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Recently, I called attention to Claude Shannon, whose mid-Twentieth Century work on communication theory had both anticipated and greatly facilitated what we now know as 'information technology' (IT). Another entry promised to connect several 'dots' between the serendipitous study of pot users which originally inspired this blog and how several of its implications clearly point to major weaknesses in current drug policy.
Perhaps my study's most important revelation was that virtually all those applying for a cannabis recommendation in California were already experienced chronic users who had first tried it during adolescence. Two additional revelations were that most (95%) had been born after 1945, and nearly all had first tried (initiated) pot in close temporal conjunction with similar trials of alcohol and tobacco. The same characteristics had been noted by the first behavioral scientists ever to study the then-new phenomenon of youthful pot use in the mid-Seventies. Those observations eventually led to a 'Gateway' "theory" which-- despite its subsequent inability to earn validation-- is a major rhetorical argument used by federal policy makers who remain insistent that harsh punishment for possession of arbitrarily designated 'drugs of abuse' is an essential element of drug policy.
Important differences between mid-Seventies observations cited by Kandel and my more recent ones is that, as the American cannabis market has grown dramatically in size over time , and pot has become even more available to adolescents , the average age of its youthful initiates-- at least, those who eventually apply for medical recommendations-- has declined. The most recent analysis by cohort shows that alcohol, tobacco and cannabis were all tried at the same average age (14.9 years) by those applicants born between 1976 and 1985.
It is to be stressed that although data entry is incomplete, demographic data from over half of the approximately 3000 individuals seen during the past four years has been entered. It's thus quite unlikely that average ages at initiation will change significantly.
Another implication, strongly supported by both the demographic data and the aggressive initiation patterns for several other illegal drugs exhibited by this population over the same time interval is that their drug initiations are far more likely to represent inchoate youthful attempts at palliating symptoms of emotional origin than reflecting irresponsible youthful hedonism.
Human emotions were not recognized as phenomena worthy of serious consideration
by scholars until the
Renaissance; despite considerable subsequent attention from philosophers,
they weren't thought of as producing
symptoms requiring pharmaceutical intervention for another 350 years;
yet it's quite likely that the humans who left Africa in the series
of migrations completed some 13000 years ago-- and who were the antecedents
of all modern humans-- possessed brains which were structurally and physiologically
indistinguishable from our own. Thus, any behavioral differences
between them and ourselves almost certainly results from phenomena
we are just now beginning to study seriously under the rubric of cultural
Given the current planetary ecology and the doctrinal divisions which continue to plague our rapidly expanding species, the importance of a global drug policy based on honestly gathered evidence which has then been accurately interpreted can't be overstated. That current policy is clearly derived from religious beliefs which are being dishonestly portrayed as Public Health is as obvious as the reticence of the 'scientific community' to object out of fear or feigned disinterest.
The apparent willingness of so many scientists to tacitly accept
such overt perversion of their profession's most essential attribute out
of fear is an ominous omen.
Tom O'Connell, MD
California's "medical marijuana" initiative just celebrated its Ninth birthday; it was passed in November 1996-- nearly sixty years after cannabis ("marijuana") was first banned by the feds, and twenty-five years after then-President Nixon summarily rejected the cautious recommendations of his own "blue ribbon" (Shafer) Commission) to decriminalize it and study its potential medical benefits. As we now know, Nixon opted instead for a disastrous war on drugs which soon began a series of dire changes in American society, the most obvious of which has been a steadily growing prison population which is disproportionately poor and dark-skinned. Parallel developments have been real declines in state educational and health care budgets, a noticeable drop in the performance of American primary and secondary students in public schools, and- more recently- an obesity epidemic affecting all age groups; especially children and adolescents.
That the medical marijuana initiative was supported by 56% of Californians over strongly voiced opposition from sitting and former federal politicians and bureaucrats-- plus law enforcement bureaucracies at both state and federal levels-- evoked some surprise; but hardly the political soul-searching that might have attended a similar voter rejection of almost any other policy item. The entire federal bureaucracy then closed ranks in declaring the vote a "mistake" and continued to oppose any implementation of the new law. Thus encouraged, state and local police blatantly denied their obligation to uphold California's constitution as they began harassing and prosecuting the first 'medical' users to be 'certified' by those few physicians then willing to defy federal threats and process applicants as the new law allowed.
In general, the media has continued to treat drug war topics as quirky; especially if they deal with cannabis- it has continued to emphasize word play over fact and give the default to the federal position that 'marijuana' deserves criminal sanctions because of its presumed danger to youth.
Primarily because the Ninth Circuit upheld the First Amendment and a few communities-- mostly in the Bay Area-- provided a modicum of critical support for the new law (virtually abandoned by the Legislature and vigorously undermined by then- AG Dan Lungren), several pot clubs survived in the Bay Area. They soon became hubs where patients from other parts of the state could be directed to compliant physicians, obtain more reliable cannabis with a greater variety of cannabis products, and network with other medical users. It was at that point (late 2002) that I began seeing a steady stream of applicants at a popular Oakland club and, soon after, at two smaller clubs; one in San Francisco and another in Marin County.
I soon gained a fairly straightforward insight: perhaps the most greatest potential benefit of the new law had been the (unanticipated) opportunity it provided for physicians to systematically examine a population of chronic pot users which had been previously "hidden" from view by threats arrest/exposure. All that was required would be a willingness to ask them the right questions, a technique that could look past their own excuses for using pot- and a way to elicit whatever other conditions most of them (seemed) to be self-medicating.
Although patient denial-- particularly by males-- that they use pot for emotional reasons is almost universal, a sympathetic approach, plus a demonstration of sincere interest-- when coupled with a "structured" interview have allowed me to elicit a credible 'profile' of pot smokers. One of several bonuses has been a coherent explanation of the illegal market which had been launched on its present pattern of inexorable growth at about the same time Nixon launched a "war on drugs during his first administration.
That these and other issues have had little appeal to the self-appointed
gurus of 'reform' has engendered a lonelier and more intense evaluation
of what I've learned from applicants/patients over the past four years.
I've had the opportunity to see a growing number of 'renewals,' the dimension supplied by people newly educated to their own lifetime pot use has only added to my conviction that an opportunity to carry out unbiased clinical evaluations of drug users has been the (critical) missing ingredient which has allowed our feckless and uninformed drug policy to gain such undeserved power.
I look forward to sharing more insights from this ongoing study of pot use as they become available.
Dr. Tom O'Connell
When I first tumbled to the fact that passage
of California's 1996 medical marijuana initiative had provided a serendipitous
opportunity for a clinical study of chronic pot use, I was actually embarrassed
that it had taken me so long to come to that realization (it was then about
mid-March 2002, and I'd been seeing twenty or thirty applicants each
week from mid-November of 2001).
What has since become more than a bit frustrating have been my vain attempts to get self-proclaimed drug policy 'reformers' to even recognize that such an opportunity exists- along with the stubborn quality of their denial. In fact; my need to understand that denial became a major preoccupation for the simple reason that as the scope of the study has grown, the effort required to complete it has expanded to a point where it now exceeds the resources, time, and technical expertise one individual can bring to bear. Thus, without some key help, further data acquisition may have to either be stopped or severely curtailed.
A limited evaluation of what's already been learned from standardized interviews of cannabis users suggests very strongly that an accurate and unbiased clinical analysis of the appeal cannabis has for humans may well offer the single most effective route to understanding both our urge to use all psychotropic agents and the parallel urge governments have to 'control' such use.
A long article in today's New York Times on the increasingly sophisticated and aggressive polypharmacy being practiced by a set of educated, computer literate twenty-somethings is both timely and helpful in making my point: the mix of symptoms they are addressing is almost identical to those treated (often unwittingly ) by the pot smokers I have been interviewing. Beyond that, the medications are the same mood stabilizers and psychotropic agents many of my candidates have already had prescribed for them; not surprisingly, many are increasingly being directly advertised to the public in Big Pharma's "ask your doctor" TV ads.
Although the full text of the Times article may require a (free) sign-up for those not already registered, the effort is worth while. I plan refer to this article in future posts aimed at 'connecting the dots' as promised on November 7.
Dr. Tom O'Connell
When Claude Shannon, a mathematician/engineer at Bell labs, propounded his 'Theory of Communication,' in 1948, it seemed overly simplistic to some; yet it has since had such applicability and utility that he is now regarded by many insiders as the father of Information Technology. Thus, the work of Shannon, who seems to have been the first to grasp the significance of the binary digit, both anticipated and facilitated the digital revolution.
A non-mathematical articulation of Shannon's theory holds that messages are bits of encoded data which are understood (decoded) by properly tuned receivers. The transmission of any message involves three elements; a source to encode it, a compatible channel through which it is sent, and a compatible receiver to decode it. Although the accuracy of the message itself is irrelevant to the theory; communication is demonstrated when a message has meaning (elicits a response) at the receiver end. Impaired message quality (static, interference, noise, distortion) can be traced to one or more of the elements; for example, 'static' garbling radio transmissions can be due to a poorly tuned receiver or to cosmic rays (sun spots) distorting the channel.
The universality of Shannon's theory is exemplified by its applicability to biological systems; which are now understood to involve complex signaling mechanisms that function and interact throughout life. In essence, death can be defined as the irreversible loss of an organism's ability to communicate, both internally and externally
Most biological communication falls under the rubric of physiology; it involves both internal and external communication, and-- in sentient organisms-- most of it takes place below the conscious level. Genes are turned on, immune responses mobilized, hormones elaborated, muscles contract, and nerve impulses are transmitted without either awareness or conscious direction. The brain-- the essential substrate for all behavior-- has been shown by the relatively new multi-specialty discipline of 'Neuroscience' to function primarily through complex neuro-humeral 'signaling' at the molecular level. Certain specialized structures of the mid brain and cortex have been found to play important roles in mood, emotional tone, and behavioral response. In a sense, the old 'mind-body' duality might now be considerably better understood-- were it not for the doctrinaire confusion sown by an inflexible and unscientific policy of drug prohibition for the past thirty years. The war on drugs has not only destroyed countless lives; it has significantly skewed research and retarded medical progress
The tie-in between Shannon's work and drug war fraud is best illustrated by the large number of NIDA-supported studies being carried out on the Endocannabinoid Systems (ECS) of laboratory animals-- even as humans in California are being arrested and imprisoned for legally attempting to relieve the same symptoms targeted by animal researchers searching for patentable molecules.
One is also forced to wonder just why the media and so many of the involved scientists have continued to support a cruel and unscientific public policy with their silence once there was so much evidence that it is completely at odds with both known facts and what is most likely to prove true.
*The links supplied in this entry are, of necessity, limited. Interested
readers are urged to explore on their own:
Dr. Tom O'Connell
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Major Studies of Drug and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - The Report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse
Licit and Illicit Drugs
Short History of the Marijuana Laws
The Drug Hang-Up
Congressional Transcripts of the Hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
Frequently Asked Questions About Drugs
Basic Facts About the Drug War
Charts and Graphs about Drugs
Information on Alcohol
Guide to Heroin - Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin
LSD, Mescaline, and Psychedelics
Drugs and Driving
Children and Drugs
Drug Abuse Treatment Resource List
American Society for Action on Pain
Let Us Pay Taxes
Marijuana Business News
Reefer Madness Collection
Medical Marijuana Throughout History
Drug Legalization Debate
Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years
DEA Ruling on Medical Marijuana
Legal References on Drugs
GAO Documents on Drugs
Response to the Drug Enforcement Agency
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