumulate wealth, at least since several literate "ancient" civilizations came into being about 6000 years ago; and probably long before.
All of which gives rise to a question few humans seem to want asked or answered, and thus seldom raise: is there a limit to the number of humans Planet Earth can support? It’s a question one wouldn’t expect from a pot doc, especially given the rate at which their numbers have been increasing. All I know is that they are a hard bunch to share information with, very different from the hospital doctors I identified myself with during my first forty years of practice.
I also know from my own surgical experience that if the right questions aren't asked, one is unlikely to come up with the right diagnosis and therapy. Based on a study I've now been engaged in for over ten years, I can also say that the opinions expressed on both sides of the "medical marijuana" controversy are primarily distinguished by their ignorance. The feds have never asked or permitted the right questions because their (false) stated beliefs are so fundamentally opposed to honest research. Thus their formulations about "marijuana" are most at odds with clinical truth as revealed by my applicants, the great majority of whom were rigorously questioned as patients.
There has also been a lot of scientific information published about cannabis in both lay and medical literature since 1996, but it wasn't based on information obtained directly from patients seeking to use it legally.
Thus the existence of "medical marijuana" legislation in multiple states since 1996 was an opportunity wasted by most of the physicians who chose to become pot docs. They could have informed the public of much clinical truth; even in the absence of appropriate coverage by the media (which has also been the case).
I now have enough data supporting my conclusions that I no longer have to try to convince the skeptical of things that might have been checked and reported on by others for years. Why that literature doesn't exist is not for me to explain.
I hope to lead off with how I was first alerted, and soon became convinced, that most "chronic" pot use was really effective self medication.
February 28, 2013
Signs of the Times?The February 23 issue of Science News contains a long article by Laura Sanders on the the dearth of effective new psychotropic drugs and the generally dismal record of Big Pharma in developing new therapeutic agents for treating mental illness. The article leads off with a report of the “crushing” failure of stage three clinical trials of a new drug, LY2140023, being developed by Lilly to treat schizophrenia.
It’s apparently not a new problem, “Not a single drug designed to treat a psychiatric illness in a novel way has reached patients in more than 30 years,” observed a prominent academic psychiatrist quoted by Sanders. My own modest clinical study of cannabis use and users, now embracing nearly 7000 Californians seeking to use “weed” legally, suggests the answer: ever since Richard Nixon and John Mitchell pulled a fast one on Science by substituting rhetoric for research via the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, federal policy has been directing the Pharmaceutical industry away from “herbal" medicines and in the direction of synthetic molecules. What my study also points to are two important areas in urgent need of honest investigation.
One is the role of families in producing the chronic dysphoria that leads vulnerable teens to experiment with multiple illegal "drugs of abuse." The other is the role played by cannabis in protecting its chronic users against use of the two more dangerous legal drugs- alcohol and tobacco. What my focused questioning made clear is that the substitution effect noted by Mikuriya and others was not a conscious choice; rather it was something that happens very predictably after patients make cannabis their drug of choice and began self-medicating with with it. Those patterns were revealed by detailed questioning that directly compares their use of all three "starter" drugs which are further distinguished by the fact that all applicants had initiated cannabis by getting high, all had also tried alcohol by getting drunk at least once, and 96% had inhaled smoke from at least one cigarette.
Such focused questioning clearly shows that rather than merely substituting for the two more problematic agents, cannabis seems to reduce use use of both, probably by treating the same symptoms of stress and anxiety more safely and effectively.
At least as importantly, the study conclusively exposes Nixon’s outdated CSA as a false guide to pharmacological reality. Nevertheless the "drug war" that broke out almost overnight after the CSA was signed into law has been been endorsed by both Psychiatry and Big Pharma for four decades. If nothing else, the unseemly haste with which an obviously deceptive piece of new legislation was embraced by supposed "experts" should raise doubts about their competence. In the case of Psychiatry, the problem is one of errant classification: the DSM is simply not an objective classification despite the claims of its authors, who have been revising it almost continuously since 1952.
On another front, the drug war is taking its lumps from Hollywood as indicated by the release of a film exposing America’s anomalous prison system entitled The House I Live In. The theme of the film (which I haven't seen yet) is that the "land of the free and the home of the brave" is now imprisoned- both morally and financially- in a bogus theoretical prison of its own making which, like our runaway “Corrections” Industry, is also a creature of the drug war.
When its financial and human costs are examined objectively, an expensively failing drug war seems like an exorbitant price to pay for Richard Nixon's unhappy childhood.
January 17, 2013
Psychiatric ProblemsOf all medical specialties, the one most bereft of an objective system for classifying the conditions it treats is Psychiatry. That should not be difficult to understand; the human brain has been aptly described as the most complicated machine in the universe, thus psychiatrists could be forgiven for their inability to classify “mental illness” with the same precision as cancer or infectious disease can be diagnosed. But they should not be excused for pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo that pretends to be as objective and reproducible as the anatomy-based specialty of pathology developed by Rudolph Virchow, a Nineteenth Century German physician and near-contemporary of Charles Darwin.
In fact, Virchow's influence on Medicine has been as important as Darwin's on the larger issues of Biology and Cosmology. More specifically, Virchow's remarkably prescient insight; namely that changes in the microscopic anatomy of diseased cells accurately reflect the disease processes affecting them- provided modern somatic Medicine with an essential conceptual framework in much the same way that the Periodic table provided Physics and Chemistry with substrates to study and discuss in a common language.
Unfortunately, aberrant human behavior, although undoubtedly a brain function, has not yet been shown to be recognizable by microscopic changes in that organ.
That does not mean that some behavioral aberrations are not manifestations of "organic" disease: delerium can be produced by high fever; emotional lability is a classic manifestation hyperthyroidism, and several other conditions. However, Schizophrenia cannot be diagnosed either by biopsy or at Autopsy, nor can "Bipolar Disorder." Although both conditions are commonly recognized by experienced observers, neither exhibit specific diagnostic changes in the brains of afflicted patients.
The most troubling aspect of Psychiatry's lack of an objective system pf classification is how quickly psychiatrists embraced the drug war and its bogus theory of "addiction" after passage of the Mitchell-Nixon Controlled Substances Act in 1970.
The easiest way to understand Psychiatry's near total acceptance of the drug war has been its continuing endorsement of "drugs of abuse" as a valid concept and their acceptance of the idea that their use or possession should remain criminal matters. Finally, that the DEA is the Agency of choice for deciding the proper diagnosis and treatment of "addiction."
In that connection, Nora Volkov MD, a Psychiatrist and the current Director of NIDA, recently provided a justification of the federal position on addiction at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
Needless to say, I don't buy it.
January 14, 2013
Longevity and ResentmentOn Friday, I will be 81, an age equated with longevity in many parts of the world, but now being attained quite often in industrialized nations, particularly among segments of the population with a modicum of wealth. To what extent is longevity genetic and to what extent is it a result of individual behavior? Although we now know a lot more about the science of aging, there is still a lot to learn about both the old "nature versus nurture argument," especially as it relates to our individual genomes and the specific environment we happen to be born into. What I have learned about behavior from the unique opportunity Richard Nixon provided me with to study “criminal” drug use in California, has given me a chance to add considerable new information to what was already known.
Of course, having that information believed is another matter. We have many modern examples of people who came up with good ideas that were eventually accepted; Galileo and Newton are among my favorite examples.
Then there were men with bad ideas that were widely believed for a while. Some even had enormous influence, only to be discredited. Adolph Hitler and Richard Nixon are both good examples. Since they lived during my own lifetime, I am able to compare personal memories from direct experience based on their voices and physical images. My memories of both remain intensely negative, but the opportunity to have heard and seen both during life, together with the chance to analyze their impact on today's world has been incredibly more informative than similar impressions of more remote cnaracters like George Washington or Attila the Hun.
The quality Nixon and Hitler had in abundance was clearly resentment, an emotion I've come to recognize as one of the most destructive any human can express. In other words, to the extent a bright, charismatic male is able to project resentment in ways that influence his contemporaries (it’s almost always a man- more on that later), he can become very dangerous indeed.
In that connection, also consider how voice amplification and moving images have influenced history. Would Hitler have had the same impact on German behavior without a microphone and Leni Reifenstahl’s marvelous directorial skills?
Would the Japanese have behaved the same way in World War Two, absent their quasi-religious belief in the idea that surrender to an enemy was so disgraceful that suicide becomes the only acceptable way to atone for it?
That such firmly held beliefs became the basis for the inhuman behavior exhibited by two otherwise improbable allies in World War Two is undeniable.
It would also be absurd to believe that the US, which had become a true melting pot for shared genomes after our successful rebellion against British rule in the late Eighteenth Century had been somehow immunized against similar resentments by that experience.
December 06, 2012
Logical Insights re: Illogical BehaviorThe idea that nations, like families, are inclined to carry out the wishes of a ruling iconic father figure (patriarch) resonates powerfully throughout human history from "ancient" to modern times. Although there have been some notable exceptions, (Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, and three British female monarchs come to mind) the overwhelming majority of national rulers have been male, a dominance compatible with "nature" where the males of most mammalian species must compete in ritualistic fashion for both the privilege of mating; also for dominance in herds, prides, troops, and other hierarchical family groups.
It's thus not too great a stretch to propose that our own species, recently established as a product of mammalian evolution (although not all agree) may well be expressing certain behavioral tendencies as part of its genetic endowment; in other words, to what degree is human culture a product of evolution and how much control can we exert over obviously problematic mass behavior?
We are now reasonably sure our cognitive potential for language and writing were gradually acquired over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution in Africa, but it took only a few thousand for Science to evolve in Western Europe and North America, and a few hundred more for the fallout from scientific "progress" to pose an existential threat to the planet.
Could it be that our recently recognized ability to influence planetary events through our combustion of fossil fuels may be an expression of our male-dominant genetic heritage and our unwillingness to acknowledge it also an example of how we tend to work against our own best interests by denying unpleasant reality?
Pursuing those insights a bit further, it may well be that the same competitive urge displayed so prominently in mammalian males is playing a key role in persuading their human counterparts to deny an unpalatable truth: that our greatly increased consumption of energy over the past two Centuries now has our species in an existential hole.
In that respect, the just announced details of Washington State's new "Marijuana" legalization law make absolutely no sense. According to CNN's lead report this morning, it is now "legal" to possess as much as an ounce, but still illegal to grow, buy, sell, or smoke it in public.
As we ponder that apparent absurdity, we are still awaiting the details of Colorado's legalization law, also passed on November 6th, but not yet signed by its Governor.
These conflicts are now awaiting resolution by a victorious second -term President who has yet to be inaugurated, but is still clearly not accepted as legitimate by a majority of Republicans.
Can this species be saved (from itself)?
December 02, 2012
What will be Obama's Pot Legacy?In 1969, the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was struck down by the Warren Court in a case involving Timothy Leary. After such an event, the President (then Richard Nixon) is expected to submit legislation correcting the defect identified by the Court. In Leary, it was the finding that the MTA, forced “registrants” to incriminate themselves when attempting to purchase “marijuana” legally. In other words, the law as written was almost impossible to understand, not to mention comply with. It was clearly a clumsy back-door prohibition that rendered all hemp products illegal while naming only inhaled cannabis (“reefer”) as the culprit “narcotic.” Nor had the 1937 law provided any systematically gathered clinical evidence in support its allegations.
Nixon and his Attorney General, John Mitchell, went far beyond mere correction; they submitted the Controlled Substances Act, an omnibus drug prohibition bill based on several unsupported assumptions that built on the unproven assumptions of the original MTA. In other words, the Court, by endorsing Leary's rebuttal on the peripheral issue of self incrimination, had let stand the two most invidious assumptions made in the MTA: first, that "marijuana was dangerous and second, that those imagined dangers justified the re-imposition of prohibition, a failed concept that had been repudiated by amending the Constitution in 1933, but had been nurtured in principle by not recognizing that the Harrison Act represented exactly the same error in a different guise.
The CSA went even further; it created an algorithm based on simplistic (and untested) criteria that gave the US Attorney General full authority to determine if newly released “substances” should be listed on Schedule One(absolutely prohibited). Thus was inhaled cannabis, completely forbidden twice within a span of 32 years without benefit of any research whatsoever. It was the ultimate triumph of judicial logic over scientific skepticism, a latter-day vindication of Urban VIII's punishment of Galileo.
However, there had already been a huge change in the cannabis market that had existed in 1937: In 1960, it began to grow, a change completely missed by both the press and the FBN. Then, in i963, there was a blip in pot arrests that soon become a sustained trend. From 1965, the year Leary was arrested until 1969, when the Court overturned the MTA, rebellion was the message of youthful pot smoking “hippies” demonstrating against the war in Vietnam, even as President Nixon was declaring that “drug abuse” was the nation’s “most serious problem.”
Yet no one asked why "marijuana" had become so popular; even after the trickster was forced by Congress to appoint a committee to investigate its claimed medical benefits, he was able to brush aside its timid recommendation that it be studied with the passive approval of the same press corps would soon drive him from office for lying about Watergate.
It’s now 16 years since California passed Proposition 215; there are “Medical Marijuana” laws in at least 16 states. Nixon's DEA is clearly failing ingloriously and yet is still permitted to enforce his policy with a straight face because people who should know better look the other way and the legal system dithers. Our current President, raised by a single mother and himself an archetypal pot smoker in High School, had only one encounter with his biological father (at age 12) yet he allows US Attorney Melinda Haag to close California Dispensaries.
I’ve got news for President Obama: if he continues his support of the drug war, he will find himself on the wrong side of history- a strange place for a member of the “Choom Gang” who was once famous for “interceptions,” and “roof hits.”
One consolation is that his return to the Oval Office, gives us 4 more years in which to goad him into taking a closer look at his own childhood and adolescent pot smoking.
November 24, 2012
What's in a Name?Man’s innate curiosity about his origins can be inferred from evidence that religious beliefs were held by most, if not all, aboriginal humans yet encountered. Aborigines, a term used by early British explorers for native Australians, has now become generic for the earliest inhabitants of any newly discovered region. Theoretically it would have been more accurate than "Indians" for the humans Columbus discovered on Hispaniola in 1492. They have been belatedly renamed Native Americans, so I doubt there's much interest in renaming them yet again, especially among American Indians themselves.
Be that as it may, the recent discovery through DNA evidence, that today's "Native Australians" had probably descended from the first anatomically modern humans to leave Africa is well-accepted by believers in Evolution, who also agree generally that humans were the latest species to have evolved from a line of approximately 22 separate hominids, at least one of which, Neanderthals, preceded our ancestors out of Africa, but are now extinct. Fossil evidence indicates that the original Neanderthal's range was influenced by glaciation, but they had at least reached northern Europe and the Middle East before disappearing. Also, the degree to which they may have shared genetic material with modern humans is both controversial and under investigation. However, there is no 'Neanderthal Now!' movement that I'm aware of.
Thus human history can be considered as beginning with our speciation, a process generally recognized by scientists, but not by the creationists who deny that evolution even took place and hold that all life forms were individually created by a supreme deity.
That intense disagreement between religious beliefs and Science is still a major problem for our modern world is painfully evident from the continued hostile exchanges between Muslims and those they consider infidels, now expressed most openly in the Middle East, but extant everywhere. I was reminded of similar intense disagreements this morning after tuning in to CNN in the midst of an animated discussion between CNN reporter Randi Kaye and “Science Guy” Bill Nye. Kaye was challenging Nye's oft expressed view that the teaching of “creationism” in American public schools impedes the understanding of science by young people and thus works against our best interests. I couldn’t agree more, but also understand there are certain “third rail” ideas still avoided on television as a matter of course. Marijuana legalization, just approved by voters in two states, has long been such an issue.
It suddenly occurred to me that my fellow Cornell alum could be a great asset for the cause of federal legalization of pot if he would use his impeccable logic to lobby for an idea that has been even more effectively demonized than atheism by doctrinaire Republicans.
Whether one would call our drug war a policy of "enforced ignorance" or "enforced stupidity" is essentially moot because my clinical study of cannabis applicants has convinced me that it's safe and effective therapy; Also that the idea it can’t possibly be considered medicine is so biased and bereft of scientific support that it impugns the intellectual competence of its most adamant supporters.
I don't know if my fellow Cornell alum Bill Nye, ever used pot, but I'm so confident that if he knew the facts, he'd support both its medical use and legalization and add also add the persuasion of US government policy supporters to creationists as targets to be persuaded.
The factual battle over the medical benefits of cannabis would be over if available data could be pulled together and receive honest scrutiny. The political problem might also be reduced dramatically by appealing to the present occupant of the White House to rethink his adolescent toking in light of the benefits it has provided to people similarly deprived of parenting from their biological fathers. Finally, legalization of cannabis should be attainable within the four year window provided by re-election to a second term.
PS: after a bit more digging, I found out what had probably set Nye off. It's so gross even I find it hard to believe; also too complex for inclusion in an already complex entry. Rather than try to do that, I'll save it for next time.
November 15, 2012
Armistice Day and BeyondNovember 11 was once called Armistice Day to commemorate the 1918 cease-fire that ended hostilities in World War One on the "11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month." As a practical matter, by allowing a pause in which to contemplate the impact of well led, capable, American units on exhausted Western Front combatants, the cease-fire became decisive by permitting Britain and France to essentially "declare victory" over the Central Powers they had yet to defeat on the battlefield. The downside was that although most rational observers believed Germany and its allies must inevitably lose the war, the contrary belief powerfully expressed by a resentful, charismatic new German leader was able to persuade Germans they had somehow been cheated out of victory by a Jewish cabal and thus convince them to follow him into the even greater tragedy of World War Two less than Twenty years after the Treaty of Versailles officially ended World War One.
If there is any better demonstration of the power of human emotion to trump logic on a grand scale, I'm unaware of it. Except for Hitler's preliminary deal with Stalin that allowed their joint dismemberment of Poland (and also provoked England and France into declaring war on Germany) the European script for World War Two closely followed the basic outline of World War One: a two-front war that Germany simply couldn't sustain.
A significant detail I'll return to later is that the German populace remained trapped in Hitler's folly until he released them by committing suicide in the Bunker on April 30, 1945.
The United States was involved earlier and more deeply in the Second World War; we were also impelled by its greater scope and the probability of having to invade Japan to "weaponize" nuclear energy and use the two "atomic" bombs produced by the Manhattan Project on two Japanese cities in order to end the war in the Pacific as quickly as possible.
Whatever Truman's motivation, my own thirteen-year old's recollection of Hiroshima coupled with four years spent as an American Army surgeon in Japan during the Sixties (including a visit to Hiroshima) have left me convinced that while our use of nuclear weapons undoubtedly saved many lives on both sides, it created a huge risk for our species, one that persists to this day. Although we have avoided nuclear war since 1945, there are many new members of the "nuclear club" and we still lack a reliable way to discover which nations may be cheating or prevent those with nuclear weapons from succumbing to nuclear paranoia.
In other words, World War Two provides convincing evidence that entire nations can both manifest and act upon the same delusional behavior as individual humans. In a nuclear world where Psychiatry is still bereft of a coherent system for even classifying our peculiarly human behavioral disorders, that's hardly reassuring.
November 01, 2012
Sandy's Delayed Effects: Anxiety & the Demand for WeedOn November 7 2000, after voting for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, I went to bed close to midnight thinking they had a safe lead, but the next morning, I awakened to find- along with millions of others- that the election was still in doubt. As we now know, it was eventually settled in December by an unprecedented act of Supreme Court arrogance and dubious Constitutionality. In its aftermath, Joe Lieberman ultimately became a Republican and Al Gore, the disappointed Presidential candidate, went on to become an advocate for the idea that Earth's climate is being altered by carbon dioxide emissions produced by human activity, and slowly accumulating in the upper atmosphere for centuries, but are now influencing Earth's climate by trapping heat through their “greenhouse effect.” Debate over that hypothesis was quickly politicized along party lines; Republicans were almost unanimous in ridiculing it or condemning it as a "hoax," while Democrats were generally more supportive, although with considerably less fervor than their GOP counterparts.
The non-partisan effects have been mostly commercial: industry after industry has loudly proclaimed itself "Green," which almost overnight became the color of sustainability, whatever the impact on CO2 production. Although Gore popularized the idea of a Greenhouse Effect; it was neither original with him nor particularly new, having first been proposed in 1824 and subsequently concurred in by several well-known scientists by 1900. What had been lacking from those earlier speculations had been the ability to measure atmospheric CO2 concentrations, a capability that became available in the 20th Century and has, along with ice core measurements, lent considerable credence to the idea the Earth is gradually warming.
There has also been recent weather history: readily available in news accounts documenting a steady rise in the planet's average temperature in concert with an increase in the number of "extreme" weather events: Katrina in 2004, Irene last year, and Sandy this month; to say nothing of monster tornados in the Midwest capable of destroying whole cities in an afternoon. That the possibility such events were not random was barely mentioned in the mainstream media, is a circumstance that tends to confirm my own fear that the planet is most likely in the early stages of coastal inundation, as this blog has been suggesting for over five years (a search reveals five separate entries, all written before 2009).
Perhaps the disappointment I've often expressed at conflict between the obvious cognitive ability of our own species and its unwillingness to deal with equally obvious reality will become more understandable.
In any event, until global leaders can even agree that we have a climate crisis, I see little reason for optimism. As for my favorite cause: pot legalization, it seems even further in the future. One bright spot is that its illegal market, despite recent (and effective) federal pressure on "dispensaries" should continue to thrive, based on continued demand for an effective short-acting anxiolytic that should continue to be generated by serial weather disasters.
FWIW, the most overlooked factor of all in increased CO2 production is the spectacular (but never discussed) growth in human population over roughly the same time interval that CO2 production has become a problem.
October 27, 2012
Annals of Cognition (the Impact of Emotions on our Decisions)That Man is a cognitive mammal and the brain our organ of cognition should be evident to any educated human in the Twenty-First Century, yet there is much disagreement over the details which, as it turns out, become important; if only because differences of opinion over key details may prompt humans- acting either as individuals or in groups- to disagree with lethal consequences. When one person kills another in such a disagreement, it’s called “murder” and in most countries considered a matter for the criminal justice system to decide. However, as is also quite evident, applicable law has varied considerably from nation to nation and era to era, with the result that murder in one culture can be considered an honor killing in another. One has only to recall the plot of Romeo and Juliet to get the point. Closer to modern times, it's clear that honor killings are still an intrinsic part of many cultures, as is demonstrated by simply Googling the phrase.
In that context, we can see that one of the important ways that have allowed the anomalous American “war on drugs” to become a respected concept in the modern world is that its advocates have succeeded in making the concept of being “high on drugs” such a shameful state that it must be discouraged, not only by families, but by society's institutions; also that if persistent beyond a certain age, being "high" on certain drugs becomes grounds for formal punishment by the criminal justice system in UN member nations. This is especially true with respect to “marijuana,” which once led to the arrest of an American billionaire while on a trip to New Zealand to watch the Americas Cup.
So much for hypocrisy and “equal justice under the law.” On another tack, we have Hurricane (or is it a Tropical Depression?) Sandy now bearing down on the East Coast of the US. Both Sandy’s dimensions and wind velocity are uncertain at this point, but what seems accepted by all weather experts is that it’s a huge storm carrying immense amounts of water and that it will have enormous impact on the Eastern US. Also, that its after-effects will probably last through Halloween, games three and four of the World Series, and Election day. In fact Sandy could even affect the outcome.
Talk about unintended consequences! I have long been troubled by the human tendency to deny obvious reality in favor of cherished irrational beliefs (one of which is that criminal prohibition of drug use is a viable national policy). In that respect I would hope that the arrival of Sandy and its after effects might prompt some second thoughts about Al Gore who, as soon as he was cheated out of the Presidency by a Supreme Court packed by Republican Presidents, lost all respect among the same Democrats who let it happen by not voting for him (or voting for Ralph Nader). Perhaps the post-Sandy soggy basements of Democrats living in the Northeast will remind them of how much the eight year reign of the Bush- Cheney "greed and idiocy" Administration have cost us, not only in terms of the economic disaster they and their oil patch cronies allowed, but also the time lost by a world that eight years of more effective US leadership might have accomplished.
If that sounds bitter, the effect is intended. I learned long ago as a practicing surgeon that failure to make a timely diagnosis of a surgically curable condition risks not only an uncomplicated recovery, but also the life of the patient. In this situation, humans are not just the doctors, they are also the likely causes of an iatrogenic planetary illness, one from which recovery is uncertain.
October 11, 2012
Annals of Human FollyAlthough humans can take some justifiable pride in being the only species to exhibit our advanced cognitive abilities, there are so many examples, even within my own profession, of humanity's amazing ignorance and willful stupidity- that it probably behooves all of us to restrain whatever impulse we have for the kind of self-congratulatory rhetoric typically heard during political campaigns.
Two glaring examples of human fallibility in the realm of Medicine illustrate that point. The first was that of James Lind, an Eighteenth Century Scottish physician who correctly observed that the consumption of lemons and limes prevented scurvy, a dreaded condition afflicting sailors on the long sea voyages that had become common following discovery of the Americas. Given the role of the its navy in both protecting England from attack and enlarging its empire, scurvy represented a particularly serious problem for the British. The good news was that Lind wasn’t persecuted for his unconventional views on scurvy; he was simply ignored; a development that prompted him to design what is now considered by many to be the first example of clinical research and earned him an honored place in history.
About a hundred years later, a Hungarian-born physician was far less fortunate. Although Medicine was still deeply mired in relative therapeutic ignorance, there had been advances in overall understanding and physicians were enjoying some increase in prestige. A junior instructor at the more highly regarded of two Obstetrical clinics in Vienna named Ignaz Semmelweis noted a clinical phenomenon, which like the one noted by Lind, had also been observed by others: after being examined by professors, young women in childbirth often came down with child bed fever, a dreaded condition with a high mortality. Long before bacteria would be discovered by Pasteur, Semmelweis correctly surmised that the professors were spreading child bed fever from patient to patient with their hands and made his own students wash theirs between different patients, a practice that dramatically reduced its incidence, but offended his senior physicians because it was interpreted as impugning them and contradicting existing beliefs. To make a long story short, Semmelweis, who turned his observations into a campaign, was never taken seriously during his lifetime, even after he left Vienna, moved to London, and published his results.
The continued skepticism of colleagues in two nations ultimately drove Semmelweis into an asylum where he died- ironically of septicemia- at the age of 47. Although possibly mentally unstable in an era when mental problems were poorly understood, the serial collegial rejection of his clinical truth in two nations must have played a major role in what must be regarded as a personal and professional tragedy.
To an uncanny degree, the current American and global folly aka the “War on Drugs” is orders of magnitude worse than either of the examples just cited. Not only does a global Drug War affect millions and promote violence everywhere, it is based on rhetorical nonsense promulgated by two notorious, medically ignorant liars. Even worse, the alleged medical harms of cannabis were easily refuted by clinical histories taken from long term users. Beyond that, wannabe doctors in the cannabis reform movement, have, so far been cool to the idea that their own repetitive use as adolescents was occasioned by the anxiolytic effects of cannabis when it is inhaled.
Thus troubled patients who have been effectively self-medicating serious symptoms, are still being arrested and prosecuted as criminals in the US and around the world, while the planet's political leaders have yet to notice.
Is it any wonder the same leaders are equally unable to deal with two far more serious problems: the closely related threats of rapid climate change and the energy demands of a human population that has grown spectacularly to seven billion since 1800; roughly about the same time the United States became a nation and the Industrial Revolution started in earnest?
September 27, 2012
Paleomagnetic Shifts, Science, and PoliticsThe concept that Earth’s polarity periodically undergoes a major shift, although not completely understood, has now been developed to a degree that allows scientists to use it as one of several tools available for dating events that took place long before human observers even existed.
Indeed, without an understanding of “deep time” as postulated by early geologists, the young Charles Darwin couldn't have arrived at the first tentative explanations of phenomena he witnessed while on a three week stopover in the Galapagos during what eventually become a monumental five-year voyage.
It would require the work of thousands of others over nearly 150 years to refine the tentative conclusions he presented in the Origin of Species into a Theory of Evolution that wasn't fully vindicated until well after his death by publication of the the molecular structure of DNA in 1953.
Even so, there are still people who hate Darwin, simply because the evolutionary theory he's identified with is powerful circumstantial evidence against traditional concepts of an omnipotent deity. Darwin himself was very aware of those implications from both his own doubts and those expressed by his remarkably supportive wife, Emma. Still later, he would be forcefully reminded of them when the spectacular suicide of Fitzroy, his Captain, eerily repeated the history of both the Beagle's original captain and Fitzroy's own family.
Indeed, the sequence of improbable events that had to take place before Darwin's work could be brought to the attention of those able to complete it raises a compelling question: what if he hadn't survived to publish either Survival of the Fittest or the Voyage of the Beagle?
The same provocative question could be asked about another unique person, one born a continent away, but improbably, on the same day. Tragically, Lincoln would not survive to complete his life work as Darwin had. Instead, he would be murdered by an an assassin typical of the hate-ridden young nation he'd saved from self-destruction during his incredible first term as its 16th President.
Whether Darwin of Lincoln was more important to world history is, of course, speculative. However, the species Darwin helped explain scientifically and the nation Lincoln preserved may both be headed for self-destruction for the same biological reason: an evolutionary flaw that has preserved the connections between our emotional and rational centers, an explanation of human behavior first proposed by neurologist Paul MacLean.
We are the only mammals who commit murder and suicide for emotional reasons. Oh, yes; the Paleomagnetic shift in the title has been imitated by the "Party of Lincoln," which is now dominated by hatred and in control of most of the state houses in former Confederate states.